Research (Analysis/Thesis)

I think before I can get into the actual research, I should take a minute and highlight the approach I am thinking of taking so as not to stray away too far from it whilst in the storm of newly found information. Upon seeing my chosen artefact – Damien Hirst’s “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” – I immediately knew that I want to talk about sharks, the light in which they are painted and how that affects their existence and conservation. 

The reason I want to talk about it in the first place is because I myself have been oblivious to it for as long as I can remember. My initial introduction to the “nature” of sharks was Renny Harlin’s 1999 film “Deep Blue Sea” (the predecessor of which was Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”, released in 1975, whole 24 years before “DBS” hit the silver screens) and rightfully enough, seeing these creatures be portrayed as blood-thirsty killing machines left me scarred, a sort of trauma that I would have to deal with right up until this moment in time and for many years to come. However, having grown up, I want to take some time to really dwell into the true nature of sharks and explore the phenomenon that is “shark fear” (or Galeophobia), which, (not) surprisingly is a very common thing among people.

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There is really no clear source or origin of Galeophobia, at least not recorded sources anyways. It doesn’t take a lot to come to the hypothesis that people have been afraid of sharks ever since the first encounters, which probably date back to thousands of years ago.

The ancient Greeks of 600 to 300 BC were among the first to contribute significantly to both nascent shark lore and documented shark science. Like most classical stories, many of which are referenced in the Dictionary of Roman and Greek Biography and Mythology, the origins of their fables are often contradictory. Yet, considering the fact that many larger species, including blue and white sharks, would have been plentiful in the region at the time, they may well have seemed supernatural enough for the early Greeks to demonise. “The source of many of these fantastical tales could have been sharks,” agrees Marina Pearson, a South African classics scholar, “as whales, octopuses and mythical monsters were widely feared.”

Miles Masterson via Huckmag

However, there was a clear spike in Galeophobia among people with the release of “Jaws”. The film was so influential, especially at the time of release, that history had to be divided into “Pre-Jaws” and “Post-Jaws”. “Jaws” succeeded in capturing the essence of fear surrounding sharks in just a couple minutes in the opening scene and the remainder of the film only exacerbated and further pushed the narrative of this feral killing machine lurking beneath the surface. The only time things appear to get better is once the “monster” is killed by Martin Brody shooting the scuba tank which Jaws had gotten in its teeth. The message that this moment in the film sent out to the world resulted in disastrous consequences for shark species of all shapes and sizes, but the one species of sharks that suffered the most from this was the Great White, followed by Tiger and Bull sharks.

The tone in which media covered shark attacks/sightings changed drastically with the release of “Jaws” – now having taken on a darker approach, using graphic terminology and ,at times, imagery. This phenomenon is still very apparent in present day, just perhaps, not as severely.

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Even at that point in time, there was already an overwhelming amount of media and content which would paint these creatures in a similar way that “Jaws” did in its 2 hour and 10 minute runtime. This negative attention and press resulted in a devestating 50% drop of the large shark population alongside the Eastern coast of the US.

In the years following the release of Jaws, studies show that the number of large sharks fell by fifty percent along the eastern seaboard of the United States! Even after the movie was well into its numerous sequels, humans were still enjoying their shark-killing spree.

Via Bbc.co.uk

Shark hunting had become a sport which would gain mass popularity with each year, eventually coming to a point where an estimate of 100 million sharks are killed annually, according to experts – should this trend continue, some species of sharks may face extinction.

Fortunately enough, a counter movement-of-sorts was established in 1988 which went by the name “Shark week”. Its actions would take in the form of shark-based programming and would air on the Discovery Channel annually, featuring content which would tackle sharks in a realistic way as opposed to an over-exaggerated horror fiction piece of content. Tom Golden is the creator of this programme and has dedicated many years to fight the misunderstanding and demonisation of sharks by providing educational content which would feature encounters, stories, facts and information about the animal as well as the dangers it can pose as well as the threats it faces. Over the years, it has built up a massive community of shark-enthusiasts who want to fight the endangerment of the species.

However, as beneficial and impactful the programme block is, sharks are still facing one of the biggest wipe outs in this planet’s history and the perpetrator is none other but the human race itself, which very conveniently works as a segway to the next point of my research coverage – humans.

It’s no secret that the homosapien is the most evil species to ever walk the face of Earth. (Or I guess it would be more appropriate to say that we are the species most capable of intentional evil) We are one of few species that possess a self-consciousness and only rarely do we act on instinct, which, in my opinion, makes our actions against other inhabitants of this planet as well as our own kind even more unjustifiable.

Something I can never seem to look past when thinking about the relationship between humans and sharks is how much a single film can change. The fact that it was such a determining piece of content to the extent where it was seen as a sort of monumental period in history which would split the world’s timeline further into two more pieces, one representing the time “Before “Jaws””, the other – “After “Jaws”” and all the exponential changes that came with the latter.

Shark attacks happened since before it could even be documented, sharks have been hunted by humans long before “Jaws” even saw the light of day. Makes you think about exactly why did everything change so drastically with the first film that showcased a fictional encounter with a fictional creature. (I say fictional because Bruce the shark from “Jaws” showcased a level of intelligence which a typical Great White shark would simply not be capable of achieving or displaying) Perhaps it’s a coincidence, or maybe, there is more behind this phenomenon.

The way I see it it’s a mixture of fearmongering, mob mentality, oblivion and cluelessness. 

It is a fact that most of the human population would never even come close to encountering a shark in the wild (mostly due to geographic reasons), so why is it that almost the same amount of people suffer from mild or extreme Galeophobia? Why is it that at 4 years old I was petrified at the thought of encountering a shark? Why is it that so many people fear any sort of body of water because they feel uneasy at the thought of a shark being in it (even when it’s not at all possible)?

2 (and a half) words – The (Mainstream) Media.

Each film, each exaggerated headline, each piece of media which shed a negative light on sharks contributed to the problem which is the decline in the shark (especially bigger species) population in Earth’s oceans. Sharks have been involuntarily granted the reputation of cold-blooded active murderers, but that is simply not the case. The most common victims of shark attacks are swimmers or surfers and it has been proven by experts that it is only the case due to the fact that in those instances, humans physically resemble the natural prey which are seals, sea lions or other marine mammals. Sharks are not actively hunting humans, they actually have been proven to fear being around people unless provoked, curious or hungry.

Sharks have been known to attack humans when they are confused or curious. If a shark sees a human splashing in the water, it may try to investigate, leading to an accidental attack. Still, sharks have more to fear from humans than we do of them. Humans hunt sharks for their meat, internal organs, skin, and fins in order to make products such as shark fin soup, lubricants, and leather.

Via National Ocean Service

A few google searches break down most common misconceptions regarding sharks and challenge the logic of most shark-based media. As a whole, the true nature of sharks is slowly being unveiled by enthusiasts and scientists alike. More people are being educated about shark finning, containment, handling, how overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change affects them as well as the ecosystems that they live in. Which in itself is a very important factor as sharks play a massive role in the oceans that they inhabit – being the largest predator in almost every ecosystem they inhabit means they are “responsible” for managing the population of other species and thus maintaining their environments as they were “intended” to be. In most cases, the only natural predator of sharks is humans themselves (with the odd possibility of killer whales taking that spot in certain areas of the world).

It is truly baffling how much a species can suffer from fiction, really makes you think about other instances of the same or a similar situation. (I mentioned in my earlier post that I would not be getting into “correlations” so I will stop myself right there, but it is an interesting thought, isn’t it?)

Fortunately enough, there is no a plethora of content about the misportrayal and mistreatment of sharks all over the internet, here are a few videos that I personally have watched long before even picking this topic up for my Critical Perspectives:

The final video in the lineup covers the story of Rosie the shark, it was a rather peculiar case which I found out actually has connection to the artefact which I have chosen to talk about in my essay. The connection is not a direct one, but Crystal World Exhibition Centre has put Rosie up for display in a similar (almost identical) way as Damien Hirst did with his piece. There was a point in time when Rosie was rumoured to be considered to be used as a replacement for Damien’s shark as the Tiger shark displayed in Hirst’s piece had started to deteriorate, meanwhile Rosie was (and still is) in a considerably good shape.

The piece in itself intrigues me, I feel like there is a lot that can be said about it and I am excited to open up that Pandora’s box when the time finally comes. In my previous post I mentioned me wanting to redo the poster for the essay as I thought it was simply not as fitting/usable as I wish it had been. Writing this post helped me get some things in check and think more on what approach I would like to take. From the sounds of what I’ve written, taking the approach of “Behind the Jaws” would be most suitable, however, “Containment” I think also would work just as well, if not better, as it would pose as a commentary on the handling of the animals, how they’re put on display and essentially stuffed into a box of being this evil being out to kill every person to enter the open waters. Guess we will have to see how this turns out.

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