Social media takes bite out of 'Sharknado'

West Lafayette, Indiana - The television movie "Sharknado" phenomenon is a different take on the bad film genre thanks to social media, but what helps make it so popular also makes it toothless, says a Purdue University film expert.

"It's Twitter, not the film, that determines the fan base here," says Lance Duerfahrd, an associate professor of English who studies and teaches about bad films. "In general, the film experience is evaporating. When we watched 'Jaws' that experience and those feelings continued inside of us after the final credits roll. When 'Sharknado' ends, it continues but not inside of us but rather on Twitter."

"Sharknado 2: The Second One" airs July 30 on the SyFy channel. The first "Sharknado" aired on television last summer, and the social media hype around the film attracted more viewers and a sequel. The film, about a weather event that unleashes sharks and tornadoes on land, was one of Nielsen's Top 10 television social programs the week of July 8, 2013 with more than 318,000 Tweets.

"Films used to offer enclosed experiences," Duerfahrd says. "Take 'Jaws, ' the ultimate shark movie. You watch the film and forget about the hype that preceded it. You feel the fear. Today, the OK has been given to text and tweet during a movie and that really dilutes the film experience. We’re at a tragic point in film viewing."

Duerfahrd says a truly bad film is often reinforced by cult-like followings that celebrate the film. Examples are "Plan 9 from Outer Space" or "The Little Shop of Horrors."

"Though its special effects seem to have been made by a weatherman, 'Sharkando' is not a classic, glorious bad film. It's popular, but the movie doesn't have a cult following; it is just trending," Duerfahrd says. "SyFy marketing executives have inserted a bunch of acupuncture needles into the social media in order to relax our muscles and make us defenseless against 'Sharknado.' Social media is the life-support system for something that didn't live in the first place."

The film also features a variety of cameos including NBC's Matt Lauer and Al Roker.

"Everybody wants to feed on this phenomenon to promote themselves," Duerfahrd says. "It's a new level of product placement. Instead of advertising Nikes, they are advertising news anchors. Maybe there needs to be an Academy Award category for product placement or minor celebrity cameos."

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