People Love to Hate Sharks

by David Walsh
(Westfield, NJ, USA)

Sharks are cold blooded, mindless, teeth filled killers and that is what they want you to think. These creatures have amazed people for centuries and remain an extraordinary underwater specimen. Movies like Jaws, and recently the soon to be cult classic Sharknado have wowed audiences and frightened the day lights out of people. These movies are successful and sharks are terrifying for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, the water is not our preferred habitat. We do not have the upper hand in the water, not even Michael Phelps. The ocean is a mysterious place, vast, and while we use our ability to evade and run, we also loose one of our most precious senses, vision. While above water we cannot see below and even while under water our sense of sight is hindered. Those are two big difficulties the water presents to us. Then add the terror of being chased down by a sharp toothed fish and panic will set into anybody. This panic can even be induced when a person is miles away from the ocean. This panic occurs when watching these shark attack movies. And that panic, fear for life, and overall survival instinct kicks in when you do venture into the water.
This same type of movie is not as effective if the setting takes place on land. Lets pick one of the most powerful hunters in the world. A bear. A bear attack movie does not have the same effect as a shark movie. One, land is our natural habitat and we can manipulate the environment so well as to render a bear ineffective. Not to mention the weapons we have produced and can use out of water. We also have all of sense to use against any on land predator. Finally, what gives these shark movies the edge in their overall creepiness and panic inducing scenes is people's perceptions of sharks. It is much more scary to be killed by a mindless killing machine, that has no motive but blood lust. If we watch a movie about a bear attack we figure the bear is smarter and has a motive behind its aggressive action. We rationalize that the bear must have been provoked, is protecting itself or children, is hungry or maybe the bear is simply mean. These are all credible rationalizations to why a bear is attacking however people do not make those assumptions about sharks. People do not give them the mental credit. If a shark is swimming by you, it is going to attack you and kill you just because that is what the animal is programmed to do. It is an efficient killing machine. This is the mindset that people have about sharks and it is what makes them so scary. The environment and people's perception of sharks is what makes shark attack movies successful and people love to be scared.

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