Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The "Fonzie Ponzi"

We all bought into it, invested deeply in his proposition. Why? Because he seemed so unflappable, imbued with that “I can’t fail aura”. He had our trust, security and children’s future placed in his hands. Then, our deep beliefs were torn away by a massive “Ponzi” scheme, the scope of which had rarely been seen. Who am I speaking of Madoff, Enron, Keating? No, I’m referring to one Arthur Fonzarelli a.k.a the “Fonz” or to his inner circle “Fonzie”.

It all began in the Great lakes city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin were “Fonzie” and three accomplices; Radulf “Ralph” Malph, Warren "Potsie" Weber and a key enabler Richard “Richie” Cunningham schemed to elevate there own social status by becoming, feeder funds, to Fonzarelli’s myth-o-mania social “Ponzi”.


Wait… rewind…what exactly is a "Ponzi" scheme? Named after Charles Ponzi, a notorious con man from Italy who immigrated to the United States in 1903, the scheme is, in financial terms, a fraudulent business that pays returns to investors from their own money or money paid by subsequent investors rather than from any actual profit earned. The Ponzi scheme usually offers short-term returns that are either abnormally high or unusually consistent. The “Ponzi” requires an ever-increasing flow of money from investors in order to keep the scheme going. In 1920 Ponzi coordinated a con, which took him from anonymity to being a well-known Boston millionaire in six months.

This same model was used in the “Fonzie Ponzi” only in a social networking context. Here’s how it worked:


Meeting often at a “Drive-In” restaurant owned by one Alphonse “Al” Delvecchio, “Richie”, “Potsie” and “Ralph” enticed patrons and their fellow students from the nearby high school into the “Fonzie Ponzi” with the promise of a simple introduction to Fonzarelli, who would then offer “help” or “guidance” on any number of adolescent crises.

At first the plotter were flush with success, Milwaukee’s youth flocked to the dinner for advice regarding all aspects of life whether, moral, sexual or financial. The “Fonz”, dressed in black leather, was known to “hold court” in the restaurant’s bathroom, dispensing advice to groups of young men who’d gathered there to listen. Infamously during these pontifications Fonzarelli would rarely look his followers in the eye, choosing instead to stare into the mirror, incessantly combing his hair while speaking.

The social investment “Ponzi” worked like this; by acknowledging the “coolness” of “Fonzie” one could, hope to one day, become “cool”. This worked in theory but without exception none of the “investors” ever actually achieved “cool” status. Instead they embarked on perpetual quest with the bar of achievement, ever rising. The participants could only ever hope to be “in process” and in fact never achieve favored “Cool” status.


In those early “Happy Days”, dealing only with adolescent problems, “the Fonz” kept his profile low, allowing his organization time to strengthen. Soon the scope went beyond just teenagers, Cunninghams parents became involved. Howard "Mr. C." Cunninghan and Marion "Mrs. C." Cunningham let Fonzarelli use a spare room over their garage as a base of operations. Over time more and more adults became ensnared in “Fonzies” game. So grand had his operation grown that he recruited family members into the “play’ including; cousin Charles "Chachi" Arcola and his mother Louisa, “roommates” Shirley Feeney and Laverne De Fazio as well as his former girlfriend (perhaps common law wife) Pinky Tuscadero (a known member of an outlaw biker gang).


The scheme was wildly successful and within the space of one year Fonzarelli was widely considered the “coolest” man in the World. Yet still no dividend to his followers!
The turning point and subsequent downfall came as follows:

By 1977, “Fonzies” narcissism and ego were total out of control and he had become an almost a comic book version of himself. On September 20th of that same year Fonzarelli, in an incredible act of hubris, wearing swim trunks and his trademark leather jacket, jumps over a penned-in shark while water skiing. Slightly injured in the stunt and perhaps dazed he delivered the uncharacteristic platitude; that taking “risks” "isn't cool". “Isn’t Cool”… the words thundered out across the globe, in later years this moment would come to be known as “Jumping the Shark”. Soon there were whispers, whisper everywhere and “not cool- not cool” were the watchwords. “Fonzie” grounded and "human", began to unravel. Rumors of his belief in alien visitations and his claims of friendship with an E.T. named "Mork" from the improbably name planet "Ork" caused followers to rapidly divest of Fonzarelli’s brand of “Cool”.

In the following years a tsunami of depression and panic at oncoming middle age caused the “Fonz” to withdraw. He later grew a beard, adopted a young child and when confronted by the media, claimed to be “a simple garage mechanic”. This, with his departure from the limelight, left behind millions of disenchanted followers to pick up their lives and “re-school” their own hopes of “cool”.

The world will probably never again experience a Fonzimonium of this magnitude, having learned what “Isn’t cool”….. but then again in the prophetic words of Warren Buffett, "it's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked" or “Jumping the Shark!”.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Fonzie has funny legs!

georgia peaches said...

I never saw him jumping the shark do they show those episodes still? Is the series on dvd?

WacOjackO said...

Why is he wearing a leather jacket on the water>

SandersC said...

What about Joanie?

Creeperskater said...

Did they hangout at Al's or was Arnold's?

Anonymous said...

Great Post!

Jackbauer said...

it was like star wars and jaws mixed together

Ricjees81 said...

How tall was the Fonz? he looks short

CongolinerS said...

He was short

David Michael Beaupre said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Fringe said...

I heard they wanted Mickey Dolenz to play the Fonz. That would have been pretty funny! What year did Happy Days start? I remember 1974. Is that right?

David Michael Beaupre said...

Thanks for all the comments keep them coming!

Cakewalker said...

The infamy of the phrase "Jumping the shark" is well deserved. One of the dumbest moments in TV history!

Anonymous said...

They should make a Happy Days movie with Jack Black as the Fonz

Carol said...

Did Fonzie have a wife in the last season? Didn't he marry the sister of Ron Howard?

Anonymous said...

That was Chachi he married Joanie and they had their own show

Jass Fan said...

The Fonz head a really short association with "cool" it was over by 1976. 1978 was just the final nail in an uncool coffin!

By the way, new Fonzie in a movie John Travolta!

 
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