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The Terribad Heresy

August 15, 2012

So I was on Joeanimated’s anime talk show thingie last week. It was pretty cool. Better than my first appearance at least. Think I came off as less of a dork this time around. I still wanna come off as a dork, but not an ultradork. That’d suck.

But yeah, I mentioned something that’s been nagging on my mind for quite some time. I really, really can’t stand the concept of guilty pleasures.

It’s one of those “truths” that’s always been apparent to me, but it kinda coalesced in my mind a month or so ago when I was reading a review for that Abraham Lincoln Kills Confederate Vampires Because Everyone South of New York is Evil movie. Here’s the quote that really did it for me:

It dangles its bizarre high-concept like an angler-fish lure, and the people who bite will likely bite because they want to make fun of it. I used to think there were movies that were so bad they were good–I’m coming around to the idea that those movies are just good and that these movies are just bad.

While I thought Blade Lincoln was an OKish movie, the sentiment really hits home. Yeah man, the concept of “so bad it’s good,” or terribad as many bloggers of the anime-type like to say, is a big fat fucking lie.

A lot of the time, it’s a concept created out of shame. You’re this dude, and you like this thing over here. But a bunch of other dudes say it sucks. You fear the social backfire that’ll come from saying “Hey man, this thing you say makes Baby Moe Jesus cry? I like it.” So people make up concepts like the “guilty pleasure” or “so bad it’s good.” That way they can have their cake and not be rejected by society for eating that awesomely delicious cake.

And sometimes it comes from the inability to articulate why you like something. Again, you’re this dude, and you like this other thing over here. But you don’t get why you like it because this thing isn’t playing by the rules used by the establishment. You know you like it, but if you play by those rules you have to say it’s bad. But yeah, you know otherwise. So you use that convenient terribad or ironic label and duck out of having to explain your tastes in an unconventional manner.

I say fuck all that noise.

The way I look at it, if you’re enjoying something, that movie or series or whatever is doing something right. When looking at something like Popee the Performer, if you’re watching those gags and laughing, isn’t it accomplishing its goal? Popee is a surreal kids’ comedy. It’s designed to be whacked out and hilarious. How is that “so bad it’s good?” If you don’t dig its sense of humor, then yeah, that’s a totally legit reaction. But if you’re laughing and enjoying yourself, can you really call it terribad? Is it because it’s funny in an unconventional manner, or maybe you see the low-quality animation and pass judgement based on its budget. Yeah, I don’t see how Popee can be branded in such a way for any reason other than preconceived notions of what anime should be.

Then take a look at Guilty Crown. I dropped the series since I was bored after a couple of episodes, but a lot of fans kept watching and got ironic enjoyment out of it. They were amused by how it was supposedly failing, and therefore they were laughing at the series rather than with it. This is all based on the presumed intent of the creators of the series, and that’s something I just don’t buy. People are basically saying “I’m enjoying X when X=Y, but I was expecting X=Z. Since I didn’t get Z, even if I like Y, X is bad.” It all comes down to audience expectations. When those expectations are defied, even when that defiance appears to be unintentional, people slap on that “bad” label even when they’re enjoying the end product.

Is that really “so bad it’s good?” Or is it just “this is good in ways I wasn’t expecting?” Yeah, I just don’t believe in the concept of liking something ironically. You either like it genuinely, and just can’t (or won’t) explain why, or you don’t like it and say otherwise to be contrary.

I blame a lot of this on Mystery Science Theater 3000. I loved that series as a kid, and I still have a good deal of affection for it, but it and shit like Rifftrax seem to have given people the wrong impression. The reason why those guys were making fun of those movies wasn’t because they hated them. In order to pull off that kind of humor you gotta have genuine love for the subject matter. What they did was never mean-spirited or nasty. It wasn’t akin to a bully making fun of a kid at school, it was akin to a friend getting on another friend’s case and that friend returning the favor– that sort of “gotcha” humor that real friends can engage in without hurting anyone’s feelings. By cracking jokes at shit like Manos: The Hands of Fate and the like, the MST3K guys were writing their own form of love letters for these low-budget B movies. But because people have been conditioned to automatically call such movies “bad” without actually watching them and getting how someone can enjoy them, a lot of people assumed that they were making fun of these movies rather than celebrating them. If those movies on MST3K were genuinely boring or bad, there wouldn’t be the same kind of joy in the thing. It’d just be some jackass yelling at the screen in impotent rage. That shit sucks.

And that’s why I don’t believe in this whole terribad thing. If the thing in question sucks, then yeah, it just plain sucks. But if you’re enjoying it in some way, then this thing is doing something right. If some movie or anime series is doing something right, then it’s good. Saying otherwise is just being needlessly convoluted.

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18 Comments leave one →
  1. August 15, 2012 11:13 PM

    That’s because people and Americans have a hard time with English. They confuse “guilty pleasure” with “different tastes” or “perceived likelihood of being unconventional and unaccepted within the scope of its demographics”.

    There’s only been one show that ever made me feel guilty when I was watching it, and that show DESTROYED my shame. The live action Sailor Moon. That show made you feel like a creep, but it was so gosh dang genuinely compelling. That was when I felt true guilt with pleasure. But after that? Yeah, I’m all about anime and cartoons and tokusatsu and toys now because fuckit, my interests are cool.

  2. August 15, 2012 11:35 PM

    I’d like to postulate a difference between terribad/so bad they’re good shows and legitimately horrible shows.

    I know few who are legitimately embarrassed at liking terribad shows, since ‘so bad it’s good’ is still ‘good’. Those who are and hide in a veil of ‘I only liked it because it’s bad!’ doesn’t really count as a veil, since they still admitted they liked it… non-problem there?

    However, there are others (such as the majority involved in a certain Horizon livewatch) who loathe Horizon and would never touch the show if not for the livewatch. The deviation here is liking a show due to abnormal reasons versus disliking a show but liking consequences of watching. Many watch legitimately horrible shows purely for the fun of talking about its stupidity, and conflating them with the terribad group results in ambiguity.

    (I, for one, have shamelessly blogged all first season episodes of Horizon, and much of the fun comes from the blogging, not the watching.)

    tl;dr: I don’t know what I’m saying feel free to not read this

    • Landon permalink
      August 16, 2012 12:02 AM

      When people say “so bad it’s good,” that almost always means they’re placing it on a lower level from things they think are simply “good.” It’s a way for them to distance this one thing from all of the other things they consider legitimate. I’m arguing that enjoyment is enjoyment regardless. Yeah, your level of enjoyment can fluctuate between different movies and series, but I find the act of segregating things in this manner is pointless.

      And I’m not even gonna touch Horizon. That thing feels less like fiction and more like a lost religion revived in light novel form.

  3. August 16, 2012 12:05 AM

    Bowing to the majority, it’s an act of cowardice.

    The thing is, people limit themselves, dare one say, imprison themselves in their own shame.

    Their prison is their shame.

    THEIR PRISON IS THEIR SHAME!

    • Landon permalink
      August 16, 2012 12:07 AM

      Because no one but me is gonna get that reference:

  4. August 16, 2012 12:58 AM

    The older I get and the more I watch, the more I swing to this side of the fence. I have my big list of terribad shows, but I genuinely love many of the shows in the top half. Many of them have problems; however, among them all, there is one trait above all they have in common: passion. The people making these crazy shows with crazy stories have crazy passion. I can’t help but admire that. Maybe the people making Mars of Destruction had shit all for a budget, but damn it, they had a story to tell and they didn’t let the terrible march of capitalism stand in their way.

  5. August 16, 2012 2:08 PM

    Oh, and porn. Porn is a guilty pleasure. Sort of.

    • threedark permalink
      September 2, 2012 12:36 AM

      Making your toys do each other is not porn, Mack.

  6. August 17, 2012 1:10 PM

    I’ve already expended most of my opinions about this elsewhere but for me I have two scores in my head. I have the enjoyment/heart score that is a direct result of how I feel about the anime; if it made me laugh, rage, etc. Then I have my analysis/head score that is a close to an objective analysis of the work as I can get, including what I believe the creator was intending. If someone asks me an opinion of a work I will give both interpretations as well as the majority opinion as I see it. To me this cognitive dissonance is something that makes a persons opinions unique and to try and squash it under the supremely objective or the supremely reactive is misrepresenting yourself and the work.

    As a very brief example I will talk about something that seems inherently manipulative but is highly effective at it on the average viewer: key adaptations. A lot of people rule out Clannad because it’s feels like the creators are screaming at you CRY NOW, CRY NOW, but if you actually do cry and are actually swept up in that moment that’s a reactive moment. By your scoring would you then say Clannad was good? (assuming crying was a criteria of quality in Clannad’s case) There are those who will watch Clannad, cry, and then realize how manipulative that felt. To me that’s two different types of evaluation hence two different scores would be needed.

    • Landon permalink
      August 17, 2012 1:58 PM

      I’m not the best one to answer that question, since the capacity to make the viewer cry isn’t something I value in entertainment. All I can say is “Did the viewer enjoy the experience?” If being manipulated negatively impacted the viewer’s experience, then it wouldn’t be good. If that act of manipulation was irrelevant to their overall enjoyment of the series, then it’s good.

      I find Clannad and all those other Key series pretty damn boring, so it’s irrelevant to me. So yeah, I’m not the right one to ask.

      I don’t put much stock in the head/heart dynamic. Analysis is gonna vary from viewer to viewer, so it’s just as much of a reactive assessment as the “heart” part of it. Analysis/criticism of fictional stuff like this isn’t about objectivity, it’s about explaining the reasons behind that emotional reaction. I read something. I reacted in a certain way or had a certain thought come to mind. I go back and use evidence from the story to show why I felt that way or came to that conclusion. Someone could take the same evidence I presented and come to a completely different conclusion. Even though both people are analyzing the piece and using evidence, the difference comes down to that reactive, subjective opinion. The objective “evidence” isn’t the part with value, it’s the subjective conclusion.

      So yeah, far as I’m concerned, any kind of conclusion is emotional in nature. All I’m saying is that I don’t like these artificial boundaries people make to segregate things they like based on the pressures of popular opinion and assumptions.

  7. August 23, 2012 5:44 AM

    The way the words “terribad” and “guilty pleasure” are thrown around makes their meanings ambiguous, but my sentiment is this: there are clearly bad/poor/unfulfilling anime productions out there when evaluated as classical narratives, which the vast majority of anime aim to be. Events don’t follow logically from one to the next, character roles are poorly defined, and basic animation and sound techniques are lacking. Authorial intent is important in analyzing a series of comedy or drama or action scenes, because all works are made with a specific purpose and meaning. If they don’t effectively convey that meaning then it is a failure as a story.

    The ancillary value one gets from terribad – guffawing with friends, broadening one’s experiences, learning about history and creative figures in the industry – remain separate from the core issue of scrutinizing the aims and achievements of a work. There should be more going on than just answering the binary, “Was I entertained?”

    • Landon permalink
      August 25, 2012 4:23 PM

      And there’s the difference. I don’t place much value in how much something adheres to the preconceived notions of how narrative storytelling works. It’s perfectly fine if an anime, movie, book, or whatever works in that way, but it isn’t the only means to determine a story’s quality. Even if the intent was to be a traditional narrative, if it works for me looking at it through a different perspective, then the intent of the author doesn’t mean much. Far as I’m concerned, the author’s intentions have no bearing on how I react. It’s amusing to tease out those intentions, but that’s just an intellectual game to play rather than a basis for my opinion of the work.

    • Landon permalink
      August 25, 2012 4:39 PM

      Also, your comment was my blog’s 2000th. Have fun with your No-Prize.

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