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Article: Take a Bite Out of an American Tradition: Shark Week

Article: Take a Bite Out of an American Tradition: Shark Week

Shark Week first aired on the Discovery Channel in 1988 as a way to draw viewers to the channel during the summer TV slump. With a full week of shark-centric programming, it has evolved into a cultural phenomenon, with viewing parties, themed barbecues, and an abundance of social buzz. Kids and adults alike love sharks and shark week, almost as much as they love cookies. Shark Week themed cookies are a great way to sweeten up a Shark Week get-together.

Decorated Shark Cookies

It's difficult to determine how and why Shark Week became a staple amidst the summer party landscape-earning its spot in the summer sun alongside July 4th barbecues and mid-summer pool parties. Perhaps it was the coalescence of Shark Week programming with the rise of the internet age and social media. Suddenly sharks, the ultimate predators, became clickbait that captured the imaginations of a global audience. Perhaps it was Tracy Morgan's memorable line in a 2006 episode of the hit sitcom 30 Rock, where he advised to "live every week like it's Shark Week." Or maybe Discovery Channel just shoveled more marketing dollars into the entertainment machine, improving the quality of the program and backing it with heavy-hitting crossovers, merchandise, and celebrity appearances. Or perhaps the answer is simply that sharks, perceived as one of the most dominant predators in the ocean, hold a magnetic fascination for their ground-dwelling counterparts, humans.

Long before Shark Week first was a twinkle in a TV producer's eye, humans have been fascinated by sharks. In antiquity, sailors would wear shark tooth amulets to protect them at sea. Hawaiian legend speaks of a warrior who fought a sea god, returning to land wearing a shark tooth necklace that gave him great power and protection. In 2021, a collection of shark teeth was found in an archeological site dating back 2,900 years in Jerusalem. The teeth are from ancient sharks that traversed the seas during the Cretaceous period, with one tooth originating from a species that went extinct about 66 million years ago. Although not much is known about who the teeth belonged to and what their purpose was, evidence indicates that they were a collection of some sort, and were likely valued objects to their owner.

In World War II, amid naval battles and increased travel across both the Pacific and Atlantic, the American obsession with sharks grew. Men who grew up in the landlocked midwest suddenly found themselves in the open ocean, a vast and unknown space, conducive for conjuring up a bogeyman. Media outlets at the time often portrayed survivors of bombed ships as struggling to survive in "shark-infested waters." When the USS Indianapolis ship sank in the Pacific, only 316 of the 1,196 men on board survived on the open ocean for the 5-day span between the sinking of the ship and their rescue. The survivors returned with horrific tales of sharks feeding on the dead and wounded.

The war offers a striking framework for our fear of sharks. Despite disease and battles taking a far heavier toll on the soldiers of WWII, the sensational idea of malevolent ocean-dwelling predators stirred intense fear in military men and civilians alike. Perhaps sharks are the most beguiling of enemies. They are of a world that is not ours, and are perceived as opportunistic rulers of that domain. We are so removed from the natural world that sharks offer a shocking reminder of how brutal surviving in the wild truly can be. As a distant threat, we can be afraid of them without being in any real danger.

It is no surprise then, that when Shark Week came out in 1988, a decade after the first Jaws movie in 1975, that it captured the imaginations of millions of viewers. Jaws famously depicted a bloodthirsty great white shark, feeding on tourists in a coastal New England town. It was the first movie to gross over $100 million, a staggering amount that demonstrates America's appetite for shark content.

Decorated Shark Cookies

Much like Jaws, Shark Week has often been steeped in controversy for its portrayal of sharks. The increasing commercialization of the programming has led to questions about its integrity. Discovery Channel is often accused of bending the scientific method to capitalize upon sensational stories. They infamously aired a Megalodon special that was a complete fabrication, but presented in a factual manner that confused many viewers. Critics often accuse Discovery Channel of using their platform for spreading fear rather than furthering the efforts of conservationists to protect this valuable species and ocean ecosystems. Discovery Channel has rebutted these claims, and in recent years has worked to improve its programming, incorporating more documentary-style pieces that focus on the important role that sharks play in the underwater ecosystem. The reality is that the likelihood of even encountering a shark in the wild is slim, and the likelihood of being attacked is even slimmer. Sharks perform an important ecological function in the ocean, and they are creatures worthy of being celebrated.

Whether you choose to watch Shark Week programming or not, this summer celebration has woven its way into the fabric of American culture. Our fascination with this apex predator of the seas persists, as it has for generations and perhaps even millennia. Each year countless Shark Week parties are hosted. Shark-themed candies and goodies start hitting the shelves. And of course, shark cookies are made. What better way to celebrate these fascinating creatures that perform such an important role in the ocean's ecosystem than to dedicate a week to them? For your next Shark Week party stir up a sensation with beautifully decorated cookies that guests will want to snap right up.

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