- Time is Running Out for the Future of Game of ThronesPosted 7 days ago
- HBO Grants Game of Thrones Epic Season 4Posted 77 days ago
- Dispute Gets Game of Thrones Actor The Tyson VS Holyfield TreatmentPosted 83 days ago
- Game of Thrones: George R. R. Martin Makes a Cameo in Season 4Posted 87 days ago
- Jon Snow & Ygritte Get Cozy In Game of Thrones Portraits!Posted 89 days ago
- Watch The Newest Game of Thrones Trailer!Posted 90 days ago
- Game of Thrones Season 3 is a Beast Waiting to be StirredPosted 92 days ago
- Game of Thrones Recap: Get Caught Up On Season 2Posted 99 days ago
- Game of Thrones Extended Season 3 Trailer Has Bears, Sex, Flaming Swords and Everything ElsePosted 106 days ago
- Game of Thrones: Shadowed Cast in New Season 3 PostersPosted 107 days ago
Geek Girl Navigating the World – Sympathy for the Shark
There’s one week of the summer that has held me utterly spellbound for a couple of decades now. No, it’s not Comic Con. I’ve never been, although that going at some point is absolutely one of my bucket list things to do. Those who know me know to keep an eye on their local listings and, when that week rolls around to just step away and leave me alone. That week, of course, would be Shark Week on The Discovery Channel.
Cable networks that used to cater to the more science-minded have, in my opinion, devolved pretty rapidly into niche networks that fall prey to sensationalizing stories as much as modern news shows. They just don’t seem happy unless they’re scaring you into re-evaluating your life and what you’re doing with it at every turn. Some of them seem to delight in making viewers feel better about their own lives by showing the absolute tawdriest dregs of mankind in the modern and, somehow more guilt-free, version of a sideshow.
This may just be a product of the fact that I grew up in a household that got two and a half channels on a good day and the one channel that came in both the clearest and the most consistently was PBS. If I was watching something on cable, it was because I was visiting a relative who had it. I remember that there were a lot more dinosaurs on cable. It was almost like the Discovery Channel had tapped into my developing mind and said, “Ah. Yes. Dinosaurs. We will give you programming to obsess over, with visuals that will make you weep because you are never going to have a time machine.” Yeah, I was one of those kids. To be quite honest, I’m still that kid. Give me a new educational program about dinosaurs and I’m there watching it with an iced tea as big as my head and a bucket of popcorn as avidly as any awesomely shiny comic book movie you can dream up.
You’re probably thinking, at this point “Where are you going with this Geek Girl? You started out talking about Shark Week and now-dinosaurs? What?” Bear with me. I’ve got a point, I promise.
From those early days as a starry-eyed little sprocket, I, of course, learned about that interesting category of animals and plants known as living fossils. Suddenly, the ocean took on a whole new level of interest for my little land-locked self. Finding out how long sharks have remained virtually unchanged aside from some odd evolutionary tangents like Stethacanthus, a shark that had a dorsal fin shaped like an anvil, was beyond revelatory for me. I now understood that there were modern pieces of the world that would get me closer to that prehistoric realm than bones encased in rocks and dirt ever could.
I’d always liked Jacques Cousteau specials when I’d happened to catch them. It was more vague curiosity than anything else, although I do remember the one that involved Viper Fish very vividly. The wildlife in the benthic regions of the ocean were, to me, as unreal as the aliens that I had started reading about in the science-fiction books that had started catching my interest. Documentaries about ocean life have always fired my imagination, bringing me right back in touch with my inner starry-eyed sprocket instantaneously.
And sharks-ah, the sharks, they are the Allosaurus and the Utahraptors of the oceans. They’re top tier predators designed for culling herds and wreaking destruction on the lesser members of the food chain. Of course, not all of them are toothy eating machines. I think whale sharks and nurse sharks are just as cool as their more aggressive counterparts and watching these shows about sharks isn’t about watching all the carnage.
This is probably something that not many people would ever say and very few of them would be women, I know, but I think sharks are beautiful. To see a shark swimming is to see an animal that is perfectly suited to its environment and its purpose. Particular sharks have adapted to their environments so well that a glance at their physiology gives very good clues about what that shark eats, where it swims, and how it moves.
Most movies and TV shows play into that primal fear of the shark. It’s one of the few animals that gets difficult to anthropomorphize. When people do try to attribute shark-like characteristics to another human being, the comparisons are not positive. The adjectives used are mostly in the realm of ruthless, cold, and some form of murderous. The people who could care less about sharks would, if asked to draw or describe one, go straight to the characteristic predatory silhouette of the Great White. It’s both iconic and terrifying.
The thing is that the shark most human beings associate with those characteristics is not the be-all and end-all of the shark world. That is one of the things that has always drawn me to Shark Week. It’s not all about the Great White, as misunderstood as that enormous fish can be. Discovery channel makes shows about fresh water sharks, Whale Sharks, weird sharks, and prehistoric sharks.
For a couple of years there, though, I was getting frustrated. The Shark Week specials and episodes were being geared more and more to things like the deadliest sharks in the world and the worst shark attacks people have survived. I felt a little bit betrayed. The effort to educate people and illuminate the diversity of sharks seemed to have fallen by the wayside in favor of the very sensationalism that causes such PR nightmares for sharks in the first place.
You don’t have to tell human beings that sharks are dangerous. It’s an animal that essentially explores the world with its mouth. While it can detect electromagnetic fields with the ampullae of Lorenzini and has a sense of smell that puts a bloodhound to shame, when a shark gets curious about something the easiest way to determine if it’s food is to bite it. Once you understand that, it basically makes you realize that a shark is really just the world’s most dangerous toddler. It has no idea that biting a thing just to see what happens is probably going to kill it. It bites things because that’s what it does. That’s a very, very easy action to demonize.
I had almost decided that I was through with being excited about Shark Week, but then, suddenly, Discovery seemed to have an abrupt turn-around on its programming stance. Once again, I’m able to watch documentaries about human beings trying to study sharks and get a better understanding of them. I don’t mind so much when the shows focus more on human interactions with sharks. The evolution of underwater photography and cinematography owe a lot to people wanting to understand sharks better. It’s heartwarming and exciting to me to see how awed the people making these shows are on a daily basis as they discover more about the world around them.
The first Shark Week show that I caught this year was “Shark Week’s Impossible Shots” which pretty much tripped all my geeky starry-eyed sprocket triggers. There were sharks, new tech gadgets designed to better understand those sharks, and an attempt to get a camera shot no one else had ever managed before, the view inside a shark’s mouth as it bites. It’s a view that is both intriguing and terrifying because you know that anything that’s seen it didn’t survive it. I also loved that it showed what dedication and intelligence can create when you give in to your natural curiosity about a subject. Not only that, now I know what the inside of a Great White’s mouth looks like. It wasn’t pretty, but it was incredibly awesome.
Then, of course, there was Sharkzilla, in which the Discovery Channel resurrects the Megalodon the only way that it can, by building a scientifically accurate life-size mechanical replica and letting it chomp down on things. As amazing as sharks are, humans are even more incredible, this whole experiment having been prompted by the discovery of a whale fossil with its head bitten off. The prime suspect in the case is, naturally, the Megalodon, because what other oceanic predator could manage such brute force. Sure, there are some forensic clues in the fossils themselves, but in the era of CSI, why would you stop at reviewing the evidence when you can make a robotic re-enactment of the crime scene. This is one side effect of crime procedurals in pop culture that I heartily approve being subjected too. As much as I love science, it frustrates me sometimes that showing how much fun science can be eludes so many people. Just because I’m a geek that doesn’t mean that I have no sense of humor and it definitely doesn’t mean that I’m no fun to be around. Shows like this can go a long way towards inspiring more scientific investigation because of the fact that it demonstrates that fun science doesn’t have to be completely frivolous, and, sometimes frivolous science actually does serve a purpose. Doing things just because we can does not always have to be evil, sometimes it’s just a way to show what human beings can do when they want to.
For the 25th anniversary of Shark Week, the Mythbusters had to get in on the act with their “Jawsome” special. The humor they mixed into some of those scary moments was certainly in the vein of so many horror comedies. It’s one of the reasons why I still like “Mythbusters”, because it’s really fun science that also tries to help people understand that you’ve got to use some critical thinking skills any time you’re dealing with media. The primary purpose of any tv show or movie is to hold a person’s interest and scientific facts often fall by the wayside in the name of entertainment. The primary focus on this show was debunking a lot of the myths surrounding sharks in pop culture and how ridiculous many of the most iconic shark death scenes really are because they could never actually happen. In the process, you get to see members of the cast come face to face with sharks sticking their heads into shark cages, attempts to attract and repel sharks, and one cast member diving in a suit of armor to see if it works effectively to protect someone from a shark attack. In the process, mostly, they demonstrated how much we still have to learn about sharks and did it in a way that doesn’t make a person feel stupid for not knowing.
Perhaps my favorite special of all, though, this Shark Week, would have to be “How Jaws Changed the World.” I enjoyed it so much because it’s all about the power of story and how fiction can really impact the world. It’s easy to dismiss something as “just a movie” or “just a book” or even “just a show”, but when you see how human beings react in the face of a story that’s well-told, it really drives home the idea that words really are very powerful. The show was a great overview of how pop culture can have a far-reaching impact on society, from people actually starting to hunt sharks on a larger scale for sport because of the movie to people being inspired to become marine biologists because of Richard Dreyfuss’s snarky scientist. A book and a movie made people scared to get into the ocean or almost any body of water and still inspires that level of caution decades later. But, that same book and movie also inspire curiosity and a drive to get a better understanding of the world where we live.
Of course, Shark Week still has the shows like “Shark Fight” and “Adrift” and that’s the point at which I usually change the channel. I’m happy that people have survived shark attacks and I’m glad that some of them have gone on to learn more about sharks rather than vilify them, but I just don’t want to watch it. If anything, the Discovery channel has taught me that shark attacks are rare and talking about them in morbid detail complete with gory re-enactments just seems like fear mongering to me. Obviously, there are people that like watching these, and more power to them if it inspires them because they view them as stories of triumph. I’m not going to be upset with you for watching them, if that’s your thing. As for me, I’m going to stick with the big robotic prehistoric shark and the seal decoys that get completely destroyed in the name of science.