Guilty Pleasures, and Enjoying Them Without Guilt

Sydney WhiteCurious George, and Dark Shadows. These are all films that I hugely enjoy and that have also received average to poor reviews, apparently making them some of my ‘guilty pleasures’. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever felt particularly guilty watching them.

Guilty pleasures of all kinds are defined on the finest wealth of information on the internet (Urban Dictionary) as ‘something that you shouldn’t like, but like anyway‘, with the example of smoking a cigarette. Applying this to films, it holds the implication of something bad for you, that will rot away your brain cells and leave you somehow less cultured or intelligent. And I struggle to see how consuming any kind of film, particularly in a self-aware way, would in any universe make you less appreciative or analytical. Sure, if all you see is unchallenging, thoughtless films then you’d struggle to develop your tastes, but the nature of a guilty pleasure film is that it’s of a supposedly lower quality than the films you usually enjoy and watch alongside it. This definition of a guilty pleasure also troubles me in a more political way, as with cinema already being a relatively elitist field to get into it makes me genuinely sad that people would chastise themselves and others for daring to enjoy something apparently sub-par. It also doesn’t feel like a coincidence that many films considered typical ‘guilty pleasures’ and dismissed are female-led Romcoms or Teen films that are unabashed in their femininity (Mamma Mia!, 27 Dresses, the list goes on), as opposed to male-led films of an arguably similar quality.

Since I started my film degree, I’ve set myself the very fun challenge of watching at least one film a day, two or more if I’m not busy. In particular, I’ve been trying to make my way through what are considered the classics (all the Godfather films, Kubrick and Hitchcock’s respective filmographies, etc.). However, I frequently find myself browsing Netflix, cruising by films like this and thinking ‘Hmm, 13 Going On 30, never seen that one!’, before watching what a critic once described as a film that ‘trivialises behavioural cause-and-effect’ and one where ‘women are allowed happiness, but only if they choose the right man’. Despite opinions like this, which also came into my head whilst watching Jennifer Garner fumble through the Thriller dance, I largely enjoyed the film and didn’t regret spending an evening watching it. Being able to pick up on these flaws and analyse how they affect the movie actually added to my enjoyment in some ways, and also let me realise that to appreciate what I consider to be good films, I need to understand what can make a film bad to begin with.

Honestly, I feel that watching films with clear glaring flaws is vital to film criticism as an art form, and that if you entirely avoid everything that didn’t receive an 8/10 or above on IMDb or doesn’t adhere to your typical taste, you aren’t allowing yourself to grow as a critic or as a film fan in general. I guess my ultimate point is that with all the shit going on right now in the world, you should be allowed to put on a film you enjoy without being so harsh on yourself, even if it isn’t Citizen Kane.

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