As several millennia of scientific inquiry have successfully proved that science is dull, our modern society has sought to move beyond science, toward a more progressive search for shit that is cool. It’s an evolution in understanding that changed the History Channel from dry recitations of facts about Hitler into excited speculations about whether Hitler was an occultist aided by his alien buddies in a search for the Holy Grail. It elevated The Learning Channel from giving quotidian advice on self-improvement into more useful instructions on getting rid of your giant scrotum. And most recently, it helped the Discovery Channel break the annual cycle of tedium that is Shark Week’s very real, very boring killer sharks doing killer shark stuff, replacing it with the far more interesting hunt for Megalodon, a giant prehistoric shark that may not technically exist, but is indisputably awesome.
Unfortunately, much as Galileo was branded a heretic for arguing that the Earth does wicked donuts around the sun, Discovery has come under fire for running Megalodon: The Giant Shark Lives to kick off Shark Week, just because it wasn’t “real” or “truthful.” In a repeat of the controversy over that time Animal Planet got sick of stupid fish doing the same old fish things, and instead went with a show about way sexier mermaids, the network’s web page and social media sites have all been inundated with complaints from viewers who say that airing a “mockumentary” full of falsified data, delivered by actors pretending to be scientists, then matched with obvious CGI footage—all concerning the hunt for a still-living dinosaur shark—compromises the channel’s mission of promoting science, during those rare late-night hours when it is not showing grizzled men trying to get rich off gold, oil, moonshine, motorcycles, or auctions.
Among those who felt Discovery dashed the credibility it arguably still has: Discover Magazine’s Christie Wilcox, who wrote an open letter to the channel saying, “You used to expose the beautiful, magical, wonderful sides of the world around us. Now, you just make shit up for profit. It’s depressing. It’s disgusting. It’s wrong.” Those sentiments were soon echoed by actor and self-professed Shark Week fanatic Wil Wheaton, who took to his blog to say:
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… 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.
Of course, whoever made that decision also chose to bring in Sharknado star Tara Reid as an expert shark witness, for its (now-obligatory, apparently) post-show chatfest Shark After Dark. And it’s there that Tara Reid similarly enlivened Shark Week’s normally monotonous procession of shark-related facts by presenting her own, Tara Reid-researched findings on whale sharks. And that’s how America learned that whale sharks are not, as many have suspected after drinking, the result of whales and sharks having sex. That’s because, as Tara Reid explains, “Whales are mammals and sharks are animals, so they have nothing to do with each other.” Instead of getting the straight and probably very good dope from Tara Reid, would Mr. Wil Wheaton prefer that kids instead learn about whales and sharks having sex on the streets? Now who’s being disgusting?
Also, there’s the giant megalofact that Megalodon brought in 4.8 million viewers, making it easily the highest-rated show in all 26 years of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. Which prompted commendably-not-giggling-maniacally network spokesperson Laurie Goldberg to reply to those complaints by saying, “We have found that people are open to exploring different ideas and concepts in addition to the more traditional fare that we air. That would explain the ratings. As in any entertainment, you aren't going to always please everyone, but we stand behind all of our content and are proud of it."
Presumably, Goldberg then added:
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