Nothing you watch or listen to is a “guilty pleasure” — and here’s why it’s time to reclaim what you love
Be honest: How many times have you been slightly embarrassed by your taste in movies, music, or TV? Have you ever been asked by a coworker how your weekend was, while sheepishly trying to avoid admitting you spent it binge-watching Keeping Up with the Kardashians? We sometimes diffuse the “crime” of loving something that doesn’t adhere to conventional standards of coolness by acknowledging that we know we’re not “supposed” to like it and clarifying the we don’t like it like it, we just ironically like it. But the idea of the guilty pleasure is total bullshit, and we will no longer apologize for loving the things that we love.
Every single one of us has some sort of pop culture “guilty pleasure,” aka the things that we’re supposed to be ashamed to admit we wholeheartedly, enthusiastically enjoy. Maybe you genuinely love to keep up with the Kardashians each week, or maybe you’re a secret soap opera junkie during weekday afternoons. Maybe you’re a closeted Nickelback fan. It doesn’t really matter, because, really, we’re tired of feeling like we have to apologize for our “guilty pleasures,” and we’re here to tell you why you shouldn’t either.
For starters, labeling something “guilty” implies that you love something that you know is trash, but you can’t help but enjoy it anyway. But why should there be any guilt in something that brings you joy and happiness?
It’s OK to like what you want to like, even if what you like is universally panned by critics, audiences, and your friends. Yes, that includes Grease 2, and all Real Housewives of Wherever.
Let’s just be real for a second: Simply being alive in today’s world is a challenge, especially given the unrelenting 24-hour news cycle, political unease, and increasing stress to try and maintain a balance between work, school, family, friends, and the myriad other responsibilities most of us contend with on a daily basis. Why should we be shamed for wanting to come home and unwind with a glass of wine and a few episodes of Scandal?
Queen Shonda Rhimes said it best herself in 2013 when she described how she feels when people call her shows a “guilty pleasure.”
"It’s so annoying. It’s like saying the show is a piece of crap but I can’t stop watching it...To me, it’s an insulting thing to say. I would never say that about someone’s show. I think it’s a very insulting thing to say about someone’s show. Calling a show a 'guilty pleasure' is like saying 'I’m embarrassed to say I watch it but I can’t stop.' That’s not a compliment. That is not a compliment! Then don’t watch it, don’t watch it, please."
And she’s right: Calling something a guilty pleasure insinuates that certain forms of art are the equivalent of “junk food” for the brain, meaning bad for you in some moral or ethical way. And just like the wellness experts who insist we must eat “clean” and enjoy kale, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying — and yes, even preferring — McDonald’s and Chipotle.
Writer Dan Kois called this “eating your cultural vegetables” in a 2011 article for The New York Times Magazine, which is that thing we do when someone tells us we should like something high-brow and artistic (read: pretentious), but really we just want to go home and watch Showgirls instead. It’s OK if your tastes aren’t high-brow in any way, and we need to stop shaming people for liking what they want to like.
Pop culture, at its very core, exists as a form of escapism, which is something we all need and deserve, especially in a frenetic, plugged-in world. Sure, it’s great to watch or listen to things that challenge your thought processes and allow you to connect with something on a deeper level, but honestly, there’s nothing wrong with simply decompressing, de-stressing, and unplugging, purely for entertainment’s sake.
And listen, there’s nothing wrong with acknowledging certain problematic aspects of entertainment and enjoying it anyway. Watching a bunch of women fight over one eligible bachelor or enjoying the love triangle between a young woman, a werewolf, and a sparkly vampire is fine. Really, really fine.
Your tastes in music, movies, or TV say very little about who you are as a person, which is where that “guilt” in guilty pleasures creep in. It’s OK to enjoy music that isn’t inherently feminist, or watch movies and TV that don’t necessarily jibe with your personal values or beliefs.
We all need an escape from the pressures of life from time to time, so we’re proposing a new idea: Reclaim what you love, and stop calling it a “guilty pleasure.” Proudly declare your love of reality TV, shout it from the rooftops, sing it from the mountaintops — whatever you want to do. Don’t be shy about the things you love, even if other people don’t feel the same. If what you need to unwind at the end of a long day is something silly, fluffy, or otherwise cheesy, you do you, boo.
The next time someone criticizes you for something you love, you have every right to ignore their opinion. As the wise professor Taylor Alison Swift once sang, “the haters gonna hate, hate, hate.” Life’s too short to do anything but shake it off.