Cultural representations of the Shark

Land Shark
Used by Saturday Night Live in a comedy skit, the shark is used as the punch line of a recurring joke and is seen as a clever serial killer. The synopsis is the Land Shark goes to apartments and masquerades as a plumber or deliveryman (i.e. “candy gram”). Eventually, the resident is tricked into opening the door and is eaten by someone wearing a rather crude shark costume. The shark could be seen as a symbol representing a very serious crime, serial killing. However, if it were not for our general fear of sharks and knowledge of their nature to seemingly kill things indiscriminately, this sketch would not be funny.

Finding Nemo
The shark is used as an element of intimidation and humor. In this clip, the shark intimidates two fish into joining their fish eaters anonymous group where they attempt to change the impression of sharks from “mindless eating machines”. The sharks represent more simple minded characters, which is expressed through their Cockney accents, scars, and brutishness.

Shark Week
The Discovery Channel uses sharks as the theme for an entire week of television…with the theme of shark. It is clear that sharks are portrayed as dangerous, man-eating killers – as can be seen by the shark image on the homepage. They have also created a short Flash-based film/video called Frenzied Waters in which the viewer takes a first-person view of shark victim. There is a lot of educational information on the site, but it’s all cloaked within the image of dangerous, fearful shark.


So, actually, I presented the above in class and during the discussion my instructor asked about non-Western takes on the shark. Admittedly, I hadn’t looked them up. I took some time tonight thinking about this a little more, and this is what I found.

New Finds [Feb 23, 2010]
Sharks live in all the waters around New Zealand, and have been a part of the Maori culture for some time. References to the shark’s strength and power can be found in Maori mythology and art. Maori are indigenous to New Zealand. Most information comes from:

Maori mythology: Maori and their ancestors (Polynesians) even thought of sharks as protectors. The Hawaiian word for shark protector is aumakua. A shark-related myth states that a legendary ocean guardian (or taniwha) will come to the rescue of a crew if their canoe overturns. Another myth of the Te Arawa tribe also tells of a shark coming to the aid of a crew attacked by a sea monster. Afterwards, the tribe named themselves “shark” or Te Arawa.

Origin of the Galaxy: “In Māori mythology, Māui placed the shark Te Māngōroa in the sky, forming the Milky Way.” Māui is a demi-god in Maori mythology. The Milky Way was known as the “Long Fish” (Ika-roa) or the “Long Shark” (Mangoroa), or “The Fish of Maui” (Te Ika a Maui).

Maori proverbs: There are a few proverbs related to death and sharks, venerating sharks. One Maori proverb is: Kia mate ururora, kei mate wheke. Let me die like a (hammerhead) shark, not like an octopus.

The other is: Kia mate uruora tātou, kei mate-ā-tarakihi. Maori caught octopus by hand, so perhaps this shows a relative lack of respect for octopi vs. sharks. Let us die like white sharks, not tarakihi fish. Tarakihi is a type of coastal fish common in New Zealand.

Maori contemporary artwork: While I was searching for more information related to the Maori culture and the Milky Way, I found some artwork feature sharks that were once part of a gallery exhibit. This is the gallery website. A few screenshots (below), the red and yellow fan-like sculptures, and the masks are from the gallery.

Aboriginal Australian Views of Sharks
In addition to Maori culture, I also found an excellent and thorough 6-page write-up about sharks and Aboriginal societies in Australia. “The Cultural Significance of Sharks and Rays in Aboriginal Societies Across Australia’s Top End” states that Aboriginal groups recognize a greater variety of sharks and therefore see them as “powerful and worthy of respect”. Aboriginal cultures not only respect sharks, they also use them for food. In contrast, Australians of European origin (or Western thought, for that matter) view sharks solely as predators and tend to fear them irrationally.

Here are a few screenshots from my new research activities.

Design Inspiration

Today, I took a trip to two places that I hoped would provide some design inspiration. First, the Official NYC information center which uses these disks as interactive elements as well as a touch screen tv display and overhead tracking mechanism (I think). The displays help visitors find things to do in New York, save them to their disk, and print, email or text the information to their phone, so that they can create a custom guide to New York City.

General view of the center
Instructions to create a custom NYC guide
View what celebrity New Yorkers like to do in the city
The disk is placed onto a reader...
Your selections are displayed using Google Earth on a set of large monitors
Wall-based touch screen

The second place I visited was the American Museum of Natural Science, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was a brief trip. I just wanted to get an idea of what types of displays they had and if a touch-based display would be appropriate. There’s a lot of information in the museum and I wasn’t there too long. But, here are some of the displays that the museum has, that I hope will become useful to me.

Touchscreen display

Display of earthquakes, worldwide
Display of earthquakes, worldwide

Static museum display
Static museum display

Buffalo display
Buffalo display

Earthquake display
Earthquake display

Map of the floors at the natural history museum
Map of the floors at the natural history museum

Brainstorming for a horizontal display

The way my project for Spatial Media has been developing has not been, shall we say, linear — at all. Not knowing which group member I was going to work with has obviously been making the brainstorming process quite difficult. Thankfully, at some point I did finally come to some idea for what to do.

The only hard constraint for the table so far is that it has to be a horizontal surface. The floor, a bench, a chair seat, and a table are all candidates for the project. Initially, my first thought was to put it on the floor so that the interface would be fully interactive with the entire body, but after a while I guess I lost interest in that idea while I thought about the purpose of a floor-based interface.

Our instructor gave us a couple of thoughts to consider: content, context and space. That is, what information will the interface have, what will people expect to find in a particular space, and how will it work within that space. I tried to think of places where people go and expect to find information. Such as a library, museum, visitors’ center, train station, etc.

Well, I remembered investigating a few visitor’s centers in arboretums or state parks, and I thought about how the displays are typically flat but not usually interactive. I was kind of worried about making a horizontal surface, but then I considered the Potion design example with the shoes…and I thought about a interactive display using natural elements as the interactive objects.

My partner and I are still not sure of what we will do, but we had a discussion about natural elements, so I think we’re still going in this direction. We both agreed to visit a couple of inspirational places, which I did and have written about in the next post.

Spatial Media: Assignment 2, The (Kitchen) Table

My concept for this assignment was to make a kitchen table that mimics the surface of water. It allows the diners and the items on the surface of the table to be equal partners in the interaction experience.

Water table example

The PDF description is here and the OpenFrameworks zip file is here.

I also found an excellent Processing example of ripples, which perhaps in the next 5 years I’ll be able to translate into OpenFrameworks.

As found on the forum
Link to the source code
Link to the .mov video example

My deer self…expanded

As a deer, I slip in and out of the human world at a relative ease. I enjoy living deer-human, but I don’t spend too much time that way. It’s important that I learn to live my life as a human.

Most days I’m fine with my human self, but every so often I find myself more timid than usual and afraid of people. In most of these moments, I feel closest to my inner deer. I do not leave my home when I feel this way. In fact, I simply move about, throughout the day, as if I were exactly the same. I still enjoy the same foods, though I tend to not be too carnivorous at this time. I find that eating other animal meat as a deer feels close to cannibalism. However, even being a deer will not destroy my love of coffee in the morning, at least not on a cold day.

I still enjoy going for long walks, and I still have a tendency to think too much. However, one of the best things about being able to turn into a deer is that I get to hide in plain site.

Hiding in plain sight