First, a big thank-you to Annie’s Book Stop in Sharon, where I got to meet a lot of lovely people (including fellow authors Mia Marlowe and Ashlyn Chase). It was a pleasure with no guilt whatsoever, except maybe about the cake. Mmm, cake.
Second, I’ve been catching up on NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour lately–excellent podcast, by the way, and great for mindless day-job stuff like cleaning up the desktop or copying and pasting spreadsheets–and the last episode I listened to discussed guilty pleasures at some length. Linda Holmes’s position is that there is, or should be, no such thing as a guilty pleasure: you like what you like, and anyone who has a problem with that can and should bite you.
This is a rough paraphrase.
On the one hand, I agree. As a writer of romance novels, which are all the freaking time described as “guilty pleasures”*, I completely agree, and thank you, Ms. Holmes. Because, first of all, stereotyping an entire genre as cheesy/flighty/less than is dumb, but even if it wasn’t? I also enjoy Ke$ha, CarnEvil, and the occasional pre-packaged Swiss Cake Roll; I am fully capable of liking those things while simultaneously being fond of Ella Fitzgerald, Infocom, and the goddamn caramel apple tart that they sell down the street for too much money and I CANNOT STOP BUYING SOMEONE SEND HELP; snotty hipsters can go soak their heads.
That said, “guilty pleasure” serves two kind of valid functions.
One is a laughing, friendly way to say that you’re aware of this thing’s various failings, and you don’t want to hear it (buddy). Yes, I know that Peeps are probably either cementing or corroding my various internal organs, but they’re tasty if I’m in the right mood. Yes, I know that “America’s Dumbest Fights” is not, you know, uplifting entertainment, because it’s right there in the title, and yet one episode features someone getting hit in the face with a frozen steak, and wow is that good times. Life without the occasional fit of doofy self-indulgence isn’t worth living, so spare me the lecture, That Guy.**
The other is a friendly, less laughing way to say that you’re aware of the work’s more serious failings, and you like it anyhow, but you understand why it really pisses other people off. (This, as you might expect, doesn’t generally happen with food, unless you hang out with a lot of very militant vegans.)
The best example for me is Gone With the Wind. This is a racist book, guys. Holy mother of God, is this book racist. Like, I don’t even know where to start, and I don’t want to start, and there are now passages I have to read with my fingers over my eyes because they are that bad. Also, marital rape that the chick ends up enjoying. I’m not excusing any of these things. I don’t want to excuse any of these things, because…they shouldn’t be excused. That said, GWTW has value to me, not for being a totally romantic sweeping love story, as it’s usually portrayed–because oh my God everyone involved is dumb as a sack of hammers where love is concerned–but for being a pretty interesting depiction of the way war and war’s aftermath will fuck up everyone in the vicinity, and how having to survive that situation really young will shape you in some ways that are really admirable and some that really aren’t at all, and also for showing a number of women who are pretty strong in different ways.
But I wouldn’t recommend it offhand, or without copious warnings. I don’t disagree with anyone who says that they can’t or won’t read it because dude, racist as hell, this stuff. Therefore, guilty pleasure. I feel like this is a reasonable definition; I also feel like if it came into broader use, the Internet would see perhaps a reduction in the horde of nerdy white boys who feel obligated to Defend! Heinlein! At! All! Costs!. Or maybe not: this is, after all, the Internet.
More thinking about these things to come soon.
No Proper Lady, the Kindle version, will be only 99 cents on Amazon from 12/2-12/22, as part of their Kindle Big Deal promo. The Nook version will also go down to .99 on 12/18, as part of their Daily Find program. I think NPL makes for good train/plane reading, as long as you’re not sitting next to easily-shocked relatives.
*And I don’t even want to go into the “romance will make you less satisfied with actual guys” people, except to say that a) that bears no resemblance to the experience of anyone I actually know and heard about, and b) I believe what you really mean is OH MY GOD WOMEN HAVE STANDARDS IT’S THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD, so c) shut up, and keep right on shutting up.
**Sometimes it’s That Girl, but a semi-lengthy spate of blind dates and mansplaining has swung my experience toward the dudes in this category. This includes one who asked what my favorite TV show was and then, on hearing The West Wing, said that he hated that show because “…everyone’s so bright and witty! It’s just not realistic.”
I think I deserve points for not giving him a fisheye and a “…well, clearly.“