Guilty Pleasures: the phrase alone implies a form of aesthetic righteousness. Your personal preferences (unique and subjective by definition), are kept in line by a higher standard of objective good (as defined by the community). The experts have agreed upon art that is right and superior. And in spite of the warnings from the authorities you insist on listening to things like Mariah Carey or New Kids on the Block. Not to mention the Michael Bolton tattoo. You must repent, my friend, for you have chosen Boy George over Radiohead.
Your joy is shameful; your pleasures are guilty. Scandalous even. It's just the truth... the ones who are qualified to have an opinion have made it perfectly clear. Thomas Kinkade and Kenny G are artistically wrong. Any pleasure that you might have received from their respective work will be rendered shameful and regrettable. You have succumbed to your tasteless tastes: this is contraband art.
Are you having trouble fitting in at school? Do you want to feel more accepted by your coworkers or peers? Tell them you prefer Fela Kuti. Or Pavement. Or J Dilla. anything other than Justin Bieber. What's that on your iPod? Oh, you poor dear. Trust me. Compliance can do wonders for your social life. Blend in, surrender, submit.
You say, "What about rock and roll? What about punk rock? Aren't these forms of rebellion? Can't my subjective tastes manifest my unique artistic identity to the world?" Sure, you want to dress differently, just like everyone else. However, the experts agree: it's just not that easy. If opinions were that straightforward, everyone would have them! No, you need someone to help lead you through the dangerous waters of taste and personality.
Sure there are grey areas. There are artistic works whose culpability is still in question. Is my Annie poster a guilty pleasure or an iconic, hipster throw-back? Well, it depends on which tribe you belong to. You see, there are many different tribes with different understandings of style and taste.
Every tribal code has a set of strict demands; so it's crucial to know your own clique before speaking up. Are your buddies wearing non-ironic handlebar mustaches and Moterhead T-shirts to your sister's wedding? It is most likely, this tribe will not respect your newfound appreciation of Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Nor will they appreciate the Deerhoof sticker on the back of your car.
We've all felt the regret of being on the wrong side of popular opinion. Fortunately, there are professionals who can help you fit in. You want to come across as an independent thinker who needs no one's opinion? You want to be on the cusp of the next big thing? There are many publications and online tribal guides that can help you to find the flavorless identity that blends in with your chosen group.
But beware: the opinion of the tribe is always evolving. Yes, my friend -- you have to be ready to adapt to new trends. For example, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Nirvana, and Radiohead have released records that received horrible reviews. However, the same publications that dismissed these releases have now declared these former duds to be among the most timeless records that rock and roll has to offer.
For example, Rolling Stone's review of the first Zeppelin release stated that Jimmy Page was, "a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs." Were you listening to that eight-track in the shame of an air-conditioned car? Well, roll the windows down and turn it up! It's not a guilty pleasure anymore -- it's sanctioned by the authorities! More recently the publication has decided to throw Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones the full five stars instead of the original three.
Led Zeppelin's story is hardly unusual. The professionals might even say that this is a common trend in all artistic endeavors. Swan Lake's debut in 1877 was a critical flop. E.E. Cummings was widely panned by the experts. Van Gogh was so disregarded that he committed suicide in obscurity as an artistic failure. All of that to say, timing is everything: you have to jump on the bandwagon at the right moment.
When it comes to guilty pleasures, it's always best to trust the experts. Not sure which opinion is the best to regurgitate as your own? It's always safe to say that the earlier stuff was better. Also, remember that there's always safety in numbers. That's what democracy is all about, right? Majority rules.
Human society depends on moral order: the lawyers, the cooks, the janitors -- none of us are immune to the code. In a democracy, all of us depend on a mutually agreed upon system of right and wrong. Why would you be allowed outside of the regulations? Individual opinions are dangerous things. They can start wars and riots and worse: hip-hop. Why should the artist have special privileges to break the societal norms and disregard the rules?
Do not raise your head above the crowd. Rest assured social deviants will be punished. Like a blade of grass taller than the rest: the aberrations will be cut down. Trust the authorities. Cool is tricky business; it's best that you leave it to the experts. In fact, let me tell you the safest way to survive without the ridicule of your peers: mock everything; tear it all down with your tongue, stand seven feet tall on your blog. Smile with smug condescension on the idealist dreamers who stray outside the societal constraints. Above all: stay within the lines!
Dear reader, beware: outside those fences lies a dangerous place. Are you strong enough to form your own opinion? Can you withstand the guilt, the shame, the humiliation from the tribe? Are confident enough to defy the crowd? If not, stay where it's safe. Remain within the fences -- the experts will keep you safe, making sure that your personal preferences don't stray too far from the common consensus.
Outside the fences of convention lies an untamed wilderness awaiting the reckless souls who have the nerve to cut their own path. Are you daring enough to defy the dictatorship of the critics? Are you strong enough to wander outside the lines? To dance to your own drum? To thrill to the ecstasy of unrepentant, unabashed euphoria?
Outside the fences, the explorers ignore the experts. They call to us:
"Come my tan-faced children,
Follow well in order, get your weapons ready,
Have you your pistols? have you your sharp-edged axes?
Pioneers! O pioneers!" -- Walt Whitman
"Only in humility can we begin to find the beauty in everything. Do you have the
barefaced wonder to drift outside the lines? If you dare, you could rise up to be
the shameless architect of the unknown, charting new ground that the critics will
never know. For the rest of the crowd, there's safety in numbers. But for you- you
and your brave soul, there are no guilty pleasures. Just pleasures." -- Jon Foreman