6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding

So there are good movies. We all know those exist. Then there are mediocre ones, which are most movies. Below that, we get the bad movies. We don't like those very much. But if you keep moving that finger down this massive list of art, somehow organized by objective quality, you eventually reach "so bad it's good" territory, where you find stuff that's so shockingly inept that you can't help but build a fanbase around it -- take a look at Sharknado and the entire Asylum filmography.

That's not what this article is about. Some art isn't just "bad" like a carton of sour milk is bad; it's curiously bad like the smell of a mosh pit, or a bank-tellers' weird attempt small talk. Its badness is its defining quality, and it becomes like a force of nature, inspiring other people to pursue their own strange creations that end up actually being pretty damn good. What the balls am I talking about? These balls, dear reader.

These balls.

#6. An Awful Fan-Fiction Inspires A Collaborative Monument Of Mockery

My Immortal The Webseries

My Immortal is a Harry Potter fan-fiction involving vampires, goth teenagers, and what we can generously call "creative" sex scenes. At no point is it clear whether the person writing this is just having fun, trying to be made fun of, or making fun of you for daring to read it. Look at this fucking shit:

And then............... suddenly just as I Draco kissed me passionately. Draco climbed on top of me and we started to make out keenly against a tree. He took of my top and I took of his clothes. I even took of my bra. Then he put his thingie into my you-know-what and we did it for the first time.

Oh! Oh! Oh! " I screamed. I was beginning to get an orgasm. We started to kiss everywhere and my pale body became all warm. And then....


It was.............................................................Dumbledore!

The whole goddamn book is like that: When Harry Potter shows up, he changes his name to "Vampire" because he's so "goffick." A lot more sex happens, there's some time travel, and at one point Dumbledore sews the words "Avril Lavigne" into the back of his cloak.

The Reaction

My Immortal joins movies like The Room and Plan 9 From Outer Space by having an entire community built around directly mocking it: There's dramatic readings, fan art, songs, and even a live-action webseries loosely based on it. But that's not all -- dig deep enough into this, and it starts getting weird.

Yes, even weirder than the fan art.

A lot of people think My Immortal is an elaborately constructed satire. Because to fans of fan-fiction (fan-fiction fans?) the story seems specifically designed to piss them off: There's a "Mary Sue" protagonist ("Ebony Darkness Dementia Raven Way" is the protagonist's name), a weirdly antagonistic relationship with the reader (the author is constantly telling readers to stop if they don't like the same bands that she does), and a bunch of nonsense fucking scenes (at one point, the sex gets so hot that Ebony and Draco start "frenching passively" and fall asleep). One professor at Princeton University (a pretty reputable place, I've heard) who teaches a class on fan-fiction (never mind; I must've been mistaken) is convinced it's a clever and intricate satire, involving dozens of social media accounts across multiple websites. Which is why she assigns it as required reading.

#5. A Terrible Writer Inspires A Three-Decade-Long Terrible Writing Contest

Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images

Even if you've never heard the name Edward Bulwer-Lytton, you've probably heard the phrase "It was a dark and stormy night" -- he coined that phrase at the beginning of his novel Paul Clifford. Here's the entire opening sentence, in all its ball-stompingly nonsensical glory:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Sorry I keep doing this to you. I promise this is the last entry to involve horrific writing. Anyway, Bulwer-Lytton wrote ... like that, but he was still super successful, because novels in the 19th century functioned like pop music today.

Mat Hayward/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images
This guy calls himself "Harry Styles," and we let him.

The Reaction

In 1982, Professor Scott E. Rice at San Jose State University created the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and it is my favorite thing in the world that I can't drink or blow up. Every year, writers from all across America write and submit the opening lines to terrible novels that don't actually exist, and every year the judges pick winners, and they are all fucking gold. Here's 2015's winner, written by Dr. Joel Phillips, who was proud enough of his education to include his PhD on his Terrible Writing Contest submission, totally oblivious to how I would eventually make fun of him for it right now:

Seeing how the victim's body, or what remained of it, was wedged between the grill of the Peterbilt 389 and the bumper of the 2008 Cadillac Escalade EXT, officer "Dirk" Dirksen wondered why reporters always used the phrase "sandwiched" to describe such a scene since there was nothing appetizing about it, but still, he thought, they might have a point because some of this would probably end up on the front of his shirt.

And here's last year's winner, Elizabeth Dorfman:

When the dead moose floated into view the famished crew cheered -- this had to mean land! -- but Captain Walgrove, flinty-eyed and clear headed thanks to the starvation cleanse in progress, gave fateful orders to remain on the original course and await the appearance of a second and confirming moose.

You can read all the runners-up here; they're all hilarious. Come on -- it's not like you were going to get your work done anyway.

#4. A Disastrous Movie Has An Amazing Documentary Made About It

Magicstone Productions

You've heard of Troll 2, even if you haven't realized it. You can watch this, or just look at this thing:

Epic Productions
"Oh my goooooooood, I do recognize that!"

It's a super low budget 1990 horror film that features several goblins and precisely zero trolls, despite promising at least two in the title. Like The Room or Plan 9 From Outer Space, it's developed a following of the kind of people who get off on mystifyingly bad films. But that's not what's fascinating. What's fascinating is ...

The Reaction

... the documentary about the cast, fittingly titled Best Worst Movie, made two decades later by the kid who starred in the movie, Michael Stephenson. Over the course of the film, he tracks down almost the entire cast and crew and brings them along to conventions, and we get to see what it's like to have worked hard on a movie that people celebrate as a failure. One of the actors ends up relishing his newfound limelight because of how badly he misses an entertainment career that never got off the ground. The director, on the other hand, is furious that no one understands how great his movie is. The editor takes credit for inspiring Harry Potter. Don Packard, who played "The Shopkeeper," walks on stage to Troll 2 fans' applause and later says, "I never was thrilled with being who I was until that moment." Everyone's applauding him ironically, in celebration of how shitty his movie is -- but he doesn't know he's being laughed at, and, in the end, it's a valuable experience for him. He's also quite mentally ill.

Artists rarely accomplish what they intend to accomplish, so is there anything wrong with making a movie that people love for its badness? On the other hand, how mean-spirited is it to come together and celebrate someone else's failure? Is it better or worse than just letting something maintain its dignity by disappearing into obscurity? I dunno, but the point is, Best Worst Movie is as great as Troll 2 is bad, and Troll 2 is really, really bad.

Oh, and remember what I said about not having any more entries about horrific writing? I lied.

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J.F. Sargent

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