Guilty pleasures are often life's biggest pleasures. There's something about enjoying the hell out of something — but also feeling as though you're doing something terribly wrong by enjoying it — that just makes everything so much better.
In a perfect world, there would be no guilty pleasures, at least not in pop culture — because we'd all realize that enjoyment is the purpose of entertainment. And thus, "guilty pleasure" would be an oxymoron. But we live in an imperfect world, and pleasures come with the spectre of judgement.
So what makes something a guilty pleasure for you? And do you have to believe something is bad for it to be a guilty pleasure?
Our new guilty pleasure is the Canadian show Lost Girl (pictured above), which is currently airing on Syfy. I have to admit I was scared of it for a while, due to the habit of using episode titles containing horrible puns on the word "fae" like "Can't See the Fae-rest" or "Fae-tal Attraction." But it's actually a super-fun show — the adventures of a bisexual succubus detective in urban fantasy land, it's completely ridiculous and super addictive. (Check out Maureen Ryan's great write-up about it over at HuffPo.)
If you Google the phrases "lost girl" and "guilty pleasure," you get 122,000 hits.
But does that mean it's a bad show? Of course not — it just means that people feel guilty for watching it because it's cheesy, or because of the frequently over-the-top fantasy elements and sexiness. (Like the "Fae-rest" episode, in which Bo the succubus chases down a snake woman who's turning her own skin into purses and boots and things.) It's a fun show that emphatically does not take itself seriously — it's like a much goofier Vampire Diaries, in fact. (TVD being another show that many people describe as a guilty pleasure.)
So do you have to believe that something you love is objectively bad in order for it to be a guilty pleasure? ("Objectively bad," not according to any fictional standard of objectivity, but according to the voices in your head.) Definitely not — you just have to believe that it's low culture, or that it's not serious enough, or that it fails some arbitrary test of quality. Cartoons are more likely to be guilty pleasures than Shakespeare performances. Also, shows about women are more likely to be described as guilty pleasures than shows about men — although I have a feeling NBC's attempt to reboot Knight Rider was a guilty pleasure for many, and so was The Cape.
On the other hand, can you love something and yet believe deep down that it is a terrible work of awful badness? Definitely. Hence the whole "so bad it's good" phenomenon, which we regularly celebrate through stuff like our "found footage" videos.
What makes something a guilty pleasure instead of just a remorseful pain? There are certainly plenty of things that make you cringe, either because they're bad or because they fail to live up to some outside standard — but they're not that much fun. Many 1950s and 1960s TV shows and movies fall into this category — dated or cheesy, but too slow-moving and ponderous to be adequately popcorny or candy-like.
The other question that occurs to me: Can something be a guilty pleasure without being made fun of? Can you enjoy something in spite of your hang-ups — without then resorting to poking fun at it? I suspect that the answer to this one depends rather a lot on whether you're watching (or reading) your guilty pleasure alone, or with your loved ones. Or worse yet, roommates, who are like, "Are you watching that show again?"
But what do you think?