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“not one of us said, ‘Fonzie, jump a shark? Are you out of your mind,'”
Fred Fox Jr.

If you stand right fronting and face to face with a fact, you will see the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter, and feel its sweet edge dividing you through the heart and marrow, and so you will happily conclude your mortal career. Be it life or death, we crave only reality.
Henry David ThoreauWalden

We may speculate with confidence when this band or that show jumped the shark, but do we know when Happy Days jumped the shark? No.

The fifth season of happy days brought the cast to Los Angeles. Memories of Elvis Presley’s Blue Hawaii, the Beach Boys, and Endless Summer conspired to roll the cultural archetypes of working-class

roustabouts through the waves and tribulations of a tropical setting. It was in the fifth season of an eleven season run, and many popular episodes would follow. Why, then, would an outrageous hijink from the Fonz, the otherwise unflappable assurance of cool, become synonymous with the show’s decline and inseparable from the culture’s idea of a fall from grace?

“Here we go, Fonz. I’m headed for the ramp. Are you sure you want to do it?” asked Richie Cunningham.  Fonzie gives him a thumbs up, and they plot an improbable route along the shoreline. Ralph Malph exclaims, “Look at that shark Potsie!” and points to a string of yellow buoys not more than fifty feet from the beach, marking the outline of the shark’s undersea pen. By now, the boat should have either skidded up over the sand or crashed through the nest of tall, wood stanchions holding up a not too distant pier. They hold their heads, work their hair and bite their lips. Fonz is going to do it. He’s going to jump the shark and usher into the idiom a phrase that would haunt the show and loom over many others for years to come.

The realization is said to have been made in 1987. The Iran-Contra scandal had broken the year before, and the ensuing investigation introduced C-Span to America while the many possibilities of Oliver North’s whereabouts and engagements distracted the audience from an increasingly bewildered presidency. A group of friends dropped the more the mundane engagements of a college education for the free-wheeling release of a few speculations on when Happy Days began it’s decline.

But the observation itself demonstrates one thing. The example doesn’t always fit the facts so much as fit the mold. In this case, Fonz having jumped the shark could only have happened with the onset of a general and persistent decline. It could only have happened at the end, not the beginning. But it didn’t.

To mark the decline of Happy Days with the Fonz jumping the shark relies on an accumulation of mistakes. Many years separated the group of friends and the fateful episode when Fonzie jumped the shark. The episode might have been only barely visible, mixed and spread among many others in the murky depths of their recollection – its position, unclear.

Syndication precipitated the slow erasure of sequence that had organized shows into seasons and seasons into the series. It mixed-up and confounded the series in a way that enabled one to connect jumping the shark with the end. Though the Fonz jumped the shark in season five, it could have happened anytime, so the question that fateful evening among friends wasn’t when did it happen, but when should it have happened? Though only three years had passed since the show had ceased production, the shift to syndication and its effects began earlier. Happy Days had long filled the slots before or after the evening news in an endless cycle of re-runs and run-ins between the periodically out of synch episodes – like a gropey old transmission, slipping between gears.

That night, the circle of friends conjured the decline of Happy Days irrespective of the facts. The distance in time softened the outlines of the past. Syndication took the sequence out of the series. It wasn’t in the middle. It wasn’t anywhere. Combined with the character of the show itself, it was easy to mistake its position for one closer to the end than the beginning. It was easy to mistake and agree to a reality according to the mold, not the facts.

The friends didn’t bother with the facts. The facts would have disrupted the story. And perhaps, if they had stood “face to face with a fact” and seen “the sun glimmer on both its surfaces, as if it were a cimeter [scimitar],” it would have cut right through their clever conceit of the irrepressible Fonz and his shark, concluding its career. So, in answer to Thoreau, do we only crave reality, be it life or death? Or are we just as happy to exist among the myriad inventions that underpin and imagine the relationships between the Fonz, a shark and the decline and fall of Happy Days?

this push towards things becoming more open is probably the most powerful and transformative social change… We may be the company that really leads this movement….It’s not clear that anyone else is going to manage it correctly.

Mark Zuckerberg, outlining the steady erosion of the concept of privacy in our time: WSJ

Jessica Vascellaro’s cover-story in the WSJ seats Facebook in a tension between going public and Zuckerberg’s remarkable ability to “delay gratification” and take a seat in “a long queue of tech barons with grand ambitions.” The real story, however, may be in her subtle jibes at one who might become “world’s richest twenty-something.” More than a thinly veiled personal attack, Vascellaro may be hinting at something more substantial: that the question of privacy in the 21st century will be meaningfully shaped by an ambiguous and controlling figure. Read the rest of this entry »

Strategic default on mortgages will grow substantially over the next year, among prime borrowers, and become identified as a serious problem. The sense that ‘everyone is doing it’ is already growing, and will continue to grow, to the detriment of mortgage holders. It will grow because of a building backlash against the financial sector, growing populist rhetoric and a declining sense of community with the business world. Some people will take another look at their mortgage contract, and note that nowhere did they swear on the bible that they would repay.

Robert Shiller, moderating the tone of the housing discussion, perhaps talking down the “Big MACs” before market madness

I’m deeply worried about what comes from here…We don’t really have a lot of role models” for a positive outcome. One can look to Japan, which is not a heart-warming story, he said, adding “the only other role model is the Great Depression, which was ended by a very large fiscal stimulus project called World War II.

Paul Krugman, speaking at the AEA conference on Monday, January 4th

The economy’s growth in the second half of last year was driven by a strong fiscal stimulus, including not only federal spending and transfers but also special subsidies to car buyers and to first-time home buyers. Home buying was also stimulated by a sharp drop in mortgage rates. These forms of stimulus will be missing in 2010, creating a serious cloud over the near-term economic outlook..It will be difficult to have a robust recovery as long as the residential and commercial real-estate markets are depressed and local banks around the country restrict their lending…

[but]

In the end, the rise in available real domestic resources in the decade ahead looks like it will be very similar to the experience of the past decade….Economic growth will rise more rapidly than in the past as the labor market returns to full employment, as the labor force participation rate rises, and as capacity utilization returns to normal.
But the decade ahead will also be a time in which the labor force will grow more slowly than it did in the past and in which both capital accumulation and multi-factor productivity are also likely to grow more slowly.
Surprisingly, this [1.9% annual GDP growth from 1999 to 2008] is the same rate of growth of domestically available GDP that my calculations imply for the decade ahead [2009 to 2019].
Martin Feldstein, at AEA, who “supported the idea we needed to have a fiscal stimulus, somewhat to the dismay of my conservative friends…”

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