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?

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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.

Which is worse: Bad or boring?

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).

Which is worse: Bad or boring?

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.

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  • mamba

    To me, it’s easy…bad is the one to keep.

    Boring is easy, and usually means the director/writer had nothing. No imagination, no spark, and more importantly…no passion nor excitement. If THEY didn’t care enough to make a movie interesting, why should you?

    Bad,on the other hand, usually means the person MEANT well, but failed particularly! They actually tried to make something that they thought was good, but for whatever reason it failed. (unless they’re lazy like selzerburg movies, but they are boring anyway for the same reason as above). Nobody really likes Ed Wood movies for example, but you have to admit, HE sure did, and that feeling does come across. almost all “b” grade bad movies have this spark of excitement…misguided yes, but it’s still there. and of course sometimes the results are flat-out hilarious, but that’s cheating. :)

    Given the above, I’d rather see someone with their passions and interest misguided than watch someone just yawning internally as even THEY don’t care any day!

    • Joel Schlosberg

      Ed Wood is the perfect example, actually.

      “the Wood enthusiast’s usual defense of his passion is that the director may be inept, but at least he never made a movie that’s boring. But Wood did make boring movies—titles like Jail Bait and Necromania that only hardcore fans of cult cinema seek out and even fewer finish. Something clearly separates such unwatchable flicks from his two most famous pictures [Glen or Glenda & Plan 9 from Outer Space], both of which have devoted followings and enjoy regular revival screenings.” –Jesse Walker

    • Boring is often down to poor editing as well, which prevents any tension from forming.

      • Hex

        I agree, a lot of times I will read or watch something and the premise will be interesting but the execution will be just off enough to make me disinterested.

  • V

    I think there’s an interesting distinction to be made between bad and so bad it’s hilarious, which I would say is definitely better than bad or boring, though it might be less desirable for one’s own work to fall in that category.

  • MichaelANovelli

    I believe the poet once said, “It is better to be hated than forgotten…”

  • Murry Chang

    I give it the MST3K test: If I can’t even find anything to make fun of about it, it sucks. If I can sit there and MST3K the film at least I can have fun with it.

    • jbwarner86

      That’s my approach too. I’d much rather watch a bad movie or show than a boring one – case in point, I just recently watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire again, and I’d forgotten how unbelievably bad it is. All the actors are at their worst, the dialogue is wall-poundingly stupid, and the plot makes zero sense due to all the important details from the book they hacked out. And I had a ball tearing into it. But on the other hand, my grandmother is a huge fan of Downton Abbey, which for the life of me I can’t see the appeal of. It bores the pants off me every time she puts it on, and it’s just an insufferable experience. I can barely even work up the energy to riff it, because it’s so talky that it gives me nothing to work with.

    • Flag On the Moon

      I guess, but I own uncut versions of Manos, Monster A-Go Go and Red Zone Cuba. Not only are those bad and even offensive in places, but somehow, they’re boring at the same time. Especially with RZC, the MST3K guys really brought their A game, because that was just terrible.

  • Toby Clark

    I’m with you, in that I give higher IMDb ratings to generally competent but forgettable movies (usually between 5 and 7/10) than to outright bad ones (3/10 or lower). 4/10 usually goes to So Bad It’s Good ones like Judge Dredd.

  • I will take bad over boring in 90% of cases. Last weekend I watched American Sniper, the most tedious thing I’ve seen since probably the Star Wars Holiday Special, and there is no way I would ever consider watching it again (if I remember it exists a week from now). A few months back however, I watched and riffed Left Behind (the Kirk Cameron one) with my family, and the shittiness was quite entertaining – not to mention the stories about my aunt’s brother who converted to that particular brand of Christianity. I’d definitely sooner watch it again than Clint Eastwood’s insomnia cure.

    There are two kinds of bad I will take boring over any time though. First, bad comedy. There are few things more painful than watching joke after joke fall flat for ninety minutes, and while I’ll willingly subject myself to the animated Titanic movies I will never touch Jack and Jill. Second, films that are bad because they are acutely painful to watch, which feel like having your brain or soul held to a sanding belt for the entire runtime. I’ve only seen a couple of these, but Seven Pounds (probably the most outright offensive and poorly told Oscar bait I’ve ever sat through) and Revolver (Guy Richie trying to be philosophical) come under this category. I’ve got Kyle Kallgren to review the latter via his Patreon account, and his screaming on Twitter after watching it was something to behold.

  • Wizkamridr

    I liked Rumble Roses. Oh well. It must be a Japanese thing because they have plenty of games like rumble.

    The new Yakuza game will have female wrestling. You’re welcome.


  • Gallen_Dugall

    The first two Call of Duty games had some great evocative historical scenarios but after that they became all about the multiplayer with the single player game existing only as a training level to prep you for multiplayer.

  • Endorenna

    The Matched series stinks? Aww. Too bad. I rather like the cover art you showed…yeah, that’s a stupid reason to buy a book series…

    • Hex

      Nah, it’s not a stupid reason. Artists with real talent spend a lot of time and energy trying to encapsulate the essence of a book in one image. If they do their job right, it will intrigue and engage the audience. Unfortunately, the artists talents were wasted on this series. The author tries to integrate myths and poetry as parallels but manages misuse them, and she has a very clear stance on anxiety medication that very much rubs me the wrong way. Also, the writing is just odd. At one point in time the main character is staring at her love interest as he is being taken away so she points to the sky to symbolize how her “…heart will always fly his name.”

      EDIT: The pointing scene is then followed by a hand reach scene between two people whose hands are cuffed behind their back. I had to go over that sequence three times to make sure I was reading it right.

      • Endorenna

        Hearts flying names and cuffed hand-reaching scenes…what the… I’m guessing that during the hand reaching scene they’re also staring into each other’s eyes, so they can’t have their backs to one another. Sigh. Thank goodness I read here that they’re terrible books, now I won’t be suckered in by their awesome cover art.

        Also, I hate it when authors try to use myths and poetry like that, and fail. It always comes across as them trying to sound super smart and instead showing the opposite, making it simply pretentious.

        • Hex

          Oh I completely agree, and it gets worse in the second book when the author more or less says that she can re imagine myths and legends however she damn well pleases. Mind you, she tried to make Sisyphus a tragic hero, and “Do not go gently into that good night” and “Crossing the bar” about a rebellion and not death. I’m down with adapting or integrating real world media into a book but gods below she was less Kevin Hearne and more Stephanie Meyer.

          …I promise I will stop replying with rants after this.

  • Bouncy X

    when it comes to movies, boring is definitely worse than bad. i can sit through a bad movie no problem, i’ve done it a lot and will likely do it many more times in my life. but boring movies become a chore and you just can’t wait til its over or sometimes, you just don’t even finish it. luckily i havent come across that many boring movies overall because i know what i like. but now and again i find one in the genres i do enjoy.

    you can sit through a bad movie because sometimes there’s something keeping ur attention, even if its the fact you’re laughing at how terrible it is.its the reason i enjoy watching 80s cartoons from my youth, its so cheesy and sometimes bad that it becomes entertaining in that way.

  • Mike

    I find the work “boring” to be the least reliable of negative qualifiers. It’s harder to define what makes a movie boring than what’s a bad because boredom is most evident by the disinterest of the viewer. Unless your taking about long stretches where nothing seems to happen, there little in most movies that can be called definitively boring for everyone. Some people are bored with movies that emphasis talk, other movies that emphasis explosion. Still others go back and forth. A lot of times it’s just a question of what your prepared to follow.

    When I first saw The Station Agent I found myself bored and confused. Didn’t really get the main character. Didn’t know why someone his age was still so uncomfortable facing other people because of his size. Didn’t really follow the other characters and what was going with there lives I didn’t even end it what better understanding of what a station agent was. But when trying to explain why I didn’t like it, I suddenly realized the I couldn’t even remember the story despite still being a little intrigued by the concept. So I saw again and that time I really enjoyed myself. I kind of remembered certain moments I did understand well enough that I could just ease in to the ones I didn’t and they stared to make more sense.

    Most movies are not that memorable. Even some good ones are probably only worth watching once because they only have so much to offer. The only reliable measure of quality is the possibility of holding up after multiple viewings. Unless you can describe boring qualities (lack of personality, monotonous long takes etc.) the word just describes a reaction more than anything.

  • Flag On the Moon

    Bad creates emotional engagement, and is the source of “there is no bad publicity”. Boring is just pointless, a section of your life that passes uneventfully and pointlessly. If we were immortal, that would be different, but bad is something to react against, find better than that, even angrily rage against to confused friends. There’s an event, maybe even some agency. Boring is just worthless. I will continue to insist boring is worse.

  • Michael Bagamery

    ‘Boring’ is much better than ‘bad.’ With ‘bad,’ you want to throw things at the screen, thereby running the risk of breaking something. With ‘boring,’ you just want to go to sleep, and sleep is, you know, healthy.