Consider the Left Shark

From meme to merch, this week found us taking marine life and jumping the ... well, you know.

In May of 2011, Jason O'Bryhim published an academic book—The Effects of Public Opinion on Sharks: Knowledge, Attitudes, and Behaviors Towards Sharks and Shark Conservation—that attempted to address the public’s longstanding bias against cartilaginous fishes. Shark populations, O’Bryhim noted in the volume, are on the decline across the world; conservation efforts, meanwhile, are contingent not just on public knowledge about sharks, but on their positive feelings toward the creatures. We shouldn't be scared of sharks, as actress January Jones (a pro-shark activist) has pointed out; we should be scared for them. Or as O’Bryhim essentially suggests: The lives of sharks are reliant on good PR.

If so, this has been a very good week for the sharks of planet Earth. While Discovery’s Shark Week countdown clock helpfully, if melancholically, informs us that we must wait 185 days until the channel's next sanctioned fin-tasia, this week has offered a wonderful kind of pre-party. “Live every week,” Tracy Jordan advised, “like it’s Shark Week.” That is exactly what we've been doing.

The whole thing started, as things so often will, with Katy Perry. Who was accompanied, during Sunday's Super Bowl halftime show, by a boisterously out-of-sync figure who will go down in history as The Left Shark. (The man who gave life to TLS would later reveal himself to be Bryan Gaw, one of Perry's sometime backup dancers.)

It is common, to the point of predictability and maybe even inevitability, that a televised public spectacle will reach its logical conclusion online, in the form of a meme. Angie at the Oscars. Chrissy at the Globes. Miley and Robin. Tay and Kanye. Pharrell and Arby's. Even the landing of a robot on the surface of Mars, perhaps the nerdiest form of such a spectacle, culminated in a meme.

So it was unsurprising, if 100-percent delightful, that this week has belonged, in part, to the Left Shark. (And, Jason O'Bryhim might be happy to know, to sharks in general: This week also found Rihanna, clad in gold lamé and strappy stilettos, splayed within the gaping maw of a Great White on the cover of Harper's Bazaar.)

So let us take a moment to recall this Shark Week that wasn't. Let us take a moment to appreciate how closely the whole Left Shark cycle, event to meme to merch, hewed to the typical—and predictable, and maybe even inevitable—path of Internet infamy. There were, almost instantly, the memes. And then, in short order, there was the stuff. (The cookie cutters! The t-shirts! The onesies! The dolls!) And then there was the cease-and-desist letter concerning said merch. There was the Indiegogo campaign that requested financial assistance in creating more of said merch. There was the journalism professor and media critic, Jay Rosen, using the sharks in a Twitter essay about newsroom engagement.

This YOLO-minded fellow got the left shark tattooed onto his leg.

Which was, in its way, understandable. We are all, on some level, the left shark: getting some things right, screwing some things up, trying to have fun in the process. We're all constrained. We're all flawed. We're all famous. And we're all participating, together, in an awkward dance that will, eventually, make its way to the Internet.

With that in mind, it feels appropriate, in a way it never has before, to give the last word to John Mayer—who is, in addition to being Katy Perry's on-again boyfriend, a media critic. On the Late Late Show following the Super Bowl, Mayer called Perry's show "unbelievable." He added:

I think the whole thing about the sharks, everybody wants to talk about the sharks because it’s just something everyone can grab onto because not everyone feels comfortable walking around saying that Katy Perry was amazing. So they use the sharks as kind of, "Guys, love the sharks." It’s like, you have nothing bad to say about the performance, do you? "No, I don’t." Because if they did, you’d hear about it ... She made the Internet a kind, gentle place for a day. It was awesome.