​The Guilty Pleasure

21 April 2016

A while ago I was beginning a new class and as always the teachers asked us to do the mandatory round of introductions; name, nationality, previous studies and (this time) our number one guilty pleasure. It was an unusual, but strangely revealing exercise. By far one of the most interesting and entertaining introduction round I’ve been through. One by one we revealed the secret pleasure we found in trashy reality TV, musicals, chocolate and poorly written romance novels, as we snickered a bit embarrassedly. None of us were alone in other words and there was a sense of new-found comradery in these shared secrets. A few days later the issue came up again during another conversation. “I don’t think I have any guilty pleasures,” a friend proclaimed. “Why would I be ashamed of my tastes? I like what I like.” There is a point to it. Why should I be ashamed of my tastes? So what are these guilty pleasures really and are they really as guilty as we make them out to be?

A guilty pleasure is usually defined as something you enjoy, but not without a trace of shame. It is the TV series or song you have to pause for a moment and look around to make sure no one is around to see before you sit back and enjoy. It’s something that you know you shouldn’t like, but you can’t help it and love it anyway. Which, is probably also part of the enjoyment of it. It’s wonderfully entertaining and secret and it has a dirty aftertaste to it.

For the sake of full disclosure, let me list my top guilty pleasures. I can’t pretend I haven’t been through more than my share of; Say Yes to the Dress, Justin Bieber, YouTube videos of soldiers returning to their families, dogs and new-born children (basically all kinds of tear jerking YouTube videos and I’m lost), bad 90’s music and RuPaul’s Drag Race. To be honest my taste in movies, TV series and music probably includes more guilty pleasures than actual good taste.

But are they really guilty? I find more and more often that people proudly disclose their guilty pleasures. They don’t really seem to be an indicator of bad taste anymore, but rather a symbol of status. Based on my own observations, there seems to have been two waves over the last decade. First there was the hipster movement, where everything old and often also trashy was brought back again and used as part of a specific style and taste. The hipster movement is mostly associated with the niche markets and a sense of style where everything popular is bad taste by definition. In recent years there seems to have come about a change. The guilty pleasures, the sum of popular culture, are paraded proudly. Everyone is eager to share their tastes, good or bad. They are no longer “guilty”. Now, this might of course also be a consequence of me getting older and leaving behind (some of) the juvenile insecurities of the teens and early adulthood, but I don’t think that’s the case. The guilty pleasures are increasingly highlighted and the unveiling of guilty pleasures is celebrated. A person’s level of coolness is measured in his or her ability to proudly stand for their tastes, whether they are good or bad. In fact, the worse the better it would seem.

Or are we simply celebrating certain kinds of guilty pleasures? The kinds that have reached a new status and are not really guilty anymore. The things that we’ve finally realized that “everyone” secretly liked, while the rest remain in darkness. I will admit that there are even worse things that I chose to leave out of my list above. So maybe those would have been the real guilty pleasures. But I am not sure I’m ready to share those just yet. 

by Nora Ljøstad

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