The Idea of Guilty Pleasures

Disclaimer: If anyone is expecting this blog post to arrive anywhere near a conclusion, it is best to step off before the train gets rolling.  It arrives nowhere.  Stay on board if you think you might enjoy some of the scenery we pass on the way back to where we started.

Last night on Twitter, the subject of “guilty pleasures” came up. What do we mean by it? Is it an inherently objectionable concept? &c &c.  Some questions were asked that I’m having trouble answering, so I’m going to explore them a little.  Guilty pleasure, I think, is a concept worth taking some time with, if for no other reason than because it has some interesting interactions with the question of what we mean by “good.”  And, at least for a writer, it is always worth exploring that question, seeing as how, you know, writing stuff that’s good is kinda the goal.

Those who are saying, “it is time we get rid of this whole concept of guilty pleasures,” have an interesting point.  At least as I understand it, the argument runs, “If you’re enjoying it, there is something of value in it.  If there is something of value in it, maybe we should spend more time figuring out what that is and seeing if others will enjoy it, instead of castigating ourselves for enjoying it even though it does other things badly.”  That’s kind of hard to argue with.  Let’s see where it leads us.

First of all, to be clear, I do not actually feel guilty–in the strict, literal, I-have-just-hurt-the-feelings-of-someone-I-love sense of guilty, about enjoying something I call a guilty pleasure; nor does anyone else I know who uses the term.   What it means for most of us seems to be something along the lines of, “I like this, but I’m afraid if I admit it I’ll be teased about it,” or, “I recognize that this is a bad one-of-these, but I like it anyway.”  Hidden (or, perhaps, not hidden at all) in the idea of guilty pleasures are, therefore, two interesting concepts: one, that we worry about being judged for our taste, and, two, the idea that it is reasonable to have a sort of “good/bad” scale that is at least somewhat independent of one’s “like/dislike” scale.  At which point we realize that what we’re saying (to ourselves if not to anyone else) is, “I’m sorry I’m enjoying this.  I apologize.  I know I shouldn’t.” Sounds kind of dumb, doesn’t it?

Another thing that enters at this point is snobbery.  I don’t terribly care for snobbery, nor do I terribly care for those who point and cry snobbery whenever someone dares to suggest that the food at White Castle may not be as good as at the 5-star restaurant of your choice.  Here, too, we have the idea that there is something to the judgment of good/bad as distinct from like/dislike.

We all know that, for many, many years, science-fiction itself was something that certain literati who enjoyed it have called a guilty pleasure.  For me, the idea of apologizing for enjoying Theodore Sturgeon or Gene Wolfe is silly at best.  And I know that it would hurt my feelings to have someone call my work a guilty pleasure.  So, then, what am I doing apologizing (even if only to myself) for much the same thing?

Can I find a rational argument to support this position? Well, aside from cases that are so extreme as to be useless (horrible errors in spelling, grammar, syntax, or other technical problems) I really can’t. But I do feel that way.  I do feel that, for example, The Destroyer novels (one of my guilty pleasures) is, quite simply, not as good as, say, Zelazny’s Lord of Light.  I’m not at all certain I can justify that feeling, but neither can I ignore it.

I don’t know. Is my belief that there is good and bad in the arts anything more than rank pragmatism?  In other words, is it more than the knowledge that, if I don’t believe in “good,” I’ll be less driven to do my best work? I hope there’s more to it than that. My opinion of pragmatism is something I’ll save for another post, but it isn’t pretty.

There are a some subjective observations that might provide insight: 1. When I think of something as a guilty pleasure, it is based in part on the feeling that the artist did not do his or her best work–that this could have been better if the artist had cared enough.  2. One thing that I always feel when in the presence of what I consider great art, is a sense of awe that a mere human being, just like me, was able to do this, combined with a sense of pride in being a member of a species that could produce it. 3. Confession time:  When addressing a work that I consider good, especially a story, there is at least little part of me (and sometimes a big part) that is feeling, “Damn, I wish I’d created this!”  I never have that feeling with those works that I categorize as guilty pleasures.

So, as promised, I have arrived nowhere.  I’m still not sure what I think about this, or why I think it.  I know it is interesting, and I believe it matters, so I look forward to hearing what some of you think about it.


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52 thoughts on “The Idea of Guilty Pleasures”

  1. For me, guilty pleasures are things I enjoy even though I’m very aware of their shortcomings and completely understand why others might not enjoy them. Much of my current TV watching falls under that category. Except for Justified, because people who don’t love Justified should only be pitied.

    Hmm. And regarding your #3, I feel like if the creators of my guilty pleasures had consulted me, some of the problems could’ve been fixed. Which actually means they could’ve just made it even more for my id.

    Hmm. Which is not to say all guilty pleasures are purely for my id. But I can’t think of any guilty pleasures where I think, “They put too much craft in that, but I love it anyway.”

  2. I hear it most often used when people eat something that breaks their diet or they see as unhealthy (cupcakes, chocolate bars, bread, etc.). It’s not necessarily going against the opinions of others but against their own internal self control so they feel they’ve let themselves down.

  3. Imagine a member of the upper class who knows that his pleasures come at the expense of oppressing the proletariat. But he enjoys them anyway. Is it right for him to feel guilty?

    What about a man who enjoys prostitutes? Say he enjoys the feeling of power, the sense that he is having sex with women who would not have sex with him unless he had this power over them, that he can get them to do degrading things for money because they need money. It might be appropriate for him to feel guilty. It would be more appropriate for him not to do it, but that’s asking a lot….

    Maybe a part of feeling guilty is to announce to yourself and whoever else you want to show you feel guilty to, that you are a good person even though you do bad things. If you did bad things without feeling guilty, that would mean you were rotten through and through. But instead you know it’s bad, and you hate that you do it anyway, and maybe someday you’ll do something good to try to make up for it.

    Sorry to use second person, I ought to go back and change that around since I don’t want to say this about you. whoever’s reading this. but I’m in a hurry so I’ll just add the disclaimer.

  4. Guilty pleasures for me, are pleasures that I know are flawed–bad special effects. A horrible plot, and the like. Something less than healthy for me (hello Marshmallow Fluff) I can see the flaws, see the mistaken framework, the problems in enjoying what I enjoy–and not care.

    Is a pleasure that is offensive to others, though is that a guilty pleasure-or is it a mistaken pleasure?

  5. > the idea that it is reasonable to have a sort of “good/bad” scale that is at least somewhat independent of one’s “like/dislike” scale

    For me these two scales may overlap somewhat, but they really are distinct.

    The first time I noticed it was when I watched that Jodie Foster as FBI agent, serial killer movie (no I can never remember the name). Was that a ‘good’, i.e. well written, well directed, well acted, movie? Absolutely. Did I like it? No. Will I ever watch it again? Hell no.

    On the other side, was Heinlein’s The Number of the Beast a great piece of art? Certainly not. Will I read it over and over again? Yes.

    I personally think it’s odd that we have a name for the second meme, but not for the first. Unless it’s “Classic”?

  6. Occasionally I would consider even a good book/Tv show/etc. as a guilty pleasure not because of anything to do with it, but rather because I feel I should be doing something else, such as an essay or project I have due

  7. I wonder if some of it doesn’t go back to the idea that entertainment ought to serve a purpose “higher” than entertaining — that it’s justified by its ability to educate or uplift, to bring about catharsis, etc. so that a guilty pleasure is one that is only a pleasure and not also an education, inspiration, revelation.

  8. I also feel guilty pleasures for anything that I like but disapprove of. Certain works have strong thematic messages or implicit morals, i.e. “the world would be better this way,” and sometimes I find those messages heinous, but the work still enjoyable. So, the work is a guilty pleasure. It’s not just that I want to apologize for liking it, but I want to distinguish myself from being the kind of person who likes that kind of thing,

    Although, sometimes I just root for the villains in the book (or whatever), and am therefore unapologetic about it.

    But maybe this is all another distinct category from the more casual guilty pleasures.

  9. Skye, I think that’s true in some cases, but for me, there’s little education, inspiration, or revelation in Justified, and yet I won’t feel a touch of guilt because it’s my idea of great entertainment. But I do feel some guilt for liking Arrow, The Musketeers, SHIELD, Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Glee. They do enough right that I can enjoy them (though if the Sif episode had sucked, I would’ve dropped SHIELD this week), but I have to admit they all have weaknesses even when viewed only as entertainment. Maybe it’s the difference between milk chocolate and dark chocolate.

  10. If one is defined by one’s tastes or pleasures, then one might be embarassed to not live up to some classic ideal. I think there is a second definition related more to the self control issue others have touched on.

    On the first point, if part of me loves Big Trouble in Little China more than any other film, then that part must be defective (as judged by My Inner Inquisitor, internalized culture mores, my intuition as to what it would say to people who have real power over me, etc.). Thus it behooves me not to air my deficiencies in public.

    On the second, if part of me glories in excessive (by whatever standard you choose) pie eating when I am 40 pounds overweight or takes pleasure in something which exploits or degrades someone else, then perhaps I should keep that to myself.

    Third concept lurking under term “guilty pleasure,” is the fun derived from being perverse or playing at being perverse. This need not be all that abstract or extreme either. I think saying My Guility Pleasure is Chocolate is in itself fun for many people. The whole raison d’etre for MST3K is “OH my God, why am I torturing myself with this lousy movie? Why do I keep watching?” It has some of the relief of confession. It elicits others to form comradeship by giving their own secret or sharing in yours. It also partakes of the “hedonism” of Thomas Jefferson (no, not that hedonism): the pleasure in experiencing or learning about that which one chooses, not about that which one is expected to do or that which God/society/right thought demands that you spend your time on.

  11. From the discussion, it sounds like the guilt is imposed externally (even if it has become internalized.

    I go with the Popeye (I loved that movie) philosophy, “I yam what I yam.” I try to enjoy life and don’t feel guilty. I try to not do things I feel are bad in my own judgement. I probably wouldn’t enjoy them if I did them. So offhand, I can’t think of any “Guilty Pleasures” for me.

    I can see that in some cases, the guilt could add to the pleasure aspect. Namely getting away with something you shouldn’t be doing. Like setting off fireworks on July 4, and hoping the cops don’t get you. Beer helps.

  12. I have to agree with @WillShetterly and @PaulWeimer here – for me, the idea of “guilty pleasures” is something that you enjoy, but that you’d be embarrassed about because it tends to be severely lacking in one or more areas of quality, or is directly bad for you in some mild way. I say mild, because if it’s seriously bad for you, then you need to consider it a problem, such as an addiction, and not a guilty pleasure.

  13. Well, it’s been a long day, and I have a lot of things to do tomorrow, if I am to make my bucket list cruise to actually happen on Monday, but I would like to note that rereading Lord of Light, over and over again, was the only thing which held me together over this last ten days; whilst they were trying to find out whether the the bacteria which live in my lungs has colonised my burnt leg.

    If it had infected the burn area then my survival chances were minimal; I knew this. They are not prepared to do skin grafts because it carries such immense risks for someone like me.

    So, please remember there are books which will stand out from the others; the ones that we turn to in imminent times of danger, to the body, heart and soul…

  14. Stevie, I’m sorry you have these health issues. I hope you recover soon. Is it wise to travel at this time or shouldn’t I ask.

  15. David

    It’s a good question,but the chief practioner at the burns clinics threw his heart and mind into working out a way to get me there, safely; my GP has checked me out as well. So I’m,good to go.

    I suspect that the hospital knows that’s it’s now or never for my bucket travel; I’m still hoping to tuck a few more items into the list.

    And thank you for your kind words, and please read Zelazny to see why he would assist someone who needed helping…

  16. Several posts focus on embarrassment, but I think that is a proxy for the deeper issue of doing something we believe is wrong (we get embarrassed when such things become known to others). Not too wrong—nobody is going to call adultery or murdering that annoying neighbor a guilty pleasure—but just a little bit wrong. It may be succumbing to temptation that we know will hurt us long term (eating that doughnut when we know we’re overweight) or to things that will hurt others (staying up late to finish that book, even though we’ll be tired and do worse work tomorrow).

  17. I don’t comment often, though I read here pretty faithfully, but this post sparked a thought in me I wanted to share. Skye touched on a piece of it herself: I think the whole notion of “guilty pleasure” is tied up in our concepts of “art” and “entertainment.” We consider something a “guilty pleasure” when we perceive it as entertaining, but not artistic, for whatever reason. Perhaps it is too formulaic or generic. Or it builds from stereotypes we actually don’t espouse. Maybe we recognize it is actually “objectively bad” but our nostalgia goggles refuse to come off (the entertainment we enjoyed as children often falls into this position). Yet, despite these flaws, the work is enjoyable for us – the characters are relateable, or the use of color is pleasing, or the bass line gets our blood pumping. Whatever the particular reason, we implicitly acknowledge that the “guilty pleasure” is less in some way than something “truly good,” but it brings us pleasure anyway.

  18. Taellosse, that kind of begs the question as to why one might think something they enjoy was “bad.” If you are talking about Smerfs, you are right. But do you really feel it is bad or are you thinking other people would judge it as bad if they knew about it?

  19. It parses to me as “I feel I would be a better person if I did not consume this thing, but the enjoyment I get from it matters more to me than the likely-trivial self-actualization gains.”

  20. I suppose it’s a lot more revolting when one’s idea of “better person” is about status display, not self-actualization.

    By some coincidence, pretty much everything is more revolting in that circumstance.

  21. “At which point we realize that what we’re saying (to ourselves if not to anyone else) is, ‘I’m sorry I’m enjoying this. I apologize. I know I shouldn’t.'”

    I feel that’s a little harsh. Think back to when you were a kid and your folks said “Don’t eat that, it’ll spoil your appetite.” How many kids then specifically ate it anyway, giggling because they were defying their parents?

    I think a lot of what people call guilty pleasures are simply mini-rebellions. They know someone whom they respect, whether parents, spouse or society in general, would disapprove, but they’re going to do it anyway. It’s being naughty in a frivolous way.

    “I do feel that, for example, The Destroyer novels (one of my guilty pleasures) is, quite simply, not as good as, say, Zelazny’s Lord of Light. I’m not at all certain I can justify that feeling, but neither can I ignore it.”

    In a case as specific as this, could it simply be that you feel it’s a sort of betrayal of Zelazny, whom you clearly admire, to also enjoy a series of books you don’t think are as well written?

    Your second to last paragraph only refers to works of art. Have you ever felt guilty pleasure for enjoying a day at a fairway, wasting $10 trying to win a $2 toy, or just sitting outside and enjoying the day when you could be doing something productive? If so, maybe you’re just enjoying your own kind of freedom. If not, if you tend to only or mainly feel it in relation to art, then maybe you do feel guilty for enjoying something without learning from it. (That’s the impression I get from your saying you never wish you had created that when enjoying a guilty pleasure read.)

  22. People are referring to a wide variety of sources of guilt in their guilty pleasures. And myself, I often use the term with no explicit measurement on an objective quality scale; having any vague reservation about the activity seems sufficient. Could be according to some measurement of quality, artistic or ethical. But it could also be purely personal evaluation of productive use of time.

    Glee is a case of the first. Sometimes Justified qualifies as the second, relative to other things I want to do. For Justified, that bar is pretty high, though ;-)

    Edit to add another instance of the first: Heinlein. I recognize that a lot of the social assumptions are dated, and potentially offensive. I still enjoy the stories.

    Not trying to re-stir the Heinlein controversy pot, but that has been on my mind lately.

  23. Omigosh.
    Stevie, I hadn’t heard about you recent health problems.
    I hope you get well quickly and uneventfully — and stay well.

    –Lee Gold

  24. I’ve always viewed “guilty pleasures” as something that isn’t good for you, but you enjoy anyway. Like, eating that bowl of chocolate chip ice cream even though you know it’s gonna make you fat. The idea can be the same in entertainment. Such as watching Transformers 2 even though you know it’s not really all that good. You know you shouldn’t give them the time of day, but you can’t resist and watch anyway.

    However, I do agree that as far as entertainment goes, you like what you like regardless of everyone else. I’ve always felt that the “guilty” comes from your own feeling about the situation more than anything else. I personally don’t care if someone else knows that I watch something, but I also know it doesn’t stimulate my intelligence in any way. *Shrug* Everyone reads/watches things for different reasons. If it works for you…great.

    Does make me wonder how people feel about watching wrestling? Heh, it’s always been a “guilty pleasure” of mine.

  25. This comes up with music a lot. Someone tells me to listen to x band, and I come back saying that although I did not enjoy it, I can see that they are very skilled and are doing something important and interesting.

    There’s a respect spectrum and an enjoyment spectrum.

    My primary guilty pleasures are things which I enjoy, but don’t grow from or learn from. I never think about them afterwards. Like some types of drunkenness, I suppose. These tend to be rewatching or rereading things for the nth time.

    A more suspect* guilty pleasure is the Janet Evanovich Stephanie Plum novels. I don’t typically tell people I read those (even though they’re well-written! They do what the do well!) and it’s not exactly that I think other people will judge me, but it doesn’t fit with my own personal narrative of who I am.

    (*suspect in that my motivations for feeling ‘guilty’ are probably ego-driven)

  26. Okay, what about erotica and porn? I enjoy reading erotica as much as the next person (and there’s a high likelihood that the next person enjoys it) and I feel like there’s a lot of unnecessary stigma around a reading category that is as artistic and useful as any other. If I ever feel like something is a “guilty pleasure,” it’s probably that (or fanfic).

  27. “I feel like there’s a lot of unnecessary stigma around a reading category that is as artistic and useful as any other.”

    That takes us back to genre, which I tend to think of as “stuff you will like if you like this stuff”. Most of the porn I’ve read is not particularly artistic; it’s just porn. Like any other genre, porn seeks to engage a particular sense in the reader—in this case, the erotic.

    Pedantry warning: Genres named by their intended effect include horror and mystery; westerns are part of a broader adventure genre. If f&sf had been named by its intended effect, it would be called something like wonder fiction. The stigma with all genre work is that it’s assumed generic work isn’t as artistically crafted and doesn’t seek the range of emotional response we expect in “literature”.

    So, having said that, I would love to see lists of porn that people think transcends its genre. Who are the Le Guins and Zelaznys of porn? (If I was making the list, Delany and Jacqueline Carey would be on it.) Uh, not suggesting we hijack this thread with lists. Just trying to say that if you think porn/erotica is as legit as any other genre—in theory, I do—you have to be able to point to the people who’re obviously better than generic, who are good enough that you might like their work even if you didn’t like erotica/porn. Currently I think that’s a very short list, but I’d love to be proven wrong.

    And taking this back to the subject, sure, most porn is about as guilty of a guilty pleasure as a guilty pleasure can be.

  28. Jen: Ooooo. Hadn’t thought of erotica/porn! Totes a guilty pleasure. But, oddly, not at all what I was thinking about when writing this post. Hmmm…maybe TOO guilty?

    Will: quibble: Mysterys are not defined by intended effect; perhaps the “whodunit” subset is.

    Was chatting with Cecilia Tan when Jen and I were visiting there. She wasn’t attempting to DEFINE the difference between porn and erotica, but she did make a passing remark about, “stories that make you horny” and “stories that make you horny and also do the other stuff you’re expecting from a story.” I blinked and said brilliantly, “Wow.”

  29. Steve, mysteries are supposed to make you want to know the answer to the mystery, yes? They’re related to scifi in suggesting the universe is knowable, but the point isn’t wonder in the sense of marvel. it’s wonder in the sense of wondering who dunnit why. Got a better word for the intended effect? I agree mystery doesn’t precisely cover it.

    I also don’t mean genres only do one thing. They just have a primary thing..

  30. And not surprisingly, Cecelia Tan’s Struck by Lightning series would be at the top of my list of erotica that transcends the generic. I feel like Jacqueline Carey belongs there, sure, though it mixes genres (I always put the Kushiel series in lists of epic fantasy recs). Same with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander. I’ve read a lot of short erotic fic on Ao3 and tumblr that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend on the basis of being good damn writing (but I don’t curate any lists of it). And there’s Carrie’s Story/Safe Word by Molly Weatherfield.

    So a lot of what I consider the “best erotica” is there because it is great in terms of some other genre (usually fantasy, that being the thing I like best) in addition to having good romance/sex. I guess the rest is mostly BDSM porn that succeeds in the effort to meaningfully examine character, language, and power dynamics.

    I guess I’d classify something erotic as a “guilty pleasure” if I would read it and like it but would only recommend it to a lover for specific entertainment purposes, as opposed to tweeting about it.

  31. Will: I’d say no. Mysteries like those of Agatha Christie, Arthur Connon Doyle, and Rex Stout, for example, have the effect you describe. Mysteries like those of Robert B. Parker, John D. MacDonald, and Raymond Chandler go for precisely the same effect as an adventure novel. The reader is not invited, as the primary thing, to solve for the killer, but to experience the danger, the fighting, and so on. Hence the subcategory of the “Whodunit” style mystery. Naturally, as always, there are gray areas.

    Jen: I was about to put Carey at the top of my list, but, on reflection, you’re right; epic fantasy with a strong erotic element. I think your last paragraph makes a good distinction. On the other hand, with porn or erotica, one might argue that if you don’t feel at least a little guilty about it, you’re missing out on some of the fun.

  32. Jen, I think “I would only recommend it to people who like stuff like it” is a fine definition of guilty pleasure. It’s why fans are so grateful when they find each other.

    Steve, the mystery field is a bit like the horror field in that it’s a grab bag of related but sometimes very different things. The folks you mention as having the same effect as an adventure novel are people who, at their best, transcend the mystery genre while working within its tropes. And because I’m too damn fond of arguing, I would also say they do what I like best in a mystery, the whydoneit and the howtosolveit.

    And I’m now thinking a little of the fun of a guilty pleasure is enjoying the guilt.

  33. I think erotica / porn is more of a guilty pleasure in American society than most others, due to the strong taboo on it that we’ve had for ages. It’s artificial, but there are also whole swaths of it that build on that guilt to enhance it.

  34. I love movies like “The Evil Dead” and “Sean of the Dead”. Probably more satire on Horror movies than otherwise. But I don’t feel one bit guilty.

    I could never get into the general Horror movie, let alone books. They are just too stupid for me. It’s like, “let us sexy young girls go to a cabin in the woods, with no phone or lights and run around half naked and separate so some horrible creature/person can kill us off one by one.”

    I like mysteries and how-to-solve-its. But why should one feel guilty for reading them. Writing good ones is quite a skill. Probably writing screen plays is easier in some way because you can keep the pace up so the reader/viewer can’t see the errors of omission behind the scenes. I do enjoy the craft.

  35. I was talking to some co-workers about this and found an interesting common denominator, namely that the folks I asked only felt admitted to feeling guilty when it came to how they thought of themselves. That is, one gentleman writes poetry and was even published in college, and he admitted he sort of likes some basic rhymed verse. Another guy who raps confessed he has enjoyed country music. A woman who dreams of starting her own bakery laughed when she said she likes boxed cake mixes.

    The common denominator seems to be the idea that there is an objective measure of what’s good in a person’s chosen area of expertise, and to knowingly enjoy something less than that is somehow a silly thing but one they’re going to do anyway, a.k.a. a guilty pleasure.

    They all seemed more amused at themselves than embarrassed for feeling like that, although that might be just a reflection of the sort of person I gravitate towards.

    As for the mystery discussion, I’ve always viewed genre descriptions as just the element of a plot the publisher wants to emphasize. A book about a lawyer prosecuting a serial killer but fearing there’s a copy cat is a legal novel, a police procedural, a whodunit and a thriller all at once, but it will labelled according to what the publisher thinks will sell, while readers will categorize it depending on the aspect they like best.

  36. “I’ve always viewed genre descriptions as just the element of a plot the publisher wants to emphasize”

    When we talk about genre, it’s usually useful to say which kind, ’cause you’re completely correct that that’s how marketing genres work. Literary genres are things you don’t see in bookstores that cut through marketing genres: coming-of-age stories, etc. And then there’s a halfway form of genre that lets people argue about which marketing genre a book should be shelved in.

    I recently saw the dog on a forbidden bed video and realized we may not be able to precisely define what a guilty pleasure is, but that sure shows what it looks like.

  37. Coming of age? I wouldn’t have thought of that as a specific genre, but rather as the general plot, or at least a plot point. Wasn’t EM Forester’s defintion that plot is what happened and the story is why? Coming of age strikes me as the what in that regard. Of course, I’m looking at it solely from the perspective of a reader, not a writer.

  38. The fancy name is the bildungsroman. Marketing genres tend to be about what readers want and literary genres tend to be about the underlying nature of a story. That’s my answer right now, anyway.

  39. …and…we’ve gone entirely tangential. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind; more amusing, especially as I believe our gracious host fully intended this discussion to run rampant.

  40. I see the dichotomy as ‘like/dislike’ and ‘good/bad FOR YOU’. ‘Good/bad’ is a big umbrella that covers both, because there’s good inherent in both ‘like’ and ‘good for you’, and bad in both ‘dislike’ and ‘bad for you’. I agree with Skye that the idea of guilty pleasures stems from the belief that culture is good for you. Schadenfreude doesn’t fit into this paradigm, though, unless you believe that another’s pain hurts you, as well.

    If you equate pleasure and happiness, then you have to wonder what Aristotle would have said about the idea of guilty pleasures.

  41. @W. Shetterly: Columbia U. has an essay that goes into several sub-categories of the coming of age story, including “kunstlerroman”, or novels about an artist’s maturing. I think that’s far more nuanced than most people – and all marketers – need.

    On a totally unrelated topic, given your interest in mobbing etc., I thought you’d be interested in the story of a study of climate change deniers that was removed after those who do the denying engaged in “cyber-bullying and public abuse by ‘trolling’…harassment by vexatious freedom-of-information (FOI) requests…complaints to academic institutions; legal threats; and …intimidation of journal editors and publishers who are acting on manuscripts that are considered inconvenient.”

    That article has a link to “Recursive fury: conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation”, the researchers’ study of the attacks on their earlier research.

    (Mr. Brust: Sorry for taking space here for this, but the comments are closed on the SFWA thread, which is where it best fits.)

  42. A funny thing happened when the DSM-5 came out last summer. Something I’ve been involved with for almost thirty years stopped being a pathology. Because the community who engage in this behavior are more numerous than one would expect at first blush, suddenly the question of “why” people engage in this behavior can be asked and research begun. (Couldn’t ask it before, because the answer was mental illness.)

    Why bring this up in a thread about guilty pleasures?

    On the one hand, I use the words as most others do to describe my appreciation for silly movies and books. But I now understand those as popcorn, thanks to the post a few years ago about the four food groups of literature (popcorn, steak, caviar and celery, for those playing at home).In this case, the guilt is imposed directly by my sense that popcorn is a waste of time that could be better spent.

    On the other hand, I do not talk about my “hobby” at work or church, nor at my child’s school nor indeed most places, because I do not wish to offend the sensibilities of others (don’t want to suffer any reprisals, either). So I now wear t-shirts under my dress shirt when I didn’t use to, long sleeves all summer long, and sometimes won’t take off my jacket no matter the climate. In my own mind, my mental short-hand calls this another “guilty pleasure.” In this case, I presume the guilt to be imposed by others and the society in which I live.

    So I feel guilty for wasting time on trivialities but can admit them publicly; yet don’t actually feel guilty for playing out scenes that benefit all who participate yet am unwillingly to publicly share that.

    Wonderfully malleable phrase, “guilty pleasure.” Ironically, even the title of one of my guilty pleasure authors.

  43. That’s really interesting. Heh. It’s funny how something like the redefinition of a thing by others can change how we feel about it. I mean, not that this necessarily happened in your case, but it can happen.

    Not directly related, but it does remind me of when I was sitting on the porch in Austin a few weeks ago, checked the temperature, and found that over the last hour it had jumped five degrees, and I immediately felt warmer. Fascinating thing, the mind.

  44. The Mandolorian. Idiot simple plot points, so predictable it hurts, and the stormtroopers always miss and the special guest stars always emote.

    But dang it those story boards at the end are so cool. And the music is CATCHY. I call it “empty calories” because I actually prefer to think at least a little bit while watching f/sf.

    To my friends, I admit I watch and I also share my criticisms. Guilty pleasure.

  45. The Mandalorian proves that if your McGuffin is good enough, you can let everything else slide. You shouldn’t, but you can.

  46. I feel that the acting is good, amd the visuals excellent. But I admit I have to turn a blind eye to anything resembling “plot makes sense”.

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