A Psychologist’s Take on the Awesomeness of Sharknado


A good friend of mine once told me, “Sometimes a bad movie is good for the soul.” Well, my soul is just a little better off after watching Sharknado 4:  The 4th Awakens. This SyFy original movie boasted everything from a pirate ship sailing down the Las Vegas strip to a cameo by Carrot Top to a bionic Tara Reid to an epic battle at Niagara Falls. Oh, and sharks. Lots and lots of flying sharks.

Sharknado movies are annual events and have become, dare I say, culture phenomena. Watching them has become one of my summer rituals. But why? In any objective sense, these movies are bad. The premise (that sharks get sucked up into tornadoes and wreak havoc over land) is absurd. The special effects are not very special. The scripts are cheesy. The acting is less than stellar (sorry, David Hasselhoff).  

So why would a guy who lists Citizen Kane among his favorite movies love Sharknado flicks? The short answer is that they are fun. Among other things, they’ve got:  

  • Pop culture references galore (this latest entry evoked Star Wars, of course, as well as Twister, superhero movies, The Wizard of Oz, Baywatch, etc.)
  • Cameos (did I mention Carrot Top?! Steve Guttenberg! Dog the Bounty Hunter!)
  • Over-the-top scenarios (radioactive sharks! airborne blue whales! laser chainsaws!)

The dizzying combination of all these disparate elements is laugh-out-loud hilarity.

The slightly longer answer has to do with something scientific research has explored:  ironic consumption. Sociologists McCoy and Scarborough identified viewers who watch trashy television from a distance and who derive pleasure from mocking the programs. Such viewers have no emotional connection to characters or situations- they’re just there for the laughs.  The researchers attached an air of superiority (snobbery) to this mode of viewing- an affirmation of feeling cultured. So I guess part of the reason I enjoy Sharknado is that it makes me feel even better about liking Citizen Kane.


The researchers also identified camp sensibility as a draw for watching stuff like Sharknado. This sensibility is about liking something that is so over-the-top that it achieves a “failed seriousness.” Did I mention that during the climax of Sharknado 4 our heroes battle a nuclear shark-infested tornado? Viewers with a camp mindset don’t feel guilty about what they watch. Rather, they have a strong affection, even a tenderness for it. And might I had that at the heart of it all, Sharknado movies are about family (no, really, I’m not kidding).

So whether you watch ironically, adore camp, or just dig flying sharks, I strongly recommend that you carve out two hours of your life for the latest installment of the Sharknado saga.  Watch as the Shepard family, led by the resilient and courageous Fin (Ian Ziering), make the world safe (by the way, last summer I gave Fin a Heroism Quotient (HQ) of 72 (out of 100) for his feats in Sharknado 3: Oh Hell No!).

It’ll be good for your soul.



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