Yup, I’m going to watch that reality show with Only Pleasure and No Guilt.
Remember when your friends would bash on you for liking Britney Spears over the Foo Fighters?
I don’t know about you, but I went through a phase in my life where I only read non-fiction books. You know what people say right? If you’re smart you read non-fiction books about Michelle Obama, creativity and confirmation bias.
One thing that has always stuck with me all my life is how society has automatically made rules about what’s art, what’s aesthetic, what’s smart and what’s worthy. Surprisingly, this automatically would translate to the kind of person you are too. Are you smart? Are you aware of what’s aesthetic? Are you putting in the effort to grow? Basically, it ends up shaping perceptions of yourself by people and well, by you too.
We all know the guilt in guilty pleasures comes in because we enjoy a certain object when we aren’t “supposed to”. Who decides whether we are supposed to? Honestly, if you think of it logically, it’s almost like societal bullying (or I’d like to think it is). The actual term for it seems to be aesthetic normativity. A norm, in this case, is essentially created that decides that certain works of art operate more aesthetically and thus are “worthy of your time”.
Based on empirical research done on guilty pleasures, the reasoning behind our guilt is not from violations of aesthetic norms, but rather from violations of personal and social norms. We already know a lot of our personal norms could be formed because of societal pressures.
“I know it is a horrible movie, but I still enjoy watching it” are archetypal expressions of guilty pleasure, and seem to refer to aesthetic values. As per research done by Frierson (2014), he argues that guilty pleasures show that there is such a thing as aesthetic normativity: indeed, the reason for the “guilt” in a guilty pleasure is that we take said “pleasure” to rest upon an incorrect judgement of an artwork. Thus, at the core of the experience of guilty pleasure is the idea that we should aim for “higher” feelings.
These kinds of statements make you feel you have some accountability to this higher authority who seems to decide what is aesthetic. You know like aesthetic in terms of movies can be a plot that is “serious”, probably directed by the great Scorcese with a deep plot and a lot of drama rather than action. Certainly, not those Marvel movies he feels are not really cinema. You even may catch yourself saying “oh definitely, Billy Joel is my favourite artist” because being an Olivia Rodrigo stan might make your date think, “ugh this person is one of THOSE”.
However, you can even feel “guilty” about aesthetically inappropriate items like for example — remember when Ross from Friends (Yeah, yeah another one of those shows which make people say “you find THIS funny?”) said he didn’t like ice cream? I mean the reaction was like WHAT HOW CAN YOU? These kinds of inappropriate thoughts can also be considered something you have to feel guilty about. And this example is funny because you have this whole tribe of Friends fanatics who react this way when you say you don’t like Friends.
But research also suggests guilty pleasures can help build social connections. There are two ways in which these can occur — one is through the building of communities.
I mean I can positively say that one of the closest friends I have right now is because one day he decided to embrace the fact he gave into his guilty pleasures, watched “Too Hot To Handle” and put it up on his Instagram Story. I too embraced the fact that I watched this show and replied to his story about this and we haven’t stopped talking since.
In fact, my other close friend and I have a similar bond. I used to look down on people in 9th grade when they listened to Taylor Swift. And now I’m considered as one of those obsessed swifties and if you probably see this friend and me in the car next to you, you’ll see us screaming the lyrics to all the Taylor Swift albums.
Guilty pleasures can also build symbolic relationships. As a human, you of course need real relationships but these symbolic ones too seem to bring comfort into your life. Some days, you listening to Lorelai Gilmore rant about life might bring you more comfort than a girls night out.
“The happiest, healthiest people incorporate symbolic social connections into their lives. Yes, they have ‘real’ friends and social connections, but they also have symbolic ones and the symbolic ones are often just as predictive of wellbeing and happiness,” Shira Gabriel associate professor of psychology in UB’s College of Arts and Sciences says.
Each piece of content that we consider our “guilty pleasure” in fact resonate with us for a reason. Once we figure that out, we are able to create bonds that are strong because you’re essentially showing a side of you that you don’t really show. Like Adrienne Maree Brown, the author of “Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good” says “If you don’t feel like you can be honest about what TV pleases you, then what else are you keeping from yourself and others?”
So much of the guilt behind these pleasures stem from what people might think of us, which of course an issue in itself, but let’s not get into that. Ms. Brown believes that once we remove the whole concept of guilty pleasures from our life and start debunking the myth that such things might make people think less of us, it will help us to bring in true pleasure and ultimately remove the need to look at the norms as “right” to consume this pleasure.
It leads to us asking ourselves “Why do I feel so much shame around this if it’s not causing harm to me or anyone else?”
It can lead us to the conundrum of why we can’t give ourselves more compassion and the need for always having to be productive, but research shows that enjoying this kind of downtime helps with stress, anxiety and depression.
Guilty pleasures don’t have to be just about the media you consume, it can be about general daily habits, food too! Go ahead and post a lot on Instagram. Want to use those 2012 Instagram filters? Do it. Is your favourite chocolate Bounty or your favourite ice cream mint chocolate chip? EAT IT. Don’t let anyone tell you it tastes like toothpaste (yes, this is a personal experience). I mean the literal definition of pleasures is the happiness and satisfaction you derive from something. By adding the adjective guilty, we’re putting ourselves down and in the long run, that’s not fair to who you are.
Not everything has to be about growing our intellect — sometimes, it can just be about looking at cakes that look like animals or million-dollar mansions, because it might help us enjoy and relax, and that’s an important aspect of being a human too right?