A few months ago I wrote a post where I explained why The Room – or, more particular, the fandom that’s grown up around it – drove me nuts. I wrote:
But from what I’ve read from people who have made The Room a cult favorite it’s not because they see it as an undervalued gem. Nor does it appear to fall into the “so bad its good” category, as everybody involved takes the thing completely seriously. No, it seems that people just really enjoy watching an artist fail, enjoy watching a horrible product because it’s horrible.
I’m not about to join the fan club, but I’ve had a rethink about it, thanks to this piece over at Electric Literature. Called “Why We Love Bad Art,” John Sherman, riffing on Susan Sontag, goes straight to The Room and makes an interesting case:
Not all failure is equal, and the nature of artistic failure depends on the nature of the attempt.
The Room is an awful movie, but it’s trying to be a great film, and this generates its basic charm. By extension, Wiseau is an awful filmmaker trying to be a great one, and his blindness to his own deficiencies is what allows him to be canonized in the so-bad-it’s-good tradition. Whether due to narcissism or a lack of taste, or both, pure Camp cannot fathom its own shortcomings.
I can see that. Art that fails, but does so nobly with great passion, has something in it to be admired. By contrast, something that’s a cold and calculated attempt to make something popular or financially lucrative that fails is just shit. I get that. I’m not sure I really get that vibe from most of the people I’ve heard talk (or read about) The Room.
Sherman mentions Mystery Science Theater 3000 and how it made a whole thing out of taking pot shots at bad movies. I’m not sure the analogy works, however, as most of what MST3K (in any variant) took on were only worth watching because of the jokes being made at its expense. Sure, in at least some instances the folks involved had a soft spot for one of those movies, but for the most part they savaged them because they sucked. There’s a difference between “so bad it’s good” and “so bad we can enjoy making fun of it.”
And so we return to the distinction I made in the original post, between loving something even though common opinion is that it’s bad versus not admitting you love it because it’s bad. Art doesn’t always find the audience the creator intended, but maybe it always, eventually, finds an audience of some kind? Perhaps people should just let themselves love it and not think too much about it.
Like I’ve been doing!