Had a thought-provoking and thoroughly enjoyable time last night at an event at Barnard College, Columbia University! The seminar, sponsored by the Department of Anthropology, was the first of a four-part series, Nature/Culture in Film – Serious Scholars talk about Silly Movies. Speakers included Paige West, Joshua Drew, Jeff Sebo, Michael Taussig, Patrick Nason, and me. As the film was screened, the students viewed the speaker’s impressions on Skype (everyone who has seen the film can guess the gist of the comments). With millions of mentions on Twitter, Sharknado was the most watched film in the history of the SyFy Channel. Set in Los Angeles, the plot is absurd: huge waterspouts lift up hundreds of sharks from the ocean which then rain down upon a intrepid set of B-list actors. A sequel, Sharknado II: The Second One is already planned for 2014 and will likely be set in New York City.
Afterwards we had a conversation about the film, its popular success, and some of the deeper historical and cultural forces propelling this strange phenomenon. “The shark”, no longer simply an aquatic predator, has become something much more to the Western imagination.
At the same time, there is an unprecedented effort to protect shark populations from the threats of finning and overfishing.
As conservation organizations and policymakers fight this good fight, are their efforts helped or harmed by public perceptions and cultural habits, all of which are closely linked to film, art, and other mediated experiences? Let me know what you think…