CFP: "So Bad It's Good" (SCMS 2017 Proposed Panel)

deadline for submissions: 
August 12, 2016
full name / name of organization: 
Kate Russell (University of Toronto); Kevin Chabot (University of Toronto)

SCMS 2017 Panel CFP: So Bad It’s Good

“Clearly, in cinematic circles of all kinds, there has been a significant realignment on the social terrain of taste, a powerful response to what has been termed ‘the siren song of crap’.”

-       Jeffrey Sconce

“To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humor, which is anything but universal.”

-       John Waters

Bad taste has often been theorized in terms of its opposition to ‘high art’ and elitist culture. However, as Jeffrey Sconce has written, low-cultural ‘bad objects’ have cultivated subcultures that “in [their] most extreme manifestations” create “an ironic form of reverse elitism.” In what he calls paracinema, “critically disreputable films” have formed an alternative hierarchy of taste through fandom and particular subsets of cinephiles that valourize such works. Expanding on this notion of paracinema, this panel seeks to develop the discourse around bad objects, entertainment, and cultural capital. In titling this panel ‘so bad it’s good,’ we are interested in navigating the complex intersections of spectatorial pleasure and value judgement. What does it mean to call an object ‘so bad it’s good’? How does this disrupt our traditional understanding of taste, culture, and value? What is at stake in collapsing these categories of good and bad, pleasure and displeasure?

       With the recent resurgence of contemporary B-movie aesthetics in films such as the CGI monster romps Sharknado (Anthony C. Ferrante, 2013), Dinocroc vs. Supergator (Jim Wynorski, 2010), and Piranhaconda (Jim Wynorski, 2012), the qualifier ‘so bad its good’ is often used to describe their reception. These films are intentionally ‘bad’ and play to a knowing audience. However, films such as Troll 2 are created in earnest but suffer from clichéd dialogue, nonsensical plot, and unconvincing special effects. Given these differences, is there a distinction to be made between films that aim to be ‘bad’ and films that attempt to be ‘good’ yet fail? How can we understand these objects in terms of a paradoxical successful failure? In what ways do cult followings and fandom shape how these films are read? How do issues of identity politics, and class in particular, intersect with ‘so bad its good’? How can we account for the popularity of reality television shows Duck Dynasty, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and Teen Mom? What are the ethical concerns with indulging in voyeuristic practices, in taking pleasure in spectacles of difference and failure in shows such as Hoarders, My Strange Addiction, and Intervention?

Possible topics may include, but are not limited to:

  • Intersections of Taste and Class
  • Guilty Pleasure(s)
  • Schlock Horror/Sci-Fi
  • Exploitation
  • Cult Followings
  • Theories of Humour
  • Theories of Camp
  • Reality TV
  • Production / Exhibition Contexts
  • Oppositional Readings
  • Poverty Porn
  • Pleasures of Technical Failure (continuity errors, bloopers, ‘goofs’)
  • Auteurs of ‘Trash’

Please submit abstracts (maximum 300 words) along with your name, affiliation, and brief biography (maximum 150 words) to kate.russell@mail.utoronto.ca and kevin.chabot@mail.utoronto.ca no later than August 12th, 2016.