Last Laugh

Last night, my youngest son and I watched the documentary The 50 Worst Movies Ever Made. My son has recently taken an interest in other people’s failings, having discovered humanity’s capacity to bond over mutual disgust. As a boy who has come late to friend-making, he is always on the lookout for the quickest way to cross the divide between himself and anyone else. I guess nothing says you’re amongst friends quicker than agreeing how stupid some other guy is. So we hunkered down to have a good snark. For all of my son’s desire to revel in how bad something is, he is also a bit of a naïf, even for a twelve year-old. Thus, as we watched clips of Plan 9 From Outer Space, and Frankenstein VS The Space Monster, he would turn to me and ask, “Why is that so bad?”

And my heart would sink. Suddenly, explaining to my sweet-hearted boy why something someone else made stunk was not so appealing. It started feeling like teaching him racism. It’s one thing to say, “My willing suspension of disbelief is challenged by the presence of a boom mic in the shot,” or, “I’m not feeling that Frankenstein really wants to battle the space alien,” and it’s another thing to point and laugh at someone who made the mistake of doing something less than perfectly. Yes, in these instances, much less than perfectly, but aren’t we only talking about degrees?

Don’t get me wrong. Part of how we learn is by recognizing what we feel works and doesn’t work in other people’s stories. But I don’t think artists should race to label something someone else made as “bad”, as if all works of art could have their value measured like a temperature. In doing so, you introduce the concept that there exists some external metric to measure something’s worth. Since this metric is illusory, it can easily become a diabolical weapon for your ego to wield against you in times of uncertainty.

Everything deserves to be made if someone wants to make it. Not everyone has to read it or watch it, and certainly everyone doesn’t have to like it, but that does not mean it shouldn’t exist. Let he who is without sin, I say, because the one they may be laughing at someday could be me.

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