I love trash.
I’m a trash roomba
I lurk across the floor of dramaland ready to suck up trashy shows whenever I’m lucky enough to find them.
Why do I like trash so much? And while we’re at it, what even is trash? How do you define trash?
I think it says something that good trash, like good art, defies description. You just know it when you see it.
I may not know much about trash but I do know what I like.
First and foremost, trash has to be fun. It can’t be boring. About Time, for example, was bad trash because it was boring trash. Even the actors looked bored. About Time was one long, unfolding realisation that everyone was stuck in a bad drama and there was nothing they could do about it. Good trash doesn’t know it’s trash or it at least embraces its trashiness with glee.
Risky Romance? Blood? Even Trot Lovers? These are various forms of good trash.
But my love of trash predates Korean dramas by several decades. At Uni, I would celebrate the end of my exams with trashy romance novels. When I was unwell, I would inhale bad sci/fantasy television.
To this day, my favourite piece of trash is the Sci-Fi Channel’s hilariously awful 2007 reimagining of Flash Gordon. Never heard of it? No one has. My brother gave it to me to watch when I was recovering from dental surgery and – maybe it was the drugs – but I loved it. Every cringey awful second of it. It even ended on a cliffhanger but with only three people watching it a second season was never going to happen.
To this day when I’m feeling unwell out comes Flash Gordon. Sure I fast forward through at least the first six episodes (and any time they decide we might want to know what’s happening back on Earth – we don’t). But this is great trash, people. This is a comic book meets a gay floor show meets pulp fiction. This is bad actors running around cheap sets in funny outfits while extras plucked from the local weightlifting circuit pretend to be birds in the background or run around painted blue.
So what makes Flash Gordon good trash while other similarly-bad shows are just trash? For a start, underneath all the silly there’s quite a good, quite an interesting story going on here. Flash Gordon isn’t a hero in this so much as an impetus. He’s a stone thrown into a pond that then ripples out. Everyone loves him, of course, and he’s the ultimate walking American Ideal. But this Flash does nothing alone. If anything, his main skill is inspiring people to act themselves and bringing them together. Flash isn’t Mongo’s Great White Saviour, Flash just believes that Mongo can save itself and so the people of Mongo eventually do too.
Nobody yells out, “Flash I love you but we only have 14 hours to save the Earth”. They’re more likely to yell, “I have Flash’s support in my quest to save Mongo”.
It’s an extremely appealing subversion of the usual superhero tropes. Flash doesn’t save the day and get the girl. Flash is there supporting and nurturing those who save the day and is willing to let the girl make her own decisions about these things, after all she’s been through a lot. Also his love interest is the weakest character and the weakest actor and I kind of hated her so I was glad the romance thing never loomed large.
But there it is, Flash is a nice guy but never a Nice Guy. He was never bothered with strong women kicking ass and saving the day, if anything he admired them for it. His best friend in Mongo is a better fighter and he thinks she’s awesome. His other best friend is smarter than him and he thinks he’s awesome. His ex seems to have moved on but is doing well and he’s genuinely happy for her. And his eye rolling frustrations with the crazy of Mongo were kind of funny, even if Eric Johnston was never the world’s greatest actor.
So maybe good trash is just trash that makes you want to watch it despite it being trash. Maybe it’s just a show that draws you in even with its trashiness. Maybe you have your own type of “good trash” just as everyone has their own type of “good art”.
But for me, I unabashedly admit that I love trash.