Humour helps humanity survive


It has to be the world’s most famous shark picture. Apart from maybe Jaws, no other shark has its own meme. It is in fact a photograph of a real shark sticking its head out of the water. But it was the addition of this priceless caption – “Rare image of a shark stepping on a Lego” – that’s made it an immortal piece of satire.

Ask any parent whose child has discovered the joys of Lego, and they will be able to relate a story involving a bare foot, a Lego brick and excruciating pain. You could add day or night to the scenario with equal results, but it seems to be one of those universal truths about parenting that at some point, like the shark in the photograph, you are going to stand on a piece of Lego.

Even if you aren’t a parent, and you are just visiting friends with small children, as has happened to me on too many occasions to count, you can also stand on a piece of Lego and feel the full joy of this deeply creative time in a child’s life. I would gladly step on Lego all day and night, with the concurrent pain, to enable such creativity in my son, as would almost all parents.

The photo’s origin story is as wonderful as the joke itself.

The original picture was taken in January 2016 by shark attack survivor Mike Coots. After he lost a leg in a tiger shark attack in 1997 when he was a teenager, Coots takes pictures of sharks as a way to protect them.

“I took my girlfriend as a surprise Christmas present on a shark dive off of Stewart Island in New Zealand where the pic was taken,” Coots said after his picture went viral later that year.

“It was on a GoPro on a long wooden dowel on the 0.5 sec timer mode. The shark was doing what was called ‘gaping’ (a shark-communication behaviour) and I happened to capture it.”

But it wasn’t until October that year when then Nevada student Robert Petersen saw the picture and added the now legendary caption.

“The pain of stepping on (a Lego brick) is a near universal experience for a lot of us,” Petersen told Cnet in 2016. “I think the (tweet’s) popularity arises from the fact that people love sharks, and love Lego, so it’s kind of a perfect combination.”

The global reception was unexpected, he said. “From New York to London to Russia and everywhere else it was great to see so many people saying it made their day.”

Although he said the next sentence five years ago, it is probably more apt today than it has ever been.
“These days it can be quite depressing to see all the negative news and political arguing that goes on, so it’s refreshing to see such near universal joy come from such a simple little caption.”

What he said.


About Author

Toby Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of Stuff, a Forbes contributor and a Financial Mail columnist. He has been writing about technology and the internet for 20 years and his TED Global talk on innovation in Africa has over 1,5-million views. He has written about Africa's tech and start-up ecosystem for Forbes, CNN and The Guardian in London. He was named in GQ's top 30 men in media and the Mail & Guardian newspaper's influential young South Africans. He has been featured in the New York Times. GQ said he "has become the most high-profile technology journalist in the country" while the M&G wrote: "Toby Shapshak is all things tech... he reigns supreme as the major talking head for everything and anything tech."

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