Watching these four movies back to back in a single sitting is a unique experience – no one has ever done it, and for good reason. That’s too easy of a joke to make, for as bad as the Sharknado series of films is (individually or all together), it is intentionally bad and very successful at it. The movie can’t even resist the cultural meme of stealing Fonzy’s “Jump The Shark” line, and I can’t either – it happens in S4, when the entire thing folds in on itself like a beautiful origami. And in it, global warming takes (back) center (left) stage.
A marathon of the quadrilogy offers a unique perspective into Sustainability in a way that viewing separated by release dates could never offer. There is a pace to Sustainability that is unique to a marathon session of all four Sharknados. Sustainability happens fast. Where Sustainability is real time is (so far) a slow moving object, there is an advanced timeline, a rapid progression of the environmental collapse in the Sharknados. It is a compressed timeline of our own violent storm scenarios. We go from from occasional sharknado, to common sharknados, to predictable (if not sensed) Sharknado, to a technology that stabilizes the atmosphere from sharknados. It’s sudden, unrelenting. Imagine watching all 12 Friday the 13ths back to back, and Jason was Climate Change (sounds like a challenged to me). While release date viewings offers a sense that things are slowly getting environmentally (and cinematically) worse, this approach is a rush of catastrophes (on both accounts.) The storms tumble on top of one another in an unrelenting fashion. If climate change (we will revert to calling it global warming for this essay, since that is what they call it in the movie) were to behave at this pace, the President would call for a state of emergency – just as President Mark Cuban and Vice President Ann Coulter did in Sharknado 3, Oh, Hell, No!. Global Warming in the Sharknado films is not a joke, however. It is the cause of violent storms – like in real life. It is an accepted fact – unlike real life. As Gemini says, in a Jurassic Park reference, “nature always finds a way.” In Sharknado, sharknados are Global Warming, and the film can be viewed as an advanced timeline of the subject. And (spoiler alert), it sets a dark tone for our relationship with
Sustainability. When it comes to Global Warming, we’re going to have to cut ourselves out from the inside of this shark. Over and over. If feel likewise about the movie.
But first, a word first about Sharknado’s place in pop-culture since this blog is about both, To understand its specific place, we can look at the cameos. Generally, cameos are both a measure of popularity of a text and a marker of time of the text, like stains on a bar. Think of the cameo list from Cannonball Run, for example. B and C list celebs must have been fist fighting to get part playing themselves or bit players in 2,3 and 4. I can hear Hoda telling Kathy Lee, “c’mon, it will be a gas, girl.” A quick list:
Matt Lauer as himself
Andy Dick as a Police Officer
Kelly Osbourne as a flight attendant
Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan as themselves
Hoda Kotb and Kathy Lee as themselves drinking wine
Steadman as himself
Robert Hayse from Airplane as a Pilot (of course)
Judd Hirch as a taxi driver (of course)
Vivica A. Foxx as Fin Sheppard’s high school girl friend
Mark McGrath (Sugar Ray) as Martin Brody
Jared from Subway as a himself/pervert
Anthony Wiener as NASA air traffic controller/pervert
Bo Derek as April’s mom
Wil Wheaton as scared plane passenger
Ann Coulter as madam Vice President
George R. R. Martin as guy in movie getting eaten by shark
Cheryl Teigs – as Fin’s mom
Carrot Top as taxi driver
Gary Busey as AstroX Scientist and Robot Tara Reid’s Dad
Wayne Newton as his former face’s self
Mark Cuban as the President of the United States (code name Maverick)*
Daymond Hirsch from Shark Tank as himself*
Robert Herjavec from Shark Tank as himself*
Lori Greiner from Shark Tank as herself*
Dog the Bounty Hunter as Chainsaw Store Employee
Lou Ferrigno as a Secret Service Agent
Tar Heel, Celtic, Laker (and the best thing to come out of Long Island, Bahamas) Rick Foxx as someone
Jackie Collins as herself
The Hoff as Fin’s dad
Penn and Teller as the Hoff’s NASA buddies
Michael Winslow of Police Academy fame as a cop or something
*I bet the Shark Tank crew were super smug about this crossover.
All this to point out that Sharknado(s) have a place in pop-culture – a large, stained space. It sits at the intersection to an homage to B-Horror movies (Sharknado 1 -2013, Anthony C. Ferrante), Spoof of a B-Horror Movie (Sharknado 2 – The Second One, 2014, Anthony C. Ferrante), to a tribute to a spoof of a B-Horror movie (itself) (Sharknado 3 – Oh Hell No!, 2015,Anthony C. Ferrante), to a generic spoof film like SpaceBalls or Scary Movie (Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens, 2016, Anthony C. Ferrante). What started as a goofy made for TV movie turned into an odd amalgam of self-aware schlock spoofery. At the end it becomes an un-ironic spoof of itself. And it works.
Back to the pace of a sequential viewing. I think this is exactly what the sustainability movement needs, a faster timeline. Though I don’t want to call it a movement because it’s not anymore. There is no environmental / sustainability movement. There is not a ground swelling of grassroots, Earth First support. We are no longer Monkeywrenchers – we are speaking at conferences, and voting with our wallets for or against global warming. Even Burning Man is boring environmentally. The hippies lost the language wars. Nowadays, Sustainability is more likely a corporate initiative. Real or not, is has been coopted and the language has changed from “Save the Whales” to “Return on Impact.” Platitudes with a Purpose, I call it. This is not the 70s with Forest Fire Responsibility and tear stained Iron Eyes Cody (who was Mexican and not Native America anyway) crying to Keep America Beautiful. No, sustainability is a business strategy, and political fireball, but it is no longer a movement. It’s a thing. A slow big thing. It moves as the pace of the economy and policy. It is, as Timothy Morton calls it, a hyperobject on par with, but not to ever be confused with, weather itself.
In Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World, Morton defines the eponymous objects as objects that are so massively distributed in time and space as to transcend spatiotemporal specificity, such as global warming, styrofoam, and radioactive plutonium. According to Morton, hyperobjects not only become visible during an age of ecological crisis, but alert humans to the ecological dilemmas defining the age in which they live. Morton defines 5 conditions of hyperobjects and we can relate these to Sharknado.
Viscous: Hyperobjects adhere to any other object they touch, no matter how hard an object tries to resist. In this way, hyperobjects overrule ironic distance, meaning that the more an object tries to resist a hyperobject, the more glued to the hyperobject it becomes.
Sharknado is self-aware, so much so that it cannot be read as being ironic. Once an item, and actor, a meme is inside of Sharknado, they adhere to the principles of the “show.” They are not badly acting, or even acting badly on purpose. They are acting badly with great fake authenticity, with the possible exception of Savannah Guthrie is can be read as “bad acting bad,” – but maybe it’s the eye patch. Inside of Sharknado, individual artifacts become Sharknado. There are no ironic standouts. Even Gary Busey turns in a really good bad performance.
Molten: Hyperobjects are so massive that they refute the idea that spacetime is fixed, concrete, and consistent.
Time and space are irrelevant concepts inside Sharknado. An Eifle tower can crash into Niagra Falls and the scope of the storm responsible goes unmentioned. It just happens. In S3, April (Tara Reid) asks “how can they survive in space?” Fin provides the best possible answer, in the form of a question: “How can they survive in a tornado?” And we move on. Time and distance does not matter in Sharknado, anything is possible. Like many B-movies, pace, time and space are kind of irrelevant anyway. An actor can be miles from an explosion and feel the blast (a reoccurring joke) or cross great expanses of space in the nick of time, like the soldiers storming the gate in Monty Python’s Holy Grail. For example, April appears to put on 20 hard years between each sequel, until S4 where she grows younger thanks presumably to the bionics.
Nonlocal: Hyperobjects are massively distributed in time and space to the extent that their totality cannot be realized in any particular local manifestation. For example, global warming is a hyperobject that impacts meteorological conditions, such as tornado formation. According to Morton, though, objects don’t feel global warming, but instead experience tornadoes as they cause damage in specific places. Thus, nonlocality describes the manner in which a hyperobject becomes more substantial than the local manifestations they produce.
Sharknado pulls deep from culture and pop-culture generations (Wizard of Oz, Game of Thrones, Star Wars) and puts them in one local sequence. In Sharknado we witness the hyperobjectivity of Global Warming first hand as environmental collapse creates a perfect series of storms. “For an environmentalist you sure do hate sharks,” says a bar patron as the Nova stabs an attacking shark. In S1, as the very first sharknado forms, a meteorologist informs the viewers (of the broadcast and the movie) that “Experts are saying Global warming is the cause of this event.” The event is Sharknado (movie) and sharknado (shark-tornado). The sharks are simply described as “behaving unnatural.” This is the same language as wolves and bears make their way into the sprawl suburbs that displaced them in the future. Global Warming is responsible for requiring a new mediation between animals and man. Sharknado uses this Sustainability trope, and we accept it.
Phased: Hyperobjects occupy a higher-dimensional space than other entities can normally perceive. Thus, hyperobjects appear to come and go in three-dimensional space, but would appear differently if an observer could have a higher multidimensional view.
As I watched, I catalogued the pop-culture references, the cameos and throw-backs to the earlier Sharknados. And yet, I know I missed 50% what was going on. Sharkado operates on a different levels. At the base, there are site gags (Lady Liberty’s head rolling along crowded NY streets) and language gags (our hero’s name is Fin Sheppard, his son is Gil), there are the cameos and perfect bad acting, there are movie throw-backs, there are bad special effects that help us avoid the uncanny valley of trying to be a good movie. We can ingest all of these individually as “bad” proofs of a bad movie. But collectively, they are bigger than the sum of their parts – like storms and global warming.
Interobjective: Hyperobjects are formed by relations between more than one object. Consequently, objects are only able to perceive to the imprint, or “footprint,” of a hyperobject upon other objects, revealed as information. For example, global warming is formed by interactions between the Sun, fossil fuels, and carbon dioxide, among other objects. Yet, global warming is made apparent through emissions levels, temperature changes, and ocean levels, making it seem as if global warming is a product of scientific models, rather than an object that predated its own measurement.
Sharknado, as it moves from 1 to 4 increasingly becomes an encyclopedia of pop-culture in and of itself as it bring pop-celebrities, movie references, music references, television references into its own script. It loops in on itself as pop-culture. At the chainsaw store in Texas, a Texas Chainsaw Massacre joke is told by Caroline Williams who plaid Vanita‘Stretch’ Brock in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (1989). And The Hoff making bad Baywatch jokes with former Baywatch babes Gene Lee Nolan as an astrophysicist and Alexandra Paul, and the ubiquitous slo-mo jogging gag that goes with it. Sharknado knows what it is doing, and it want you to know it knows what it is doing. Sharknado folds in on itself. It becomes a self-referential work of meme art. It is as much “pop-culture itself” as it is a collection of pop-culture references.
All of this leads me to three conclusions:
- Sharknado is the holy trinity of pop culture: Source, meme, and holy spirit.
- Sharknado is a hyperobject like global warming.
- Sharknado is therefore the first pop-cultural, global warming hyperobject.
Note One: I have not included Sharknado Heart of Sharkness (2015, Jeremy Wagener) which was a documentary about the making of Sharknado because it is non cannon. Nor have I included Sharknado Feeding Frenzy (2015, Jeremy Wagener) for the same reason.
Note Two: I eagerly await Sharknado 5, Earth 0 (in pre-production at the time of this writing) in which, according to IMDB “With much of America lying in ruins, the rest of the world braces for a global sharknado, which Batman and his dead parents must defeat with the help of Iron man aka Tony Stark and his dead parents.”