After re-reading Night 1’s review, I realize that I might have been overly angry, maybe too critical, perhaps not realizing that Shark Week is a ratings gimmick, and that Discovery Communications is simply putting out a product that packages something I feel very intensely about to a much narrower, more profitable swath of demography than what I think would appreciate the shows. I mean, I’m a white guy, right? Shouldn’t I be happy in the eight hours of Shark Week they’ve only featured three non-male scientist/engineer/conservationist, and no POC presenters? Shark Week, to borrow from the Twilight Zone, looks just like me.
And that’s a real problem for sharks. If we’re going to save them, we need to show that EVERYONE should love sharks. And I get that’s why we’re seeing Will Smith, Shaq, and Mike Tyson this year — you want famous people to be ambassadors for sharks, to light a fire for them in people who made them famous. If the Fresh Prince/Agent J/Captain Stephen Hilliard/Deadshot/Hitch loves sharks, maybe I should too. Hear me out though — wouldn’t it be cooler for people who aren’t white and male, who might love sharks but watching Shark Week and think the only way they’ll get to dive with sharks is as a gimmick and not as a career, see scientists/engineers/conservationists who look like them? I grew up with Jacques Cousteau, Jim of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, James Mason as Captain Nemo and Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper. It was easy for me to fall in love with sharks and shark science. I had role models. For other kids in my neighborhood? Not so much.
Do me a favor. If you’ve got a Twitter, follow the Minorities in Shark Science account (or just go to https://www.misselasmo.org/). Check out what they’ve got — and maybe send them a tweet saying hi, that you’re excited to see what they’re up to. Maybe tag @discovery in that tweet.
Let’s keep the shark ball rolling.
ONTO THE SHARK WEEK 2020 NIGHT 2 REVIEWS!!!
Abandoned Waters (3/5)
This was the show I had high hopes for Shark Week 2020 Night 2. The premise here is that scientists want to study how a lack of human presence (from the global COVID-19 shutdown, which has MASSIVELY affected the SCUBA and shark diving industry) is affecting great white populations off of the Neptune Islands of Australia. This is what I was hoping for, and visually, it doesn’t disappoint — there’s some fantastic footage of beautiful white sharks (they were complaining about the visibility, which I found charmingly infuriating). The night diving cage footage is so cool (WANT TO DO), and the we’ve got a really interesting experiment to work with — so why did it fall flat for me?
The tone of the show just didn’t help. One of my favorite Shark Week specials is “The Legend of Dynamite” (available to watch here) from 2015, which follows a sub-adult great white shark as it learns to hunt in the waters off of Cape Town. It was just a beautifully shot, wonderfully scored show, with a voiceover that didn’t make it seem you were waiting to watch Samuel L. Jackson get eaten.
It’s also too focused on the “will the equipment break, will the scientists be in peril?” conceit, and not enough on the science and adventure. And there’s a lot of adventure here! A ton of it! At one point they scientists are in the water with three great whites and one is really curious about the cage — but there’s no joy conveyed in that moment. And I promise you, as a shark diver, there’s no greater joy than when you’re in the water, and you’re surrounded by sharks. It is a moment of sheer, unadulterated giddiness. I know the scientists felt that. I wish Discovery would make you feel that too.
I’ve been told sometimes I speak exclusively in Simpsons quotes, like that episode of Star Trek where Capt. Picard tries to establish relations with a species that speaks only in metaphor. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce I might be getting old, because this episode just did not do it for me. Which is a shame, because I really liked the last Shaq Shark Week episode. Part of the problem is COVID-19 (and maybe Shaq’s schedule), because he was kept cooped up at the Georgia Aquarium (and there are absolutely worse places to be cooped up), but putting Shaq in a controlled environment like an aquarium (and I absolutely love aquarium diving — provided, of course, the aquarium’s like the Georgia Aquarium and not some aquarist version of Tiger King, or Sea World) while letting the high-fivin’ white guys of Dude Perfect (and no, you do not get a link — the line must be drawn here — THIS FAR, NO FURTHER!) screw around in the Gulf Stream off of Florida is a waste of everyone’s time. Including yours. My friend Sylvia said her boys love Dude Perfect. See attached GIF.
I’m giving it two stars instead of one solely because it had my favorite shark, the Zebra Shark, on display, and told us that they could be trained to recognize objects with certain colors or positive (re: food — because what’s more positive to a shark than food?) stimuli, and then of course failed to shows us. Or maybe they did? I honestly tuned out after the Zebra Sharks, because if I’m being honest? I could care less about a bunch of bros shooting hoops to prank one of their own Jackass style. I would have liked to have seen more Shaq and whale sharks, and more about the whale sharks. If you haven’t seen this one yet, unless you like Dude Perfect (I swear, my IQ dipped as I typed those words) or are a huge Shaq fan, just DVR it, skip to the Zebra sharks, enjoy, then delete.
Jaws Awakens (2/5)
I’m getting A LOT worried about this year’s Shark Week. This was another show where they try to find a specific shark (this one’s named “Phred”) and the premise, almost completely abandoned, is that larger great whites are appearing more frequently and that’s because conservation efforts are working. Great! Let’s talk about that! And let’s do it with actual New Zealanders! Did you know the Maori, the indigenous first people of those islands, have a rich cultural tradition when it comes to sharks? It’s true!
“In Māori mythology, the demi-god Māui placed the shark Te Māngōroa in the sky, forming the Milky Way. Sharks and rays, along with other animals living in the sea, were considered to be the children of the ugly god Punga.”(Gerard Hutching, ‘Sharks and rays – Māori and sharks’, Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand)
Damn that’s cool. And there’s a ton of shark iconography in the religions of the Polynesian and Melanesian people (Kamohoalii of Hawaii, Dakuwaqa of Fiji, and more!). Let’s see where the science and tradition of the people who live there take us! But no, Discovery decided what we needed were more white guys. In fact, they’re going to import some white guys from America and South Africa.
And it’s just OK. There’s a couple cool shots, the requisite equipment failure, same old, same old. Shark Fest on Nat Geo had some REALLY cool shows this year, including Sharks of the Bermuda Triangle, Shark vs. Whale, and Sharks vs Dolphins: Blood Battle. Don’t let the dumb names fool you — they were really good and you should check them out. And those three shows have eclipsed what Shark Week has offered us this year.
It’s time for Shark Week to re-invent itself.
Tomorrow’s reviews might be a little late — I’m doing a night hike in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. If I’m still alive, reviews then!