Come on, Discovery Channel…
Shark Week is a holy institution for me. Like so many others, some of my earliest memories are of sitting in front of our old boxy TV, bundled up in my Ninja Turtles blanket, mouth crusted over with cheese puff dust as I gaped at the shows put on by those early Shark Weeks. It was amazing. My favorite thing in the world, just like in my favorite movie Jaws, on TV, for a whole week. It must be how Chris Christie feels when he watches the Food Network. Had I been more adventurous, lived closer to the ocean, and wasn’t constantly sure that I’d be eaten the second I stepped foot in the water, I might’ve turned out to be one of those people who say that they went into shark studies or marine biology all thanks to that first exposure to Shark Week as a kid. It’s a perfect six days of entertainment, and it’s never failed me.
Until this year.
If you didn’t happen to watch any of it (lucky you) and haven’t yet read about the shark nerd-fueled backlash that rose up in its wake, this year’s Shark Week was kicked off by a show called Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives. What viewers were shown was what appeared to be a documentary wherein a marine biologist tries to track down a 30-plus-foot great white known locally as “Submarine,” a possible re-emergence of the ancient giant shark known as megalodon, that reportedly took down a fishing boat off the coast of South Africa, killing everyone aboard. There were eye-witness interviews of Submarine sightings, searches for the shark using something called “power chumming” (which, I think, is what Anthony Weiner was texting about), and all kinds of experts giving their knowledgable opinions to us, the trusting viewers.
The only problem? It was bull(shark)shit. All of it. The stories were fake, the scientists were actors, and the whole thing turned out to be Shark Week’s first foray into mockumentary-style filmmaking. They even followed it up with a Talking Dead-type after show where they talked to one of the “experts” and, for some reason, the guy who played Charlie on Lost. For shame, Shark Week. For shame…
Now, I wasn’t one of the people who watched the whole thing and then later found out it was fake and became enraged by it. We actually only watched about 10 minutes of it, because it became painfully clear after even that short amount of time that it was pure horseshit. What pissed me off about it all is that THERE IS NO REASON TO EVER SHOW ANYTHING FAKE ON SHARK WEEK. You could show six straight days of great whites jumping out of the water in slow-motion while Megadeth blares in the background and I’d be aroused happy. Sharks are real, awesome things that are actually out there biting the shit out of seals with the teeth and the jumping out of the water; you don’t need to go the Syfy route and show me fake ones. (Apologies to my buddy who works at Syfy.) Shark Week is supposed to entertain, yes, but within the realm of educating, first and foremost. Or, failing that, just showing clip after clip of sharks doing all kinds of ridiculously awesome stuff interspersed by awkward scientists trying to overcome their crippling social anxieties enough to talk to a camera.
Discovery Channel reps have come out in defense of the show after their Facebook page, Twitter feed, and (probably) homes were deluged by angry shark nerds like myself, releasing statements like, “It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s the Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95% of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?” Bullshit. I really know. No one debates these things. That’s like saying, “Do dinosaurs exist today? It’s a hotly debated topic. As evidence, let me show you a clip from this documentary entitled Jurassic Park…”
But, despite it all, I know I’ll come back to Shark Week like an abused housewife in the first act of a Lifetime movie, because… well, fuck, it’s Shark Week. All I had to do is look at the upcoming shows and see something called “shark cam” and I was hooked. But know this, Shark Week: I’m not falling for that shit again. If I tune in next year and see that you’re airing Sharknado: Holy Crap, You Guys, It’s Real!, I’m out.