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Snob of the Bad

I have a weakness for the truly awful in artistic expression. I'm chiefly interested in greatness and catastrophic failure. The great middle-ground, where I'm afraid my own work lies, I find less compelling. Give me Bergman or give me Attack of the Killer Shrews. Don't give me Ron Howard. I respect craftsmanship and aspire to it personally, but as a reader/listener/viewer it doesn't interest me much.

Bad music and bad movies especially excite me, but I also like bad visual art. I have been known to look through the Yellow Pages at the clumsy cartoons that advertise plumbers and dentists, jumping up and down with excitement when I find something really strange. I even love local TV commercials. As some of you know, I've been in a couple, though they were unfortunately too competently made to be interesting.

Badness can't be faked. There is nothing that bores me more than ironic, winking amateurism like Roger Corman. The reason Ed Wood is the gold standard for bad movies is that he really thought he was onto something. I want BELIEF. And ACTION based on that belief. You have to strive for the greatest you can imagine. If that happens to be so far beyond your abilities that the results are absurd, well I for one choose to honor that.

Plunderspeke really hit the nail on the head once when he said that the bad movies I like are like kids playing horsies with broomsticks when they know they're a little too old to be doing that. If we just try a little harder, we can believe it's a horse.

One aspect of bad movies that sets them apart from other forms of inept art is their length. Every time I watch Battlefield Earth, I begin to groan. I'm not going to make it, man. I can't do it. Why am I doing this to myself? And yet, and yet... later I will begin to chuckle as I recollect something I only noticed on the most recent viewing, or some clever remark one of us made. And then I know that the time will come again. I will go back there.

I like MST3K, but I consider it a poor substitute for one of my favorite social activities. And the knowledge that a team of writers had multiple sessions to go over the script, looking for joke openings, pacing the dialogue, that kinda mutes it for me. Where's the skill in that? Part of the fun is trying to pay attention to things that are so mind-numbingly stupid. It's an ordeal and you compete with your fellows to prove your endurance.

I've found quite a bit of exquisitely bad music on the web, but I only share it with my real-world friends because no matter how I try, it always comes off as mean-spirited when I try to write about it. You just can't go on and on about how awful something is without sounding like a jerk. If it's popular, you'll sound like you're trying to be cool by going against the herd. If you're talking about some lonely soul who's bravely put their bedroom recording on myspace or garageband, it's just unkind. I don't believe in abusing the underdog.

It's a true-believer kind of thing. Either you get it or you don't. And that's okay, because too much attention would ruin the phenomenon. You want the excitement of finding things for yourself: birdwatchers don't go to the zoo. Like a fanatical caver, I'm not telling you where my new discovery is unless I know you can approach it with respect. Don't fuck it up for the rest of us.

There are tons of websites and amazon.com lists that are devoted to cataloguing this stuff, but I don't think that's the way to do it. Better by far to check out garage sales, thrift shops, truck stops. If you're holding in your hand something that looks so uninteresting that it's almost invisible, look a little closer. You may have found something. Even if it seems only to have made an hour or two unbearably long, you could look at it as having extended your life.

I plan on having a very long life.
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