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9 Silly Sharks to Prepare You for Shark Week

Sharknado at Facebook
Sharknado at Facebook

The Discovery Channel held their first Shark Week promotion in 1987. In the 27 years since then, the seemingly educational series of programming has “jumped the shark,” so to speak, and slid into entertainment, and even more recently, into cryptozoology. This year’s Shark Week will begin Sunday, August 10. To get you ready for this year's Shark Week, here are some of the silliest sharks in pop culture history.

1. Land Shark

During the fourth episode of Saturday Night Live, the Not Ready for Prime Time Players did a spoof of the movie Jaws called “Jaws II,” featuring the character Land Shark, voiced by Chevy Chase, who would talk through doors, trying to get people to open up so he could attack. The shark was so popular, it became a recurring skit. Land Shark appeared in eight episodes of Saturday Night Live, mostly during the show’s first three seasons.

2. Jabberjaw

Jabberjaw was an anthropomorphic great white shark with his own band (he played drums) in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series of the same name. It aired from 1976 to 1978, although the second season was all repeats. With the help of his four teenage bandmates, Jabberjaw solved mysteries. That basic plot may seem a bit familiar to you.

3. Bruce

In the Disney-Pixar movie Finding Nemo, Bruce is the leader of a group of sharks who have pledged to stop eating fish, and have formed a support group. Although he is earnest in his goal of kicking the meat-eating habit, Bruce is sorely tempted by the slightest whiff of blood in the water. Strange as a vegetarian shark may seem, there is an analog in the real world, a shark named Florence who stopped eating meat after a surgical procedure and prefers vegetarian fare.

4. Lenny

Lenny, from the 2004 Dreamworks movie Shark Tale, is also a vegetarian. Although many thought Shark Tale was a ripoff of Finding Nemo, which was released a year earlier, both movies were in development at the same time. Still, if you were going to have two animated vegetarian sharks, would you name them Lenny and Bruce? The only way it would have been odder would be if Lenny Bruce had been a vegetarian.

5. The Shark that was Jumped

In the episode of the TV show Happy Days that gave us the now-familiar pop culture term, Fonzie jumped over a shark. On water skis. The stunt was so silly that the phrase “jump the shark” has come to mean the point at which a show is past its prime and begins to rely on stupid gimmicks to retain viewers. Oddly, that particular episode was a big hit and the series continued for seven more years. In retrospect, we can see how Happy Days changed considerably at about that point, but what it changed into was still appealing to the prime time audience of the day.

6. Sharknado

When it comes to silliness, no one does sharks better than SyFy. Last night was the premiere of the movie Sharknado 2: The Second One, the sequel to last year’s Sharknado, about a storm that carries huge man-eating sharks over land. The A.V. Club has a review of the sequel, which they pronounce as pretty good, considering that it’s a SyFy monster movie. You will be able to catch a repeat showing several times this weekend.

7. Sharktopus

The 2010 SyFy movie Sharktopus was about a genetically-engineered combination of shark and octopus. How this makes the creature any more terrifying than a regular shark only becomes clear when you see it grab people off land and walk on its tentacles. But it’s still silly.

8. Mega Shark

Asylum cranks out monster movies that go directly to home video. In 2009, they released Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus, which grabbed our collective consciousness with its trailer showing a giant shark leaping from the water and attacking an airplane. The relative success of Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus led to the sequels Mega Shark Versus Crocosaurus and Mega Shark Versus Mecha Shark. Asylum later produced Sharknado for SyFy. Other, non-Asylum shark films that followed include Snow Shark, Sand Sharks, and Swamp Shark.

9. Megalodon

Now, there’s nothing silly about the ancient shark megalodon. According to fossil evidence, it could grow up to 60 feet long and thrived until about 1.5 million years ago, when it became extinct. I’m talking about the 2013 show Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives that anchored Shark Week last year. The show was labeled as fictional in a short disclaimer at the beginning and the end, but presented material in the form of a documentary, hinting that there is evidence of surviving megalodons existing in the wild. Many in the audience missed the disclaimers, and the scientific community responded with criticism for the Discovery Channel in that they were not only misleading their audience, but the whole idea of airing a fictional documentary was irresponsible and cheapened the educational tradition of Shark Week. However, it was the most-watched Shark Week show ever. You can see Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives in segments on the Discovery Channel’s site. This year’s Shark Week lineup has quite a few educational shows, dressed up in rather provocative names, and then down at the bottom you see a show called Megalodon: The New Evidence.

We’ve had a lot of articles about real sharks you should check out here at mental_floss.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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