Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The MST3K Effect, or "So Bad It's Good"

While the concept of Enjoyment Modifiers dwells upon specific components of works creating resonance or dissonance within the audience, it's important to remember that the modifiers still need a base to work off of -- a base composed of the overall quality of the craft put into the work: writing, acting, directing, editing, etc.  Logically, the lower the quality of the work, then the more powerful the positive modifiers need to be to make the work enjoyable.

Unless, that is, you have a personality type which is susceptible to The MST3K Effect.

For those unfamiliar with it, MST3K stands for Mystery Science Theater 3000, the late lamented TV series based around a group of people endlessly mocking low quality films.  While MST3K might not have invented the concept of deriving enjoyment through ridiculing B-movies, its popularity has made it one of the most recognizable examples of the idea that sub-par works can sometimes be enjoyed not despite their flaws, but because of them.

As I said, it takes a particular type of personality to derive pleasure from bad movies/TV/literature; as you are probably aware by now, I am possessed of just such a personality.  There's just something about scenery chewing actors, dime-store quality special effects, and IQ sapping plot points that amuses the heck out of me. 

Please note that there is definitely a difference between something being "bad" and something being "so bad it's good."  There's a sweet spot of awfulness that a work has to hit in order for its lack of quality to move from painful to entertaining. For example, I recently watched both Leprechaun In the Hood and its sequel, Leprechaun: Back 2 the Hood, and while I found the former to be a laugh riot, the latter was a struggle to get through.

Also, that sweet spot can vary from person to person -- my "so bad it's good" flick can be another person's "terminally unwatchable," and vice versa; after hearing so much about the low budget Birdemic, I was eagerly looking forward to a roller coaster ride of entertaining awfulness, but was instead bored out of my mind for 2/3 of the film's running time.

Personally, that's a large factor of what separates a "bad" work (like Vampire$) from a "so bad it's good" work (Troll 2) -- the boredom factor.  If there's nothing of even mild interest going on for huge stretches of time, then not even the occasional burst of mind-blowing crappiness can fully engage the MST3K effect.  Let's face it -- there's a good reason why Mystery Science Theater 3000 would cut out huge sections of movies from episodes other than making time for commercial breaks and invention exchanges.

Genre can also play a factor on whether a bad movie attracts or repels; I have a weakness for shoddily done horror movies, and to a lesser extent bad Sci-Fi flicks, but it takes a special brand of awful to get me to sit through a poorly done drama or romantic comedy.  I'll probably explore this more in my individual Enjoyment Modifiers posts when relevant.

Now, as you may have been able to tell from the examples I keep using, the MST3K effect mostly comes into play for me when it comes to film, and not so much in other media -- a bad horror movie is going to suck me in most every time, but a bad horror novel will get thrown down in disgust. But this, too can vary for different people.  A prime example is Comics Alliance's Senior Batmanologist Chris Sims, who has gotten great mileage out of mocking several B-grade comic series; and while I have derived great pleasure from reading Sims' mockery of these books, I know that I would be unable to make it all the way through them on my own power.

Are you susceptible to the MST3K Effect?  Or do all bad movies/books/etc. just leave a bad taste in your mouth?


  1. I find that I'm only really susceptible to the MST3K Effect when I'm in the company of others that are susceptible to it as well. My questioning of them has led me to find that a majority of them feel the same way I do (that they only get the enjoyment out of really bad films when others are around).

    Otherwise, on my own, if I find a movie very bad I just find myself very bored.

  2. That's a good point, and one I had meant to cover after my pal Josh brought it up the other day while I was using him as a sounding board, but somehow forgot by the time I actually sat down to watch.

    In all actuality, the "only susceptible in a group" aspect is probably more prevalent than my own, internalized love of B-movies. In fact, if I had been watching Birdemic with friends who were also vocal in their feelings towards it, I probably would have enjoyed it much more.

    Think this has inspired another post or two about the importance of personal context in enjoyment . . .