April Fools

Experts Warn of “Literally Deadly” Hyperbolic Feedback Loop

With headlines daily jumping the shark, scientists warn of dangers for Earth’s oceans and for humanity.

April 1, 2024

Long before Sharknado, far in advance of Shark Week, popular culture produced something historians have since dubbed “the best marine-animal metaphor since trained seals.”

Yes, we mean jumping the shark—a type of ridiculous stunt that heralds the imminent decline of a formerly respectable endeavor.

Experts now say this metaphor has gone too far, and they’re warning that “a recent surge in shark-jumping is literally endangering our literal planet’s literal oceans.” (Middle-schoolish emphasis in original.)

a person on a waterskiing board, high up in the air, is apparently trying to catch a giant ice megalodon with some fishing wire?

One recent shark-jumping headline from The Guardian—about a Greenland startup that ships glacier ice to cocktail bars in the Middle East—led to such outlandish literal consequences that 97.3% of Gen Xers simultaneously fell victim to pointedly bitter chortling, scarring millions of innocent Gen Z nibblings.

Photo: Duane Mirijoy

A formula for sharkstruction

In an open letter to world leaders published as a full-page New York Times ad, marine biologists have asserted that massive shark die-offs have been happening at an ever-accelerating pace since the late 1970s. The letter affirms once and for all the scientific consensus on what’s known as the Hyperbolic Feedback-Loop Theorem, sometimes called TFG Effect.

This theorem holds that every instance of outrageous human behavior appearing in a news headline causes even more outrageous behavior, which triggers an ever-louder and ever-more-pitiful human craving for attention, which in turns escalates the outrageousness of human behavior, and so the pattern continues.

The letter also claims to provide the long-sought mathematical proof for the Hyperbolic Feedback Loop, where HB stands for human behavior; A represents a given headline; and FAME15 is “the attention-seeking constant,” according to the letter writers. “The formula,” they continue, “proceeds thusly: HBout = (Aclickbait × HBin )/ (1 – Aclickbait × FAME15). Cue! Ee! Dee!” (Onomatopoeic emphasis in original.)

“This is the worst day for the world’s oceans since the Friendly Floatees spill,” the signatories continue, explaining that “literal hyperbole” has taken a terrible toll on the world’s sharks.

“Happy Days” is here again?

Multiple studies have now pinpointed a specific jumping-off place for this strange loop: a 1977 episode of the sitcom “Happy Days,” in which a leather-jacketed character called The Fonz—who had previously but inexplicably been considered “cool”—donned waterskis and jumped over a caged shark in order to win a bet with an impeccably tanned surfer-dude-slash-bully. Notably, the episode was a shameless ploy to win over primetime audiences in the coveted 0-to-12 Daredevil Devotee demographic.

“At first we thought maybe these die-offs had something to do with climate change,” the scientists state. “Perhaps ocean acidification? or warming waters?” But since then, the correlation between ludicrous headlines and dying sharks has led to the discovery of a clear cause–effect relationship, they write.

Anxiety, depression, and PBC

This proliferation of shark-jumping doesn’t just imperil ocean life, says the letter: it also threatens humans. For example, they point to the case of a Florida man who attempted a shark-jump while riding in a unicorn floaty near a popular beach. The man inadvertently hooked a ten-foot shark and was towed four miles offshore, where he had to be rescued by the entire Miami-Dade Marine Services Bureau’s Elite Florida (Wo)man Rescue Force, including its Specialized Sparkle-Fun Retrieval Team.

Less direct impacts from the feedback cycle can also include severe depression, crippling anxiety, compulsive headdesking, and pointedly bitter chortling (PBC), which is a recently identified disorder of the autonomic nervous system that appears to afflict only “Gen Xers.” (That is a slang term given to an aloofly ironic group of Americans born between 1965 and 1980.)

Preliminary studies have even suggested that PBC takes hold only in those who superciliously witnessed The Fonz’s original—and deathly uncool—shark-jump as children.

The scientists cite recent headlines indicative of hyperbolic feedback, both metaphorically and, “as we now know, literally,” but they list just three well known examples “out of an abundance of caution”:

  • Man Arguing with Emotional Support Parrot Pulled Over for Erratic Driving
  • MRI Machine Causes Woman’s Gun to Fire, Shooting Her in Buttocks
  • Otter Steals Surfboards, Hearts

“You just can’t make this stuff up!” the letter shouts. (Vintage-typewriter emphasis in original.)

Impacts beyond ichthyology

In addition to marine biologists and oceanographers, signatories to the open letter include novelists, otters, water skiers, self-described satirists, and, of course, many actual sharks. Those adorable little dog sharks, whose innate inferiority complex makes them highly vulnerable to jumping attempts by exuberant, attention-seeking toddlers, are especially well represented.

And to bring the point all the way home (TYPical ...) the satirists also took out a separate quarter-page ad, saying the Hyperbolic Feedback Loop poses a bigger threat to their livelihoods than the ongoing crisis of Online Irony Illiteracy (OII). “OII is yesterday’s news,” the satirists said. “This is far worse than OII—worse even than AI. We haven’t seen the likes of this since the dreadful 1950s outbreaks of crusty old sourpusses who needed to get a life already. OK, ‘Boomer’!” (Doomsaying and air-quoty emphases in respective originals.)

Both of these letters are the culmination of a decades-long monitoring project that has been funded by the Oceania Chondrichthyan Society; The Onion; the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; and, more recently, one Elon Musk, a little-known, shearling-bomber-jacket-wearing Gen Xer who is reportedly an impeccably pasty tech-bro-slash-bully.

“I’m a free-speech absolutist,” Musk wrote on Twitter, a social media site allegedly known as X. “As such, I can’t tolerate sharing the spotlight lol. That’s why I hereby challenge @The_Fonz to an underwater cage match.”

After waiting a full 13 seconds for a response, Elmo added, “Fonzie? Strip off that pathetic excuse for a leather jacket. You’re about to become chum.”

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