Gaining notoriety from shock presents a problem: there is a finite ability to shock.
At some point, people get used to what you are offering them, and the same things presented over and over will get boring. If you’re going to rely completely upon shock, each shock is going to need to be greater than the last.
It’s a problem with a lot of TV sitcoms. You can only take the same group of characters and throw them into so many unique situations before their reactions become stale and repetitive. As sitcoms go on, the situations need to get crazier and wilder to continue to draw viewer’s attention. At some point, sitcoms run the risk of “jumping the shark,” a term that comes from the classic '70s sitcom, "Happy Days."
In a late episode in the series, the writer’s created a situation where Fonzie literally jumps over a shark while on water skis. It’s an utterly ridiculous scene, but it was driven by real-world concerns. The shows viewership was dropping as the show had grown staler — running a real risk of becoming irrelevant. The writers had hoped such a ridiculous situation would draw attention and breathe new life into "Happy Days." Instead, it just highlighted how desperate they were for new ideas. Viewers saw through the situation for what it was, a gimmick, and "Happy Days" never really recovered.
Like sitcoms, shock is an integral part of Turning Point’s motives. While a sitcom may use shock to bring humor, Turning Point has used it to generate outrage. So far, the organization has consistently found new ways to shock and to draw attention to itself, generating fresh outrage and keeping itself in the spotlight.
They’ve done this generally well up to this point, at least as far as you can consider generating outrage as something that can be “done well.” They’ve run a line somewhere between offensive enough to cause a reaction, but not quite offensive enough to create a legitimate reason to throw them off campus, while always producing something fresh and shocking.
But last Wednesday, March 27, they finally had their “jumping the shark” moment. Every part of their immigration panel, from the announcement to the fallout, has been utterly ridiculous, and highlights just how irrelevant and desperate the club has grown.
Everyone knew at this point what they were being offered: a wildly misrepresented event posed as a debate, that would inevitably turn into whatever hacks they had paid to show up shouting down students and acting like they offered an insight I couldn’t find in literally any Breitbart article. The moment it was announced, you could almost hear everyone rolling their eyes at once. “The leader of a hate group on an immigration panel? Of course they would.”
It’s what we got at Shapiro; it’s what we got in the Kelly-Kirk debate, and — in the least shocking move ever — it’s what we got Wednesday. They’re staler than the full loaf of bread I forgot to close before leaving on spring break.
Joking aside, I think it’s safe to say that whatever it is Turning Point considers themselves to be doing here on campus, at this point, they just aren’t good at it. Students have seen what Turning Point is offering them, and nobody is really all that impressed with them anymore. It was clear 15 minutes into the event’s stated start time. The room was still painfully empty and the event still hadn’t begun — as if they were just trying to delay the inevitable existential confrontation.
Apparently, no one cares what Turning Point has to say on an issue as hot as immigration, and they absolutely shouldn’t. Forget the calls to kick Turning Point off campus — they’ve already kicked themselves off. Turning Point was utterly irrelevant leading into the event, and all it proved is that nothing is bringing them back at this point.
Turning Point has finally run out of ideas. If they can’t get an entire campus to pay attention to them by bringing the leader of a hate group in to speak on the hottest political issue in the country, nothing can. It was an event as utterly ridiculous as trying to jump a shark on water skis, and it’s been just as warmly received.
When a show jumps the shark, there really become only two paths forward for it. The first is what you might call “The Simpsons route,” which followed in the train wreck that was the “Principal and the Pauper.” You go back to the formula you had before and try to keep going, never really capturing the old magic but never quite reaching a point bad enough to deserve cancelation. It just grows staler and staler as old situations are recycled and characters become less dynamic.
The other option is to take “The Office route,” which followed Will Ferrel's guest appearance. You throw ever crazier situations and ideas at the wall hoping to find something that sticks with audiences, but it only really emphasizes just how desperate for ideas you are and draws attention to how much the show now sucks. Eventually, the only option is cancelation.
Turning Point is at the point of deciding whether it’s going to be a "Simpsons" or an "Office." Either back off into the old formula and keep trying to recycle old events — dropping further into irrelevance — or try something more extreme that further emphasizes how desperate and terrible they are — possibly putting them at even greater risk of “cancelation.”
It’s a lose-lose situation for Turning Point, but personally, I’m not all that heartbroken about it.