June 19, 2019

Does Everybody Have Guilty Pleasures?

faced with guilt

I had a conversation with a co-worker recently during which she asked me about my "guilty pleasure" movies. I couldn't think of any, and this led her to suggest that I was too secretive or must not trust her. I didn't think that was fair. Even now that I've had more time to think about it, I can't come up with any movies I'd consider guilty pleasures. There are plenty of movies I enjoy that I know are bad. I've seen some of them several times and find something else to like about them each time. The problem is that I don't feel any guilt or shame about enjoying them. I'd have no trouble admitting that I liked them. I gave her several examples, but I guess it was too clear that I wasn't embarrassed about liking any of them.

Maybe I am confused about what "guilty pleasure" means, but it strikes me as needing to have both components reflected by the label: guilt and pleasure. When I think of a guilty pleasure in this context, I think of something I like (i.e., the pleasure part) but that I'd be embarrassed for others to know I liked (i.e., the guilt part). I like plenty of incredibly stupid movies, but I can't think of any I'd be embarrassed to admit that I like. I wasn't aware that this made me weird, secretive, mistrusting, or whatever.

I can think of a few extreme horror films I have seen that I wouldn't want to discuss in the workplace because of their content, but I don't like any of them enough to count them as pleasures. Moreover, it isn't that I wouldn't tell someone about them in the right context as much as it is that I don't think work is the right context. I think these fail to meet both components of the guilty pleasure test.

For whatever reason, I don't have as much difficulty identifying guilty pleasures when it comes to music. If someone were to dig through my CD collection or my iTunes library, they'd find all sorts of bands I might find embarrassing. I had quite a large 80s hair metal collection at one time, and there are still plenty of remnants left that I haven't been able to bring myself to get rid of. The degree of embarrassment I might feel if someone were to find them would be fairly mild though. I've always had very diverse tastes when it comes to music, and I am used to people having trouble understanding how I can go from listening to Cannibal Corpse one minute to Chuck Berry the next.

If someone were to look through my music library, they'd find a whole lot of metal, hard rock, and classic rock. But they'd also find ska, soul, folk, old school rap, blues, goth, punk, and some jazz. If they looked closely enough, they'd even find a bit of country. I've never quite understood the sentiment that I can't like one style of music because I like another. I see no reason to confine myself in that way. I like what I like, and I make no apologies for what I like.

I think many people have a strong need to put labels on others as a way of trying to simplify the world around them. Some think that if I am "a metal guy" that I can't love the Grateful Dead as much as I do or that if I am as obsessed with Pink Floyd as I am that I can't also enjoy Slayer. Maybe it works that way for others, but it has never worked that way for me.

Most atheists will be familiar with this use of restrictive labels for other reasons. I suspect many of us have encountered people who think that any atheist who does not identify as a humanist must be some kind of monster. And I'd bet that almost all of us have come across people who insist that atheists can't be conservative, that conservatives can't be atheists, and so on. A few days ago, I saw an atheist on Twitter insisting that all atheists were skeptics who loved science and did not believe in a long list of things that had nothing to do with gods. It would be nice if at least some of that was true, but I think most of us know better. Atheists can and do believe all sorts of things; we just don't believe in gods.

Maybe the next sort of guilty pleasure I should consider is whether there is anything I believe or do that I feel guilty about because I am a skeptic, a humanist, a freethinker, or something similar. I think it would have to be a long list that would include all of my biases, prejudices, lapses in judgment, errors in reasoning, and more. Interestingly, none of it would have anything to do with atheism.