In a week in which Sharknado was a thing, you might well think that humanity’s artistic expression had reached its zenith.
Having climbed so high, breathed the sweet serene of such wonder, you may fear that there are no more dreams to pursue, no more untrammelled caverns of the imagination left to explore. Sure, Shakespeare might have blathered on about morality and mortality and love and stuff, and Picasso may have deconstructed the very ways in which we perceive our world, but Beverly Hill 90210′s Ian Ziering blasted Sharks out of the sky with a gun and (spoiler alert) chainsawed his way through one (with a chainsaw!) straight into the pantheon of awesome.
And you know what? Maybe we did fly too close to the sun on this one, people. Because once the chocolate of sharks was mixed with the peanut butter of tornado there was no going back – no chance to un-taste the sweet mana against which everything else will pale. No doubt all culture, all civilisation, is but a downward spiral from here.
Fear not: I’m not going to do a critical exploration of the Syfy network’s Sharknado (wow, that is a fun word to say). After all, can you explain the majesty of a sunrise? Quantify the myriad wonders of the ocean’s splendour – even if it has been sucked up into a swirling vortex, agitated, and methodically sprayed all over southern California’s d-list celebrities in a rain of ropey CGI and rubber puppets?
No, for me the most curious thing about Sharknado (it just rolls off the tongue) – aside from the fact that it legitimately did somehow thread that impossible needle of self-awareness and ham-fisted B-movie cheese, becoming so blisteringly bonkers that it transcended into joy – was the way in which it was so wholeheartedly embraced by social media.
For anyone with even a passing awareness of Twitter or the Book of Face, the coming of Sharknado (it’s the ‘nado’ part that I like most) was like the arrival into some pop-culture promised land. As Sharknado (at this point I just like typing it) went to air, Twitter feeds and Facebook walls unified in an explosion of unmitigated glee. The AV Club awarded it an ‘A’ for its glorious schlockery; the NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour sardonically, but still enthusiastically, praised its excess, and Uproxx offered a suitably giddy recap after whipping themselves into an expectant flurry before its premiere. All of America was suddenly sitting on the one sprawling electronic couch, sarcastically riffing at the screen.
Somebody has probably already made this equivalence somewhere else, but what struck me was the superbly ironic poetic correlation between the tornado that lifted those ravenous cartoon fish from the ocean and shook them into a frenzy, and the storm of social media that scooped everyone up from their viewing complacency, likewise stirring them into a maelstrom of applause and derision.
And so, all the redundant narrative tropes intentionally woven into the script were merrily torn to shreds: humanity’s environmental hubris and the political inaction that probably brought this horror upon ourselves (who knows? the film pays lip-service to these ideas, but nothing ever sticks); the beautiful young love-interest with the tortured past, scarred by her (don’t-cha-know-it) shark-related trauma; the parents and offspring reconnecting amidst the cacophony of jump-scares, buckets of red corn syrup, and sharks blasting out of manholes and raining from the sky; the contortions of plot necessary to manoeuvre a helicopter into a tornado so as to makeshift-bomb the sharks still swirling around in the funnel (do not look away: this is happening); Tara Reid’s … well, just Tara Reid, I guess.
Admittedly Sharknado (I believe it’s both a noun and a verb), unlike other spectacular B-movie disasters like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room or James Nguyen’s Birdemic, was proverbial chum in the water, completely self-aware, and methodically designed to be every bit as bombastic and ridiculous as it could on an intentionally shoestring budget. Indeed, the film knowingly, gleefully waved its hammy underbelly in everyone’s faces, inviting them to bite.
And bite they did, churned up in a whimsical bloodbath of irony and froth that celebrated the glorious spectacle of genre movie-making at its most absurd. It was a combination of snark and Twitter. It was Snarkwitter.
Or Snitter? …Twark?
Because in contrast to turgid, pretentious drudgery like Man of Steel, Sharknado (why does it never get old?) – equally as lazy and hyperactive as filmmaking can be – reinvigorated that simple delight of sharing a gloriously bad cinematic fever dream with friends, ultimately reminding us that in the end, we the viewers are the real flying sharks.
This article was first posted on July 15, 2013