Trying to Fathom the Popularity of SHARKNADO
Why is it that an asinine shark movie on a cable network has captured the nation's attention? A look into why schools of fans are enamored with an unnatural disaster.
On July, 11 the cable network SyFy unleashed a miasma of a film which combined diverse elements in a clumsily constructed, poorly filmed manner augmented with amateurish special effects. The rechristened network has employed these films with regularity, many coming courtesy the production company known as The Asylum, drawing a reliable audience with most of their iterations.
As most are now aware SHARKNADO has become a phenomenon. This movie mutation has been receiving attention for a solid month now; that is an eternity by internet standards. As a typical example of the ephemeral nature of the web look at the recent Geraldo Rivera self-pic flap. (Check That: DO NOT look!) Geraldo’s selfie came out on the weekend, and was thought to be something which would have derailed a journalist’s career in the past. However by Monday afternoon his visual affront was mostly forgotten. For SHARKNADO to still be an ongoing subject is somewhat stunning. So what was different with SHARKNADO that turned it into a national obsession?
Initially -- nothing at all.
The announcement for its release generated some social network attention, but no more than previous movie mash-ups SyFy has foisted on audiences, such as PIRANHACONDA, or SHARKTOPUS. The night of the debut something happened. As we now are aware Twitter exploded with affection for the film. Some stats tossed out declared at some point 5,000 Tweets a second were sent out regarding the film. Here is what is most shocking about those figures; it did not reflect audience interest.
That July 11 debut drew 1.4 million viewers, which was actually lower than the average audience for SyFy original films. In looking over the Twitter dispatches from my feed that evening as people from various motion picture outlets mentioned the movie a large portion of that chatter was not so much discussing the film itself but placing it in context against cinematic releases. Many compared SHARKNADO against theatrical titles to underscore the dismal performance of some of the summer bombs, while a good portion also lamented the attention this schlock-buster was receiving while many quality releases were languishing in theaters. No matter the context, this digital interest became an impetus.
While we cannot call this a media created hysteria it was certainly media-fueled, as numerous outlets reported on the attention the film received. This became a growing tumult, and not unlike that initial night’s response much of the discussion concerned the activity around the movie and less about the movie itself. It was like a building maelstrom surging around a piling, on top of which SHARKNADO was perched placidly, unaffected. However this did generate interest and the network adroitly responded. After declaring they intend to film a sequel, one week later SyFy broadcast an encore presentation which drew a more robust 1.9 million viewers. This only stoked the public’s passion for a storm cloud choked with killer fish.
From here SHARKNADO officially entered the public consciousness, becoming a pop-culture staple and a perpetual punch line at the office. Next SyFy staged a Saturday shark movie marathon, culminating in one more presentation of their surprise hit in prime time, and this now earned an audience of 2.1 million viewers – a new record for the network’s original titles. Then it was time for The Asylum to turn its focus on cinemas. First, a 200 screen rollout in theaters was set for late weekend viewings, a clear attempt to position the film as an entrant into the growing market of bad-film midnight showings in many cities. And now the title is being sent into an expanding international market. After showings already in Australia numerous European territories are being primed for theatrical releases.
This explosive reaction is perplexing not only for analysts but also for those closely involved. How is it that this ridiculous concept, which is no more ridiculous than many other ridiculous titles broadcast by cable outlet, has caught the public’s imagination? Well don’t ask David Latte, head of The Asylum. “This is a film we’ve made 100 times – literally 100 times before.” he told the Australian outlet The Weekly Review.
• ”You know ... I'll tell you how surprised I am, I don't even understand this now, days after the release. What is the story here? Why is everyone interested?' I'm banging my head against the wall going: 'Why’? The energy behind it beyond me.”
Some of the obvious reasons have to involve the self-perpetuating internet-media attention, and the desire of the general public to be included in that energy. First there was a spike in interest on the web, then the press comes in behind to underscore the hype. This inspired people to turn to the web to investigate, and the press next comments how the interest is continuing. Just like that, you have ersatz excitement. Less obvious is something I have watched over the past few years, and that is a growing audience interest with intentionally seeking out bad films for enjoyment and amusement.
Over time I have cultivated a deep affection for, and written about, crap-cinema. With that a number of like-minded friends and peers have occasionally mentioned whether these broad-concept offerings from SyFy are worth the time. Normally the answer is to the negative. I agree with many that the really enjoyable bad films are those made with a serious or noble intent. When film makers strive yet fail that is when the most entertainment is found. These efforts by SyFy, and The Asylum, to actually craft a bad film end up ringing false, this is because of the “manufactured failing” . Now believe me when I say, I am trying stridently to not come off sounding like a snobbish “expert” here. The last thing I want to do is appear like a high-minded cineaste when discussing garbage cinema. Our general position is a bad film is made enjoyable by the failed attempt, rather than the intentional delivery of the sub-par. These kinf of films hedge their bets, and that short-changes the mirth. For instance, if I were to begin mocking the horrid special effects of flying sharks the producers and fans can quickly respond that is “supposed” to be the case, because this is supposed to be a bad film. The result is like grading a test with a high score because the student intentionally got the answers incorrect.
But why did this title strike such a cord with the new crowd of bad movie fans (especially as Latte explains, they have already made this kind of film “100 times”)? Part of it has to do with the involvement needed to shred bad movies. Proper mockery of lower rung movies needs to have an amount of cinema background. This is needed to point out risible elements such as well worn tropes, artistic theft, and directorial apathy, as some examples. Context and history are tools used to pick apart what makes a movie fail, and it is an appreciation of good cinema that leads to correctly eviscerating the poor efforts. I fully understand the swelling interest in enjoying this class of film, and the reality is that for many viewers they don’t have the luxury of studying bad film for years.
So when it was announced that The Asylum was producing a film concerning a tornado filled with sharks which would be launched at victims, the studio had lowered their quality bar to levels so low it would not even cast a shadow - a bar easily surmounted. Those seeking out a bad film experience now had everything laid out for them. Combine this with internet heat, spurned further by media excitement, and you have the perfect recipe for a pop-culture irony cocktail.
Though I did not enjoy the film itself it is still nice to see our nation caught up in a swell of affection for a horrid movie.
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