But the same shallow goofiness that made it such a portable gag also meant it had little interest as a work in and of itself. Sharknado was so great because you didn’t need to see it to make fun of it, or use it to make fun of everything else. You needn’t bother about its plot peripities or moral complications. If it had those, it wouldn’t be called Sharknado.
In this way, what the feeding frenzy over Sharknado most resembles is not Snakes On A Plane but another shallow sensation: Fifty Shades Of Gray. The S&M-lite trilogy sold so many copies it single-handedly sustained Barnes & Noble through an otherwise disastrous quarter last year. But according to a recent release by Goodreads, which can track when people stop reading books and abstract from the data, Fifty Shades was one of the top five abandoned books on the site, making it perhaps the best-selling unread book of the modern era.
If all this doesn’t argue for a different standard of success—Fifty Shades did earn a kajillion dollars, so more power to it—it should at least make us skeptical of assigning any actual worth to the random artifacts of culture that get launched over their tipping point. What good is a movie that gets tweeted but not watched, or a book that gets bought but not read? The next time you see a hashtag light up Twitter, or a book dangling from the hand of every soul on the subway platform, and feel the urge to join in, ask yourself: is it everywhere because it’s good, or merely because people are caught up in the storm?