Whenever someone says that something is their “guilty pleasure”, I always ask why they feel guilty about it. If someone takes pleasure in killing animals or setting fires, then yes you probably should feel guilty about that, but if you’re talking about a tv show or song then save your guilt for shit that matters.
These guilty pleasures are usually things derided by society en masse, so it’s a “I should know better” kind of vibe. Like reality television or manufactured pop music, someone can acknowledge that it’s not “high concept” or “high art” and still enjoy it – but feels compelled to feel guilty about it. I know I shouldn’t, but I do! Don’t judge me as I would judge you if the roles were reversed. Why do we do this? Is it simply fear of what others might think, or is it because someone is not able to admit it to themselves for it might go against how they perceive themselves?
If a person, for example, loves rock music and defines themselves as a ‘rock music lover’ then they might describe their love for a Britney Spears song as a ‘guilty pleasure’. Is this because they want to downplay a sincere love for something in their peer group as to not lose respect, or is it because they are so narrowly defining themselves as a ‘rock music lover’ that to admit to themselves they like a pop song would mean potential soul searching?
As one of these reasons is external (appearances to others) and the other is internal (definition of self) then it might be worth looking at how the person presents this so-called guilty pleasure to themselves or how emphatically they might defend it. Do they begrudgingly like it against their better judgement, or embrace it as their ‘failing’? If the former, then maybe we need to question how we are judging things and if the latter then what else is counted among their character flaws.
Perhaps it is not as simple as one or the other but a tangled mess of how society is structured, tribalism, and classism. People are reluctant to venture beyond their self- or world- defined groups and express a passion in a vulnerable way for fear of retribution. This sounds like a dramatic reason behind calling “Real Housewives” your favourite show, but stop and think of what you believed the consequences would be if you did. Potentially, depending on your group, there is a risk of social shunning, being perceived as low-class or low-educated, or admitting to yourself that maybe you weren’t the person you thought you were. I’ve found people don’t like tugging on threads that would lead them down a path of self-evaluation, because there is a fear of what might be found.
I am probably only comfortable yanking on these threads because I’ve been unraveled several times during my brutal therapy sessions. There is enough guilt to go around without using it up on what’s on your playlist, and the world can be so horrible we shouldn’t downplay our pleasures. So fucking embrace what you love, love the person you are who loves it, and let yourself be happy.
There will always be something bigger to feel guilty about, so maybe enjoy what you can.