6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding

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.

An Awful Fan-Fiction Inspires A Collaborative Monument Of Mockery

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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.

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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.

A Terrible Writer Inspires A Three-Decade-Long Terrible Writing Contest

6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding
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.

6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding
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.

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:

6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding
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.

A Mean-Spirited Novel Inspires A Beautiful Analysis

6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding
Freestyle Releasing

Left Behind is a pseudo-religious novel that is poorly written to a Dan Brownian degree. But as bad as the writing is ...

To say that the Israelis were taken by surprise was like saying that the Great Wall of China was long.

... the real shocker is how much of a douche these books are. We've talked before about how the characters are sociopaths, but one of the best examples happens right on Page 3, where we learn that one of our protagonists, named fucking Rayford Steele, was ...

... no prude, but Rayford had never been unfaithful to Irene. He'd had plenty of opportunities. He had long felt guilty about a private necking session he enjoyed at a company Christmas party more than twelve years before. Irene had stayed home, uncomfortably past her ninth month carrying their surprise tagalong son, Ray Jr.

That's the hero, remember. Heroically leaving his pregnant wife at home so he can drunkenly suck chunks of quiche out of a flight attendant's molars.

The Reaction

Fred Clark has been blogging about these stories since 2003 and recently released the first big chunk of those blogs as an ebook. You'd probably assume that someone who would spend 12 years revisiting and criticizing a piece of pop-Christian writing would be your standard angry Internet atheist, but Clark is actually a devout Christian -- he just happens to be one of the millions of American Christians that isn't a complete fucking asshole about it. Turns out that Left Behind is most offensive to people who believe what the Bible actually says, and watching this guy tear this story apart is a majestic experience. You don't need to have ever read a Left Behind or care at all about what they have to say to find this valuable; Clark's writing explores how organized religions can become corrupt or perverted. He's also pretty damn funny.

If you're thinking I'm reading too much into all this, that this theme isn't really as present in the text as I'm making it out to be, consider the opening lines:

"Rayford Steele's mind was on a woman he had never touched. With his fully loaded 747 on autopilot ..."

That's more than just subtext.

A Terrible Band Might Be Secretly Great

THE SHAGGS Thilnsophy nf The 3urld
RCA Victor

Music quality is subjective. For example, I love this song, but I don't really know how to defend it on a technical level or by any objective metric; I just think Nirvana fucking rules. On the other hand, this song is a joke, right? Someone older than me confirm. The point is, can anyone truly say that a song is truly bad? Before you answer you should listen to this.

The Shaggs are a bunch of children that were forced to play and record music by their deranged, abusive father. They released one album, called Philosophy Of The World, that was immediately forgotten.

The Reaction

Forgotten, but not permanently. Years later, the lead singer of the blues band NRBQ stumbled across that album in a used record store and loved it so much that he convinced his label to buy the rights and release it, and it exploded -- or at least it got a hell of a lot more attention than you'd think. Frank Zappa said they were "better than The Beatles"; Kurt Cobain called them "the real thing." Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys is a fan, and Lester Bangs of Rolling Stone gave them a favorable review. There are tons of YouTube videos where semi-famous musicians offer explanations about why The Shaggs are brilliant while wobbling back and forth between pretentiously stupid ("It's totally real, and you would know in the first second that it's real if you're a musician") to sorta profound ("I think music teachers understand better than others because this sounds like when your student first has a breakthrough and discovers something that had eluded them previously").

So ... what the hell is everyone talking about? Well, I have a theory, and it's a weird one, so bear with me: Cobain, Zappa, and Biafra are all icons of genres of music that defied "the system" and were eventually absorbed by it, because any type of anti-establishment music that touches a nerve enough to become important will eventually be consumed by the machine it raged against, because the machine is bigger, has all the money, and doesn't need to eat. But The Shaggs are inoculated against the machine by their shittiness. It's the only thing that can't be packaged-up, slapped on a lunch box, and sold.

Speaking of which, there's a stage musical based on the story, and Tom Cruise owns the rights to the feature film, so we can expect the next version to involve a lot of inexplicable running, an airplane sequence, and a video game tie-in. So, never mind: The machine wins after all.

A Failed Filmmaker Inspires ... Everybody

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Sony Picture Classics

You've never heard of Coven, and you've never heard of Northwestern, and you've probably never heard of Mark Borchardt. But if you've made it this far in the article, you're definitely a little bit like him.

The Reaction

The 1999 documentary American Movie is about Borchardt's long and eventually successful (that's "successful" with scare-quotes) attempt to make a short horror film, Coven, which in turn was to raise money for his epic film Northwestern. It's a complete disaster: Borchardt has vision, but he's relying entirely on the kindness of his friends and family and his own stunning financial irresponsibility. It's clear from the opening scene, where he excitedly opens up a letter containing a MasterCard offer, that this movie isn't going to go well.

But that's not the point. The point is that Mark wants to make movies more than most people know how to want anything.

6 Artists Who Failed So Hard They Ended Up Succeeding
Sony Picture Classics

You can tell by his shirt.

American Movie isn't about the ironic following of Mark Borchardt, and there's no attempt to justify Coven as a great movie or a parody or anything other than a not-super-great flick (it sits at 38 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, higher than any Fantastic 4 movie). The quality of Coven isn't the point -- the point is that Mark Borchardt gave it a fucking shot. You can't help but admire that, even when you're making fun of him in a dipshit comedy article 15 years later.

JF Sargent is an editor and columnist for Cracked with a new column here every Tuesday. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

Human beings clearly aren't rational with their fandom. For further evidence, look no further than 4 Groups Of Fans Who Have Apparently Lost Their Mind and 5 Reasons You Should Hate Professional Sports.

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Check out Robert Evans' A Brief History of Vice: How Bad Behavior Built Civilization, a celebration of the brave, drunken pioneers who built our civilization one seemingly bad decision at a time.

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