A Case Study In How The The Culture Gets Stupid: “Shark Week”

It’s Shark Week. If anyone needs more evidence that the corporate media has no scruples whatsoever and will use its ubiquity, influence and power to treat the public like guinea pigs and puppets, look no further.

The nonsense debuted in 1988 as a Discovery Channel marketing stunt, and has since metastasized into TV’s longest-running programming event. The idea was and is to scare people, because people like being scared, except that unlike Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and the Alien, sharks are real. People being irrationally terrified of sharks has led to an alarming drop in some shark species populations; it has also made significant numbers of impressionable Americans phobic about the ocean.

The failure of our education system to teach critical thinking and probability also helps.

I personally witnessed a post-Shark Week panic on a Wellfleet, Mass. beach when a school of dolphins cruised by about 100 yards from shore. It’s amazing nobody was hurt: the screaming stampede out of the water looked exactly like the famous scene in “Jaws.” That movie, of course (Yes, that’s young Alex Kintner getting eaten alive above) was the inspiration for Shark Week, and the late Peter Benchley’s low-brow rip-off of “Moby-Dick” was the inspiration for Spielberg’s break-though movie. The film holds up almost 50 years later because of the performances and the direction, though, as Marty McFly sagely observed in “Back to the Future II,” the shark still looks fake.

“Jaws” also had one important cultural benefit: thanks to Robert Shaw’s chilling monologue in which the shark-hunter Quint describes the horror he faced as one of the sailors from the Indianapolis after it sank in shark-infested waters in 1945 (Shaw wrote the monologue himself), that historical event was finally brought back into the public’s consciousness.

The fear of sharks, however, had more bite. On TV the main offspring of Shark Week was really bad “entertainment,” like six “Sharknado” movies, each sillier than the one before. The Discovery Channel in recent years has used Shark Week to excuse presenting “specials” with titles like “Alien Sharks: Greatest Hits,” “Cuba’s Secret Shark Lair,” “Shark Tank Meets Shark Week,” “Sharkwrecked,” “Great White Shark Babies,” “Sharks Gone Wild,” and “Naked and Afraid of Sharks.” Is we getting dummer? If so, Shark Week is contributing. These shows often teem with dubious, exaggerated or outright false science, epitomized by Discovery’s “Megalodon” special in 2013, and this fiasco the next year, both of which permanently wounded the channel’s credibility.

That, come to think of it, was probably the one positive result of Shark Week.

We have learned (I hope), that fearmongering has become a prime tool in the unethical politics tool box. The entertainment media and news media, along with Big Tech, are complicit in the effort to frighten the public about climate change, gun violence, the Wuhan virus and its pals, “white supremacy,” domestic terrorism, monsters (like… Donald Trump!) and the “threat to democracy,” because a frightened population is a population vulnerable to government domination. Every little bit of anxiety and irrational fear helps.

Oh, I don’t believe Shark Week is part of this current phenomenon, at least not intentionally. Shark Week is just here to make money. If it also makes a lot of people more ignorant and afraid to go into the water, that’s just collateral damage.

8 thoughts on “A Case Study In How The The Culture Gets Stupid: “Shark Week”

  1. Nicely played, Edward.

    Jack, I don’t know how long ago you had that experience in Wellfleet, but out that way nowadays great whites in that area are a real thing. The entire east side of the Cape – from Monomoy to Provincetown – is in their range. So is Massachusetts Bay. In both locations, beaches are closed regularly. Great Whites have been spotted in Vineyard and Nantucket sounds and there are unconfirmed reports of sightings in Buzzards Bay, close to where I live now. Along the outer Cape, there have been several attacks, including a fatal one, since I moved from Maine about six years ago.

    Why are they here? Because seals – thousands upon thousands of oh-so-cute, voraciously-feeding-on-local-fish, breeding-like bunnies seals. Did I mention that seals are cute? That’s why they’re protected, and it’s why there are more seals and more sharks in the local waters every year.

  2. The sad part is that there were serious shark scientists involved during the early Shark Weeks. And when they saw the clownshow it was turning into refused to continue participating. That left us with the opportunists only, which made current iterations of the stunt even worse.

  3. Yesterday’s WSJ “Best of the Web” column included this:

    Media Sharknado
    “Scientists have an explanation why there is an increase of shark attacks off East Coast,” announces an ABC News headline. A subhead adds: “Climate change may play a factor in sharks venturing closer to shore.”

    Then again maybe it doesn’t. Several paragraphs into the story ABC’s Julia Jacobo reports “there is no data to suggest climate change is responsible for pushing sharks closer to the shore.”

    WSJ link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/democrats-who-still-cant-get-enough-of-trump-11658870981
    ABC News link: https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/scientists-explain-reasons-increase-shark-attacks-off-east/story?id=87010306

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