Some people follow the teachings of Jesus or Buddha. I, on the other hand, have Ryan Closs. For those of you who don’t know him, allow me to inform you that the man is a sage in an era of social media. Whenever I feel as if I’m drowning in an endless sea of comments, tweets, and downvotes, I talk to Ryan, repurpose my energy and set off on a path of electronically-aided enlightenment. In one of his recent retorts, he imparted an important axiom unto me: there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. Moments later, I began to research his claim, so that I might spread the word of Ryan to you, my fellow geeks.
A guilty pleasure is something one enjoys and considers pleasurable despite feeling guilt for enjoying it. - Wikipedia
To be exact, we’re talking about the ignominy of enjoyment that seems to compliment our consumption of certain media. For some reason, as a culture, we’ve come to accept a modicum of shame whenever we watch shows like Jersey Shore. As far as I can tell, it started back in 1907 when the phrase was coined. In those days, the idea of abundance for the common man was an abstract concept, something that sounded more like what H.G. Wells was writing about than an actual possibility for society. Yet, within fifty years, your average nuclear family was enjoying the perks and pleasures we’ve come to expect out of modern life. Prosperity gave way to free time, which in turn was met with a mass media boom, completing the transformation of an agrarian society into a post-industrial world. With the table set and the television on, we finally found a reason to hide what we loved from others.
While we could stop there and simply accept Ryan’s theory, it’s too easy to label guilty pleasures as an expression of embarrassment caused by wasting previously unavailable time. It’s far more likely that the shame that comes from watching Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus isn’t because you think it’s a waste of your time; it’s a feeling that exists because you’re afraid of being ostracized. As the geeks of days past found free time, our culture went through a period of having homogenized broadcasts beamed into our collective conscience. The state of media was anything but social, since viewers had very little impact over what they saw on their television sets. As we began to consume more and converse less, a lack of transparency in society was created, which caused a major problem for “media deviants” looking to connect with one another. If you loved something that wasn’t cool, you put yourself at risk of losing social credibility by being a vocal fan. Essentially, you chose between hiding a guilty pleasure or being labeled a geek.
Although many people let shame decide for them, thousands of true geeks subverted the concept of the guilty pleasure by becoming involved in the media they admired. Not surprisingly, Star Trek fans were some of the first to transcend the social stigma of media deviancy. In the late 1960s, supporters of the show began building a community around their love for the Enterprise and its crew, producing letters, magazines, and fan fiction in an attempt to connect with one another. Gene Rodenberry, the creator of Star Trek, told his staff to take heed of what the fans said, as the community’s reaction was integral to making the show a success. Ironically, it was science fiction that gave way to a change in how we geeks approached media in the future.
In the modern day, our digital world resembles the sort of utopia Trekkies love. We’ve evolved beyond the need for guilty pleasures because there is no more risk associated with media deviancy. Anything you adore, no matter how obscure or obscene, is likely to have thousands of fans online. As geeks build communities out of their collective love for certain media, all of that passive time in front of a television is turned into a positive social experience. Due to the anonymous nature of the Internet, you don’t even need to divulge any personal details, reducing the risk of discovery to nothing. In fact, the perceived, yet unfounded fear of ridicule can actually limit your chances of connecting with others, giving feedback to creators and participating in any efforts put forth by like-minded fans. With any shame and loss of social credibility absolved by way of a simple Internet search, the only person truly harmed by a guilty pleasure is you.
“[Forget] being cool. Love what you love.” – Ryan Closs