Book Report: Jump the Shark by Jon Hein (2002)

I know, I know. I’ve read a book based on the Darwin Awards, which is a Web phenomenon. I bought Philip Kaplan’s book, even though his site right there on the blogroll. I read a complete book of Urban Legends even though Snopes is on the blogroll, too. So it should not shock you, gentle reader, that I bought this book when I found it on the discount rack at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco this weekend. Face it, I like reading the Internet when someone else prints and binds it for me.

The book Jump the Shark distills the Web site. The author picks a number of classic and recognized television shows and identifies a single moment where the show turned its corner and began its inevitable slide into mediocrity and from thence to DVD releases (although, when the site was created in 1997, who could have known how big those re-releases would be?).

The book devotes about 90 pages to television shows, so it selects from the Web site’s extensive catalog. Then the book begins applying the concept to music bands…. and celebrities…. sports teams…. politics….

So I give kudos to the book for going beyond the Web site. The reflections on when bands lost their edges was fun (and prompted my beautiful wife of six years to snatch it from my hands to read on a flight).

However, perhaps the extension of the metaphor to political personages and to political concepts was ill-advised. Communism jumped the shark with the fall of the Berlin Wall? So the purges, the famines, and the deaths of millions didn’t register, but the made-for-television images and the pageantry of what might be called the final episode of Soviet Influence did. Hmm, that seems ill-advised. Suddenly, we’ve tripped from light humor into places where this reader wants to sniff a slight political bias from the author who lives in New York with his wife and two kids. I didn’t buy this book to sniff for political biases, nor to consider politics at all within the confines of this book.

So did this book, well, leap the mako? Not really. The short vignettes and page-or-so treatments made it an easy read, perfect for travel time or for those moments you can snatch during the day. It distills the Web site’s often nebulous comments into succinct snark, but one should read the throwaway-trivia and asides with some skepticism. I found one blatant error in the book and a couple of asides that don’t jog with my memory. But overall, the experience is positive, worth the five dollars I spent so that I could clutch its covers with white-knuckled eagerness instead of the arms of the airplane seat.

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