Study Finds Smart People Love Trashy Movies

     October 11, 2016


Big fan of “so bad it’s good” cinema? Can’t wait for the next SyFy/Asylum team-up? You’re probably just a big ol’ smarty-pants. According to science, that is.

Over the summer, Keyvan Sarkhosh, a film scholar and postdoctoral research fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, conducted a study on perceptions of trash cinema and discovered that fans of the low-brow, low-budget subgenre tend to be well-educated viewers with a hand-in-hand appreciation for arthouse filmmaking. The study was originally published in the empirical research-based Arts, Medis, and Culture journal, ‘Poetics’.

For the study, Sarkhosh collected data from 372 participants with a mean age of 34.6 years through an online survey, with a sample pulled largely from university students and active participants of trash film-centric online forums and communities. Participants were asked to list 20 words they spontaneously associated with the term “trash films”, 10 titles they associated with the phrase, what feelings they elicited, and what context they were usually watched in.

Here are some stat breakdowns of the survey participants from HuffPo:

  • 148 (43.3 percent) held a university degree
  • 110 (32.2 percent) had a higher education entrance qualification
  •  61 (17.8 percent) had a general certificate of secondary education
  •  15 (4.4 percent) had only completed mandatory basic secondary schooling
  •  4 (1.2 percent) had no educational diplomas
  •  4 (1.2 percent) reported having a degree which was not included in the list given.

The study found that admirers of trashy movies, Sharknado the most commonly name-dropped, most commonly associated trashy movies with being cheaply (low-budget) or poorly made, and that their primary audience tends to be made up of well-educated, “omnivorous” film viewers who appreciate them as a transgressive break from mainstream cinema. There was also a thread of ironic appreciation.

Now, as you can probably tell from the fact that I write about movies online for a living, I am not a scientist so I can’t offer much commentary here. It seems a little suspect, but I love me some crap movies so I’m just going to fall in line and say, yes, that obviously means I’m brilliant. Feel free to do the same. I will also now consider it unwritten canon that Frasier and Niles Crane would regularly sip Sherry over a Troma marathon, and nobody can take that away from me.

If you want to dig into all the statistics, you can dig into the full study results here, but for brevity’s sake (and if you don’t feel like dropping $40 just to validate your love of The Room), you can check out the absract below (via ScienceDirect).

By means of an explorative online survey, the present study identifies key characteristics of ‘trash films’ from the perspective of their regular consumers. It focuses on how these characteristics support the evaluative turnaround underlying the positive use of the label, i.e. on how something can be identified as cheap and worthless ‘trash’ and still be embraced and (re-)evaluated as providing positive enjoyment. The data reveal that trash films are, indeed, identified as ‘cheap’ and hence as a variety of low-budget films. At the same time, viewers attribute to trash films not just amusing/entertaining qualities, but also a positive, transgressive deviance from the cinematic mainstream, and their appreciation of these films is coupled with marked preferences for art cinema. The majority of trash film fans appear to be well-educated cultural ‘omnivores’, and they conceive of their preference for trash films in terms of an ironic viewing stance.


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