All the Shows You Love Are Great
"Guilty pleasures" are an elitist sham
2020 was a rough year, and 2021’s hardly been swimming, either. I’m only human, not just a film student. I’ve binged Bridgerton twice. Some of my favorite shows I watched last year: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Community, Avatar: The Last Airbender, and the DuckTales reboot.
All escapist entertainment.
Look, I was stressed. It was 2020. The Queen’s Gambit made me anxious. I didn’t watch many prestigious shows.
But everything I watched: still great. I’d defend the depth of any of those series at their heights. That includes the DuckTales reboot. Go witness “What Ever Happened to Della Duck?!” on Disney+, cry, come back, and leave a comment thanking me. It’s season 2, episode 7.
Ask me why I like anything on that list. I’ll respond with an article.
But I walked out of Avengers: Endgame talking about character development. I’m weird.
Most of us don’t think too much about our comfort shows. And that’s okay.
Gatekeepers Decide “Prestige”
Recently, I asked a friend what films she liked. Her first few were award bait. Then, embarrassed, she admitted, “and Thor: Ragnarok, even though I know it isn’t a good movie.”
Now, she just said she adores the flick. Why would anyone say a movie they love isn’t good?
Probably because she’s a film student, and we’re pretentious. There’s a belief that “real” cinema must follow certain tropes — mostly those enjoyed by old, white, male, American filmmakers.
“Prestige television” is a genre, baked with cynicism and anti-heroes. If Bridgerton were about men and violence, it could be prestige, too. We all watched Game of Thrones for the articles. But, unfortunately, Bridgerton’s about women and sex, so we call it a guilty pleasure.
But the real issue here isn’t what shows are objectively good. The problem’s the idea that there are objectively good shows.
From that belief, someone’s opinion must become the correct one. And other opinions must be wrong.
This is bonkers.
Entertainment versus Depth
Everyone finds their own meanings in fiction. And everyone finds their own joys. These are the two reasons we like stories. We assume they’re contradictory. They aren’t.
Thor: Ragnarok is about imperialism. It gives Loki and Thor wonderful character arcs. And it subverts Thor’s gallant heroism.
It’s a funny, upbeat, blockbuster. But that’s its genre, not its quality.
Meanwhile, good prestige shows are fun. I love Breaking Bad and Man Men. I also enjoy Hitchcock, The Godfather, and Citizen Kane. They’re not just “intellectually interesting.” They’re fun.
The best stories are both entertaining and interesting. There’s no reason we have to choose, hundreds of tales accomplishing both are released every year in every medium.
We all have our own tastes. Luckily, there’s plenty for everyone.
But… if you enjoy a story, even if you get nothing out of it, that’s still good. And if you learn a valuable lesson, that’s good too.
Why’d they make Thor: Ragnarok? To entertain you.
Why’d you watch the movie? To entertain yourself.
So if it entertains you: Marvel, job well done.
And if Schindler’s List helped you understand the Holocaust, that’s a different job well done.
Fiction has many paths to success.
We decide what’s “good” — No one else
If you’re happy you watched a movie, that film did its job. It was, essentially, a good story.
Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t change that. Your friends are irrelevant. CinemaSins is a comedy show. No one on Reddit or Quora can “prove” its awfulness talking about acting or plot holes or story structure.
If it worked for you, every takedown is trivial. The storytellers fulfilled their end of the bargain.
The Game of Thrones finale disappointed me. It disappointed nearly everyone. If you enjoyed it, you don’t have to explain yourself. You can. I’m definitely curious. But you have no obligation to explain your weird mind to the rest of us. I’m genuinely happy you had fun.
For that matter, the rest of us don’t have to justify why we hated it. Everyone’s reactions are valid.
Seriously, the world has enough trouble accepting other people’s life choices, politics, religion, and culture. Judging them for entertainment’s just petty.
Though, on that note: If the work’s controversial for real-world reasons, it’s beyond my scope here. If you adore Triumph of the Will… that’s a problem.
But otherwise, like what you enjoy. There are no guilty pleasures: Entertainment that gives you pleasure is good entertainment. It’s why you’re subscribed to Netflix, not Mathematical Philosophy Monthly. Have fun. You deserve it.