People consume cultural products for pleasure. Music, films, television, literature, visual art, video games— these things wouldn’t exist if their goal weren’t to provide us with a heightened sense of joy or a greater appreciation for life.
That said, I find the concept of the “guilty pleasure” to be one the most trite, annoying and unforgivable clichés in our cultural lexicon.
Obviously, self-consciousness and insecurity drive our need to constantly make excuses for the things we like. That’s because—whether we’re prepared to admit it or not—our tastes are far more associated with class, status and/or intellectual proclivity than they should be.
The guilty pleasure rears its head when one realizes that they shouldn’t like something because it reflects negatively on the image they have of themselves as being smart, interesting, “cool,” etc. As Rob (John Cusack), the record store owner in High Fidelity so accurately notes, “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like. Books, records, films—these things matter. Call me shallow, but it’s the truth.”
For example, engaging in conversation with a film scholar only to reveal your deep appreciation for the romantic comedy Failure to Launch will probably result in you being ostracized not only from conversations about movies with that person, but pretty much from any sort of social interaction with them ever again. Shallow? Yes. But it happens.
Let’s look at it from a different angle. If the worth of a cultural product were simply measured by its popularity in the marketplace, “good taste” would be defined by the average consumer.
The vast majority of Americans don’t seem to be all that concerned with feeling guilty about their tastes. Do people who frequent Applebee’s or T.G.I.
Friday’s refer to it as a guilty pleasure? Doubt it. How about the millions of people who’ve downloaded The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling”? Or the millions who bought tickets to see Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen last summer?
From that point of view, I listen to some of the worst music imaginable. I’d be surprised if my favorite album of last year, Future of the Left’s Travels With Myself and Another, sold more than 20,000 copies. One of my favorite films of the past several years, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, wasn’t exactly a blockbuster, either. I also own more than a couple records that were pressed in versions of less than 500 copies—not necessarily because the label is trying to drive up demand, but because the record probably isn’t going to sell more than 500 copies. If anything, I should be apologizing for my poor taste.
I admit that on occasion, I’ve felt like I should try to be an arbiter for the underappreciated cultural works of the past decade or so. Which is pretentious nonsense, really.
So it follows, by some demented logic I’ve ascribed to at one point or another, that I’m supposed to feel “guilty” about my love for the following things: bowling, Lindsey Buckingham’s “Holiday Road,” Fleetwood Mac’s Fleetwood Mac and Rumours, cheesesteaks, Hall & Oates, Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright (Theme from Caddyshack),” my never-ending search for the perfect hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant, the first three albums by Blue Oyster Cult, the movies Shooter, T2: Judgment Day and Predator, The Doobie Brothers’ “What a Fool Believes,” Magic 92.5 FM (“San Diego’s Old School”), Red Bull and a bunch of other things that might not be filed under “good” taste.
I’m not going to try to pass this off as ironic, because that’s taking the easy way out. These things are here for my enjoyment, so I’m going to partake. It’s not as if every time I listen to The Commodores’ “Easy,” a young child contracts a deadly disease somewhere. So if it’s not hurting anyone, why should I feel guilty about it? I shouldn’t. And neither should you.