Defining Guilty Pleasures

Posted: January 15, 2015 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

In Tricia Lunt’s most recent piece on the Flaneur’s Turtle, she defined guilty pleasures like so:

What makes a pleasure (or preference) guilty? It must be common, low (as in the equally problematic and xenophobic term “low brow”), or beneath us. It is most certainly not good. At best, it may be kitsch, or is it camp? In order for a pleasure to be a guilty one, we must sense that the thing itself—usually some artifact associated with pop culture—is somehow bad. Maybe we might even like it because it is bad.

At first glance, I agreed completely with her definition, particularly since it fits my most immediate personal example of a guilty pleasure: The Celebrity Apprentice.

I can’t get enough of that show. There’s just something mesmerizing about watching D-Level celebrities fight to extend their 15 minutes of fame while trying to prove that they can be semi-functioning humans by completing simple tasks like selling a pie or creating a magazine spread. And I like to marvel at how Donald Trump and his sons can be so ugly, while his daughter is so damn hot.

"One of these things is not like the others...."

Punnett squares can yield fascinating results….

When I’m watching the show, I’m happy, but I’m also looking around my living room to see if anyone is spying on me with judging eyes. I know the show is absurd, trashy TV, but I love it.

As I poked around my mind for other personal examples of guilty pleasures, I began to question if some of them fit the definition, which led me to believe that Tricia’s definition needs some expansion.

Guilty pleasures do not necessarily have to be low brow, but they must be self-identified. Also, guilty pleasures are contextual.

By self-identified, I mean that we have to feel guilty and ashamed of something for it to qualify as a guilty pleasure. People cannot dictate that something we like be a guilty pleasure.

For example, among the many drinks I like, I’m also fond of “girl drinks.” I have no problem ordering a martini or margarita or any other drink that may be frozen, fruity, or pink. Friends don’t say a word if I have a beer in hand, but I’ve had plenty of friends tease me about how much I love girly drinks. But I don’t care. I like those drinks and I’m not ashamed. So, friends can tease me or be embarrassed to be sitting at the same table with me. However, if I’m not ashamed, then that drink isn’t a guilty pleasure.

But if I was ashamed, those drinks wouldn’t be low brow. Any drink over $10 with top shelf liquor is a far cry from a PBR. Thus, guilty pleasures don’t have to be low brow.

Guilty pleasures are also contextual.

Right now, I love the popular Bruno Mars/Mark Ronson song “Uptown Funk.” It’s like Bruno is channeling The Time and James Brown. It’s such a great song, and I’m willing to tell anyone I like it.

Most of the time, anyway.

I'd still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I'm not guilty about.

I’d still take The Time over Prince, which is another thing I’m not guilty about.

I was at my gym the other day, and as I stepped off the treadmill to head to the weights, “Uptown Funk” started blasting in my earbuds. Were I at home, in the office, in a bar, or around friends, I’d probably have started bouncing my head along, if not full-on singing and dancing. But I was in a large open space full of dudes lifting heavy stuff and I was joining their numbers. I immediately turned down my music, fearing that if a single funky note escaped my earbuds, the gaggle of protein powder gulping power lifters would all drop their Olympic weight bars to escort me out of the building for not being manly enough.

In other words, in a particular context, I became ashamed of something I wouldn’t otherwise be ashamed about.

So, there you have it – I’ve amended the definition. And now that I’ve clarified all of this, I’m going to go listen to Bruno while I have a margarita swirl. And I won’t feel guilty at all.

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