Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

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If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

Another recent “film” along the lines of SharkNado was Arachnoquake.  In that one, earthquakes in New Orleans released thousands of giant, deadly spiders that terrorized the Big Easy.  And the incredible plot twist in that one?  The earthquakes were caused by fracking.

While the science of fracking wastewater injection causing earthquakes is well-documented, the movie made light of the situation to “terrify” the audience with spiders.  It was a fun movie, but again, it hurts discourse.

And so it goes.  Disaster movies involving the destruction of the planet are always a big hit with the public.  The Day After Tomorrow, Wall-E, Waterworld, and a host of movies have all used our destruction of the environment as plot devices to help fill movie theaters and sell popcorn. 

Our fascination with the destruction of our planet is one that should raise eyebrows among the public.  Why do we enjoy watching things go horribly wrong?  Unfortunately, those questions are not easily answered.

But I do have a hypothesis:  Reducing threats and problems to their most ludicrous terms helps the public cope.  We are unwilling to mentally accept the fact that we’re destroying the planet and causing disasters, so we revel in entertainment choices that reduce our horrendous actions to punchlines.  It helps us disassociate our actions from their real consequences – shark tornadoes and earthquake spiders won’t ever happen, its just Hollywood magic.  It gives us a sense of relief, but that relief often leads to inaction and complacency. 

I won’t lie – I enjoyed Sharknado.  But I also understand that there are serious tones behind the movie that the public needs to address before the streets of L.A. really are flooded.

Farron Cousins is the executive editor of The Trial Lawyer magazine, and his articles have appeared on The Huffington Post, Alternet, and The Progressive Magazine. He has worked for the Ring of Fire radio program with hosts Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Mike Papantonio, and Sam Seder since August 2004, and is currently the co-host and producer of the program. He also currently serves as the co-host of Ring of Fire on Free Speech TV, a daily program airing nightly at 8:30pm eastern. Farron received his bachelor's degree in Political Science from the University of West Florida in 2005 and became a member of American MENSA in 2009.  Follow him on Twitter @farronbalanced.

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