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