The term ‘guilty pleasure’ has come to take on various meanings, however, all situate under the same umbrella: that you should be, or do feel ashamed to admit your liking of something. So, in entertainment, what makes people deem something a guilty pleasure?
The most obvious explanation can be the quality of the piece. While nobody would compare the works of Mozart to ABBA, both have fans, and it is the latter that gets most people up and dancing. It is unfair to compare these two completely different sets of art. However, a guilty pleasure must come under scrutiny to earn its name as such; the validation of art we like receiving awards and making the textbooks is how some know a piece of entertainment is ‘good’, and therefore are allowed to like it. When something does not receive as much acclaim and is usually criticised – often for not being very serious as opposed to their high-brow counterparts – a guilty pleasure is born.
It can be as simple as that, however, delving deeper can expose more complicated sources for this shame. For example, sitcoms of the 90s, such as Friends, still have an enthusiastic fanbase. However, some are more hesitant to admit they enjoy these shows due to some content being outdated; transphobia, homophobia, and a distinct lack of racial diversity to name a few that weeds its way into much of this era of entertainment can cause discomfort and therefore hesitancy in admitting you like it. This sense of shame is certainly understandable and justified; most don’t want to keep bringing up problematic entertainment, and it is a shame to admit that a show that can make you laugh in one second can also have you cringing in the next. Unfortunately, shame is all too often weaponised against specific forms of media. Entertainment targeted at teen girls seems to have been society’s source of mockery ever since it began. Twilight (2008) and One Direction were not just criticised by quality and content, but by who it was primarily consumed by, inevitably generating shame amongst much of that demographic that became too embarrassed to join the fanbase. As silly as it sounds, I refused to even watch or listen to Twilight or One Direction growing up out of fear that I would like it, and hence be lumbered into the pile with which other demographics would ‘hate-watch’.
I am not claiming that Twilight is without its problems or should have won an Oscar, however, it happens to be a prime example of the binaries in which so many view entertainment: is it ‘good’ or ‘bad’? If we only allowed ourselves to enjoy super serious, complex content, think of all the fun entertainment we would be missing out on! All of these reasons exist to seek validation when in reality all forms of entertainment have their own sets of problems, their own sets of good and bad, and it is okay to like somethings while condemning the other. Of course, sometimes the situation is really not that profound; if you think The Room (2003) is awful yet wonderful at the same time, it is pretty harmless as guilty pleasures go. However, next time you start to feel that shame, it could be enlightening to dig a bit deeper behind your reasons why.