Smart Peeps like Trash


Keyvan Sarkhosh und Winfried Menninghaus vom Max-Planck-Institut für empirische Ästhetik in Frankfurt haben eine Studie über mich angefertigt: Enjoyment of trash films linked to high intelligence, study finds.

Laut dieser Studie schaue ich Trash als multidimensionale Unterhaltungs-Erfahrung, die mit starkem Interesse an der Kunst des Filmschaffens selbst einhergeht. Interessanterweise finden sie keinen Beleg für tatsächliche Guilt, as in Guilty Pleasure. Who knew?

Paper: Enjoying trash films: Underlying features, viewing stances, and experiential response dimensions, ich hab die Studie mal per SciHub befreit, da sicher nicht wenige NC-Leser ein Interesse daran haben dürften, hier die lokale Kopie als PDF.


The data reveal that trash films are, indeed, identified as ‘cheap’ and hence as a variety of low-budget films. At the same time, viewers attribute to trash films not just amusing/entertaining qualities, but also a positive, transgressive deviance from the cinematic mainstream, and their appreciation of these films is coupled with marked preferences for art cinema. The majority of trash film fans appear to be well-educated cultural ‘omnivores’, and they conceive of their preference for trash films in terms of an ironic viewing stance.[…]

Attributes, features and films associated with trash

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As Fig. 1 shows, cheap (billig) turned out to be by far the most salient term. This confirms that cheapness is perceived as the single most distinctive attribute of trash films. Like the English word cheap, the German adjective billig comprises a broad range of meanings far beyond designating low price. Both billig and cheap serve as derogatory terms for objects and actions considered to be of low quality, dumb or clumsily executed and even for modes of behaviour which are indecent, evasive and morally dubious. […]

The humorous, entertaining and transgressive aspects of trash films also come to the fore in the data. Eight of the 22 terms which made it past the cut-off refer to these aspects: amusing,entertaining, involuntarily funny, funny, humour, fun, humorous and ironic. A second group of terms reflects the dimension of violence and horror: bloody, violence, horror, splatter and monster. Furthermore, we also found the adjective exaggerated, supporting the notion that trash is associated with a certain degree of excess (the German adjective übertrieben can be translated as both exaggerated and excessive).

Given the fact that excess is often considered a key feature of exploitation and cult films, it is interesting that both cult and exploitation likewise show up in the list. This strongly confirms a perceived affinity of the labels. At the same time, the aspect of sexual depictions that some authors (see Cook, 2005; Schaefer, 2007) regard as no less crucial for exploitation than violence was represented by only one term: sex. All other terms with sexual meanings failed to pass the 5% cut-off.

Experiential dimensions of trash film viewing

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[…] our data strongly support the assumption that positive consumption of trash films involves a multidimensional entertainment experience, as interest clearly emerged as the second most important emotional response dimension. Recent empirical research suggests that interest involves appraisals of novelty and complexity, on the one hand, and the ability to master these on the basis of expertise, on the other (Silvia & Berg, 2011). Given the close affiliation between trash films and art cinema, we hypothesise that the feeling of interest may at least partly be due to the viewers’ ability to recognise features which remind them of the avant-gardist art cinema tradition of filmmaking, a tradition that requires broad cinematic expertise and a sustained involvement with the films in question. In any event, besides fun-related enjoyment, interest-driven appreciation also plays an important part in habitués’ experience of trash films.

Notably, our participants attributed the least importance to negative affect as an emotional response dimension. It seems that the ‘guilty pleasure’ which McCoy and Scarborough (2014) hypothesised to involve viewers of trash TV in substantial levels of negative affect holds little, if any, importance for viewers of trash fiction films. Rather, the consumption of trash films appears to involve a sustained and deliberate hedonic habitude devoid of guilt feelings. Asked how often they watch trash films, 1.8% of the participants reported that they watch trash films every day, 16.1% several times a week, 10.2% once a week, 36.3% several times per month, 21.6% once a month and 14.0% less than once a month. Assuming that watching a trash film at least once a month amounts to a regular habit, 86.0% of the participants are regular trash film viewers.

Social predispositions and aesthetic preferences

Our data show that habitués conceive of trash films in terms of their deviation from mainstream cinema and their association with art cinema. According to Austin (1984), art films are films which fit into the category of ‘high culture’, with the typical art film audience consisting mainly of highly educated, enthusiastic filmgoers with an interest in learning something about the films they see. With all due caution regarding the sampling procedure, our sample suggests a similar profile for trash film habitués. Whereas Kovács (1982) claimed that the target audience for exploitation films is an uneducated lower class, our findings suggest quite the opposite regarding trash films. [ed.: My guess is that the audience for Trash shifted heavily since the 80s, as the aspect of Irony above suggests.]

A vast majority of the participants reported holding a university diploma or higher education entrance qualification. According to the data provided by the Federal Statistical Office (, this is well above the average education level in Germany. This not only supports that ‘paracinema’ is essentially a phenomenon related to a male, white and educated middle-class audience (Sconce, 1995), but also challenges Bourdieu’s (1984) notion of a social distinction in terms of cultural and educational elitism. Despite the fact that, regarding their educational level, our participants would seem to fit the idea of bearers of ‘cultural capital’, their marked liking of films commonly thought low in terms of their cultural value and prestige clearly runs counter to Bourdieu’s concept linking cultural capital and ‘legitimate’ taste to a predilection for highbrow cultural objects.