Assuming you own a television and a service provider, you are probably aware that this is Shark Week (Trademarked, Rights Reserved, Copyrighted, Intellectual Property Protected) on The Discovery Channel. While I will be the first to admit that it is ridiculously over-hyped, and advertised in ways that border on the offensive, I still find my television channel locked to Discovery. It isn’t due to any overwhelming fascination with sharks, although I do find them, like most animals, quite interesting. No, what draws me to Shark Week is what it pushes off the station: reality shows.
Long time readers of this blog may already have a fair idea of where this post is heading, so I will try to keep it short this time, to avoid repeating myself. While I have never been a fan of mainstream television, I fell in love with The Discovery Channel and The History Channel when my family first got cable television. As time went on, The National Geographic Channel and Animal Planet came to south central Pennsylvania, and were added to my favorites list in turn. Not everything on each channel appealed to me, but there was enough that I was almost always able to find something to watch if I desired, something that not only provided entertainment, but at least a taste of education as well. I do not know when things went off the rails, and I do not know what started the train wreck, but in my mind the change started with Discovery and the building of custom motorcycles. I forget the name of the show, and honestly don’t care enough to Google it, but I do remember that while I would change the channel the second it came on, my tastes were apparently being outvoted massively by viewers who loved watching a father and son loudly argue over the proper way to build a chopper. With the drugs I’ve consumed over my lifetime, I would never claim that my memory is one of my strengths; other “reality” shows may have came first on these edutainment networks, but in my recollections, this is the domino that started the fall. Channels that were once filled with seemingly endless documentaries were the new home of reality television. History morphed from “All Hitler, All the time” into a channel about a pawn shop and countless attempts to duplicate the success of Pawn Stars. Animal Planet replaced shows starring animals to shows starring a crazy guy who captures animals, a crazy guy who lives in the forest, and for some reason I still don’t quite understand, a crazy guy who builds rich people tree houses. National Geographic films the clinically insane and the hell that they put their children through for a show called Doomsday Preppers, and routinely mocks the Amish for all manner of shows. And Discovery? Naked and Afraid. Say no more.
If you are willing to hunt for it, you can still find worthwhile shows on these networks. Mythbusters is still on the air, History airs documentaries on the anniversaries of historically important events, and National Geographic has nights of inspired programming. Animal Planet, as far as I can tell, still dedicates one night a week to animal documentaries, (I believe it is Tuesday nights) and they air one of my favorite television shows of all time, which also happens to be one of their most popular shows, River Monsters. But River Monsters’ season is much too short, and when it ends it is replaced with idiots tramping through a forest looking for a creature that
almost certainly does not exist. (Sorry. The United States is no longer uncharted territory, and if there was an actual breeding population of Sasquatches <Sasquatchi?> one would have turned up already. Hell, if they were widespread enough to account for all the reported sitings in the myriad number of claimed locations, it would be impossible to swing a cat without hitting a Sasquatch. No matter where the Finding Bigfoot team goes, no matter how much bacon they throw into the forest, all they are going to find is known animal species and humans who can’t resist fucking with them. I know if they came to my area, I’d be in the woods fucking with them. The two shows, River Monsters and Finding Bigfoot, actually make a rather decent primer on rational thought. On River Monsters, Jeremy Wade investigates reports of people being attacked by river monsters, then follows the evidence to attempt to rationally figure out what the creature may really be. After coming up with a hypothesis, he tests it out by trying to catch the creature he thinks is the cause of the reports, and he normally gets his fish. While some of the fish are much larger than science believed they grew, or living in a habitat the species was not known to reside in, the answers, surprising as they may be, still fit in with our increasing base of knowledge. On Finding Bigfoot, a group of people try to find Bigfoot by first going to a location and calling a town hall meeting for people who have seen Bigfoot, listening to the tales of sitings and quickly deciding that it was Bigfoot, then strapping on night vision cameras and going into the forest to not find Bigfoot. Sometimes they cook bacon and throw it in the woods to show Bigfoot they are friendly as well, although that may have only happened on the one episode I actually watched. Anyway, Science vs. Hunting for Pixies!)
That unexpected rant aside, whether you like sharks or not, Shark Week transports The Discovery Channel back in time, to the days where it was filled with documentaries and education was something they claimed to care about. And that alone is enough to earn my recommendation. Too soon it will be over and you can all go back to watching naked strangers argue in the woods.