Screenshot of Jaime and Claire from Starz's Outlander.

Guilty Doesn’t Mean Bad

When talking to a co-worker about how I was reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon because I was a big fan of the show on Starz, the words “It’s a guilty pleasure of mine” actually slipped out of my mouth.

I thought I had stricken that phrase out of my vocabulary, but sometimes it makes its way into my speech, no matter how much I try to keep it out. I started this when I realized that “guilty pleasure” was something I used to wave away things I enjoyed, but knew the average person would think were silly or trivial. Or, more often than not, media that is primarily aimed at women.

Case in point:  Outlander (the show and the books), most reality shows (I’m partial to home improvement shows), most of the books I read (a lot of my female friends read young adult novels), like Jacqueline Carey’s and Anne Rice’s books…. One of the few exceptions to this rule happens to be my love of the Fast and Furious franchise.

I decided to stop using that phrase because I always seemed to use it to subtly slam things I genuinely enjoy before someone else can.  The decision goes along with my argument that anyone can be a nerd or a geek — in that same vein, there are many ways to enjoy media.  I don’t think enjoying Game of Thrones should be seen as much different from enjoying Outlander.  Outlander focuses on a smaller cast of characters (at least so far in my reading), is a little more focused on personal experiences rather than political… but the both feature their fair share of sex, violence, and political intrigue. One series happens to be written by a man and the other a women….

So what’s the difference? Why do I feel just fine admitting my enjoyment of Game of Thrones while having to qualify my enjoyment of Outlander as a “guilty pleasure” that I let myself consume? I’m afraid I don’t really have a straight answer.

That’s a question I’d like to pose to our readers:

Is there a theme to the things you consider guilty pleasures?  What do they have in common?

And why do we feel embarrassment about admitting we like certain things and not others? Does it have anything to do with how widely accepted it is in popular culture?

3 thoughts on “Guilty Doesn’t Mean Bad”

  1. I called anything a "guilty pleasure" that didn't fit with the image I wanted to project of myself. I'm fine admitting I read and love YA novels–but partially because I can academically defend my love for them as consistently "better stories" than those marketed at adults. Fanfiction? Guilty pleasure. Especially reading it–because I could justify writing it as being essentially the same as playing Rock Band on medium: I was taking away some of the elements (like the orange button) in order to master the others. Reality TV and video gaming are also "guilty pleasures" to me.

    I guess things I consider a "waste of time" because I want to be seen as productive, or things I consider juvenile because I become irrationally angry when I'm treated like younger than I am. I want to be seen as academic, so anything "brainless" is a guilty pleasure, too…

    But you make a very good point. If they're enjoyable, why feel guilty about it?

  2. This is a great question and brings up a really important theme, I think. How often are our guilty pleasures female centric or "feminine" media? I generally think about some of the soap opera shows I watch like Drop Dead Diva or Desperate Housewives as guilty pleasures. I can also defend my interest in them academically – both have strong, independent female leads and the stories are definitely feminine. (And somewhat trashy, especially in the case of Desperate Housewives.)

    Rhonda and I talked about GoT one time off the show. It's very sexist. The treatment of women is terrible and continues to get worse. For all the fleshed out female characters that I love there is another that suffers needless nudity and sensational violence. The themes in GoT are inherently masculine. It's always a male heir to sit on the Iron Throne. The only woman in consideration for that hot seat just happens to have three feral dragons to back her up.

    So is masculine themed media more socially acceptable and therefore NOT a guilty pleasure?

    Rochelle: Love the connection you make to identity here. We do construct how people see us and the entertainment we watch and discuss, even in academic terms, reflects either well or poorly on us.

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