“Dirty Dancing” is my favorite movie. Ever. Last semester, while scrolling through photos of friends’ adventures abroad, working through a fresh breakup, balancing five classes and hiding away from the subzero temperatures, I shamelessly watched it almost every week. I probably have most of it memorized by now, but still get a thrill whenever I see the opening credits start to scroll and hear the music kick in. It doesn’t matter that the plot is cheesy and the acting overdramatic — I love it, and don’t really feel guilty about that. But, I still know it’s seen as a “guilty-pleasure” movie, and I still feel some need to justify myself whenever people ask about my favorite films.
The concept of a “guilty pleasure” comes up a lot when deciding what to watch on a Friday night or realizing you actually want to go see the latest rom-com at the theater. Choosing to watch something tacky or simple seems to require a disclaimer, an “I’m not as dumb as this makes me seem” tag. But why should it? What does how we relax and find entertaining have to do with feeling guilty? As a film and English major at a large university, there’s an implicit pressure to sound smart and cultured when asked in class icebreakers or discussions to list off favorite movies, TV shows and books. We are meant to impress our professors and classmates with the level of intellectualism we require from our free-time media, and establish ourselves as serious and smart for all to see.
But when actually sitting down to watch a movie or TV show, the decision of what we choose to put on versus what we profess is best may not line up exactly. Let’s look at statistics of who watches “The Bachelor/Bachelorette,” one of the seemingly tackiest reality shows on TV — overdramatized and unrealistic but wholly entertaining nonetheless. According to The New York Times, the Monday night special regularly pulls in millions of viewers, the majority of them women 18 to 49 years old. It is especially popular among those from upscale, well-educated homes, ranking 34 percent more popular than other programs put on in these households.
I, frankly, love “The Bachelorette.” It is dramatic and hilarious and sad and romantic and weird all at once. I also have never seen a group of people get more heated than when I bring up the Nick vs. Shawn debate with my housemates, an amalgamation of smart, motivated girls in pre-med, Ross, psych, women’s studies and education. Interning in the newsroom of a major national network this summer, the uber-successful women I worked under were the same, coming in every Tuesday morning ready to hash out the details of last night’s episode. What we choose to watch in our free time has so little to do with our intellect or our potential, so why do we rate it as if it does?
So, to be short, I love “Dirty Dancing.” I love it for no other reason than watching it puts me in a good mood, and it’s bright, flashy and entertaining. We watch movies and TV for the spectacle. We watch them to see sex and violence played out in an enormous variety of stories and forms, and if you think that any of your favorite films aren’t revolving around these two themes, then take a closer look at them. No matter how we dress up these desires, they’re the same. We are entranced by the creativity with which these topics are approached. There shouldn’t be implicit guilt in confronting this. We like what we like, no strings attached.