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Psych Geeks: Why Bad Movies Make Us Feel So Good

Justina Mintz/A24 via AP
Golden Globe Award-winner James Franco in a scene from "The Disaster Artist."

It's awards season in Hollywood, a time to celebrate the best the film industry has to offer. As for the other end of the cinematic spectrum—bad movies—well, they're always in season, and always fresh. No matter how much they stink.

Midnight movies, guilty pleasures, cult classics ... whatever you call them, they're films so bad they're good and we can't get enough of them. Witness the success of "Mystery Science Theater 3000," a long-running comedy series that's now available on Netflix that brought talking back to bad movies into the mainstream.

Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Psych Geeks Scott Jordan, left, and Eric Wesselmann recognize the importance of bad movies in our lives.

But what makes celluloid cheese so delicious? From 1959's "Plan Nine From Outer Space" to 2003's "The Room," the sheer awfulness is irresistible to many movie lovers. Even actor and director James Franco can't resist. He just picked up a Golden Globe Award for his performance in "The Disaster Artist," a film based on the life of the man who created "The Room," a film so ghastly it's been dubbed The "Citizen Kane" of Bad Movies.

GLT's Psych Geeks, Eric Wesselmann and Scott Jordan, discovered the joys of bad movies in their teens. Now they're professors of psychology at Illinois State University who still get a kick out of movies that stink.

Wesselmann said the real appeal of these films can be traced to our desire to share the viewing experience with others as we lob withering comments at the screen.

"If I did watch the movie by myself, I felt compelled to share it with others. I don't want to lend it to someone and say 'Here, tell me what you think." No, I want to sit there with them and enjoy our reaction synergistically." 

Credit Laura Kennedy / WGLT
Psych Geeks Eric Wesselmann (L) and Scott Jordan are unabashed fans of bad movies.

Jordan credits the advent of the VCR with helping create the atmosphere of group watching and riffing on movies.

"Once people could watch movies as many times as they wanted to, watching movies became a different thing. The ability to consume it over and over again gave rise to a culture of recursively consuming it, which creates its own kind of culture and it becomes normalized and a new form of social behavior."

Watching bad movies and riffing on the content with a group of friends is a bonding ritual, said Wesselmann.

"It's collective hilarity. We get together and we laugh, and we know from psychological literature that laughing bonds us to those who are around us. And it doesn't just forge connections. For some people, it becomes an identity issue. We are fans of lots of things, sports team, bands and so on. And some people relish in the fact that they love badness."

And it's only a guilty pleasure if you fell guilty for enjoying it.

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Reporter, content producer and former All Things Considered host, Laura Kennedy is a native of the Midwest who occasionally affects an English accent just for the heck of it. Related to two U.S. presidents, Kennedy appalled her family by going into show business.