“I peek up at him through my lashes” and “I flush a deep crimson and glance down at my fingers.”
I’m so engrossed in my Kindle, wrapped up in the incredibly naughty exploits of Anastasia Steele and Christian “God’s gift to women” Grey that I have failed to notice the 12-year-old boy standing directly over my seat on the crowded bus, undoubtedly reading every X-rated word over my shoulder.
Visions of Child Protective Services representatives confronting me on public transportation briefly dance in my head before I simply shift the screen away from his innocent gaze and continue.
For those of you simply stunned by my sudden aptitude for flowery, poetic prose, I must come clean. The quoted text above has been directly yanked from books one and two of the frighteningly popular Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy.
Before I completely compromise any ounce of respect you may have considered bestowing upon me, please allow for an explanation.
As I crawled through the final weeks of the spring semester last month, it suddenly dawned on me that I needed a motivator. Some small, easy-to-digest, instantly gratifying treat. Something that wouldn’t require analysis, discussion, or frankly, much brain power to process.
I needed a smutty romance novel.
Thankfully, an insane phenomenon had been sweeping blogs, television talk shows, and—get this—The New York Times bestseller list. Basing her “erotic fiction” (I can’t even type that with a straight face) on Twilight fanfic (any credibility I ever had is shot, I know it), E.L. James tapped into some kind of deep-seated, far-reaching fantasy with the impressively obscene, albeit questionably coherent Fifty Shades of Grey.
You may be having a hard time accepting that Twilight is enough of a literary masterpiece to inspire best-selling spinoffs, but just play along for a second.
Fifty Shades is not well-written. It’s just not. And I’m not trying to be all high and mighty and writerly, because the truth of the matter is I just had to Google the word “writerly” to ensure that it’s an actual word (apparently, it is). E.L. James herself knows the books are crap. “I’m not a great writer,” she told the Today show, explaining that the trilogy “is my midlife crisis writ large.” Okay, so she may not be a great wordsmith, but she sure is honest.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and assume no one orders Fifty Shades on their e-readers for the profound wisdom and eloquence. That’s what Twilight is for.
Kidding! (They’re going to revoke my English degree for that one, aren’t they?)
The truth is, we seek out the Fifty Shades-brand of entertainment for a specific purpose. It’s fun, it’s frivolous, and it’s a complete and total escape from real life, which can be such a drag sometimes.
Look, maybe explicitly detailed bondage-themed romances aren’t your thing. But I guarantee there is something on your Kindle/iPod/DVR/bookshelf/Netflix queue that you’re not necessarily willing to divulge at a dinner party or list on your Match.com profile, but it brings you such sheer, unadulterated recreational bliss that you’re unwilling to give it up.
That, my friend, is your guilty pleasure.
I ran into some trouble trying to find the scientific data to back this up, but I stand firm in my conviction that guilty pleasures satisfy some basic human drive for complete and utter detachment from reality. So I guess it’s ironic that some of our guiltiest pleasures feature Real Housewives, Real World housemates, and residents of Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County. “Reality” is really only pleasurable when it’s not ours I guess.
And to be honest, I take issue with the term “guilty pleasure.” What is there to feel guilty about? Sure, I may have wanted to make it seem like my high school obsession with *NSYNC was hilariously ironic, but you know what? It wasn’t! I legitimately enjoyed JT’s shrill falsetto and Chris Kirkpatrick’s jaunty braids.
And while we’re at it, I didn’t just joke-like Dawson’s Creek. I looked forward to Pacey’s quips and Joey’s disconcertingly crooked smile every week. All these things distracted me from the everyday suckiness of high school. And I don’t feel I should have to apologize for that.
So why should I, or you, or any other consenting adult feel remorse for reveling in some awkwardly-phrased, housewife-friendly, sadomasochism-centered literature?
I say we cast off the shackles of shame and fully embrace our guilty pleasures. Roll down the windows and blast your Britney Spears playlist loud and proud. Confidently explain to your blind date why Coyote Ugly is perhaps the movie of your generation. Fearlessly don Hello Kitty-emblazoned clothing outside the house. Do what makes you happy. And don’t feel bad about it.
Though for the record, I will continue shielding my Kindle on the bus. Just, you know, for the sake of decency.