Forget fingerprints and other biometrics. Ask a person to list his or her top five guilty pleasures, and no two people will be alike.
But before I go on, let me register the impassioned objection of Jennifer Szalai in The New Yorker (December 9, 2013), who brings out the big guns (Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Huxley, Wharton, Auden) to decry the very idea of a “guilty pleasure”:
The guilty pleasure is a vestige of America’s disappearing middlebrow culture, of that anxious mediation between high and low, which at its best generated a desire to learn, to value cultural literacy and to accept some of the challenges it requires. General magazines once flourished because of it; even Ladies’ Home Journal, better known now as a chipper dispenser of service journalism and horoscopes, used to publish the likes of Edith Wharton and W. H. Auden. But the guilty pleasure seems to me the distillation of all the worst qualities of the middlebrow—the condescension of the highbrow without the expenditure of effort, along with mass culture’s pleasure-seeking without the unequivocal enjoyment. If you want to listen to Rihanna while reading the latest from Dean Koontz, just go ahead and do it. Don’t try to suggest you know better. Forget the pretense and get over yourself. You have nothing to lose but your guilt.
Oh, golly. I was really thinking about something like this:
I didn’t realize I was being pretentious. I will try to get over myself.
Anyhow. Here’s my current list, and let’s just hope that Szalai is not on WordPress:
- Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past.
- The early work of Marcel Duchamp.
- Bootleg recordings of Bob Dylan concerts ca. 1989-1999.
- Moët & Chandon Dom Perignon White Gold Champagne.
- Jennifer Szalai essays in which the term “middlebrow culture” appears.
Okay, just kidding. Be thinking what you would list as your top guilty pleasures. I’ll declare my true list in a follow-up installment. We can get over ourselves later.