Celluloid Atrocities July 2015: On Guilty Pleasures

bring-it-on 75You know what I really think people should count as a guilty pleasure? Just about any TV show.




Bring-It-On 500About fifteen years ago I saw the Kirsten Dunst cheerleader vehicle Bring It On, and I thought it was pretty good. Some months later, after it had been on DVD for a little while, I came across a copy on sale for cheap, and picked it up. Immediately upon purchasing it, that disc became a magnet to anyone perusing my DVD collection, invariably inviting questions like, “Why do you own that movie?!” Side note: back then I owned a couple hundred DVDs; it’s not like it was one of six total that I owned or anything. This went on for literally years, and somewhere around 2007 (when I first started purging DVDs from my collection), Bring It On was one of the first to go. I never changed my opinion about it, though I also never watched it again after that first time. I got rid of it mostly because I just got tired of having to defend owning it, especially when I never bothered to watch it (though a lot of not-watching it was probably a self-fulfilling prophecy, where I was basically peer pressured into being turned against it).

What bugs me about this anecdote is that I’m of the opinion that this kind of atypical enjoyment of an unlikely thing lends a person credibility, and does not at all take it away. Sure, it would be different if I only liked movies like Bring It On. But don’t you hate it when you’re talking to someone, or worse, reading a movie review, and the people offering their opinions make it clear that they hated a movie simply because they always hate movies like that? What good is it to try and write an objective review of, say, a romantic comedy, if you never like any romantic comedies? And surely, if you’ve never seen a romantic comedy you’ve liked, you’ve either been watching the wrong ones or have a too-narrow definition of the term. This also goes for any genre of movies.

One thing that concerns me these days is that I’m not sure I still have movies like this anymore; by my own estimation, doesn’t this hurt my credibility? I don’t entirely buy into the “guilty pleasure” thing, as I generally don’t feel guilty about liking anything. Not to mention, it makes it hard for me to see what all I like that might count as a guilty pleasure. Movies I like only for nostalgic purposes? Movies I like that no one else likes? Movies I like but often find myself having to defend?

For me, who has a perhaps unhealthy obsession with challenging foreign films, the movies most likely to be deemed guilty pleasures are the ones that are the most generic—the Hollywood blockbusters that bring nothing new to the table. Or so you would think. In the past month, I’ve greatly enjoyed both Spy and Inside Out, and I wouldn’t expect anyone to criticize me for standing up for either film. Quite the opposite, even; nearly anyone from any area of the film-loving spectrum can be safely expected to like either or both of those films.

transformers 500Another factor that isn’t often discussed is that, for many people, so-called “guilty pleasures” are simply enjoyed movies that aren’t marketed toward their demographic: girls who like Transformers, boys who like Divergent, grown-ups who like Twilight, whatever. Surely, this logic is a lot of what fed into the specific Bring It On story I opened this column with—if it had been Scary Movie tucked away innocuously on my shelf it surely wouldn’t have garnered nearly as much attention, because people assume boys like movies like Scary Movie and girls like movies like Bring It On. And while it’s true that on average I tend to be more patient with generic “girl” movies than I am with generic “boy” movies, I would argue with anyone who tries to make a case that Scary Movie is a better film than Bring It On.

This is probably all starting to sound like I’m still carrying a grudge, and/or hurt feelings, about being picked on for owning Bring It On over a decade ago. Maybe that’s a correct assumption, but these days the thing that bothers me the most about this is that I feel like—although no fault of the movie’s own—it was taken away from me. But as of this writing, I still have only seen it the one time nearly fifteen years ago, what I’ve only experienced as an amusing film now brings up nothing but bad memories (a similar phenomenon occurred with The Big Lebowski circa 2000-2005 or so, when every frat boy in America christened it as their favorite film. The Big Lebowski and I have since kissed and made up, though). So maybe that’s what makes a guilty pleasure: someone else’s ability to make you not like a movie anymore. In this way, most of the more modern candidates for what might be a guilty pleasure for me are still going to be those aforementioned “girl” movies—romantic comedies, melodramas, etc. It’s true that every time I watch, say, 500 Days of Summer, I like it less than the last time I watched it, but something still brings me back to it once a year or so. And even if it does get worse and worse every time I watch it, so what? There’s still merit in enjoying a movie the first time you see it, even if that is the only time you enjoy it. American Beauty doesn’t hold up for me on repeat viewings, though I was completely knocked out by it the first time I saw it. Does that make it a bad movie? No. Does it make it a guilty pleasure? No.

film-wallflower 500With all this in mind, when I go back and rewatch a film like, say, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, there’s a part of me that expects to not like it, and wonder why I ever did. And while this sounds like a poisonous state of mind to see a movie in, in the end it tends to be beneficial; going into something I’m proven to like, but with low expectations, tends to help open me up to enjoying it more when I go back to it, because I’m capable of again being surprised by how good it is. And indeed, The Perks of Being a Wallflower still works for me as well as it did the first time, though I’ve probably seen it five times by now.

You know what I really think people should count as a guilty pleasure? Just about any TV show. Even living in this supposed Golden Age for quality television shows, nearly all of them pale intellectually when compared to a good book or movie, and they eat up a ton more of your time. Why wouldn’t you feel guilty about soaking up all of your free time on such a thing? But, I guess that’s an argument to be made in a different column. | Pete Timmermann

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