The Badness Spectrum

So, this happened last week (WARNING – please remain seated during this video, as you may become so full of anger and disbelief that you may pass out):

Still there? Good, I’ll cancel 911.

As expected, this “music” “video” burst onto the scene amongst a chorus of hoots and hollers. Cheap production value, terrible song, the singer looks like a low-rent clone of Jennifer Coolidge, and that rap? Seriously, it’s not even a rap; he just repeats the lyrics, only making them second-person instead of first. It’s some of the laziest songsmithery ever, and I’ve heard some of the Black Eyed Peas’ latest work.

Tonje’s video made all the blog rounds, uniformly being derided. However, some decided to make the comparison to Rebecca Black, calling this song the new “Friday.” This is wrong, and misses the point about what I’ll call “enjoyable badness.”

For all the shit Rebecca got for her song (some that even I gave her), there’s no denying that it hit a chord with people. It was discussed ad nauseum, parodied many times over, and even performed on Jimmy Fallon’s show by Fallon and Stephen Colbert. And as bad as it was, there was a certain innocence and earnestness about it; it tried to be a summer jam even as it failed miserably doing so. And to her credit, Rebecca has been downplaying the criticisms, basically saying that she just sang the song that was written for her. And I’m not too proud to say that I’ve hummed the chorus in the shower once or twice. Wanna fight about it?

Big whoop!

But Tonje’s… work? It’s shrill – an atonal, Real Housewives fever dream. Between this and “Friday,” the production values are about equal (both visually and sonically), but “Housewife” just comes off as more crass. Whereas Rebecca has a bouncy, Teen Disney vibe going on, Tonje has an embarrassing cougarish vibe; she looks 25 going on 40. And while “Friday” is a (misguided) ode to good-natured teen fun, “Housewife” is a celebration of every shallow reality-show stereotype. It’s drunk sluts and morons in Ed Hardy – the American nightmare by way of Norway.

And this split is the battlefield where bad art of any type lives as campy enjoyment or simply dies. Not every film can be The Room, try (or not try) as it might. There’s no magic bullet for what makes a bad movie work so well from an ironic standpoint, but a level of “fun” seems to make a difference. I can’t define “fun” in a more detailed manner; it’ll be different for every work. But the most enjoyable Yakmala! films have a way of bringing people together to have a good time, even if only to hurl insults at it. I refer you to a graph I made (I make a lot of graphs):

At the top left, we find a product of skill and fun, The Big Lebowski, a movie I can watch basically whenever anyone wants to watch it. The bottom left is Children of Men, a movie I enjoyed and admired quite a bit. However, it’s also fairly dour, so “fun” really isn’t a good description. The top right is one of the pillars of Yakmala!, The Room: a film of great ineptitude, but also loads of fun. I’ve seen it several times over the past couple of years, and it continues to pay dividends. The bottom right is the worst position to be in, the nadir of both skill and fun. Vampire Dentist fits right in there. It looks to have been made for less than $50, and watching it is less preferable to being kicked in the balls with one of those knife shoes. You know what I mean, right?

Yeah, that.

The point is, not all bad art is the same. Without a certain level of fun, a poorly-made work will simply be an joyless failure. It can even hinge on something fairly small; as fun as Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li is, if you removed Charlie Nash, it would simply be a boring, C-level karate flick. It’s this fun that makes something an enjoyable experience, that separates the Rooms from the Vampire Dentists, the “Fridays” from the “Crappy Housewives.” So, next time a shitty video gets released on YouTube, leave Rebecca Black out of it unless you’re sure. And the next time a horribly-made movie gets some notice, don’t immediately jump to the Room comparison.

Remember: not all bad art is worth celebrating.

About Louis

This entry was posted in Mark Carpenter School of Music, Projected Pixels and Emulsion, Yakmala! and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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