Guilty Pleasures is a Stupid Phrase

I love Grey’s Anatomy. It goes without saying at this point. I’m essentially a general surgeon, push one of epi, ok?

Every time I say “I love Grey’s Anatomy,” I preface it with something like “I love trash television” or “it’s dumb, but–” or some other stupid joke. I’m usually only half-joking when I say it, but I still feel compelled to do it. I don’t really feel like Grey’s Anatomy is trash (in the sense that it’s a quality television show, not that they keep destroying my favorite characters and at this point, I’m 100% convinced Shonda Rhimes has a personal vendetta against me). But, the general consensus is that Grey’s is soapy and overdramatic and nonsensical, which it is, and that lands it starkly in the “guilty pleasures” category of television.

Quality Television

Guilty pleasures” are supposed to be subjective, but the idea consists of things you enjoy that you are ashamed to admit to enjoying because it’s not held in high regard. Saying “it’s my guilty pleasure, but…” usually absolves the ridiculing from friends when you confess what silly tv show or song you enjoy. You’re essentially agreeing that, yes, I know this thing is low quality, but I love it anyway. Be it trashy television, a silly song, or another piece of media deemed low-brow by the rest of ~society~.

Well, hate to break it to you buddy, but the idea of guilty pleasures, like everything else on this godforsaken planet, is wrapped up in all the -isms you’ve suddenly been seeing in your Instagram feed.

But seriously, as I think about “guilty pleasures,” especially as they relate to television, I can’t help but notice a pattern. Reality television of all kinds always top any kind of “Trashy TV We Hate to Love” articles. Soapy shows like Grey’s and Desperate Housewives aren’t far behind. Shows featuring attractive young white teenagers and their drama like Pretty Little Liars or Riverdale are usually present as well.

why do these children have such dramatic lives

The shows often bucketed into this category are shows watched predominantly by women, and usually young women. The title “guilty pleasure” allows us to disparage the interests of women by labeling them as something they should be afraid of consuming. It’s yet another way to shame women for the things they enjoy. Labeling shows, or even entire genres, as something that should be shameful when they aren’t harming anyone flat out makes no sense. Why should somebody feel guilty if they enjoy The Bachelor or Jersey Shore or Gilmore Girls? How is that hurting anyone else? What are they feeling guilty about?

I started writing this after listening to the one and only podcast Keep It where the hosts were discussing how damaging labeling shows as “guilty pleasures” can be, and how the shows that typically fall into that category are often a let better than they’re given credit for. On Twitter, someone responded to host Ira Madison III to say the term “guilty pleasure” should be reserved for enjoying art by a terrible person, and I wholeheartedly agree.

Why feel guilty about something you enjoy that isn’t hurting anyone else, especially something as innocuous as a tv show. Who gets to decide what qualifies as a “guilty pleasure” and what doesn’t? There is so much television out there, almost to the point that choosing a new show to watch is overwhelming. The variety in television is the largest its ever been; there’s something for everyone.

So who cares if someone likes a show you think is kinda dumb? Why should they feel guilty for not watching Game of Thrones or whatever? Literally, who cares?

This belittling of the types of shows women watch is damaging at worst and stupid at best. It’s yet another teeny tiny way of telling women their interests are vapid and shallow, and that their choices are something to be ashamed of or be embarrassed about. What year is it again? Why does this matter?

If something makes you feel good and isn’t hurting someone else, it shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Enjoying yourself shouldn’t hinge on feeling judged, and it’s dumb that that’s not always the case. So from now on, I’m done with calling Grey’s Anatomy my guilty pleasure show, or tacking on the disclaimer about how I already know it’s bad or trash or whatever. It’s a sappy show with overly dramatic storylines and woefully unprofessional characters that makes me cry a few times a season and makes for a good binge-watch. The older I get, the more I realize that things like just don’t matter. Or at least they shouldn’t.

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