Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bad Language: Jumping The Shark Vs The Nicolas Cage Version

This isn't a new phrase exactly.

Technically, it's been (or at least could have been) around for longer than me: since 1977 to be precise, when the offending episode of Happy Days - a programme I dimly remember from my youth as being fair evidence of my mother's nonspecific assertion that TV was bad for you - first aired.

However, I've only noticed its use on these shores over the last few years; from being a sort of niche phrase employed (presumably) specifically to describe plotlines in American TV shows it's fast become a voguish term for anything happening anywhere than anyone has an opinion about that they want to furnish with some gravitas and ironic humour.

I have no problem with the idiom, on the surface: it's colourful, surreal and as a phrasal verb it has endless possibilities for adaptation:
"You totally jumped the shark there dude..."
"I hear they're getting a new actress to play Madge in Neighbours - it's gonna jump the shark, isn't it?"
"My variable rate mortgage is totally jumping the shark with these new caveats they're introducing."
Well, I say endless...

My problem with the phrase is that there doesn't seem to be a satisfactory level of agreement on its meaning. A troublesome quality for any idiom, I'm sure you'll agree, although certainly not a unique one; idiots all around us constantly misuse language, primarily due to an ambivalence toward etymology and - by extension, we presume - an apathy toward the relationship between the sounds and shapes - emitted from the mouth or displayed on a screen - and the meanings they evolved to convey.

The definitions on Wiktionary and Wikipedia are examples of this.

The Happy Days page describes the phrase as indicating:
"Something successful that is perceived to irreparably decline in quality."
Wiktionary's take:
"To undergo a storyline development which is so exceptional that all content following is disappointing."
There's even a whole Wikipedia page devoted to the phrase, which chips in with the following definition:
"When a brand, design, or creative effort moves beyond the essential qualities that initially defined its success, beyond relevance or recovery."
There is little agreement between these phrases, except in that what follows is inferior to that which occurred prior to the jumping of the shark. I have never watched Happy Days - or at least not with sufficient concentration to discern any variation in quality between episodes, which always seemed consistently low to me.

This is an issue: most idioms we know (or think we know) the meanings of through experience and association. The virulent popularity of the phrase in question has fast elevated it to cliché status, but from the great disparity in intended meanings in the sentences in which I see it employed, it seems comprehension hasn't had time to catch up with intention. Often when you refer to the source material of an idiom you'll find it has a rather different meaning from the one you or others associate it with, and that in evolving (or mutating, depending on your P.O.V.) the phrase has both lost and gained, but I would argue the weight is in favour of the loss in these instances.

A recent example that springs to mind from my own research is "spitting feathers", which is commonly used to mean "angry", and has somehow come to that misunderstanding from originally meaning "thirsty".

Ironically our colonial "friends" often offer warmer clues to the true sources of these linguistic kinks than our own vernacular can.

So if you truly want to understand what someone means when they say the Liberal Democrats' new party political broadcast has "jumped the shark" - just an example - other than that they are claiming a fairly comprehensive understanding of the narrative or plot of said party's policy as expressed by marketing from the party's genesis right up to the modern day, and that they believe some irreparable damage has been done to the party's brand and (presumably) future election hopes, you really need to gauge one or both of:
a) their appreciation and understanding of the TV show Happy Days.
b) their diligence in rooting out the meaning in the language they choose to employ.
Frankly, you can rely on few people to show the latter, and I personally do not value the former as a quality.

In this instance, did the phrase user think the Lib Dems were good before they saw this broadcast or not? was the broadcast itself spectacular or merely a spectacle? It's difficult to tell, isn't it?

If we truly require a quirky phrase to indicate a new incarnation of a previously valuable or effective thing in which much of the original integrity is compromised beyond repair, although done so in a way which afford the smug observationailsts among us a degree of self-satisfaction in observing it - a touch of schadenfreude, if you will - I propose the following, which could probably be used in 85% of the instances you use that shark phrase:
Adjectivethe Nicolas Cage version
An amusing but disastrous take on a previously well-thought-of concept.  [quotations ▼]
"Man, that new Lib Dem broadcast really was the Nicolas Cage Version."
Admittedly it won't do for American TV show plotline metaphors, but as an American movie remake metaphor I'm sure you'll agree there's some cross-over with the possible instances in which you may employ it, if you just check on whatever Venn diagram you use to work these things out in your brain.

Yours, studiously,


Thursday, 14 July 2011

Bad Adverts - BP's Olympian Carbon Footprint

A beach?


I was going to write something the other week about the crappy sponsorship ad - I forget the culprit: some car-related product bigging up its association with F1 - but this one really takes the biscuit. (And shits on it.)

The thing is, sponsorship is sponsorship: it's between you and your business partners. You broker a mutually beneficial deal between a brand and an event or a brand and a person or a brand and an initiative, or whatever, and then you sit back and watch the magic happen.

You don't commission a hangarful of billboard campaigns to back it up.

I mean, obviously you do, because that seems to be what everyone does, but it's a bit crass isn't it? Sort of like hiring advertising space to tell everyone it's your birthday, because you're worried not enough people like or care about you enough to take note of the alert on Facebook.

It's bad enough when the ad basically says:
"Hey! Guys! Look what we did! Look what our guys did! This is awesome, huh? Imagine what this will do for the way you guys perceive our brand! I know, right?"
But this one actually says:

"We, British Petroleum - the oil and gas company most [in]famous (in recent years) for despoiling a massive ecosystem and by extension numerous large areas of outstanding natural beauty as a result of our (and by extension your) insatiable and gluttonous thirst for our planet's finite natural resources - are closely associated with an international competition to celebrate the physical capabilities of humankind via the media of sports; so much so, in fact, that we've extended the mixed metaphor to further embrace modish environmentalism - a school of thought which couldn't possibly be more directly opposed to our values, mission, and practice if we'd paid Nazi doctors to engineer it as such - and will now effectively sit here whistling with our hands in our pockets hoping you, our oil-guzzling, wind-breaking, seal-clubbing public have memories as short as the goldfish (or whatever they were) whose habitats' asses we went all Apocalyptica on a few seasons past: which is pretty damn short, because they're all dead. ENDS."

So, there won't be any carbon footprints at the London 2012 games.

But there might be some oily footprints over the conscience of everybody involved.

And there might be a shitload of unsustainable stadia in a part of London nobody will ever want to go to again, if indeed they can ever manage to get there in the first place - which is pretty damn difficult on a weekday afternoon, let alone the height of tourist season in the glut of a manic internationalist spectacle of PC body-fascism, empty gestures of cultural might and global corporate trash.

I don't care to learn the name of the heptathlete on the billboard up there because such things really don't interest me, but I hope the halo of BP-branded toxic illuminatum that follows her around everywhere she runs, jumps, swims or flings a spear, makes it all the easier for snipers to pick her off like the fly on the stool of humanity she is when people start caring enough about such things to become partisan to a civilisation that - on the basis of this bad-on-every-level advert - is entirely geared toward emulating cancer on a planetary scale.

Or, you know, just get their marker pens out and draw oily seals on whatever bit of Dover Beach that is...
"Where ignorant armies clash by night..."
Yours in manufactured rage,

A. Velky