During my preteens, I was a hard-core Twilight fan; and I mean hard-core. Once, in fifth grade, I shamelessly showed up to class wearing an ill-fitting black t-shirt with Edward Cullen’s face plastered on it. I could play the entire soundtrack on the piano. Instead of paying attention to my Sunday school teacher, I’d sneak into the bathroom to re-read my tattered copy of the book.
Regardless of the odd decisions my past-self made, I can’t discredit the impact the Twilight series had on me. It inspired me to read, imagine and gave me a reason to feel vaguely secure at an age often plagued with insecurities.
Now, as much as I’d like this article to be one long Twilight think-piece, there is a broader purpose.
Why is it select books, movies or music invoke a sense of guilt?
At a certain age, we begin to condemn aspects of popular culture. It becomes trendy to hate pop music and rom-coms, but if they’re inherently enjoyable, why aren’t they embraced?
The idea that we need to preface our interests with labels deemed legitimate or guilty is indicative of a culture that is hostile to genuine personal expression. Works that are considered canonical or iconic are undoubtedly admirable and held in high regard but works intended for mass consumption are just as influential.
Consider a film like The Notebook. While it’s certainly not being critically analyzed in university lectures across the globe, it still maintains a massive impact on modern pop-culture.
Let’s stop ridiculing girls who enjoy Nicholas Sparks’ novels or listen to Taylor Swift. Let’s embrace the idea that if something makes you happy, you should be able to enjoy it without fault
Additionally, a large portion of criticism that comes with pop-culture is directed at young girls. We are quick to shame teens for any source of enjoyment. Take the latest trend of “VSCO girls” as a prime example. An entire subculture of young girls is constantly ridiculed and for what reason? No other demographic experiences the same level of harsh scrutiny as teenagers. The criticisms they face are especially toxic at such a vulnerable age. By constantly criticizing our youth, we’re creating a society that is painfully judgemental. As a result, we grow into adults who feel there is a “right” and “wrong” when it comes to appreciating certain movies, tv shows, etc.
The justification for mocking specific interests is often done in the name of defending “good” art. However, we treat various forms of art as if they’re mutually exclusive. Stephanie Meyer cannot be appreciated since authors like Charles Dickens exist, or that Taylor Swift isn’t talented because Aretha Franklin paved the way for future artists.
This isn’t to say we should not critically analyze works of art. Artistic and literary criticism are valuable tools when evaluating the place of a piece of art. However, Dickens being hailed as one of the canons in Western literature doesn’t negate the importance of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight in the lives of millions of teens across the globe.
Sometimes, our most immersive experiences of culture occur with works created for the sole purpose of providing a sense of comfort from the world around us. To curl up with your besties and watch a Hallmark Christmas movie is an enjoyment that shouldn’t be accompanied by embarrassment.
There is no obligation to justify your happiness to anyone.
Ultimately, there is no such thing as a guilty pleasure. There are only pleasures – things that bring you joy and give meaning to your life. If you enjoy something, enjoy it fully and without shame.