Now this article might seem a little ‘out of the blue’ to my usual readers – no pun intended –; but it’s about something very near and dear to my heart: honesty. When blatant lies and made-up tales masquerade as ‘the truth’, there is no telling what kind of repercussions there could be. So when a channel that prides itself on ‘enlightening people’ purposefully puts forth horrendously false information just to boost ratings, they end up doing more harm than good.
I’m of course talking about The Discovery Channel’s yearly week of programming known as ‘Shark Week’. Last year many viewers, news station and scientists called the network out publishing a fake documentary, which reported that the massive prehistoric shark known as Megalodon still lived. With Discovery Channel priding itself on intellect and facts, it was appalling to think they would air something filled with doctored photos and actors pretending to be doctors. Well it looks like Discovery doesn’t care about enlightenment anymore – or their viewers – since this year a sequel to that Megalodon special is scheduled for later in the week entitled ‘New Evidence’; but that’s not the worst offense.
Before viewers could sit down and watch any FACTUAL shark programs, Discovery decided to kick off the week with a new special entitled Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine, which – you guessed it – is another fake documentary. Though unlike its predecessor, this special doesn’t mislead viewers by jumping to conclusions; but actively gives viewers information that is not only false and contradictory; but is also impossible.
When Docu-fiction Goes Wrong:
The whole idea of making mythical/extinct creatures seem real began in 2004 when a British Docufiction came out on Animal Planet, called Dragons: A Fantasy Made Real and was marketed as a ‘What If’ Dragons actually existed. The program was honestly amazing and was up front about its purely imaginative nature. It actually took a realistic approach to dragons and drew upon actual mythologies and cultural tales interwoven with evolutionary chains and designs. Though despite all this believable information, the title and constant disclaimers assured audiences that this was purely speculative/imaginative.
A couple of years later in 2012, the same company – Darlow Smithson – produced a show entitled Mermaids: The Body Found, which went right to Animal Planet. Much like the Dragon special, the program took an evolutionary approach to discern how mermaids could have evolved/ Though unlike it’s predecessor, it’s name was never changed to reveal its ‘hypothetical’ nature and was treated as more of an announcement special. In fact, the show even put forth doctored photos and evidence to make their fake case more compelling. They even went so far as to put up a website that claimed to be barren because the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) seized their property and claimed their site – but “a look at the code behind the page reveals it’s still held by the parent company of the Animal Planet channel, Discovery Communications, which bills itself as ‘The World’s #1 Nonfiction Media Company’.”
It wasn’t until the end of the program that a brief disclaimer was aired to show that everything you just witnessed was a bunch of actors and dramatizations. Though no matter how outraged viewers were at this ‘fake documentary’, things were about to get much worse when Discovery Communications decided to air a documentary about an actual creature on their longest trusted channel.
When the Discovery Channel aired Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives during their yearly special Shark Week, many people believed this was an announcement special. Between the doctored photos and lack of substantial disclaimers, people assumed this was a factual program. I mean who would believe The Discovery Channel would air something knowingly fake. Well, as you can expect people were outraged. They even had a different production company, which is apparent by the complete lack of ANY scientific conjecture. Dragons and Mermaids might not have been true; but they used actual science to make them seem plausible. The Megalodon special showed fake attacks and awful CGI imaginings of events.
The only time a disclaimer was aired was at the very end of the program for 3 seconds. Though you can’t really considering it a full 3 seconds because it was flashing. That’s right, a multi-sentence, small font, light color disclaimer was flashing on screen. I’ve seen legal contracts with more apparent fine print than that.
Everyone from CNN to The Daily Show pounced on The Discovery Channel for their blatant deception. Discovery barely replied and seemed to almost flaunt their trick by showing in poll results how 73% of viewers believed them. Though as the old saying goes: ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice ….”. Well, as you can imagine Discovery is releasing a sequel to the Megalodon special entitled “New Evidence”, which once again misleads viewers right by the title itself. Though – as I stated originally – this year Discovery is going even further by kicking off the week with Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine. Though this show doesn’t just make stuff up; it actually says things completely contradictory to known facts.
“Yeah, why did everyone think that? Because you said they were real! The fact that 73%of people believed you doesn’t make them stupid; it makes them trusting good people.” – John Oliver
The purpose of Shark Week has always been twofold: to entertain people with sharks while promoting a healthy understanding of them. After the film Jaws, people developed an intense fear/hatred of sharks; and that continues till today even though we kill approximately 25 million sharks for every one human killed by a shark. So by airing more and more of these fake documentaries – they no longer have the right or class to be called docufiction – they’re missing one of the prime purposes of Shark Week. Though this year is worse than ever as some of the facts in Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine actually promotes an irrational fear of hatred for sharks even worse than Jaws did all those years ago.
Shark of Darkness: Wrath of Submarine gave plenty of false information. The first of which was how ‘Submarine’ apparently eluded sonar by remaining perfectly still and vertical. Plenty of other crazy ideas were put forward, like how Sharks apparently learned from whales and decided to nudge it’s victim away from the other drowning people. The show proclaimed that this shark was ‘displaying traits we have never seen sharks display before’. Of course we’ve never seen these traits before; because they’re not true!
The footage used in the show is actually searchable – much like the Mermaids one – but upon closer inspection you can see all the glaring falsehoods. For starters, the person who uploaded the Sinking Ship video only uploaded that one video and became active only a few weeks before the show aired. Also, the footage itself – if true – is just inhumane. When we see the shark nudging its victim away from the others, the helicopter just watches and films rather than attempt to save the man or any of the other survivors. There is no concern or fear for possible victims in all this footage. It seems as long as they got the shot, that’s all that matters. Though the CGI masquerading as actual footage is laughable at some points – like the disappearing buoy.
Though the worst portion of this program had to be when the show actually started proclaiming that Sharks had a taste for humans and purposefully went after them. The title itself even paints the picture of a vengeful shark, which is entirely false. The image of a vengeful man-eating shark is the very image we have been trying to undo ever since Jaws; but this show just reignited that irrational fear.
Thankfully most people recognized this show as fake. Though even if one person believes this special is true, that is still too many. Sadly, it’s a lot more than one. Most might have recognized it as fake; but there are some people who believed everything. Worst of all, some people have already begun posting hateful things about sharks and how we shouldn’t waste any time trying to save these ‘evil creatures’. I get this is all a quest for ratings; but this ‘week of awareness’ is starting a witch-hunt that will hurt an already endangered species.
Beyond the fear mongering and blatant lies, I don’t understand why The Discovery Channel feels they have to use these fake programs. What’s next, Air Jaws with CGI too? There are over 400 species of sharks and yet the majority of Shark Week is Great White, Great White, Great White. What happened to the shows that actually … oh hell, gave facts. What happened to teaching people about sharks and how they’re not vicious killing machines that only want blood and death.
Even the Megalodon special is laughable because there actually is a fair amount of REAL evidence that can be discussed. I’m not saying Megalodon is still out there; but there is evidence like teeth found by the HMS Challenger which were only 10,000 years old – much more recent than its supposed 1.5 million years ago extinction date. It might not be a doctored photo of a giant fin by a fake German Nazi Uboat; but at least its real. They could even have a special on what we DO know about Megalodon, which is actually pretty sizable. Even if we forget Megalodon, there are tons of other prehistoric sharks that can be explored. Whether the bladed fin Stethacanthus or the aptly named ‘Shark from Hell’ Helicoprion – known for having a buzz saw like appendage on the front of its bottom jaw – there is tons of information about sharks past and present so why must they rely on making things up.
I know all of this and I’m just a simple, well read panda who happens to remember Shark Weeks from years ago. So imagine how amazing and beneficial Shark Week could be if they had ACTUAL marine biologist and paleontologists to discuss all the latest shark discoveries that have been made in the past 10-15 years. It’d be better for the sharks; and people would actually learn something – which I HOPE still means something. The only Shark Week program I’m going to watch this week is about DeepSea Sharks, which should actually be informative. Beyond that, I won’t waste my time on those fake documentaries and refuse to contribute to Discovery’s ratings for those awful programs.
If you want to actually support sharks – and learn a thing or two, go check out Shark Defenders and Shark Savers to see how you can make a difference. And for those of you who love sarcasm as much as I do, be sure to trend #FakeSharkWeekFacts on Social Media. It’s will help protest Discovery’s lack of scientific integrity and is a lot of fun.
Sharks love it when Pandas take Selfies with them! #FakeSharkWeekFacts