Growing and mutating like a living thing, public anger over a video of four Florida men dragging a shark behind a powerboat acquired new targets over the weekend: the show of a new MTV reality show about young Gulf Coast hardbodies and one of its stars.
A charity-fundraising screening of the debut of MTV’s party-hearty series “Siesta Key” scheduled for Monday night had to be canceled after a member of the cast, 22-year-old Alex Kompothecras, disclosed on social media that he was a friend of one of the four men who appeared in the video of the shark being abused.
The four men were feeling the heat, too. One of them — cops wouldn’t identify him — has asked for additional protection for his home in the Manatee County town of Palmetto. Meanwhile, a petition at Change.org demanding that the men be jailed — no mention of a trial — had collected nearly 50,000 signatures by Sunday evening.
Even Gov. Rick Scott joined the posse, writing to state wildlife officials on Friday asking them to review and possibly tighten regulations after watching the video. “The brutality and disrespect shown to this animal is sickening and I am sure that you share my outrage over these individuals’ heinous actions,” he wrote.
Like Harambe the gorilla, shot and killed by Cincinnati zookeepers in 2016, and Cecil the lion, slain by a bow-and-arrow hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015, the thus-far nameless shark has achieved social media immortality since his pitiless killing was disclosed in a viral video on Tuesday.
The 11-second video shows the shark tethered to the back of a boat, slamming up and down against the engine’s wake as the men chortle about its life expectancy.
They emailed it to fabled Florida shark hunter Capt. Mark Quartiano, apparently in the belief that he’d get a chuckle out of it. Instead, Quartiano turned it over to law enforcement authorities after posting it on Instagram, expressing his revulsion with the tags #sowrong and #notcool.
Although the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is investigating the video, has declined to release the men’s names, at least three have been outed on social media. One, Bo Benac, is the son of a Manatee County commissioner.
Another, Michael Wenzel, was investigated by federal wildlife officials over photos that seemed to show him abusing pelicans and a seagull, although the case was closed without any action being taken. The third, Nicholas Burns Easterling, appears with Benac in a photo (one of several that has cascaded out of the internet’s collective memory) that has subsequently shown up on Facebook in which they pour beer in the mouth of a large grouper.
It’s his friendship of one of the men — it’s not clear which — that drew the budding MTV star Alex Kompothecras into the shark maelstrom late last week. A reader of Kompothecras’ Instagram account accused him of being involved in the abuse of the shark.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with the shark video,” retorted Kompothecras. But then he added: “Yes he’s a friend of mine. But no I don’t agree with what he did.” That was enough to set the digital vigilantes to work on Kompothecras, the son of a wealthy Sarasota chiropractor.
What they found on his social-media accounts were some photos, including one in which he may be pouring beer into the open mouths of a fish and a dog — which, although they fell far, far short of the mark set by the shark video, convinced them that Kompothecras’ new TV show should be boycotted.
“I was really upset by the shark video, and then everything just kept unfolding,” said Bradenton photojournalist Rachel Collet, who spearheaded a weekend email campaign in support of a Facebook page dedicated to the boycott. (Slogan: “You are who you associate with.”) “Not only have these guys been doing this, they’ve been doing it repeatedly.”
Collet said she acted not out of any particular affection for sharks, who’ve had a rough couple of months in Florida. (In May, a porn actress used her movie makeup artist to help fake a grisly bite on her ankle to support her phony, publicity-hungry report of a shark attack off the Jupiter coast.) “I don’t know if sharks are good,” she said. “But I know what these guys did was not good.”
She conceded, however, that the uproar might at times be crossing a line. “When we first heard about the viewing party being canceled,” Collet said, “we were all, ‘Yay, victory! We’re making a difference!’ Then we heard about the death threats and we were, ‘Dammit, it wasn’t canceled for the right reasons.’”
If the collective prosecution of the four anglers is thus far being carried out largely on social media, the cheerleaders have been mainly in the British press, which lovingly embraces any story about American loutishness. Vile thugs torture helpless hammerhead shark by pouring BEER into its gills as it thrashes around in agony in harrowing footage, read one typical London headline Sunday.
But even the dark British imagination was no match for some of the shark avengers who posted on the Facebook boycott page. One, recalling the accidental death of a Bradenton aquarium’s beloved 69-year-old manatee barely a week ago, suspiciously asked: “Where were these idiots the night Snooty died?”