Scuba diving is a relatively safe experience.  However, diving is not without peril. When thinking about trying scuba diving, being prepared to run, not walk, not swim, but run screaming. There are good reasons for your apprehension. Consider:

  • ruptured ear drums,
  • arterial gas embolism,
  • pulmonary barotrauma,
  • subcutaneous emphysema,
  • mediastinal emphysema,
  • pneumothorax,
  • suffocation,
  • drowning,
  • death,
  • and worse than death,
  • sharks.

If the list doesn’t look scary enough, try reading it out loud.

There are indeed monsters of the deep—sharks, octopus, barracuda, other divers, and especially yourself. However, these phenomena (from pneumothorax, to moray eels, to other divers) are signs perceived as “monsters.” That codification is more a social construction of reality, a products of an institutionalized intentionality. These creatures “reality” is much more complex. In fact, these monsters are such only in very rare conditions.  Today, we are cultivating the idea (at the denotative, connotative, and mythological and ideological levels) that sharks are beautiful creatures who, while being predators, mean no intentional harm to humans.  The most dangerous things under the sea is your imagination, and, worse, your  fear itself. As Frank Hebert (of Dune fame) said: “fear is the mind killer.”

Human creativity and consciousness excel at externalizing our fears, moving them from the immanent to the transcendent, projecting fears onto things that are real enough, but whose “reality” is forged in images and the Imaginary. So, real things are not the problem, at least, not as such.  It’s the signified not signifier (deSaussure), the plane of content and not the plane of expression that concerns (Hjemselev) us at this point.  It’s the significance, the conventions (which are, by definition, human constructions), that we ascribe to things that is truly at the heart of the matter.

My favorite example of human agency, and creating monsters, a political action for the purpose of entertainment, that don’t exist comes from one of the first movies actually shot underwater, “Beneath The Twelve Mile Reef.”

It’s easy to overlook human agency, and our fears projected on other things because we then must assume responsibility for our actions, ideal or real. Whether physical or psychological, communication mediates the out-there with the in here, and institutionalizes, even demonizes, things. as far as our study of communication is concerned, I find here that the immanent and transcendent create a binary, an opening into thought currently incomplete.

Knowledge might be power, but Foucault has shown us that the real power is the ability to make knowledge. That is where the real magic lies, in casting spells, i.e., spelling out the ways we see; the writer and magician Alan Moore.  Languages, the spell casting of physics and physiology are amongst the highest achievements of human rationality (and if misused can be our doom).  To offset the threats or fears of those things like sharks, barracuda, electric eels, giant octopus, squid and the like that are far more threatened by man than we are of them.

When we see, we see “something;” this is Brentano’s theory of intentionality.  Scholars who followed Brentano, such as Husserl and, especially, Merleau-Ponty noted that we see through eyes that are conventionalized, institutionalized and organized intersubjectively.  We’re a collective species, in some respect, and the past of least resistance is to follow the leader.  The leader, be a politician, a god or a scientist wields great power over the average will.  Our sensual experience via cultural communication maps the Real—really makes maps.  These maps are created by and for us; they live as images, but considered communicologically, they are signifiers, pointers; that to which they point is variable and established by institutions of power.  The way we see sea monsters, for example, changes as we learn why we should not fear, but rather respect the shark, or eel, or octopus.

If we want a model for our fears, both real and importantly imagined, we can turn to cinema.  “Beneath The 12 Mile Reef’s” cinematography presents a primordial image of the way we see monsters in the communal attitude-as intentionally monstrous. This image is beautiful in its execution as it shows us an image that is outdated historically.

When I sought the depths of the internet and world wide web, I found at the surface that almost any scuba diving web video appears to be one-click away from accidents and disasters. Shark attacks rule the hyperlinks. Diving, if fact the oceans themselves, appears to be dangerous. However, the more deliberate viewer (the one who is not seeking an underwater car-wreck to fascinate his or her time) is often treated to beautiful vacation footage, and if I have seen a change over time, it is the inclusion of videos concerning diving and environmental conservation; I believe these to be significant, and I’d like to see them moved to the top of the Goggle, YouTube, Vimeo or any search engine’s data bases.

In almost all of these cases, however, the object of narrative or exposition is on some aspect of diving–travel, species of fish, shark encounters, all the the things one expects to find, and indeed finds.  But the experiences eclipse the scuba diving itself for the things observed while diving.  I, the intrepid dreamer of scuba diving, am tempted to turn and run away.


When diving, the chance of seeing a “monster” is always a freighting thrill.  I look up and see a Barracuda; I know it’s harmless when left alone, but the thrill, the mythos, appears anyway.  Yet, only a fool thinks there is no danger when diving. 

The equipment itself can be problematic: 

My brother caught his dive buddy’s tank as it fell off his buddy’s back.  Had he not caught the tank, it would have fallen to the floor, pulling the regulator out of his mouth as it went down.  We’re all trained to take off and put on our equipment underwater, but we do that in a swimming pool–good visibility, low and solid bottom (no silt), controlled conditions.  The danger is real. 

As for the Monsters, the Others, we have to realize that when diving we’re in an-Other fold in the world, sometimes animals will cause harm; I think the question lies in the idea of “intentionality” (both of the diver and other organism.  What are they conscious of?). 

A student of mine, Mighty Max, went shark diving. 

After all, the shark is, in the collective imagination, the ultimate sea monster, the ultimate predator, what Max called a “killing machine.” 

The entire dive was setup to be as intense as possible.  The diver’s stepped into the water without air in their BC.  Usually you use the air in the BC to pull you back to the surface so you can safely prepare to dive.  These guys went straight down, 60 feet.  The group of divers then kneeled on the floor while the hosts stuck a post of food for the sharks who were essentially trained to feed at that spot, thus providing the company with a supply of sharks to meet the demands of divers seeking a shark dive.  While a shark dive is on my list of things to do before passing away, I am wary of the industry we’ve created because we use sharks to produce pleasure (like a living horror movie with an element of sport–you’re not quite sure who is going to win-even though that is mostly assured).

b40268b9327c269c184107da945de654 copy

Diving with these sharks presented a real potential danger, but in a rather well constructed assembly line business that danger was minimized.

Is the shark a predator?  Yes.  Is it a killing machine?  No. In fact, while common sense focuses on the “killing” fear, truth is, a shark is not a machine.

Max’s experience is justified, however, because he’s searching for a metaphor to describe something non-human, something alien, and that is very difficult.  Communication breaks down with wild animal species.  We don’t see “eye to eye,” as both Max and I note in our dive logs (see Communication Break Down).

As for the predator.  We must take care with language.  We use the word/metaphor “predator” these days to mean “stalker,” or for “somebody who intentionally means to bring harm to another” -a Monster.  The news talks of “sexual predators.”  The metaphor is wrong as it no longer describes the animals (like humans) who prey on other animals (and if you think we don’t really do that anymore;  we just go to the grocery store’s meats counter).  Having met both sharks and people accused of being predators, I can safely say that we forget what a predator is: after all, the history of America (the mythical) is one of killing off predators, a wolf, a fox, who might take a sheep or two, and disrupting the natural order in the name of the Christian God. For “we” (Man, not woman, thankfully) have dominion over the earth.

a6a91908f4a463ad2301068909456fec copy

IT’s said that the predator makes the flock stronger. The predator kills off the sick and weak, thus making the survivors (in a Darwinian sense) stronger, better able to survive. The predator helps the “natural” order.  When we equate the words predator and monster, we de-monstrate the power of language: We live the words we speak. The words are the founding of our Reality, yet, in Lacanian terms, are anything but the Real.  For those inclined to the sciences I can extend this paragraph to say the “inscription” de-fines, makes (creates) de-finite reality (not Reality) since many people find numbers (a form of inscription) can say things words cannot, but the numbers are still symbols.

Please don’t take the previous paragraphs as an attack on symbols.  Symbols and imagery may be one of the greatest human contributions, underlying and allowing for all the other human creations and inventions.  If Lacan is a logical culmination of Freud and Jung, given in and for the information age, the age of communication, the:

The Real is the unknowable once we enter language(s), the symbols that name things ever separate us from those things

The imaginary, which we live out through pleasure and the Other, human, webpages or music.

The symbolic, to which symbols are given to reveal the momentary essence of a thing in time-space-motion.

If we study the self/Other and find such a communal system, to too we find it in the study of others.  Ethnography, likewise, implies that“the thing itself” is not only a sign system within structural and post-structural appearances, but that through other, i.e., intersubjectivity, we come to know “what it is.”  Max (Interview: Shark Dive) calls the shark a “killing machine.’  He does so without malice or hatred.  He does so so because he realizes that he’s the alien in this watery-world, and he’s no longer on top of the food chain chain.  The shark won’t bother him unless it wants a bite.  Even if neoprene, even human tastes bad, that bite is gonna be significant.

•Stories of megalithic beasts and mad sharks, which I am minimizing due to the insanely violent representation of sharks

As we consider vision, as a phenomenon of communication, it’s important to consider that fiction, e.g., Jaws, The Cave, Sharknado, and narrative, e.g., Shark Week, and any other textual, mass mediated material  steers divers’ desires and constitutes images, visions of what diving is, and what the experience will be like.  Such vision is fleshed-out for its fidelity when expectation or projection meet the embodied experience. 

Fictional texts, and even the most scientific documentary, inscribe ways of understanding as they explore their subject matter.  Television, books and movies have provided both divers and non-divers alike with lessons in deep sea diving that form for them a pre-understanding of what diving is.  Just as television “means” vision (i.e., the root vision), over distance (i.e., the prefix, “tele”), the diver’s “vision” or imago is bridged by a variety of cultural experiences.  These texts establish a language, and hence, and unconscious of diving upon which we inscribe our experiences.

The imagery and stories told in novel, film and television comprise a field of experience, a type of fiction (Lacan), and a structuring of consciousness of who and what the scuba diver is and what “he” does; it is important to note that the most common image of the diver is male and masculine–a point I will return to below. 

Max notices what I noticed in the eye of the Sheepshead fish all the way up in Lake Erie -he’s off Bimini Island.  The eye of the shark and eye of the Sheepshead have no bond of empathy with us, humans.  We inhabit the same space in different facets of the world.  The communication is cold; we see each other, but we can’t communicate.  There is no communion.  I can understand the gestures of my horses, cats and dogs.  I know oceanographers who read the movements of marine life quite well.  We are simply different species. Where communication would be there is only action and reaction (See Deleuze’s Nietzsche for a conversation on that subject).

A 3d Species? Cyborg

Sea Monsters are also cyborg because they are different, but could be integrated into us: Why not build a Merman (wouldn’t it be human, so human, to build a Merman for the craft and art of swimming through mechanical enhancement.  The mermaid would probably be made later, when the visual aesthetics have improved.  I hope I am wrong).

Likewise, the Monster is cyborg because their existence depends on the technology of writing, and the passing down of mythos, the maps of mind (after all, a shark is simply an animal, no monster).

In his Log from the Sea of Cortez, John Steinbeck wrote,

“Men really need sea monsters in their personal oceans.”83 

From a fascination with the fossil remains of giant creatures, to the borderland beasts, like the Loch Ness monster (i.e., those we never truly see), to Discovery Channel’s popular “Shark Week,” to those creatures we have not yet encountered, we love the real and imagined sea monsters. Their existence is not measured by what we.   So “what” are these sea monsters?

Communicology finds the question of existence easy to deal with.  If something is named, it exists.  The difficult question is the modality of existence.   Does something exist materially or formally?  We begin with a binary question, ultimately inadequate, but initially heuristic. 

The formal domain is the realm of ideas.  Here things exist primarily in mind.  Mathematics is a good example.  Language is another. 

The material domain is the realm of the physical.  Here things exist externally of our bodies, and include the bodies of others and myself. 

Of course these phenomena have borders, and are brought into each others world through communication.  As semiotics studies the bridge, or the in-between, of (pick your metaphor):

  • signifier-signified
  • plane of expression-plane of content
  • ideal-real
  • immanence-transcendence

Within the body of communication theory, we can deal with these appearances, including the factual and fictional, as both poles are expressions of perceptual experience and human consciousness.

We would do well to note, as Alan Watts once pointed out, that the real beings of the world, e.g., a giant jellyfish, are perhaps more fascinating than a fictional beings, such as the aliens in Cameron’s Abyss.  However, to express perception, humans find a need to create and fabricate creatures to discuss, entertain and teach ourselves about the intricacies of existence.  This ability to manifest mythos is a human achievement no less than rationality, perspective and their child, science.

The Hydra has a place among these beasts.  Killed by Heracles in his second task, the Hydra, real and mythical, is an amazing creature–one I recall being amazed by as an eight grader in Mr. Bebe’s science class. However, the Hydra is so easily compared to its scientifically nominated species and a host of other sea “monsters” that it lacks “monstrosity” in the post-microscope age, even if it sparks the imagination.  However, the real hydra (small as it is), the octopus and squid, are real, and some grow to gigantic, even monstrous, proportions.

The giant squid and the giant octopus have been be stuff of myth, legend and increasingly scientific discovery.90  An early personal encounter with a giant squid, as a child born in NJ in the early sixties, was the unforgettable squid versus Nautilus submarine battle in Disney’s version of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.  I don’t recall, in my personal chronology, which came first, the ride or the movie; it doesn’t matter.  Both brought to life a giant squid and submarine. It was always, no matter how young, a matter of imagination (indeed, the ride was never “Real” enough to satisfy, and the battle never felt like the highlight of the film).  Yet, for the aspiring and middle-class American child, the Disney corporation is always ready to satisfy with its particular brand of hermeneutics.  Jules Verne is deeper.

Those my age and older (I was born in a last wave of post 1950‘s optimism, 1963, when The Beatles came to America), will likely remember when television had three channels, four, when you matured enough to include PBS.  The experience of television was far more specialized, and my family abided by the codes established for television viewing.  Watching was parentally guarded. Football took precedence. The family watched together, warmly bundled on the couch in winter, children spread out on the carpeted floor in the summer. There was only one.

I am not painting an idealistic image of television, merely an account of my early experience with it.

While the TV has always been a domestic appliance (Spiegel, Make Room for TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America), closer in genus to the toaster than the cinema screen.  Television was not always a background, or taken-for-granted phenomenon.  My brother and I would take our seats on the couch when Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom would air.  We watched the “natural” world unfold as Marlin Perkins sat comfortably in an office, quite safe from harm, and sent Jim Fowler into the field to gather footage of “true” wild animals.

It appeared that entertainment was preceded by education (always a lofty goal for television). The Veil of Maya worked its magic.  An hour of education.  An hour of entertainment.  However, it was all, always and already, entertainment, even if TV news departments still maintained editorialists, and Reagan era deregulation hadn’t touched the horizon.

  • I now know, after working in film production and obtaining a college education, that what we were shown was very far from any sense of the word “true.” 
  • Animals were presented as having a narrative life-world, charactarizing a non-character, a sentient being Other. 
  • Predators were baited with pre-captured and weakened prey, capitalizing on a functional skill. 

Realizing that there is no Santa Clause is ultimately easy.  Realizing that we kill animals for entertainment, and then call it education, is harder to get over.  These actions shame the ideals of science and naturalism, whose image is bound to these programs.  Real scientists too-often find that knowledge and ability are dwarfed by the need to seek funding to practice. Real science is often necessarily slow and methodical.  It’s the rare scientist, or team of scientists and producers, who can bring the language of science through mass media intact.91

As Wild Kingdom ended, our parents, who had been doing the dishes, would join us.  As a family (and we were not alone in this practice), we would watch, The Wonderful World of Disney.  To date, my favorite memory of that program was the two weeks over which they split and presented 20,000 Leagues, in two parts.  No matter how low-tech the battle of the submariners and the squid is, and no matter how many times I watch it, or the “making of” footage available on the well-produced DVD, I cannot forget the wonder I experienced watching that movie: It was a highlight among highlights.  The giant squid fight “promised” us that far below where “men” had traversed, real monsters waited. 

I don’t know if the 20,000 Leagues ride is still operating at Disney World, and even searching the web for the easily obtainable data is irrelevant.  Memory tells me I was more interested in the way the “imagineers” could feign a submarine with a car, windows under water, that rode along a track.  The amusement park ride could not recreate the experience for our mental recreation.  However, that did not stop us from waiting in hour-long lines to ride it every chance we got.  The life of a child is well served by fascination, and while having parents who took us to Disney World every Spring Break, may sound trite to scholars (it sounds trite to me), those parents also inspired in my brother and myself a want to scuba dive. 

But these early experiences taught me that sea monsters were really “see” monsters.

Back at the reef

I presented earlier a clip from Beneath the 12 Mile Reef.  The movie is the Romeo and Juliette mytheme with underwater sponge diving for action and adventure.  Two genres, romance and action-adventure, give the film a feminine and masculine polarity.  Romance for the girls.  Adventure for the guys.  A perfect “date” movie.  These genres are coded, deliberate acts of communication.  The activity, in this case, is grounded on capitalism, making money by providing entertainment.  A perfect example of how art is manifest in a post-industrial, information-age context.  The movie was published in 1953.  In 2012, the image of the American 1950’s is well established:

  • post war American optimism,
  • the rise of the middle class,
  • the expansion of the suburbs, and to complete an incomplete list,
  • clearly coded roles for men and women (people ‘knew’ their place).

Our consideration of the text, however, is not grounded on the capitalism of the movie industry. Rather, here I attempt a pure research of communication in the vein of critical-cultural studies.

Let’s return to considerations of vision:  When I see something, I see it through eyes that are conventionalized, institutionalized and organized through intersubjectivity.  The phenomenon before me is a cypher of mythos, connotation and endless signification (Barthes).

Depth Hermeneutics Continued

Intersubjectivity precedes intra-personal experience (we might say, if two disciplines will communicate that intersubjectivity has a commonality with interpersonal communication, even if the the theories are quite different).  My relationships with things and with Others in the natural attitude is thus a map drawn before me by others.  The images, the shape of the imagination, is mapped by us, intercommunication, thus we can’t always read our own maps -their cross-stitched, woven in the fabric of reality, maybe having no relationship to the Real (in Lacan’s sense). 

Indeed, Jung has suggested that some maps, those we call archetypical for their cross-cultural, non-personal, unconscious experience, are the very shape of the human unconscious.  For the theory of a collective unconscious, archetypal images (the hero’s quest, the state of grace, the fall, the new state of grace, the birth, death and resurrection, the rejuvenation of the baby, for examples drawn from societies around the world as Jung notes), are what make humans human, in the way that playing with string, following a light on the floor, and other repetitive patterns assure us a kitten is a baby cat.

Other maps are drawn both consciously and unconsciously, with political intent and without.  The 1950‘s (i.e., the image of the American 1950’s, not the actual lived-decade) has clearly coded roles for men and women that reject, exnominate, the existence of gays and lesbians.  The image of the American 50’s, cool cars and rock and roll, tells an incomplete story.  It is not the territory (as Korzybsky would say), but is a map of the territory.  Maps are markers. Humans are sublime map-makers.  (I must note, as a communicological aside, that the General Semantics of Korzibsky, who famously noted that “the map is not the territory,” is not the same as the semiotics of the communicative body explored in this book -even if I draw on Korzibsky’s wisdom here and there). 

We must treat this idea of map-territory relationships with care.  Just as Michael Taussig (The Nervous System) notes that a context is actually another text, another object to be read.

For communicative intelligence, this insight cannot be treated lightly.  We no longer simply place a text, e.g., a Elvis Presley song, in a context, e.g., the 1950’s, and think we can “read” or “interpret” the song based on the time period, because that too must be deciphered.

Bateson (Steps to an Ecology of Mind), considers the traditional problem of infinite regress that shows its head in signification, as the signifier-signfied relationship of an indefinite flow of signifieds becoming signifiers, becoming signifieds.  Indeed, the terms signifier and signified are a part of a semiotics for beginners.

Hjemselv will speak of a plane of expression and a plane of content to deal with the inadaquancy of these terms.  Moreover, deconstruction in general shows us that we can look into the abyss of infinite regress, or never-ending semiosis because such as is the norm, the way of things, and not a problem until we get lazy and stop thinking, thus giving a particular term, like God, a divine signification.

Thus, the idea of the map appears again in the philosophies of deconstructionists like Michele Foucault, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and Jaques Derrida. They adopt mapping for its value to the politically active scholar.  They acknowledge openly, like coming out of the closet, that knowledge is a political affair, and any methodology is a discourse with its rules of inclusion and exclusion. 

Philosophy, communicology are so academically rigorous, radically reflective (Husserl), that we are knowingly political.  The scholar is a writer.  Scholarship is the creation of texts (Belsey).  The phenomenologist of communication has the same task as inscription, as art -to render the invisible visible.  This is why we practice rigorus, informed, methodologies, and choose to not make camp with the physical sciences, and live in the tent of the humanities.  Science is already a map; it knows best its own territory.

Our images are a map of the Real.  This map is created for us through mythos. The way we see sea monsters, e.g., has changed as we learn why we should not fear the giant octopus or shark, as we turn our eyes away from the map to the surface so to make new maps.

As ancient as any sea-see monsters are the mermaids.  Mermaids de-monstrate classic sexual codes: mermaids are gorgeous beyond compare. They lure men to their death through beautiful song.  This image echoes in experience when a masculinist and misogynistic conception of marriage is cast; the old “ball and chain;” the loss of individuality; the loss of masculinity.   Women, these narratives suggest, are not to be trusted.  Remember Eve?  See Monsters are, as we have noted above, beautiful but deadly.

Cyborg & Monster


The scuba diver, among others, is an example of what Haraway is considering: The diver, as cultural agent, is a monster (i.e., a sea monster), a human-techno-fish inhabiting the borderland of the ocean.  The diver’s actions de-monstrate variations in the phenomena of breathing and moving (among other things).  The diver’s body is overtly and obviously specifically positioned, mediated at various levels (e.g., social, technological, physiological), has partial perspective, situated knowledge (e.g., scientific discourse, mythic imagination), a contradictory self (i.e., person, amphibian and mechanism); dualism and binary opposition are rendered irrelevant.  In other words, the diver learns how to move as the dolphin moves, as the fish swims, but, also, as the person swims underwater (which is not the same as dolphin, fish or any other sea animal).  The diver is an actual cyborg, embracing technology, and is also a metaphor for tactical and political knowledge of becoming an other (i.e., a knowledge of moving in the world as an Other).

While I’m using the term “monster” to de-monstrate the becoming Otherness of the diver, I can point out here that humans, and not sharks, are the seas most powerful and dangerous predator.  Our take of ocean fish depletes entire species.  In fact, a predator weeds out the weak so the species gets stronger.  Humans are thus not predators, we are the virus that kills the host, the inhuman Monster that kills without thought.


Excerpt from the 12 Mile Reef’s Giant Octopus scene,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s