This is a video of a big aquarium (not connected with ATM or Tanked) – doesn’t a little information about how it’s run and how the animals are cared for make it more exciting? Like many of us, I have been thinking about the new television show ‘Tanked’. The great discussion so far about the show has been really illuminating and it has taken the reef aquarium community beyond issues like ‘this coral is cool’ or ‘what’s the newest product’ or ‘where do I get the cheapest___’.
The kind of big picture discussion about the aquarium hobby has been relegated to dusty, quasi-philosophical forums with low readership – getting this discussion out in the open can do nothing but benefit the hobby in the long run by forcing more of us to think about issues on the broader stage. The critical thinker in me is also thrilled that hardly any of the discussion seen so far has not degenerated into ad hominem attacks, and that people have been genuinely playing with the ideas rather than trying to score points. In these respects, I think ‘Tanked’ has been great for the hobby.
In other respects, I am on the fence about the show. The actual health requirements of the animals used in the episodes get glossed over, and this glossing may help increase the amount of ‘cut flower mentality’ that many aquarists feel about the animals in their charge. For the most part, fish are cheap and easy to get, so if they die you just get another one. They are semi disposable. This mindset is not just adopted by newbies or the uneducated hobbyist – we are all guilty of it to some degree, and it may even be an inescapable part of our hobby.
Mistakes, bad/outdated advice, poor animal handling, crashes, and dumb luck, almost ensure that we are going to have to replace dead animals unless we leave the hobby completely. Many in the hobby work very hard to minimize those events for themselves and for others. It’s an uphill battle, and a television show like ‘Tanked’, which gives the impression that ‘insta-filled, insta-populated’ are normal and accepted, can make those minimization efforts harder.
Some of the discussion about ‘Tanked’ compares it to other ‘build’ reality shows like American Chopper, where the building exciting and creative projects are the background for family drama. Since motorcycle enthusiasts seem to not worry too much that American Chopper is not mechanically educational, perhaps it is unrealistic to think ‘Tanked’ should be thought of as biologically educational. This line of reasoning highlights the problem mentioned above – living animals are not equal to mechanical components.
A television show giving the impression that a motorcycle can be built in a few days is fine because in that case the worst that happens if someone tries to do it themselves is that they can’t do it, and they end up with a bunch of parts in their garage. However, a television show giving the impression that a saltwater aquarium can be set up in a day is less fine because the worst that happens if someone tries it is that a lot of animals end up dead.
I do understand that ‘Tanked’ is entertainment, and that its goal not to educate people about keeping animals in glass boxes of water. At the same time many of us worry about a widely seen television program adding any fuel to the fire that people who are anti marine ornamentals keep trying to start. Our hobby is very visible, and its easy for opponents to point to it and say ‘they are killing animals and hurting natural environments’ even if there are other, more impactful and pressing activities that are killing animals and damaging natural environments.
It would be very easy for ‘Tanked’ to make a nod towards education. It doesn’t have to be long, and could mimic the 15-30 second Mythbusters ‘Warning; Science Content’ segments – quick educational stuff on husbandry, filtration, the state of the areas the animals come from, and then back to the reality show drama. Such a token educational segment would go a long way to give the impression that the animals involved matter.
I am glad ATM has a show and I wish them much success. I wish also that the show evolves to include a little bit of educational reality about keeping marine animals instead of just cool builds and drama.