Why The Concept of “Guilty Pleasures” Is Stupid

Why The Concept of "Guilty Pleasures" Is Stupid

The 1993 movie, The Three Musketeers, was one of the first films that I remember loving completely that wasn’t a movie made for kids. Like any good kid growing up in the ‘90s, I was raised on a steady diet of Disney, and later Pixar, movies that every other person my age watched religiously. And while The Three Musketeers was made by Disney, it wasn’t really targeted to my age group. It was a broad, adventure romp for people of all ages. However, because it’s a very silly movie (on purpose), when I started to get into more “serious” films in college, The Three Musketeers became what I referred to as a “guilty pleasure.” And that’s how I perceived it for the next five or so years before I really took a step back and realized that the entire concept of a “guilty pleasure” is a really shitty way to consume pop culture.

The whole idea of a “guilty pleasure” implies that there is something inherently wrong or detrimental to your appreciation of a thing. For example, chocolate. Chocolate is fine in moderation, but if you make it your primary meal, you’re going to go from in-shape Ben Stiller to hilariously fat Ben Stiller in your choice of Heavyweights or Dodgeball. But art doesn’t work that way. We’ve got this notion that “fluff” art somehow makes you a less intelligent or well-rounded human being, but is that really the case? Michael Bay has been making fun, over-the-top summer films for two decades now. Is he a worse, or not as important, filmmaker than Paul Thomas Anderson? A lot of people would make that case. So if you’re like me, and you enjoy big, tentpole action films with equal amounts of quippy one-liners, and bad guys with terrible aim, but you also enjoy slow-burning dramas where Daniel Day-Lewis comes out of a seven-year sabbatical to literally become another human being and then disappear to make shoes for another decade, you start to rationalize that these fun action films are “guilty pleasures,” because you consider yourself a highfalutin individual — as my grandfather would say — and you don’t want to tarnish your taste by admitting that you happen to just like several types of art.

So why is this problematic? Well, first, it demeans the person making the thing that you’re talking about. Is Christian Bale a better actor than Hugh Grant? Hugh Grant typically makes a very specific type of movie, and he crushes it. Some might point out that Hugh Grant couldn’t pull off losing a ton of weight to the point of almost dying, and then still have the talent to disappear into a character within a psychological drama. But the other side of that coin brings up the question, could Christian Bale carry a lighthearted romantic comedy? And I would argue: probably not. Would I love to see him try? Fuck yes. That’s not to say that you can’t compare artists. Hell, I spend a good amount of time on any given day debating with my friends about our top five or ten directors/movies of any given genre or time period. But the end of the day fact is, all art is subjective, and someone who’s spent hours watching, dissecting, and analyzing David Lynch’s films is not a better person or consumer of art than a dude whose favorite actor of all time is Bruce Willis, and thought the last Die Hard movie was “pretty good.”

The thing that maybe irks me the most about the entire idea of calling something your “guilty pleasure” is that you’re being somewhat of a coward. You’re worried about being judged by some nebulous group of literati who will talk down to you for still liking Creed’s music, even though we’ve all apparently decided as a culture that they were a terrible band, despite that fact that tons of people loved them when they were popular (including, probably, the person trying to shame you). And because you’re worried about being judged, you put certain things that might be perceived as “shallow” or “silly” into this separate box that precludes people being able to make fun of you for the stuff that you like. Because there’s nothing worse, as a person who likes things, than being told that your taste is shitty, and you’re not as intellectually evolved as someone else. This is a problem that wasn’t invented by the Internet, but it was certainly exacerbated by it. I made this point in my Taylor Swift piece, but it bears repeating. You know who loved Michael Jackson in his prime? Almost everyone. You know who loves Taylor Swift now? Almost everyone. The difference now is that it seems like people who talk about music on the internet, or even in person, feel an obligation to say that they like Taylor Swift with the “guilty pleasure” caveat, or say something like, “You know, I don’t usually like pop music, but I really kinda dig her stuff.” Why? Why do we feel the need to qualify that statement? You know what genre is inherently better than pop music? Nothing. No type of music is better than another. It’s all fucking taste.

The point that I’m making is that you should just be honest about the things you like. Don’t hem and haw or try to contextualize what you’re into. It’s like that ridiculous thing ESPN does where everything is important in some stupid context like “Dan Uggla has the best OBP in the league on Tuesday afternoons where he’s facing a left handed pitcher who once had his birthday at Medieval Times when he was 12.” True Lies isn’t a “fun guilty pleasure to watch when you’re feeling nostalgic, and you’re a few drinks in.” If you like it, then it’s just a good movie. Maybe even a great movie. I don’t know, that’s not my decision to make. But if a movie where there’s a fight scene on top of a fighter jet flying outside a skyscraper is your favorite of all time, good for you. I’ll have a good-spirited debate with you about whether I think Die Hard is a better action movie (it is), but I can’t do that if you don’t have an opinion, or even worse, you’re hiding your opinion inside the box of “guilty pleasure.”

You’re a big kid now. If you want to like something, then just like it. Also, The Three Musketeers is an awesome movie. You should watch it tonight.

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Randall J. Knox

Randall J. Knox (known colloquially to his friends as "Knox") left his native Texas a few years ago, and moved to Los Angeles in his '03 Buick Regal named LeRoi to write movies with his jackass college buddies. His favorite things in life include bourbon that's above his pay grade, mix CDs, and Kevin Costner films. He isn't sure what "dad jeans" are exactly, but he knows he wants a pair.

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