4 Awful Works by Famous Geniuses Everyone Pretends to Like
If you are a creative person, I'm sure you have half a novel or a piece of fan fiction or a painting lying around somewhere that you are terrified of showing people. I get it; it is like ripping out your heart and then asking robots to judge your effort. Here's the good news: Your creation is probably awesome. Here's the better news: Even if it sucks, you are in very good company. There are plenty of famous geniuses who have come up with absolute crap in between all of their good stuff.
Shakespeare: Titus Andronicus
William Shakespeare wrote 38 plays, so it wouldn't be weird if you haven't memorized all of the titles. (If you have memorized them all, you are an exceptionally cool person and we should hang out some time.) There is a very good chance you have never even heard of Titus Andronicus or seen it performed. And I don't mean you are not cultured enough to have watched it at some "Shakespeare in the Park" event; I mean you have probably never seen it even though Hollywood made it into a movie in 1999 with Anthony Hopkins and Jessica Lange. Not a fan of those actors? Too bad, because that is the only film version of the play that exists.
Surprisingly, not the poster for the long-awaited Blue Man Group movie.
That is because Titus Andronicus is seriously, epically terrible.
The plot is convoluted, but here is a very basic summary. The Roman general Titus Andronicus does horrible things to the family of Tamora, Queen of the Goths. In return, she does terrible things to Titus' family. Their feud escalates to ridiculous levels, and everyone leaves the theater feeling sick.
The exit is called a vomitorium for a reason.
Or, to borrow Shakespeare expert S. Clark Hulse's description:
There are 14 killings, 9 of them on stage, 6 severed members, 1 rape (or 2 or 3, depending on how you count), 1 live burial, 1 case of insanity, and 1 of cannibalism -- an average of 5.2 atrocities per act, or one for every 97 lines.
In other words, a lot of blood and gore, not so much character development or even good writing. The violence is so over-the-top that some Titus apologists wonder if the play wasn't meant to be a spoof on the violent plays of other authors at the time. And sure, we're talking about the guy who turned suicidal teenagers into the pinnacle of love stories, but a mother being forced to eat her children in a pie is probably going a bit far.
Who knew watching South Park was so cultural?
Reviewers have been weighing in for 400 years, and it has rarely been pretty. The poet T.S. Eliot called Titus "one of the stupidest and most uninspired plays ever written." English dramatist Edward Ravenscroft called it "a heap of rubbish." Even when the movie came out, reviewers who enjoyed the film, like Roger Ebert, felt the need to point out that they liked it in spite of the terrible source material.
Titus Andronicus is so bad that Shakespeare scholars have been trying to distance the Bard from it for centuries. We live in a world where even a few lines of a previously unknown sonnet would be the artistic discovery of the decade, yet people who dedicate their life to his work are desperate to make LESS Shakespeare exist by getting his name taken off this piece of poo.
They argue that Shakespeare probably didn't write it (even though it was included in the First Folio) and that if he did write any of it he at least had a co-writer who was responsible for the terrible bits (so, basically all of it).
The Beatles/John Lennon: "Revolution 9"
The Beatles, or more specifically John Lennon and Paul McCartney, were some of the greatest musical talents of the 20th century. I'm not going to cite that, because it is common knowledge. I'm not saying they were the best ever, but together they managed to write some of the world's most perfect songs. If you disagree and want to go off in the comments, have fun, just know you are a crazy person.
Unlike the commenters who are lovely and discerning and have nothing but nice things to say about this article.
In 2012, when Rolling Stone ranked the 500 best albums of all time, The Beatles by The Beatles, better known as The White Album, ranked a very impressive No. 10. Granted, this meant it was behind three other Beatles albums on the list (see, geniuses) but it still contains amazing tunes like "Helter Skelter," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," and "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da."
It also contains a track so bad that it makes you question John Lennon's sanity, may have contributed to the band's breakup, and influenced a mass murderer.
Say hello to "Revolution 9." Eight minutes and 22 seconds of ... something. For obvious reasons, I really hesitate to say "music."
My personal theory is that one day, if every record of and reference to the 1960s is destroyed except for that ... whatever that is, future generations will only need to listen to 10 seconds to know that people were doing a fuckload of drugs during that decade.
But it wasn't just drugs (although, yeah, it was a lot of drugs) that made John Lennon go off the deep end and insist that the track be included on the album. It was also every Beatles fan's favorite person: Yoko Ono. John later admitted that she was there the whole time he was recording "Revolution 9," that he was heavily influenced by her avant-garde artwork, and that she "made decisions" about what noises to include in the track.
Paul McCartney never wanted the song on the album, but Lennon got his way in the end. This may have resulted in McCartney exercising a tighter grip on the production of the Abbey Road album the next year, which really pissed John off. He eventually left the band because he didn't want to have to write to a "format," aka shit people actually wanted to listen to. In other words, Lennon came up with this horrible thing, he got his way and it was put on the album, and he still threw a fit about it a year later.
Shocking that a wife beater would overreact like that.
No one liked the song. There have been many vicious reviews over the years, but none as biting as this one by author and Beatles expert Jonathan Gould:
Shapeless, formless, gormless, "Revolution 9" is an embarrassment that stands like a black hole at the end of The White Album, sucking up whatever energy and interest remain after the preceding 90 minutes of music. It is a track that neither invites nor rewards close attention, and most listeners preferred to avoid it after one or two hearings.
OH! You are going to need a polar ice cap for that burn, John. If you weren't dead. And they weren't melting.
"Revolution 9" doesn't appear to have influenced any other artists, either. It seems the only person who found value in the song was a psychopath. Even though The Beatles song most closely associated with Charles Manson is "Helter Skelter," a witness at Manson's trial said that the cult leader "spoke mostly of 'Revolution 9'" and saw it as a call to rise up in a race war.
To be fair, pre-swastika he could have replaced George and no one would have noticed.
Perhaps nothing illustrates how ridiculous the track is more than the fact that even John Lennon was confused by it. He once explained, "I thought I was painting in sound a picture of a revolution -- but I made a mistake, you know. The mistake was that it was anti-revolution." If you can't tell if your self-indulgent proto-hipster "sound collage" is pro- or anti-popular uprisings, maybe it doesn't mean anything at all and should never have existed in the first place.
Thomas Edison: Concrete Houses
These days, especially here on Cracked, it is hip to hate on Thomas Edison. But we all grew up learning how awesome he was for a reason. Edison was very, very good at what he did. The problem is that people expect him just to be an inventor, when he wasn't, and a nice guy, when he was a huge fucking dick. He was a businessman whose abrasive genius allowed him to invent, manage people, invest in their ideas, and then, yes, totally get all the credit for the good ones.
Especially the elephant-killing ones.
Regardless of how you feel about how he treated his workers (specifically Tesla), our lives would be completely different if Edison hadn't been the brilliant man that he was. But as you might expect from a guy who held over 2,300 patents, not all of his ideas were that amazing. We've told you before about how he came up with a ghost-busting machine. While that idea never left the planning stage, a much more serious attempt was made to get everyone to sleep in concrete beds.
At the turn of the 20th century, two things were happening. Concrete was the new, cool material on the block, and New York City was bursting at the seams. Edison decided he could combine these two situations and start building cheap, sanitary concrete houses for people in the suburbs. Now, on the face of it, this doesn't seem that crazy. Sure, concrete is a weird thing to build a home out of, but it would be doable. Had Edison stopped there, we might be living in a very different world. But he decided that the best way to produce the houses quickly and methodically was to pour the concrete into a house-shaped mold and let it set, like you making chocolate candy at Christmas.
Behold, the least edible gingerbread house of all time.
And it wasn't just the walls and ceilings that he wanted to get out of one pour. The mold would also include fireplaces, beds, picture frames, and even a piano. I don't know if you have ever heard Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 in C minor played on a concrete piano, but OF COURSE YOU HAVEN'T BECAUSE THAT IDEA IS INSANE. The New York Times bitchily responded to Edison's plans with the comment, "As to concrete dogs to stand warningly in the front yard and concrete cats to purr stonily under a concrete kitchen range, he made no announcement."
But Edison was determined to go ahead with his idea, making numerous life-size prototypes in Ohio and New Jersey. Even after builders realized they would have to invest over $175,000 to make the mold and then sell the houses for just $1,200, making it sure financial ruin, Edison wasn't deterred. Eventually, he gave up after two concrete phonographs were sent through the mail with instructions for them to be dropped repeatedly in transit. He hoped to prove his concrete EVERYTHING was the way of the future, but when both of the items showed up in pieces he never mentioned it again.
And if it makes you feel any better about Tesla, Edison lost millions of dollars thanks to his concrete obsession. Dickwad.
Leonardo da Vinci: The Last Supper
"What?!" I can hear you yelling. "Da Vinci was amazing and did totally kickass things, many of which I read about on this very website! How can his second-most famous painting be a mistake?" Well, if you are still young and beautiful and the 1980s are a time you only learned about in history books, your first memory of The Last Supper probably involves it looking something like this:
But for those of us who are a bit older, our first time seeing pictures of the great mural went more like this:
Yeah, before a two-decade restoration that finished in 1999, da Vinci's masterpiece did not look camera-ready. This utter destruction of the famous work is partly because the mural had not exactly been taken care of for 500 years. First someone knocked a door through Jesus' feet. Then Napoleon's troops used the room The Last Supper is in as a stable and threw rocks at it. Finally, during WWII the Allies bombed the building.
Here's the thing, though. Even back then, Leonardo da Vinci paintings were priceless, and no one would have messed with it if it wasn't already ruined. While people in later centuries certainly deserve some of the blame, The Last Supper sucked because Leonardo da Vinci was lazy and stubborn.
Making you very similar to one of the greatest geniuses of all time.
As far as we know, Leonardo was not a prolific painter. As few as 15 works are attributed to him (he never signed his stuff, so it is hard to know for sure) even though he lived to be 67 years old. A lot of his works are unfinished, because by all accounts Leonardo took FOREVER to actually complete something. Even the Mona Lisa isn't done. By the 1490s, people knew that commissioning something from him was no guarantee you would actually get what you asked for, or at least not for five or six years.
This procrastination caused him a problem when he was asked to paint an image of Jesus and his disciples chowing down for the last time. The typical way to create huge wall paintings is the fresco method. This has been in use since ancient times and is very effective. It is why Pompeii could get buried by a friggin' volcano and their murals came away mostly unscathed. The technique involves putting wet plaster on the wall and painting while it is still damp. This binds the paint to the wall, keeping it from peeling and flaking.
Liquid fire: less destructive than hubris.
The problem with this style is that you need to work fast. You have to get paint down while the plaster is wet. Leonardo knew he was never going to finish in time; fuck that, he was going to take years. So instead he decided to make up his own way of fresco painting, one not even he had tried before.
It didn't work.
Almost immediately, paint started flaking off. Within 18 years, the mural was "beginning to spoil" according to one viewer, and in the 1550s another called it a "muddle of blots" and "ruined." The first restoration attempt was in 1726, then again in 1770, 1821, 1901, 1924, and 1951. There were so many layers of new paint that even with the latest restoration, only 42.5 percent of the painting is considered to actually be Leonardo's original work.
So, basically, we only have a handful of paintings by da Vinci, and the second-most famous of them has been ruined, all because he couldn't be bothered to paint just a little bit faster. What is Italian for #EpicFail?
Kathy wrote a very funny book called FUNERALS TO DIE FOR, and you can buy it here. Or follow her on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter.
For more from Kathy, check out The World's Fastest Growing Industry (is a Pyramid Scheme) and 5 Eerily Familiar Things Animals Do When They're Drunk.
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