Monday, 31 August 2015

Dear Reader,

Have you ever described anything as a 'guilty pleasure'?  

Have you ever judged anyone else on the music they like, film they've enjoyed, book they've read or game they've played and enjoyed the sensation of superiority you get from having 'better taste'?

The phrase 'guilty pleasure' seems to have enjoyed something of a renaissance in the last few years, usually coupled with a reference to cheesy 80s pop or trashy TV.  This Buzzfeed article seems to suggest the most popular 'guilty pleasures' are 'watching strangers in Starbucks', 'watching the Notebook on loop' and 'and the Fast and the Furious franchise'.

I can understand why these activities give people pleasure, although they don't necessarily do it for me.  What I can't understand is why the word 'guilty' is repeatedly tossed around, usually accompanied by a wry smile, during a confession of enjoyment of said activity.  This article header sums it up perfectly for me:

If you really did feel a sense of guilt about liking some things you 'shouldn't', you probably wouldn't write a top ten list of them.  Equally, it seems that it is not enough to have said proclusions; one must immediately inform everyone in the vicinity.  One of two things is happening here: either you don't really feel guilty about it, or at least not enough to stop you telling all and sundry (in which case the word guilty is superfluous) or you are using 'guilty' in the 'I just can't help myself' sense, which suggests said thing is good, in almost every sense that we understand the word: enjoyable, tempting, pleasure-giving, fun.  The only way it is not good, the phrase suggests, is in quality.  Says who?

Dara O'Briain nails it pretty well in this clip, where he discusses the ridiculous notion of snobbery in music  - 'it's just sound...these noises are the WRONG noises in your ear, you should have these noises'.  By saying 'I like this thing, but don't judge me, I know it's not actually good', you are misusing the word good.  Perhaps you mean 'cool', and we all know what utter twangbollocks that is.

By way of an example, I like board games.  Some of them you might have heard of - 'Pandemic', 'Exploding Kittens', or 'Perudo'?  - but many you might not, and certainly some of them contain themes you might consider ridiculous.  Fancy trying to guess the murder weapon, place and perpetrator from a series of mystic ghost picture clues, anyone?

But I'm not ashamed of my weird and wonderful hobby.  I'm not in the least guilty about it.  On the flip side, I'm not running around like some sort of early Christian missionary, telling you to stop what you're doing immediately and come game with me.  Of course, the more friends that are into my hobby, the more potential for fun (in this case), but I'd like to think I'm not pursuing a conversion rate.  On the hierarchy of ways to spend your time, I'm not suggesting board games are better or worse than poetry, opera, bingeing on Netflix, dogging with your Mum, or furious but silent masturbation to weathermen.  ( And if you want to tell me all about this, or any other passion, at a party, I'll gladly listen.)

Why is Rick Astley worse than [insert applicable cool band name that I'm not cool enough to even know]?  Why is knitting worse than silk paintings of horses and hounds?  Why is watching porn worse than watching obscure international award-winning films?

I'm privileged to be going out with someone who shares my passion for gaming, but who also is quite into video games.  I've been quite taken aback by the negative responses I've seen from those who consider gaming 'worse' than say, reading (and I used to be one of them).  So why do we insist on this snobbery, this hierarchy, this superiority complex when it comes to spending our free time?

I really enjoyed this article, which discusses (within the context of gaming) the idea of 'wrong-bad-fun'. I love this concept (although I think it could lose the hyphens).  When I sneer at people playing Monopoly whilst I play 'better', more complex, and more strategic board games, I'm saying they're having 'wrongbadfun'.  When you snicker to your friend because that kid in your class prefers ABBA to the band you like, you're calling his enjoyment 'wrongbadfun'.  Hell, when Christians pile judgement and scorn on homosexuals for what they like to do with their genitals, they're just saying that, to them, it's nothing but 'wrongbadfun'.

This is a concept that's incredibly prevalent in music.  I play all kinds of music in all kinds of bands, and sometimes I like it, and sometimes I don't.  The way I see it, part of being a professional is giving the same care and attention to every song in the repertoire, regardless of personal taste.  I'm not here to tell the crowd what to like, I just give it to them. I once actually left a band because one of the musicians was such an immense musical snob that he simply COULD NOT SEE how I could sing songs by his favourite band without actually liking them.  He harassed me with emails, speeches and texts about their place in the hallowed halls of music fame, he explained over and over that they changed the face of music indelibly.  So what?  I just didn't really like them.  And that's ok...

So next time you're tempted to use the phrase 'guilty pleasure' - don't.  If it's yours, claim it and be proud.  You like it because it's good.  And if it's someone else's - don't be suckered in to judging someone else's fun to be 'wrongbad'. That just makes you a 'dongwad'.

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