Monday, August 05, 2013

Exploitative television

By Carl

Normally, I look forward to this time of year. It’s Shark Week. If you don’t know or don’t care for it, Shark Week has some interesting programming about sharks, which is sadly interspersed with more and more exploitative programming.

They don’t just exploit sharks, they exploit you and me as well. Playing on our fears, reinforcing the worst about sharks, and drumming up crises where none existed before, all in the name of programming. They are the FOX News of popular science, and they suck about as badly.

Take last night, for instance. There was a “documentary” called “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” which supposes that a extinct (by several million years) dinoshark called Megalodon still lives off the coast of South Africa. Done up in documentary style, along the lines of the equally egregious “Mermaids” on the sister network Animal Planet, Discovery essentially creates a fictional narrative and gussies it up with phony incidents and dubious experts in an attempt to attract viewers and…for what?

I watched a bit of it last night, and the more I watched, the angrier I got. Rather than talk about the megalodon as an abstract, rather than discuss its niche in the paleontological archives of history, or how it evolved into the modern day (and far less dangerous) shark, Discovery decided to go for grabbing you by the short hairs and twisting.

They ought to be ashamed. Discovery has long been a haven for science, featuring programming like “Mythbusters,” and yes, even Shark Week, which while it has long since become about sharing people out of the water again, and contributing to the wholesale slaughter of sharks, used to be about giving us knowledge and information about these mysterious and therefore terrifying creatures.

Sharks are beautiful animals and they have a place in the food chain that helps balance our ecology. Without sharks, our reefs would eventually die off. Sharks cull fish, keep population explosions in check, and otherwise help balance an environment that is rugged while beautiful. Nature is brutal, and the shark is about as perfectly descriptive of nature as any other apex predator, including man.

The difference is, we can do something about our brutalities. Sharks have a harder time. A lot of the behavior we interpret – anthropomorphise, to be frank – is just a shark’s way of exploring his environment. Sharks are highly intelligent creatures, with a brain-body mass comparable to humans, and that measure has long been a gauge of intelligence.

So why is Discovery Channel acting like an idiot?

If you are truly interested in sharks and their place in nature, watch SharkFest on NatGeo Wild. You won’t have to feel icky about yourself afterwards.

(Cross-posted at Simply Left Behind.)

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