Sconce, Jeffery. "Trashing’ the academy: Taste, Excess and an Emerging Politics of Cinematic Style." Screen 36. 4 (1995).
Sconce immediately defines taste by reflecting on Pierre Bourdieu’s assessment that one’s taste is very much linked to what one similarly rejects. Therefore ‘bad taste’ very much depends on perspective, and what one dispels is a definitive act. The author then reflects on the culture that surrounded a hand full of fanzines such as Zontar, Subhuman, Trashola and Pandemonium and the cinematic subculture that they perpetuated. Sconce categorizes these films as being ‘paracinema’ and states that, “Paracinema is thus less a distinct group of films than a particular reading protocol, a counter-aesthetic turned subcultural sensibility devoted to all manner of cultural detritus” (372). This category of cinema rejects all that is mainstream and champions the deprived, the dirty and the disgusting. Unlike ‘camp’, which Susan Sontag states works within the system, the paracinema 'movement' aggressively puts into question common cinematic practices and attempts to redefine cinematic ‘art’ and is said to be “an aesthetic of vocal confrontation” (374).
Those who most vehemently participate in this subculture not only oppose the mainstream but even move to vilify the institutionalization of high art and the “cultural and economic elites” (374). Through fanzines (and today through message boards and blogs) these fans often clash about the sincerity and legitimacy of some ‘trash’ subcultures and communities. This is perhaps because the influential aesthetic of trash cinema and its politics have seeped into many different kinds of cinema. This is most obvious when one reflects on the institutionalization of many paracinema genres into museums and the sale of these underground films in big chain stores.
Films studies has also come to slowly accept paracinema into its ranks with more and more academics admitting to their seedy guilty pleasures and studying them academically. Sconce borrows Bourdieu’s term “autodidact” to help position paracinema’s audience and how they challenge the authority of both educational institutions and culture. The autodidact, "Is a figure alienated from the legitimate mode of educational and cultural acquisitions. Estranged or excluded from legitimate modes of acquisition, autodidacts invest in alternative forms of cultural capital, those not fully recognized by the educational system and new cultural elite" (Sconce 379). The disenfranchised are far from the regular institution and for many academics the low brow can represent “a final textual frontier” (379) to explore. This is said to demonstrate a struggle over the cinematic canon between legitimate scholarship and what should be ignored.
Sconce then sets out to reflect on this relationship and elaborate on what academia can gain from reflecting on paracinema culture and its aesthetic of excess. Fans of paracinema are more conscious readers of the cinematic text because they actively reject the common Hollywood style and look beyond the normal narrative form. They, “use excess as a gateway to exploring profilmic and extratextual aspects of the filmic object itself” (387). The trash cinema fan differs from academic in that they pay especial attention to the “non-diegetic aspects of the image” (387). Ed Wood’s work is then explored as an example of how trash film fans read underground films in an extra-textual manner.
The audience is forced outside of a casual reading of the cinematic text through excess. The author draws from Kristin Thompson's essay "The Concept of Cinematic Excess" stating that the sheer excess of trash cinema points to the secondary role of narrative and encourages the reader to think critically about the extratextual. The author then states that the critical reception of trash cinema is a matter of taste and taste is, itself, simply a social construction. The rise of the study of trash cinema is said to signal a rise in an aesthetic of deviance and new appreciation for a radical and revolutionary kind of academia.
Thompson, Kristin. “The Concept of Cinematic Excess.” From Braudy, Leo, and Marshall Cohen. Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, 513-524