Jump the shark: a term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.
Origin of this phrase comes from a “Happy Days” episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on water skis. This was labeled the lowest point of the show.
– Urban Dictionary
Little did University of Michigan college roommates Jon Hein and Sean J. Connolly know that when they came up with the term jump the shark in the late seventies as code for when their favorite TV shows began to decline, they would really be coming up with a phrase to describe the decade of the 2010’s — as in 2010, 2011, and any other year in our foreseeable future. And I’m not talking solely entertainment here, but politics, money, possessions, friends, family and pretty much anything else in the public (or even private) discourse.
- You can’t just be someone’s friend – you need to be their bff.
- It’s not enough to be against an opposing political party’s president – you need to see him “fail.”
- You can’t just have vampires do the killing (and have passionate sex) on “True Blood” – it now needs to be demons from beyond; ghosts jumping into human throats and inhabiting our bodies; werewolves; shape shifters; faeries (including the storybook kind) and any and all combinations of the above.
(Note: The latter is one of my fave TV shows that I fear as gone the route of the water ski).
Feel free to fill in your own examples in the world of — (need some help?):
Love – the MOST ELIGIBLE BACHELOR(ETTE) in the world with whom each year I can fall in love within the shortened season of a reality show.
Possessions – THE ULTIMATE EXTREME HOME MAKEOVER both on TV and off
Lifestyles – The BEST food I ever ate recommendation to your friend and on the Food Channel.
Family– Here is the SISTER/BROTHER/FATHER/MOTHER you never knew who society tells you you can easily access from numerous sites on the web.
Where will it stop? Well, the cool thing about shark jumping is there is no limit to how over-the-top, awful or even just relentlessly annoying it can be. So if you appreciate creating excess or just indulging it, you’re set for life. But the bad part of it is – once you make that jump, the overall quality of that piece of “entertainment” (or subject, for that matter) takes a grand nosedive downward in quality, never be regained again.
Am I talking about the U.S. in 2011? Or has this blog simply jumped the shark? On both counts — God, I hope not.
Oh, speaking of God – He or She might have been wondering aloud if our rhetoric jumped the shark a few nights ago when HE/SHE was (undoubtedly) watching the Tea Party sponsored Republican candidates debate. Now, I’m admittedly a liberal and a bit of a cynic (a somewhat lethal psychological combination, I confess) but even my conservative friends (all two of them – oh, come on – I’m kidding!) were taken aback to hear the audience cheering, whooping and hollerin’ when Texas Governor Rick Perry gleefully proclaimed his state executed 234 death row inmates. Yes – cheers.
But that was nothing compared to the moment when CNN moderator Wolf Blizter challenged uber Libertarian Ron Paul when Paul proclaimed, “the whole idea we have to take care of everybody” is hogwash. When Blitzer followed up with what to do with a person who was in a near fatal accident who was in the hospital and uninsured, and asked, “Are we to let them die?” even the deity HER/HIMSELF might have been taken aback when more than a few in the audience again cheered, screamed “yes” and gleefully began to shake their heads in agreement.
Has political rhetoric jumped the shark? (Colbert excluded). Well, if it hasn’t already then what exactly do we have to look forward to in the coming decades?
All this was followed yesterday with a news story that US student SAT scores were the lowest in the country since they’ve been measured over three generations. I don’t blame any of the young people. (Disclaimer: I didn’t have great SAT scores either so I’m not sure it’s the ULTIMATE measure of anything). It is easy to not aspire to math, intellectual reasoning or even reading when you look around and most of what you see goes against intellect and thoughtfulness and instead favors emotional outburst and callousness.
(Further disclaimer: Certainly liberals are not guiltless in how they categorize certain Tea Party rhetoric and demonstrators either. I won’t repeat the epithets here, you know what they are).
Since this all started with the world of entertainment I began to think of why the shark is jumped in the first place. I guess it’s because there are only so many ideas you can come up with for a single subject or set of people. For instance, in retrospect I don’t blame the producers of 90s TV show “Mad About You” for giving proverbial career couple Paul Resier and Helen Hunt a kid any more than I blame the producers of the 70s sitcom “Rhoda” for marrying perennial single unlucky-at- love girl off to her prince charming construction foreman (though they did divorce sometime later, at which time the show jumped the shark for the second time, if that’s possible).
But if I give them that mulligan, they can’t blame us for pointing out that just because you create wonderful entertainment, or have great ideas, it doesn’t mean everything you do has to be met with superlatives. That would be personal shark jumping and we each have the responsibility to avoid it.
So take the example of a director I admire, David Lynch. He is a director known for being ahead of his time in his choice of material and blazed the way for innovation only to see generations (yes, now it’s plural) come after him in homage, imitation and shark jumping of his bizarre, inimitable style. In true Lynchian fashion in the nineties, when his sensibilities were at the apex of popularity, Lynch drew back and did a film called “A Straight Story,” a pretty much plain story about a kind of weird guy (hey, it’s Lynch) going cross country on a lawnmower to visit his dying brother one last time. No little people, no cryptic dialogue, not really any sex or violence at all. When Lynch was asked what happened he widely replied the most subversive thing he could do at that point in his career was to make a film that was totally traditional. This, of course, didn’t stop him from returning to great bizareness with the much lauded “Mulholland Drive” but also didn’t prevent even him from jumping the shark in memorably grand style with the deadly, derivative and indecipherable “Inland Empire” just a few years ago.
But there is a difference between entertainment and real life, from what I can tell. But only, however, if we can tell what that difference is. That brings us to reality. Television.
Anyone who watches “Project Runway,” among the big 5 megahits the genre has ever spawned, can report that when it crowned last year’s winner it came close to its own shark jumping, while this year’s truly awful and unimaginative designers have finally sealed the deal with unrelenting bitchiness that not even us gay guys can cozy up to (Uh, I took a survey).
Will “Dancing with the Stars” jump the shark this season with transgender contestant Chaz Bono or will it be like (as someone at the Emmy nominated writing panel I went to pointed out last week) Shelly Long leaving “Cheers” and, instead of jumping the shark, the show created Kirstie Alley’s character and bought another 7 years of original programming (this was before she jumped the shark as a personality post Jenny Craig commercials).
Certainly it really doesn’t matter –except for the fact that reality TV is a hybrid between entertainment and, don’t laugh, real life. It covers social issues and actual human beings (most/SOME celebrities are human). You know it’s true because this season’s DWTS will bombard you with transgender rights the same way you were forced to deal with nudity when an “American Idol” contestant was disqualified for her naked pictures or Vanessa Williams was stripped of her Miss America crown in the 80s when her naked photos were exposed (I can bring it up the latter because we know who got the last laugh).
We have an obligation to look forward to innovation, as many politicians proclaim, rather than shark jumping with the same old reality and TV show cast. We also have an obligation to look forward rather than jump the shark backwards as network TV so desperately wants you to do this season.
As evidence to the latter I offer this — “Mad Men” reinvented our view of the sixties and hasn’t jumped the shark yet – but you will soon be treated to some godawful shark jumping to the thematic subject of the 60s and 70s in the new TV lineup with the likes of “The Playboy Club,” and “Pan Am” and “Charlie’s Angeles” (I prescreened them for you, don’t bother). Don’t they know the reason “Mad Men,” which I will AGAIN tell you was turned down by EVERY MAJOR NETWORK numerous times, was a hit was not because of the period setting (we writers call it the “gift wrapping”) but the originality and uniqueness in its storytelling?? Right, I guess not.
I haven’t left out movies of 2011. But as an avid moviegoer I just prefer not to dwell on them. Let me just mention some 2011 titles as “The Green Lantern,” “Arthur” and “Pirates of the Caribbean 23” and say I’m always a little happier when the fall movies open. Still, we all fear, if we’re honest, the shark that calls itself the movie business began its approach jump three decades ago and has yet to recover.
The question is – when is going too far considered shark jumping and not innovation and when is imitation considered shark jumping and not homage? You can’t answer that one as easy as you can an SAT question. It takes study, intellect, thought and analysis mixed in with all those feelings – the combination of which is not too valued in our shark jumping culture. At least for now. #hereshoping #maybejustforme #bewarethejump