Sharknado: The Trumpering

The other night our friends Marc and Mary Frances were over, and after dinner Marc suggested we find some lame movie to watch and goof on. We ended up going with my suggestion of Sharknado, and I have some thoughts.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Sharknado, you need to be. It — and its five sequels — are genius, though possibly not in the way you might think. I have chosen to believe that the movie’s balls-to-the-wall awfulness is a deliberate send-up of what a movie even is: coherent plot, continuity, character development, suspense — all gone, obliterated in a blitz of stupidity and sensory overload. It’s an entertainment pretending to be a movie, but it deliberately and gleefully breaks every rule of film-making and invites you to realize that and comment on it —a meta-film.

Basic plot outline: a hurricane moving up from Mexico has driven a “pod of 20,000 sharks” ahead of it, and waterspouts generated by the storm have sucked up all those sharks and are throwing them at the tasty, tasty citizens of Santa Monica. Our hero, Fin (!), owns a bar out on the pier, and when sharks come crashing through his window he and his friends realize they need to hightail it to higher ground. But first they have to go rescue Fin’s ex-wife and their two reasonably adult children. Hilarity ensues.

As we watched the movie and hooted at its stubborn refusal to be anything like a real movie, I had an epiphany: Sharknado is an eerily perfect analogy for the thought processes of a typical Trump voter.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

  • Continuity and logical connection are irrelevant.
    • The hurricane comes and goes as a threat — we see shots of huge crashing waves, the bar is flooded with sea water and sharks, and yet the very next shot is an aerial of the pier with a glassily calm sea. (We then cut back to the shark-infested bar interior.)
    • April’s hillside house is flooded (with sharks), but when the heroes dash outside to flee in their vehicle, the courtyard is completely dry.
    • In fact, for a movie set during a hurricane, there is an abundance of sunshine and clear skies.
  • The plot is about on the level of an 8-year-old’s understanding of cause and effect.
    • The heroes are able to fly a helicopter right up to the tornadoes (with sharks) and toss in a home-made propane tank bomb that immediately “nukes the tornado.”[1]
    • Other people do not exist in any meaningful way. One character urges action to stop the sharks in order to save 1,000s of lives — in Los Angeles. Thousands. (Because once we know there are sharks, the threat of the hurricane (or tornadoes themselves) is forgotten.)
    • Plot development is driven by the hero’s insights, his “gut instinct,” not training, not knowledge, not data that have been gathered and weighed.[2]
    • Action scenes are disjointed, with choppy, frantic editing. There’s no coherent picture of how we get to the final punch, we just do.
    • There’s a hysterical disregard of such basics of physics as mass, velocity, gravity, or momentum.[3]
  • A cartoonish worldview of threats, where preposterous fears become immediate reality.
  • Tough guy hero — the ultimate rugged individualist — saves the day with no Communal Effort involved (other than his plucky band o’ rugged individualists).
    • Fin recognizes the danger immediately, but no one else does. There’s no evacuation or exodus.
    • In fact, there is absolutely no government response at all. No state of emergency is ever declared; conveniently placed newscasts keep us informed of the threat, but we see no police, no National Guard, no sirens, no elected officials urging the citizenry to stay safe (or how to do that).[4]

So what does all this have to do with Trump supporters?

Exhibit A: a letter to the editor from the Tampa Bay Times:

Imaginary threats, endowed with superhuman strength? Check. Rejection of science and data? Check. Irrational gut check with no logical meaning (“massive medical experiment”?). Check. Rugged individualistic hero? Check.

Exhibit B: a comment from Facebook.

Choppy editing with key context omitted? Check. Minimization of other human beings’ experiences? Check. Determined exclusion of nuance? Check.

Exhibit C: Tweets from the president (who is impeached and has botched the pandemic response)

Contradictory statements/camera shots? Check. Bolton’s book is simultaneously “all lies” and “revealing classified information.” Trump supporters are simultaneously an embattled/oppressed minority and the dominant “true” American culture. And so on.

All this added yet another layer to the meta-nature of Sharknado as I watched it: every stupid action sequence; every squalid, slapstick act of violence; every derailment of logical thought — all became emblematic of our nation’s hurting, hapless amygdala-based lifeforms as they struggle to maintain the fiction of Donald J. Trump as a great leader or even a great man.

None of which will prevent me from guffawing my way through the next five movies.

UPDATE: Exhibit  D: OAN correspondent Chanel Rion blurbs odd words with her mouth about Tulsa


[1] Not the hurricane, a tornado. What kind of idiot would try to nuke a hurricane?

[2] Consider the Trumpster’s disdain of experts and data: “Oh yeah? Then how come last month the CDC said…”

[3] Sharknado is not alone in this. Most action movies are blithe about physics. I can only imagine the surprise felt by the real-life idiot whose vehicle is doggedly crashing into an abutment rather than executing the cool-ass, tire-squealing aerial ballet he’s used to seeing in Fast & Furious.

[4] Because in what universe would you have such an overwhelming disaster and not have public officials urging us to stay safe oh wait I see it now

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