Pleasure. Without Guilt.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, ‘You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.’ Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic.’ It is cool to like Britney Spears’ ‘Toxic’! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.”
- Dave Grohl, Foo Fighters

I referenced this quote in Tuesday’s post.  I said “Don't even judge me because I adhere to the Dave Grohl belief that there are no guilty pleasures and that if you love a thing you should just love it” in reference to NSync.  Well now you have the quote proper.  And it’s neither new (it’s been floating around the internet for awhile now) nor particularly ground-breaking but it is honest and it does resonate with me.  Maybe now is the time to explore why.

There is this push to justify or defend the things you love.  There seems really only to be four ways to be a fan of anything these days:

  1. Ironically, as though you’re in on the joke of how bad the thing you love is.
  2. Rabidly, like with Beliebers or Elvis lovers in the days of yore.
  3. Secretly, hidden away from view so you don’t have to admit to loving the thing you love.
  4. Angrily, lashing out at anybody who challenges your love for the thing.

I tend to believe Dave Grohl is right in saying that it stems, at least partially, from a fear of being judged uncool or strange.  And so on the one hand you have people aching to fit in and denying their love for their beloved uncool pursuits and on the other hand you have people embracing the weird and different and flaunting it almost smugly as though to show how truly off the beaten path their interests are.  You’re either cool or subversive, in step with the times or deliberately out of step.  It’s no longer easy to be a fan of something openly.  You have to decide what level your interest is at.  There’s a very real sense of being seen as stupid or missing the point if you embrace something outside the zeitgeist.  But there is also the very real fear of being lashed out at.  Much of our collective enjoyment of and fandom for a particular thing, be it show or song or film, exists online.  And there is an equal amount of opinion-having and opinion-giving online.  The comments can frequently be wretched, accusatory, and venomous.  Nobody wants to stand up and profess that they love something only to be shot down.  There’s a bullying that exists when people disagree with an opinion.  A sort of pack-like take-down of the unpopular view.  I think guilty pleasures arose from a combination of a desire to be cool and a defense against attack.  

The term guilty pleasure was introduced to explain it away, you see, to give us all an out.  “I listened to Cher in the car today.  She’s totally a guilty pleasure.”  The theory is that you can’t be judged now for listening to Cher because you qualified your like with the admission that you know she isn’t good enough to be cool but you listened to her anyway because she is a ‘guilty pleasure’.  Guilt is defined as “a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined” and pleasure is defined as “enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one's liking; gratification; delight”.  So what you’re saying when you call something a guilty pleasure is that you feel remorse for the offense of liking something that delights you.  It’s not only contradictory, it’s awful.  You’re effectively saying your enjoyment doesn’t count because the thing you like is distasteful somehow and thus you apologize for it.  You’re rendering your own opinion invalid.  If you like Cher, then you like her.  She’s wonderful.  I like her.  And it’s time that we own the things we like.  It’s time to embrace the pleasures that life brings without worrying whether it’s cool enough or on trend enough or ‘right’ in some undefined way.  Wil Wheaton beautifully explained why it’s cool to be a nerd at Calgary Expo this year and part of what he said was this: “And don’t let anyone tell you that that thing that you love is a thing that you can’t love. Don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t love that, that’s for boys … you find the things that you love, and you love them the most that you can.”  It’s taken out of context, which was about why being a nerd is awesome, but it’s not misrepresented.  He is saying that whatever you love is okay to love.  Whatever the thing is that you love, love it as much as possible.  

I get the defense mechanism in guilty pleasures but consider this: if we were all to simply embrace the things we love openly and without defense or justification we might be more willing to accept the things that others love without sneering.  Because defending what you enjoy against perceived antagonism will make you more likely to lash out at something someone else enjoys.  Sort of a ‘get the first strike in’ mentality.  If we drop the guilty pleasure defense then there is only pleasure.  There is that which you love and there is no need for the secret, ironic, or angry fandom.  There are just people who like things and people who like other things and some people who like things a whole damn lot.  And that’s cool.

I am no longer interested guilty pleasures.  What I like is what I like.  I expect the quality of my person not to be judged based solely on something I enjoy.   


- Corinne Simpson