FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Shark “Attack”: Mick Fanning and Surfing with the Animals

“No Islam. No Sharks. No Halal.”

— Reclaim Australia poster, July 2015

It happened at the J-Bay Open surf event in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, featuring Australian surfer Mick Fanning and a shark that found itself grabbing the champion surfer’s leg rope. “It just kept coming at my board and I was kicking and screaming.” Then came the inevitable sop story, embroidered with the necessary trauma, specifically of the human variety. There was the interviewed mother, Elizabeth Osborne. There were the rounds about the hero in the water fighting off the shark.

One fact stood out: The shark, in such cases, can’t win. When a foolish human is found on the menu, the fictional social contract between Homo sapiens and other creatures – a unilateral understanding about how humans coexist with such putatively “savage” animals – is broken.

Not that the animals in question have been asked about this peculiar, demeaning arrangement of anthropomorphic convenience. The tribe gets irritable at the loss or injury of one of their own; a mobilisation effort to hunt the animal tends to follow.

Culls are advocated, as they were by the eccentrically unhinged Reclaim Australia spokesman, Councillor Keith Carton. Rather inventively, Carton managed to identify the complacency towards shark attacks as similar to that towards “domestic terrorism”. He saw omens in the shark encounter with Manning: “Australia’s attempts at integration have failed and in turn we are sitting ducks for terrorists and sharks.” Beware, he warned, of the next “Sydney siege” in the form of killer sharks.

Other measures of protection – for humans – are also introduced in the wake of dramatised shark encounters, including, as what happened in Western Australia, murderous baited drumlines. All this, despite studies showing that humans and sharks, in the words of Leah Gibbs, “generally co-exist without ill effect.”

The show, as ever, remained on the three-time world champion. The tribe still had their surfer to venerate. There was no martyr in the equation. Would he surf again, asked the surfing punditry and groupies? Well, probably. Was his mental state up to scratch? Possibly, though according to sports psychologist Paul Penna, it would affect the “motivation” of other surfers (Sydney Morning Herald, Jul 20).

American sports sites were particularly keen to note the transformation of Fanning from surfing champion to shark gladiator of the hostile surf. A contributor to Fansided was clear. “One thing is certain from this whole attack – Mick Fanning just became the world’s biggest badass for fighting a shark live on television and winning without suffering an injury.”

The warrior theme sizzled through the social media scape. “While you were asleep,” extolled sports pundit Titus O’Reily, “Australia defeated England at Lord’s and Mick Fanning defeated a shark.” The energy drinks label Red Bull decided to go for some cheap marketing, observing that Fanning, the touted “Shark Fighter” had gotten a point against “Jaws”: “If you attack Mick, remember it’s a fight to the fin-ish.”

To add to this was the interplay between Fanning and his fellow surfer, Julian Wilson. There were shades of mighty Achilles and his male companion Patroclus. As the video coverage showed, Wilson paddled in desperation towards Fanning, a somewhat futile act that did, nonetheless, make Fanning describe him as a person who “came to my aid as a warrior”. “Mick yells as Jules to get away while Jules frantically tries to save his friend,” tweeted surfer Clifton James Hobgood.

There was, however, one grand absentee in these sugar-coated reflections. To add some dubious balance, Samuel Gruber of the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation in the Bahamas decided to get into the mind of the shark. The animal, he posited with psychological curiosity, probably thought Fanning a seal. Struggling metaphors were offered. “Kind of like a lion jumping on you and missing the leap going over the cliff.”

But the nature of social media got others interested from another perspective. The shark with no name, merely an object used to direct veneration at a surfer, suddenly found itself with a Twitter account. One suitably doctored image sported a shark facing a row of press microphones: “I was just swimming along, bit into some tasty leg rope, and some dude hits me in the back… Madness!”

The spoof website News Thump also came up with a different approach, reversing the agency between man and fish with the title, “Shark survives attack by Australian surfer.” Here, the shark had a name – Simon Williams – and a grievance to parade. The purported shark Williams had told the news site that he was “just swimming along thinking about stopping for something to eat when the next thing I know I’m being sucker-punched by this Aussie – right in the small of the back.” It was pain he had to endure as a minor celebrity in “shark circles”.

Others reminded Fanning and company that humans had overstepped their supreme entitlements to natural real estate. To Fanning’s credit, he admitted having been “in their domain” though the sentiment was dismissed as a silly remark by Brisbane’s The Courier Mail. Greater numbers of swimmers were making their ways into the world’s waters, increasing the number of culinary opportunities.

The entire episode did start to resemble an idiosyncratic confection, an emoting narrative in search of heroic Toreadors and challenging bulls. It was no such thing. To subsequently convey the impression that this was a battle between man and beast involves a good deal of mythmaking. Humans have an agency, cognitive and physical, their sea sharers do not. Fanning, and his fellow surfers, had appropriated a space of sporting engagement contested by shark sovereignty. Swim and surf, by all means, but do so in such environments at your own peril. Simon Williams might be just behind you.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 12, 2019
Ramzy Baroud
Money, Power and Turf: Winning the Middle East Media War at Any Cost
Martha Rosenberg
How Does One of the Most Hated Industries Stay Profitable?
Steven Salaita
Renouncing Israel on Principle
Basav Sen
Most Americans Support Phasing-Out Fossil Fuels…Isn’t That Worth a Headline?
George Ochenski
Pride Goeth Before the Fall
Ted Rall
The U.S. Government Lied about the Afghanistan War, They Couldn’t Have Done It Without Media Lapdogs
Daniel Falcone
How Working Class Atomization and the Mohawk Valley Formula Gave Us Centrist Democrats
Lawrence Wittner
A Boss is a Boss: Nurses Battle for Their First Union Contract at Albany Medical Center
Kris De Decker
We Can’t Do It Ourselves
James A Haught
Zealots in High Office
Robert Fisk
When You Follow the Gun Trail, You Can End Up in Expected Places
Jerome Irwin
No Israeli Peace, Joy or Goodwill at Christmastime for Palestinians
George Wuerthner
Goat Grazing is No Solution to Wildfires
December 11, 2019
Vijay Prashad
Why the Afghanistan Papers Are an Eerie Reminder of Vietnam
Kenneth Surin
Australia’s Big Smoke
Sameer Dossani
Ideology or Popularity: How Will Britain Vote?
John W. Whitehead
Who Will Protect Us From an Unpatriotic Patriot Act?
Binoy Kampmark
Interference Paranoia: Russia, Reddit and the British Election
Scott Tucker
Sure, Impeach Trump, But Let’s be Honest
Nyla Ali Khan
Homogenizing India: the Citizenship Debate
Thomas Knapp
Congress: The Snail’s Pace Race
Shawn Fremstad
Modern Family Progressivism
Joseph Essertier
Julian Assange, Thanks for Warning Japanese About Washington
William Minter
How Africa Could Power a Green Revolution
December 10, 2019
Tony McKenna
The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn
John Grant
American Culture Loves a Good Killer
Jacob Hornberger
Afghanistan: a Pentagon Paradise Built on Lies
Nick Licata
Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?
Thomas M. Magstadt
What’s the Matter With America?
Brian Tokar
Climate Talks in Madrid: What Will It Take to Prevent Climate Collapse?
Ron Jacobs
Where Justice is a Game: Impeachment Hearings Redux
Jack Rasmus
Trump vs. Democracy
Walden Bello
Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
Binoy Kampmark
A Troubled Family: NATO Turns 70
Brian Horejsi
Citizens Are Never Trusted
Michael Barker
Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement: the Lessons of Birmingham, 1963
John Feffer
Soldiers Who Fight War
Howie Wolke
Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
John Feffer
How the New Right Went Global — and How to Stop It
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail