Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Jumping the "jumping the shark" shark

On C-SPAN yesterday a panel of political bloggers discussed the effect of blogging on political races. They addressed not only the conversations being run by the pundits; they also talked about the blogs and websites being run by the candidates. All the major candidates run websites, most of them run blogs and a few of them have decent blogs.

When asked which candidate has the best understanding of blogging and its network John Edwards got the general nod. The panel also mentioned the ambitious website just recently launched by Barack Obama. Most noteworthy about Obama's site is its design as a social network similar to MySpace.com or Facebook. Responding to Obama's site format one member of the audience asked the panel to comment on Obama's "jumping the blogging shark" and going directly into his form online networking.

I remember that episode of Happy Days very well.1 and I've visited the website and gotten into good natured shouting matches with friends who disagree about when various shows "jumped the shark." Now the meaning of the phrase is become the subject of some debate.

The way the audience member above uses it sounds like a sense of to jump over or avoid part of a common process. According to her use, Obama avoided the usual convention of blogging in favour of web networking. One of the obvious connotations of a shark is the danger it presents. The blogging panel did mention blogging techniques and habits that might harm a candidacy, and perhaps this question intended to highlight the risks of blogging. If so, she might see jump the shark as similar to the phrase dodge a bullet.

A web search for "jump the shark" and its various forms (-ed/-ing/-s) finds all sorts of uses, and even a few discussions specifically on the meaning of the phrase. Quite a few of the uses are in headlines that use the phrase to get attention and don't define revisit or defend the intended usage. One web log that used the phrase in a title elicited an extended discussion, some of which dealt specifically with the phrase and its meaning. Some examples:

I demand the immediate return of the sage, sane, wise Joel Spolsky of years past. But maybe it's like wishing for a long-running television show to return to its previous glories.

This use remains close the meaning of the phrase as I understand it. A show jumps the shark when it resorts to cheap and predictable ploys to gain viewers and so egregiously compromises its quality that the inevitable effect is the demise of the show. (For examples and discussion just go to the website.)

I wouldn't really say he's jumped the shark or gone insane - he's entitled to his opinions.

This is an ambiguous conjunction. Does this writer mean that jump the shark means to go insane? Or is he simply offering two possibilities?

Jeff...I love your stuff, but man...lay off the wasabi. =^)) I don't agree with everything Joel says either (the conspiracy theory on VMware almost made me laugh out loud) but I think that you may have jumped the shark on this one!

This usage isn't clear, but combined with the previous comment and the considering the context of his own comment he appears to use the phrase in a sense of "lose control" perhaps by similarity with the phrase "jump the rails." But then this user adds the following disclaimer:

(ps. Umm...being an uncultured pac nwesterner...I haven't a clue what "jumping the shark" means...)

One commenter lightly refutes any claims of shark-jumping saying "the quality is there," thus implying that to jump the shark means to simply lose quality.

The last mention is from a commenter who offers this opinion:

I think the phrase "jumped the shark" has jumped the shark.

The phrase jumping the shark has probably passed its perigee and is now swinging away from us. Phrases tend to do this in their orbit. They enter general usage, and more importantly they get attention, then the shape of the orbit is revealed. Some orbits stick around in a tight elipse. Some are just stopping by once in their hyperbolic path. Jumping the shark definitely had its fanfare, tied as it was to that great electro-magnet of social discourse, television. The intention of the phrase is so separate from a literal interpretation that I don't know how fit it is for survival. The phrase can easily take on several meanings, but its intended role (i.e. the intention of the website that propelled it) is so narrow and that it could crack once it begins to shift.

1. I even remember doing some water skiing in Puerto Rico. When my father was done with his turn he let go of the rope and coasted along for a while before sinking into the water. I thought "Wow. If he had just coasted onto the shore that would have been just like Fonzie in that awesome episode of Happy Days!"


  1. A couple weeks ago ESPN.com's Page 2 had an article from a couple editors with the title asking whether the NFL has jumped the shark. The article itself was their complaints with how the NFL is doing things and potential pitfalls for the most powerful sports league, nothing at all about gimmicks to attract fans.

  2. Why is he wearing the jacket still?
    It makes no sense!

  3. Well everyone knows that the jacket was the source of all his cool. I remember seeing it at the Smithsonian when I was a kid. It was a religious experience.

  4. Is it really the source of his coolth or is it like Dumbo's feather? Do I even have the right allusion?

  5. Ha. That sounds about right.

    I remember the early episodes when Arthur Fonzarelli didn't even wear a leather jacket. It was more of a light-coloured windbreaker.

    He was also more of a hoodlum at that point.

  6. Have you seen the Family Guy episode where Peter founds the Church of the Fonz?


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