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Committed: Guilty Pleasures

120413_manofsteel“I’m embarrassed by how much I like it.”
“I don’t want to admit how much I enjoyed it.”
“Everyone hated it so much, I’m not going to contradict them.”

I was surprised today when an outspoken friend expressed embarrassment about liking something. I suppose I’m so used to people openly lambasting the comic books, movies and TV shows which they don’t like, that I didn’t know that they felt inhibited to share their positive opinions. Personally I like all kinds of ridiculous things and I’m used to people laughing at me for it (if you read this column you’re probably used to me agreeing that comic books or movies are flawed and still finding a way to enjoy them). I hope that you feel comfortable to come out and share your joy, no matter how ridiculous or dorky it might feel… after all, there was a time when everything comic book-related was deemed embarrassing and we were all in this together.

For most of my life no one I knew liked comic books and so I didn’t talk about them. People I respected told me they were stupid and that my enjoyment of them showed immaturity. Superheroes weren’t popular then, but I still wanted to read about them, I couldn’t help myself. When no one I knew wanted to read an indie comic about punk rock lesbians and art students (even if they were punk rock lesbians and art students) I still adored Love & Rockets. It wasn’t much of a choice, I could do the thing I loved doing, or I could bow to popular pressure and drop it. All I dropped was talking about it. I stopped buying people copies of comic books I thought I could use to trick them into admitting that comic books could be great (like Violent Cases, Asterios Polyp, or Persepolis) and learned to keep my obsession to myself.

120413_prometheusGradually over time, comic books have somehow became acceptable (to a debatable extent) and everyone has an opinion about the latest superhero movie or science fiction show. The most cynical critics talk about the money the genre can make, even if they belittle the medium. Basically, people have stopped making fun of us and started asking us about them, and it seems like everyone has read at least one comic book and no one is hiding those reading habits.

However true this widespread acceptance of comic books is, within our ranks we’re still a tough group to please. These things we love are so personal to us that it’s easy to forget that we don’t have the last word. Even logically flawed or thematically weird adaptations can be enjoyable, I often find myself agreeing with a friend’s furious rantings about the latest crime of adaptation only to say “but I still liked it”. I will agree that things like Man of Steel, The Sentry, Prometheus, Sleepy Hollow, and Constantine have flaws. A lot of friends make the immediate assumption that I not only don’t enjoy these things but I hate them and am as affronted and infuriated by it as they are. People have explained to me, at length, all of the problems and while I agree, my conclusion is still that I still had a good time and even really like parts.

120413_sentryThe big difference is my conclusion; despite any problems I’m often still able to enjoy watching and reading, and I other people’s opinions don’t impact that enjoyment. Luckily there is rarely a point where people finish an angry tirade by asking my opinion since they assume that I’m on board. Once a friend did push for me to express agreement, but all I could do was shrug and say; “Sorry, I enjoyed it despite all of those things.” I felt bad for them, it was awkward, I couldn’t share the anger. My concern now is that expressing my own opinions (negative or positive) doesn’t effect other people’s enjoyment of their chosen media…

Sometimes the general consensus can seem so unanimous that we can become inhibited in expressing our positive feelings. I’m not to saying I lost friends over this or anything extreme like that, but it has taught me to handle my own negative responses differently. Now I try not to assume that my own review is shared by the person I’m talking to, (even if the subject at hand has been universally slammed). Most importantly, when everyone likes something but I don’t, I try to get them to tell me why and what they liked about it, because it is actually interesting and fun to hear even if we don’t agree. We rarely change each other’s minds but there is more space for enjoyable discussion, it has led to some great recommendations and I get a lot out of hearing what made them happy.

26 Comments

Good column. I’m nearing the end of a “Fist of the North Star” anime marathon, and I would have even surprised myself if I had known a month ago how much I was going to enjoy it.

I stopped deeming things guilty pleasures a few years back and I’ve been happier for it. I felt like I was placing these things that I enjoyed into a kind of “ghetto of uncool”. I now try to just enjoy what I enjoy, even if it surprises me or someone else that I actually enjoy it.

A good example would be Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s* “Pictures at an Exhibition”. It personifies so many things that I don’t like about a certain type of music. I kept telling myself “I should not like this”, but after several listens, I finally had to admit to myself that I actually really, really like this. I stopped rationalizing my fondness for it and was actually able to enjoy it for what it was.

I’ve also felt this way about David Finch. Yes he over renders EVERYTHING, a trait I usually deplore in an artist but for some reason I just like it when he does it.

I’d also rather hear somebody rationally discuss what they didn’t like about a work of art (as long as it’s not too bitchy or precious) rather than what they did like about it. I seem to get more out of the discussion that way. That sounds a lot grumpier than I mean it to.

*most everything else I’ve heard from them reinforces my bias against virtuosity.

I’m a straight 41 year old male. I like listening to Keith Urban. I have all his albums.

There I said it. I feel better now.

Don’t judge me.

Although I’m somewhat snobby (okay, EXTREMELY snobby) about music, I do enjoy an occaisonal tune by the Black Eyed Peas, Jennifer Lopez, and/or Pitbull… hell, I’ll even put on EL&P’s “Tarkus” every now and again!

As for TV shows, I like The Big Bang Theory.

But when it comes down to it, me liking this stuff automatically makes it cool, so feel free to enjoy it, everybody!

I saw both Human Centipede movies on my own. I say this because I agree that it’s not a guilty pleasure because I have no reason to feel guilt. I wasn’t hurting myself or anyone else by watching those stupid, disgusting movies out of morbid curiosity.

This might be beyond the pale for some but I liked Star Trek: Into Darkness. In my defense, I saw Star Trek III to VI in the theater and the fifth one set the bar very low.

I had an advantage growing up: I was gigantic. By the time I hit high school I was 6’5″ 230 and built like the Beastmaster. So if anybody had a problem with me liking comics and Star Trek and sci fi and such, they kept it to themselves. And having been raised on comics by my Dad who loved them too, I had a crusader complex. Any geek, nerd or fanboy who had a problem could come to me for help. My senior year term paper was titled Star-Spangled War Stories: America at War as Seen Through American Comic Books.

For twenty years, my habit was to hit the comic book store, then go across the street to a diner and read them as I had my lunch. At 55, I still wear comic book T shirts.

With great power comes the great freedom to like what I like and not care who doesn’t like it.

Hey, if it helps, the 1987 “Masters of the Universe” movie and the 1994 “Street Fighter” are on my list of ‘guilty pleasure’ films.

I had a similar experience to The Mutt in some ways. I was 6’5″ by the start of my Junior year, although more like 180 and built like a beanpole until I started lifting weights my senior year. But most people equate being much taller than them with being much bigger in general than them, so even people that could clearly kick my ass would back off if I got right up to them. The point of all that is that I also have been pretty open about my geek habits most of my life. I hid them a little in high school, but by college I didn’t bother. I was open about the fact that I read comics and loved cartoons and video games and other geeky stuff. Everyone in my dorm knew that between 4:30 and 5:00 was Batman:TAS time and you didn’t disturb me during that time. It was never a big deal. It didn’t negatively effect the way people looked at me.

To this day I’ll still have people comment (including my wife) about how open I am about liking the potentially embarrassing stuff I like, but it’s just second nature to me by now. I realize I’m more fortunate than some comic fans my age that didn’t have some of the physical advantages I had, but attitude had as much to do with it too. People thought I was funny and fun to be around, so who cares if I was into stuff they thought was lame?

Despite some major backlash from a lot of persons and some very good reasons that goes toward disliking something, I thoroughly enjoyed The Ultimates 1 and 2 by Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch. It’s a bit on the negative side, it’s mean-spirited and a lot of the characters are unlikable, but damn I really enjoy those stories nonetheless.

The same goes for Fantomex. A lot of people seemingly hate him with a passion, but his roguish charms and the whole mystique behind him is simply something I like very much. He may be used in the most obvious of ways sometimes and his powers comes as redundant, but I really like him nonetheless.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.” –Dave Grohl

I think discourse on the Internet would vastly improve if we could all agree that there is a difference between liking something and recognizing its quality. I love the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. I love it. But I totally understand that within the medium of film, it’s a piece of crap. I can hold these two contradictory thoughts in my head because I understand the complexity of affective reactions to artistic objects.

People get very very very defensive when you insult an artistic object they like because they feel like you’re insulting their taste or their selves. But there’s really no point to such a hyperbolic reaction to a differing opinion when it comes to this kind of thing because the heart wants what the heart wants.

I get that people love terrible movies not because they’re terrible but because of complex reasons like memory, nostalgia, and personal circumstances, or even socio-economic factors (which contribute greatly. If you don’t believe me, Pierre Bourdieu would like a word).

I saw SHORT TERM 12 last night and I hated it because it made me feel like shit. The film is very good because it’s efficient in using the medium of film to elicit emotions. You see? That’s a really simple example.

Guilty pleasure isn’t even a productive line of discourse. It derails any useful conversation about art. Instead of talking about the relative merits of the artistic object, it detours into a long defense of one’s affective reaction. It’s a process of rationalization. Which isn’t necessary. You shouldn’t have to justify your affective reaction; it’s *your* affective reaction.

Not only that, I think “guilty pleasure” as a discursive process feeds into the ever pervasive sense of irony. Nothing we do can be felt the surface level because disaffection is the go to method of processing things. We can rarely be forthright about our feelings. In fact, we have to infantilize and trivialize our affective reaction by calling them “feels” which I really loathe, as in “right in the feels.”

People, own your feelings. Own how you feel about things, whether they be good or bad.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, so I quite appreciated the column. I’m working on academic stuff related to “affect theory” so this is all top of mind for me. I’m thinking of writing an essay on guilty pleasures and whatnot too, so thanks for helping me think more about it in different ways.

I love “Toxic”. That’s one of the best pop songs of the last 20 years. Britney’s got that special place in my heart.

Anyway, I’ve got plenty stuff I like that probably on the “guilty pleasure” list. Most of it is pop music, I guess. This is probably why I get groans when I go karaoke. It’s not my fault that Hall & Oates are freaking amazing. Also, I never understood why people hated on Eagles so much. Led Zeppelin gets a pass. Why not them?

I am in no way, shape, or form ashamed that I love The Punisher starring Dolph Lundgren. Loved it as a kid, still love it today. Hell, with almost two feet of snow on the ground, and nowhere to be tomorrow, I may have to dig it out.

While there are 2-3 of his works that I’ve seen that I’ll agree are indeed as bad as everyone says, I’ve liked more of Jeph Loeb’s stuff than I’ve disliked.

And the problem with “problems” is that every single work has them. There’s no such thing as the perfect piece of art even in theory because people disagree all the time about what art should and shouldn’t do. In practice, the flawless book/movie/tv show/comic is even more unattainable.

Look at all the criticism that still gets leveled at Watchmen, the consensus best comic story line ever, according to this very site.

Hamlet, often cited as the crowning achievement of Western literature, is almost never performed unedited because it’s really, unnecessarily long.

So really, no one should be overly bothered when other people notice that something they enjoyed isn’t perfect because what is?

LouReedRichards

December 5, 2013 at 9:34 am

@ The Mutt and Jazzbo – boy you guys were lucky!

I was 5’10″ and 150 lbs. throughout high school. Not small, but average enough to be an easy target. I learned to keep my geek habits a closely guarded secret for a long time. Only karate (for the self control, not the “I’m a badass” attitude) kept me sane. Fortunately by 12th grade I had enough self confidence to come out of the geek closet. Felt much better for it, eventually found a geek wife and all is right with my geek world.

Those were dark days. I hope with the prominence of geek culture kids don’t have as hard of a time being open with their interests now.

When I was in school the thought of people openly discussing a super hero movie would have been almost unthinkable, it just wouldn’t have happened.

@ mrclam – please give us a more complete list of what is deemed cool or uncool. I can’t go through life just wondering y’know. How will I ever sleep?

Aside from never being able to find clothes that fit and endless variations on the question “Do you play basketball?” being tall is pretty cool.

@loureedrichards

Here’s a rough guide. Glad to be of service! ;)

Star Trek>Star Wars
Goodfellas>Godfather
Platoon>Apocalypse Now
Velvet Underground>Lou Reed
King Crimson>ELP
Mingus>Miles
Ives>Varese
Ditko>Kirby
Dr. Strange>Spider-man
Justice League>Avengers
Orwell>Huxley
Theroux>Auster
Camus>Sartre

As I became an adult, I’m glad to say I began owning my opinions and not feeling ashamed or embarrassed about them. I am sad to say that it wasn’t always that way. I realize, looking back, that the time in my teens – early 20s that I did not really read comics (except for the occasional trade or graphic) was due in part to it being “lame” or “childish”.

I’ve only recently truly embraced my inner nerd completely (I didn’t allow myself to enjoy tabletop role-playing until I was like 27), and part of it is definitely that it is more excepted, but not all. It’s also just realizing that what someone likes or doesn’t like is a stupid thing to be a dick about. There’s definitely some things that I love unironically that almost no one else likes, even my geek friends (nerdcore hip-hop comes to mind), but we’re adults. If someone tells you you’re not allowed to like something, whatever, fuck that guy.

BTW If you are doing a term paper and you have an entire page of footnotes that your teacher has absolutely no way to look up? You’re golden.

I liked the Schumacher Batmans and I don’t CARE who knows!

@Mrclam

We’ll just have to disagree on any number of those.

Can’t comment on some.

I can’t get into any Ditko past the late 60′s. I love Kirby from any era.

Agreed though, the V.U. is generally far better than Lou’s solo work.

Well at least I can sleep now!

I guess I was pretty lucky like The Mutt and Jazzbo. I’m not particularly tall or big (5ft 11 in, 170 lbs in high school), but I was relatively intense and had a reputation for being a bit… adversarial and prone to fisticuffs, let us say. So, no one ever mocked me about much of anything, let alone being a comic book / sci fi / fantasy fan.

I suppose I was still a bit of an outsider, nonetheless, being really smart (and thus having a very difficult time socializing when I was younger) and not particularly affluent in a high school that was pretty typically for Long Island where I grew up – dominated by relatively well off non-intellectuals and such (basically like a tv show high school). Although I’m Italian-American like at least 50% or more of my graduating class, I became friends with mostly Latin and Asian kids, and other oddballs. At first we were derided as the Foreign Legion and the United Nations, but we adopted those names as badges of honor. It also helped that at least three other guys in the group had similiar… adversarial… reputations that actually eclipsed my own. We carved out our own little corner, and rarely had any judgment passed on us for whatever we were into (at least not to our faces).

So yeah, I never had to hide the fact that I was into comics. I always feel bad when I come onto these sites and hear about the hell people had to go through for liking comics. It’s insane to me.

Hell, when I was in college, I used my comic book collection as an excuse to get an aspiring actress to come up to my room in my fraternity house… and it worked! (although nothing steamy happened). She’s since been a regular on a few tv shows, like Jericho and Sons of Anarchy, so I have to say, liking comics has been pretty good to me!!

Although I’m Italian-American like at least 50% or more of my graduating class, I became friends with mostly Latin and Asian kids, and other oddballs.

Sorry to double post, but I want to clarify… I’m not saying Latin- and Asian-Americans are oddballs, which this sentences sounds due to rushing / bad grammar. I’m saying I was friends with other oddballs, like myself, i.e. typical “nerds” and “geeks”, as well as Latin- and Asian- Americans, who were seen as less than mainstream in my high school back in the late 80s/early 90s (but are now the norm, by far).

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