That guilty pleasure

An idea exists in the world that we like television shows that we know we shouldn’t. That watching a reality show is unintellectual, or a gossipy teenage drama is immature for our age. That certain shows should be watched by a certain demographic of people, and anyone else watching it is doing so as a “guilty pleasure.”

There is no such thing as a guilty pleasure.

Film, television, and music are increasingly communal experiences nowadays. Friendships are born from two people sharing similar taste. People talk about TV shows in groups, and there are always some who haven’t seen the show and feel left out. Moreover, we watch some shows that others generally consider mediocre and never talk about. We enjoy those shows despite their supposed mediocrity, but perhaps feel ashamed for doing so.

That’s rather silly, isn’t it?

If you enjoy a show, then it’s a pleasure for you — and that’s it. The “guilty” modifier is meaningless because your tastes should never be defined by others. Feel secure in what you love! Popular culture is so vast, filled with endless variety of the genre you personally like. It’s up to you to find your preferences and revel in how they make you feel. The noise around us — people telling you what’s good and amazing — is a form of peer pressure that limits our scope of discovery. Conversation tends to follow the zeitgeist, but it doesn’t mean pieces out of it are unworthy of consumption.

People on either side of the criticism can do better. I’ve criticized my share of shows in this column, but they’re never for trivial reasons — if I down-vote a show, I’ll have reasons for it, whether it’s the tone, themes, or something else (personal preference). Too often though, I’ve heard disdain for TV series based solely on its supposed target appeal: “this show is targeted to teenage girls, so you shouldn’t watch it.”

This view is shallow — those who hear it should immediately reject the claim, and those who say it might benefit from watching a few episodes and at least offering an alternative reason. Not belonging to a show’s target demographic doesn’t preclude you from enjoying it. It might actually open your eyes to an audience you know little about.

More problematic though, I think, is the cultural elitism around popular shows. There’s a fine-line difference between critic and tastemaker: in general, the former objectively reviews a series, while the latter touts everything that’s great about it. Tastemaker-style websites boast greater readerships because of their entertaining voices. Those sites write about what’s popular (rather than what might be “good” —which are not mutually exclusive, of course), creating buzz around a show equivalent to digital peer pressure.

Just because tastemakers hype up popular shows and ridicule others doesn’t make those objects of ridicule unworthy of watching. It doesn’t make the popular shows worthy of watching, either. As the TV landscape continues to expand in volume, the choices of what to watch can be so  overwhelming that it’s easier to follow recommendations. But even if every single one of your friends like the same show and you don’t, your voice always counts more.

If you enjoy that one show that no one else likes … there’s nothing wrong with that. There’s a lot of great TV out there, but we should still consider ourselves lucky whenever we feel a real connection with a show or character. Don’t let others push you there — only you know when that connection exists.



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