As you read this, the sun is setting on another installment of Shark Week, the Discovery Channel's seven-day marathon of programming dedicated solely to nature's most fearsome killing machine. It's sort of like the Super Bowl of nature documentaries.
Do sharks really deserve all this glory, though? If you try telling someone you're afraid of sharks, they'll immediately retaliate with all sorts of fun facts and figures about how sharks kill fewer people than lightning or vending machines.
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Holy shit, look out behind you, lady!
That's what happened when I tried to put forth the theory that, maybe, sharks are a little scarier than we give them credit for. Nevertheless, here we are, once again spending an entire week celebrating their might and fury. Something's got to give, America. Sharks can be scary enough to warrant a week of television, or they can be less of a threat than slipping in the bathtub, but they don't get to be both. That's one of the things we talk about on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
Admit it right damn now: Jaws is kind of a dumb movie. Sure, it's the best shark-based film of all time, but only in the same way The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is the best chainsaw-based film of all time -- it's a completely ridiculous idea that someone happened to get right once. People have tried to recreate that magic time and again since then to no avail.
The reason for this is simple. Just as it is with a chainsaw, there are a very limited number of ways to kill a person using a shark. They aren't viable horror movie villains. The chances of them invading Manhattan or joining forces with a fellow predator without it looking like the most absurd shit ever are right on par with Leatherface recklessly waving his power tools around in any other part of Texas without immediately getting shot in the face by eight different Second Amendment enthusiasts at once.
Except in Austin, probably.
If you need further proof, consider some of the more "memorable" shark movies from recent history and what their respective plots entailed. One of them, Open Water, was literally just two unlikable dipshits floating around in the ocean waiting to be eaten by a bunch of invisible sharks.
The lead actors in Cast Away did way more entertaining stuff, and one of them was a goddamn volleyball.
The other, Sharknado, is the aforementioned "most absurd shit ever" that always results from crossing a shark with anything else on film.
When it comes to shark movies, those are the only possible directions things can take. It's either realistic and boring or it's comedy, intentional or not. Deny it all you want, but there are simply no other stops along the shark movie highway. In what world does this body of work justify celebrating sharks' abilities as entertainers for an entire week every year? The shark's shortcomings aren't completely fictional, either. For example ...
The sight of a shark's fin tearing across the surface of the water is one of the most iconic and terror inducing in all of nature. Whether it was in person or in a movie theater, it's something you've seen before, and you recognize it as a clear sign that danger is afoot. While there's no denying that this does indeed look pretty neat, it's also a huge problem for sharks, for a lot of reasons.
First is a really obvious one that I'm surprised I don't hear mentioned more often. While there's no denying their murder ability, having one of the most recognizable symbols of doom attached to your back makes your potential attacks way easier to spot. As cool as it is for a lifeguard to stand up and yell "Shaaaaarrrrkkkk!" in a movie, the fact that they're able to means the shark is slightly less effective at killing than other predators. Piranhas, for example, don't play that shit.
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They don't fly scary flags to let you know they're coming. They just show up and start killing. It's unspeakably efficient.
Sure, a shark's fin isn't the easiest thing to spot, but nevertheless, it can be spotted, and whether you like it or not, that makes them slightly less terrifying than other sea beasts that only announce their presence by way of snacking on a section of your calf muscle.
Next are the more obvious, "documented by science" kind of reasons. Namely, those fins that scare us so much also prevent sharks from swimming backward. If something is charging toward them head-on, their only course of action is to fall away in whatever direction they feel most comfortable pussying out. Fortunately, this is a motion they can pull off with little to no effort, seeing as how a shark immediately sinks if it stops moving.
Wait, do other fish swim backward, though? Sure, some can. Even if not, fuck sharks for not being able to. They should be finalizing plans for learning how to walk by now with how much we drool over their athletic ability. Oh, hey, and speaking of that ...
What I just said about sharks finalizing plans to walk on land? Relax, it will never happen. Why? Well, a lesser writer would say "because science," back it up with an animated GIF of the Land Shark from Saturday Night Live, and call it a day. The actual scientific answer, though, is that, because sharks don't have a rib cage, they run the significant risk of suffocating under their own stupidly massive body weight outside water.
I get that they live in water so this isn't a huge deal, unless you're hoping sharks someday evolve into the kind of killing machine that's worthy of all this hype and admiration. Clearly this is never going to happen if they can't even take 10 steps onto the beach without choking to death. The ability to walk on land is a must if you truly hope to be the biggest badass in the animal kingdom. Take bears, for example.
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Or maybe just try to take one at first and see how it goes.
They obviously wreck shit on land, but they're also decent swimmers. In a pinch, an especially hungry bear could totally take you out in shallow water. Like the waters of Lake Tahoe, for example!
Sharks lack this versatility. They will never satiate that rumble in their disgusting reversible stomachs by snatching an unsuspecting sunbather from their beach chair.
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I find this very disappointing. If I was judging some kind of animal-based reality talent competition, this inability to appeal to a wider audience would prevent me from sending sharks on to Hollywood. Yes, I get that, relative to their surroundings, sharks are plenty terrifying. Still, there are a lot of other animals with way more ability to mix things up, and not a single one of them gets their own week on the Discovery Channel.
Also, since we're on the subject of bullshit discoveries ...
Have you ever heard the myth that sharks don't get cancer? It's hard to trace the exact origins of the myth, but if I had to guess, I'd say it started sometime around the release of the book Sharks Don't Get Cancer by Dr. I. William Lane.
No worries, we'll kill them all.
Actually, the research into sharks and cancer started a few years prior to the release of that book; it's just that "Doctor" Lane was the first to figure out how to exploit it for his own personal gain.
How much cancer do you need to have before the second book becomes necessary?
After a few previous studies failed to turn up any evidence of tumors in sharks, Lane used the results to come to the obvious conclusion that not only do sharks never ever get cancer, but that if we consume their magical cartilage ourselves, we too will never be stricken with tumors or cancerous growths of any nature. Surprise! It's complete and total bullshit! The idea that sharks don't get cancer and are immune to disease was discredited a long time ago. Nevertheless, the shark cartilage-supplement industry is still very much a thing.
They're on sale!
In fact, that's a huge reason why ...
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Another frequent response to telling a person you're afraid of sharks is a lengthy lecture about how sharks are the ones who should be afraid of humans. After all, we kill millions of them each year. We'd all die of cancer if we didn't. Also, their fins make a damn delicious soup.
On account of that, man just totally dominates sharks, to the tune of at least 100 million killed each year. Some estimates put the number as high as 273 million. Meanwhile, sharks kill about five people each year. If anything, they should be watching a week of television about us.
This week on Lifetime!
We aren't the only mammals who've figured out how to tame the mighty shark. As discussed previously on Cracked, the ocean's mightiest mammal, the killer whale, has been seen taking out sharks in all sorts of new and exciting ways. The most famous incident involved a whale holding a great white underwater for 15 minutes to suffocate it before feasting on its liver. It was so much fun to watch, there's an entire documentary about it.
If holding a great white shark underwater for 15 minutes in and of itself seems like a pretty impressive feat, that's because it totally is. The reason it worked, though, is because of something called tonic immobility. It's like the shark version of playing dead, and they're susceptible to it in a variety of ways. As it just so happens, flipping a great white on its back calms it right the fuck down. Enough so that you can drown it and whip yourself up an easy meal with little to no hassle.
It will help if you're also a murderous whale.
So, it looks like your goddamn killer fish aren't so badass after all, are they? Maybe that's why the minds behind Shark Week have been constantly followed by claims from scientists who say they were duped into appearing in ridiculous documentaries about mythical sharks that almost certainly don't exist. We've been selling people sharks as a form of entertainment for years now, and it's clearly a well that's starting to run dry. For all intents and purposes, sharks have jumped the shark. I say we give a different predator their own week next year.
Adam would like it a whole lot if you'd download the latest episode of his podcast and/or watch him tell jokes at Rooftop Comedy. Then come see him do that in person the first and third Tuesday of every month at Westside Comedy Theater in Santa Monica. Once you have all of that out of your system, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.