Guilty pleasures are equal parts open secrets and inside jokes. They’re the things we enjoy but “shouldn’t” – the teleserye, the saccharine chart-topper, the recycled movie trope. But they’re also self-aware markers of a hierarchy that tells us some pieces of culture rank higher than others.
We often keep our guilty pleasures to ourselves, but if we do broadcast them, we make spectacles out of them. These Big Reveals, after all, shows that you totally get mass appeal without losing street/cool/hip/indie/etc cred. Jennifer Szalai of The New Yorker words it perfectly: “you confess your remorse whenever you deign to watch Scandal, implying that the rest of your time is spent reading Proust.” So it seems, then, that keeping your pleasures close and your guilty pleasures closer is a win-win situation.
Until it’s not.
Calling guilty pleasures, well, “guilty pleasures” means that these pieces of culture cannot be enjoyed (or, at the very least, consumed) just the way they are. That we have to rationalize our agenda for liking the best-selling novel or the crappy action film. That we must carry the heavy cross of admitting we watch Encantadia or Born for You.
But no one is better or lesser than anyone else for knowing who both FKA Twigs and Frantz Fanon are. You like things. I like things. That should be the end of it all. No one needs a badge of honor for liking certain pieces of culture.
This is not to say we need to stop thinking about what we like (and why we like things), or stop criticism entirely, but that maybe we can try to lessen delineating which cultural artifact belongs on which rung of the cultural hierarchy. This means acknowledging that other people’s likes are legitimate, and being willing to engage with them—especially on aspects that aren’t guilt-inducing but instead are problematic.
Like, talk to a Swiftie about the Kim K issue without invalidating how the fan feels about Speak Now. It’s possible, even if my knee-jerk reaction to someone treating a Lang Leav book like a lifeline is to roll my eyes. (I’m still not a fan of Ms. Leav’s poetry, but I’m not a better person for laughing at someone who does. Maybe we can both talk about the kinds of poetry we like.)
Guilty pleasures, after all, are rooted in power play. But no one is better or lesser than anyone else for knowing who both FKA Twigs and Frantz Fanon are. You like things. I like things. That should be the end of it all. No one needs a badge of honor for liking certain pieces of culture. Besides, the cultural hierarchy shifts often anyway, so really, what’s the point of trying to keep up?
Just like things. Quietly, if you want. Or loudly. Doesn’t matter. Any street/cool/hip/indie/etc cred you think you might lose is all in your head. Finding pleasure is not either-or. Take it all.
By Teresa Naval