CFP: 'So Bad It's Good' (SCMS conference panel, March 2013)

full name / name of organization: 
Richard McCulloch & James MacDowell

CALL FOR PAPERS: 'So Bad It's Good' (Society for Cinema and Media Studies conference panel, Chicago, March 6-10, 2013)

'So bad it's good' is a familiar enough concept. It has often been invoked by fans, critics and academics in connection with certain kinds of movies and certain kinds of reception, being associated especially with cult film. Yet 'bad' can carry a multitude of meanings in a cult context. For this SCMS conference panel we seek work whose focus is specifically texts that are valued, by fans or critics, for their aesthetic ineptitude or failure – what in film studies is often called 'badfilm'.

From Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) to The Room (2003) to 'viral' internet videos like Rebecca Black's 'Friday' (2011), the text valued for its aesthetic badness is championed via a form of interpretive competence which rewards perceived incompetence. However, while scholarship often invokes the concept of 'so bad it's good', the texts and phenomena to which it refers have in fact received relatively little detailed examination. What reading protocols, interpretive communities, or taste hierarchies are at play in this particular form of cult appreciation? Equally, does ironic valuation complicate or rather shore-up traditional frameworks of aesthetic value and/or assumptions about artistic intention?

We are inviting proposals for 20 minute papers on the subject of media artifacts commonly deemed 'so bad they're good'. Possible topics and approaches might include:

- 'So bad it's good' and reception (e.g.: studies of participatory audiences, fan criticism, cult communities, etc.)

- The aesthetics of 'so bad it's good' (the function of traditional aesthetic categories such as value, intention, interpretation, irony, etc. in the construction/appreciation of these texts)

- 'So bad it's good' and the internet (the role of video-sharing and social media in the growth of cults around badfilms, etc.)

- Intentional 'so bad it's good' (e.g.: Planet Terror, Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job, Look Around You, etc.)

- 'So bad it's good' and tastemakers/gatekeepers (e.g.: Mystery Science Theater, Found Footage Fest, Charlie Brooker, etc.)

- 'So bad it's good' and comedy (comedy as textual or contextual phenomenon/effect/experience, etc.)

- The politics of 'so bad it's good' (e.g.: the 'othering' of the bad text, cult audiences as subculture, the history and oppositional function of camp taste, etc.)

Please send abstracts of 250 words, along with a short bio (including at least three bibliographic references), to Richard McCulloch ( and James MacDowell ( by Monday August 20th. We will be in touch with our decision by Friday August 24th.