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Four Kinds of Bad

  A few years ago, there was an opera thing that was made into a movie thing. To prevent the tragedy of anyone actually seeing it, I created a handy breakdown of the characters to help you impress drama students talk your way out of an insufferable conversation a legitimate debate on art or whatever.

  Well, it went like gangbusters last time (all those years ago), so I’m following it up with another quick-and-dirty analysis. This time I’m diving into one of my favorite activities, which is suffering through terrible entertainment. You see, there are many different kinds of bad, and the sexy, wonderful people you are will need to know how to really parse the differences, especially if you want to engage in hot, sweaty conversation with awfulness connoisseurs such as myself.

  What follows is a bunch of different (though by no means exclusive) kinds of bad in no particular order if you reject the idea that alphabetizing things is a system of organization.

  And no, this has nothing to do with the 100 hours of community service I was sentenced to, why do you ask?

Earnestly Bad

  Example: Anything in the Ed Wood filmography

  This is the kind of terrible that happens when a bunch of well-intentioned individuals without talent come together and make a movie. Or someone needs to get that book off their chest without realizing that such a thing takes more skill than they have. Whatever happens, though, these are the kinds of things that are hard not to hate and love at the same time: hate, because they are objectively trash; love, because it’s like receiving a home-made Valentine’s Day card crafted from cat hair.

  I’m still bad at metaphors, by the way.

  Earnestly bad media is where every single person involved at pretty much every stage in the process cared about what they were doing, possibly because they believed themselves to be involved in the next big thing™, but also equally possibly that they were drunk. These are the “best of the worst” because an effort was made at some point and due to a cult-like inability to see reality for what it is, no one knew they were working on dreck. As such, silly props, wobbling sets, awkward and/or offensive comparisons between people and fish, and ham-fisted morality are all the more delicious because someone was taking the entire thing so seriously.

  The key signifiers of something earnestly bad are intention and universal incompetence. If it feels like everyone cared and was too confident to ask for help, then the final product is a labor of love and not just a slow-motion car wreck. It’s a shame about the result being a mess of overused tropes and underdeveloped plotlines, but the pure power of collective delusion is enough to keep us watching.

  Human Equivalent: The really, really friendly person from high school who is super enthusiastic about their project that’s going to just change everything.

  This is their fifth such project.

  They’re all about hamsters.

  Creepily about hamsters.

Frustratingly Bad

  Example: Suicide Squad (film)

  This kind of bad is the result of just enough people with talent caring to make something coherent, but not enough staff on hand with any interest in it. Despite herculean effort on the part of those who made the mistake of actually giving a damn, the pure indifference of others metastasized into a shrieking tumor filled with teeth and hair. Alternately, the group of people responsible for selling media somehow get a hold of the creative process and end up creating a bizarre mess of riskless gruel or edgy-for-edginess’ sake. It’s the nightmare scenario of people who foolishly thought they could preserve their artistic vision in a world driven by marketing executives who believe teenagers have remained static since 1994 and, in fact, are actually just barely sentient skateboards.

  Perhaps (totally hypothetically) you’re reading a book about heterosexual lovers separated by time and distance; the woman grows and changes as she dates other people and then immediately falls into bad habits with the now-married former lover, rendering her entire arc pointless, goddamn. Or maybe there’s a horror game where someone thought “confusion” was synonymous with “terror”. With something frustratingly bad, there are enough germs of good ideas—or perhaps even one or two truly great ones—that it becomes difficult talking about it without getting angry. After all, you’ll end up cheering all the legitimately wonderful things while having to apparently nullify it with the catastrophically bad (or plain ol’ boring) decisions that make you resent spending any time whatsoever on it.

  Compounding these issues is the fact that those instances of lucidity are enough for hardcore fans to latch onto and use as ammunition for rationalizing why the work in questions is secretly good. Did you know that the first and last shot of this incompetently written, cliché-ridden television show are the same, ergo literally every other minute of runtime is irrelevant when it comes to critique? This will be the argument every time, and you will have no choice but to engage in it.

  “Frustrating” isn’t just a one-time deal, you see.

  Human Equivalent: As much as it’s heartbreaking to see someone reach for greatness, only to stop shy and schlep off to the couch to eat ranch dip right out of tub, it’s somehow worse when they insist on microwaving it to make it “drinkable”.

Intentionally Bad

  Example: Sharknado or literally every other SciFi/SyFy/FukU original movie

  What follows is a reasonable script for every instance of an intentionally bad film ever made:

DudeBro Exec 1: Oh, man, you know what was funny? Mystery Science Theater 3000!

DudeBro Exec 2: Yeah, Brah! Those movies they watched were terrible!

DudeBro Exec 1: We should make a movie like the ones they had on those shows, man!

DudeBro Exec 2: Fuck, yeah, brah! And let’s make sure everyone on the crew knows it’s bad!

DudeBro Exec 1: Righteous! It’ll be so funny that we spent 2 million dollars on people intentionally phoning everything in!

DudeBro Exec 2: What else are we going to do with that money? Take risks on untested talent or invest in our community?

DudeBro Exec 1: Not when cocaine exists!

(DudeBro Execs air guitar for six minutes before resuming cocaine)

  The fact that intentionally bad exist at all is kind of an affront to common human decency, and the more you think about it the more the void swallows pieces of your soul. Bad movies can be fun or at least culturally worthwhile in any number of ways—you can argue about them, you can lament that they didn’t try hard enough, you can laugh at them—but there’s nothing less funny than a movie that’s in on the joke.

  A movie that knows it’s bad has no earnestness or charm. It’s constantly mugging for the camera and ingratiatingly nudging you while asking “Did you get that” whenever someone references another film or there’s a gag. There’s only one punchline, and it’s “You’re never getting those hours of your life back”, and it spreads the buildup over an interminable length of time simply to fuck with you. Some people will argue that these films are satire, but that’s because they’re operating under the delusion that satire is French for “the agony of being forced to remove your lower intestine through your urethra”.

  Human Equivalent: You know that obnoxious piece of shit who no one is really friends with, yet manages to show up at every social event? The one who tells “hilarious” racist and sexist jokes, and gets bent out of shape when people don’t laugh? The one who can’t go a single conversation without shouting “It was a joke!” at someone?

  Yeah. Those guys.

  Fuck those guys.

Irredeemably Bad

  Example: Beastly (film)

  This type of schlock overcomes a complete lack of effort, imagination, initiative, drive, or humanity to commit something to the archive of human achievement. Somehow, despite the hours put into it, it manages to exist in the liminal space between offensive and unoffensive: its presence indicates a choking hollowness to our own limited, rapidly decaying segment of the universe, and yet it also manages to avoid doing anything worthy of ire. The irredeemably bad endeavor is a unique, paradoxical duality.

  It both is and isn’t the worst “creative” thing you’ve experienced. However, it lacks the joy that can come from the earnestly bad, since you cannot detect the mark of a single sincere soul who contributed to its production. It lacks the occasional glimmer of brilliance that makes a piece of frustratingly bad media so emotionally resonant. Although it has the squandered resources of its closest brethren, the intentionally bad disasterpiece, the perfunctory nature of the irredeemably bad makes this less infuriating and more depressing. As such, the potentially hundreds of hours spent to bring you this book/movie/whatever spends less time in your short term memory than the thought that flitted through your brain that brought you to this site.

  Hi, by the way.

  Human Equivalent: That Facebook acquaintance that you really, really want to unfriend after their sixtieth vague post about an argument with their cat, but it takes too much effort.

Purchase Project Northwoods at Amazon.com.   Purchase Washed Hands at Amazon.com   Purchase Improbables at Amazon.com.

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