Everybody likes good stuff, right? Well-made films, skillfully rendered songs, quality television shows, and so forth don't need anyone to speak in their defense. But why should quality get all the love? Critics are paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, but really, we can only watch Citizen Kane so many times before longing for something a little less wheat-y and a little more viscerally chaff-y. Here, The A.V. Club speaks out in favor of some things that we guiltily acknowledge are tacky, tawdry, or just plain lowest-common-denominator, but that we stubbornly adore anyway.
MTV's True Life
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's on MTV. Joyless curmudgeons will only admit to watching MTV2, and they generally turn to PBS when looking for documentary series.
But we love it because: According to MTV's website, True Life's mission is to "reflect the state of youth culture," which is apparently equal parts sincere and very, very stupid. When the formerly chubby Floridian in True Life: I'm Going To Fat Camp gazes at herself in the mirror and says she's now looking for a guy "more like Justin Timberlake," she means it. Just as Charlie, the Staten Island groom of True Life: I'm Getting Married, couldn't be more sincere when he saunters into his reception with his siliconed bride on one arm and a white pimp-cane on the other, and proclaims it "the sickest party" he's ever seen. Simply put, True Life is one of the most entertaining unscripted shows on television.
At least we could claim: That it's added some memorable phrases to the cultural landscape, such as "Where are my cheese balls?" (from True Life: I Have A Summer Share) and "Now that I have my calves, I think I am the total package" (from True Life: I'm Getting Plastic Surgery).
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's a cheaply made science-fiction movie about evil rubberized aliens which look like Sleestacks from Land Of The Lost, and it stars grunting action-hero-wannabe "Rowdy" Roddy Piper in a stiffly heroic role not far removed from the one he played in his WWF days. He even gets a lengthy, utterly gratuitous wrestling scene.
But we love it because: It presents such a funny, giddily insightful view into what was wrong with Reagan-era America, in the form of alien hypnotic suggestions that make Earthlings fearful, greedy, and convinced that money is a god. It revels in its trashiness, but at the same time, it's authentically creepy, with its compelling peeks at an unseen, malevolent world lurking just beneath familiar surfaces.
At least we could claim: That we relish it solely as a crucial developmental step in the cinematic evolution of director John Carpenter. (That would also give us an excuse to keep loving Big Trouble In Little China.)
The McDonald's Sausage McGriddle
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: Obesity is an epidemic in America, and the only thing worse than starting the day with a greasy, salty sausage patty is slapping that patty between two miniature pancakes.
But we love it because: Breakfast treats don't get much more sublimely delicious than the original McGriddle, which ingeniously combines the savory and the sweet, the chewy and the doughy. Plus, the pancakes have the syrup cooked right in, so the eater's fingers stay relatively un-sticky. It's the kind of stick-to-the-ribs breakfast that a farmer would eat before heading out into his field, assuming that his field were located near a turnpike.
At least we could claim: That it's a much more reasonable and elegantly designed sandwich than the latter-day McGriddles, which add egg and cheese to the stack. Now those are disgusting.
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: The show represents everything that's wrong with the music industry, network television, and the democratic principles on which this nation was founded. None of its freshly scrubbed karaoke singers have released even a single decent album. The dead time of "elimination" nights, filled by staged Ford Focus commercial plugs and Up With People group medleys, are as bad as TV gets.
But we love it because: For a few minutes each night, Simon Cowell deflates the dreams of some kid who doesn't deserve to sing at the county fair, let alone in front of millions. The fact that this competition is the most-watched show in television gives it an innate sense of drama that other reality shows lack. (If it were #100 in the ratings, who would care?)
At least we could claim: That we aren't the only ones addicted to it. There's something historic about a show that's excruciatingly painful to watch 95 percent of the time, yet so weirdly compulsive that Americans of all stripes tune in every week.
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: As the preeminent recording label for "New Age" artists for 30 years, Windham Hill has popularized the notion of aural wallpaper—music even less obtrusive than Muzak, designed to be played at day spas and dinner parties.
But we love them because: Windham Hill helped sponsor the careers of genuinely talented and creative musicians like Alex De Grassi, Mark Isham, and the late Michael Hedges, all of whom have made music too pretty to be avant-garde and too eccentric to be mere background music. The New Age wave that followed Windham Hill's "quiet revolution" (so dubbed on the label's new 30th-anniversary four-disc box set) has been largely watery and indistinct, but Windham Hill itself has been responsible for some uniquely atmospheric Americana.
At least we could claim: That Windham Hill's stylish cover art gives landscape photographers a way to fill the time between phone-book season and inspirational-calendar season.
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's shallow, easy, and ridiculously implausible. In other words, Jerry Bruckheimer-riffic.
But we love it because: It can be enjoyed two ways: as a deliberately hilarious, tongue-in-cheek comedic take on action movies, or as explosive eye candy. On one level, it's a thoughtless good-guy-kicking-bad-guy-ass flick; on another, it's a cheekily over-the-top, postmodern look at the same. Other bad movies don't go far enough into the absurd, but Con Air has it all, and delivers it with an amazing cast: Nicolas Cage (as—get this—Cameron Poe), John Cusack, John Malkovich, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Dave Chappelle. And each brings something ridiculous to the table.
At least we could claim: That it's a far more enjoyable film than others in the genre (The Rock, Face/Off), and it features far more plane crashes, explosions, and friendly serial killers than March Of The Penguins and Pride & Prejudice combined.
America's Funniest Home Videos
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It seems like a vacuous collection of men getting hit in the crotch and kids-say/do-the-darnedest-things cutesiness. The legacy of the painfully unfunny Bob Saget, who hosted the show from its 1990 inception until 1997, doesn't help, either. Additionally, the lamest video almost always wins.
But we love it because: People doing stupid things and/or hurting themselves is funny. A man skis down a small patch of snow on his roof, awkwardly landing with his leg catching (and probably breaking) on the side of a truck. Then there are the people who stand on shaky ladders with chainsaws to cut down trees, and the myriad parasailing/waterskiing/mountain-biking mishaps. Luck is apparently all that prevents these from becoming America's Most Tragic Home Videos.
At least we could claim: The show creates a continual time capsule of American lifestyles, fashions, and trends ripe for sarcastic comments (and sociopolitical analysis) from viewers.
Joyless curmudgeons might hate them because: These spandex-wearing steroid cases have dominated the comics medium almost since its inception, to the extent that most people can't even hear the words "comic book" without picturing crudely illustrated, emotionally stunted, adolescent power fantasies.
But we love them because: When rendered simply, those power fantasies have real appeal, mostly for the way they hearken back to a kinder pop age. (Spend some time with the Showcase Presents: Superman collection to see how that simplicity can be transformed into near-surrealism.) Superheroes also represent a kind of modern American mythology, illustrating our evolving sense of what it means to be a hero.
At least we could claim: That the genre has spawned some remarkably artful deconstructions, by the likes of Alan Moore, Kurt Busiek, and even Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and Jack Kirby way back in the day. Also, we've always thought The Flash was super-cool.
The Bee Gees
Joyless curmudgeons might hate them because: They brought awful disco to the masses via the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
But we love them because: Prior to their disco days, the brothers Gibb created sad, hauntingly beautiful, harmony-rich pop. In the mid-'60s, they nearly kept pace with The Beatles, with massive hits that included "Holiday" and "New York Mining Disaster 1941." All the old-school classics are conveniently gathered on 1969's absolutely essential Best Of Bee Gees.
At least we could claim: That "Jive Talkin'" and "Night Fever" weren't the worst things spawned in 1977.
iTunes Celebrity Playlists
Joyless curmudgeons might hate them because: They're transparent merchandising devices designed so stars can promote their current projects while enabling iTunes to sell more songs.
But we love them because: They're fascinating windows into celebrity taste. Who knew that Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe was into Antony And The Johnsons, The Arcade Fire, and Buzzcocks? Or that Dale Earnhardt Jr. had a soft spot for Boston's '80s hit "Amanda"? They also often offer glimpses into celebrity semi-literacy, and it's the strangled, haiku-terse, often agonizingly unrevealing prose that keeps us coming back. Alexis Bledel on The Shins' "So Says I": "What a good song." Steve Perry on Blur's "Song 2": "I first heard this at a baseball game. I liked it immediately."
At least we could claim: Heidi Klum's endorsement of Bloc Party makes us appreciate both on a whole new level.
The Final Item In Yahoo's "In The News" Box
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's fluff. Usually, the final Yahoo headline concerns celebrities in trouble, dogs wearing cute costumes, or humorously botched crimes. It's almost never, by any reasonable definition, news.
But we love it because: The final Yahoo headline usually concerns celebrities in trouble, dogs wearing cute costumes, or humorously botched crimes. And it works like a magnet. Nuclear missiles could be airborne, but we'd read about it only after checking in on the latest Eva Longoria spat, or hearing about a small Connecticut town's celebration of Squirrel Days.
At least we could claim: It's a better use of company bandwidth than pornography or online gambling.
Renny Harlin's Films
Joyless curmudgeons might hate them because: Along with Jerry Bruckheimer, Harlin (Cliffhanger, Die Hard 2, Driven) personifies Hollywood at its most vulgar and crassly commercial, catering to action junkies with the attention spans of gnats. His Cutthroat Island and Exorcist: The Beginning also added two historic duds to a career strewn with expensive flops.
But we love them because: At his best, Harlin directs trash with such exuberance that there's no point in suppressing their pleasures with guilt. Highlights such as The Long Kiss Goodnight, Deep Blue Sea, and Mindhunters crib shamelessly from blockbusters past, but Harlin compensates for his lack of originality by pumping up the volume. He never allows good taste or a millisecond of introspection to get in the way of a good time.
At least we could claim: Everyone seems to agree that Samuel L. Jackson's big speech in Deep Blue Sea is pretty inspired. Harlin also directed one of the better Nightmare On Elm Street sequels (#4), and his films have resulted in more walkouts than fatalities.
Atari 2600 Games
Joyless curmudgeons might hate them because: Eight-bit technology doesn't leave much room for graphics, music, complicated play challenges, or color options. Most of the games' sound effects sound like a clunky old robot being beaten with rag-wrapped hammers, and even the best graphics look like they were assembled by a 4-year-old with a wretchedly small Lego collection.
But we love them because: They remind us of that initial thrill of video games we could play in our own homes instead of in crowded, noisy arcades where everyone but us could beat Dragon's Lair. The nostalgia factor outweighs the "I'm playing a square being chased by blobs" factor. And it's genuinely appealing to see how programmers in the '80s strained to work around their significant limitations and come up with new and innovative ways to use what technology they had.
At least we could claim: That they keep our hands and brains limber, since we're too old and creaky to keep up with newfangled modern video games.
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's a surreally awful 1997 slapstick comedy in which John Leguizamo mugs his way through 84 minutes of crude gags involving adolescent homophobia, broad ethnic stereotypes, and lame pop-culture references.
But we love it because: You know how on his show, Dave Chappelle sometimes gets this really infectious look of delight that makes it clear that he's every bit as exhilarated and surprised by what's coming out of his mouth as his audience is? Throughout The Pest, Leguizamo has that look, albeit with much less cause or justification. His comic aria of boundless self-love is jaw-dropping in its shamelessness. Whether dancing his way through an entire rap song in the shower, fleeing gay Nazi man-hunter Jeffrey Jones, improvising wildly, or doing ethnic shtick so broad and tasteless that it'd make Robin Williams recoil in shame, Leguizamo delivers one of cinema's biggest (though obviously not best) performances.
At least we could claim: The Pest represents the culmination of Leguizamo's brashly comic House Of Buggin' phase, which let him get all the monkeyshines out of his system so he could actually act in movies like Summer Of Sam.
LFO's "Summer Girls"
Joyless curmudgeons might hate it because: It's a gleefully inane 1999 pop song built around a wussy Extreme sample ("More Than Words") and features nonsensical free associative lyrics rapped by a bland white hunk who both looks like an Abercrombie & Fitch model and name-drops "Abercrombie & Fitch."
But we love them because: "Summer Girls" is a miraculous instance of all the wrong elements inexplicably combining to form the perfect pop single. Besides, there's something strangely hypnotic about the sheer randomness of MC Rich Cronin's stream-of-consciousness lyrics about his digestive system (Chinese food makes him sick), boy-band predecessors (he notes indifferently that New Kids On The Block had a bunch of hits), and sociology (he mistily observes that his summer love comes "from Georgia where the peaches grow/they drink lemonade and speak real slow").
At least we could claim: That Cronin is an avant-garde wordsmith obliquely lampooning the plastic emptiness of contemporary popular culture and the vapidity of song lyrics. Or not.