Sunday, 23 January 2011

Do you has good taste?

“Guilty pleasures” is a phrase that has worked its way in to modern parlance and from there it’s only a small skip and a jump to overuse and cliché. In case you are not down with its meaning (I am SO down with the kids) it means something you enjoy buy feel “guilty” for doing so. Any guilt involved is apparently to do with being caught participating in an activity which is thought to be deeply un-cool by your peers.

The more I hear this phrase, the more it annoys me. One the one hand I can understand that at our deepest level we are social creatures and anything that puts us at a remove from our social group is something to be avoided. A l’autre main, we are individuals and if whatever I am doing doesn’t harm anyone else why should I care what you think, fool?

And who gets to decide what is cool or un-cool? Is there some arbitrary notion that hypnotises en masse? Or is it all influenced by a media that browbeats us every minute of every waking day with their choices?
The media is run my people just like us. Why do they get to decide what we should and shouldn’t watch? Someone gives them a job on a newspaper, magazine or TV programme and we should suddenly listen to them like they are the Great Guru of Taste?

Sheep. That’s we are, the fecking lot of us. Fecking sheep. Something is given the glamour of popularity by the chosen few and we rush to show that we are as cool as everyone else.

Baa, baa, baa.

And I can be just as baaad as anyone else. Up to a point. Then I tend to make my mind up for myself.
(Recently I noticed that women were carrying about handbags with a wee dog on them. Radbury? ‘Cos they had a small piece of leather in the outline of a dog they were suddenly desirable. Like most men I don’t get the fascination with bags, but a leather doggy-tag? WTF?)

What instigated this mini rant-ette was my viewing on Youtube the other night. I began watching music videos by John Legend (cool?) and Quincy Jones (mega cool?). Which led to Melinda Doolittle (the best singer never to win American Idol – as far as the cool score goes your guess is as good as mine) Beyonce (cool?) and then on to Barbra Streisand (mmmm? She was more cool when she wasn’t singing all that Lloyd Webber stuff.) and Barry Manilow (deeply uncool?).

An hour or so of “guilty pleasures”? Quite a journey and one that would have had my mates pissing themselves laughing.  But to be frank I couldn’t give a shit. These peeps all produce great music, great vocals and great tunes.

I caught and stopped myself using the GP phrase just recently when I was talking about books. I almost said Wilbur Smith was a  #hangs head in shame#  guilty pleasure. For the briefest of moments – I was talking to someone I wanted to impress –I worried that enjoying Smith’s books might make me look less of whatever I was trying to be. As I said, I caught myself and proudly noted that I was a fan.

Are you a literary snob? Do you only read the classics? Are your shelves filled only with the likes of Atwood, Conrad, Austen and the latest Man Booker/ Pulitzer prizewinner? Do you rush to hide the latest Stephen King or James Patterson when you hear a knock at the door? Why is popular fiction derided as somehow being unworthy? Our own P.M. David Cameron tried to excuse his “poor judgement” by writing off his holiday reading as “trashy novels”.

Making me think, what a twat!
(And don’t you love democracy? In some parts of the world that would have earned me a few nights stay in a cell, an episode of water-boarding and a police baton wedged up my arse.)
IMHO there is only good writing and bad writing. If the book grips or entertains me why should I worry if the taste police look down on me?

If you find yourself kow-towing to this needless waste of energy, stand tall and announce your preference with pride and offer a biblical pox on the decision-makers of “good” taste.

What books/ writers are you now going to proudly proclaim as favourites?


  1. Fortunately for me, I was raised by parents who valued non-conformity ... so long as it didn't land us in jail or fired from jobs.

    One of mother's favorite sayings (God rest her soul) was: "If one of your friends sat her ass on a hot stove, would you do it too?"

    I've been writing mysteries for years but, because one of my favorite, bestselling women's fiction authors suggested that I join Romance Writers of America after I wrote a "fan" letter asking for guidance in my quest for publication, I did so.

    Talk about "guilty pleasures." Not only have I learned more about the world of publishing from membership in RWA and meeting fellow members, I've run across some EXCELLENT writers. So many readers, writers, and publishing professionals turn their noses up at romance fiction. I wonder what percentage of those people read it on the sly, never admitting, acknowledging, or proclaiming their love for romance?

    So, Mikey, in the spirit of your blog post, I admit to reading, writing, and enjoying romance fiction. (I prefer comtemporary to historical but I do enjoy Regencies.) I especially enjoy Eileen Dreyer (aka Kathleen Korbel), Jayne Ann Krentz (aka Jayne Castle), Nora Roberts (and I don't care if other people criticize her for head-hopping - most of her stories are so good I don't even notice it), Suzanne Brockman, Janet Evanovic, Jennifer Cruisie, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, etc.

    What kind of stuff do you read that other people turn their noses up at?

  2. Genre fiction gets more than a few noses in the air. I read a lot of crime/ mystery and fantasy novels that would get the literati snorting with disdain.

    Love your mother's expression. Think I'll use that one.

  3. well, watching Spartacus was a gp because it was so bloody violent, but a good story and Andy Whitfield so gorgeous. and i would never have let my kids watch when they were younger. but i've reached a point that i don't care what people think of what i read or write. to them i say give them that flaming digit pix you posted before. I loved it or was it, too, a gp???

  4. Thea, the flaming digit pix was an unadulterated pleasure. Nothing guilty about it.

  5. Too true, Michael. I've stopped caring what other people think we should be reading and enjoying. Some of the most 'worthy' novels are the most boring to read, while much popular fiction is pure pleasure and doesn't deserve the guilt label.

    My hubby is quite happy to admit he prefers something page-turning like Dan Brown or Jeffrey Archer (he reads other types of authors too) when he wants to escape and be kept awake long enough to enjoy it. The literati world is still quite a snobby one sometimes!

  6. I'd actually go further, Michael, and say that when Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie and their lot, together with the lit crits who eulogise them, start spouting their pretentious crap about 'literature', it's enough to put me off reading altogether.

    As you know, I'm a huge fan of David Mitchell, I also love reading William Boyd, and there's a qualitative difference when you read them because the book stays with you. (Paul Auster also stays with you but only because he's so bloody annoying and up his own arse in what he writes.) But I get just as much pleasure (and it's definitely not guilty) out of books that make me laugh (yes, Linda, Janet Evanovich is one of them, Terry Pratchett - obviously - is another)or that keep me asking the old question 'What happens next?'

    I think for me a reaction stronger than GP is 'not-guilty-displeasure'. I get it frequently when I read someone who claims to be a writer, has had the good fortune to be published, and yet is careless with language, ignores basic grammar, etc. It's fine if it's done deliberately in dialogue or to achieve a specific effect, but when it's done unconsciously or carelessly, I get annoyed.

  7. Rosemary, I like to think that the bloggy world will take over from the literati and we'll then get reviews we can trust.

    Bill, I hear ya. Grrrrrrr.

    Just realised that all comments so far are from writers. Any readers out there who would care to comment?

  8. I'll pick up that gauntlet Michael.
    By the sounds of things ALL my reading would fall into the GP category. I read fiction to be entertained. The literati are just another branch of the class system.

  9. I get that feeling when I'm among romance writers and follow Evanovich and Phillips and Robb with fantasy, crime fiction, thriller writers. Like you say, whatever I like I have the damn right to like.
    Like Avatarrrrrr! See? it works.

  10. ah, I wish I could be like that kitten in the picture, but I'm the opposite, I'd probably be a lion seeing kitten in the mirror.