Posts Tagged ‘Guilty pleasures’

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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GuiltyPleasuresby Tricia Lunt, English faculty

To escape embarrassment, I might pretend indifference, but more often than not, I will succumb to my guilty pleasures.

I feel slightly self-conscious while watching ANTM, that’s America’s Next Top Model for those in the know. And yet, however unfortunate it may be, I still like watching the models complain and cry in response to their often inane make-overs. I like watching Tyra Banks behave as though she single-handedly runs the modeling industry. I like the exotic and moronic photo shoots because they remind me just how artistically complicated and compelling an advertisement for lip gloss can be, and just how artificial every little bit of what we consider beautiful or stylish or artistic is. The taste makers might very well be telling an elaborate joke. Every time we buy in, we serve up the punch line. Just ask the emperor’s tailor.

Another seriously guilty pleasure back for another season is Downton Abbey. I am devotee, so much so that actually put the date and time of the premiere on my calendar. Despite the fact that it airs on PBS, via the BBC, high art it ain’t. The use of mythological (sword of Damocles, anyone?) and literary references (this week’s shout-out to Jane Austen’s masterpiece Pride and Prejudice) can’t conceal the bodice ripping underneath. Posh accents, opulent rooms, and rich costuming aside, it is a soap opera.

badtasteWhat 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.

The “guilty pleasure” leads is to an investigation of and interrogation of taste. Good taste pretends to dictate a hierarchy. Certain things like bad television, schlocky pop songs, unconvincing actors might be popular, but they are not what we know to be good.

My friend and artist Matthew Schlagbaum explores the nature of “good taste” in his work. A book he’s consulted Let’s Talk about Love: A Journey to the End of Taste has some interesting things to say about Celine Dion’s worldwide popularity. Like any true artist, Matt reminds me to contemplate ideas and draw my own conclusions rather than relying on external judgments.

Countless television programs, songs, and films are dismissed as crap, but remain beloved nonetheless. Good or not, we know what we like.