Today our guest post comes from Steve.
The difficulty of talking about guilty pleasures is that people have such different notions of the concept.
Many women will purr and confess that a chocolate delight from Just Truffles is their guilty pleasure. I’m sorry; that is not a guilty pleasure! That’s an indulgence . . . and a particularly aristocratic one. People who try to pass that off as a guilty pleasure are suggesting that even when they succumb to a sybaritic craving they have exquisite taste.
Nor is it a guilty pleasure when your two-year old daughter expresses her adoration for “macky cheese,” painting her face and torso with what comes out of those boxes, including powdered ersatz cheese in a shocking shade of orange. She can’t have a guilty pleasure because she just doesn’t have informed taste.
No, a guilty pleasure is something that you know is schlock, and yet you find it irresistible. It is some kind of compelling treat we are ashamed of enjoying. Some remarkably cultured women are suckers for bodice-ripper romance novels. A liberal who enjoys “Gone With the Wind”—with all that Southern claptrap and racial stereotyping—is slumming in ways that reek of a guilty pleasure. And there are so many more: Karen Carpenter’s music, gossip shows on TV, vampire novels and any Hostess or Little Debbie pastry treat.
I have several authentic guilty pleasures. The one I can talk about (with some blushing) is the TV reality show, Survivor. I’m currently following the twenty-third season of it, and I have scarcely missed an episode from those earlier twenty-two years.
Don’t lecture me about how awful that show is. I know, I know! I’m the guy who has watched over 200 episodes! All that stuff about the “tribes” is painfully cornball. The jungle music is gauche. The shows are heavily edited to control audience responses, so you can’t trust your eyes. When Jeff Probst reads the Tribal Council votes, the order of the votes has been carefully arranged for dramatic effect. Most contestants are immature peacocks. The shows are as phony as an email from a Nigerian prince.
And yet I watch. Every week. Why do I watch? Three reasons.
First, Survivor episodes are mostly unscripted. So much TV is stale and predictable that I thrill to something that has a touch of real life to it, even if “reality” is as hokey as it is here.
Second, the challenges are almost irresistible watching. Under the pressure of challenges, cool contenders sometimes melt down and habitual losers occasionally find grit that nobody would have guessed was in them. Challenges that feature an ability to deal with pain often produce the most unlikely heroes. As silly as the Survivor game is, it showcases people performing under stress, and that always has the potential to be interesting.
Finally, while it is not ethical to conduct many kinds of experiments with human beings as subjects, that happens on every episode of Survivor. The show is like a fiendish laboratory where people are put under cruel pressure and tested weekly, with results that are as instructive as they are unpredictable.
The single salient lesson I draw from all those silly shows I’ve watched is that most of us are our own worst enemies. Over and over, contestants fail in the game because they cannot escape their essential personalities. The bossy woman proud of being a leader offends everyone and gets voted out. The accomplished liar gets tangled up in his stories. The guy who sees himself as a “warrior” in tune with his own primal energy becomes an object of derision. The calendar model with implants assumes her looks will reward her, but she inspires seething hatred among other women and is given the bum’s rush.
In the exit interview, contestants always claim to be proud of the way they played the game, never mind that they just lost. What they say is, “I had to be true to myself.” They apparently don’t see that they have stuck with their usual strategy for dealing with the others, even when that wasn’t working for them. Those who do well in the game usually are able to pick and choose the way they interact with others. So the game isn’t entirely silly. I think it instructs me every week about effective and dysfunctional ways of pursuing one’s life goals. But still, it is a guilty pleasure!
Do you have a guilty pleasure?