Borges and the Sharknado Problem

So, as anyone following the internet closely over the past few weeks probably knows, the Sci-Fi Channel (sorry, “SyFy”) made a new terrible monster movie, Sharknado. The movie was a huge hit on twitter, but didn’t do quite so well with actual viewers. The NYTimes story sheds a bit of light on this: “Mr. Ghuneim surmised that while all the Twitter traffic did spur some people to turn on the movie, others chatted about it without actually watching.” The buzz does seem to have helped repeat showings. But still, the amount of buzz Sharknado generated seems to be outsized compared to the amount of people actually watching it.

Let’s call this a “Borges Problem.” Jorge Luis Borges was a wonderful short story author, essayist and poet, but never wrote novels or lengthy books. In an introduction to his most celebrated collection, Ficciones, he explained the logic behind this choice:

The composition of vast books is a laborious and impoverishing extravagance. To go on for five hundred pages developing an idea whose perfect oral exposition is possible in a few minutes! A better course of procedure is to pretend that these books already exist, and then to offer a resume, a commentary . . . More reasonable, more inept, more indolent, I have preferred to write notes upon imaginary books.

We can apply the Borgesian insight to the problem of Sharknado. Why make a two-hour movie called Sharknado when all you need is the idea of a movie called Sharknado? And perhaps, a two-minute trailer? And given that such a movie is not needed to convey the full brilliance of Sharknado – and it is, indeed, brilliant – why spend two hours watching it when it is, wastefully, made?

And yet, had SyFy not actually aired the movie, would any of us have had the pleasure of not watching it? Or would its brilliance have gone unremarked? Curiouser and curiouser.



  1. Jenna

     /  July 26, 2013

    I suppose SyFy needs to find a way to monetize the pleasure of not watching.

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