Friday, March 14, 2014
I remember when I first had to explain to my teenage kids what “jumped the shark” meant. I must confess that even I didn’t know the phrase was so literal, since my “Happy Days” fixation was long behind me and I had stopped watching by the time that fateful episode was aired. But like a tidbit of folk wisdom passed on in somewhat demeaning terms as “wives’ tales”, or an old home remedy that low and behold actually works – there is much to be gained in an academic study of this particular cultural phenomenon. It’s all about knowing when to say when.
And like a true historian, I must begin with none other than one Arthur Fonzarelli.
You see, back in its heyday, Happy Days was cool. I know kids – it’s hard to believe that about a show that made a 30 year old scrawny looking dude posing as a teenager a symbol of toughness. But as we now know, that black leather jacket covered up a heart of gold. And remember, this was before MTV and the Internet, so the show obviously benefitted from the fact that the number of channels back then was limited to the amount you could fit on a small rotating dial. When The Fonz put his thumbs up and gave the audience an “Aaaayy,” we lost our freaking minds.
It was also one of the first shows to milk that golden calf dry with seemingly endless spinoffs.Laverne and Shirley. Lenny and Squiggy. Blansky’s Beauties. Mork and Mindy. Joanie Loves Chachi. Long after the last drop of goodwill had been shed, Happy Days was still on the air. For 10 years to be exact, which doesn’t sound especially long, except that several of those years were post shark.
Somewhere along the line, Happy Days ran out of fresh ideas, and the “kids” all grew up. But instead of bowing out gracefully, like The Sopranos or Mash managed to do with grace and dignity, Happy Days just kept going. It kept going and going until it literally “jumped the shark” – which was both a literal and figurative manifestation of its pathetic attempt to remain cool and relevant.
For those of you unfamiliar with the episode, The Fonz actually jumped over a shark in a ridiculously over-dramatized water skiing game of chicken. If it wasn’t already apparent, this is the point where even viewers who represent the most lagging indicator consumer (I’ll call them straggling indicator consumer – see “people who still collect Beanie Babies as a financial investment”), finally realized the show was on the downward side of its bell shaped curve.
Since then, I like to maintain my own personal “Jumped The Shark” List. And it has nothing to do with what is trending, what is hot, what is buzz worthy, and what is not. This is my latest list. You may not agree with it, but it doesn’t really matter, because this is my list, and it’s far from all inclusive.
Network TV – Who in the world watches network TV except for old people? It caters to the lowest common denominator, which results in shows like “The Bachelor” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” And seemingly anything new or fresh is promptly cancelled by network executives only interested in appealing to the masses, which unfortunately ain’t all that sophisticated.
Clubbing – Believe me, the last thing someone my age wants to do is stand in line with a bunch of twenty somethings waiting to get onto some crowded, sweaty dance floor. Besides, we all know they don’t let us in because we’re cool – it’s only because we are deemed a necessary evil by some meat head bouncer that was informed somebody has to be able to afford that overpriced table service.
Vodka – Yeah it’s low in carbs, but it isn’t exactly full of nuanced, sophisticated flavor. It tastes like rubbing alchohol. I’ll take a bottle of Jamison over Grey Goose any day. Sorry Comrades.
Gym Memberships – Driving somewhere to go work out is just silly, isn’t it? Walk the dog. Do yard work. Move heavy items. At least you’ll be productive while getting in shape.
Bottled Water – Unless you live in a third world country you are being scammed. Number one symptom of Affluenza- you know what a Water Sommelier is, and your bottled water from some pristine glacier in Norway has a nutrition label on it that you have actually read.
Kombucha – why would you want some lumpy, solid bits of who knows what lurking at the bottom of your drink? And it smells like a bad yeast infection.
Greek Yogurt – When companies like Dannon and Yoplait start mass marketing it, it’s definitely jumped the shark.
Boyfriend Jeans – These are the Levi 501s of the younger generation. If you like unflattering jeans that don’t fit your womanly curves, then buy these. Or just steal your boyfriends, it’s cheaper.
Kale – Sorry – it may be a “superfood” but it still tastes like crap. Basically collard greens for white people.
Beards – It’s more likely you’ll spot a unicorn than a clean shaven chin these days when you’re out and about at the various hipster hangouts. Don’t believe me? Just go to your local beer and sausage joint or bar that serves old timey cocktails and you would think you somehow landed at a Quaker convention. Except for all those tattoos and gages.
Victoria Secret – This one is on the list because I happen to remember when VS models were actually voluptuous, and not twigs with fake breasts. And VS also didn’t market themselves to 12 year old girls. Pink is the new Creepy.
Moroccan Oil – If you’re a white girl, this is only going to make your hair look limp and greasy, not shiny and exotic. Sorry.
Uggs – Ugh
Shows Featuring Bigfoot Hunters – just because you traipse around in the woods at night with a night vision camera that makes your eyes glow, doesn’t make it scary. When you actually capture a real, live Bigfoot, then we’ll talk.
Ombre Hair – We used to call it growing out a bad drugstore dye job. Now you pay hundreds of dollars at a salon for the exact same look.
Any Shade of Grey – Honestly, I tried to read the first book, but couldn’t even make it past the bad writing to the first good sex scene. And now we get to look forward to all the movie hype. Whatever the Fifty Shades phenomenon says about women’s secret sexual desires, it should do so with more finesse and skill than a rejected Penthouse Forum letter.