I don’t really watch Discovery Channel, and haven’t for a long time after I noticed that all it was playing when I had it on were re-runs of The Deadliest Catch (which Miss Pink calls “The Crab Show with Too Much Beeping”), and Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs.  While I can appreciate the former for insight into a way of life I could never envision for myself, and the latter for an appreciation of those who do the things we take for granted every day, seeing nothing else on a channel whose mission statement suggests some amount of science related content wears a little thin.

Then along came Orange County Choppers, Gold Diggers, and that ice logging show and I forgot what channel I was watching, so I turned off my TV and went outside.

Anyway, this week is Shark Week, and you likely already know that it was kicked off with a fake documentary called Megalodon, which presented recently discovered “footage” that captured a giant shark attack on a fishing vessel right before it sank.  During the show “evidence” was presented that suggested that this extinct shark of the decidedly prehistoric world is still alive and well.  Needless to say, some people didn’t take too kindly to the intentionally dishonest way this material was presented.  True, there were some disclaimers that were intended to assuage audiences’ concerns that this was a real show, but they were so unbelievably half-assed that in the end, they didn’t say anything clear one way or the other.

“None of the institutions or agencies that appear in the film are affiliated with it in any way, nor have approved its contents.”

“Though certain events and characters in this film have been dramatized, sightings of “Submarine” continue to this day.”

“Megalodon was a real shark. Legends of giant sharks persist all over the world. There is still debate about what they may be.”

So from this, you’re not supposed to think that the show is completely real.  Even though Discovery makes every effort to plant enough doubt in your mind that you’re left thinking that there’s some truth to their claims.

After all, this is their description on Facebook:

Discovery, one of the most widely distributed cable networks in the U.S., is dedicated to creating the highest quality non-fiction content that informs and entertains its consumers about the world in all its wonder, diversity and amazement.

Yet they pull this History Channel / Ancient Aliens type doublespeak – “it’s not real … or is it???” – as a way to get some additional viewership for what would still have been a perfectly respectable ratings week without it.  Michael Sorensen, executive producer for Shark Week, defended the stunt by … well … calling it sheer speculation:

“With a whole week of Shark Week programming ahead of us, we wanted to explore the possibilities of Megalodon,” Sorensen said in a statement. “It’s one of the most debated shark discussions of all time, can Megalodon exist today? It’s Ultimate Shark Week fantasy. The stories have been out there for years and with 95 percent of the ocean unexplored, who really knows?”

The scientific community is pretty sure on this, so until there’s some hard data to the contrary, please stop making shit up.  You’re supposed to be an educational channel, and you could have done this within the confines of your own goddamned mission statement.  Instead you head further down the same road as History Channel and the long-lost TLC, which had once been funded by NASA and was known as The Learning Channel.  Now, the degree to which it’s been dumbed down makes me wonder if it shouldn’t be called TLCD – The Lowest Common Denominator.  It would be fitting, since that’s where many of these self-proclaimed “educational” channels are headed as they forgo programs of substance with gripping reality TV shows like Amish Mafia, Ghost Lab, American Loggers, and yes, even Deadliest Catch.

Maybe I’m overreacting.  I know I’m jumping on the bandwagon, but something like this is just too low-hanging a fruit to pass up.  What upsets me is not necessarily this one incident in particular, but the downward trending of channels formerly focused on education into the muck of cheap sensationalism provided by reality TV.  By and large, we are a nation of scientifically illiterate people, and the last thing we need is the few sources of publicly accessible scientific education making the situation worse.

Allow me to illustrate with a poll on the Discovery Channel website:

Do you believe that Megalodon is still alive?
YES! The evidence for Megalodon can’t be ignored. This monster shark lives.
MAYBE… 95 percent of our oceans remain unexplored, so it’s possible that Megalodon is still out there.
NO! The scientists are right: Megalodon went extinct 1.5 million years ago. (Thankfully!)

That option including the phrase “the scientists are right” should be at 100%.  The evidence points to this species of shark – one we know only from what we’ve managed to dig up – going extinct 1.5 million years ago.  There is absolutely nothing to suggest otherwise … no fresh teeth, no megalodons in fishing nets, and no other marine life that looks like they’ve fallen prey to anything approaching that size.  Even the people who were in the show itself said they’re extinct.  But hey, the ocean’s big, so let’s ignore the scientific community and just go with speculation.  It may not be true, but it gets people to watch … and that’s obviously more important.

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9 Responses to Megalomania

  1. This stunt with TLC’s Shark Week doesn’t seem much different than The History Channel running the Bible series. I mean, they’re both looking at myths and using their imagination along with some exaggeration. I don’t watch much TV because it’s so. damn. boring. All the reality shows are just reinforcing a culture of nosiness and narcissism. Check out this interesting quiz/article from the Smithsonian that asks, are we smarter than a 1912-era 8th grader? I bet most of us are not:

    • I’m ashamed to think how I’d do on that quiz. Science, spelling, and math are fine. Civics … passable. History? Who discovered the Pacific? When was the last time I had to know that? Oh, right … for an 8th grade history exam.

      All the reality shows are just reinforcing a culture of nosiness and narcissism.

      And nastiness. Reality shows tell you that you will be rewarded for being a selfish asshole which as we all know … is … uhhh …

      Actually, yeah, that’s pretty much the way it works in real life. I guess the owners of these networks found a cheap way to recruit the next generation of CEOs and politicians.

  2. YES. I could have written this. So sick of these channels with all this crap on them. My husband watches them. I miss just having 3 network stations and PBS. These channels were supposed to educate – and some people still fucking like that!

    I cannot believe TLC was once funded by NASA. Holy crap.

    • Even if they still have some educational programming available, the constant stream of reality TV garbage turns off people like me so much that they just stop tuning in altogether.

      Amish Mafia. SERIOUSLY.

      • Breaking Amish is almost as bad. They take these people who were supposedly Amish, yet have common accents and frequently curse, sleep around, etc., as soon as the get to the city. About the only thing Amish is their dress when they first get there. I smell a big Amish rat.

        Only TLC could make the Amish look dirty.

  3. erickeys says:

    I certainly think it’s low of them to have such half-assed disclaimers, but I do sort of enjoy the fringe “science” stuff from time to time. I grew up on “In Search Of” and loved it. Leonard Nimoy’s voice overs on that show bring back such wonderful childhood memories of fear and wonder. Of course, even as a kid I knew most of what was on that show was bogus. It was a special kind of fiction, I figured, that could be mistaken for truth at moments. And that made it thrilling in a way.

    Which isn’t to say it’s responsible journalism, etc. I’m just saying I have a fondness for it that, perhaps, I should let go of.

    • I know how you feel … I have to admit I used to love the fringe science stuff too for the same reasons. When I was growing up I’d watch specials on aliens, UFOs, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster … but didn’t have enough of a background in real science or even critical thinking to be able to tell how much of it was real and how much was bullshit, so I just believed it all. Now I think I react the way I do out of sympathy, because I see a lot of adults today falling for the same crap I used to fall for myself, without even considering they’re being manipulated by doubt and a deliberately ambiguous presentation of supposed facts.

      • erickeys says:

        I’m really conflicted about it. I guess I’d rather shows like this didn’t exist, but part of me would miss them.

  4. Creativerealms says:

    Some shows I can deal with, shows like Pawn Stars and it’s spin offs at least still deal with history in ways. Then you have shows like Swamp People and stuff and well WTF. I get that these educational channels are trying to get more people to watch them and are trying to be more entertaining but they have sacrificed their integrity to do so. When you have the likes of Honey Boo Boo on The Learning Channel we have serous problems.

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