Monster Sharks and Monster Ratings: The Rise of Infotainment.

Shark Week is an annual, week-long TV programming block aired on US cable network The Discovery Channel that has proven immensely popular with audiences – aired in 72 countries, it is not only the longest running television event in history (at 27 years), it is also one of the most successful blocks on cable television with 30 million viewers tuning in (Walker 2010). It has become something of a cultural phenomenon, with mentions of Shark Week found across over 900 000 blogs, social media sites and websites last year alone  (Levine 2015) and Stephen Colbert declaring it second only to Christmas as the most holiest of holidays for Americans. But a media endeavor this insanely successful will, of course, not come without controversy and The Discovery Channel’s increasing reliance on infotainment and mockumentaries has been well debated.

In 2013 The Discovery Channel came under fire for opening Shark Week with “a hoax” (Switek 2013) – a two-hour mockumentary on a possibly mythical, definitely giant, shark. Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives outraged fans and critics alike, with viewers accusing the previously scientifically driven network of ‘spreading lies about sharks’ (Welsh 2013) and suggesting they owed their viewers an apology (Wheaton 2013) for misleading them. Despite viewers vowing to boycott, 2013 Shark Week was the highest-rated to date and 2014 Shark Week doubled the mockumentary content, with titles such as Megalodon: New Evidence, Zombie Sharks, and Alien Sharks: Return to the Abyss filling the week’s line-up (Cohen 2014).

The outcry has been especially pronounced because The Discovery Channel had once been commended for its high-quality documentaries and educational programming (Mjos 2010, p12). Papson’s 1992 article specified that The Discovery Channel airs “no fictional programming” and Shark Week was once lauded as bringing content to the masses that corrected “the kinds of misconceptions about sharks that Jaws helped to spread” (Cohen 2014).

So why the move away from this sort of content? Nature documentaries, once created to give viewers an unfiltered into the natural world, have shifted in the last decade into something that has the primary purpose of entertaining viewers who have a wealth of choice (Evans 2015). It is, put simply, more fun for the audience to watch than a purely factual documentary (NPR Staff 2014) and the constantly climbing Shark Week ratings reflect this. It is certainly not a new technique, with nature infotainment focusing on sharks seen as far back as Peter Gimbel’s 1971 film Blue Water, White Death, a film that purposely blurred the line “between real and fictional scenes… in order to stoke the fears of the audience” (Horak 2006).

These entertainment-focused programs, when aired on a channel that appears to be dedicated to science and fact, like The Discovery Channel, can mislead audiences with what is and isn’t real. The increasing use of special effects and computer-generated images further blurs these lines (Metz 2008). Cultivation theory highlights that this can cause a major problem; audiences are susceptible to messages presented on television, particularly ones framed with a ‘veneer’ of educational context (Evans 2015).

It seems though that, for now, The Discovery Channel has listened to its critics (de Moreas 2015), with president Rich Ross vowing last year to make content “more science and research focused” (Epstein 2015). It remains to be seen if more realistic content stops the rating bonanza that is Shark Week.


Cohen, M 2014, ‘The history of Shark Week: How the Discovery Channel both elevated and degraded sharks’, The Week, August 14 2014, <;

Epstein, A 2015, ‘No more Megalodon: Discovery Channel promises a more scientific “Shark Week” this year’, Quartz, July 06 2015, <;

Evans, S 2015, ‘Shark Week and the Rise of Infotainment in Science Documentaries’, Communication Research Reports,Vol. 32, Iss. 3, 2015, Accessed 28/03/16 at <;

Horak, J.C, 2006, ‘Wildlife documentaries: From classical forms to reality TV’
(2006) Film History: An International Journal, 18 (4), pp. 459-475, <;

Levine, S 2015, ‘Shark Week 2015 Seemed To Be Better Received Than The Previous Year’, Sysomos, July 2015,

Metz, A M 2008, ‘A fantasy made real: The evolution of the subjunctive documentary on U.S. cable science channels’, Television & New Media, issue 9, vol 4, pg333–348.

Mjos, O J 2010, Media Globalization and the Discovery Channel Networks, First Edition, Routledge (Taylor & Francis Group), New York NY

NPR 2014, ‘When Wildlife Documentaries Jump The Shark’, NPR, Aug 30 2014,

Papson, S 1992, ‘”Cross the Fin Line of Terror”: Shark Week on the Discovery Channel’, 1992, Journal of American Culture (01911813), vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 67-81.

Switek, B 2013, ‘It Came From Basic Cable’, National Geographic, 9 August 2013,

Walker, H. (2010, August 10). Discovery’s “Shark Week” sets ratings record. The Wrap. Retrieved from

Welsh, J 2013, ‘People Are Boycotting Shark Week Because Of A Fake Documentary About A Giant Shark’, Business Insider Australia, Aug 6 2013, <;

Fitbit Furore: Should we love or hate self-quantified culture?

My mother has a Fitbit, so do two of my closest friends. My cousin swears by her activity tracker, which is complete with an inbuilt GPS that tracks where and how far she runs. I’ve so far resisted the allure of the constant tracking of my body because, to be honest, the whole thing sort of terrifies me.


There is evidence that wearable devices capable of tracking your movement, heart rate, calories burnt and kilometres run have been helpful for many people in their pursuit of health and fitness. Writer Gary Wolf is a firm advocate for this form of self-quantification and argues that if we want to act more effectively in the world, we have to get to know ourselves better.” (2010). He credits these devices as useful for “self-improvement, self-discovery, self-awareness and self-knowledge” (2010) and, although only a new technology with few studies done (Rawassizadeh et al. 2015), some psychology seems to back these claims up – by being able to interact, change and share data about ourselves instantly, the wearable devices reinforce, motivate and reward the user, turning exercise and self-care into a ‘game’ (Beckham 2012). Cadmus-Bertham et al. (2014) found that women, in particular, seem to respond well to wearable fitness trackers, with an increase in activity and a reduction in BMI being recorded over a sixteen-week study.

There are, of course, potential risks and downsides to tracking such a large amount of data about us on a daily basis. Professor Jordan Etkin from Duke University discovered that people get obsessed with their fitness trackers and this can make them miserable:

“Enjoyable activities can became almost like a job, by focusing on the outcomes of things that used to be fun… Rather than merely drawing attention away from an enjoyable activity, measurement also draws attention towards output, which undermines motivation and overall happiness.”

This concern aside, there are also doubts over whether wearable activity trackers are as accurate as they claim (Bloomberg 2016). Sasaki et al. (2015) found that wearables, in particular the Fitbit, have a long way to go when it comes to accuracy in counting human movement. Cadmus-Bertham et al. (2014) also acknowledge that, although the sensor technology within wearables is a remarkable innovation, the extent of data loss and uncertainty is still significant.

These are worrying downsides to these sorts of devices, but the most concerning to me is highlighted by academics Katina Michaels and Kieth W. Miller, who argue that we need to be constantly mindful of our privacy when using these devices because many of us don’t actually know who can access and track the data we are generating about our own bodies (2013). A recent US Federal Trade Commission study found that twelve of the biggest Fitness Apps were disseminating user data to 76 different third parties (Kaye 2014) and big brands, such as Nike, are open about their desire to use user data to design new products, guide brand and strategy and turn our personal mini fitness achievements into “intimate, highly personalised marketing” (McGowan 2013).

The appeal of self-quantification is pretty obvious, and the technology is remarkable, but the downsides to these wearable devices are enough for me to resist their potential benefits. Do you own an activity tracker? Why do you love (or hate) this new phenomenon?


Image Credit

Beckham, J 2016, ‘Fitness Trackers Use Psychology to Motivate Couch Potatoes’, Wired, 19 April 2012, accessed 11/03/16 at <;

Bloomberg, J 2016, ‘From Fitbit To Volkswagen: The Dangers Of Inaccurate Data’, Forbes: Tech, Jan 10, viewed 12/03/16 at <;

Cadmus-Bertram, L A, Marcus B H, Patterson, R E, Parker, B A, Morey, B L 2015, ‘Randomized Trial of a Fitbit-Based Physical Activity Intervention for Women’, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 49, Issue 3, pg414-418. Accessed 11/03/16 at <>

Etkin, J 2015, ‘Why Counting Your Steps Could Make You Unhappier’, Duke: The FUQUA School of Business, December 21 2015, accessed 12/03/16 at <;

McGowan, M 2013, ‘Nike Sharing Its New FuelBand Data With Marketers: Fitness tracker toes the line between ‘awesome’ and ‘creepy’, Ad Week, June 21 2013, accessed 03/04/16 at <;

Michael, K and Miller, K W 2013, ‘Big Data: New Opportunities and New Challenges [Guest editors’ introduction]’, IEEE Computer Society, Vol.46, Issue No.06, pp22-24, viewed 11/03/16<>

Kaye, K 2014, ‘FTC: Fitness Apps Can Help You Shred Calories — and Privacy’, Ad Age, May 07 2014, accessed 11/03/16 at <;

Rawassizadeh, R, Momeni E, Dobbins, C, Mirza-Babaei, P, and Rahnamoun, R 2015, ‘Lesson Learned from Collecting Quantified Self Information via

Mobile and Wearable Devices’, Journal Of Sensor and Actuator Networks, 4, 4, pp. 315-335, Computers & Applied Sciences Complete, accessed 11/03/16 at <;

Sasaki, J E, Hickey, A, Mavilia, M, Tedesco, J, John, D, Kozey Keadle, S and Freedson, P S, 2015, ‘Validation of the Fitbit Wireless Activity Tracker for Prediction of Energy Expenditure’, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, issue 12, pp149-154, viewed 11/03/16 <;

Wolf, G 2010, The Quantified Self, Ted@Cannes, June 2010, <;

The Trails Investigation: After the case is closed.

Some challenges I faced:

  • Push pins are terrible and don’t hold anything, at all. Tacky superglue is necessary to keep the twine wrapped around, but be careful because it can look rubbish!
  • Push pins and twine are hard to buy. Who knew?! How do police stations do it? 😉
  • Remembering where the photos came from! The thing about a repetitive process is it’s easy to get them lost and confused. I was fastidious about nothing where each photo came from and picked only my favourite three or four images from each ‘site’ I visited. I am confident that every image is linked to it’s correct position, and was careful to show that correct position on my map. That’s something I’m really proud of in the work.
  • Making my inspiration clear/the artist statement: This was a challenge, as I knew what I was trying to say but didn’t want to over-complicate the message. I found that researching where my inspiration came from was vital to this, because artist’s before me have said, in a way, what I wanted to in my work.

The crazy detective board itself:

image image image image image image

The Trails Investigation.

Artist’s Statement:

This work explores the unknowable and inevitably frightening quality of nature. Despite each walking trail appearing unique, they are similar enough to prove it impossible to determine their location by just photographs. This work attempts to solve this mystery, plotting and speculating about the trails as a detective would his victim’s locations – hence the general aesthetic of the work.

It also serves as a comment on repetition itself, and the mystery of each of these walking trails. Like Long’s “Line made by walking” (1967), many footsteps have been taken along these trails but unlike Long’s work, we have no idea why, who, when or how often. Even the numerous locations of such a repetitive action are varied and hard to precisely pinpoint. They were repeated enough to leave a mark, but the true purpose is unclear and perhaps different for every person taking those steps.


-All pieces work together to have a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing flow. They all ‘fit’ together.

-Able to see the influence of Long’s work

-Evokes a sense of mystery and confusion – demonstrating the idea that nature is a timeless, unknowable and potentially dangerous thing.

-Crazy detective string wall.

Richard Long: Research Edition.

Richard Long / Line Made by Walking / 1967.

Richard Long / Line Made by Walking / 1967.

Long’s formative piece, finished in 1967, was created in a field, somewhere between St. Martin’s and Bristol in the UK. Long made this trail himself by walking back and forth for hours in order to flatten the turf. He then took a photo of his completed work.

Despite the perceived simplicity of the work, it makes comment on performative art practice, repetition, nature, motion and relativity.

Long has commented on his work:

“Nature has always been recorded by artists, from prehistoric cave paintings to twentieth-century landscape photography. I too wanted to make nature the subject of my work, but in new ways.”

The use of the natural environment and the impermanence of the work are two aspects which fascinate me and I hope to take on in my work. I also have his interpretation that we can anonymously leave our mark on a landscape, which lends well to my concept of mystery in my work.

“I can make it in a very remote place, almost secretly or in an isolated way. Maybe no one sees it” -Long.


Higgins, C 2012, Richard Long: ‘It was the swinging 60s. To be walking lines in fields was a bit different’ , The Guardian, <; accessed 26/10/15

Tate, 2007, ‘Richard Long: A Line Made by Walking’, <; accessed 26/10/15

Project Critique.

Elise: AusDrugs.

The original aims of the “AusDrugs” site were to inform and educate Australians about illegal drug use and drug effects in a safe space free of judgement and conviction. In her project pitch Elise acknowledged that, for Australians, this sort of information is lacking and this sort of website would have quite a high social utility as it would prove very useful to those in need of this sort of information. Elise wanted her website to be easily accessible, have a clear and concise layout and be written in language that is both engaging and easy to read. All of these goals seemed relevant, achievable and would create a digital artefact that was both useful and interesting.

The beta presentation re-confirmed these aims and it appears a lot of them were achieved. The website is filled with information, easy to navigate, written in accessible language and the units and currencies have been appropriately converted and are relevant to the Australian market. In the pitch it was acknowledged that the information would be largely curated from other sites, such as r/drugs and Erowid, but the original aim to reiterate this content seems to have been lost slightly, as a lot of the information on AusDrugs is simply copied from, or linked to, other sources. Clearly a lot of effort has gone into creating and curating the website though, and this effort has created quite an extensive, information-intensive website.

The ‘harm reduction‘ section is the most detailed and perhaps helpful section to users – this category seems to successfully reflect what Elise was originally trying to achieve. The layout of the section, by using click-through images, is useful in breaking up the walls of text. The repetition of the images and chunky borders around them weren’t as appealing, so perhaps some more refinement on the images would be useful. More variety, and a removal of the borders, would likely create a more professional, interesting website.

The focus on just the five drugs – cocaine, cannabis, MDMA, methamphetamine and LSD – was probably due to time and resource constraints (she is just one person!) but the website would definitely benefit from having a more extensive list of drugs. Or, alternatively, a justification as to why just these drugs have been detailed could work well. Perhaps some statistics or media reports on why the drugs Elise listed would be imperative for Australians to know.

The beta presentation itself was well done – Elise speaks well, was confident in her subject content and was at ease in front of the class, taking us through her website and giving us information as she saw fit. Maybe a more structured and detailed presentation, outlining key aims, achievements and problems encountered, would have been useful, but overall all bases were covered and the presentation was engaging and informative.

The beta was slightly let down by the actual layout and construction of the site. Small things, such as the ‘’ in the web address and the WordPress flavicon took away from the professional appearance of the site. Despite monetary costs being involved to fix issues such as this, the extra effort would have created a very professional looking website that may have garnered more trust with those viewing it (Kruetz 2010). The aesthetic layout could have also used a little more time. Although the colouring and categories menu along the top of the page is easy to both use and read, the layout template could have been further customised to create a more ‘professional’ look away from the basic blog template; maybe with a customised header or some differing font choices. Even a site logo would add to the website and give it a stronger sense of identity.

Similarly, some of the image links were broken and it disrupted both the beta presentation and my further exploration of the website. This is an issue that can be easily fixed, buy spending a little more time on the website’s navigation and ensuring that all the links work correctly and guide the reader properly (as of 22/10 these issues have been largely resolved). The ‘home page’ is also a little confusing for readers, as it is pulling posts from all categories of the site and makes things a little difficult to follow. A static home page with category links, or using the ‘about’ page as the home page, would be more effective. Another option that may be worth exploration is ‘featuring’ a different drug every week, as feature pages that regularly change draw readers back to the website repeatedly (Hayes 2013).

The trajectory of the creation and curation of the website seems to be reasonably well done. Posting began as early as September 13, and the website was updated sporadically but reasonably often until the beta presentation on October 19.

Something that could have helped the website would be more promotion, across multiple social media platforms. One of the original aims in the pitch, of having a Facebook page that linked to the website, seems to have been discarded completely. There also appears to be no promotion across social media. Reddit, in particular, would have been an effective promotional tool for this website. A post on r/drugs or, even better, a post on r/DrugsAustralia would be appropriate. Tumblr also has quite a strong ‘drug information‘ community, and reaching these individuals would likely have a positive result.

Lastly, the actual platform could be reconsidered. Although WordPress is great for customisation and is commonly used when building professional websites (Rampton 2015), a Tumblr page could have been a more suitable platform. Attracting a younger demographic, tight-knit communities and a more ‘alternative’ culture (Hart & Third 2013), Tumblr may have lent itself well to this sort of project. Tumblr users could have reblogged, liked and commented on posts they felt were useful or interesting.


Hayes, M 2013, ‘How to double your traffic without any Marketing’, Shopify, April 17 2013, <; accessed 22/10/15

Hart, M & Third, A 2013, ‘Why Tumblr fosters deep and enduring forms of online intimacy’, UWS News Centre, 8 Nov 2013, <; accessed 22/10/15

Kreutz, C 2010, ‘When do we Trust an Information Source?’, Crisscrossed, Jan 8 2010, <; accessed 22/10/15

Rampton, J 2015, ’25 Reasons Your Business Should Switch to WordPress’, Entrepreneur, Jan 20 2015, <; accessed 22/10/15

The unknown of nature.

Some inspiration for my work, which is fast becoming unknowable and completely crazy (if you can’t tell, I’m super excited!).

Lars Hertervig, the “incurably insane” artist who found the terrifying mystery in landscape imagery.

Note: The colouring (blues, yellows, greens), the mystery, the layering and unusual shapes.

Richard Long, the 1960’s (note: the retro!) artist who made art by walking back and forth in a single space. His work inspires my repetition, as these walking tracks are the same, but different.

Note: The time! Black and white photography. Also the simplicity but power of the work and the complete inability to ascertain a location from just looking at the image on it’s own.

Reena Kallat: The chaos and confusion of her work, but the way the string relays a message and links different locations. The colouring is also significant in this work, representing different links and different locations.

Note: The ‘string’ – in this case being different wires (perhaps explore this?), the formation of links, the representation of a ‘map’ in an unusual way that still reflects what a map is used for.

‘Crazy’ detective boards: nature is a scary, unknowable force, and my work is an attempt to track the locations in a noisy, frantic way.

Note: The ‘string’ boards and the way you can stand back and look at a chaotic wall and see a pattern, a repetitive process. The wall can ‘inform’ the viewer.

Progress Report; Media artwork edition.

My artwork is, thankfully, coming along nicely. I’ve created the image I’m going to use as a map and am currently getting it printed onto a canvas. All the ‘walking track’ photographs have been taken and I’m in the process of editing those images and transferring them into black and white. I’ve recorded my soundscape and it sounds awesome and bush walk-y. Fantastic? Fantastic.

I’m content with my idea and I think I can see the repetition and inspiration throughout it’s entirety. But, after speaking with Mat, I’m realising that I haven’t firmly figured out what my artwork is really about. I’m a week out and I’m still unsure about what the purpose of the work is.

I don’t want it to look like and infographic and I want it to say something of significance, so I think the way I lay the work out is going to be a key factor here. The use of black and white images, like Long’s work, adds a timeless, mysterious quality to the work which I think might be significant. Who knows how long these tracks have been around, serving the feet of bushwalkers for generations. Unlike Long’s work we don’t know when or how or why they were made, and I think this mystery is significant when making commentary on nature.

Somebody who really got this representation of nature as unknowable was Lars Hertervig. His works have inspired me because they are timeless and I love the idea of “stumbling upon” something hidden and dark in nature. The colouring in his paintings is also similar to my tone and I think, with the correct display, I too could reflect the idea of nature hiding something more sinister in it’s repetition.

The ‘unknowing’ landscapes of Hertervig.

Perhaps I could talk about how it’s impossible, by sight, to pick out the locations of each of these walking tracks individually, and how anything could happen on any of these walking tracks. If there was no map, people would have no idea what is happening or where.

Perhaps I could position myself as a crazy detective, locating the spots of these sinister walking tracks on a hand crafted, dedicated map?


By using fairly ‘vintage’ tools – such as string, push-pins, printed paper and black & white imagery, I can reflect the timeless nature of the ‘mystery’ of the walking trails. My artwork could be from this year, or it could be from the serial killer super era of years gone by.

This is all really flouncy, but I love the way it’s headed. I’m off to build a ‘crazy detective wall’!

Exploration, location, reiteration.

Draft Statement:

My work explores repetition, location and nature. I did this by taking multiple photographs, altering images of maps, playing an ambient audio track and using coloured string to pull it all together and create a work that constructs an interpretation of my local area. The photographs, each from a slightly different location, display a similar thing – a beaten in walking track. These images, inspired by Long’s ‘Line Made by Walking’ (1967), demonstrate the repetitive and familiar pastime of exploring your local area and following the beaten trails. The locations of these photographs are then pointed out on a map with a piece of string and push pin, giving each ‘general area’ a different colour, adding vibrancy and difference to the work as a whole. These strings also highlight the fact that, no matter how similar the images are; they are in fact from different locations, on different days of adventure.


  • Aesthetically pleasing, with an obvious flow.
  • Able to see the influence of Long and Kallat’s work.
  • All pieces of the work together in a pleasing way; that makes sense and adds to each other.
  • Must evoke a sense of nature and the outdoors, calling to mind the exploration of bush walking.

Last week: Finalised idea, sourced locations, got a camera organised, found some images of maps I can use as a basis to manipulate for the centre of my work, finish off the ‘central’ image of the map.

This week (weekend): Go exploring! Take a whole bunch of photographs (at least 20) at each location, get map professionally printed, head to spotlight and purchase some push pins and a whole bunch of different coloured twine.

When art takes shape.

A couple of days ago I had a really inspiring class and, followed by some really productive brainstorming with a couple of classmates, I (finally!) came up with my idea for my assessment.

Richard Long / Line Made by Walking / 1967.

Richard Long / Line Made by Walking / 1967.

Inspired by this artwork, I began to brainstorm my ideas. I decided to go exploring and take photographs in a similar composition to Long’s, of multiple walking tracks in a variety of locations. These tracks would help serve my repetition and inspiration, but it was boring!

I then spoke to my little brainstorm group (Emily & Josh) about ways to further explore and display it, because it seemed so mundane and contrived. I thought perhaps I could some how map the different locations of the walking tracks, perhaps with string and an old school, colourful printed map (that would be manipulated by me) Something like perhaps this work by Reena Saini Kallat-


Untitled (Map/Drawing) | detail | 2011 | electric wires and fittings, 10 min audio loop |

Emily had the brilliant idea of perhaps tracking it on a system like Google Maps and making it interactive and digital. I’m not sure if I have the know-how for that, but it would be lots of fun to try! I’m thinking, perhaps, I could do both. Print out my images, attach them with string to the map, and have a laptop set up where you can physically pick and pull back the images from the various locations.

If anybody has some ideas, let me know! I’m very excited to develop this and have already started taking photos of my tracks 🙂