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Tomato Patch: Sharks chomp their way into pop culture

Posted on Thursday, August 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm

By Greg Glassner

H-P Editor Emeritus

One of the things I regret about retirement is that I no longer have my fingers on the pulse of popular culture.

Back when I was working at the H-P, I would start out my day with a cup of coffee and careful perusal of a daily newspaper printed just down the road in Mechanicsville. While doing this, I would boot up the office computer and check out the latest from Google, Bing or whatever News-Lite happened to appear on the screen.

Now I glance at the occasional newspaper in the lobby of the Patrick Henry Y or while killing an hour at the library. My exposure to what passes for TV News these days is limited to whatever happens to be on CNN when I am on the treadmill or stationary bike at the Y. Because my 10-year-old laptop at home is slow as molasses, I also do little web surfing these days.

So it has taken me a while to realize that Sharkamania is sweeping (devouring?) the nation. I am told we even have a Shark Week, which starts Aug. 10 on the Discovery Channel.

I first became aware of this widespread interest in sharks about a month ago when I stumbled into a “Jaws” marathon on cable TV. Of course I was around when “Jaws” and “Jaws 2” made everybody afraid of venturing too far into the ocean. But I was unaware that they made a “Jaws 3” and “Jaws 4.”

Sensing a serious gap in my collective life experience, I watched “Jaws 4.” It was not as good as the first two Jaws movies, which appears to be a hard-and-fast rule in the world of movie sequels.

My curiosity piqued, I then sampled several other shark scare movies shown on the SciFi Channel, namely “Malibu Shark Attack” (2009), “Dinoshark” (2010), “Swamp Shark” (2011) and “Ghost Shark” (2013). On a roll, I also sampled “Sharknado” (2013) and the just released “Sharknado 2.”

I say, that I sampled these movies, because I am convinced no one actually sits in front of the TV and watches one from the opening to closing credits. They are that poorly done and the director, if there actually was one, must have recruited volunteer actors from among Theater Arts 101 dropouts at a local college.

I concluded that shark movies are like watching soccer or NASCAR. You can leave in the middle and  take a shower, mow the lawn or make dinner and come back for the end without missing much.

They all carry over the “Jaws” theme that there is an imminent shark attack on the horizon and only a select few people can comprehend this. These valiant people spend most of the movie trying to get someone to take them seriously. Nobody does of course, so in the end they kill the sharks themselves.

The sharks, who play themselves and are better at it than the actors, also have great timing. They only attack communities when they are holding a big annual event that attracts a lot of innocent tourists, some of whom get eaten.

The Sharknado movies continue this formula except that hundreds of sharks are swept up in a waterspout that comes ashore at Los Angeles (“Sharknado”) or New York (“Sharknado 2”). Apparently shark-laden tornadoes have a great sense of direction. Who knew?

The non-believers in all of these movies are pictured as greedy or just plain stupid, which seems a bit unfair. If someone asked the Ashland Town Council to cancel the annual  Strawberry Faire because sharks were going to tumble from the sky, he might be greeted with a fair bit of skepticism.

Anyway, merchandisers have been quick on the uptake. According to a recent report in USA Today, you can buy shark-themed cupcakes, shark lunch boxes for your kindergartners, shark-themed highball glasses and coffee mugs, a shark costume for your dog, even a shark Christmas tree ornament and shark fin soap (get it?).

Come to think of it, my sister’s Weimaraner would make a great shark. I may send for the costume.