A Small Encyclopedia of Trash

A street-plan for Trash City

It’s impossible to say what it is about trash that appeals to me, but I’d still like to have a go. Trash is not even really definable, it’s more of a feeling than a physical thing; the churning in your stomach when the music in a horror film changes to ‘Here comes a gory bit!’, the guilty pleasure you feel when you read a book that you know will never win the Booker Prize, the itching in your groin when your favourite actress appears and you KNOW she’s gonna take her clothes off SOMETIME in this movie — all this, and more is the nature of Trash. To help the beginner to recognise it, here are some simple guidelines that you may care to bear in mind when you are looking for a bit of low—life.

  1. Trash is where you find it. One man’s trash is another man’s garbage.  The rules are, there are no rules. And other such cliches, all of which mean that it’s all up to YOU — don’t expect me to give you a nice box marked ‘Trash’! Some people wouldn’t consider Nastassja Kinski a trash actress. To each their own…
  2. Trash is fun. The one thing that links all aspects of trash together is that their main goal is to entertain. Of course, it may well be a rather strange definition of ‘entertainment’, covering death by chainsaw as well as more normal areas like excitement, adventure, and romance. If it ain’t fun, it ain’t trash.
  3. Trash is cheap. The odds of something being trash are roughly in proportion to how little money is spent on it. High-budget trash is possible (the James Bond films are a good example), but people will tend to expect more of a thing that’s noticeably had money put into it.
  4. Trash is popular. It appeals to the lowest common denominator, to peoples’ baser instincts, to the Neanderthal in all of us. Trash can’t hope to survive on ‘artistic merit‘ alone — it has to rely on sales.  Trash can not, however, be too popular or it gets sucked into the main-stream inhabited by “Terry & June” and nothing deserves THAT fate.
  5. Trash is escapist. Trash is not concerned with the problems of life, such as earning a living, buying a home or having 2.3 kids. It’s a chance to escape from the humdrum routine to a world inhabited by fantasy creatures — a strange mix of handsome secret agents, beautiful nymphomaniac school-girls, demons from hell and aliens from Mars. Quite a Nice Place really!
  6. Trash is ‘decadent’. Probably due to its escapist nature, there does seem to be quite a lot of sex in trash. Of course, sex is also pretty cheap if you compare it with other ways of filling the screen, no costumes or props being necessary. Sex is still pretty popular, too.
  7. Trash is in ‘poor taste’. Hype and publicity are the life-blood of trash – there’s nothing like a good-going controversy, or an MP saying “this book/film/song is the sickest thing I’ve ever read/seen/heard”.  Trash is very good at galloping rough-shod over peoples‘ sensibilities, and breaking taboos, if for no other reason than it makes good commercial sense.
  8. Trash is not to be taken seriously. Always remember that the purpose is to entertain; if you go to see “The Rocky Horror Show” expecting to see some sophisticated wit and political satire, you may well end up being disappointed.
  9. Trash is unpretentious. Not only should it not be taken seriously, it should never give the impression that it should be. Trash just presents itself and says “Here I am, enjoy me”, with no great statements about how artistic it is.
  10. It’d be nice to have another one, to give us a “Ten Commandments of Trash” but I’m afraid I can’t think of a tenth one! 

Time to quit talkin’ and start chalkin’, by getting down to some examples.  Let’s begin in the world of films, possibly the most fertile area for trash. Certain areas are almost Total Trash, with many horror movies being prime examples, serving up ninety minutes of gratuitous violence, special effects and occasionally nudity too, to take the audience on a flight into the dark realms of their minds (provide your own sick bags).

“When in doubt, gross ‘em out” seems to be the motto of many of the directors, some of whom have gone on to achieve fame, at least in certain circles (Stuart Gordon, Sam Raimi) and a few are now recognised as masters in their own right (Jacques Tourneur, Terence Fisher). The same is true of their creations — everyone knows Christopher Lee as Dracula, and Freddie Krueger is rapidly becoming as much a part of America as Mom & apple pie. Some actors and actresses do very little else but Trash films, Linnea Quigley probably being the leading lady: she even played a character called Trash. 

The sexploitation film, where the plot is little more than an excuse to see pretty girls with minimal clothing, is less popular than it was, no doubt partly due to AIDS. Films like the Lemon Popsicle series and Porky’s, aimed at those not quite old enough to get in to see them, always seemed to promise more than they actually delivered! Films like “9 1/2 Weeks” still attract an audience; they will no doubt be made for as long as there are people willing to go and see them. 

As a general rule, avoid any film that gets an Oscar nomination (unless it’s for special effects) — this means they have been taken SERIOUSLY, and you’re likely to be in for a dull evening. 

There are a huge number of trash books published each year – if anything, they are even more popular than trash films. Romances, westerns, spy books, Science Fiction & Horror are all gold-mines of Trash; since I’d guess that over 75% of books read in this country are purely for pleasure, the success of trash becomes quite understandable. As in all areas, a variety of trash to suit all tastes is on offer, ranging from the soft(ish)-porn of Jackie Collins to the splatter of Shaun Hutson, via the literate trash of Fredrick Forsyth. 

As ever though, the establishment refuses to recognise any popular authors the odds of Robert Heinlein getting the Nobel prize for literature are not a lot worse now he’s dead than they were when he was alive. 
Rather than go on listing trash, it’ll be quicker to give the areas that are trash deserts, normally because people take them a bit too seriously.  Politics and religion are almost trash-free, probably because they are so dull – however, occasionally a politician will slip a little bit beyond the limits of good taste. Ilona Staller, the Italian porn star turned MP, has made herself an international reputation out of this sort of thing — if you saw her appearance on “The Last Resort”, you’ll know what I mean. 

Another example, not so much of slipping beyond the limits as leaping over them with the agility of a startled gazelle, was the recent speech by the Speaker of the German Parliament. He said Hitler’s early years were “a triumphal procession” and “glorious” for many Germans, as well as that Hitler had restored German pride and that many Germans had thought the Jews deserved to be put in their place. It was supposed to be in inverted commas but such bad taste could not go unpunished and, not surprisingly, he had to resign… 

As a handy, cut-out—and-keep guide, here’s a table giving some examples of trash and non—trash, in a variety of categories. The non—trash fails to qualify either because it’s too “good” to be trash, or because it is too “bad” to be trash; the technical term for the latter is “garbage”. 

TV Sitcoms
Cop Series, American
Cop Series, British
Soap Opera, American
Soap Opera, British
Singers, Female
Singers, Male
Holiday resorts
‘Allo, ‘Allo
The Equalizer
Dempsey & Makepeace
Crossroads (RIP)
Transvision Vamp
Rutger Hauer
Pia Zadora
John Carpenter
Salvador Dali
Hill Street Blues
The Bill
Coronation Street
Kylie Minogue
Michael Jackson
Dire Straits
Jack Nicholson
Meryl Streep
Richard Attenborough
Pablo Picasso

This is a fun party game, that can provoke hours of argument over who is, and who is not, trash — I’m sure you may well disagree with some of the names above. The border between trash/non—trash can be a very thin one – what makes Tiffany trash, but not Kylie? Perhaps it’s the former‘s quite endearingly original habit of singing in shopping malls, or maybe I’m just a sucker for a seventeen year old… 

This is the trash universe. Have fun. 

Ten Possible Titles for that Film you Never Made.
  1. Bloodthirsty Droolythings
  2. Night of the Nympho Nymphettes
  3. Zombie Dinner Party
  4. Invasion of the Icky Monsters
  5. The Texas ‘My Little Pony‘ Massacre
  6. Slaughterhouse Schoolgirls
  7. Schoolgirl Slaughterhouse
  8. Anything with the word ‘Chainsaw’ in it
  9. It came from Beneath the Duvet
  10. Wild Sorority Girls of Planet Playtex (with thanks to Bloom County!)

Italian TV

I was talking to our Italian correspondent (OK, a girl I used to know who is now working over near Florence as a student teacher) about Italian TV — in the current debate over de-regulation, it’s often held up as a warning about what might happen here. However, she told me that among the films she’s seen on TV over there are “The Fly”, “Hellraiser” and “Dawn of the Dead”, all uncut and on at about 8 p.m. Don’t know about you, but I’d be quite willing to suffer quite a few hours of soap operas and games shows if we got a few films like THOSE on!