Who doesn’t love Shark Week? That one week out of the year when the Discovery Channel devotes almost all of their programming to those fascinating predators of the deep that capture the imagination and inspire fear among land dwellers. But after 26 years of Shark Week, how do you keep viewers interested? We’ve seen the Great White Shark fly through the air to kill its prey. We’ve seen the Whale Shark calmly navigate the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve seen the aftermath of a Bull Shark attacking surfers. We’ve even seen Jaws shred a boat, Bruce the Shark treat fish as friends, and Sharknado bring those horrifying teeth to land. What is there left to see?
Enter the Discovery Channel’s Megalodon special to kick off Shark Week. The Megalodon was the largest shark ever to live. It could grow up to 50 feet long with teeth the size of an adult human hand and jaws that could crush a car. The show was called “Megalodon: The Shark that Lives” and took viewers to South Africa to investigate a rash of attacks and evidence that the massive shark could still be out there. The only problem is, according to National Geographic and marine scientists, the Megalodon is long extinct. The evidence and experts on the Discovery Channel special were faked.
There was a disclaimer in small white font that flashed on the screen briefly. One would likely need a DVR with a pause button to read it. Yet, Discovery’s online poll reported 29% of viewers believe Megalodon still swims and another 47% say it may be possible. You read that right. Three-fourths of viewers accepted to some degree the findings of a fake documentary. The show even brought in record ratings for the channel with 4.8 million viewers.
Critics have attacked the show because Discovery Channel claims its mission is:
“to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives by providing the highest quality content, services and products that entertain, engage and enlighten.”
According to a number of critics, they failed in their mission by airing a program that probably belonged more on the Sci-Fi Channel than on Discovery and by deceiving their viewers.
The Megalodon Shark Week special reminds us how easily we can be manipulated even by sources we trust. Most of the information we “know” comes to us mediated through a variety of sources. For example, most of what we know about the universe comes from a relatively small number of astronomers; we haven’t charted the stars personally. Most of what we know about politics comes to us through biased reporters and commentators; we haven’t spoken to the President personally. Today, more and more of our “knowledge” comes from segments on the Today Show, popular YouTube videos, Twitter trends, cable news debates, sensationalized History channel shows, agenda-driven bloggers, celebrity interviews, cleverly edited documentaries, and more. These sources form our knowledge, shape our opinions, and direct our lives.
Christians are often accused of blindly trusting the Bible as a source of knowledge. Yet is a Christian who trusts the Scriptures somehow more blind than the non-religious person who puts their trust unquestioningly in the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, their Twitter feed, or Wikipedia? The Bible has withstood 2,000 years of scrutiny and been tested in the lives of millions of followers of Christ and still remains.
The Shark Week special reminds us to be saturated in the only source of knowledge that will never fail or mislead us: the Word of God. As the Psalmist says in 119:41-43:
41Let your steadfast love come to me, O Lord,
your salvation according to your promise;
42 then shall I have an answer for him who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
43 And take not the word of truth utterly out of my mouth,
for my hope is in your rules.
The Psalmist has put his trust completely in God’s word. It is his source of knowledge; it assures him of God’s love, his salvation, his hope, and his answer for those who question him. Other sources of information can be false, mislead, or be mistaken but not God’s Word.
The Shark Week special also reminds us to not be lazy with the “knowledge” we receive. We shouldn’t unquestioningly accept everything we hear, even from reputable sources. Most of the distributers of information in the world are motivated by earning money, winning praise, advancing ideology, securing power, or boosting pride. This doesn’t mean what we receive is wrong, just that it may be tainted and we should look closely before we run off and change our lives based on a new “study”, revise our thinking based on new “data”, or update our values based on a new “expert.”
Jesus told his followers in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” To be wise, we must be saturated in the tested source of knowledge that is God’s Word. We must also test and evaluate the knowledge we receive from other sources. In this way, our lives will be well directed, our opinions well informed, and we’ll be able to enjoy a swim in the ocean without worrying about the 50 foot shark that might still be swimming around.