I hate Shark Week, and I am not going to be nice about it anymore.
Really, for years on the TV and media beat, I have wondered why anyone gets hyped up about it. I assumed viewers had to know they were being played.
Of course, everyone understands, I thought, that Shark Week is a marketing concept manufactured by the PR folks at Discovery to attract eyeballs in the middle of summer -- eyeballs that could be sold to advertisers. In other words, eyeballs that could be exploited for the greater profit of Discovery.
What's so cool about being party to that?
Hey, as a marketing concept, it is brilliant. In the dead of summer when viewing was down and networks were running reruns, a basic cable channel comes along and packages a bunch of cheap documentaries and junky films featuring sharks together under a catchy PR umbrella and makes big money.
Way to go, Discovery. We who are about to be sold to advertisers, salute you.
But why do viewers act like it is cool or clever or something to be party to it?
I have been told sharks speak to something deep in our psyche. As a Ph.D. in popular culture from the University of Maryland, College Park, I get that kind of thinking. Really, I do. I had to live it for a decade to get my degree, and I've breathed it for three decades as a newspaper TV/media critic.
But, you know, what? Lots of things speak to something deep in our psyche -- things that we are a lot more likely to come in contact with.
What are the odds of ever meeting a shark face to face, especially in you live in a place like Chicago or Oklahoma -- or even on the Atlantic Coast in a city like Baltimore? Really, do you know how hard you have to work to put yourself in danger of ever having to deal with a shark.
So, why not worry about spiders or rats and have Spider Week and Rat Week on TV?
I live in a stucco house in Baltimore. I have spiders the size of catcher's mitts doing their creepy spider things on my porches. Some of them have big, bright diamond-shaped markings on their backs. When one of those bites you, your body swells up like beach ball, and the doctor puts you on sulfa, which is what they gave people who got malaria in the tropics in 1946, I think.
Let's worry about that. I can't afford to sell my house, so I have to deal with it. I'll spare you any details of dealing with the endless rodent problem in Baltimore. I'll also skip talking about teenagers with no education, lots of anger and guns walking around my neighborhood looking for trouble. Those are things worth worrying about and having a whole week of TV shows focusing on them.
But no, as a culture, we spend the week getting alternately scared by and making jokes about sharks.
If I sound a little overheated it's because, as some of you might have noticed, our dysfunctional federal government (as opposed to our dysfunctional City of Baltimore government) walked us right up to the edge of the cliff of international disgrace and possible economic calamity because they couldn't manage for the last seven months to reach a compromise on the debt ceiling.
Sunday was a day of showdown. But was debt crisis or anything relating to it burning up Twitter?
Noooooooo, What was trending was Shark Week, driven by tweets from the Discovery PR folk.
Typical of the corporate tweets was this one at 4:15 from @SharkWeek, which is part of Discovery's social media effort: "Think we can get to 50,000 followers before tonight's #SharkWeek premieres at 9p e/p? #LEGGGOOO #letsgetit."
Yes, let's get to 50,000 followers, so we can show advertisers how many folks are following Shark Week on Twitter.
Again, all praise to Discovery's PR team -- for its use of social media. But why are people answering this kind of corporate solicitation by signing on as followers and offering their own shark tweets? What's in it for them?
Really, I want people to tell me.
Listen, I am going to put comments on automatic pilot -- no moderating from me. You send it, it gets posted as long as it doesn't violate Sun standards on hate speech and such.
So have it. Have at me.
I say you have an empty media life if you are excited about Shark Week. Tell me why I am wrong.
And don't tell me we watch because we so admire the sharks. I say if you really love and admire sharks, leave them alone. Don't go around sticking cameras in their faces and making them crazy to get dramatic images by which we can be amused and titillated.
PS And spare me the post-modern, camp critique, too. I'm not buying that one either. You can use that to explain everything that's vapid in our culture. And no neo-zombie talk either.