Articles - 6th May 2019

Guilt-free Pleasure

Words by Elinor Potts
Illustration by Oscar Price

Here’s a little known fact for you; the term “guilty pleasure” was born in a New York Times article in 1860 and was first used to describe a brothel. Contemporary use of the collocation typically sees it followed by a wink, a nudge and a reference to a work in a ‘low-level’ cultural tier. In a 2017 poll, Hello Magazine ‘Researchers’ cited in their list of Britons’ naughtiest indulgences, “Drinking juice straight from the carton, snooping through people’s pictures on Facebook and watching daytime TV shows like Bargain Hunt and Jeremy Kyle!” We can’t resist propping up a system of denigrating and hallmarking cultural products, gently encouraging each other to consume, or not. In the words of the morally reprehensible serial killer Ted Bundy, recently portrayed by Zac Efron in Netflix’s Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,​ guilt is “[A] mechanism we use to control people. It’s an illusion. It’s a kind of social control mechanism and it’s very unhealthy. It does terrible things to the body.” This week’s cultural picks are shame-free guilty pleasures; transcending (or at least trying to) moralising categories. Have your cake; eat it; order an extra slice.

I remember first reading about Bret Easton Ellis’ newest non-fiction offering back when the submission bore its original title White Privileged Male, offering a dEsPeRaTeLy nEeDeD perspective from the hIsToRiCaLlY mArGiNaLiSeD demographic. If you happened to buy the book on a naive whim, associating the work with Ellis’ classic 1991 novel American Psycho without having seen any of Ellis’ recent raving interview, blog posts or podcasts – I’ll permit you to feel a shred of guilt at having put money in the pocket of a buffoon. Ellis bemoans helicopter parents and social media users’ “rash opinions and judgements, their mindless preoccupations and an unwavering certitude that they were right”. Ironically, Ellis’ gammon-y ‘in my day’ rant is laughably close to this very thing he lambasts. But is it all guilt and no pleasure? Admittedly, there is a great deal of joy to be taken from annotating without restraint in a cynical red felt-tip marker. Vandalising vile non-fiction with half a dozen interrobangs and squiggles is a surprisingly comforting activity.

On a starkly different note- if, like myself, you’re a shameful, sheepish subscriber to the world ASMR YouTube, where better to indulge your predilection for sensory squelches than The London Slime and ASMR Festival on the 3rd August? It’s just like Glastonbury, but with no music and a substantial volume of PVA glue. The festival features live demonstrations, interactive workshops, meet and greets and ASMR/Slime stands. It’s a few months off, but applications for stalls are open if you’re in the business of freelance Slime Creation and fancy setting up shop.

Confessing your love for musicals in the wrong crowd can earn you a mean eye-roll and a black mark. If you succeed in silencing your inner snobby saboteur and find yourself wandering eagerly around the Donmar Warehouse looking for a cultural tidbit serving minimal guilt, maximum pleasure and medium-large spenders, you’re in luck. The theatre’s production of the Broadway classic Sweet Charity is their Artistic Director Josie Rourke’s parting swansong with Anne-Marie Duff in the title role. It’s a charming tale told through a sparkling selection of musical numbers, a revolving stage, enviable sixties stylings and a bucket-load of feelings.

Whether or not my suggestions of slime, musicals and self-masturbatory non-fiction have grabbed your attention, at least take some comfort from John Waters’ espousal to, “Have faith in your own bad taste”. Luckily, “love of the exaggerated, the “off,” of things-being-what-they-are-not” is officially en-vogue, with Susan Sontag’s ‘Notes on Camp’ inspiring this year’s upcoming Met Gala. You can wear a bin bag, douse yourself in olive oil and listen to Haydn for all I care. Crass is the new black.

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