Everyone has a guilty pleasure they watch over and over, more often than not they have more than one. Personally, I've got 7 from one franchise - the clue is in the picture - and the list doesn't stop with just those. This got me thinking, what is it that draws us in to a guilty pleasure? Why do watch something that even we can admit isn't that good, but enjoy anyway?
Good vs Favourite
Before I dive into discussing the reasons for watching a guilty pleasure we should understand the difference between a favourite film and a good film. Most of us can discern what makes a film high quality, even if we don't necessarily enjoy it we can appreciate the skill and art behind it. A recent example of this would be The Revenant. Although we may not feel enjoyment or elation at the end of the film, we are still in awe of the incredible cinematography or astounding story and its related themes. However, despite our appreciation of the film there's only so many times we want to watch a man get attacked by a bear and cheat death.
A favourite film is different, we watch it over and over and our enjoyment is not diminished. This can be for a variety of reasons; nostalgia, escapism, or even to simply be part of a discussion. So, does that mean all favourite films qualify as guilty pleasures? The short answer is no, but that would make this a pretty short article so let's look into it a little further.
What Makes a Guilty Pleasure? - The Connection to Our Past
A guilty pleasure is a film that we know is less than respected by critics or even the general audience, we ourselves are even aware of its shortfalls but we forgive them. Probably the biggest reason for this is down to nostalgia - as I mentioned above - the films we watch regularly are often powerfully linked to a memory, perhaps a Christmas movie, or something we watched on a first date. The most poignant nostalgic associations however, are the ones from when we are children. If you ask someone what the best film they've ever seen is they would probably stall on an answer - particularly if they're a film buff. However, if you asked them for a favourite film from their childhood you would likely get an answer immediately. Then, if you asked them why, they wouldn't give you critical analysis instead they would connect it with a memory, an age, maybe even another person.
A personal example would be the Star Wars prequel trilogy. We're all aware of the divided opinion on them but I've always defended them vehemently, in fact my first article for this site was exactly that. This isn't because I think the films are perfect - although not as bad as many say - but because of the connection they have to me. I was 6 when The Phantom Menace was released, so despite considering myself an objective person, when it comes to the PT my nostalgia overlooks the faults and lets my mind escape. Which brings us to the other contributor to a guilty pleasure.
What Makes a Guilty Pleasure? - The Chance to Escape
Watching films to be transported to another world isn't a new revelation, every film has a goal of drawing you in to a certain point. However, the way in which a guilty pleasure lets us lose ourselves is different. If we take The Revenant again as our 'good film' example; the film engrosses us by showing us jaw-dropping visuals and unbelievable events. Maybe we even come away thinking about a particular motif and continue to for several days after. A guilty pleasure on the other lets us switch off, it doesn't need to make a commentary or astonish us, it allows us to enjoy the film for nothing more than what it is.
Take the Fast and Furious franchise for example, after 7 films - soon to be 8 - you'd think a film about cars and explosions would have lost its audience by now, but after 16 years it's still one of the highest grossing franchises in history. Not because it's an amazing piece of art but because it lets you enjoy yourself, you don't need to be focused for every second of the film. To shamelessly paraphrase Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel), for those 2 and bit hours, you're free. This comes back to my point about quality, as awe-inspiring as an Oscar winning film might be an enjoyment of simplicity can be just as fulfilling.
Being Part of the Discussion - The Age of the Guilty Pleasure
More now than ever guilty pleasure films are celebrated. Before the age of the internet if you had enthusiasm for an unusual or unloved film the discussion would be limited to dusty video rental shops, and the 'real' critical analysis was the only stuff published. Now though, instead of film criticism and analysis being reserved for Cahiers du Cinéma, an army of passionate fans can share their love for the previously disrespected niches.
The community engagement has elevated 'guilty pleasures' to the mainstream, none more so than the comic book movies that are now made by the dozen. What was considered a lonely activity adopted by the anti-social has become the mainstream, no longer is it an isolated conversation, it's the conversation. Right now you're reading this on a website dominated by articles about comic book movies/TV shows - in fact as I've been writing this article the final Logan trailer was released. The feeling of being part of a discussion has allowed people to share their passions on worldwide scale. The anxiety of being judged for their interests has been replaced by a feeling of belonging once they've discovered a like-minded community.
There is potentially one catch though, with everyone sharing your guilty pleasure does it still count? Part of what made it one in the first place was the personal connection you had to it, even if other people enjoyed it as well the secrecy was part of what made it 'guilty'. So, I'll end with a new question - Are there any films that are considered 'guilty pleasures' anymore?