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Hey, Discovery Channel! Pick a better animal, dammit
When I heard the Voice was publishing a shark-themed issue, I felt a sense of dread usually reserved for those dismal seven days of August programming on the Discovery Channel. I despise sharks, and I despise Shark Week. I’m not trying to be an obnoxious contrarian (if I were, I’d write about how and why I never read the Harry Potter books), and I’m not above enjoying even the most exploitative of animal-themed cable shows (which is surely Animal Planet’s Too Cute). But sharks just plain bore me, and they’re close to the bottom of my list of animals that deserve a week of programming. I don’t want sharks shoved down my throat any longer, unless they’re in the form of delicious shark fin soup.
A gross hypocrisy lies at the heart of Shark Week. On one hand, the appeal of sharks relies largely on their portrayal in popular culture as fearsome killing machines. Discovery Channel knows this, and many of the features during Shark Week deal with shark attacks on humans. Of course, shark attacks are a bit played out, but it’s still pretty awesome to watch a Great White eat some guy on a surfboard and spit out puka shells. By the end of documentaries like Killer Sharks, I’m writing the White House to demand an ocean-wide antishark drone campaign, preferably with no congressional oversight. But on the other hand, you have the dreaded conscientious side of Shark Week, in which the threat of sharks is minimized for the sake of promoting conservation efforts.
Consider this recent tweet from the official Shark Week Twitter account: “Did you know you’re more likely to get bit by a person than a shark?” First of all, kinky! Second, that doesn’t make sharks cool; it makes them boring. Shark experts—undeniably the media whores of the zoology world—are constantly assuring us that shark attacks are incredibly rare… from the comfort of their giant submersible metal cages. Well, I just watched an hour of innocent bros in Oakleys being eaten alive, so forgive me if I’m not concerned about Jaws ending up in a restaurant. Stop trying to cultivate in me a greater respect for sharks when it was your cynical advertising that made me this way.
Sharks are vastly overrated as man-eaters, at the expense of lesser-known but more vicious creatures. You want a cool predator, Discovery Channel? Travel to Burundi and find the crocodile known as “Gustave,” that’s still at large. He’s 60 years old, weighs a ton, and he has savagely killed and eaten 300 people! He has also been studied extensively by herpetologists, which is hilarious until you look up what ‘herpetologist’ means. There are plenty of other insatiable rogues worthy of coverage, such as the Champawat Tigress, which killed 436 people in Nepal. Let’s see a shark put up those numbers.
It is surprising that a network as shitty as the Discovery Channel is able to mount such an effective advertising campaign in support of Shark Week. We’re talking about a channel whose name is almost as misleading as the “History” Channel’s. Wow, you sat on your ass for two hours and learned about a few blue-collar jobs? Congratulations Magellan, mankind’s horizons have forever been broadened. If you don’t watch that dreck during the rest of the year, there’s no reason to tune in for Shark Week. Depressingly, Discovery Channel has succeeded in convincing millions to revel in the camp and the kitsch of Shark Week, whether sincerely or ironically.
But sharks have had a pernicious effect on our culture that goes beyond Shark Week, or even the Jaws sequels. Make no mistake—sharks are assholes. Their dorsal fins are like the popped collars of the sea. In 1991, British artist Damien Hirst displayed an encased Tiger Shark preserved in formaldehyde, and called it “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living.” That title makes me want to throw up forever. The piece sold for $12 million. Sharks will not rest until they have destroyed every bastion of decency and good taste in Western culture.
Shark Week is a tired concept whose time has come and gone. Maybe it was a good idea when it was introduced in 1987; back then its only competition on basic cable was SportsCenter and scrambled porn. Today, we have better options than watching repetitive shows about time-worn predators. But of course, there is one beloved element of Shark Week that I haven’t addressed, and that’s the Shark Week drinking game. The rules are simple: It’s summer! Go get drunk outdoors like everybody else—just stay away from the beach.