Film and TV

"Shark Week" Has Officially [Puts on Sunglasses] Jumped the Shark

Like the disembodied arm in Jaws 3-D you probably saw this coming. Last year's Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives was, as it turns out, nowhere near the low point for Discovery Channel.

As I wrote about at the time, that program didn't even try to toe the line between feasibility and speculation, instead taking a swan dive into a barrier reef of outright bullshit. Worse (or better, depending on how much of your existence is fueled by manufactured outrage), Discovery only fessed up after they were called out for trying to convince people a 60-foot shark that hasn't been seen at any point in human existence was still lurking about.

Discovery kicked of "Shark Week 2014" last Sunday with another fictitious exercise called Shark of Darkness: The Wrath of Submarine. Ostensibly an "investigation" into the existence of a supposed 30+ foot great white that's plagued the inhabitants of South Africa for decades, it was yet another example of Discovery's brand of "docufiction" (I can't believe that's actually a word), coyly hinting at "re-enactments" but otherwise presenting as proof testimony by actors passing themselves off as survivors and "experts" with no apparent bona fides. It would be hilarious if not for the fact they were featured on a channel that, once upon a time, acted like it gave a shit about conservation and science.

There was a sense of inevitability to this. Ever before the first Air Jaws premiered in 2001, Discovery Channel's focus relentlessly shifted from at least quasi-informational programming like Sharks of Polynesia and reports about the barbaric practice of "finning." This year, there are *three* separate programs about the hunt for "giant sharks," while even the shows that sound like they might offer some insight feature unfortunate titles like Zombie Shark and Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss.

Note: the sharks in question are neither undead nor from outer space.

And if the Twitter and Facebook comments displayed during Sunday's airing of Shark of Darkness last Sunday were any indication, people are still -- you'll forgive the pun -- swallowing the BS hook, line, and sinker. Never mind that a simple Google search would discount the existence of the "Joyride" disaster, or that "shark expert" Mel Thurmond works for a nonexistent organization (the "South African Institute for Marine Research"), or that great white sharks don't (and can't) skulk motionless in the depths until the time is right to strike.

Discovery points out tha a disclaimer was played before the program. It sure was:

Submarine is a legendary shark first sighted off the coast of South Africa in 1970.
Eyewitness accounts say it is over 35 feet long.
Its existence is highly controversial.
Events have been dramatized, but many believe Submarine exists to this day.

Technically this is all true, if by "events" they mean "the entire goddamn show." Kind of like that "Secret of M. Night Shyamalan" bullshit from several years ago.

Posting gullible audience member tweets during the show almost feels like Discovery Channel is simply yanking our collective chains and posting evidence of its success, sort of like when 4Chan gamed Time's "100 Most Influential People Poll." If the sole purpose of shit like this and Megalodon is just trolling the audience, why bother with a disclaimer at all?

As is the case with the so-called Learning Channel, I think it might be time to change Discovery's name. The network at least used to give lip service to our responsibility in maintaining health oceans, but now their marquee week of programming promotes such fear-mongering horseshit it may as well be an Irwin Allen movie. This year alone we've got Sharkageddon, which looks at the "recent spikes in shark attacks" in Hawaii. Problem is, there's been one recorded attack in Hawaii so far in 2014. Or maybe you'd prefer I Escaped Jaws 2, which is not -- as I'd have suspected -- a collection of tales of those who barely managed to get out of the theater during the 1978 sequel, but rather the gripping accounts of attack survivors. Of course, your mileage on "gripping" may vary, depending on your tolerance for, "It bit my foot and swam off."

Meanwhile, NPR reports many restaurants are unfortunately using Shark Week as an excuse to get more people to eat shark. Oh, irony; your sting is wicked and burns like Syberg's famous Cajun seasoning.

I used to get enthused for Shark Week, admittedly more out of inertia than anything else these last few years. Now I just can't. For many of the same reasons I walked out of Transformers: Age of Extinction, I'm unwilling to sit through any more of this bilge. And Megalodon: The New Evidence airs later this week. So long, Disocvery. It's been real, but I think it might best if I saw other channels.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar