Death to the ‘guilty’ pleasure

It’s right there in the name, “guilty.” Sure, you can listen to this album, read this book, watch this movie, enjoy this TV show, or whatever, but you shouldn’t be proud of it. In fact, you should only enjoy it with a side of shame. And you know what? Maybe don’t even tell anyone about how you enjoy it, lest you spread your shameful thoughts across the world.

It’s such a stupid idea.

The concept of the guilty pleasure has always bugged me. The idea that “I like this thing, but feel as though others will judge me poorly for enjoying it,” is fucked up when you stop to think about it. It turns each of us into Frasier Crane types, locked into some specific fancy version of ourselves, gloating about our tickets to prestigious events and restaurants, when all we really want to do is eat double-decker tacos and watch RoboCop on the couch.

I imagine there’s a lot going on here, whether it’s in tying identity to what you enjoy, being worried about others doing so, or more abstractly, feeling as if venturing outside of your personal brand breaks the rules. “Oh I’m only into hardcore therefore this Taylor Swift song is a guilty pleasure,” or “Ah yes [twirls mustache] I do subscribe to the Criterion Channel and yet I find myself watching The Day After Tomorrow more often than 8 1/2.

It seems like there’s a sense of performance here too. For example, outfacing, one may present a copy of Infinite Jest as a sign of their intelligence (or whatever—I like DFW, but measuring your intelligence by the width of a book’s spine neglects just about everything that makes fiction interesting), instead of just ponying up to their love of whatever genre fiction floats their boat.

This performative nature is also what leads to gatekeeping in my head, too. Where someone takes it upon themselves to lock out other people from a community because they’re not enough of whatever it is. Nerds do this with nerd culture all the time. Music snobs do it with genres constantly, etc, etc, etc. These guilty pleasures don’t fit into a brand, can’t be allowed in, and those who like them must also be banished. Or at least made to feel guilty.

Or as Jawbreaker put it, “You’re not punk, and I’m telling everyone.”

As a shorthand “guilty pleasure” feels sleazy to me, and I’m going to try to remove it from my brain as best I can. I don’t know what’ll take its place, or how I’ll use it. I don’t know that it matters to anyone but me, but I’d like to at least allow myself to feel less guilty throughout the day.