Sturgeon’s Law

Sturgeon’s Law is an adage that states “Ninety percent of everything is crud.” It is attributed to science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon, who said it in response to numerous attacks on sci-fi’s literary merit by people who used terribly-written books as examples to prove their point.

What he was trying to say was that yes, there is crud, but in everything, not just sci-fi.  If everything contains a certain percentage of awesome, then what’s left must be crud.  If you apply the Law to current films, it’s pretty hard to find gems among all the floaters out there in that great big Hollywood Bowl, which kind of proves Mr. Sturgeon right.

Why do people read / watch crud?

I’m not saying there’s anything WRONG with it.  Some people might think when my books get published that they’re crud. They’re entitled to their opinion.  If I could make a boatload of money writing crud, I probably won’t care that much.  But I’d like to produce something worthwhile while I’m at it.

Why do people buy it?

I’m not completely sure myself, but I’ll take a stab at it.  I think there are several reasons.

1.  It’s entertaining.

Campy crud TV shows are hilarious.  Movies too.  Who hasn’t watched a terrible horror film with a ridiculous monster and improbable story and howled with laughter?  It’s fun.  Even more enjoyable is making sport of the movie after you’ve seen it.   A cruddy novel is a rip to pick apart too.  Witness all the sites making fun of Twilight.  And some crud, done cleverly as satire, makes fun of us.  Example:  Idiocracy’s portrayal of a dystopian society as the result of the dumbing-down of America.

2.  It’s familiar.

Usually crud relies on tropes everyone has seen a thousand times.  A valiant dog.  The innocent child walking unknowingly into danger.  The misunderstood villain.  A hooker with a heart of gold.  The valiant dog rescues the innocent child from the misunderstood villain and changes the life/outlook of the hooker with the heart of gold, and then dies.  Always prettily—never in a mangled heap of flesh by the side of the road.

3.  It doesn’t require any thought.

At the end of the day, after leaving their soul-murdering, life-sucking slogging jobs, people are tired.  They want a bit of entertainment they don’t have to think about, without deep moral quandaries or philosophical implications.  All they want is a cold root beer, a taco and a bit of escapism.

4.  It makes them feel smarter.

When you watch a movie or read a novel where everyone is a complete idiot, doesn’t it make you feel smarter by comparison?  Let’s say the hero’s flunky hears the zombie gurgle from the locked broom closet, and instead of leaving and setting the house on fire, he opens it.  You yell, “Don’t open that door!” Or you think, “I would never do that!”  And because he’s the flunky, you figure he’s going to die.  If he’s wearing a red shirt, you know it.  You might even think “I can do better than that.”

If you can, get cracking!

For writers, it’s pretty frustrating to work like hell on something crafted to be clever and original and engaging, meticulously edit it, flawlessly present it, and still lose out to another brainless marketing trend.  I can only imagine what screenwriters are going through right now.

Don’t feel bad if you enjoy a bit of crud now and then.  I myself have a taste for old B-movies, horror in particular.  It Came from Beneath the Sea, Bucket of Blood, The Fly (1958), all great fun.  I can still appreciate Mr. Sturgeon’s fine writing and that of Emile Zola, Mark Twain and the poetry of Shelley and Dickinson.

What’s your favorite crud TV show / movie / book?  Why?  And what’s your favorite “smart” material?  Please share in the comments.

6 thoughts on “Sturgeon’s Law

  1. My favorite guilty pleasure on tv is ‘Everybody Loves Jim’. Come on, Jim is so stupid, it’s hilarious. (thereby proving your point that I feel smarter when compared to him!)

    My smart tv show is Friday Night Lights, because they can take a theme that’s been done a hundred times on tv, and not go down the same path.

    • I’ve seen “Jim” but not “Lights.” I have to say a favorite stupid movie is “Total Recall.” It is so ridiculous it cracks me up every time. “COHAGEN!! GIB DESE PEE-PUHL AYAHHH!”


    • I think I read “On the Beach.” I remember thinking that was the most depressing thing I’d ever read in my entire life, but it was really, really GOOD. It taught me that not every story has to have a happy, Hollywood ending.

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