Join 3,572 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


An Idea Whose Time Has Come, Or Gone
February 12, 2014 11:49 AM   Subscribe

"All of the Pleasure. None of the Guilt," an article from this past Sunday's NY Times Magazine, was inspired in part by a similar article posted recently on the New Yorker's Page Turner blog, "Against 'Guilty Pleasure.'" It has, in turn, inspired another article in the Los Angeles Times: "The art of the guilty pleasure." All author's opine, "Is it time we retired the idea of 'guilty pleasure(s)'?"

This idea also appeared on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, a little over two years ago: "The Guilty Pleasure Problem."

And...Yet another recent article suggests we take another look at the idea of the "guilty pleasure" but has a very different idea of what a guilty pleasure actually is, one that involves real culpability: "Uncomfortable Truths: Why It's Time To Redefine The 'Guilty Pleasure'."
posted by eric1halfb (82 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
The problem with all this is that it takes the fun out of getting off on technicalities.
posted by srboisvert at 11:59 AM on February 12 [2 favorites]


"Pleasure too rare to be guilty" -Cat And Girl.
posted by The Whelk at 12:01 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


That last link makes more sense to me; that's guilt meaning "guilt." As one of my pals said at the podcast linked above (thanks!), the problem with the traditional definition of guilty pleasures is that it isn't really guilt; it's shame. It's not a disconnect between your moral compass and your behavior; it's a disconnect between what you enjoy and what what People Like You are meant to enjoy.

I mean, if I really felt truly guilty about watching Judge Judy, I'd (1) suffer more over it, and I'd (2) stop. My beef with it is that "guilty pleasure" often becomes a way for people not to engage with things, and not to engage with their own enjoyment of them. I always want to say, "You like that thing; deal. Be the person who likes that thing and reconcile that with your view of yourself and complicate your own sense of who likes what."

The things I feel guilty about watching or reading or listening to are the things I don't even find pleasurable; they're just on. That means I'm wasting my own time. I'm not even getting pleasure, I'm just filling my house with noise. Those are the things I increasingly try not to do, along with the things that are mentioned in that last link about avoiding things that actually do have legitimate social costs, which pumping your fist to "The Final Countdown" does not.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:01 PM on February 12 [36 favorites]


SHAME
   IS
 OVER

 If you want it
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:06 PM on February 12 [18 favorites]


"Springfield will have its first annual "Do What You Feel" Festival this
Saturday, whenever you feel like showing up! It'll be a welcome change
from our annual "Do As We Say" Festival, started by German settlers in
1946."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:06 PM on February 12 [8 favorites]


It's bluntly disingenuous for the New Yorker to assert that such pleasures are only guilty insofar as they have no pretense to edification; the guilt is supposed (heh) to come from their complicity in ideal structures of domination, in the reification of contingent social processes to end of legitimating axiomatizations beneficial to the ruling class. Or: you should feel guilty because Katy Perry is just another plasticized woman whose idolization and dehumanization supports patriarchy at the level of culture. Or so the argument might go, anyway.

So basically, this is really a complete and radical rejection of a critical orientation to manufactured culture, implicitly vis-a-vis its relationship to capitalism, structures of oppression, and domination. On one hand, I can appreciate it because the sort of person whose political/cultural consciousness informs their behavior only as far as what major brand they buy and what they enjoy isn't really doing anything important for the cause of emancipation anyway, but on the other, just saying "I don't want to feel guilty about anything I enjoy" is a little childish when some things you enjoy might genuinely awful. It's something that most people want to reject anyway, so I guess it's not bad to be honest about it.
posted by clockzero at 12:08 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


And obviously, what I just wrote isn't in reference to corny-pop-music types of guilty pleasures.
posted by clockzero at 12:09 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I for one welcome this. The traditional notion of a 'guilty pleasure' is a horribly bourgeois notion that exists mostly for yuppies with BAs in the humanities to feel superior to other people based on their bookshelves and netflix accounts (I myself am totally guilty of this). We live in a world full of amazing art things that pretty much anyone can get passionate about, and yet we still treat the whole thing like were living in the 18th century and obsessed with 'taste'. Like we're all still taking Hume or Adorno too seriously (oh, what, you haven't read Hume and Adorno? I snub my nose at thee!). Seriously though, so-called guilty pleasures are almost always the art loved by the 'common' folks, the middle and lower class, art that is cheaper and more easily mass produced and accessible. Often whatever aesthetics are actually involved are among the least defining factors of a guilty pleasure. Have you noticed that guilty pleasures only become 'guilty' when better educated, more well-off folks consume them? I don't hear a lot of less privileged people complain about feeling guilty when they listen to Miley Cyrus or read People.

I really believe it's a weird narrative we use to judge people. When it comes to art and entertainment, I truly believe that you ought to consume whatever you like to consume without any guilt. It's hardly worth reading Proust if you aren't going to enjoy it, and it's hardly worth reading Anne Rice if you're going to feel guilty the whole time. Everybody just do what you want and stop being so judgey.

I liked the Fact article, and more or less am sympathetic to the idea of redefining guilty pleasure to mean pleasure that maybe we ought to actually feel a bit guilty about. I don't think we're actually going to change the accepted meaning of 'guilty pleasure' though, but I do like the sentiment.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:10 PM on February 12 [13 favorites]


Now if we can just conversely do something about prideful suffering.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:11 PM on February 12 [14 favorites]


The older I get the less I care about what other people think about the stuff I do for fun. We have this social expectation that people of a certain class, or race, or level of educational attainment "should" or should not enjoy doing things, and that's all bullhonkey. I'm done with it. I like what I like, and attempting to shame me into liking opera, or Joyce, or whatever it is you think I should be liking, isn't going to work.

To put it more simply: there are no more guilty pleasures. There are only pleasures that I keep to myself in certain company because dealing with their stupid judgmental nonsense isn't worth the trouble.
posted by 1adam12 at 12:16 PM on February 12 [10 favorites]


Unless your guilty is murder or something, yes, let's retire the idea, especially when it comes to artistic taste. If you like something, you like something, no need to apologize to... God knows who.
posted by jonmc at 12:19 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Every time I hear someone complain about the term, "guilty pleasure" I think a big ol' honking BULLSHIT and I don't really care if that's fair or not.

It's important to be able to make critical distinctions. To know something is bad but know you have reasons for liking it and reasons for not liking it. "Guilty pleasure" is a more honest term than anybody who rails against it.

(Why yes I have thought about this too much why do you ask?)
posted by Navelgazer at 12:19 PM on February 12 [5 favorites]


So, this is what middle age is like?
posted by Pronoiac at 12:19 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I think the idea of a “guilty pleasure”, at least as most people use it, is that it's something that you aren't totally comfortable with yourself liking and/or you know it's not good for you — physically or intellectually — but that you are allowing yourself to indulge in anyway. In fact, I don't think you can separate the idea of a guilty pleasure from the idea of indulgence; they are basically saying the same thing.

Generally a guilty pleasure is something you like, but would like yourself to like less, or at least less often. It's something that runs counter to a self-directed goal, but is in some way pleasant in the short term. E.g., spending all Saturday reading schlocky pulp SF isn't intrinsically a bad thing, but it might run counter to my goals of trying to read better books; from that conflict comes the "guilt" (although usually it's a pretty mild guilt). It's because of the opportunity cost of spending your time on the pleasure instead of something more 'worthwhile', for your own personal definition of 'worthwhile'.

Calling out something that someone else is doing as a "guilty pleasure" involves a huge, heaping pile of assumptions about what their goals are or ought to be regarding the use of their time; it's a pretty assholeish thing to say absent a very personal relationship with them. The implication is that they should feel guilty about something, and that's a shitty thing to say unless there's really some objective reason why what they're doing is wrong. But if something is really wrong according to what you feel ought to be objective morality — e.g. you feel that something has negative externalities on other people — it'd be a mixed message to call it a "guilty pleasure". You might as well just say that "it's bad and you should feel bad", rather than casting indirect aspersions.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:23 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


There was kind of an adorable moment when David Tennant was on an episode of Never Mind the Buzzcocks, and the prescripted banter called for him to introduce a clip of Coldplay by making some disparaging remark. But he went off script with a rant about how you know what, he knew that it was supposedly cool to slag on them but he liked them dammit, because they were good, so "deal with it". It ended up being some sort of mini-tantrum against the idea of guilty-pleasures and slagging on things to be cool. (The fact that he was leaping to the defense of such wimpy things as Honey Nut Shredded Wheat and reality TV wasn't quite as inspirational, but whatever.)

But that kind of attitude - "this is good, deal with it" - struck me as a much saner reaction.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:23 PM on February 12 [10 favorites]


The first article seems to be about internal guilt about liking something that you're not supposed to like, but to me the concept of guilty pleasure more about hiding things that you like that other people would look down on you for liking. The sorts of things that if you're filling out an online dating profile, you leave off because you don't want people to get the wrong idea and think you're an idiot or a loser.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:23 PM on February 12


It seems like there are two conflicting ideas for what a 'guilty pleasure' can be.

1) Something you actually feel guilty about liking, because your tastes are usually more "sophisticated" (in quotes) and you have standards that are above this lowbrow disposable pop thing. You feel guilty, but it pleases you. You probably haven't given much consideration about why you feel above this thing. Maybe not so great.

2) Something that is generally dismissed by people who have "discerning" tastes as disposable trash, and you're doing a sort of reappraisal and championing it. The "no wait, you guys, this is seriously fucking good, why are you mocking it." Maybe there's a better word for this thing? But this is generally a pretty good impulse, I feel. There should be a word for this.
posted by naju at 12:26 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Uncanny as I was thinking about the weird concept of "guilty pleasures" this morning. For the longest time--and I still am to an extent--I was embarrassed about unabashedly loving cheesy supernatural television shows that are obviously geared to people in their teens/20s and not 37-year-old women. Sure, there is self-judgment and self-consciousness involved when I want to talk about TV shows I love to watch (mostly because not many other people I know watch them) but I dunno, at this point, fuck it. You want to look down your nose at me because I'd rather watch Supernatural than Critically Lauded Show That Doesn't Interest Me? Fine. You can, but you're a shitbag for doing it because I would not do the same to you.

On preview, Linda_Holmes seriously nails it for me: It's not a disconnect between your moral compass and your behavior; it's a disconnect between what you enjoy and what what People Like You are meant to enjoy.
posted by Kitteh at 12:30 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


A lot of this strikes me as really old-hat — I was writing about music about the time that Poptimism became a thing, and one of the big tenets was to reject the (oft sexist, homophobic and racist) edicts of taste bound up with "guilty pleasure."

I know that for me, what started me down that road was working at a Mexican restaurant where the only radio station we could all agree on was a particularly cheesy Classic Rock station that exposed me to a lot of stuff that I'd written off as dead, bloated and boring. Once I realized that I liked it, it both opened up a lot more music that I liked, and made me realize that I didn't really feel bad about liking it. (Luckily, I've always been fairly [over-]confident in my aesthetic judgment.)

I do think that it's worth thinking about "guilty pleasure" in the rubric of "problematic." There's a lot of stuff that I like, even as I recognize that there are deep, ugly aspects to it, e.g. how Native Americans are portrayed in Westerns, or the general misogyny of a lot of classic '70s auteur cinema. But that still doesn't make me feel guilty, per se. It makes me want to recognize and confront the ways that a lot of entertainment I engage with isn't perfect, and can cause real harm to people who aren't as lucky or privileged as I am, and to think about ways that when I make art, it can either avoid or react against some of those tendencies.

I supposed the only time when I can really understand "guilty pleasure" is when you have to give big caveats when recommending something, like, say, Zombie Ass: Toilet of the Dead, which is a hilarious, willfully terrible parody of zombie splatter flicks, but is also very much not to everyone's taste (hell, it isn't to my taste for a significant part of the movie). But even then, I like a lot of, say, weird free jazz that's not guilty — it just can be abrasive in a way that I enjoy and know others don't.

Anyway, trash. Pick it up.
posted by klangklangston at 12:31 PM on February 12 [4 favorites]


It seems like there are two conflicting ideas for what a 'guilty pleasure' can be.

But those are two sides of the same coin, no? You feel guilty about it because it is somehow 'beneath' you, usually not because you've given a terrible amount of thought as to why it is beneath you, but because it is perceived by society at large as being lowbrow, because the tastemakers or whomever decided it so.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:31 PM on February 12


I mean, 'guilty pleasure' is kind of a code for some distinction between art and entertainment in many ways, a distinction that frankly doesn't really exist.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:34 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


It's important to be able to make critical distinctions. To know something is bad but know you have reasons for liking it and reasons for not liking it.

Yeah, especially when the popular alternative has become this sort of pre-critical fandom soup where it is entirely impossible to determine if something is any good or not (let alone finer distinctions like "interesting but flawed") by listening to people talk about it.

Also a lot of the anti-guilty-pleasures arguments read like people getting revenge for high school decades later. If you want to get revenge for high school that's cool but it doesn't help your music conversations.

I don't really call things guilty pleasures, myself. I might call them "stupid, but fun" or perhaps use bigger words. This includes a lot of art that I've enjoyed for years and years! But you should be able to distinguish between artworks that you enjoy on different levels.
posted by furiousthought at 12:35 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


They're two sides of the same coin, but one involves an unexamined acquiescence to the tastemakers (I feel guilty because I know this imaginary critical consensus body wouldn't approve), and the other involves tweaking and questioning those tastemakers (Pitchfork and the usual music blogs once again dismiss this thing as above them when it's actually the most amazing thing and fuck them) (Actual example from today: Pitchfork is totally above Chino Moreno, man. Off. Fucking. Limits.)
posted by naju at 12:35 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


I guess this is to say that, in one sense, you shouldn't feel guilty because a critical consensus doesn't approve. But you also shouldn't act like there isn't even such a thing as critical consensus for pieces of art, because there totally is and if you're savvy with XYZ art then you know what the prevailing critical opinion of it is.
posted by naju at 12:39 PM on February 12


But then of course there's the whole contemporary trope - which we might call the "transgressive bourgeois" - of someone who Has Their Own Taste, and is too Bold! and Individual! to like what the "tastemakers" approve of. I notice that there's a whole slew of things that it's transgressive-bourgeois-fashionable to like - schlocky cinema (different varieties come into and out of fashion), certain types of softcore porn (again, what is fashionable varies every few years), certain types of popular music. And if you actually don't like these things - or worse, if you don't like them because of their politics - then there's this other discourse that says that you're a boring/prudish/elitist aesthetic Stalinist or adornoite or whatever.

It's like crochet, all circles, as Margery Allingham remarked about some other exhausting intellectual process. There's no getting outside of the matter of cultural capital once you're in.
posted by Frowner at 12:40 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


The New York Times is my guilty pleasure, especially Styles. I think sometimes guilty pleasures should remain "guilty" because they are pandering to our worst instincts. Styles is a smug and classist celebration of wealth, and embarrassment over liking it so much doesn't seem like an inappropriate response.
posted by betweenthebars at 12:43 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


The most interesting bit about all this (something that Navelgazer and furiousthought have touched on) is dealt with to some extent in the NYTimes piece:

Believe me, I’m tempted to stop here and delete this all, since this line of thinking seems to lead to arguing for a kind of critical anarchy — a cultural state in which all opinions are held to be equally valid and critical conversation itself is dismissed as so much distracting noise. Even worse, I’ll be forced to side with the familiar anticritical rhetoric that market-dominators like Michael Bay and Jay Leno so often embrace: If something is this popular, isn’t it then, by definition, good? And I really, honestly, truly don’t want to end up there. Save for a few carpetbagging stints over the years, I’ve never officially served as a critic of anything, but I love great critics and great criticism, and there’s so much of both in the Internet-enabled world right now. Moreover, I’ve shamelessly spent my whole journalistic career wading into the hurly-burly of cultural analysis with sleeves rolled, so I can’t exactly step back and renounce the whole scrum now.

I'm all for everyone's liking what he or she likes and all of us getting over ourselves. But can we please (pretty please) not get rid of the idea that individual aesthetic things can be objectively good or objectively bad?

Obviously not everything should be judged by the same metric, but my own experience has taught me that a work of art that is "objectively good" has established its own universe of ideals to which it aspires or attempts to subvert or whatever else.

Is this just the same old-fashioned notion of Absolute Aesthetic Value in new clothes? I don't think so, but I'm open to being persuaded.
posted by eric1halfb at 12:44 PM on February 12


But then of course there's the whole contemporary trope - which we might call the "transgressive bourgeois" - of someone who Has Their Own Taste, and is too Bold! and Individual! to like what the "tastemakers" approve of.

I've definitely rolled my eyes at some of this stuff, sure. Still, I generally like when people passionately champion things that are underexplored / dismissed. At the very least, there's a small bar promising that this person has at least given a little contrarian thought to something. If you're halfway serious in your love for this thing that's being shit on everywhere, then hey, there really are worse things than to write in defense of it.

The fun is when things like the Backlash to the Backlash to the Backlash start to happen. Then you can start checking out of the discussion.
posted by naju at 12:45 PM on February 12


but one involves an unexamined acquiescence to the tastemakers (I feel guilty because I know this imaginary critical consensus body wouldn't approve), and the other involves tweaking and questioning those tastemakers

Yeah, for sure. But it's kind of a feedback loop yeah? I mean, a lot of our own critiques of our own tastes are heavily influenced by what we perceive our taste ought to be, based on the critiques of others.

In a sense, the critique is the fundamental problem. We don't critique high art in the same way we do guilty pleasures, because we've pre-determined them to be unworthy of such a critique. But the issue with that is that we have a very narrow set of meanings for "good" or whatever adjective we want to assign to our non-guilty pleasures when we critique them. When we say of a non-guilty pleasure that it's good or whatever, we usually mean it is crafty in a such a certain way, or esoteric in such a certain way. We feel like guilty pleasures are somehow lacking in these things, but even when they are, does that mean they aren't good or worthy of critique or whatever? I don't think so.

Though I should mention that I'm sort of in the no art ought to be/can be judged in any kind of objective sense as good or bad, so, that probably colors my opinion quite a bit. A piece of entertainment or lowbrow art, a guilty pleasure, may be bad at being highbrow while still being good at being its type of thing.

But then of course there's the whole contemporary trope - which we might call the "transgressive bourgeois" - of someone who Has Their Own Taste, and is too Bold! and Individual! to like what the "tastemakers" approve of.


I have mixed feelings about this. I too have rolled my eyes at it - but on the other hand, I too kind of like it when people are passionate about whatever they like. Though I do recognize that this sort of passion is often disingenuous, or sort of passionate for the sake of being passionate about it, or for the sake of being the lone person passionate about it.
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:51 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


It's important to be able to make critical distinctions. To know something is bad but know you have reasons for liking it and reasons for not liking it. "Guilty pleasure" is a more honest term than anybody who rails against it.

Right, but the Sternbergh piece specifically talks about how rejecting this term has nothing to do with rejecting the idea that some things are good and some things are bad. I get that you've thought about this a lot, as you say, but so have people who didn't reach the same conclusion you did. The idea that "guilty pleasure" is necessary to preserve the importance of quality is not a new one to anyone who's come to find the term kind of unsatisfying.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:52 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Something that is generally dismissed by people who have "discerning" tastes as disposable trash, and you're doing a sort of reappraisal and championing it. The "no wait, you guys, this is seriously fucking good, why are you mocking it." Maybe there's a better word for this thing? But this is generally a pretty good impulse, I feel. There should be a word for this.

Being an apologist?
posted by burnmp3s at 1:04 PM on February 12


But can we please (pretty please) not get rid of the idea that individual aesthetic things can be objectively good or objectively bad?

Exactly! A critical consideration of one's preferences is apt to make a person enjoy things more than just dismissing qualitative distinctions altogether. Certainly no one should blindly accept the dictates of the middlebrow arbiters on what is good or bad as an end point. But it does serve as a place to start in forming critical opinions about the cultural products you consume.

I mean, I adore Pokemon cartoons because they're soothing and brightly colored, but they're not great art. But I can watch and enjoy them on days when I don't have the energy and attention span to watch Tokyo Story or Winter Light. Being able to make and understand the distinction between 'things I enjoy' and 'things that have great artistic merit' is part of developing as a thinking individual, which I personally think is important.
posted by winna at 1:06 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


"Sally, I have to confess something. I'm feeling really guilty."
"Why, Alice? Have you started smoking again?"
"No, not that."
"Did you... did you hurt someone?"
"No, I... I like a TV show that's not as well made as some other ones."
posted by branduno at 1:08 PM on February 12 [6 favorites]


The idea that "guilty pleasure" is necessary to preserve the importance of quality is not a new one to anyone who's come to find the term kind of unsatisfying.

Fair enough. I guess I'm just used to this conversation going one or two ways, being either "popularity is a barometer for quality," or more odiously "I could never be ashamed of my tastes, which incidentally map perfectly to whatever pitchfork/paste/the believer loves this week." It's more the latter sensibility which makes me roll my eyes.
posted by Navelgazer at 1:12 PM on February 12


Culturally a parochial Catholic, guilt is my guilty pleasure.

King Midas, now, he had gilty pleasures.
posted by sandettie light vessel automatic at 1:12 PM on February 12 [9 favorites]


Being able to make and understand the distinction between 'things I enjoy' and 'things that have great artistic merit' is part of developing as a thinking individual, which I personally think is important.

But those things are not (necessarily) mutually exclusive.

I had a professor in music school who suggested that a large part of what we should be doing while in school was building confidence in our taste. He said that "good taste" means (roughly) that "I like this, so there must be something worth saying about it."

There must be something there.

Of course, that something may end up being kind of paltry or insignificant (especially when compared to something else I like), but the mere fact that I like it means that it has some value. Now find out what it is and try to articulate it.

Even the things I like that are "objectively bad" I appreciate in part because of how spectacularly they fail to live up to the artistic/aesthetic ideals that they themselves aspire to live up to.

I guess I'm not arguing for holding onto notions of "objectively good" and "objectively bad" so much as I'm arguing for holding on to arguing. You like that. I hate it (but I don't hate you). Now, let's talk about it.
posted by eric1halfb at 1:16 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


But then of course there's the whole contemporary trope - which we might call the "transgressive bourgeois" - of someone who Has Their Own Taste, and is too Bold! and Individual! to like what the "tastemakers" approve of. I notice that there's a whole slew of things that it's transgressive-bourgeois-fashionable to like - schlocky cinema (different varieties come into and out of fashion), certain types of softcore porn (again, what is fashionable varies every few years), certain types of popular music.

This sounds like the essence of hipsterism to me: aesthetic contrarianism (what edifice of taste you're contrary to may vary) and a self-consciously independent sense of style. An aesthetic which focuses on surfaces, but more specifically, valorizes aesthetic rejection while remaining largely indifferent to the idea of liking or not liking something for any specific reason; even, maybe, active hostility to the idea of valuing such reasons.
posted by clockzero at 1:16 PM on February 12


From the first link:
In fact, looking back over the 20th century, I can’t think of a single example of an artistic category that was dismissed as degraded that did not, at some point, rise to critical respect. (The soap opera?) What stands out, instead, are the people who persistently point and say, “That’s not art,” and who are persistently wrong.
Yes, okay, but consider that instead of just being static truths and untruths this is all part of the artistic process. That resistance is a necessary part of the conversation, that it indicates passion. That it's blood in the water: it means people care about the art in question. That the lack of a visceral reaction to a blossoming new art is a way more troubling sign than rejection from on high. That it is art in a place people did not think art was possible is a fundamental sign of its vitality!

Also that conflict is not out of place in art: it's not just seeking undifferentiated pleasure. That's more like food.
posted by furiousthought at 1:16 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Isn't part of the idea behind "guilty pleasure" that one is enjoying something that one doesn't necessarily agree with or approve of? For example, this onion article comes immediately to mind.

Taken in that way, I still think it can be a useful, if overused, concept.
posted by likeatoaster at 1:28 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


That it is art in a place people did not think art was possible is a fundamental sign of its vitality!

Yeah. That's the stuff.

It used to be (not sure why it isn't still the case) that the highest praise I felt I could give something was that it was much better than it needed to be.
posted by eric1halfb at 1:33 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


All right already, I'll admit it. I like Billy Joel.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:38 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


being either "popularity is a barometer for quality," or more odiously "I could never be ashamed of my tastes, which incidentally map perfectly to whatever pitchfork/paste/the believer loves this week." It's more the latter sensibility which makes me roll my eyes.

Those are indeed both wrongheaded sentiments. I don't read any of those publications. I don't think popularity is a barometer for quality. I still don't use -- though it doesn't bother me all that much when other people use -- the term "guilty pleasure."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:41 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Eating pizza is a guilty pleasure if you're on a diet.

Eating pizza with a fork is a shameful pleasure if you're in New York (apparently).
posted by straight at 1:49 PM on February 12


I'm all for everyone's liking what he or she likes and all of us getting over ourselves. But can we please (pretty please) not get rid of the idea that individual aesthetic things can be objectively good or objectively bad?

No, I think we should get rid of it.

Which is not to say that we should not try to learn things about aesthetics. If you're going to talk about what you like*, it will be a lot more enlightening if there's a possibility of disagreement; but believing that the subject of the disagreement is objective means that it's amenable to empirical, scientific sorts of analysis that might yield some insights into human psychology, but not the insights you were looking for. Not the ones you can use.

Better to freely admit the relative, subjective, culturally specific nature of aesthetics, the better to find others who have the same ones. If you don't, you get stuck arguing the Catholic canon with a Buddhist, or the like. Those arguments certainly aren't resolvable, and if they are enlightening, that does not come from their premises or their conclusions, as an argument so unmoored can sustain neither.

*I think it's fine if you don't talk about this stuff, actually. Enlightenment is not the only thing worth wanting.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:54 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


You know, there is a MeFite who should be able to resolve this.
posted by kokaku at 1:59 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


He doesn't believe in pleasure afaik.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:04 PM on February 12


All right already, I'll admit it. I like Billy Joel.

So does Linda_Holmes.

(So do I.)
posted by eric1halfb at 2:05 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Hell, I even like Attilla.
posted by jonmc at 2:06 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


"I'm all for everyone's liking what he or she likes and all of us getting over ourselves. But can we please (pretty please) not get rid of the idea that individual aesthetic things can be objectively good or objectively bad?

Obviously not everything should be judged by the same metric, but my own experience has taught me that a work of art that is "objectively good" has established its own universe of ideals to which it aspires or attempts to subvert or whatever else.


No, "objectively good" is nonsense. It's subjectivity wrapped up in an appeal to universalism. There are things that are widely judged to be better than others, and there is a pernicious sense that relativism and subjectivism equals anarchy, but no aesthetic experience can be "objectively good" because "objectively" is a bullshit term there.

Some people will claim that, e.g. Billy Joel is objectively good — technically skilled, popular, affecting, whatever. They are wrong about that being objective. (I'd say they're probably wrong about him being good on balance too, but hey.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:07 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I too hold fast to the belief that some things are objectively good, and others are not. Under my 100 point rubric however there are many criteria under which Billy Joel is objectively good, and others where he is less good. Until science can prove that there is some possible criteria under which Nickelback isn't garbage though, aesthetic relativism cannot hold. Ball's in your court poptheists!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:12 PM on February 12


... believing that the subject of the disagreement is objective means that it's amenable to empirical, scientific sorts of analysis...

Not exactly what I had in mind. My idea of "objectively good" is something that successfully lives up to (or exploits in some interesting way) the ideals it considers valuable. It establishes its own aesthetic universe and then exists/plays successfully within it. Obviously the word "objectively" is a clumsy one in this context. Still, I think this more flexible idea of so-called objective value can be applied to all sorts of art from all sorts of contexts and cultures.

(Maybe I'm not explaining myself very well.)
posted by eric1halfb at 2:13 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's bullshit to say that Beauty exists.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:14 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


"Until science can prove that there is some possible criteria under which Nickelback isn't garbage though, aesthetic relativism cannot hold. Ball's in your court poptheists!"

I got into a weird conversation with a supporter once while at work, where he mentioned that he was a rock producer and I said I used to be a rock writer and asked him what he produced. Nickelback. I was going with something noncommittal like, "Oh, what was that like?" but he could clearly tell that I was not impressed and went on kind of a rant about how much shit Nickelback takes, but they still rock hard, man, and all I could think was that his definition of "rocking" was fairly terrible.

But I also remember an FPP here where there was a woman who talked about how Nickelback was instrumental to her discovering all sorts of other music, and how she still loved it, etc. And yeah, Nickelback is pretty relentlessly bland to my ears, and has plenty of lyrics that are just too much on the weird unhealthy sex side, but I was lucky enough to grow up with a lot of other options. And I still love Stabbing Westward and KMFDM, even if I can realize that they're pretty limited and I love a lot of it more out of nostalgia than current affection.

(Chuck Eddy has some pretty great rants about his similar bugaboo, the idea that music can be "dated" and that being "dated" is a bad thing. I disagree with him about that, but he makes some strong arguments.)
posted by klangklangston at 2:23 PM on February 12


I posted that FPP, and we all decided she didn't actually like Nickelback even.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:25 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


There are the things that manage to get an emotional response from me even as I acknowledge that they're manipulative and heavy-handed. There are the things that I find compelling or interesting even as I acknowledge they're pretty clumsy on the level of craftsmanship.

I don't feel guilty for much, aesthetically -- although I'm pretty firmly aware when I'm binge-watching something bad on Netflix that there are better things I could be doing with my time -- but I do feel a distinction in my own mental categories between the things that I like because they're really good and the things I like even though they're pretty bad. It's analogous to the difference between candy, which is delicious because it's made of sugar, and a meal cooked by a good chef, which is delicious on more subtle and interesting levels. I don't think it requires some idea of objective aesthetic goodness, and it's not (I think, I hope) about what smarter or hipper people think of what I like -- it's more about my own aesthetic response, how I'm engaging with the work.

"Guilty pleasure" is probably not the best word for that. It would be good to figure out a different one.
posted by Jeanne at 2:33 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Venn Diagram Explaining Why Nickelback Is The Form of the Bad Music
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:37 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Obviously the word "objectively" is a clumsy one in this context. Still, I think this more flexible idea of so-called objective value can be applied to all sorts of art from all sorts of contexts and cultures... (Maybe I'm not explaining myself very well.)

I'd say that your explaining is pretty reasonable here. There's no law against talking about objectivity, but I feel that it makes for an awkward fit in this context.
posted by ovvl at 2:38 PM on February 12


I think the conversation is conflating two kinds of guilty pleasures. There's the "guilty pleasure" of liking things that are looked down on by whatever group you aspire to - and that kind of guilt just needs to go away. I became much happier once I realized that what kind of music I like has basically nothing to do with what kind of person I am. But there are guilty pleasures that I do feel guilty about. Like one of my all-time favorite movies is Airplane! and I roll on the floor laughing at all the racist and sexist stuff that ordinarily I would object to, and I do feel guilty about it, and when I watched the movie with my son I kept explaining stuff like "this isn't what x group of people is really like", and seeing it through that lens made me like the movie less, but I still keep laughing even though I shouldn't.
posted by Daily Alice at 2:40 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


The fact that Objective now means "possible to inductively prove" instead of "can be deductively reasoned to" fills me with sadness qua sadness.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:46 PM on February 12


I don't think it's bullshit to say that Beauty exists.

Of course it isn't. It is bullshit, however, to say any of these things:

-true beauty can only be perceived by people in specific social positions (e.g., only educated people, only people who all happen to have lots of cultural/material capital)
-the presence of beauty distinguishes some things/cultural products from others, but these distinctions can only be perceived by certain people as described above
-there is more than one kind of beauty, and some kinds are inherently superior to others, and once again you have to be the right kind of person to know which is which

Now, talking about why something or other is beautiful is not at all what I mean. I think that's very fine to do, and it can be really lovely to see beauty through someone else's eyes. But being overly interested in establishing hierarchies of beauty which are really hierarchies of taste which are really just social hierarchies by other means is stupid.
posted by clockzero at 2:46 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


We agree Macleod... WE ARE BROTHERS
*lightning strikes a horse on a mountain*
posted by Potomac Avenue at 2:49 PM on February 12


But beauty is a really antiquated notion of what good art should strive for though. I think the beauty metric probably made sense for Kant and those folks, but it just makes little sense to talk about beauty in the context of the current art world. There's so much great art that is great for reasons beyond beauty.

Unless of course we want to reduce the meaning of beauty to something question-begging, as in beauty is that aspect of beautiful art that makes it beautiful. And in a lot of ways we have. We use 'beauty' (or its absence) so liberally to refer to any work striving for non-entertainment classification that I'm not sure we mean much by it, and in that sense, I do kind of think beauty doesn't exist.

I guess my big argument is that critique and classification are, in some sense, anti-aesthetic. What do we gain by judging some work on a scale of guilty or not, beautiful or not? It cheapens the experience of the thing, and forces all these obtuse systems onto the thing itself. We say, oh, Beethoven's 3rd is beautiful, but Miley Cyrus's We Can't Stop isn't. But is Beethoven's 5th more beautiful than the third? Is beauty something a work has in a spectrum, so that we could rank all works based on their amount of beauty? Of course not; that's ridiculous.

Get with the zen man (or the Wittgenstein), and let the art be.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:03 PM on February 12


Beauty is a mural covered in a tapestry. You keep poking holes in the tapestry (Art) thinking it will reveal a new unique thing, but inevitably you uncover only a tiny piece of the whole.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:10 PM on February 12


"I guess my big argument is that critique and classification are, in some sense, anti-aesthetic."

I'm unclear on whether you meant "my big argument is that critique and classification are, in some sense, anti-aesthetic" or "my big argument is that critique and classification are, in some sense, anti-aesthetic."
posted by klangklangston at 3:11 PM on February 12


The former, that critique and classification, as such, are anti-aesthetic.
posted by Lutoslawski at 3:17 PM on February 12


To do a brief (though not as glibly brief as earlier) defense of the "guilty pleasure," let me start with a phrase from the first link, referring to (the recognition of) guilty pleasures as “a mix of self-consciousness and self-congratulation.”

Yes. That's exactly right. That's the point (or part of it, at least.) And that's what Jennifer Szalai (the author of that phrase) is apparently decrying.

And that's the sort of reasoning that makes me roll my eyes back to Sunday. First, because that sort of emotion is a simple part of a continued dialog with art or culture or society at large, and secondly (more importantly) because she's moralizing about other people doing silly moralizing for themselves.

Now the "you fucking hipster" game can and will run circles around itself straight down the drain. I am clearly on one point of that spiral, as is Szalai, but the point where I stand is as such:

1. All art has faults, and most of it has something to offer as well.
2. Appreciation of it will change (and hopefully evolve) in a lifetime.
3. That will involve learning others' views as well.
4. It's petty damned essential to be able to recognize both values and faults in things at once.
5. Some things will fall into a valley where you both treasure their values and yet can't ignore their overwhelming faults.

Now if you're in a situation where you like Ke$ha and your friends are making you feel like shit over that, then yeah, that sucks and the problem isn't with you. But I feel like most of us are adults here. We can hold multiple thoughts in our heads and not worry so much about outside judgment, but still be aware of our own.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:23 PM on February 12 [2 favorites]


Total empathy requires that we abolish shame.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:28 PM on February 12


If that's even remotely true (and I don't think it is) it serves as an argument against total empathy.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:39 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Total empathy might also abolish art to be honest. A lot of it anyway, since most art is an attempt to achieve empathy of one sort or another in the first place. We might still have geometric abstraction, instrumental music, and architecture I suppose.
posted by furiousthought at 3:47 PM on February 12


Even worse, I’ll be forced to side with the familiar anticritical rhetoric that market-dominators like Michael Bay and Jay Leno so often embrace: If something is this popular, isn’t it then, by definition, good?

this is usually where Hitler comes in. Heavyhanded for sure but so are Michael Bay and Jay Leno.
posted by philip-random at 3:53 PM on February 12


(I should mention that I reference Ke$ha above because I adore a lot of Ke$ha and don't feel guilty about that shit at all. But I can imagine how others might, especially from outside pressure. But certain aspects of Sports Night or The West Wing embarrass me for being outdated and unintentionally sexist or simply just too-clever silly, but I like the whole through the cringing over those moments. If that makes any sense.)
posted by Navelgazer at 4:21 PM on February 12


My idea of "objectively good" is something that successfully lives up to (or exploits in some interesting way) the ideals it considers valuable.

Unless you are a panpsychist, art does not really "consider" things. Artists do, and critics do, and it's known to happen on occasion that those groups agree on what a particular work is good for. Yet it's been my experience that the works that are the most controversal--the ones where everyone in the room feels very strongly about it, but no one can agree what it's really all about--are the ones that have staying power. Certainly there are artists who make that kind of thing on purpose, but I don't think it's a safe assumption about the artistic impulse. Actually I doubt there are any safe assumptions there.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:51 PM on February 12


"The former, that critique and classification, as such, are anti-aesthetic."

Then, nah, criticism and classification aren't opposed to aesthetics inherently. Talking about what we personally find beautiful and why is still criticism, just like what we don't find beautiful, or what we find ugly, etc. And classification doesn't have to supplant any actual experience of a thing — it can easily add to it by providing context and other pieces for comparison.

So, while they can be, they aren't generally.
posted by klangklangston at 5:17 PM on February 12


If that's even remotely true (and I don't think it is) it serves as an argument against total empathy.

Indeed.

I think total empathy is impossible and that is an often unnoticed flaw in the liberal (in the non-perjorative sense) worldview. You need a set of implicitly accepted values to stand on, and the abrogation of those values is what leads to shame. Total empathy would lead us to understand and accept the pedophile, the Nazi, the mass murderer just as we understand and accept our friends and family, but it would leave us no place to stand.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:28 PM on February 12


There's a bit in Breaking Bad that demonstrates this very well, where Jesse tells the leader of the rehab group that he's been selling drugs to the other members of the group. Essentially: you are the things you will not accept, and, relatedly, that you feel shame for doing. The borders of empathy are the borders of personhood.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:32 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


"Total empathy would lead us to understand and accept the pedophile, the Nazi, the mass murderer just as we understand and accept our friends and family, but it would leave us no place to stand."

That's a mistake from bad definition. You can empathize with Nazis or pedophiles without excusing their actions.
posted by klangklangston at 5:41 PM on February 12 [1 favorite]


Now if you're in a situation where you like Ke$ha and your friends are making you feel like shit over that, then yeah, that sucks and the problem isn't with you. But I feel like most of us are adults here. We can hold multiple thoughts in our heads and not worry so much about outside judgment, but still be aware of our own.z

Okay, I promise this is my last shot at this same idea. But what you are saying, over and over again, is that "guilty pleasure" is no more than "I like it, but I know what's wrong with it." But that's not what guilty pleasure means, because it has the word "guilty" in it, not the word "qualified" or "limited." What people who don't like that phrase generally are saying is, "Knowing what's wrong with it does not make me feel guilty about liking it."

As you say: holding two things in your head. "I truly get pleasure from this thing, despite its flaws, and that is not something there is any reason to feel guilty about." You seem to have gotten the impression from these pieces that losing the phrase "guilty pleasure" means closing yourself off to any consideration of what's wrong with things you like, and it just doesn't mean that. It means decoupling "this has flaws" from "I feel guilty about liking it," which in turn implies, "that I get pleasure from something flawed is a bad thing that I should try to change about myself."

Most things I love have flaws. I know about those flaws. I accept them. I'm not defensive about them (ideally). But I'm not trying to drum my enjoyment of those things out of myself, and I don't apologize for it. It's not the recognition that things have good and bad aspects that you and I disagree about; it's whether you attach negative feelings to liking things that have flaws. Which I don't.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 5:59 PM on February 12 [3 favorites]


"Most things I love have flaws. I know about those flaws. I accept them. I'm not defensive about them (ideally). But I'm not trying to drum my enjoyment of those things out of myself, and I don't apologize for it. It's not the recognition that things have good and bad aspects that you and I disagree about; it's whether you attach negative feelings to liking things that have flaws. Which I don't."

I think the example I'd give for something that would be a "guilty pleasure" that goes against this would be e.g. racist or sexist jokes. I think it's legitimate to feel guilty about having that aesthetic reaction of pleasure to something that you know would hurt one of your friends if they heard it, and I don't think there would be anything unseemly about trying to drum that enjoyment out of yourself, especially if that effort came from thinking about why you feel guilty and why you laughed. From that vantage, I could see, for example, Tosh.0 being a "guilty pleasure," as he punches down pretty regularly but maintains enough irony to both give assholes cover and let people who aren't assholes think that he's not serious and is joking about the offensive tropes themselves.

But that's pretty far away from, say, loving Starship despite recognizing that We Built This City is a pretty dumb song.
posted by klangklangston at 6:14 PM on February 12


"Shameful pleasure" is probably a more accurate phrasing, yeah. Good luck getting people to change their usage, but it definitely describes the concept as I think of it better. Guilty pleasures to me are things that I enjoy but feel bad about enjoying. See: reading about bizarre military technology, Top Gear.
posted by Scientist at 6:30 PM on February 12


But what you are saying, over and over again, is that "guilty pleasure" is no more than "I like it, but I know what's wrong with it." But that's not what guilty pleasure means, because it has the word "guilty" in it, not the word "qualified" or "limited." What people who don't like that phrase generally are saying is, "Knowing what's wrong with it does not make me feel guilty about liking it."

Hmm, how about "I like it, I know what's wrong with it, and both of those things are important to me"? Which is sort of where the popular counterexample being presented in this thread is going: are the only worthwhile reasons to have bad feelings about a piece of art political reasons? Or have we who are having this discussion aged into a more anhedonic stance toward art in general, such that all the aesthetic reasons we can come up with are emotionally trivial? Is it that we're just generally less engaged by art, but politics are more important to us?

Most of this is tied into personal maturity, which has its plusses ("Yes, it's ok if she likes Ke$ha, also she is an EMT and you're not, music ain't everything") and minuses ("Oh God I can no longer feel! I just sit around approving and disapproving of things")
posted by furiousthought at 6:40 PM on February 12


Guilty pleasures are for things that are shamefully manipulative without any real soul behind them. And that doesn't have to be art. Kraft mac and cheese? Totally a guilty pleasure. It's processed, formulaic and in no way as good the real thing. However it's also easy and cheap and when you look at what it gives in short term, it's a pretty good deal. But if you can afford Mac and Cheese to the point where it's wasn't a special thing, and yet you ate that way regularly you'd regret it. Not just because it's bad for you, but because it's junk. Small amounts of junk are ok, people can handle that, but a diet of junk in any medium (food, movies, art, etc) is soul killing.

That's why it's a guilty pleasure is guilty. It's something you like, that's easy to overuse, and that you know you need to keep in moderation. It has nothing to do with popularity, except that generally things that go all out on the manipulative scale tend to be fairly popular. It's easy to like. So people confuse being popular with being junk.
posted by aspo at 6:57 PM on February 12


If a guilty pleasure is just shame, is shame a type of guilty pleasure? Because I feel really good when I don't bother doing the dishes.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:39 PM on February 12


« Older Maggie Estep, the writer-poet-performance artist a...   |   Flappy Bert is Flappy Bird wit... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments