Celebrating shit: Why guilty pleasures aren’t so bad

(Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

My roommate and I find solace in our living room every Tuesday night between the hours of 9 p.m. and 12 a.m.

It’s not that it’s cozy or well-decorated to disguise our reality as students in the midst of an existential crisis (because, believe me, it is and we are), but it gives us a minute to just chill the heck out. We plop down around the television with pints of Ben & Jerry’s or something else that’s going straight to our midsections and laugh and scream for three hours straight.

I wish I could tell you we’re doing something exciting and innovative, but we’re just watching TLC.

Yes, shows like My Big Fat Fabulous Life and I Am Jazz have been a guilty pleasure of mine over the past few years. Somehow I’ve roped my intelligent, mature, cynical roommate into it — and we freakin’ live for it.

But it’s not something we’re going around screaming and laughing about in public.

We take a lot of pleasure in these humourous but certainly not Emmy-award-winning TV shows, but do we really feel guilty about it? Perhaps the bigger and more important question is whether or not we should.

Aside from the obvious guilty pleasure (hint: it’s sex), there are only three aspects of human life and culture that are habitually linked between guilt and pleasure: food, religion and the arts. I understand the first two, but how has it become so ingrained in us that there are cultural phenomenons we aren’t allowed to enjoy without having to mask them as delinquent indulgences?

Pretentious cultural critics will try to convince us otherwise, but what we choose to absorb in our free time has little to do with our actual intellect or potential. In fact, the nostalgia and stress-relief associated with guilty pleasures are healthy and do us no harm. Why rate them as though they might?

Besides, as Sheryl Crow once said, if it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad.

When you’re happy and you know it

Jonah Burridge is not a music mogul. In fact, he’s donning a dress shirt and tie hidden under a winter jacket, just coming from classes in St. Thomas University’s education program where he’s training to be an English teacher.

“Mr. Burridge” doesn’t just love to teach. He has soft spot for boy bands — but only the classics, like *NSYNC and The Backstreet Boys, though he’ll confess he has a soft spot for One Direction as well.

“When I was young or a little kid, in the late ‘90s, early 2000s, that was the prime and I just liked it. I just never really grew out of it, I guess,” he says.

“It’s not like that’s all I listen to … It’s just, sometimes you just get in a mood, it’s happy and it’s fun.”

Burridge isn’t alone in his quest for the best shower jams.

I’ve only known fourth-year student Ethan Merrifield as someone who enjoys sobering philosophical conversation over fancy cheese and suit vests. But to know the real Ethan Merrifield is to know two things: country music and “really shitty” romantic comedies.

Ethan Merrifield explained that the world is all about celebrating shit, even though it’s taboo. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“Have you ever heard ‘Suds in the Bucket’ or ‘Friends in Low Places’?” Merrifield asks, citing country superstars Sara Evans and Garth Brooks.

“They’re so great.”

Merrifield, who is from rural Maine, says he thinks a lot of what guilty pleasures have to do with is individual experience.

“The themes in country music speaks to the experience of people in those areas, in the country,” he says.

“They can relate to that and feel something from it. You don’t usually find that [in a university setting], not between people we talk to everyday. People who come to university typically aren’t those types of people, so we can’t share that experience.”

A similar thing happens with rom coms, he says.

Recently, he’s watched Definitely, Maybe, a Ryan Reynolds favourite where he plays a hot dad illustrating his dating woes to his adolescent daughter. He lists two other favourites: Valentine’s Day, “where Ashton Kutcher is not a player,” (with emphasis on the “not”) and Love, Actually, “the best Christmas movie because Christmas movies suck.” He dubs those a “guilty displeasure.”

The top-grossing romantic comedies of all time has tallied $3.7-billion globally, according to Forbes. It’s simple, really: love sells.

“I always watch them and I always feel so sad and I’m like, ‘Fuck me. This is not my life,’” Merrifield says with a laugh.

“But it’s a fondness. I would watch them with my mom, stay up past my bedtime … There’s a community in those things. They’re not bad, people just like the taboo.”

The students tell all

When it comes to owning up to guilty pleasures, Burridge and Merrifield aren’t hesitant. But they’re also not their go-to ice-breakers.

Burridge says the shame around openly enjoying guilty pleasures has to do with how comfortable you are with yourself.

Jonah Burridge believes the shame of guilty pleasures depends on how comfortable you are socially. (Caitlin Dutt/AQ)

“I think it’s just all about who you feel like you are socially and whether or not this fits in with the character that you’ve built that people know about you,” he says.

The Bachelor is another guilty pleasure Burridge keeps quiet, for times when he’s not belting out “Larger than Life.” Still, he’d never call it down just because popular opinion says it’s no good.

“Obviously watching The Bachelor isn’t a guilty pleasure for everyone. They might like it but not consider it a guilty pleasure … If it’s out of what your typical character is than I guess it’s a guilty pleasure for you,” he says.

“I think it’s just being comfortable with yourself … I’m kind of open about it, [but] it’s not like I start every conversation with, ‘Hey, I love watching The Bachelor,’ but it’s like yeah, I don’t mind admitting that I do.”

Look at the stats: in 2013, The New York Times reported the Monday night special pulls in millions of viewers on the regular. The majority of them are women aged 18 to 49-years-old. It’s still going strong.

ABC emphasized The Bachelor is far from having the “economically downscale profile of some reality shows” and is a favourite of women with great financial means. In homes with more than $100,000 USD in income, the overdramatized program scores 34 per cent in popularity over other shows.

Merrifield says society right now is on a big trip of glorifying things that aren’t necessarily all that great. Guilty pleasures are inevitable because of the feelings they invoke, no matter who you are.

“It’s a celebration of shit,” he says.

“People want to go face first into the shit … When it creates that happiness, it’s not the worst thing.”