No Such Thing as a Guilty Pleasure

The phrase “guilty pleasure” gets thrown around a lot, whether it’s about loving America’s Next Top Model, a Ke$ha song, or eating at Taco Bell. P-Mag even has a slew of posts tagged with it. However, when it comes to the things that entertain us or otherwise make us happy, I say that there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Nope. It’s time to re-frame our thinking. It’s time to own our interests.

Now, before we get into it, I know there are always exceptions and people who like to point out exceptions. So before you get all, “But what if you were on a specific diet and you ate something you weren’t supposed to and it could mean [insert health ramifications here]?” or “What if you found yourself bobbing your head to a Chris Brown song and then felt really, really badly about it?” I’m talking in a general sense here, not very specific specifics. This is about no longer feeling embarrassed that you’re “not cool enough” for liking what you do.

Every creative subculture has its snobs. Hell, there are even subcultures within snobbery. We know this. There are “snout-to-tail” foodies, militant vegans, and extreme locavores. There are vinyl-only listeners, classical purists, and indie enthusiasts who are suspicious of widespread success. Pick your form of entertainment, and there’s some killjoy waiting to tell you what’s “lame.”

There’s nothing wrong with having strong interests or even being obsessive about something; it’s the judgment I am annoyed with. We’re all guilty of it. I give my mom a hard time because she’ll say things like, “I like clever-funny, not stupid-funny,” but she also watches Big Brother. Am I judging the entertainment value of Big Brother? Yes. But what I should really be doing is reminding myself that just because it’s not MY thing doesn’t mean it can’t be anyone else’s thing. There’s nothing wrong with distraction TV. I mean, I get sucked into Storage Wars and Pawn Stars for reasons even I don’t fully understand.

(found via Twitter)

When was the last time someone tried to give you a hard time about something you like? When was the last time you felt like you needed to “justify” enjoying something? Maybe instead of expending so much energy feeling bad about one or more of our interests, we should address the underlying issue of confidence instead. With so many forces out there putting out this message of “unworthiness,” doing away with the idea of guilty pleasures is a good place to start pushing back.

It’s not just about our casual interests – I’m referring also to owning the things we truly love. My favorite band in the history of ever, ever is Oasis, and even more specifically, Noel Gallagher. Oh, people try to give me shit about it. I’ve heard it all – that they “rip off” other musicians, that they’re too cocky, that they’re too insulting, that they haven’t done anything “good” since the mid-90s – and I don’t much care. I will never be ashamed of loving all of their albums, and you better believe that if your complaint with them is misinformed, I will attempt to correct any factual errors. (Attributing quotes to the wrong Gallagher brother is a common one.) I may get somewhat annoyed when people who know very little about the music act like their opinion is superior, but I’m not angry or embarrassed. Your enjoyment does not affect my enjoyment.

Similarly, I am probably in the indie-rock-enjoying minority when I say that I really, really do not get the fascination with Arcade Fire and Vampire Weekend. They are not my bag at all. And even though I’ve made jokes like “Arcade Fire sounds like hipster church revival music,” I mean that they sound like that to me. So go on and own your love for them. That’s cool. But ohmigod, do not try and make me see the light. Believe me, I’ve tried to give them a fair shake, but neither band is for me. It’s the same reason why I do not begrudge your love for Farmville or Daily Horoscopes on Facebook, but I will still get annoyed when Facebook’s buggy software won’t actually “Hide all” from those type of updates when I tell it to.

So who’s with me? Do away with the Guilty Pleasure Closet! What are you willing to say you love – or hell, even just mildly enjoy – and you don’t care who knows it? I’m in your corner.

Published by

Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

42 thoughts on “No Such Thing as a Guilty Pleasure”

  1. Guilty pleasure concerning food is the most annoying thing to me. (This can also be used for other “guilty pleasures.”) I enjoy eating. I really love food. I love flavors and textures and I love knowing about what my food does to my body physically, chemically, and emotionally. I love watching cooking competitions. I love sharing food. I love cooking food, sometimes more than I love eating it.

    And if I’m at a restaurant, I want to run screaming from the room without paying when the waiter, in effort to build camaraderie and a bigger bill, says something along the lines of, “Do we want to be naughty and order some cheesecake?”

  2. I love Peter Cetera with all my heart. Chicago Peter Cetera, duets with Cher Peter Cetera, and most of all, “Glory of Love” Peter Cetera. Unapologetic ally. I will rock the fuck out to him any day of the week. The hardest decision of my recent life was choosing between seeing him in concert or going to Rachel Maddow’s Steinbeck Award presentation. Do you even realize what I gave up for you, Rachel?!?!?!!?

  3. I don’t really have guilty pleasures – I mean, I like a bunch of weird/terrible stuff but I can’t say I feel particularly guilty about it.

    That was all beaten out of me when I was in uni, when my best friend and my boyfriend and all their friends were students in one of France’s prestigious art schools, and I had to deal with that lot. They were a bunch of goddamn fucking snobs, except for the boyfriend, and AUGH I’m annoyed just thinking about it. Anyway, after spending a lot of time listening to them reviling anything ‘mainstream’, be it music, art, or film – often what I enjoyed, of course – well, it pushed my “contrary” button and since then no pleasure has been a guilty one!

  4. Steampunk, graphic novels, The Blues Brothers, YA lit, ketchup on my mac and cheese, room-temp beer . . . GAWD I could go on.

    I do love this idea – even using the phrase guilty pleasure assumes that we should feel ashamed of something we like or love.  To hell with that.

    1. Greetings fellow steampunk fan. Why, yes, I did just get a brown brocade underbust corset in the mail. No shame in that. Also graphic novels are the shit. I recommend the manga adaptation of Souless for a fine combination of the two.

  5. If I was asked to produce a list of my guilty pleasures, I would have a hard time. I usually try not to be ashamed of what I like, since some people are so ready to say that what they like is “better.”

    I think, when talking to fellow gamers, I act like liking the Sims is a guilty pleasure. I think it’s because some gaming folks are quick to look down on me when I mention it, because it’s what women are expected to like. But I do like the Sims okay. So I should be fine in telling them to bugger off, cause if they act like that, I’m not the one being the sexist douche!

    More generally, I’d say that my enjoyment of early Family Guy is somewhat of a guilty pleasure, because there’s just so much about it that sets off my feminist alarms. It’s the very reason why I can’t enjoy later Family Guy at all, because it sets off the alarm so much harder, but…for some reason I like watching the early episodes.

    1. I’m with you on Family Guy. When it came back it just seemed way less funny and over the top just for the sake of it.


      But that episode where they go into Witness Protection and move to the south, and the raccoons keep attacking them? That’s hilarious.

    2. I have some of the same problems with Family Guy.  But I still definitely enjoy the earlier stuff (I won’t even watch the later stuff anymore.  It makes me too angry.)  I alleviate the guilt by noisily critiquing it when I watch, which means 1.) I feel better about myself and 2.) I don’t watch that much of it anymore because no one wants to watch it when I’m around, haha.

    1. I haven’t been able to eat Gummibursts since the time I was eating them on a plane with lots of turbulence, so I associate them with being sick to my stomach! *shakes fist at plane*

      Also, I love Risk. I totally kick ass at Risk, even if it’s been years since I’ve played. I do lots of evil controller of the world laughs too, if I feel like being a pain in the ass. ;)

      1. Gummibursts are so ADDICTIVE!  I’m sorry you had them during some turbulence…. then again, that might be a good thing.  Albertsons recently had them half off and Mr. Nonsense and I bought 5 bags.  Poor life decision. :-p

        And sound effects during board games are a must.

  6. Recently I was asked what my guilty pleasures were and I just couldn’t name one. Yes, I don’t tell my father I enjoyed BK or other junk and I’m not going to wax on about Lady Gaga with my metal head friends, but that doesn’t mean they’re guilty pleasures, but that they’re mismatched interests.

    1. I used to say it all the time and then a friend sent me that link where they say, “We listen to music like Arcade Fire.” I laughed so hard. The friend who sent it to me IS an Arcade Fire fan, but she still found my description funny enough to think of me when she read that news story about hipster church.

  7. I recently saw a friend give a really excellent scholarly paper on Ke$ha’s “Tic-Tock” and when she played her music examples everybody listening (super educated music academics) started moving their heads just ever so subtly. There shouldn’t be a such thing as “guilty pleasure music” because as soon as we call it that we ghettoize certain genres and suggest some sort of canon or hierarchy. Music moves people, that’s why we have it.

  8. The Barenaked Ladies. Or at least all the albums that came out before Barenaked Ladies are Me. Some of the songs on those albums are duds (the chimp song can die in a fire and that would be ok with me), but “Brian Willson,” “That Girl,” “War on Drugs,” and a whole mess of other songs are some of my favorite things ever. Also in the music catagory Pete Seeger super folksy stuff (I have all of the America’s Favorite Ballads albums), Garth Brooks (excluding American Honky Tonk Bar Association), and Lady Gaga.

    I collect and customize dolls. It’s a pretty dorky hobby, but whatevs.

    James Bond. Specifically the Ian Fleming novels. I know, misogynist as fuck, but I have fun reading them all the same.

    1. I also have a soft spot for Garth Brooks. Minus the Chris Gaines incarnation, of course. And I don’t care what anyone says, I love Lady Gaga. I will admit though that I only know the 3 BNL songs that everyone knows – “It’s all been done,” “If I had a Million Dollars” and “One Week.” But, you know, fair play to our Canadian friends.

      1. I live in an area where I can tune in Canadian TV and radio channels (also the only place in the country where you can go south and end up in Canada), so I think they’ve been popular in my neck of the woods a little longer than everywhere else. I saw them live in a double feature concert with Alanis Morissette in 2004 and it was great. (Actually, I was at this concert) I recommend checking out their first album “Gordon” if you have the chance. I love every single track of that one.

        1. I may have to pop that one on Spotify sometime — it’s the one every big fan seems to recommend.

          Alanis Morissette is another one people might try and make fun over but I don’t care, she’s great. I don’t have anything past the 3rd album (if we’re counting Jagged Little Pill as Album 1 and not starting with the Canadian Pop stuff), but I love the first two and like the 3rd a lot.

  9. Before I launch in to the many guilty pleasures, I understand where you’re coming from with the Oasis thing.  Green Day is my favorite band ever, which means I spend a lot of time going on passionate rants about why they are not sell-outs, and why catchy three-chord pop punk (and it’s more mature, evolved form seen in later Green Day albums) has just as much value as super technically amazing metal (of which I am also a fan) or Adele’s amazing vocals (also in my list of beloved music) or innovative Indie rock (not something I usually get in to), and trying to explain why believe it or not, Billie Joe and company’s music and lyrics speak to my soul.  But I don’t feel guilty about it, I just have strong feelings about Green Day.

    On the so-called “guilty pleasures” front (“guilty” depends on who you talk to, see Cubs example) I like: Ke$ha, America’s Next Top Model, The Voice, pugs, small doses of Jersey Shore (but large doses make me crazy,) the Chicago Cubs, massive amounts of salt on my food, Lady Antebellum, critiquing popular literature/TV/movies for their misogyny/racism/homophobia, cheese on ALL the foods, Bud Light, Bring it On, various urban fantasy novels, young adult novels, American Pie movies, my baby blanket, Britney Spears, Starship Troopers, ewoks, lots of sugar in my tea, movie theater butter on my movie theater popcorn, bars with fancy martinis and drag queens, Supernanny, driving sports cars (when I get the chance,) Love, Actually, and so so much more.

    All of these are things that various people have tried to make me feel guilty about, which is why I try not to feel guilty about any of them (although it sometimes comes through anyways, due to the fact that I am supporting things I can’t whole-heartedly think are good, like small dogs and Tyra Banks, to use some more facetious examples.)  But yeah, my life is a treasure trove of “guilty pleasures,” but damn is it fun.

    1. I getcha on Green Day. I’m not a huge fan or anything, but I never mind listening to them. Still, I do get annoyed when people try to write them off. They do exactly what they want to do, independent of popular opinion, and to me, that’s punk. (On a side note, I talk mention Green Day in terms of punk within a book review here.) I saw them play in 2000 and it was a good show!

      1. I’m so glad you get it!  So many people accuse Green Day of selling out, which mystifies me.  If they’d sold out, they would have made five more albums exactly like Dookie, because that’s what got them famous.  Instead, they’ve always been true to themselves artistically and done what they want, regardless of the risks.  Sometimes it hits bit (Dookie, American Idiot) and sometimes it doesn’t (Insomniac, Warning) – but they don’t give a shit.  They just keep making their music and putting on kick-ass live shows (and they really are great live, aren’t they?  I’ve converted so many people to Green Day fans just by taking them to a concert.)

        I never really got in to more “traditional” (haha) punk music anyways.  I can’t do music without melody, and that’s what a lot of that 80s punk music that Green Day grew out of sounds like to me.  I tried really hard too, because I love Green Day so much and I wanted to give something that was such a huge influence on them a chance, but meh.  Never did it for me.

        And I definitely agree with your more expanded stuff about punk in the book review – it always bugged me when people would get all exclusionary and specific about what was really “punk.”  Doesn’t seem to fit the spirit of the movement.

        1. Me and many a boyfriend have had that “What is punk?” argument is what I DIDN’T say. Side note: Dating musicians isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be! ;)

          If being punk is doing the opposite of what society expects of you, then putting on a whole Broadway musical when you’re just “some rock band,” is pretty punk, I say. Side note numero dos: Davey Havok up there in the haters photo was Saint Jimmy for a little while during that Broadway run. But you might have known that.

          1. I did NOT know that.  I saw Tony Vincent as St. Jimmy, and he rocked it hard.  He’s like 75% of the reason I’m still watching The Voice.

            And as to below, I also love both of those songs.  Nimrod has really great songs, but it didn’t have great critical reception, and it’s Green Day’s weakest album.  All their other albums (except Shenanigans, but that was supposed to just be b-sides, so it doesn’t count) really go together – they’re not just a collection of singles, they’re cohesive and coherent albums.  Nimrod lacks some of that.  But GREAT songs on Nimrod, for sure.

    2. I feel the same way about Green Day. I saw them in concert about 3 years ago, and it was fantastic. I don’t really mention that to people, because I almost always get the “Sell-out/old stuff was better” response. You know what? I like American Idiot more than Dookie. Sorry. I never claimed they were the greatest band ever, and even they admit they were never “real” punk, so I don’t see the problem. They put on a damn good show.

      1. I do too, for the most part.  I think American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown are easily their best albums, although Dookie probably had the biggest impact and influence on the music scene (and sometimes three chord pop-punk about masturbation just HITS THE SPOT.)

        They put on SUCH a good show.  Billie Joe has more charisma in his pinkie finger than some bands have in their entirety, and it really pays off on stage.

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