There’s nothing in this world that gets my blood pumping, that makes my breath shallow, that invigorates my inner goddess quite like trash cinema. I live for the garbage, and I’ve been looking forward to one upcoming release that would satisfy me in ways I never imagined possible. And now the day is finally here! After reading the source material, rereading the source material, waiting months of anticipation, and feverishly viewing trailers on-repeat, my body is ready for the new white whale of spectacularly awful filmmaking.
The marquee reads Fifty Shades of Grey. Already, my heart is racing. After I buy my ticket, I look down at the title printed on my stub and something deep within me quivers. I can feel the badness seeping out of the auditorium; I can smell blood. I hustle into the auditorium and settle into the squashiest seat, at the very center. Just as soon as I’ve shuffled off my jacket, I turn to place it on the seat next to me. To my surprise, a dark, brooding, mysterious man with a strong jawline has claimed the seat.
“Oh! Sorry. I didn’t see you there.”
He looks directly into my eyes. His irises are a piercing grey.
“Are you alone?” he asks. I smile and examine my sneakers. “I’ve been looking forward to this movie for a while.”
“Oh, me too! It’s going to be a total trainwreck. I’m very excited,” I tell him.
“Then you’ve already seen it.”
“Well, no.” Before he can ask, I tell him, “But there are ways to tell, red flags. The original guy who was going to play Christian Grey backed out. The two romantic leads can’t stand one another. Plus, have you read the book?”
“Yes, I have.”
“Then you get it, it’s absurd. It sounds like it was written by a 14-year-old with an overactive imagination.”
“If you’re certain it’s going to be so terrible, then why bother buying a ticket? Why are you here?”
“It’s gonna be an unmitigated disaster!” I realize that that isn’t really an answer. “Well, you know the expression ‘so good, it’s bad?’ It’s like that. When a movie’s terrible enough, it becomes kind of hilarious.”
“What’s so funny about a bad movie?”
“Seriously? You’ve never watched a crappy movie just to goof on it with your friends?” He says nothing, only looks deeper into my eyes, and also into my soul. “Okay. It’s like, sometimes when a movie is so overwhelmingly bad, it defies belief. It’s surreal, how something so staggeringly incompetent could still be made. All you can do is laugh in disbelief.”
“But you’re still watching it. The joke’s on you, because you’re still watching the movie, which is what the people who made it wanted. Especially here in the theater, where they get to take your money, too.”
“And that’s fine with me! I have nothing against the people responsible for Fifty Shades of Grey!” He turns, his body now facing me.
“I’m not so sure. When you talk about buying a ticket to a movie you think is going to be bad just so you can laugh at it, it sounds like you think you’re smarter than the movie, and smarter than the people who showed up to actually watch it today.”
I sit for a moment, weighing whether or not this is true.
“It’s not like that at all,” I start. Before I can go on, he grabs my wrist. Hard. I instinctively bite my lip.
“But if the book’s so idiotic, then how could millions and millions of people enjoy it unless they were stupid, too? America didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly become okay with erotica, did they?”
“It kind of felt that way at the time!” I whimper. My heart is racing. “But it’s a matter of taste, a person has free license to like whatever they want. Just because the movie at hand may be awful, that doesn’t mean the people watching it have been suckered into the price of admission.” His hand slides from my wrist to my forearm. He traces a little design around my inner elbow with his thumb. He’s toying with me.
“Except you don’t really believe that.”
“What?” I make a motion to withdraw my arm, but he tightens his grip on me. I can almost hear his muscles tensing. Even in my seat, my knees buckle.
“That’s what you tell people to insulate yourself from accusations of snobbery. But you know you’ve never allowed yourself to truly engage with movies like this. You watched Color Me Blood Red like it was a comedy.”
“Hold up, you don’t know what camp is but you can name-drop Color Me Blood Red?”
“I know that when your reviews editor offers up assignments, you always angle for the movies you suspect will be the worst. Why is that?”
He’s waiting for a real answer. When I notice that his lip is still with hushed power, I realized how violently I’m trembling.
“Who… who are you?”
He smiles, and gestures to a large tub of popcorn sitting on his lap. I am nearly certain that that wasn’t there before.
“You look hungry,” he says with a little amused laugh. “Have a little popcorn.” I give him a sideways look. “Go ahead, reach in.” I apprehensively graze the top of the tub and snag a few kernels. “No,” he says. “Reach.” I stick my hand further into the popcorn tub on his lap, there goes my wrist, until—
“Holy crap!” I try to retract my hand, but he grabs it before I can move.
“Don’t be afraid. There’s nothing here to be scared of,” he reassures me. I can feel him, turgid, slick with synthetic butter. “Your need to watch movies you’ve sanctioned as ‘bad’ through an ironic lens is only holding you back.”
“I… I’m not that sort of guy,” I stammer. As he works my wrist up and down, I begin to internalize the rhythm he’s set for me.
“You know that when you’re the arbiter of what does or does not merit actual consideration, you insulate yourself from criticism.” He continues to manipulate my hand like one of those free-fall theme-park rides. “When you dismiss a movie as an unintentional laugh riot, you deprive yourself the rest of the thematic content it has to offer.” Still incredulous, I scan the theater.
“Someone might see us.”
“The divides between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture are deteriorating. Vulgar auteurism. Pain and Gain as an art film. Guardians of the Galaxy breaking into top-ten lists. Crap-shovelers like you are on the way out.” Without my noticing, he’s removed his hand from mine. I continue regardless, faster and more forcefully.
“I’m not ready,” I whimper.
“Embrace sincerity,” he continues, “and submit to the abolition of the brow. Film students in the year 2050 will study Spring Breakers and they will learn things. It will be beautiful, and it begins right now.” He closes his eyes, and I feel his muscles contract and relax inside my grip.
The lights go down.