High Definition
The Meaning of Sharknado

Bob Chipman | 4 Aug 2014 12:00
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But the most authentic thing about Sharknado was that it earned its infamy the old fashioned way. Despite The Internet briefly making the project's American Film Market poster a viral gag a year before its release, television viewers largely ignored the film during its inaugural broadcast. The story -- the "Sharknado Phenomenon" -- was about a combination of regular folks and media personalities not typically part of the "film nerd" discussion circle hearing about the movie via social media and a (pardon the pun) "feeding frenzy" of folks spending the next morning pouring through Twitter and Facebook to see if it was true that a major cable channel had actually aired a movie about a tornado full of sharks. "Sharknado is an actual movie" eventually made the morning news shows, and that's where the pop-culture omnipresence of the film came from.

And so, even if I don't happen to think that Sharknado is/was some kind of high-mark for hilarity (it has its moments -- just not enough of them), I can't really get on the "Bah! Pre-fab riff-bait!" hatewagon.

The sequel, on the other hand, I was actually less enthused by. It's a bit too cute by half, embracing the "nothing but money-shots" self-consciousness that the first film admirably lacked. There are a few too many callbacks, a few too many "celebrity" cameos (Jared the Subway Guy, Perez Hilton and Andy Dick all turn up to remind you they exist, plus NBC morning news fixtures because why not) and the action gets a little too cartoonish -- Ziering jumped into a falling Great White's throat, then extracted himself and another victim using a chainsaw in the original, this time he leaps from the Empire State Building into the sharknado itself to chainsaw multiple sharks, then ride one back to Earth because reasons.

And yet, I do feel like it's possible that Sharknado 2 might also be a harbinger of a new way television "events" could be structured. The broadcast I saw aired with "live tweets" imposed onto the screen, highlighting the way the audience was being encouraged to turn a passive viewing experience into a secondary interactive one. And it got me to thinking that, while this was just another layered of too much knowing-unseriousness spoiling what might otherwise be a decent joke... it was also sort-of refreshing.

I've mentioned a few times here (and elsewhere) that, as much as I like the option of consuming media in an "On Demand" fashion afforded today, the era of DVR and streaming has taken away the communal experience broadcast TV used to provide from everything but televised sporting events. Well, the "pitch" of Sharknado 2 was nothing short of a loudly declared rejection of the Netflix-binge/"Wait for Hulu" viewership culture -- not just "Watch this silly thing we made!" but "Watch this silly thing we made... right now, live, with everyone else and make a party of it!" There's an argument to be had, sure, as to whether or not "Heh. Horrible actress Tara Reid has a buzz-saw hand now." is a suitable successor to "Whoa! So THAT'S who shot J.R.!" ...but I can't hate it in principle.

It's a cliché at this point, but the information age really has isolated and divided us where it was supposed to bring us closer together. If pointing and laughing at people who used to be famous running away from a tornado full of sharks is what it takes to get us to actively share cultural experience again? I'll take it.

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