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Fools and Their Tuition

A BBC feature writer without enough to think about worries that we’re losing bad movies.  [1] Excerpt:

In his Purdue University class on bad films, assistant professor Lance Duerfahrd [2]screens old science fiction movies, 1950s health-and-hygenie films and other poorly-produced films. They come complete with bad special effects, actors forgetting their lines and props missing from one cut to the next.

These obvious flaws can provide viewers with a different experience than that of a well-made movie.

“There’s some room for play and room for unexpected delights,” Mr Duerfahrd says. “Most films force-feed us.”

Wait, what? Do you know how much it costs to go to Purdue? If you live in state, $23,500; out-of-staters pay $42,500. If I were bleeding out that kind of money for my kid to go to Purdue, I would shoot his damn laptop if he signed up for a class about bad films. I mean, J.C. from Vicksburg [3]!

(I have officially become my father. Just so you know.)

43 Comments (Open | Close)

43 Comments To "Fools and Their Tuition"

#1 Comment By EngineerScotty On February 29, 2012 @ 1:05 am

Such a course MIGHT be worthwhile for someone studying film; though with Youtube its far easier to find examples of such material. As part of a core curriculum, probably not.

Not that this justifies the high sticker price of higher education these days…

#2 Comment By InterestedObserver On February 29, 2012 @ 1:08 am

What if your kid audited?

I am — very happily — a fan of entertainingly awful movies, which I find provide more honest comedic value that most intentional comedies, especially these days. And I speak as one that loves the English language comedic film continuum from Chaplin and the Marx Brothers to Monty Python to the present so it’s not like I’m wallowing in garbage as a conceptual protest. But said continuum also includes Mystery Science Theater 3000 and all it embodies, bless its heart. Now, does that mean there needs to be a class about it, I’m not sure, but there’s a certain pleasure in the experience which does seem to be…not unique to film as opposed to other artforms, but certainly strong regardless. Treating that experience in the context of larger film appreciation and study would be legit, but I’m not sure about a full class…

#3 Comment By Edward Hamilton On February 29, 2012 @ 1:21 am

I’ll let you work out the matter of the dissimilarities of your respective critiques in such a way that makes him uniquely a know-nothin’ as compared to you and Mark Shea, but I’ll at least comment that I wish Rick Santorum’s anti-academia rants were at least half as entertaining as yours!

#4 Comment By philosopher On February 29, 2012 @ 2:11 am

If you think that this course is just a bunch of folks sitting around giggling at bad videos, you’re probably more or less completely wrong. Just from the bits quoted in the article, it sounds like Prof. Duerfard has a well-worked out sense of how a lot of light can be shed on good films, and our experiences of watching and discussing them, by means of attending to bad films, and our experiences of watching and discussing them. It strikes me as a clever — and fun, but not _merely_ fun — way to teach various aspects of film theory, history, and appreciation.

Do you object to teaching film theory, history, and appreciation, period? If so, ok, that might be a matter for another debate. But if not, please recognize that your reaction here is basically unfounded.

For a totally awesome takedown of the “how can they waste our money teaching kids _that_?” genre, see

#5 Comment By Rod Dreher On February 29, 2012 @ 2:25 am

If you think that this course is just a bunch of folks sitting around giggling at bad videos, you’re probably more or less completely wrong. Just from the bits quoted in the article, it sounds like Prof. Duerfard has a well-worked out sense of how a lot of light can be shed on good films

Oh, I can believe that. Remember, I used to watch movies for a living, and most of them were either bad or mediocre. Watch enough stuff like that and you’ll learn something about why movies that work actually do. And I’m sure the class is a lot of fun. But really, if you only have four years to work on your undergraduate degree, do you really have time to waste on a class in bad film? Have you really exhausted all there is to learn from good film? When you have been through the Italian Neo-Realists, through the French New Wave, through the Golden Age of Hollywood, the American Western, through the 1970s Auteurs — just to name a few — then maybe you have time to waste analyzing crap.

Would you really think you were spending your time and money wisely to take a college class on the collected works of Robert James Waller instead of on Shakespeare, on Tolstoy, on Faulkner, etc.? I look back with regret on my failure in college to choose my classes more intelligently.

#6 Comment By JonF On February 29, 2012 @ 5:57 am

I don’t see anything wrong with taking a fun class (note the singular however). At the U of Mich we had to take three science courses outside our major (mine was physics). One of them I took was a “Practical Botany” class, which was a fun little class about gardening and what to do with the stuff one grows. Among other things it featured a “Natural. Foods Banquet” potluck, and wine and mead-making. I really can’t say I consider to have been a waste.

#7 Comment By Turmarion On February 29, 2012 @ 5:57 am

Well, Joel Hodgson managed to make a career of screening bad movies…. 😉

Without having a particular opinion on the class, I agree with the professor in general. So many movies are just so bad bad–and it seems that’s more so every year–that one gets nostalgic for entertainingly bad flicks. I think i’m gonna put some more MST3K episodes on my Netflix queue….

#8 Comment By Salamander On February 29, 2012 @ 6:08 am

I love me some vintage schlock, but I too would hit the roof if my kids wasted their overpriced tuition on a bad film class. That’s like a bad literature class in which you study terrible romance novels, or a bad food course in comparative McDonalds or something. Probably entertaining and no doubt an easy A, but there is plenty of worthwhile stuf. That needs to be studied instead.

#9 Comment By Salamander On February 29, 2012 @ 6:10 am

D’oh… Sorry for the typos in my comment. typing on an iPad is not conducive to accuracy.

#10 Comment By Jan Hus On February 29, 2012 @ 8:49 am

“Jesus Christ from Vicksberg!”


#11 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 29, 2012 @ 8:55 am

Rod, you’re looking at this through the lens of a liberal arts major. A science or engineering major frankly views humanities courses as a headache that will only hurt them in their major. So you’re always looking through the course catalog asking which course can fulfill requirements, but result in the least pain and hassle.

A bad sci fi films course sounds ideal, and I know from painful experience that existentialist literature or Shakespeare courses are a major mistake.

If you think this sounds narrow minded try taking Differential Equations, Physics III, and Shakespeare at the same time and see if you have any time left for sleep.

#12 Comment By Rob On February 29, 2012 @ 9:20 am

“philosopher” is really missing the broader point, which is that college curricula these days are stuffed with courses that have no value–certainly not practical value (in terms of ROI in a tangible sense), but also not philosophical value in the sense that they contribute to “soulcraft,” as it were, and to an holistic liberal arts education. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with watching bad movies, but there are better ways to invest one’s limited time in college. And remember: this professor is drawing a paycheck from the fine taxpayers of Indiana. Is he deserving of their generosity in this case?

Which is why I’m glad I opted not to take that course on romance novels being offered my freshman year…

#13 Comment By Bugg On February 29, 2012 @ 9:20 am

Wearing my hat as a tax attorney until April 15th gives me a glimpse into the tuition of many different schools.And I mena only tuition. When Obama or anyone calls for more student loan programs and guarantees, who’s bidding is he doing? It sure isn’t parents and students.

I’m not exactly heartbroken that one of out sons who is not academically-inclined this very day starts a union electrician apprentice program.

Full Year –

St. Francis College(Brooklyn)_$18,250
St. Joseph College(LI)-$12,500
Providence College-$42,750

#14 Comment By TT On February 29, 2012 @ 9:33 am

Take a looky:

Worthless: The Indispensable Guide to Choosing the Right Major

You can read a few pages at the Amazon site. Pretty relevant.

#15 Comment By TWylite On February 29, 2012 @ 9:37 am

Silly kids these days. Watching bad movies is what you do in your spare time in college. Class time is for sleeping or flirting.

#16 Comment By Peterk On February 29, 2012 @ 9:44 am

“(I have officially become my father. Just so you know”

it will only become worse over time, trust me I know

#17 Comment By RouletteRog On February 29, 2012 @ 9:46 am

Well, I’m majoring in mathematics, studying at one of the highest-ranked math departments in the world. American institutions having the liberal arts tradition that they do, I have several humanities and cultural classes required. This sounds like just the kind of lovely class that would require minimal brain power, freeing me up to spend more study time on Lebesgue measure and integration, differrentiation over normed vector spaces, group theory, etc… In other words, it sounds like the perfect “fluff” class to balance out a semester.

#18 Comment By Rob On February 29, 2012 @ 10:04 am

Yes, yes, we know: the engineers and mathematics students are smarter than everyone else, and can’t be bothered to condescend to the “fluffy” humanities.

What you’re missing is that the presence of “fluff” classes is, in the first place, an error. There should be no fluffy classes in a serious college curriculum, and liberal arts departments don’t exist so that math majors can expend as little brain power as possible on matters that do not pertain to their narrow, specialized interests.

#19 Comment By Dave D. On February 29, 2012 @ 10:06 am

More than anything you have written, I disagree with this. However, this depends on the teacher. Bad films when taught well teach a lot about filmmaking and Hollywood, and often have more interesting stories behind them.

For example, your teacher shows you the cheapie King of the Zombies, a bad monogram quickie directed by Yves Morand. You notice that despite the awful racism, the black character played by Mantan Moreland steals the show from the dull white characters. Then the teacher talks about his life, as a black actor and vaudeville performer, and segues into race and film in the 30s.

Or he shows you Gene Autry’s The Phantom Empire, an old serial that was written after the director being put under anaethesia for dental work, and how a very odd western science fiction serial anticipated a lot of modern filmmaking by breaking the fourth wall, and using surrealism and dream logic better than many surrealist films.

Or maybe he shows you some of Willam Castle’s films, and talks about how he tried, very shoddily to enhance films with physical gimmicks. That gives a lot of insight on theater culture back then, and he goes on to point out how other media use simiar tricks to boost immersion. The tingler as force feedback.

I’d much rather learn from that class than one where the professor drones on about how Chinatown was the greatest script ever written, or just regurgitates common thought on overnalyzed films. It’s too easy when focusing on the greats to teach people NOT to critically analyze or think about film, but just accept tradition and myth about them. I definitely agree people should be exposed to the greats, and as widely as possible, but bad film can also help to think critically and understand the art form.

Again, it’s very teacher-dependent though. If it’s a shoddy one, it’s worse than a waste.

#20 Comment By Steve On February 29, 2012 @ 10:13 am

This could be worthwhile if it gets into how these films stem from society and reflect undercurrents in culture and history and blah blah blah. I agree with philosopher: it seems like the guy has thought the class through and seems like he’s a good, thoughtful professor. This class could get students to think (always a good thing) and perhaps spark a greater interest in learning about movies and film history and that sort of thing and what was going on in cinema before the age of Michael Bay.

I’d be more concerned about a school having low-quality teachers and bad tenured professors who stay there forever. This is purely anecdotal, but I had a professor in a class on Hinduism and Buddhism storm into the class and spend 15 minutes screaming at us because he left his car on campus overnight and one of the windows got smashed. Then he stormed out. The next week, he spent 15 minutes apologizing to us. The guy was way, way past his prime but still held sway over the history and religious studies departments. Talk about a waste of money!

And, darn it, RateMyProfessors.com is down for maintenance right now. Wanted to check this Duerfahrd’s ratings.

#21 Comment By Lulu On February 29, 2012 @ 10:18 am

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
Hamlet [I.v]

O, reason not the need!
King Lear [II.iv]

Sounds like a fun class; still, I’d opt for some Shakespeare . . .

#22 Comment By Floridan On February 29, 2012 @ 10:22 am

Having taught introductory liberal arts courses as a graduate assistant, I never found that students who today would be called STEM majors did any better than other students in those courses.

#23 Comment By Brett R. On February 29, 2012 @ 10:26 am

…says the father with a kid only a few short years from starting college.

Oh come on Rod, who hasn’t taken a pointless class or two in college to fill out some general ed requirements? I think it would be a fun exercise for people to post about the most useless or ridiculous college class they took for credit towards a degree– one that they actually took, not just merely offered at their college.

#24 Comment By Noah Millman On February 29, 2012 @ 10:29 am

Rod: I don’t know how the course is taught, but I wonder whether it isn’t actually more practical, and more illuminating about how movies actually work, than a course about the great comedies of the 1940s or the great dramas of the 1970s would be.

They are still making bad movies, after all. My son recently saw “Mega Python Versus Gateroid” ( [5]) starring Tiffany and Debbie Gibson, at a sleepover at a friend’s house. Troma ( [6]) is still churning them out at a feverish pace. Ever heard of Tyler Perry? ( [7]) Do you think his films are, well, good? Like, as in “that was a good film” good?

But these films make money. And somebody has to make them. Somebody has to program them for the cable networks. Those somebodies should know what they’re doing.

A class that enabled people to appreciate schlock films sounds potentially more “craft”-y than “art”-y. That could be interesting, and I think you could make a credible for taking a course like this as part of a balanced curriculum. (As a side dish, of course, not the main event.)

#25 Comment By Joanna On February 29, 2012 @ 10:48 am

Yes, but sometimes a reaaaaallllllyyyy bad movie is so, so, good.

Buckaroo Bonzai anyone?

#26 Comment By RouletteRog On February 29, 2012 @ 10:55 am

Yes, it sounds cocky…and students of the more technical fields are well-known for snobbery. (None more so than budding mathematicians. John Derbyshire once had an excellent write up on the matter; xkcd had a humorous take, as well.) Anyways, I merely stated the blunt truth. (MH stated it much more gracefully.) My understanding is that humanities and non-technical students have similar thoughts about their math and science requirements. We have a sort of “math appreciation” course in the department for them.

Academia has gone to Hell in general, whether or not “fluff” classes should even exist is among the least of the problems.

#27 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 29, 2012 @ 10:59 am

Floridan, no shock there as the liberal arts courses are not the strength of a typical STEM major.

#28 Comment By BenSix On February 29, 2012 @ 11:24 am

Lance Duerfahrd is wrong. The past decade has seen the release of Tiptoes, The Wicker Man and, best of all, The Room – triptych of trash the likes of Ed Wood could only dream of. Thing is, smooth production can enhance bad movies. Their conceptual absurdity, ludicrous dialogue and cringeworthy performances seem all the funnier.

#29 Comment By Charles Cosimano On February 29, 2012 @ 11:30 am

In the immortal words of General Grant. “Whatever is in Vicksburg sir, you may rest assured that it is not Jesus Christ.”

#30 Comment By Rod Dreher On February 29, 2012 @ 11:31 am

Noah, I agree that exposure to bad movies can teach us how movies — including good ones — work. I said so in my original post. My objection is not that this course is useless, but that of all the film courses one could take, one would take a course in Bad Films. Shouldn’t it be more important to learn what a good film is before troubling oneself to explore shlock? The further I get from my undergraduate education, the more conscious I am of what a blessed, privileged time that was, and how badly I blew it. I didn’t take any courses like Bad Film, but I was fairly dilettantish about my courses. My favorite course in all four years was a survey course in Existentialism. It was a terrific class, and I don’t regret taking it. But I ended up with a philosophy minor without ever taking a class in Greek philosophy. I satisfied my minor by taking courses that my undergraduate mind thought were more engaging. I did the same thing with my poli sci minor. Result: I missed out on the fundamentals in so many ways, and boy, do I regret it.

I don’t have a problem with “Physics for Poets”-style classes, or, conversely, “English Lit for Engineers.” Not everybody is equally capable of learning all subjects at the same level. It still strikes me as a waste, even for engineering students, to waste a humanities elective in a Bad Films class, because it seems easy and fun. Why not offer a “Technology in Film: From ‘Metropolis’ to ‘Blade Runner'” survey course, for example? There is so very much one can do!

#31 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 29, 2012 @ 11:38 am

I briefly attended a college that showed such movies on Saturday nights at midnight. That is where and when they belong. Not in the curriculum.

#32 Comment By Dave D. On February 29, 2012 @ 12:51 pm

But a lot of “good” film bores your average core curriculum guy senseless. Don’t get me wrong, I love good film like nothing doing. The best college class I ever took was a foreign film class, but I always was an avid, intense watcher. But stick your average guy in front of Battleship Potemkin or Breathless, and it’s the equivalent of expecting people to get much out of reading the Pickwick Papers or Ulysses. They may trudge through it, but they wont learn. The ones that do are already invested into it.

I still think if taught well, it can be a good way of escaping the numbing deadness people get when confronted with great works. Call it “High School English” Syndrome. Get them seriously thinking and engaged with any type of film, and that will encourage them to try others. It can shock them out of the worshipful attitude people get around Great Art.

Maybe though teacher quality varies too much to allow such courses. But I can tell you, people who actually create are moved as much by bad films as good ones.

#33 Comment By W.E.B. Dupree On February 29, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

Unless I missed it, the article did not say how many credits or credit-hours the students were receiving for the course. I would guess it comes with relatively few units of course credit — something fun on the side for people who have a few units to spare. I went to film school at USC, and in addition to the “classic” film classes you might expect, there would be a few optional “special interest” classes per semester that were not always offered. A whole semester of Hitchcock, for instance, or “Blaxploitation and Kung Fu”. Fun stuff if you had the time.

I recall one ongoing debate at that time (mid-1990s) was whether a class titled “international film” should show foreign films that were highly regarded by Western critics (such as the films of Satyajit Ray (of India)), or films that were actually more typical/popular with the people of that country (Bollywood musicals), regardless of what critics thought of them.

As to whether watching movies is a good use of students’ time and tuition, all I can say is that at least I was there on a scholarship, and graduated debt-free.

#34 Comment By steve in ohio On February 29, 2012 @ 3:54 pm

“Jesus Christ from Vicksburg”


I love your blog and read it daily, but this phrase deeply offended me. I am an evangelical, but doesn’t your church also teach this is taking the Lord’s name in vain?

#35 Comment By Rod Dreher On February 29, 2012 @ 3:58 pm

You are right. Sorry about that. I’ll change the original.

#36 Comment By steve in ohio On February 29, 2012 @ 10:59 pm

I so appreciate that. I often do a terrible job living out the Christian faith, but I try hard on the Big Ten.

#37 Comment By Lord Karth On March 1, 2012 @ 3:36 am

Siarlys Jenkins writes: “I briefly attended a college that showed such movies on Saturday nights at midnight. That is where and when they belong. Not in the curriculum.

Time to get to the survival shelters, troops. SJ and I agree on something.

When I was an undergrad back in the 80s, I made it a point to take one class a semester “just for the heck of it”. Two of them were among the most interesting classes I ever took, and one was so off-the-wall funny (“The Physics of Toys”) that I walked out of each and every class grinning like an idiot.

I was also the one who paid for them all: part-scholarships and summer/school-year work. I made the choices, I paid for them. Which is the way it should be.

The thing is, all of those “just-for-the-heck-of-its” were actual classes, with real-world-related content. Soviet Government. Soviet Foreign Policy. (This was the mid-80s, remember.) Econ 505: Topics in Social Choice (a graduate-level seminar on public-choice theory and economic decision-making). “Bad Films” ? Those were strictly matters of what I took my girlfriend to on a weekend, not anything a “professor” might want to get paid for lecturing about.

Now go get to your shelters; I hear hoofbeats in the sky….

Your servant,

Lord Karth

#38 Comment By Matt On March 1, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

As someone who actually graduated from Purdue with a degree in Engineering, this class sounds like fun, but for the purposes of satisfying my general education requirements, it wouldn’t have been my first choice. An Engineering major at Purdue is required to take 18 hours (6 classes) of humanities classes. I took the AP test in American History in high school and passed out of 2 of those classes; but to get the credit, I had to take another class in the history department, and I chose the history of Europe between the world wars. Very interesting class, I recommend it. I then took Ethics (philosophy department) and two psychology classes. One was Abnormal Psychology – also very interesting and rather heavy at times.

My last psychology class would be considered by many to fall into the “fluff” category: Consumer Behavior, aka the Psychology of Advertising. . When I took it – the semester after being slammed for 20 hours of homework each week by my Dynamics class alone – I thought it was just going to be light entertainment. Believe it or not, I consider it one of the best classes I took. The knowledge I gained from this class has been amazingly useful to me in my adult life. Understanding the psychology of purchasing decisions can give you a big leg up on piercing through bureaucracy, dealing with salespeople, and understanding why I make the decisions I do. Given my experience, I’m inclined to say that one should probably reserve judgment on this class until they’ve spoken to someone who has actually taken it.

#39 Comment By Matt On March 1, 2012 @ 5:10 pm

Oh, BTW: As a point of reference, when I started at Purdue in 1986, in-state tuition was $800 per semester (no, that’s not a typo) and out-of-state was $2400.

#40 Comment By philosopher On March 1, 2012 @ 6:19 pm

Despite Rod’s own assertions to the contrary, lots of people are still assuming — on the basis of exactly _no_ evidence whatsoever — that this is a ‘fluff’ class. I promise you, as someone who often teaches in the humanities, and even sometimes on the arts, many is the STEM major who has come into my classroom expecting fluff, and many is the STEM major who has had his (inevitably his) arse completely kicked by the rigor of the material. If it did turn out that this class was just a matter of watching some goofy-bad films and yucking it up, then I agree: waste of money, waste of space in the curriculum. I very much doubt that’s what this is.

Let me say again, that this might be a very good way to learn about film more generally. In almost all informal logic courses, we spend a lot of time looking at _bad_ reasoning precisely to see how _good_ reasoning contrasts with it. Courses on design often spend a lot of time on failed designs. Would everyone have the same contempt for a military history course that focused on great military blunders in history? (I bet that such a course could be terrific.)

I think that some folks are operating with a flawed rubric for how to think about the value of any such course, by failing to attend to the overall question what should or shouldn’t be in a _total_ set of course offerings, or in a student’s _total_ set of courses they take. E.g., Rod writes: “My objection is not that this course is useless, but that of all the film courses one could take, one would take a course in Bad Films.” One obvious flaw here is that, who said that everyone taking this class is only taking one class on film, and this is it? If they are a film, or literature, or many other sorts of art majors, then likely they’ve got a bunch of courses that either focus on film or substantially involve it. A whole lot of the courses in the catalog (probably a large majority of course offerings, in fact) are not there as one-off electives, but to give a broad & deep set of offerings for majors.

Second, even if someone is taking only one course in film, there are numerous ways in which this could be an appropriate course for them. Here are two that come right to mind, but I bet more could be devised. First, if someone is primarily a social sciences student, and is interested in the world of social media, which very much includes the youtube and DIY visual culture, then this course could be directly relevant to one’s course of study, in a way that would not be true of a course on spectacularly good films that don’t reach a broad audience. Second, if someone is indeed looking for an interesting elective, but just has no appetite for great art-cinema, but who spends a fair amount of time (like so many of us do) watching not-so-good videos, then that person might never take a “Les Auteurs: Hitchcock, Fellini, and Lynch” course, but might well take — and learn a great deal from, and grow in terms of their visual sensibilities — a course like the one under discussion here.

#41 Comment By philosopher On March 1, 2012 @ 6:48 pm

One further thought: it is relevant to the value of this course that the instructor, Prof. Duerfahrd, clearly thinks he’s got something interesting & valuable to say on the topic. You will almost always learn something of value from a course taught by an excited, committed faculty member teaching on the material that they love. A smart curriculum not just teaches to what is, abstractly & generally, ‘of value’, but also makes good use of the particular resources that the instructional staff has to offer.

#42 Pingback By Treasuring Trash… « Back Towards The Locus On March 4, 2012 @ 6:44 pm

[…] movies – which, of course, refers to films that are “so bad they’re good”. Rod Dreher’s got a point in questioning the value of the subject in the academia but, hell, I’m such a […]

#43 Comment By Cass On July 17, 2012 @ 9:09 pm

As a current student studying Film and Video Studies at Purdue, I can tell you for a fact that Lance teaches anything but “easy fluff” classes. He is a maniac, in the best kind of way.