Wednesday, June 01, 2005

On Jumping the Shark and What Progressives Need to Know about the Bush Regime

This site claims credit for the origin of the phrase "to jump the shark." And somebody added a similar entry at Wikipedia:

The phrase refers to a scene in a three-part episode of the American television series Happy Days first broadcast on September 20, 1977. In the "Hollywood" episode, Fonzie — wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket — jumps over a tank containing a shark while on water skis.

Many have noted the shark episode as the moment when they realized the show was no longer worth watching, when it became impossible to maintain a certain suspension of disbelief. Even before "jumping the shark" was employed as a popular culture term, the episode in question was many times cited as an example of what happens to otherwise high-quality programs when they stay on the air too long. Producer Garry Marshall later admitted that he knew the show had lost something as the crew prepared to shoot the scene, but he defiantly pointed out in the reunion special that aired in February 3, 2005, that Happy Days went on to produce approximately 100 more episodes after the shark jump episode. During the same special, in response to an audience member question, Marshall introduced the notorious clip, and noted how the show had inspired the term.

The first use of the phrase as a direct metaphor is reported to have been on December 24, 1997, when the web site was launched by Jon Hein. According to the site, the phrase was first coined by Hein's college roommate, Sean J. Connolly, in 1985. In print, the term first appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper article "It's All Downhill" written by Jeff Abramowitz on May 29, 1998.

In watching relatively family friendly fare last night, the Iron Chef, as well as a VH1 retrospective on The Jerry Springer Show, it occurred to me that there is an opposite phenomenon to "jumping the shark." This site on the Iron Chef explains my point a bit:

The Iron Chef is not a program for learning how to cook. SBS Television’s latest cooking show is a feverish competition among world-class chefs “with the over-the-top appeal of pro wrestling” writes television critic Dennis Hunt in USA Today. The ingredients are unconventional; the preparations are sheer genius. The Iron Chef pushes the boundaries of taste.

The rules of battle are simple: the four Iron Chefs, each an expert in French, Chinese, Japanese or Italian cuisine – and their challengers meet in a well-stocked, well-equipped Kitchen Stadium, where they must create a three-course meal based on a themed ingredient. The winner of each cooking battle is hailed throughout the land; the loser is mocked. Added to this are all the elements of great theatre: flashy costumes, high-tension drama, and cabbages rising on elevator-like platforms. The chefs have one hour to cook.

The show is a meld of sports commentary with a cooking show featuring a sidelines announcer, who gives a play-by-play commentary on the dishes, as they are prepared, “He’s going for the fermented bean curd!” There are also two announcers who provide most of the announcements and various titbits of culinary knowledge. The flamboyant and eccentric Kaga Takeshi is show’s host.

“Camp meets cuisine in…cult import Iron Chef. The cooking show has taken the dry old dump-and-stir format, peppered it with some unlikely ingredients and transformed it into one of the most outrageous concoctions on TV.” USA Today

“Leave it to the Japanese to transform a soul-soothing cooking show into a nail-biting spectacle.” Entertainment Weekly

“A game show that makes Survivor look like Hollywood Squares.” Time

“A mix between Godzilla, wrestling, and Julia Child. Yes, it’s that strange. And that entertaining.” Miami Herald

“The equivalent of Pokemon for adults (and) the newest cult hit on television.” New York Times.

Jerry Springer, probably needs no background information, but here's the link to the TV show I saw.

The Iron Chef only got more fascinatingly watchable as it got more outrageous and absurd, as the number of dishes increased, as the announcers got more feverish, as the drama of announcing the verdict was heightened. The early shows are quite boring and almost pedestrian: prawns in chilli sauce, for example; a carrot battle.

Ditto, of course for Springer.

What's this got to do with Bush and the Repubs?

Can Bush and the Repubs really jump the shark?

The beltway media jumped the shark with Clinton's Lewinsky: Americans saw that moment , right, left, center, as a reason not to trust the media. Everybody knew somebody that was divorced, everybody knew some boss that had his pecadillos and abused his status, but overall, wasn't as bad as his critics. The recent Sally Quinn disinternment proves that.

But Bush and the Repubs, I think, have tried to create a style of governance that is more like Jerry Springer than they'd care to admit: no matter how outrageous, it's OK, because that's what's expected. Bush and the Repubs will jump the shark only when they're not expected to do anything outrageous anymore, or run out of outrageous things to do.

I think we need a phrase for this behavior, as well as a counter. We rational people "expect" the Americans who actually voted for the Repubs to wise up and say "these folks are nutjobs," but look- how many Bush supporters do you know want anybody who'll outrageously kick some terrorist butt?

Now yeah, it's all fueled by resentment and ignorance, etc. etc., but if we don't understand the dynamics of why the Repubs have the power they have and use it, if we can't get them to a situation where they actually do jump the shark, all the Terri Schiavos and all the Bill Frist Repub power grabs won't mean anything by election day.

If we don't take advantage of the distrust and resentment of the American people, they will. They've learned Jerry Springer's lesson.

This is the real reason why they were scared of Howard Dean in '04: he didn't care (until after the media did the "scream") what the Repubs thought. Howard Dean, at least intially, got it.

Sure they painted him as "crazy," but "crazy" is what we should have gone after, and we shouldn't have reacted to their accusations in this case.

Or take Al Gore: he should have embraced Clinton's oral sex thing. People would respect that. But Gore wimped out.

Look at how much respect you have for Joe Liberman: he jumped the shark decades ago.
Do you see my point?

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