Disney has jumped the shark, and our entire culture has jumped along with it.
The expression “to jump the shark” is an American entertainment idiom used to denote the point of creative bankruptcy that occurs when a successful television or movie series exhausts the potentialities of its initial premise, but continues to pump out plotlines that are ever more divorced from the settings that made the show popular in the first place. The term refers to an episode in the fifth season of the 1950s nostalgia sitcom Happy Days, when Arthur Fonzarelli (also known as “Fonzie” or “The Fonz”), played by Henry Winkler, travels to Hollywood for a screen test and must literally jump over a shark—on water skis—to prove his Midwestern manhood to a California preppie. With outboard engines racing, the preppie backs out, and the Fonz makes the jump into television history.
Season 4 of Happy Days had been the top-rated television show in America in 1976-77, and there was no question about its renewal. But there are only so many stories you can tell about the hijinks of a group of teenagers hanging out at the local soda fountain, and you can only keep young actors in high school for so long. The trip to Hollywood gave Season 5 a three-part, on-the-road, big-bang opener. The season then went on to feature young Richie (Ron Howard) being plunged into a coma, the introduction of an all-girl rock band, a cameo from Dr Joyce Brothers, and a visitor from outer space (Robin Williams as “Mork” from the planet Ork). The show continued to draw in viewers, but was beaten at the ratings that year by Laverne & Shirley, one of its seven (!) spin-offs. Happy Days lumbered on for six more seasons after jumping the shark, but it never regained the American Graffiti magic of its first few years.
Salvatore Babones appears in every Quadrant.
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Although it spawned the expression, Happy Days was not, of course, the only show ever to jump the shark. Yes, Minister arguably jumped the shark with the 1984 Christmas special catapulting Jim Hacker into Number 10; Sir Humphrey’s circumlocutory monologues became a tiresome ritual in the final two years. The 1990s romcom Mad About You jumped the shark four years in with a season finale in which the married couple at the centre of the show (played by Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) almost fell out of love. That set them up to have a baby in Season 5 and spend the next three years arguing over who would change the diapers. Movie serials have also jumped the shark, as when Spock was resurrected in the third Star Trek film—launching Kirk & Co on an ever-more-fantastical career of stealing starships, travelling through time, transporting whales, and meeting God.
Now an entire culture has jumped the shark, with the Walt Disney Company serving as its avatar. The set-up was Disney’s live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, starring the African-American pop singer Halle Bailey as the eponymous sea beauty. Intrinsically, there is nothing wrong with casting a dark-skinned actress to play a Caribbean princess. Extrinsically, it required that the tropical coral backgrounds be filmed dark in order to provide enough contrast for Bailey to shine. The cast was further diversified by the addition of Asian-American rapper Awkwafina (famous for the anatomically-detailed hit song “My Vag”) and the plot was sanitised by the elision of “rape-promoting” lyrics like “you got to kiss the girl”.
The Little Mermaid was woke, but only ordinarily so. It was not our culture’s “jump the shark” moment. That distinction belongs to Disney’s new Snow White and the Seven “Magical People” (Including One Dwarf). In this live-action remake of the classic animated film, the problematically pristine princess will be played by the impeccably multicultural Rachel Zegler, whose one-quarter Colombian ancestry previously qualified her to play Maria in Steven Spielberg’s 2021 remake of West Side Story. The sort-of “Hispanic” Zegler may or may not be white or black enough to play Snow White (depending on your point of view), but her kind-hearted huntsperson is black, and possibly gay (though no one seems to know for sure). The new Snow White is out to prove her “agency”, so there will be no handsome prince and no magical kiss. Instead, General White will lead her band of “magical people” in a battle to reclaim her realm (one dare not call it a “kingdom”) from the evil queen.
Snow White has yet to be released, but one thing we do know about the film is that only one of the seven “magical people” will be a dwarf. Photos surreptitiously snapped by the Daily Mail reveal that the seven magical people will include one white dwarf (publicly identified by Disney as Grumpy), one full-sized black woman (who must inevitably be playing Doc, the only dwarf—sorry, magical person—holding an advanced degree), one full-sized black man (equally inevitably Bashful, in the light of the remaining choices), one mixed-race man wearing a wild afro (Sneezy?), a heavy-set white man with long hair and a beard (presumably the chubby Happy), a bearded white man who looks bored all the time (Sleepy?), and a young bare-faced white man in a beanie hiding an abundance of curly blond hair (definitely Dopey).
For the tragic loss of six dwarf roles, not a single one of Disney’s “magical people” is visibly Asian, Native American, Australian Aboriginal, Pacific Islander, blind, albino, transsexual, elderly, in a wheelchair, or afflicted by Down Syndrome. All we get are two and a half black people, and blacks are already over-represented in film. According to the UCLA Hollywood Diversity Report, members of this high-achieving minority group claim 18 per cent of major Hollywood film roles, as against a 12 per cent share of the US population and a 4 per cent share of the UK. Judged from that perspective, it seems positively regressive to give two and a half historically dwarfish film roles to non-dwarfish people of African descent. In a film that is supposed to reflect the diversity and intersectionality of postmodern society, Disney didn’t even give us a black dwarf!
The decision to cast a black “Little Mermaid” was little more than a virtue-signal with unfortunate production implications, but the decision to remake Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs with a non-white lead, a gay huntsman, no prince, and no dwarves is truly a “jump the shark” moment. It leaves Disney with nowhere to go but bust. Disney hasn’t lost any money on Snow White—yet—but it certainly isn’t going to make any. That was never the point. The currency of wokeness isn’t the dollar; it’s redemption. The people who run Disney clearly aren’t in it to make money for their shareholders. They’re in it for the cause. Thus, just as the new Little Mermaid expunged the moral stain of its charmingly ginger, thoroughly heteronormative predecessor, the new Snow White must cleanse the mortal embarrassment of the 1937 original, which laid the commercial foundation for the entire studio and was the first feature film produced by Mr Walt Disney himself.
The executives who run Disney set out to jump the shark from the very moment that they decided to remake Snow White. Anyone could have told them that the production would pose … problems. Keep the dwarves? That would be barbarically regressive. Ditch the dwarves? You’re putting a marginalised community out of work. Cast a white Snow White? How dare you! Cast a black Snow White? That’s a bit too obvious. You might as well remake Song of the South starring Whoopi Goldberg as an urban Auntie Remus who uses Br’er Rabbit stories to teach white children about the evils of slavery. No one wanted a remake of Snow White, least of all the people who remade Snow White. They came not to praise Walt Disney, but to bury him.
You can’t have a culture war unless you have a culture. What passes for cultural Marxism is built on critique, but critique requires something to criticise. You can’t, as Kant would have it, critique pure reason. In a corporate reflection of Western intellectuals’ attempts to undermine Western civilisation, Snow White is the Disney management’s final assault on its own cultural inheritance. Like Big Oil promoting green energy or the Big Australian funding the indigenous Voice, it’s a sign that the end is nigh. And the end really is nigh for wokeism: the Wall Street Journal reports that Chief Diversity Officer searches are down 75 per cent this year. Disney’s own Chief Diversity Officer left the company at the end of June “to pursue other endeavours”. As of press time, she had not yet been replaced. Disney may stagger on, but the number one film of 2023 is … Barbie.