Friday, August 6, 2010

A Rumination on Shark Week

I like the idea of Shark Week, but I don’t really like Shark Week. I feel this way about a lot of things, like the girl I thought I loved throughout most of high school or a healthy, vice free lifestyle. (Also fitting into this category: The band Animal Collective, Smucker’s Uncrustables peanut butter and jelly sandwiches/pastries and Crocs.

If you think about everything surrounding Shark Week, it seems like it’d be absolutely great. It’s become symbolic of something, but I’m not sure what, exactly. This year, Shark Week has been marketed by the Discovery Channel in a way I haven’t seen in previous years. The station has made it seem like Shark Week is a kind of holiday, calling it the “biggest week of summer” and have even gone as far as to dub it the “greatest week of the year” in some commercials.

This is obviously not true, because the greatest week of the year is either the week of Christmas, the first or last week of school (depending on whether you’re in college or primary/secondary school), one of the weeks you get off of work and get to go on vacation (if you’re an adult), or the first week of March Madness. But I digress.

One in about five (and that’s a conservative estimate) Facebook statuses has had the words “Shark Week” in it this week, and people have been buzzing about it all summer. I’m not sure when or how this started, but maybe it was when Tracy Morgan said people should “live every week like it’s shark week” on 30 Rock. Maybe it was when Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly got really pissed off because they weren’t allowed to watch TV during Shark Week. Maybe it’s a combination of all those things, and the other references to Shark Week that have been made in Pop Culture. I even went on a bar tour last year during the first week of school (or "syllabus week," christened so because all you do in class the first week of college semesters is go over the syllabus) called the "Syllabus Week/Shark Week" bar tour. This was because one of my friends had said, "syllabus week? May as well be Shark Week," and we all just thought that was fucking hilarious. People have Shark Week parties, and there’s a website where you can change a picture of yourself so it looks like you’re a shark. It has, somehow and at one point or another that I don’t think anybody can really pinpoint, become a popular culture phenomenon.

I think it’s cool that so many people get pumped up for something like this (or at least they seem to, it’s difficult to tell how genuine people are about the adoration they have for Shark Week and sharks in general), a week-long television event, because I like hype, especially when it doesn’t have to do with either Tiger Woods or Brett Favre.

Basically, everything about Shark Week is fucking awesome, except for one thing: It’s about sharks. What is so great about sharks? Nothing. There is nothing you can tell me that’s going to convince me that these fish warrant an entire week of programming on a channel with so much other great programming to offer. I would sit here and watch Ice Road Truckers and Deadliest Catch all week before I’d want to watch seven days of documentaries and shows about sharks. I’d even throw in that new show, The Colony, even though I’ve never seen it beyond commercials. (A guy making fuel out of animal fat seem intriguing, and maybe something I could use someday if I’m in dire straits.) I’m sure a lot of people would argue that Shark Week is intriguing because sharks are so “mysterious.” Lots of animals and fish are mysterious, especially ocean-dwelling ones. I think sharks are mysterious because there’s really not all that much to figure out about them. They attack things, eat them, and occasionally mate. The wildest thing I’ve seen them do is jump out of the water to catch prey on a program I’m watching now, called Air Jaws 2. This would make sharks more frightening than they already are, if they weren’t jumping out of the water and merking seals on some remote island I’ll never, ever even be near. The dudes on this show are saying that this is the only known place in the world that great whites jump out of the water, so it’s fun to watch for about five minutes before the complete irrelevance of it starts to bore me. It’s one of those things that’s pretty cool to see once, but after that they all look the same. Like anything Michael Cera is in.

Now, the programming has switched to some Australian man who I assume has dedicated his life to learning about sharks (for whatever reason), and he is in a yellow kayak, paddling through the water. Sharks are bumping his boat. There's a chance he could be tipped over and then eaten by a fucking great white shark. I'm not exactly sure what he intends to learn by doing this absolutely stupid thing, but I think he said something about wanting to see sharks mate. (This seems to be a focus of Shark Week, which is something I would've found cool in the fourth grade. Apparently, people don't see sharks mate often, but those that have describe it as a violent ritual that includes -- and holy shit this is a fucking shocker -- them biting one another!)

Aside from sharks being mysterious, people also seem to really dig talking about how watching Shark Week is so educational. I won't argue that it is. I've watched a bit of it this week and have learned some things I didn't previously know about sharks, like the fact that they're so fucking stupid that at a point every year they go through a phase where they just (yes, this is wild) bit one another for no reason. This isn't even when they're banging, either. They just bite one another, and scientists do not know why. I might know why: Because sharks are fucking stupid. They're primitive, and, as I stated before, they don't do anything that's really worthwhile beyond scaring humans into thinking they're going to be attacked by a shark if they go into the ocean. And honestly, they don't really even have much to do with that. It's human beings that make other human beings so frightened of sharks. According to the International Shark Attack File, 118 people were attacked world wide by sharks in 2008. Of those 118 incidents, 59 of them were considered "unprovoked," which would be the kind that might happen when we're taking a swim. Compare that with, say, lightning. On average, 2,000 people are injured because of lightning every year, and pretty much every one of them I would venture to say is unprovoked. Actually, most lightning strikes in history, with the exclusion of the one that zapped Ben Franklin, have probably been unprovoked. This information is according to Wikipedia. (Oh shut up. This obviously isn't a place to come for Cronkite-esque journalistic accuracy, and I seriously doubt somebody got on the Wikipedia page to put erroneous information on about the volume of lightning strikes per year. Get off my dick; this isn't a research paper. It should also be noted how cool and helpful Wikipedia is. At the top of the lightning page, it says "For the Snow Patrol song, see The Lightning Strike.)

Have you ever even looked at a shark? They just look fucking stupid. Apparently they have heightened senses, like an awesome sense of smell for blood, but not a lot as far as brains go (unless it's the fictional shark, Jaws, who was pretty much the Carl Sagan of sharks). So, realistically, you're watching educational programming, but it's about an unintelligent fish that lives in the sea that you'll probably never encounter unless you're eating one. Why do you need to learn about something that you'll never really use? If someone came up to me and told me sharks bite each other during sex, I'd probably take it the wrong way. (I'd think they wanted to have rough sex with me, and let's be honest. Who doesn't like a little mid-coital soft biting every now and then, right?) The information you get from Shark Week is utterly useless in pretty much any scenario. They actually have a show on this week where a guy shows you how to not get killed in a shark attack. That's like me watching a show on how to get laid by Liz Hurley. I'm never going to have the opportunity, so what's the fucking point?

I honestly learned more that I'll actually use from watching one hour of Jersey Shore than I did from the hours of Shark Week I watched. Some examples: Heavy-set ugly women are referred to as Grenade Launchers, and skinny ugly women are referred to as land mine. Also, fat girls that think they are hot are the worst fucking thing in the world; and they eat pickles.

You know, pertinent stuff.

I'm all for education, but you have to think about how plausible the education you're getting is. I would get pissed in college whenever I had to learn about astronomy, because I don't care about astronomy and will never use that knowledge. If you sit in front of the television for a week watching shit about sharks, you're learning stuff that you'll probably never ever use. Why not use that brain power to try and figure out how to plug up that oil spill, or to read a book about decision making (I suggest Blink by Malcolm Gladwell).

I think Discovery Channel should replace Shark Week with Lightning Week. Lightning can kill people too, and does so much more frequently, but it also serves a purpose. Without lightning striking Ben Franklin's kite, I might not be sitting here typing on this computer right now, or possess the Pabst Blue Ribbon Light I hope to hang directly over my bed (admittedly a stretch, because I'm sure somebody like Steve Jobs or Chuck Norris would've discovered electricity by now). If there was a show about how to avoid being struck by lightning, it'd help many more people.

So, I like the idea of everyone getting excited about an annual week-long educational programming TV block, but I don't like learning unnecessary shit about sharks.

I started to change my opinion a little bit when I heard so many Australian voices coming from the TV, and saw so many Foster's oil can commercials.

But then they showed a shark killing a baby penguin.