Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures

John Glaenzer asks:

What guilty pleasures do you have? Belting out CW McCall songs on Friday night? Watching reruns of “Mythbusters” in your bathrobe, because dressing on Saturday is too much of a hassle? Writing mildly amusing comments on a semi-famous science fiction writers blo….

Oh dear.

Anyway, what are your guilty pleasures?

I don’t have any, because I don’t feel guilty about my pleasures.

Which is not to say that I don’t have a lot of silly or simple or even stupid pleasures. Among them, the joy of blowing the heads off zombies in the Left 4 Dead video games, listening to Journey after the age of twenty one, eating an astounding array of junk food mitigated only by a daily multivitamin, or making up songs about my pets and singing them when one enters the room (Yes, my pets have theme songs? Don’t yours? Hmmm). I do all of these things — and more! Really, a large percentage of my pleasures are, shall we say, uncomplicated.

I don’t feel guilty about them, however, because, eh, why should I? My pleasures make me happier to a greater or lesser degree, they don’t hurt anyone else, and in any event one of the great advantages to being a grown up is being able to do what the hell you want and not have to apologize for it or run it past anyone else. The reason we call things “guilty pleasures” is usually because we substitute someone else’s judgment for their value over our own.

I’m not inclined to do that. One, because I feel comfortable with my own judgment on what gives me pleasure and don’t need validation from anyone else. Two, because even if I did need validation from everyone else, everyone else would be a hypocrite on this score, since everyone (or at least everyone I’ve ever met in my life) has their own set of pleasures that someone else would look askance upon — and because every pleasure in life has almost certainly been looked askance upon. Every pleasure is a guilty pleasure to someone. Eventually you just have to stop caring if your pleasure has the approval of the majority, or of a critically-minded minority, or of, you know, your mom.

The flip side of this is that it makes it easier for you to not care what gives other people pleasure. Like Nickelback? I’m not a fan at all and I don’t mind cracking the occasional joke at their expense, but you know what? If you like them and listening to them gives you happiness, then listen to them and be happy. A huge fan of basketball? I’m not much for it outside of a highlight reel, but that shouldn’t stop you. Enjoy your bouncy ball heaved about by tall persons. Enjoy you some sparkly vampires? I am painfully aware that sparkly vampires give me no pleasure whatsoever. But if they give you pleasure, then please to enjoy you some shiny bloodsuckers. I don’t need to care about what you like, and more to the point, you don’t need to care what I think about what you like.

(There’s also the fact that, to be blunt about it, what I do professionally is likely seen as a “guilty pleasure” by some, because there are people who look down at genre fiction and/or science fiction and/or me as a writer. And, well. I don’t want people to feel like they have to make an excuse or feel guilty for reading what I write to anyone; I just want them to enjoy it.)

So, yeah: No guilty pleasures. I like what I like, and I don’t care what anyone else thinks about it. Wheee!

(It’s not too late to get in a topic for Reader Request Week: Go here for the details and to leave your request!)

61 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2013 #3: Guilty Pleasures”

  1. I wish more people had your attitude! If I want to watch the Three Stooges I shouldn’t feel guilty! If I want to eat Twinkies smeared with cream cheese I shouldn’t be ashamed! If I want to bury teenage hitchikers in my crawlspace I shouldn’t hide it!

  2. I’m with you, on this one. I proudly and happily watch Buffy, read romance novels, and fan-squee about Benedict Cumberbatch. My pets also have theme songs. Everyone should have a theme song, I think.

  3. Cambias:

    I remember that piece on Herman Mudgett you wrote for the Maroon, you know.

    To be clear, one pleasures should not hurt anyone else (non-consentingly, at least).


    The tanks scare the crap out of me.

  4. Some of my Guilty Pleasures, by category of my various professions.

    Astronomy: I like wacky stuff that enhances my science fiction, whether believable or not. In a page I wrote this morning of a Lovecraftian novella:
    Synchronized by the beats of a Cree drum, specifically a ceremonial Nehiyaw/Cree drum which had a single-head for an individual player. Its main components were a birch wood frame and a deer hide head. We stepped through, one at a time. Around the drum were icons of mythological beast, and a Cree translation of Mage John Archibald Wheeler’s famous phrase: “matter tells Spacetime how to curve, and Spacetime tells matter how to move.”
    “Alternative gravity theories such as one proposed by Dvali, Gabadadze, and Porrati (DGP) claim that our observed four-dimensional universe lives in a larger five dimensional space-time,
    said my CIA friend. “In fact, gravity is modified at large (rather than at short) distances through the
    slow evaporation of gravitational degrees of freedom of the brane universe. The transition between four and higher-dimensional gravitational potentials in the DGP model arises because of the presence of both the brane and bulk Hilbert-Einstein terms in the action. Despite the brane universe rendering the cosmic acceleration without need of any vacuum (dark energy) term, it suffers from some instabilities due to the existence of ghost-like excitations.”
    “Ghost-like?” I said.
    “Technical term,” he reassured me. Any attempt to construct thin-shell wormholes requires the use of the cut and paste procedure, and work with the junction conditions associated to the gravity theory understudy. Cylindrical thin shell wormholes within the context of general relativity (GR) were built, and found that, in most of the cases, the wormholes are supported by exotic matter, violating the energy conditions. Leaving aside the GR by taking into account the Brans-Dicke gravity theory, it was shown that cylindrical thin-shells are not necessarily are sourced by exotic matter and the energy conditions can be fulfilled by choosing suitably the parameters of the model.”

    Biology: Of course my research and teaching focus on the Neodarwinian Synthesis. But Evolution by Natural Selection is not the only operating process, albeit it is the dominant one. So I like riffs on, for example, Dwraf Mammoths (which are not like Jumbo Shrimp).

    Chemistry: The Periodic Table you learned in school is not where we are now. I like the ever-more-sophisticated speculations on the heaviest possible atom, often summarized by (Google it) the term “Feynmanium.”

    Economics: the quants who collapsed the world economy cannot stop it from happening again. The key is that MONEY is regulated, but MONEY-ISH stuff, such as Derivatives, are not. My favorite (sadly, I did not buy in time) is BITCOIN.

    Fiction: I no longer get free review copies of new novels, since my Active SFWA membership and my wife’s never converted to Lifetime Active when I snailmailed in my $1,000.00 check (long story). So I mostly read older fiction which I buy in used book stores. In a previous thread I listed three books that recently gave me guilty pleasure. Radiance, because my wife and I both worked on Star Wars technology. Pentagon, not Darth Vader. Thank you Ronnie Reagan, Maggie Thatcher, and Jerry Pournelle.

    Math: I now have 3,234 contributions to The On-Line Encyclopedia of Integer Sequences. It is a guilty pleasure to be published in an edited on-line venue that has over a quarter of a million web pages, of which about 1.5% are mine.

    Poetry: I’m going to read some Speculative Poetry with other SFPA members at the Eaton Conference in Riverside this week. I workshop my short poems every normal Friday at Caltech’s Red Door Poetry Workshop, and my long-form stuff (poems over 3 pages, chapters of novellas) at another Caltech workshop. My guilty pleasure is taking a favorite line from another workshopper’s poem, and making my own sonnet that riffs on it, for the next week.

    Television: Game of Thrones is not a Guilty Pleasure. It’s an example of how to take wonderful literature and make it into expensive wonderful television. But that hardly explains why I watch Smash and Nashville.

  5. I am so happy I’m not the only one who makes up theme songs for their pets. It wasn’t a “guilty pleasure” thing so much as a “sign of early dementia”, but now that there are at least TWO of us… it’s… slightly less lonely?

  6. Yes, my pets have theme songs? Don’t yours?
    …no! DANGIT! Now I have to pick a theme song for my cat. Although, hm, she’s named after a baseball player, what’s Buster Posey’s walkon music…

  7. I feel the exact same way! I add to this that I hate the idea that some books are Good for You, and some are Summer Reading. Bleh. I read what I want when I want, and woe be to those who pass judgment on my reading list.

  8. So, I’m emphatically not a hedonist and I value the opinions of others on living a moral life but, thanks, silly or simple or even stupid pleasures are great!
    Note, I prefer not to hut others even when they do consent.

  9. Of courses my pets have themes songs! And variations as well. It’s funny how they’ve learned to come looking treats when I’m singing their song. Especially in the kitchen.

  10. My black cat’s middle names are Lucrezia McWeasel, so of course her theme song is “Lucretia MacEvil” by Blood Sweat and Tears.

    My other cat does not have a theme song. Maybe this is why he is cranky? Clearly I need to remedy this oversight.

  11. Well said.

    Bookmarking this to send the next time a friend expresses horror at my Hello Kitty toaster.

  12. I am so glad to hear that I’m not the only one who has theme songs for my cats, although Tiger’s tends to change. But Fluff and Erasmus both have a set theme song, created just for them.

  13. No specific pleasure is guilty to me (modulo concerns about mutual consent, ecological devastation, embedding social injustices), but I still have guilty pleasures. I could certainly enjoy myself enough in the short term that I undercut my ability to attempt what I ought to attempt in this life. The easier and more pleasant a diversion, the more likely I am to pretend to myself that I haven’t noticed I’m on the wrong road.

    Consent, ecology, injustice rule out a lot of things, although the more conscious I am of such effects the less pleasure I get, so at least that’s a little self-correcting. I think it’s an important category, though; there’s so much cod-Puritan criticism of pleasure itself, countered by cod-Enlightenment arguments that pleasure is good, that the question of effects on other people get brushed under the rug as being against pleasure per se. Not here, but enough that I think it needs saying.

  14. If you’re dopey and you know it, flap your wings!
    If you’re dopey and you know it, flap your wings!
    If you’re dopey and you know it, then your beak will surely show it!
    If you’re dopey and you know it, flap your wings!
    I have chickens. Does it show?

  15. … and now I’ve caught up a little in the blog, I see that our host filed these things under Regrets.

  16. MVS: I could be briefer if I was only running one successful career at a time. But point taken.
    “True Wit is Nature to advantage dress’d
    What oft was thought, but ne’er so well express’d”
    — Alexander Pope

  17. I clicked on that video thinking it would be the five members of Journey standing around lip-syncing to that song. On that count, I feel cheated.

  18. @scorpius

    You’re partially correct in that Journey *is* based on Gauntlet. You’re deeply, deeply mistaken however in that there is nothing bad about Gauntlet whatsoever.

  19. Yep — anything that makes you smile and laugh in this world is a good thing — especially genre fiction! Of course, I have an academic degree and have endured much taunting for translating genre fiction (mystery, crime — the Swedes have not been writing much sic-fi lately as far as I can tell).
    Theme songs for cats. I have never heard of it before, but what a great idea! I wonder what my fuzzers Peter and Patrick would like for a theme song. They do have a nickname, though, “The Irish Catholic cats” because they came with their names.

  20. Gasp! I can’t believe my cats have allowed me to live in their house without giving them theme songs (though to be fair, they’re so talkative I wouldn’t be able to get a word in)

    On a more serious note, though, I don’t really have guilty pleasures in my personal life for exactly the reasons you list, but I hadn’t thought about it in my professional life. As an artist, there are techniques I use that are seen as new and innovative and something I should be proud of, and there are techniques I use that are seen as … low brow for lack of a better phrase, and I don’t emphasize those much even though I enjoy them. I like the idea of getting rid of the guilt in those pleasures too.

  21. I’ve played an emulator version of the Journey game from the 80s. Each band member has their own little level where you have to get them to their musical instrument. Since I’ve never really liked Journey much, I tended to let them die over and over again.

    No guilt.

  22. You phrased it bore elegantly than I do but the point is the same. Why should I feel guilty about things I like? I’m a connoisseur of really awful movies. I enjoy the occasional ‘circus peanut’, a tasty confection containing no actual food value whatsoever. I sing show tunes at the top of my lungs causing great confusion in my pet rabbit. Life is too short to give a *^R&^# what ‘other people’ think!

  23. I’ve had cats who probably wanted their own theme songs to play when they walk in the room, but it hadn’t occurred to me. It wouldn’t be appropriate now; my apartment has a fairly open design, and one cat tends to either get places by teleportation or provide his own percussion when dashing up and down the stairs, while the other cat wants to sneak in unnoticed and would be really annoyed if you played a theme song pointing out that you’d seen her. Big cat also provides his own music for other occasions, including the “I’ve caught a mouse” song before bringing a (catnip) mouse to the bedroom or couch, and “Jack’s sleeping on the couch”, which is a high squeaky snore.

  24. Speaking of games. Will there ever be a game where you have John Scalzi as a playable character?

    That could get…. interesting.

  25. To me a “guilty pleasure” is something where I, based solely on my own personal standards and criteria, feel guilty enjoying something. Primary examples are the various ways in which I tease/torment the cat. It’s not as if I do this a lot, but when he’s annoying me while I try to work, I will stick a piece of tape on his head. I feel a bit bad about it, since he’s obviously very annoyed/confused/alarmed, but I still laugh my ass off.

    Fortunately, I also give the cat a theme song. I also name my cars (I only have one at a time, but they all get names).

  26. To me a “guilty pleasure” is something where I, based solely on my own personal standards and criteria, feel guilty enjoying something.

    Yes. I don’t agree with the notion that a guilty pleasure is necessarily one that other people don’t approve of. If I enjoy food that I know isn’t good for me, then no one else has to show disapproval for this to be a bad idea.

  27. How did you know I needed a little Journey today?

    (Rediscovered them about 4 years ago. Why were they hated in the ’80s, besides their success?)

  28. Regarding Journey: For a number of years I confused the bands Journey and Foreigner. I could tell which songs were by the same band and which songs were by different bands, but I never remembered which band had done what. This was made possible by the fact that I didn’t really like either band, but had enough of an ear to differentiate styles.

    I think that this magical (?) power (?) has vanished. I can now identify some Journey songs, and I can’t remember a single damn thing that Foreigner ever did. I’m not sure if this is an improvement.

    Oh, guilty pleasures? Nigel Greenbaum’s “Spirit In the Sky”. I’m a life-long atheist and I turn that fucker way up when I hear it on the radio. If I’m alone. I even sing along “I’ve got a friend named Jeeeeeesus”, even though I don’t.

  29. Most of my pets have had songs (One cat was even named Minuet. Sadly, all are deceased now) and both of my young children have many songs that are woven into their daily lives. I spent 20+ years as a gigging musician, though, so it’s really not surprising. Later, we WILL be singing “STOP! JAMMY TIME!” in a nod to MC Hammer.

  30. I ain’t clicking on the Journey link cuz ol’ Scalzi is just the kinda guy to RICK-ROLL me.
    Been burned too many times before, not gonna happen today. And if that is your guilty pleasure John then Thhhhppp!! I judge thee unsuccessful! Hazar!

  31. Hm! Sometimes I call something a “guilty pleasure” not because I feel particularly guilty about it, but because I want to defuse other people’s reactions if they don’t like that thing and feel that me liking it is an attack on them not liking it. I want to give them space to think I’m reading something just aaaaawwwwwful — and without having to do a long “yeah, yeah, I know it’s problematic and I do skim a lot of bits but hey, I’m still getting my money’s worth here” explanation/digression.

    My cats don’t have theme songs. One of them is lying on my wrist right now, though, pinning it to the edge of the laptop somewhat uncomfortably. Ow.

  32. @maskedplatypus My folks had a Calico named Pippin. When they adopted her she had huge green eyes, so Mom always joked that, “It was either Pippin or Granny Smith.” :-)

    She was my replacement when I went to college, and ended up being loved and spoiled for almost 17 years. AFAIK though she never had a theme song though…

  33. “Yes. I don’t agree with the notion that a guilty pleasure is necessarily one that other people don’t approve of. If I enjoy food that I know isn’t good for me, then no one else has to show disapproval for this to be a bad idea.”

    Yup. The occasional junk food indulgence isn’t necessarily a bad thing; but if I ate it all the time, and my health went down the tubes as a result, yeah, I’d feel pretty bad about it, no matter what anyone else thought. Even if I enjoyed the taste while I was eating it, I’d try to redirect my eating towards other things I also enjoyed, that didn’t have the same sort of downsides.

    I think you’ll find an equivalent in some entertainment, but it has nothing to do with “uncool” bands or genres. There’s some entertainment that I might laugh at or show some interest in, but that’s also degrading, either to me as a consumer or to the subjects of the entertainment. Different people may have different ideas about what’s degrading in this way, but I think one can reasonably that such a category of entertainment exists.

    For Siskel and Ebert, for example, misogynistic slasher films fell into this category. (I remember they once used an entire episode of their movie review program in the early 1980s to light into some of the more egregious examples of that subgenre.) If one agreed with them, but still liked shocks and gore from time to time, one might decide to direct one’s attention to gorefests that focused on zombies and away from gorefests that focused on powerless young women.

  34. Yunno, I’m not a making-up-songs person, but that doesn’t stop me from singing the theme song someone *else* gave my cat.

  35. When I refer to something as a guilty pleasure, I’m using guilty as a substitute for silly or possibly not terrifically productive. But I’m not being serious. I’m don’t actually feel guilty about it. When I actually feel guilty about something, it tends to take the pleasure right out of it. I thought this was understood, that it’s what everyone really meant since ‘guilty pleasure’ is an oxymoron. Quite possibly this is another social nicety where I missed the memo. I did have a few people once tell me that they feel guilty after consensual sex with their faithful partners, and one wasn’t religious nor had a religious upbringing o_O

    @ milobaines

    My pets don’t have theme songs… and now I feel guilty about that.

    Nor mine. My partner does though :-D Specifically the 30 second ringtone I recorded to herald her calling me. And yes, I made one for her to use with my number too. It was part of my first anniversary gift to her. Now I want a house-wide sound system with feline-recognition technology, though I would worry what that would do to their already very healthy furry little egos.

  36. I’m going to see Journey live next month and I don’t feel even slightly guilty about that.

    Mind you, Whitesnake & Thunder are also on the bill. It’ll be a guiltless pleasure \m/

  37. My pets don’t have theme songs (why not, Liz?) but they do get all kinds of little made up songs at various points of the day. Does that count?
    As to guilty pleasures, I remember someone commenting on my Girl Genius tee shirt – “you read that crap?” My reply – “I have a Ph.D. That means I get to read whatever I want.” He shut right up and never commented on my choices again.
    I have never understood from early childhood why people can’t leave eachother alone. If it’s not hurting anyone else, what business is it of theirs?

  38. Bonelady, Girl Genius is never crap. Plus Agatha could out-brain anyone dumb enough to call the comic ‘crap’.

    My kitties have many nicknames, too. Very flattering nicknames, like ‘Whiny’, ‘Snots’, and ‘Peepers’. And then I go and buy them giant, catnip-stuffed eyeballs.

    My biggest so-called guilty pleasure is eating ice cream for dinner when I want to.

  39. have you ever heard of rogue like games? They are rpg style games with randomized dungeon levels. They tend to have permadeath (you die once you start over) and are very difficult. Most are free and developed for fun by enthusiasts. There is a terrific rogue like zombie survival game called ‘cataclysm dark days ahead’. It has a fun, but small community and the people developing it are regularly adding new features. Its open source code so anyone can help out.

    be warned. there are no graphics. It is all ascii. It really is alot of fun, but you will die alot and quickly until you learn the game. It has a ton of depth. Games like ‘left 4 dead’ are for wimps. Where is the challenge if you can just save and restore?

    There are a few other good ones in this mode. One kickstarter game called ‘project zomboid’ which is in early development and another pay one called ‘Don’t Starve’ (has cartoon graphics). you are dropped in the woods and your goal is don’t die. I died in 5 minutes the first time I played. The developer found that people were living too long so is progressively making it harder.

    man up john and play a game that offers real challenge. I dare you to get into Dwarf Fortress(google it, the new york times did a 7 page article on the developer). It is free…

  40. Why did I never think of theme songs for my cats? I have to fix this.

    They do have multiple nicknames, used according to their behavior and mood. One is called Dumb-ass 90% of the time because he still hasn’t figured out that going full speed across a hardwood floor without slowing down even when you get withing a couple feet of the wall results in a crash. He always looks confused afterwards, like “Where did the wall come from?” It’s only been 18 months but we’re giving up hope that he’s ever going to figure this out.

  41. We named one of our cats, “Audrey.” Though we weren’t thinking of Either Audrey or Audrey II from “Little Shop of Horrors,” we now sing that part from the song, “The Meek Shall Inherit” that goes like this (with our substitution in brackets):
    But then there’s Audrey, lovely Audrey
    If life were tawdry and impoverished as before
    she might not like me, she might not want me
    Without [cat food], she might not love me anymore

  42. My cat had theme songs revolving around her current activities. My least favorite song was, “Oh Pukey Suki.”

  43. My cats have different songs for different occasions, and get new theme songs periodically. Like when a TV show changes their song or opening title to reflect changes. I don’t compose original music, of course, it’s all filk-style changes to the lyrics of popular music, either classic rock or show tunes.

    I look askance at people who do not sing to their pets.

  44. I know I sing other things to my cats, but the only one that comes to mind right now is “Triquet Triquet Triquet starts with T” to the tune of Cookie Monster’s C is for Cookie. And old commercial jingles, like “CMY, pure cane sugar…” (C and H sugar). Lately it’s been altering the lyrics to Ernie’s Rubber Ducky song: “Little kitty, joy of joys, when I pet you, you make noise…” That’s only three cats’ worth of songs, though. The other five may be rather underrepresented in the musical dept.

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