Birdemic and questionable feelings of Schadenfreude

John Dyck and Matt Johnson have considered the idea of the massive failure account in regards to our enjoyment of good-bad art. We are attracted to these artistic failures as they produce a comic bizarreness that derives from the unsuccessful attempt to produce good art. Present, is the moral dilemma associated with schadenfreude, whereby our ability to derive pleasure from someone’s misfortune becomes associated with narcissism. However I contend that in some instances of good-bad art, schadenfreude is unavoidable and negative moral implications may be void as our enjoyment is short-lived.

Birdemic is one such example of an artistic failure that possesses many bizarre production qualities that have us questioning the true intentions of the filmmaker. Written and directed by James Nguyen, the hilariously awful “horror” essentially takes full inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. With poor editing, bad acting, a cheesy cliched plot and shocking CGI, Birdemic might project the appearance of a farcical spoof. Yet, when we understand that the director’s intention was to create a thrilling spectacle of artistic merit, we can not help but laugh at the opposite outcome. The film can not be commended for any cinematic aspects but nonetheless successfully draws our attention through its uncanny nature.

Whilst it can be morally challenging to claim that enjoyment has arisen from the failure of James Nguyen, I believe it is the single factor contributing to any appeal. As John Dyck and Matt Johnson have suggested, the schadenfreude may not be morally problematic as we can detach ourselves from the artist with the enjoyment being ‘impersonal’. I believe this to be the case with Birdemic, as our vested interest in the failure of the film comes from being exposed to quality art and making sub-conscious comparisons to other works of value. The appearance of unrealistic, cartoon-like birds flying in a real space, has us automatically drawing upon our exposure to well-done CGI in other films. The enjoyment in this artistic disaster, might not be necessarily problematic as it has a one-time freakish appeal. One viewing was personally enough for myself as I had experienced curiosity followed by cringe and had no intentions of putting myself through that again, despite finding it humorous. I do agree that feelings of schadenfreude are derived, however the enjoyment comes from the initial exposure and can be uncomfortable to experience again. Therefore the amusement can not be associated with malicious or narcissistic intent, just natural response.

This YouTube clip sarcastically shows a compilation of the ‘Greatest Moments’ in Birdemic, showing highlights of particularly badly-made scenes.



John Dyck and Matt Johnson, ‘Appreciating Bad Art’ In The Journal of Value Inquiry, 279-292. Springer Science+ Business Media, 2017

James, Nguyen., Dir. Birdemic: Shock and Terror. 2010. United States: Moviehead Pictures


  1. Your counteraction to Dyck and Johnson’s account on schadenfreude in relation to good-bad art is definitely a more comfortable one, as it suggests the experience of schadenfreude is to an extend impersonal. However, it makes me think of spectatorial experiences when the failure aspect of badness makes the spectator feel bad, yet the bizarrness can still be appreciated as it is a product of failure and in not failure in itself. When I watched Birdemic, I experienced tender discomfort. I propose that the experience of schadenfreude is not determined by the artwork itself.

  2. I think your blog testisies to diversity of the way artistic failures are experienced; some viewers may have a sense of enjoying the failure in itself, while some others, like myself, might not. Since some viewers can enjoy bad films while some cannot, individual differences already seem to affect the enjoyment of bad films. As Rebeka wrote, the experience of schadenfreude might not be determined by the artwork itself – instead, maybe it is just an individual difference. Maybe bound to empathy, already often mentioned as a factor that enables the experience of comedy?

  3. I found your post fascinating, particularly the idea of ‘impersonal’ schadenfreude, when considered within the context of Birdemic’s sequel. Birdemic 2 was James Nguyen’s attempt at a self conscious parody of his own work. The sequel was not well received in large part because it was perceived as disingenuous. This would suggest that failure must be perceived as sincere to be funny. Does knowing that the director (kind-of) embraced the meme change your viewing experience?

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