Let’s abolish this phrase once and for all.
I always cringe when I hear the phrase guilty pleasure. I hate it most when it’s in a review of popular entertainment. Cultural critics apply it to catchy pop songs, big action movies, and engrossing books. As if the critics—whose job it is to tell us what’s entertaining—can’t admit they actually like something. Or can only admit it if they also claim to be above it.
But it’s not just critics. I hear this phrase everywhere. People use “guilty pleasure” as a shield, putting things down before others do it for them. I hear it a lot from fans of manga or romance novels or YA novels. Like they know they’re supposed to be reading Proust or Faulkner, but they just couldn’t help themselves.
But here’s what really bothers me. The phrase “guilty pleasure” is always, always applied to entertainment that appeals to the emotion rather than the intellect. It’s as if we’re afraid to have an emotional experience unless we kind of hate ourselves for doing so.
No, people. Just no.
Life is too short to worry about what your entertainment choices say about you as a person. And life is way too short to mock the things you love just because they bring you big laughs or big tears.
You know what I love? I love Pippin the musical. I love Star Trek, Mad Max, and any movie that has Jackie Chan in it. I love the Bernie Rhodenbarr books by Lawrence Block and the Goblin books by Jim C. Hines. And I will watch anything on HGTV. My favorite are those home makeover shows where the people cry at the end. Sometimes I cry too.
All these things are awesome. These stories feed my mind and my heart. and I refuse to label them guilty pleasures. I don’t have to justify the feelings I have toward them—or the feelings I get from experiencing them.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some friends coming over in a few minutes to watch Mad Max Fury Road. But first, I think I’ll queue up the Pippin soundtrack and dance around my house while singing “Corner of the Sky.”
And if my friends catch me doing it, I won’t be embarrassed.
I’ll invite them to sing along.
About the author: Alex Kourvo is a freelance editor who never feels guilty about enjoying the books she’s reading.