Jumpdrives & Cantrips

Of Things Good and Bad
March 23, 2008, 2226
Filed under: Misc | Tags: , , , ,

I was thinking back to my university days not that long ago and about one of the ideas my friends and I used to toss around. The vast majority of us took some form of English Lit class, and the discussion of good and bad came up. Of course, Good Literary Behaviour dictates a need to refrain from judging a work as “good” or “bad”, but rather deconstructing its meaning, identifying themes, so on and so forth. In academia, people refrain from judgement calls.

Note: in academia.

In everyday life I don’t sit and ponder arcane Freudian sexual references, or immediately look at biblical meanings of names, or even (gasp!) search out bizarre pronoun changes that indicate a first person POV written to appear as a third person POV which could just have easily been a textual or copy-editing error when short fiction is read out of the context of its published collection. What I’m really interested in is the story and how well it’s told, which academics don’t necessarily care about. Works important enough to study are not always well-written. This is why capital-L Literature doesn’t usually storm the bestseller list.

And in real life, enjoyability counts for a whole lot more.

There is good, which is obviously pleasing, and there is bad, which is obviously not. But there are all sorts of middle grounds and can vary throughout one’s contact with a given medium. And sometimes, the experience of seeing a movie or reading a book that is bad becomes so over the top, so contrived, and so amusingly enjoyable that it becomes good.

Thus, the Good-Bad Continuum was conceived.

The Good/Bad Continuum

This continuum is what makes utter schlock enjoyable, transforms the cliché to endearing, and is entirely why cult films exist. If you’ve ever heard someone say, “It’s so bad, it’s good!” then you have probably already experienced the heart of this concept. It’s a simple concept, really; Snakes on a Plane is not high cinema, but it was so bad it was good. Something I suspect Samuel L. Jackson understood when he fought for the title to remain Snakes on a Plane rather than Flight 201.

It’s a lot harder to manage so bad it’s good in literature, but people keep trying. In fact, they try too much. Satire and humour are contextual, and when done improperly they stall somewhere in the bad region.

To be so bad that you’re good requires exceptional crafting that doesn’t impair the subject matter–which must be so bad it becomes good again. It takes more effort to plan that than many people give credit. If you have ever heard the Arrogant Worms sing Christmas in Ignace, they sing off key, which takes far more skill to do consistently than to sing well. Spider Robinson is a master of this with his Callahan pun-based groaners.

So. Think about that while I ponder exactly how I’m going to approach this next review…


4 Comments so far
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I’m not sure if I wan’t to know what book you’ll be reviewing next :); but still, I agree with most of what you’ve said. I believe the Grindhouse duet falls into this so bad it ought to be cool category – but while I thoroughly enjoyed Death Proof (it’s a great pro-chick flick; you should see it if you haven’t), I can’t say the same for Planet Terror (that one was just plain bad for my tastes). N-joy,

Comment by uroš

Interesting. I majored in English before switching to History. I found all that literary analysis tedious. My book reviewing is pretty simple.

If I love it, I can’t put it down.

If I like it, I read it about half way through, then speed-read the rest.

If I don’t like it, I don’t read it.

What determines what I love/like/dislike don’t remain constant. Sometimes, I’ve just been deluged by Kick-Butt Heroines and can’t take it anymore. Sometimes I’ve just finished a Fantasy I loved and want more like it, but the next is Romantic Suspense.

Comment by Kimber An

oh. oh dear. I’m w

Failing at the Good-Bad-Good continuum is not a good plan. Not a good plan at all. I will be interested to find out what poor book you’re reviewing next.

Comment by flaede

Thrinidir- Quentin Tarantino generally falls into the so bad it’s good category if the movie manages to scrape its way back to good …But it’s sometimes a big if. While I liked Kill Bill (despite the general silliness) I did not like From Dusk til Dawn or whatever that horrible vampire stripper movie was called! I’ll keep Death Proof in mind 🙂

Kimber An- Sometimes I really want that departure from what’s good. I think I need to go back and refresh myself on why good is so good, if you know what I mean. But yeah, I agree: sometimes what makes a book good is that it’s what you feel like reading at the time. I really try not to read things I dislike at a given point in time, and in fact ReBody was lower in the pile, but I bumped it because I wanted a change. (Heh… oops!) 😉

Flaede- Posted it yesterday…


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