Sunday, September 1, 2013

What does jumping the shark mean?

"Jump the shark" is meant to be a mind picture. 

Get an image in your head of some guy clowning around dangerously, by agreeing to get in a scene in the fifth season premiere episode of American TV comedy show Happy Days, titled "Hollywood: Part 3", written by Fred Fox, Jr., which aired on September 20, 1977. 

In your imagination, picture this goofy person leaping over a shark. Got it? A nutty, comical, zany image of somebody, in a leather jacket, leaping over a shark. That's what you must think of whenever you hear the phrase "_____________ just now jumped the shark."

It means that someone, or something, from a TV show to a leader of a nation, just did something really stupid, in a last ditch attempt to get attention, save face, or prove something. 

But instead, all they accomplish is being thought pathetic, ignorant, scraping the bottom of the barrel in a desperate ploy to not fade away into the wastelands of the unhip and outmoded, ghosting around nostalgically through some cable channel in re-run syndication.

Weird, silly guy...leaps over a shark. 

Don't be like that. Don't use a gimmick to attract attention. Instead, earn attention by continually improving what you do, increasing what you know, and learning new techniques and skills.

Don't "jump the shark." 

Ascend with the eagles toward mastery of a talent, a prowess, a process. Excel in something that's hard, complicated, and very much needed in society, even if only in a specialized niche.

Have you ever seen a TV show, political party, individual jump the shark?

Did you rightly predict, "Well, that does it. I'm never watching this again. It has officially gone off the rails. It's a trainwreck without remedy. This heralds The End. They're done. Adios, amigo." ???

That feeling you might get, having witnessed a "jumped the shark" event, could be a mix of outrage, revulsion, anger, sadness, disappointment, and a strange, lingering sense of tragic loss. 

"It could have been so much greater. There was still so much territory it could have covered. So many developments that could have made it endure much longer. Oh, well...."

This significant event, called "jumping the shark," is hitting the point of no return in a journey to rock bottom, universal scorn, and oblivion, the "negative tipping point" of perpetual inclement weather, when things embark on a relentless and inevitable downward spiral, with no chance of turning it around.

To "jump the shark" means to do something reveals the fact that you're already dethroned and can no longer disguise the descent, or that irrevocably sets you on the wrong course, the road to ruin, the demise that is final. It means you have entered the dismal path of Impending Doom. 

According to Wikipedia:

In the Happy Days episode, the central characters visit Los Angeles, where a water-skiing Fonzie (Henry Winkler) answers a challenge to his bravery by wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, and jumping over a confined shark. The stunt was created as a way to showcase Winkler's real-life water ski skills.

For a show that in its early seasons depicted universally relatable adolescent and family experiences against a backdrop of 1950s nostalgia, this incident marked an audacious, cartoonish turn towards attention-seeking gimmickry. Initially a supporting character, the faddish lionization of an increasingly superhuman Fonzie became the focus of Happy Days. 

The series continued for seven years after Fonzie's shark-jumping stunt, with a number of changes in cast and situations. 

The phrase implies a belief that the show began a creative decline in this era, as writers ran out of ideas, and Happy Days became a caricature of itself. 

As a nod to the episode, Henry Winkler's character jumps over a beached shark in the 2003 show Arrested Development.

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