September 13, 2009
Barack Obama Jumps the SharkBy Stuart Schwartz
Barack Obama has jumped the shark.
This past week was when the forty-fourth president of the United States tugged on his leather jacket, strapped on his water skis, roared off behind a motorboat and fearlessly jumped over a live shark
The term "jump the shark" comes from a late seventies Happy Days episode when the series, desperately trying to stop its ratings slide, had the character Fonzie, in his trademark leather jacket, water ski over a shark during a visit to Hollywood. Since then, a show or movie series that tries increasingly more desperate moves as its audience disappears is said to have "jumped the shark."
Desperation is the hallmark of such productions, and desperation has become the underlying theme of what leftist stalwarts like the Guardian of London and The Daily Show admiringly call "The Barack Obama Show." Lee Cary of American Thinker puts it bluntly: his "gift has stopped giving."
Happy Days continued its decline for another seven seasons, its pleasant characters and respect for ordinary people making up, in part, for increasingly thin storylines and lack of energy. But the Democrat-led Congress is no Happy Days, and Barack Obama is no Fonzie, the caring Henry Winkler character whose no-nonsense patriotism and good guy persona kept the show afloat while slowing its slide.
In classic jump-the-shark fashion, an administration built on managed television appearances is now providing the viewing public with increasingly bizarre plots (see the "Muslims Rule!" episodes), strange new characters (departed truther Van Jones, Ezekiel "Dr. Death" Emanuel), and breathtaking disconnects (or, as Joe Wilson put it, lies). The audience continues to tune out. A recent Rasmussen poll shows that 26% more voters strongly disapprove than approve of the president's performance. At the same time, the president's primetime television audiences have declined by almost 40%.
This week the "The Barack Obama Show" tried to end its ratings slide with a classic jump-the-shark technique, the Blossom maneuver. The nineties situation comedy earned a place in the viewer hall of disdain by devoting nearly half of its four-year run to special episodes designed to generate controversy in hopes of diverting attention from increasingly unpopular narratives and cast. Television critics named this desperate jump-the-shark approach "a very special episode."
And so we were treated to A Very Special talk to students by the president, A Very Special appearance before the AFL-CIO and A Very Special address to Congress on health care, to be followed by A Very Special appearance on 60 Minutes and A Very Special address on the financial crisis. This is Hollywood governance, designed to distract the nation from a show that has lost credibility and audience at an alarming rate.
Ordinary Americans -- the ones clinging to guns, God, health care and life -- are uneasy. They had been promised by the nation's elites a blockbuster of hope, a show set in Washington that would completely change the richly deserved popular view of beltway politicians as simply another variety of American cockroach.
The Media elite, for example, told viewers that the Obama show would be forever and smartly heroic. The New York Times columnist David Brooks, for example, praised Obama and his team as "twice as smart" as the journalists covering them, who in turn he saw as twice as smart as the average American.
Brooks, who has a thing about men's legs (he regaled cable viewers with an anecdote about a senator's hand wandering about his thigh during a political dinner), looked at Obama's "pants leg" and knew right away he was going to be "a very good president." Brooks is the Colonel Sanders of the elite pundit class: a leg and thigh man.
The Hollywood elite promised the first season of the Barack Obama show would drip inspiration. Demi Moore took one look at its star, hitched up her $3,000 Gucci jeans, and vowed to free one million slaves by the time the show completed its first season. Meanwhile, Obama inspired Eva Longoria so much that she took time out from rubbing elbows with the "celebrity fueled crowd" at her chic Hollywood restaurant and promised to plant 500 trees "for our leader."
However, viewers see a different reality, a uniquely unsympathetic Obama media production. Scriptwriters seem determined to insult every category of taxpayer in the country. A sampling of the venom pouring into family rooms: Whites are "cowards;" "them Jews" are what is wrong with the world; Republicans are "a-holes;" surgeons are greed-crazed Freddy Kruegers, sawing off healthy limbs for cash; and seniors waste valuable medical resources by living too long.
J.R. Dunn blames casting: to the average person, the star of the show is "smug, self-involved, and egotistical." Thomas Lifson called attention to a White House photograph of Obama striding ahead after a meeting, so "self-involved and arrogant that he is oblivious" to the struggles with stairs of his handicapped friend, Harvard professor Henry Gates. Another commentator wrote "this president's self-regard is boundless."
Viewers were promised in Barack Obama the easy cool of Denzel Washington, the sincerity of Tom Hanks and the heart of Oprah. Instead, they see on their screens Al Bundy with a tan, pecs, and Harvard Law degree, the first jump-the-shark president.
And so, desperate to save the show, the White House production team decided to bring back a gentler, caring Obama, so much so that he had been labeled at one point our "first female president." This is a president, producers David Axelrod and Rahm Emanuel vowed, who would confidently display his inner female which, when combined with a Harvard-honed intellect in a series of "very special" appearances projecting strength and compassion, would rock the Nielsen's (and Rasmussen's).
He did -- in the wrong direction. In a typical jump-the-shark character twist, the inner female on view was Maria from the musical West Side Story. And the Stephen Sondheim lyrics poured out of him/her all week.
"I feel pretty, oh so pretty," the president warbled to the schoolchildren of America, pushing aside parents as he preened before a national audience of K-12 children. "I feel stunning and entrancing" he sang to the AFL-CIO, inviting union thugs everywhere to join him in saving the country from its taxpayers.
And, finally A Very Special Episode, a "Leave it to Barack" primetime appearance before Congress belting out...
I feel charming,
Oh, so charming--
It's alarming how charming I feel,
And so pretty
That I hardly can believe I'm real.
And so ended a full week of Very Special Barack Obama shows. Self-absorbed star, venomous supporting cast and offensive storylines. Barack Obama jumps the shark.
Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli -- call the White House. Production czar wanted.
Stuart H. Schwartz is on the faculty at Liberty University in Virginia.