I think Matt’s not quite right here about the term “guilty pleasure” as it applies to art:
I know it’s just a turn of phrase, but I think the whole conceptual framework of “guilty pleasures” speaks to some weird underlying puritanical elements in American life. Despite the whole “life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” thing in the Declaration of Independence, our public culture is very resistant to the idea that people should try to spend more time doing things they enjoy or that producing enjoyment for others is a good thing to do in life.
The other area to which the term’s commonly applied is to food, particularly to foods that we think we shouldn’t eat because we think they are actively detrimental to our health, or to a fitness or weight goal. However frivolous the calculation, there’s a way to quantify the impact of guilty pleasure foods. And I think there often is a Puritanical streak there that’s exemplified by this Yoplait ad that was pulled earlier this year for miming anorexic thought patterns, that sells the idea that you can eliminate the guilt and still have the pleasure:
But there are not actual measurements, or health arguments, or demonstrable proof that listening to, say, classical music makes you a better person than listening to Lil Mama (which, if there’s room for Rye Rye, there ought to be room for the both of them):
This isn’t a moral judgment, or a value one. It’s about social positioning through cultural positioning, with a fluctuating definition of what’s guilty and what’s not. Sometimes it’s the opera, or the ballet, or the symphony that’s non-guilty, and sometimes it’s TV On the Radio. And if you’re going to conflate the two kinds of guilty pleasures, there’s an argument to be made that what’s guilty in pop might help you do a better job of doing guilt-free things for your health.