The Aesthetics of ‘So Bad it’s Good’: Value, Intention, and The Room

‘The Aesthetics of ‘So Bad it’s Good’: Value, Intention, and The Room’

James MacDowell and James Zborowski

A cult film valued for being ‘so bad it’s good’ – in Jeffrey Sconce’s terminology, ‘badfilm’ – is championed via a form of interpretative competence which values incompetence. Scholarship addressing the terms ‘bad’ and ‘good’ in relation to such films has unsurprisingly tended to focus on the important issue of reception. What we suggest in this paper, however, is that the badfilm is also capable of prompting a reconsideration of two very old, but vital, questions for aesthetics. Discussions of evaluation and badfilm regularly argue that such films confirm the inherently unstable, discursive, and/or socially-determined nature of aesthetic value. Relatedly, it has been claimed that the cult fan practice of conscious counter-interpretation demonstrates the ‘intentions’ of readers or taste communities prevailing over the intentions of filmmakers. We suggest, however, that (1) badfilms offer a robust challenge to the assertion that intrinsic aesthetic value should be regarded in all cases as nothing but an irreducibly fluid socio-historical illusion of taste, and (2) they highlight in an especially stark fashion how fundamental assumptions about artistic intention are to the interpretation of any aesthetic object. Through an analysis of the contemporary badfilm The Room (2003), we argue that one may judge a badfilm ‘bad’ on more stable grounds than mere taste, and that this badness is dependent in such cases upon the demonstrable nature of (failed) artistic intentions. Finally, we suggest some reasons why, even if possessing little intrinsic aesthetic value, badfilms might still nonetheless offer significant instrumental value… [Full Article Here]

From: Issue 6 (Autumn/Winter 2013)




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  1. […] so-bad-they’re-good films from those that are just bad. According to one study “The Aesthetics of ‘So Bad It’s Good‘”, published in the Journal of Cult Media, The Room is fun to watch partly because of […]

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