Monday, 16 August 2010

"Sharks and Nazis..."

Rotund comedy genius, Ricky Gervais, once said that National Geographic's sole broadcasting output was programming focusing on either sharks or Nazis, obviously he was joking but one could argue that the media, for many years, has struggled to differentiate their message about sharks and Nazis. An all encompassing, malevolent force of evil, intent on the destruction of all mankind, personified in the image of a sneaky, heartless devil with an attitude problem...Their message about Mr Hitler and his brethren wasn't all together dissimilar either.

In fact, as the troops marched into battle at the Somme in 1916, blood simultaneously stained the beaches (and creek) of a popular Jersey Shore tourist resort as in just twelve days, sharks (I won't get on to the singular shark argument here, I could go on all day) killed four people and seriously injured another. The events at Matawan Creek altered society's perception of the shark forever, it was the only event in wartime America that removed the war from the front pages of the newspapers and from then on it was not uncommon to see cartoonists using sharks as caricatures of German U-Boats, there was even a widespread rumour circulating that the Germans had brought hundreds of ravenous sharks to the shores of the United States as some kind of biological super weapon to devour beach goers trying to cool off during the worst heatwave for a century. It was official, sharks were almost as big a threat to us all as the tyranny of evil, laying waste to thousands of young men on the battlefields of Europe...
That was ninety-four years ago, in between we have had the Indianapolis disaster, South Africa's Black December, high profile and widespread reported shark attacks such as those on Albert Kogler, Barry Wilson and Robert L Pamperin and of course, the ultimate shark shocker, JAWS. Here we are in 2010, have we really progressed much in regards to the media's representation of the shark?

It might be a controversial view but I don't think we have.

Why? Because there is still a distinct barrier between the scientific community and the "man on the street." Of course, there have been huge strides in the last decade or so in regards to wider reporting of the catastrophic plight facing the world's sharks and our oceans on a wider scale but it's thirty years too late and although coverage in the media is becoming more commonplace, it still needs more and for the media to focus on the real issues about sharks.

Shark Week has come and gone, being in the UK, I was unable to watch it as we haven't had the pleasure yet but looking at the titles of Discovery's programming I'm going to stick my neck out and say loads of really bad reconstructions, rehashing of documentaries that have been done before (and better) and perhaps a brief focus on the conservation issues. I have no problem with documentaries about shark attacks, it is an area of particular interest and expertise personally, but the wider stories are almost always missed.

Not being fortunate enough to have grown up in the Bahamas, Florida or Australia, I relied upon documentary films to feed my passion and shape my ambitions. Ron & Valerie Taylor were, and still are, somewhat god-like to me, their groundbreaking approach to interacting with sharks, their scientific yet personal presentation and Valerie's passionate yet reassuring narration heralded a golden age of underwater film-making. We have more technology at our disposal than ever before yet it seems, more often than not, the focus is on "yee-haw" macho men, "the housewives' favourites" or merely putting someone with a biology degree in front of a camera for sixty minutes to do the best he can with a script and story so dry you risk getting eczema merely watching it...

There are of course exceptions, Mike Rutzen's recent films have been consistently good, helped by his amiable personality and passion for his work, the BBC's Paul Rose is another who I want to see more of on our screens, he was by far the standout presence in the excellent "Oceans" series and having had the pleasure of his company on a few occasions, I can say from experience he is also an exceptionally nice bloke! Rob Stewart and Rick O'Barry also deserve praise for the work they have done, I have stated on here before my admiration for Rick and his passionate belief in actually doing something to make a difference.

Shark documentaries aside, the general standard of programming in the UK is atrocious, "101 ways to leave a game show," anything with Katie Price/Peter Andre attached to it and the recruitment process for T4's presenters in particular deserve a special mention. Reality television is as popular as ever, is that a case of the public getting what they want, or what they're given, you decide, however there is a case to be argued that says what can be more fascinating, intriguing or gripping than actual real life?

Where the majority of reality based television programmes focus on making ordinary people look daft, why not have reality television with a difference, where ordinary people can inspire, where their stories can illustrate wider issues and encourage dialect among the man on the street where previously he saw no relevance? Why not have reality television that shows ordinary people can actually do something just, worthwhile and with value?...Combine that with sharks and I think you'd be on to a winner!

If anybody connected with television happens to read this, I'd be happy to point you in the direction of someone who can make that programme for you!

That aside, I will state that where we are now in regards to the shark's media persona, is a far cry from yesteryear and for that we should all be grateful and may the upward curve in the personification of the shark as something at which we should all marvel and something to be enjoyed and treasured be a steep one!

Finally, if I could ask a favour, if you think you may know anyone who would be interested in my shark-centric ramblings, I would be delighted if you could point them in the direction of this blog, maybe encourage them to subscribe? We all need a little love from time to time ;)


Anonymous said...

Being over the age of 30 ;) and having spent over 7 years of that time, working and travelling abroad I have been very fortunate to meet some amazing people and for that I am very grateful. There are about 4 or 5 of them who have inspired me and made a difference to the way I think and act, you are very high up on that list hun. Support you all the way!! Amanda :D xx

Anonymous said...

I second the above comment!! Homosexual Bill :D xx