Megalodon: Myths and Misinformation

From Modern Mythology:

001-800px-Carcharocles_megalodon_10315

There is an 85 foot shark lurking in the depths off the Cape, and it’s Photoshopped as hell.

For many of those that caught the Sharknado meets Blair Witch atrocity of MegalodonWil Wheaton’s comments probably feel familiar – this very discussion occurred in the room as we watched with mild amusement and growing disgust – as it raises a larger question of where the burden of responsibility lies for stations such as Discovery or the History Channel, which has aired any number of dubious “documentaries.” (Whatever it was, It Was Aliens.)

Why bother getting upset about yet another stupid “found footage” fake documentary passed off as real? Isn’t that pretty much par for the course on cable these days?

And then I realized why I was (and am) so angry: I care about education. I care about science. I care about inspiring people to learn about the world and universe around us. Sharks are fascinating, and megalodon was an absolutely incredible creature! Discovery had a chance to get its audience thinking about what the oceans were like when megalodon roamed and hunted in them. It had a chance to even show what could possibly happen if there were something that large and predatory in the ocean today … but Discovery Channel did not do that. In a cynical ploy for ratings, the network deliberately lied to its audience and presented fiction as fact. Discovery Channel betrayed its audience.

An entire generation has grown up watching Discovery Channel, learning about science and biology and physics, and that generation trusts Discovery Channel. We tune into Discovery Channel programming with the reasonable expectation that whatever we’re going to watch will be informative and truthful. We can trust Discovery Channel to educate us and our children about the world around us! That’s why we watch it in the first place!

Last night, Discovery Channel betrayed that trust during its biggest viewing week of the year. Discovery Channel isn’t run by stupid people, and this was not some kind of mistake. Someone made a deliberate choice to present a work of fiction that is more suited for the SyFy channel as a truthful and factual documentary. That is disgusting, and whoever made that decision should be ashamed.

But I wouldn’t hold my breath for that apology. Nor would it likely matter. The lines continue to blur between reality TV, documentary, and science or journalistic programming, and the most obvious reason is the almighty bottom line.

After all, empty speculation can be made more interesting through dramatization, and certainly leads to higher ratings amongst US audiences than rigorous skepticism. This seems to point toward yet another way that the gamification of reality in the form of $ produces diminished returns in most every other appreciable way.

And what of the “authorities”? Do you think that these channels should be held to some kind of higher standard? One thing is for sure: if an audience doesn’t demand a higher standard, it is unlikely that it’ll arise on its own.

When an audience was schooled in fill-in-the-blank, rote and regurgitate form, programming takes the role of teacher. Not to harp on the tropes of bad Sci Fi like The Faculty, but it should come as no surprise that many fell for the little trap Discovery set. The only truth in the show was that in a literal sea of uncertainty, anything is possible. That does not, however, mean that anything is probable.

This could raise still deeper questions about the nature of fiction, fact and myth, as we have explored in so much depth here already.  It may not be a murky line in the case of Megalodon, but within the larger context, the line is murky indeed. Those that have learned to distrust authority tend to distrust everything they’re told, while those that employ a staid, idiomatic “coloring within the lines” mentality can’t seem to muster the wherewithal to think critically about anything that comes from a supposed authority. These lines are established before the fact.

 

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  • Anarchy Pony

    I remember when the History Channel aired Ken Burns documentaries, now it’s about swamp hicks and jerk offs buying pseudo historical trinkets. It’s pathetic, and The History Channel, Discovery Channel and even National fucking Geographic are all in a race to the fucking bottom of the barrel.

    • Juan

      Yep, they gotta do something to keep the rubes glued to the set.
      I’m waiting for Florida man shoots Bigfoot with a potato canon.
      I don’t watch tv. Nevermind.

      • Anarchy Pony

        I just have a few specific shows I actually watch via DVR so I can skip the ads and I never channel surf anymore.

    • gustave courbet

      I remember watching national geographic documentaries as a kid that inspired awe in the natural world. The ones I run across these days are naked propaganda pieces…

      • Juan

        I know, it’s really sad. I remember, a few years ago watching tv at friend’s house with his son, and basically finding myself having to deconstruct and break down how the supposed nature documentary we were watching was scripted and edited for maximum sensationalism. I had to make it very clear that was he was watching does not happen in the wild, they way the show suggested.

  • InfvoCuernos

    When you sit there watching your mockumentary about mermaids, just remember that Discovery Channel is owned by Disney. Pray that the things you love do not become interesting to the average knuckledragger.

    • Anarchy Pony

      God, every time they make some kids movie about some kind of cute or cool animal, that species or breed suffers for years afterwords. The poor chihuahua’s that were left neglected and starved after that Beverly Hills Chihuahua movie, horrific. And the fallout for tropical fish after Finding Nemo.

  • Zachary Reed

    Yeah, I still watch these, but I know what’s up. I have been really disappointed in channels like Discovery, History, TLC, NG, and even Animal Planet lately. One show that really irks me is the Amish Mafia garbage. They are taking advantage of these people and they will never know unless people tell them. It’s not like the Amish watch television on a regular basis. Discovery, and others, have disgraced themselves and destroyed any reputation they have for science. It’s really kind of sad that they think they need to make stuff up to keep an audience. I love science stuff and documentaries, and I like having my kids watch and learn. Unfortunately, they are lying to our children now.

  • DeepCough

    In all fairness to the Discovery Channel, it at least was speculating about a real creature (while making their own episode of Lost Tapes), whereas Animal Planet went hardcore pseudo-expose on the allegedly real possibility of fish men, which had its own follow up called Mermaids: New Evidence!

  • Hadrian999

    it’s your own fault if you fall for one of these shows, I wonder how many people fell for the one about dragons

    • Calypso_1

      I was utterly stunned this week when a pharmacologist at work was talking with amazement about this show.