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…

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