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On Guilty Pleasures

My favorite movies of the moment, the ones I will stop and watch almost anytime they are on, are Devil Wears Prada and You’ve Got Mail.  Now that it’s summer, the T.V. shows I am dying to watch week to week are Younger, The Bold Type, and Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. On my iPhone, when I am not listening to a podcast, I might pull up some old Britney.  And when I finally have a moment to read (or remind myself to take one to read), I look forward to the new release of an Elin Hilderbrand book about beach-y things and the lives of the mostly wealthy in Nantucket  These are my pleasures. Things I enjoy. I have no guilt.

“What’s your guilty pleasure?” is a question I find so odious, I feel the need to respond to every tweet and post. Why should I feel guilty? I am hardly the first to ask this question (check out this article by Jennifer Szalai in the 2013 New Yorker for a similar topic). But, still, this notion of guilty pleasure exists and is as prolific today as ever in the era of knock-em-out fast movies and series on Netflix. As Szalai points out, these so-called ‘guilty pleasures’ never involve actual transgression.”  So again, why should I feel guilty?

Its hard to gloss over the fact that so much of what we deem a “guilty pleasure” is comedic pop culture aimed primarily at women. Sigh.  I spend my day practicing law, spend my evenings and weekends with my amazing wide-eyed, fun, Star Wars loving, toddler. At 10 p.m., when I can finally settle on the couch and just enjoy myself, I don’t always want to turn on The Americans (which I loved) or some other “anti-hero” or intense “prestige” TV. show.  But, that doesn’t mean I want something totally devoid of intellectual stimulation. Prank shows and the Real Housewives (of the last 5 years or so) are not my cup of tea. Sometimes, I just want to laugh, smile, and feel a connection to smart, witty, female characters who seem a lot more like me than a meth dealer or anti-Terrorist CIA operative.  And what some have deemed “guilty pleasures” offers that for me.

The phrase is even more dangerous when it’s used simply to refer to women’s work. Unbeknownst to me as I sat to write this, Dana Schwartz, the author of the memoir “Choose Your Own Disaster” published a piece in the Washington Post examining this issue.  She aptly notes that no one would ever dare to call a football game a guilty pleasure.   And yet, football is the most watched sport in America.  Its quintessential “middle brow”.   People devote entire days to it.  Wives of devoted fans are “football widows” because they are abandoned during the season.  Why then, is that not a guilty pleasure? Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating that anyone feel badly about watching football (however, if you hear someone call your partner a football widow you may want to re-evaluate that situation), but it can cause people to do something that is literally guilt inducing! (to the extent you think leaving your family for the day is…)  Come to think of it, I don’t recall hearing a Will Farrell movie being called a guilty pleasure. What about Marvel Comic movies? Nope. Just good movies you can brag about going to see on opening night. No one is going to raise their eyebrows or chuckle at the choice you made.

What happens when we label something a guilty pleasure? Do we render it frivolous and silly and something that cannot be taken seriously? Do we encourage men to avoid it? What does it imply about the person partaking in it?  Maybe Sex and the City wasn’t the Singapore Summit, but we shouldn’t feel badly about enjoying something that requires something other than a Ph.D.  People are multi-faceted (as was Sex and the City).  I can dish Primary Election results in the same breath as People Magazine.  And maybe if some more men checked out Gilmore Girls it would have received an Emmy nomination for something other than “Outstanding Makeup.”

So tonight, when Girlfriend Guide to Divorce has its season premiere and when the new Hilderbrand book that I pre-ordered lands on my Kindle, I am going to take loads of pleasure in enjoying what I enjoy. Sorry if you feel badly about that.

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About the author

Rachel Kravitz-Boyle

Rachel Kravitz-Boyle

esquire/feminist/activist/philanthropist/mom/wife/yankees/rangers/I went as a podcast for Purim/suburban New Yorker (but that doesn't stop me from having opinions)

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