Friday, August 5, 2011

Anthropology of Shark Week

Yes you heard me correctly; this post is in fact about Shark Week. You may be wondering why exactly I’m talking about sharks when Anthropology is the study of people but bear with me you’ll get it in a second. This past week was in fact shark week and in case I forgot all I had to do was stick my head out of the window of my office and look down the block to see the giant shark busting out of the Discovery Channel building.

So why is Shark week so huge (literally and figuratively)? I mean this week I couldn’t go on twitter or facebook without coming across posting about shark week. Many people across the country were glued to their couches as they watched hours upon hours of shark shows. So why are sharks so enthralling? I mean we don’t see Discovery featuring a “Tiger Week” or an “Elephant Week.” No it’s specifically sharks that people are devoting their weeks to. What is it about these creatures that draw people in? Well think about it a predator that lurks beneath the ocean just waiting for prey as then suddenly they attack.

Heck why do you think the movie Jaws did so well? The shark isn’t just an ordinary fish; it’s a symbol of mystery and intrigue. Even now with shark shows and scientists working to find out more and more about sharks they remain pretty elusive. It isn’t like other animals that can be plucked from the wild and studied they are hard to catch and hard to study. This being said it is interesting also to note that sharks have been around for thousands upon millions of years (depending on which scientists you talk to). They have survived this long without much evolution because they’re perfectly engineered for what they do.

There are many cultures around the world that both greatly fear and worship the shark. Many Polynesians worship the shark-god and place offerings in the ocean for him. So what about the shark makes it so magnificent and in some cases divine? Well we then go back to the shark being elusive and mysterious. As a society we mostly have a fear of the unknown and the shark swimming around in the water below you unnoticed ready to attack at any time is the ultimate unknown. Thus like many things in our society that we fear we have to showcase it.

How better to showcase it then to create an entire week dedicated to shows that share more knowledge about sharks, sharks and more sharks. The stories of survival, of attack, of mystery are all so thrilling to us and the fact that they are all about sharks is thrilling to us. They are beautiful majestic creatures that are also one of the deadliest on earth. It’s that paradox that will continue to entertain the masses for decades to come.


G.C. Dambach said...

I feel that the real divide between sharks and tigers/elephants for a week of programming is that there are over 500 known species of shark while only two species of elephant and less than 10 of tiger. Sharks range from the 6 inch Dwarf Shark, to the largest fish in the sea and come in hundreds of shapes to match their needs. They're found on every coast and several rivers, and the stories told about them are as varied as the fish themselves.
I feel that the true fascination with sharks in modern culture comes from the discovery that the fear of something so pervasive in global society is completely unsound and that sharks (as with most animals) are behaviorally not too different from humans. Humans love to personify things, and (as in many popular story arcs) we are easily amused when the villain turns out to be an ally.
Furthermore, sharks are some of the most badass motherfuckers on the planet. They never get cancer, have teeth for skin, only eat once every few weeks (digesting their meals only just before they attack again so they never need to store energy as fat), regenerate teeth constantly, and have the common sense to (almost) never attack humans even though we're swimming right next to their food.

Sam Curtin said...

Sweet, see you learn something new everyday. This post was just making the point that like you said us humans like to personify things thus making them easy to "identify" with. It's interesting you pointed out about how we are easily amused "when the villain turns out to be an ally." It's very true. I happen to love my characters in those shades of grey.

None said...

I think the fascination goes much deeper than a "mysterious" factor that we are playing off of here. Yeah, I'll give you the point that they are interesting; however, sharks--in some ways--are analogous to our endeavors here on earth (national sense). For example, the shark continuously searches, devours, and catches their prey. The shark is at the top of the food chain - much like us. We populated the earth and expanded into any location which was even slightly habitable. For humans it is land, and for sharks it is water. Sharks are continually adapting to fresh water and are continuously being found in shallow water which it wasn't able to do before.

The intrigue, fascination, and admiration of the shark is not that it is a magnificent creature on its own, but the fact that it is a magnificent creature that is overwhelmingly similar to us.

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