A Beginners’ Guide to Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures. We all have them. It is part of human nature to enjoy things. It is also part of human nature to want to fit in and adapt to the norms of our social environment. As a result of this apparent need to conform, we are all guilty of hiding things we enjoy when there is a fear that others will judge us for liking it. ‘Guilty pleasures’ is the term used to describe such instances of hidden enjoyment. They are something that we ourselves take pleasure in, yet keep hidden from other people as we are reluctant to admit to such appreciation in public. Guilty pleasures can include all types of entertainment, anything from enjoying cheesy pop music, to secretly liking a badly received ‘straight-to- DVD’ movie.

The question I find myself asking is why? Why do we feel the need to hide something that gives us enjoyment if it is not harming anyone else? Why should we feel guilty and embarrassed about liking something just because others might consider it uncool or not highbrow enough to speak of in public? The guilt involved in guilty pleasures quite often stems from a need to conform. There is a concern that other people may judge us for the things we enjoy. Although conformity is a part of everyday life, I feel that the things we find pleasure in should be celebrated not shunned. Year after year, film critics and award shows such as the Oscars provide us with a list of highly esteemed films deemed socially acceptable to watch and enjoy. However, what about the films that we enjoy simply because we find pleasure in them? Surely they deserve some public celebration also. The beauty of guilty pleasure films lies not in the conventional elements of a successful film, such as cinematography. The beauty is in their ability to provide us with unadulterated enjoyment.

A guilty pleasure of mine is the 1985 film Girls Just Want to Have Fun. It has all the makings of a film that one would be reluctant to admit they like. The leading lady of the film is a young Sarah-Jessica Parker (pre-Carrie makeover); an actress that has since become synonymous with guilty pleasure film and television. The ‘boy meets girl’ storyline is highly predictable. The young couple enters a dance contest, which adds a musical element to the film (think Flashdance without the sexiness). Perhaps the biggest guilt –factor is the questionable eighties fashion of leg warmers and crop tops that the viewer has to contend with. However, it is these guilty pleasure elements that contribute to the feel-good nature of this movie. Although the film is in no way highbrow or cinematically brilliant, I find it fun and enjoyable to watch. The joy in this film, and in all guilty pleasures, is found in the unsophisticated aspects. Despite a long lasting tendency to hide our enjoyment in such areas of entertainment, there has been a recent celebration of the guilty pleasures in film and television.

Is there room for guilty pleasures anymore? In recent times, guilty pleasures have become a celebrated area of modern culture. Guilty pleasures appear to be in fashion at the moment. The musical has long been a genre that people consider to be associated with guilty pleasure viewing. However in this year’s Oscars ceremony, the musical featured heavily in both the nominations and the presentation of the awards show. Television shows such as Glee celebrate the musical genre as well as embracing the liking of something different. It is a celebration of the different that removes a certain element of the guilt experienced in these guilty pleasures.

There is a constant movement of what is considered to be acceptable viewing material in film and television. As a result of this continuous change of fashionable viewing, there will always be something that people experience guilt for enjoying. For now at least, there seems to be a celebration of previously hidden guilty pleasures. Musicals are back in fashion. Compilations that celebrate the classic pop songs that people consider to be embarrassing yet fun are being produced. A whole entertainment market has been produced based upon the enjoyment people find in the guilty pleasure viewing of reality television. Now is the time to stand up and embrace your guilty pleasures. Why should we continue to hide our love of the films that give us enjoyment? I suggest that you stop hiding and instead celebrate your guilty pleasures, whatever they may be.

Olivia-Anne Cleary


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