As a young boy growing up in the mid-90s, I spent many an afternoon preoccupied with the fantasy of transforming into an anthropomorphic shark.
While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might have been the era's predominant "group of teenage animal-man crime fighters" cartoon, turtles aren't nearly as cool as sharks. Why would any kid want to mutate into a slow, boring turtle wearing a bandanna when they could mutate into a powerful, vascular shark oozing sex appeal in skin-tight pants? These are the thoughts that 6-year-old me didn't possess the language to express but undoubtedly understood on a primal level.
My first exposure to Street Sharks was in the KB Toys (remember that, '90s kids?) at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, New Jersey, and yes, I do agree there's something profound about discovering Street Sharks in a New Jersey mall. There in the boys' toys aisle, hidden amidst the Power Rangers and Transformers, I caught sight of a box designed to look like a cage with the bars bent open and a warning label that read: "WARNING: JACKHAMMER HEADBUTT!" In retrospect, that was not a warning. That was an invitation.
There in the box stood a particularly jacked shark-man with pants patterned like the "Jazz" paper cup graphic, 6-pack abs, and, well, the head of a hammerhead shark. Pushing down on his back fin caused his giant shark teeth to gnash, and pulling his arm extended his hammerhead in a JACKHAMMER HEADBUTT, just like the warning label promised. It didn't matter that my soft, undeveloped brain had never heard of "Jab" until seconds prior. In that moment, I knew that I needed to own him with every ounce of my being.
Street Sharks, like most major kid-oriented franchises of the '80s and '90s, revolved around the prime directive of selling toys–and sell toys, they did. The back of Jab's box introduced me to the rest of the Street Shark crew. There was Big Slammu, the whale shark in football pants; Blades, the tiger shark with roller blades; and my personal favorite, Ripster, the great white shark who wears tight black jeans. There was also a lobster man named Slobster, but he looked like a loser, so I didn't like him as much. In time, I would come to own them all, even Slobster, because the Street Sharks needed someone to beat up.
Street Sharks as Ideal Masculinity
For many children, the toys they play with during influential periods of development can have a huge effect on their understanding and expression of gender. Little girls who spend their formative years playing with dolls and cooking toys are more likely to internalize stereotypical female gender roles regarding cooking and parenting. Meanwhile, little boys who spend their formative years playing with Street Sharks are more likely to form their notions of masculinity around the desire to transform into a very buff shark.
To this day, I actively suffer from the repercussions of my upbringing. I hate to admit this, but in my addled brain, this is what I believe the ideal male body looks like:
With enough hard work, the lower half is achievable. But what use is a ripped core and form-fitting black jeans when I can never develop the face of a blue great white shark? Logically, I realize my desire is absurd. In fact, I'm fairly certain that most people would find me visually repulsive if I were to actually transplant a great white shark head onto my face. That said, the physical ideals we hold on a pedestal are not necessarily dictated by logic or reality. After all, Barbie doesn't have realistic proportions either.
As such, it's fair to say that I have a crush on the Street Sharks, albeit not a sexual one. Rather, my crush on the Street Sharks is ideological and aspirational. Kind of like a man-crush.
When I look at Ripster, I don't just see a cool teenager who was turned into a shark-man by an evil gene-splicing scientist (this was the official canon, which I later discovered in the one, admittedly very bad, Street Sharks VHS tape I owned: Street Sharks: Gene Slamming Begins). In a much more real sense, I see an example of everything a man can be–perhaps even a father figure.
My human father and I have always had a difficult relationship. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that I spent much of my childhood latching onto powerful male cartoon characters as a coping mechanism for feeling like I was missing a loving father. While some kids looked up to their dads as they developed their interests in sports or fishing, I looked up to a hairy mutant in bright yellow spandex, a tremendously buff anime space alien, and, yes, a man-shark wearing tight black pants.
Through these fictional characters, I found a beacon of the warm, masculine energy I so strongly desired. Here were men who cared about justice and protected the weak, who supported their loved ones in spite of their rough exteriors. They didn't need to be real to be real to me. And so, as many men carry their father's lessons throughout their lives, I carry Ripster's with me, too. I aim to lift up those who have been pushed down. I keep my loved ones close. And sometimes, I think about how cool it would be if someone genetically spliced me with a shark.
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The Trump-Twitter Industrial Complex continues to fester and mutate.
This week, President Donald J. Trump tweeted a false statement about mail-in ballots.
He wrote that secretaries of state were sending mail-in ballots to every person, when actually states are only sending out ballot applications. For the first time, Twitter jumped in to fact-check Trump's statement, adding a link to a webpage full of information about mail-in ballots.
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Was the Jimmy Fallon Blackface Skit Intentionally Released as a Distraction from the Murder of George Floyd?
Racist police violence is a modern epidemic. So why are we talking about an SNL skit from 2000?
At this point, celebrity apologies are incredibly common. In 2020, it seems like some formerly beloved actor or TV personality is being put through the wringer of public opinion a few times a week.
Most recently, Twitter canceled Jimmy Fallon after an unquestionably racist skit from the 2000 season of SNL resurfaced online. The skit features Fallon impersonating Chris Rock, complete with black face and an offensive imitation of Rock's speech patterns.
Jimmy Fallon Blackface youtu.be
This quickly led to the hashtag #jimmyfallonisoverparty trending on Twitter. While fans seemed split on whether Fallon should be forgiven for the 20-year-old misstep, most everyone agreed that Fallon should apologize regardless. This morning, he did just that in the form of a tweet.
As far as celebrity apologies go, Fallon's is a pretty good one. He doesn't try to sidestep the blame, he doesn't bring up the fact that there were undoubtedly many, many other individuals involved in the creation of the skit, and he doesn't even mention the fact that in 2000, many people still thought it was possible for black face to be done in the spirit of fun, because the deeply racist nature of the act was largely ignored in mainstream (white) media. Of course, we know better now, and it's easy to see that a white person doing an exaggerated imitation of a black person—darkened skin included—can only be a racist, belittling act with a long, dark history of racial oppression. With that in mind, Fallon's only option was to apologize without caveat or reservation. Indeed, it's refreshing to see a celebrity apology that doesn't try to justify or minimize their own misstep. While we can all agree Fallon made a terrible, racist choice 20 years ago, we have to believe that, like all of us, he's grown since then. If cancel culture is to have any efficacy in making the world a better place, it has to leave room for forgiveness and growth. Hopefully, the whole affair will leave Fallon (and those who witnessed it) more racially sensitive.
All of that being said, one has to ask why the clip was brought up now, given that it's been circulated around the Internet before, and the specific YouTube clip that was shared was posted on the site over a year ago. It's also worth noting that the version of the clip that was going around Twitter has a text overlay that reads: "NBC FIRED MEGAN KELLY FOR MENTIONING BLACKFACE. JIMMY FALLON PERFORMED ON NBC IN BLACKFACE."
Megan Kelly, an outspoken conservative, was indeed fired from her job at NBC because she defended the use of blackface in Halloween costumes, saying on her talk show, "Truly, you do get in trouble if you are a white person who puts on blackface for Halloween, or a black person who put on whiteface for Halloween," she said. "When I was a kid, that was OK as long as you were dressing up as a character." While Fallon's instance of racial insensitivity was in 2000, Kelly defended blackface in 2019, long after society at large had begun to acknowledge the hurt that blackface and other forms of racial impersonation could cause. This fundamental difference aside, Kelly also has a long history of racial insensitivity that Fallon does not, even once saying, "What is the evidence that what happened to Eric Garner and what happened to Michael Brown has anything to do with race?" in a conversation about the epidemic of racist police officers in America.
Given the text overlay, it's pretty clear that whoever began the #jimmyfallonisoverparty was not necessarily seeking justice for the black community, but was instead trying to imply hypocrisy in the cancellation of Megan Kelly, given that Fallon (who has been outspoken about the flaws of the Trump administration and political pundits like Kelly) is still on the air. One even has to wonder if, given that it's obvious that the #jimmyfallonisoverparty trend was begun by a conservative individual or group, if the trend was meant to be a distraction from the widespread racist police violence that has been emphasized in recent weeks by incidents like the death of George Floyd, a black man who was murdered in Minneapolis by a white police officer on Monday. It seems oddly coincidental that the clip of Fallon should flood the Internet with controversy the day after Floyd's murder, unfortunately serving to help steer conversation away from Floyd's unjust death.
Indeed, under the unquestionably racist Donald Trump administration, more and more black people are being harassed, attacked, and murdered at the hands of racist white civilians and police officers. But Trump and his supporters don't want you to focus on that–so much so that it doesn't feel impossible that the Fallon skit was intentionally weaponized as a distraction.
In the last few weeks alone we learned that Ahmaud Arbery was murdered senselessly by a white man while simply out for a jog, and we all witnessed the harassment of Christian Cooper, a black man who was threatened by a white woman in Central Park who didn't want to put her dog on a leash. It's clear that racism in America cannot be reduced to insensitive skits from 20 years ago but is instead a current and deadly problem. What Jimmy Fallon did in 2000 was racist, yes; but don't let that distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in 2020, don't let celebrity apologies make you take your eyes of our lawmakers, who aren't doing enough to protect people of color in this country. Don't let the latest "#_____isoverparty" trend distract you from the deadly consequences of racism in our laws, culture, and criminal justice system.
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