“Guilty pleasure” devalues enjoyable media 

Media consumption nowadays is more and more a part of culture, with popular shows being commonly referenced no matter where you go. With people’s opinions on shows varying radically, people often judge each other based on what they watch and how they interpret it. Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash.

Since sometime in the spring last year, I’ve found myself dreading the question, “What shows are you watching on Netflix right now?” And surprisingly, it’s not due to my intense hatred of small talk. It’s because for me, the honest answer is “Riverdale”, which admitting always brings forth an intense need to explain myself to others with statements like the creators “…really had a story in the beginning, the execution just failed,” or claims that I know it’s bad but now “I’m too invested to give up on it.” But why should I feel this way about a show that I enjoy?  

We’ve probably all heard or personally used the term “guilty pleasure [insert piece of media].” In general, when we use this term we are referring to a film, television program, specific song or music genre in general, that we enjoy but would be embarrassed if other people found out about it or if prompted to admit. Typically, when we discuss guilty pleasure media, we’re referring to “trash” reality television, an overdone romantic comedy or in general, media not generally respected for its quality. It’s even prompted a huge trend of click-able articles with titles like “The 10 Best Guilty Pleasure TV Shows, According to Reddit,” and the ultimate – and extremely recent – Buzzfeed quiz, “Here are 16 of my guilty pleasure movies and I just wanna know how many of them you’d also watch.”  

As silly or all-in-good-fun as this terminology might seem, I don’t think this is a healthy way for us to frame our relationship with the media we enjoy. Associating our likes or the things from which we derive joy with the concept of guilt consequently brings a negative relationship to joy itself. It perpetuates the idea that we cannot have pleasure or enjoyment purely for their own sake. Why can you not just like what you like? Why is there a need to feel bad about it? 

Popular streaming services like Netflix make certain shows accessible for watch at any time. This makes it more common for people to criticize what others do or do not watch. Photo by Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash.

Likely, this negative connotation we have with seemingly “unsophisticated” media ties back to our cultural obsession with productivity. The comfort that we find in productivity spills out beyond our work-lives, until a “work-life balance” is a thing of fantasy. This then invades our hobbies and leisure time, until this time eventually ceases to exist in our schedule. Moving through life like the Energizer Bunny and never stopping further creates the notion that any media that is not a “classic” or otherwise held in high regard is a waste of time.  

As mentioned above, both the high drama of reality television, or cheesiness of romantic comedies or even “Riverdale”’s corny nature are not valued in society, as they have no ties to high academia, or other media we have deified societally. This media is not elitist; it’s made for the common man, and is thus devalued. But if you enjoyed the time you “wasted,” how could it be wasted time?  

The language we use in our everyday lives has larger implications regarding our values and overall perceptions of the world. Thus, while this may come across as a nit-picky argument overall, it is an important distinction to make. The things you enjoy shouldn’t be dismissed in everyday dialogue. You shouldn’t feel obligated to hide the favorable things in your life, or feel like you won’t be taken seriously if you state them aloud. The term “guilty pleasure” perpetuates these trends. 

So, I’ll proudly say it: The show I’m currently watching on Netflix is “Riverdale”. I don’t feel bad about it; and I’d love to discuss it in-depth with you. I’m a fan of pretty much any romantic comedy, and I have sat down with the explicit intent of watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” before. Don’t let guilt rule your world.  

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