Which is worse: Bad or boring?
[Note from the editor: This review is by prospective staff writer Hex. Visit her blog!]
Last year at the college I used to go to, I was required to attend a poetry reading (mostly because my teacher was one of the poets). The event was like any open mic night: mostly middling talent, with the occasional fairly good and kind of bad performances intermixed. As I look back now nearly twelve months later, I find that I only remember one poem from that night, and it was the worst one. The fellow who read his epic poem did so in a speak-sing voice that droned and lulled in a monotonal manner. All I recall about the reading besides his delivery was the title, which I won’t reveal here. This got me thinking, though: is it better to be bad and remembered, or bland and forgotten? And does this apply to all media?
To start, let’s look at movies. Almost everyone can agree that 2002’s The Master of Disguise is a bad movie. The writing is disjointed, the jokes aren’t funny, and it manages to take previously successful actors and make them terrible. There’s nothing redeeming about this film, and I remember hating it. I’ve only seen it once, around the time it came out, and even in my young mind I disliked it and have had no desire to give it a second chance.
In contrast, the first installment in the Witchcraft series from 1988 is as boring it gets. To quote Obscurus Lupa, the film contains “dramatic steak eating.” The movie has moments that are interesting, acting that isn’t bad, but the writing is just this side of bland. Nothing is mind-blowing or offensive. It’s just there. I tend to forget that this movie exists, even though it has twelve sequels. Instead, I think of Witchcraft 2: The Temptress as the beginning, despite having the number 2 in the title. But what’s the greater artistic crime here? With Master of Disguise, I have no desire to see the film ever again. If I found it in a thrift store for a quarter, I would think they’re overcharging; however, if I found the first Witchcraft on VHS under the same circumstances, I would probably buy it purely for the novelty.
Video games are no different. Rumble Roses for the PlayStation 2 is awful. The controls are bad, the plot is a generic evil scientist/super soldier mash-up, and it’s incredibly sexist. I know that I’m not the target market for this game (I like my women like I like my men, with agency) but that doesn’t make my dislike of it any less valid. If someone close to me liked Rumble Roses for non-ironic reasons, I would question how well I really knew them.
On the flip side, I don’t think liking any of the Call of Duty games says anything about anyone’s personality (aside from maybe Ghosts). The games aren’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but I find them to be unoriginal. I’ve played two Call of Duty games (neither for any significant length of time) but without thinking about which platform or year I played them, I couldn’t really tell you which ones they were. If I was at a shindig at a friend’s house and they brought out a Call of Duty game, I would join or watch without a problem. But if that friend wanted to play Rumble Roses, I think I would politely excuse myself and leave while quietly judging them.
Recently, I was requested to read two different Young Adult science fiction novels. The first is the Matched trilogy by Ally Condie, and the second is Across The Universe by Beth Revis. I’m on the second book in Condie’s series and I’m “hate-reading” it, whereas with Revis’ book, I’m stuck on chapter four.
Matched is The Giver with a love triangle. There are bigger holes in its plot than the Grand Canyon. I keep having to pause my reading to say things like “Ally Condie, that’s not how that works,” or else I have to be killing pixels while listening to the audio book (my WoW account is getting a work out).
But the writing in Across The Universe is just good enough for me to be bored. The science fiction aspect isn’t bad, I’m interested in the world, just not the main characters. I can imagine someone, somewhere liking this book. If I wasn’t asked to read it, I don’t think I would have started it, but at the same time, I don’t regret starting it. If I had bought it, I wouldn’t ask for my money back, but I would probably give it to the first person who asked. On the other hand, I’m very glad I didn’t pay for Matched. The series was lent to me, and I still want my money back. If Across The Universe got made into a movie, I’d go see it out of curiosity. Disney bought the rights to Matched, and I immediately questioned this decision.*
[*I have since reconciled this by convincing myself Disney bought the rights to sit on them so no one could make this god-awful book into a movie.]
So, which is worse: being bad, or being boring? When I first started writing this, I had one answer that I thought was obvious. Now my answer has changed, but I think it’s just as obvious. It’s worse to be bad, and better to be boring. If I created a work, I would rather people be indifferent to it than hate it. Yes, hating it means they’ll talk about it, but that only means success in the short term. People might seek out the media to see just how bad it is, but more than likely they won’t be fans, and will never watch/read/experience it more than once.
Most media consumers will remember the director or actor or writer behind something they didn’t like, and make a point of not buying whatever future projects they’re a part of. But if the media is just boring, the same consumer may consider giving them another shot. The wicked do not get second chances at greatness; only the benign do.