If I were to ask 100 people what their week was gonna look like, many would respond with the words above. In fact, this is how many statuses looked on Facebook Sunday night. One thrilled Facebooker writes that "Shark week is like a national holiday. It's bigger than Christmas!" Though it's still summer vacation for most school goers, could people with jobs begin petitioning for a week-long national holiday for this?
The ratings do not lie. Megan Gibson of Time Magazine reports that Shark Week is in it's 23rd season, averaging 20 million viewers each year, peaking at 29 million in 2008. I tweeted on this yesterday and it sparked a bit of conversation with a few folk. In the tweet I provided an answer to the implied question, "What is it about Shark Week that everyone finds so fascinating?" The statuses exclaim their love of Shark Week, but few if any explain it. One guy did say he loved Shark Week because "every show starts with, 'due to graphic images, this program may not be suitable for all viewers'. In an attempt to answer a parallel question, Isia Jasiewicz of Newsweek writes
Because appreciations are the currency of small cable channels (see also: The Weather Channel's love of all things storm related). Shark Week is, on its face, a truly genuine admiration of the majesty of "nature’s perfect killing machine."..."I'm watching Shark Week!" is a little like saying "I'm on a boat!" It's not about sharks, man. Like Snakes on a Plane, Piranhas 3-D, or any other over-the-top animal-attack fest with a blunt, obvious name, Shark Week has bite...Jasiewicz chalks it up to the channel's utter admiration of all things shark and the viewers succumbing to trendiness. Honestly, that could be all it is. Solid admiration, strategic marketing, and trendiness may cause a tipping point even for Paper Clip Week, but I'm gonna risk taking it a bit deeper and say that Shark Week taps into our acute fascination not with sharks, but with power.
Presence of Power
Perception tells us that sharks rule the ocean. Though you are more likely to be bit by another person than a shark, when we see the news or videos of real shark attacks we admittedly think twice or three times before going even waste-deep out into the ocean. News, photos and videos serve as a reminder that we are not on our home turf if you will.
We get enraptured by any creature or creation that dominates and reigns over its domain. It happens anywhere from the animal kingdom to the kingdom of the court where James is King (or is he now Prince James?). We salivate at power and control with all programming we tune in to watch, not just Shark Week. Even with so-called "love" shows like the Bachelorette we act like Pavlov's dogs when the hour strikes 8:00. People will forget about Roberto and remember the drama of Ali's selection (power to choose) process.
The pop culture references are replete, but they also exist within the Church. Power for pastors is defined by enormous churches, for theologians its numerous publications. I will never forget my first day of class in seminary when a certain well-known professor of entered the room leaving in his wake a hush over each row he passed. His power commanded that kind of awe and respect. In our awe and respect the keys on each computer and the pens in each hand rapidly took note of every jot and tiddle that flowed out of his mouth. Our actions reflected the understanding we all had, that we were in the presence of power. Likewise, though we may hesitate to step in the ocean, we are quick to DVR the Discovery Channel during this whole week just to in the presence of sharks.
Power to Destroy
Interestingly, the power this professor has contains another element yet to be mentioned explicitly - the power to crush and destroy friend or foe. I will leave this up to your imagination because extending my explanation may lead me into some hot water. However, I think it is worth noting that true power instills fear in the hearts of those who are in its presence. This is what makes Shark Week so addictive. First of all, it's Shark Week. The Discovery Channel does not have any other week like it for any other animal. They don't do Mouse Week or Moose Week. Secondly, it's Shark Week. A day or two is not enough to whet our appetite, so a full week of programming is vitally necessary, though I know that still leaves many of the millions of viewers wanting more. There's something exhilarating about knowing that if I were swimming in the real presence of a Great White shark a limb or my whole body could be consumed in one scrumptulescent bite.
Power of Protection
The most fatal shark attack happened during World War II. The USS Indianapolis sank in the Philippine Sea near Guam. Nearly 900 sailors were stranded for four days. When help arrived only 317 were alive. 579 were reported dead, some chewed to pieces. Sadly they did not survive their shark week.
20 million people would not volunteer themselves to be stranded in the middle of the ocean; we have a hard enough time getting that many people to donate blood a pint of blood. Though many may consider giving blood a duty, I do not expect anyone in their right mind to willingly be stranded in the ocean, save Bear Grylls or Survivor Man (whose right-mindedness is questionable). I know I'm making light of a weighty matter, but this many people have the quasi-sadistic pleasure of watching every bit of Shark Week each year. We are all grateful for the combination of proximity to a shark's natural environment and the safety of our natural environment, which is on a couch in front the TV screen. I think what we experience is the synthesis between the presence of power and the power of protection. Although it may not be the same as being in a protective suit guarded by a cage under water as you hold chum out for all the starving finned ones, the editing and story of each "deadliest attack" show makes up for it.
Power Spectators or Power Seekers?
So by using Shark Week I've contended that we have an acute fascination with power by looking at it from several angles. What do you think? Even if you think I'm way off, at least you're thinking and I'd love to hear back from you. Moving forward, I think Shark Week raises an interesting question, particularly following the concept of the power of protection: Are we merely power spectators or are we also power seekers? That will have to wait until Friday.
By His Grace.