I’ve just read this fascinating post by Desperate Reader on guilty pleasures. Both Hayley and her commenters have lots of lovely guilty pleasures; I immediately tried to think of some of my own to add and – failed rather. Here is my list:
- Watching detective series on the television whilst scoffing slabs of cheap, mild and rubbery cheese mindlessly and without restraint. Part if this pleasure involves loudly changing my mind about who dunnit and why every ten minutes and then, when the solution is reached, claiming that I knew it anyway. The cheese must have almost no discernible taste: very young Gouda is my preferred choice but a very mild Cheddar is perfectly acceptable when in Britain.
- Reading children’s books – I don’t mind admitting that here, but in real life I feel more judged, principally by non-readers, weirdly enough.
- Holidaying by myself. I am a rabid and indefatigable tourist, I love visiting churches and museums and galleries and wandering about the streets, and it’s just so much easier to do this alone than when I’m having to take into account what other people want. Especially if they want to sit around drinking coffee or lunching for hours – for God’s SAKE people, we don’t have time for this!
- Making dolls’ clothes and the odd (in every sense of the word) toy for my daughter – I don’t feel guilty about doing this as much as I feel guilty about how much I enjoy it, surely an unadult quality?
Erm – that’s it. How dull! I nearly included reading vintage detective novels, as they’re now called, which used to be a guilty pleasure twenty years ago but now seems to be too widely accepted to count. A guilty pleasure, after all, has to be something you’d feel embarrassed about if someone else discovered it, and nobody sniggers at the mention of John Dickson Carr or Margery Allingham any more. Society now seems much more tolerant of a few foibles; also, I’m middle-aged and things that would have crippled me with mortification when I was in my twenties – reading Georgette Heyer! Liking some of the pre-Raphaelite artists! – because someone might think the less of me no longer trouble me because I am just a bit less bothered about other people’s opinions of me (though not entirely unbothered by any means!).
To me, a guilty pleasure is something subversive – it’s doing something that we know or believe is disapproved of by our peers or society and enjoying it anyway. It’s that part of you which has survived from when you were a teenager, the rebel who was in bed by ten every night; it’s not truly wicked or revolutionary nor are you alone in doing it. It’s the you who puffed on shared Marlboro Lights at parties and then frantically sucked Polo mints before you went home; the you who keened along to The Smiths and drove your father nuts by declaring that Meat is Murder, who shared half a bottle of cooking sherry with your friends and then puked behind the rose bushes. You did those things because your friends did them too and you didn’t necessarily enjoy them, so they aren’t quite the same as guilty pleasures, but the enjoyment of that feeling of naughtiness and sticking it to The Authorities is what links the two.
Yet I think a guilty pleasure isn’t just doing something that society deems unworthy – I think it’s something that chips at our own image of ourselves. It’s reading romance novels when your usual fare is literary fiction, it’s buying an expensive dress when you consider yourself to be ‘above’ fashion, it’s eating a slice of cake when you normally take care to follow a healthy diet. You’re being a little cheeky to yourself, flipping the finger to the Boss You who creates your self-image and shapes who you are. Look – I can be wild and let my hair down ha ha HA! However, a guilty pleasure is an occasional treat rather than a way of life. When you pick up a Betty Neels paperback, you’re dipping your toes in the waters of deviance, but then stepping back into your normal self, the clever person who reads poetry and modernist fiction. By keeping your guilty pleasure under control, you remind yourself that, while you could read nothing but Mills & Boon, you are not that sort of person really. But you acknowledge, somewhere, that possibility. That slight loss of control is exciting.
Without the mild sense of transgressiveness, there can be no guilty pleasure (is that why I don’t read vintage detective fiction very much any more? There’s no thrill involved?). This enjoins secrecy, and that’s important too. It’s nice not to be a person who is all surface, who doesn’t have any hidden surprises, and who doesn’t tamely follow the script. So I say: let us not be surfacey and controlled! Let us rebel, even in a small way! Let there be more guilty pleasures and let us revel in them! But covertly!
What about you? Do you have any guilty pleasures? And do you think that they’re a secret gesture of defiance or deplorable self-indulgence – or something else?
(Rex Whistler, detail from The Triumph of Fancy, poster, c. 1928; found here)