‘Shark Week’ Begins, But Has Fiction Overcome Fact?

It’s that time again when the Discovery Channel rolls out seven days of shark-themed programming affectionately called “Shark Week.” But in the 27 years that Shark Week has thrilled cable TV audiences, the programming has become less about science fact and has devolved into more science fiction. What started out as informative shows that helped human beings understand and appreciate our friends in the oceans has become sensationalized to the point of script writers being hired to concoct ludicrous scenarios for the sole purpose of entertainment, not education. Just look at this promo.

Shark Week kicks of this year with Air Jaws: Fins of Fury, a show that features great whites that leap out of the air to catch and kill unsuspecting prey. The first Air Jaws episode aired on Shark Week in 2001. Producers identified that a show featuring monstrous behemoths bursting out of the water with seals and sea lions trapped in their razor sharp jaws was enough to entice viewers to tune in, and they have responded by creating new versions, all without contributing anything new to the phenomena.

In recent years, the programming has skewed even more, leading up to last summer’s Megladon: The Monster Shark Lives “mockumentary,” which was, as noted onThe Inquisitr, by and large, completely made up. But that hasn’t stopped producers from rolling out a new version, this time with new (made up) evidence.

The problem with fictionalized programming is that it can easily erase the progress made by scientists and researchers, who have tried since 1975 to steer the public perception away from the film Jaws and more to the scientific importance of these great ocean predators.

In a recent article in USA Today, George Burgess, Director of the University of Florida Program for Shark Research in Gainesville, explained why science fiction, in regards to, say, great white sharks, could be detrimental to the research being conducted every year.

“[It’s a] double-edged sword. I’m kind of disappointed, and I think most researchers are, too. It obviously is a big draw, but I’m afraid that the programs have gone more to entertainment and less to documentary over the years. It’s kind of a shame, because they have the opportunity to teach good stuff in what’s going on with science.

“[Sharks are] exciting enough that you don’t have to go for least common denominators, which so often are blood and gore or animals performing tricks. I think a lot of people believe that what they see on Shark Week is all fact. A lot of times, the shows are poorly documented or poorly represented or things [are] done as pseudo-science.”

And the programming schedule seems to be full of these type of pseudo-science shark shows designed to scare audiences much like Steven Spielberg did with his mechanical rubber shark in the mid-70s. On Monday, according to the schedule presented by Community Digital News, is a show called Great White Serial Killer, which argues that the California coast is being terrorized by a single man-eating great white that seeks out and kills humans, even though there are warehouses full of scientific evidence to disprove the notion.

I’m not against shark-themed entertainment. Sharks have become so mainstream that movies are being made about them riding in tornadoes and attacking major American cities. But that is easily recognized as fiction, and not broadcast on a network called The Discovery Channel, which bills itself as “The World’s #1 Nonfiction Media Company.” Shark Week has a purpose: to enlighten as well as entertain. Unfortunately, producers want to entertain more than enlighten, and the line between fact and fiction blurs like the gooey red chum dissipating in the waters where great white sharks are known to swim. Shark Week is calling, and the actors in these shows have razor-sharp smiles and work for way below scale. And they are all ready for their close ups.