I’m Trying To Understand Shark Week

We all have our pop culture blind spots, and one of mine is Shark Week. I mean, do I “live every week like it’s Shark Week?” Yes! Absolutely! In that on both Shark Week and the other 51 weeks a year, I … don’t participate in Shark Week.

Now, I don’t begrudge anyone their shark-based T.V. program. I love educational television! Granted, I’m more into the “kid with weird wasting illness that the British royals hid in the 1920s” kind of educational programming, but each to their own. I love learning and I love T.V., so I feel like I should at least try. Here’s what info I’ve managed to process about Shark Week – but I still don’t understand it:

Why Sharks?

You know how sometimes a pop culture obsession springs up, and you wonder if you missed something? Like bacon. Bacon is huge. I wondered for a long time whether I missed whatever set off the Bacon Revolution, but no. Everyone just realized that they all liked bacon and it was time to talk about it openly. Or mason jars. For a while after they took off, I wondered if it was the 200th anniversary of Hezekiah Mason’s birth or something. It wasn’t. People just realized that anything you put in jars looks 100% more folksy, like you might be a Lumineer.

So of course my first step to understanding Shark Week had to be determining whether there was something I was missing with sharks. Koala Week, I’d understand. Those not-bears are adorable (but they’re totally bears, nice try Australia). Or Endangered Species week, because somebody has to save them. And the Puppy Bowl? I get that. The kittens are the cheerleaders. But why sharks? They’re  kind of assholes, and not even attractive assholes. You didn’t see Lisa Frank designing a shark Trapper Keeper, and you know why? Because nobody’s that into them.

The answer, like most answers that are probably wrong, is on Wikipedia. Shark Week is supposed to “raise awareness and respect for sharks.” I believe I speak for everyone who’s ever swam in the ocean when I say that I’m aware. Oh, am I aware. And I respect the hell out of anything with that many teeth. You know what animals need respect? Woodchucks, who always somehow look like the hillbillies of the animal kingdom. Or moles. Get better eyes, moles. Your faces looks like butts.

Anyway, no matter what Wikipedia says, the answer to “why sharks?” is really “why NOT sharks?” They’re an animal, people are interested in them, and if you hype it up enough, people will watch Discovery Channel for a week if you tell them they want to. I’d still prefer Koala Week though.

There’s a host, I guess?

Because you can’t just watch shark shows, you need someone to walk you through it. But here’s the thing – the hosts aren’t just shark guys. I don’t know what a “shark guy” is but I picture the crew of the Keldish when they took Old Rose out to sea to die. They’re celebrities – Andy Samberg! Craig Ferguson! Josh Wolf! This year, it’s Rob Lowe.

You’ll notice that most of those guys are comedians. That’s because if you don’t toss in a little levity, viewers will realize that they’re watching a straight week of animals that can kill or, at best, maim you. You’ll also notice that in the two-decade hosting history of Shark Week, there has never been a female host. I don’t think this is because educational television is an inherently sexist industry, I think it’s because ladies are too smart to socialize with sea beasts that might kill them. It’s violent enough on land. Most of us have finely tuned sensors for who might kill us – have you ever watched Nancy Grace or Law and Order: SVU?  I’m pretty sure we’re holding out for starfish week or something. We all saw what happened to that nice little blonde surfer girl who didn’t respect sharks enough. She got her arm gnawed off. No thank you. Gentlemen, you can have this one.

Didn’t Sharknado Just Happen?

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Yes, reader. Sharknado did just happen. We live blogged both of them. At first I thought it was part of Shark Week, but it’s actually just that the American appetite for shark movies is insatiable. Almost as insatiable as sharks’ appetites for the flesh of living humans. I couldn’t come up with an acceptable answer to “why sharks?” but evidently the answer to “how often sharks?” is “at least twice a summer, thanks.”

Sharks or #Sharks?

The answer is #sharks. Shark Week is all over social media, and even has its own Twitter handle (@sharkweek). There’s a live stream of “Shark After Dark.” There are seven – seven! – different Shark Cams on the Discovery Channel website. There are interactive shark games, such as What’s Your Shark Personality ( I believe mine is “human,” not sure).

Is Shark Week Controversial?

Sure! There are a ton of articles about how “scientists” hate Shark Week. I love that – the vague job category of “scientist,” just anonymous nerds in lab coats who begin sentences with “according to my calculations…*”.  I guess scientists are pissed because Shark Week included a fictional movie about fictional scientists searching for a long-extinct Really Big Shark. They think this belongs on Sci-Fi, not The Discovery Channel. Okay. But have they seen the Discovery Channel lately? The only things we’re discovering are how the Amish Mafia operates, or ways people have survived on mountains with full camera crews. Half of the shows are like a slightly more educational version of Jackass.

Scientists who have worked with Discovery Channel have found that the information they gave the network was turned into misinformation. That’s a more valid complaint. If your life’s work is studying an animal, you finally get the chance to spread your knowledge, and it’s turned into something that’s flat-out wrong, you’re right to be ticked. Even worse, Shark Week has allegedly hurt conservation efforts because people now want to eat shark, sort of a “if sharks eat humans, humans are just going to eat all of the sharks” thing. As much as I joke about sharks tearing humans apart, the fact is that humans are way worse for sharks.

* I think that “scientist,” of whatever sort, is pretty much the coolest job ever, so no harm meant. But I doubt most of them call themselves “scientists” any more than I’d call myself a “desk person” or “office lady.”

How Do I Live Every Week Like It’s Shark Week?

You know, it depends. If, like me, you aren’t into Shark Week, you live every week like it’s Shark Week by continuing to not watch shows about sharks. If you love Shark Week, then you buy the DVDs, I suppose. If you’re a shark scientist or a conservationist, you try to get your message out there despite the Discovery Channel’s efforts. And if you’re a shark … well, I can’t tell you. Because I don’t watch Shark Week. Just keep swimming, I suppose.

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5 thoughts on “I’m Trying To Understand Shark Week

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