Loving ‘trash’ movies may mean you are ‘cultural omnivore’, suggests new study

In a survey performed at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Germany, film scholar Keyvan Sarkhosh investigated why certain viewers actively seek and enjoy films which they themselves describe as cheap and trash.

By: PTI | Berlin | Updated: October 17, 2016 2:05 pm
Odeon Cinema dimmed out it' 'O's at a theatre in London (Photo courtesy: Twitter/@ODEONCinemas)

Do you often find yourself enjoying ‘trash’ or ‘cheap’ movies? It may be a sign that you have an above-average education and interest in culture, a new study suggests. In a survey performed at the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Germany, film scholar Keyvan Sarkhosh investigated why certain viewers actively seek and enjoy films which they themselves describe as cheap and trash.

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“At first glance it seems paradoxical that someone should deliberately watch badly made, embarrassing and sometimes even disturbing films, and take pleasure in them,” said Sarkhosh. By means of an online survey among regular consumers of trash films, the researchers were able to show how the typical features of trash films support a positive enjoyment. The study is the first major empirical investigation into trash films and their audience.

Not only did the researchers arrive at supporting established hypotheses and assumptions on ‘bad films’ in film and media theory, but also at providing new and surprising findings on trash fans and their attitude towards these films. Most of the participants in the study agreed that the term “cheap” best describes trash films. The label trash itself covers films from various genres. Yet almost all participants mentioned low budget horror films as typical examples.

The films mentioned most often were “Sharknado”, “Plan 9 from Outer Space” and “The Toxic Avenger”. The typical trash fan does not really take such films seriously. Instead, an ironic viewing stance came to the fore. Although to a large extent the participants stated that the films in question were cheaply made and thus “trash”, they also confirmed that trash films are overwhelmingly perceived as a form of positive entertainment.

Given an ironic viewing stance on the audience’s side, trash films are prone to provide “amusement” – they are considered to be entertaining and funny.

The study provided strong evidence that trash film fans are predominantly male – almost 90 per cent of the participants indicated that they are men – and highly enthusiastic film buffs. “To such viewers, trash films appear as an interesting and welcome deviation from the mainstream fare,” said Sarkhosh.

“We are dealing here with an audience with above-average education, which one could describe as ‘cultural omnivores’. Such viewers are interested in a broad spectrum of art and media across the traditional boundaries of high and popular culture,” Sarkhosh said.

The research was published in the journal “Poetics”.

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