Guilty for what?

Six years ago, Glee was born and I was hooked. The catchy marketing campaign, as well as its out-of-the-box premise, had me, as well as millions of others, hook, line, and sinker. However, somewhere along the way, Glee became ‘taboo’. From critically acclaimed, zeitgeist-capturing musical comedy, it became a guilty pleasure only few ever admitted to seeing. What is the reason behind this? More importantly, what is a guilty pleasure?

A quick search on Google will get you a few substantial results. The Wikipedia definition, sketchy as it may seem, defines it as “something that one enjoys despite feeling that it is not generally held in high regard”; it can be a book, a film, a show, anything really. Urban Dictionary, on the other hand, defines it as “something that you shouldn’t like, but like anyway.” I define the word as something that is okay, but is socially taboo and excessive—too sweet, too bitter, too melodramatic, too much.

In college, I have cultivated a personality that I feel clearly represents what my interests are. I thoroughly enjoy television shows and movies, I dabble in music, and I love spending my alone time reading books that interest me. When the time comes to socialize and talk, I always ask people what their favorite shows are. I get the usual Game Of Thrones or How I Met Your Mother answers, a few The Walking Dead murmurs here and there. There was this one time when a few friends and I were discussing the state of Philippine shows, and one of them said with a laugh, “I kinda watch PBB. I know, I’m so jej.”

I remember, when I was a kid, when watching Filipino shows like Captain Barbell or the earlier editions of Pinoy Big Brother wouldn’t have been considered a minor sin, but would actually serve as a topic for conversation. If it proved soapy, you can always go for anime aired during the afternoons after school, but it was never held against you to watch shows like that. Perhaps growing up and getting more options for everything left little to no space for watching these kinds of shows.

Pinoy Big Brother, at its core, is inspired by writer George Orwell’s famed villain, the 24/7 surveillance of 1984, and, in a way, the twists and turns the novel employed. But, like almost any other reality show, PBB is considered a guilty pleasure, no matter the prestige of the origin. But a social experiment where different people from different walks of life stay in one house under constant surveillance, 24/7? Count me in, right?

When thinking about this article, it led me to revisit the various iterations of the famed reality show and my past thoughts on them. During puberty, when some of us would have that “I hate everything” phase, I would openly mock the idea, calling it ‘baduy’. A few seasons in, and I would ironically watch it, not to hate on it, but to passively see what kind of gimmicks were being employed on-screen. This edition, where they employ a teen and an adult roster of housemates for more hijinks, is something I actually, kind of, enjoy. Is there really something socially “wrong” with watching Pinoy Big Brother?

Admittedly, after opening myself up to the idea of these new personalities, I have come to like a few of them. I remember rooting for the rapper kid Jimboy, who went on to be part of the Teen Big 4, the shy girl Zonia, the leader-ish Kyle, and teen mom Kamille (as you can see, I’m well acquainted with the edition). I laugh at some jokes, shake my head with a smirk at the puns, and feel compelled by some of the stories and a few of the twists. The adult housemates, I’m still testing the waters with, but you get picture. I watch the show, and look for things that will make me stay.

What I’ve come to like about the reality program is the way it provides a mirror to who we are as a society, like almost all shows do. You know how some contestants enter the house one way and leave it in a different way? That’s an irresistible pitch for character development.

It’s also interesting to see how the Internet quickly preys on the idea of an “opinionated woman”. For example, Kamille sees herself as a frank person. When she butts heads with some of the housemates, netizens are quick to tag her as a hypocrite. Even if she’s being honest with everyone, it’s held against her, saying it’s too much, or that it’s insincere. Fast forward to the adult housemates, and we get Margo and Dawn. The former is seen as ‘cold’ and ‘snobbish’ towards the other housemates, while the latter is seen as ‘too bossy’ and ‘too uptight’; both women tell it like it is, but it’s considered a problem.

It fascinates me how the gender politics have shifted in this edition. We now have strong female housemates, like Dawn, who take the leadership role with gusto and competence, while the men let out their feelings with no pretense. It becomes compelling because it’s reactionary; the events in reality shows spur conversations and it’s either we love them or we hate them. Like the Twilight saga, or how Miley’s antics sparked debates, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground in forming an opinion. For convenience’s sake, calling something a guilty pleasure enables us to dismiss it half-heartedly when it actually fascinates us.

Writer Jennifer Szalai perfectly captured what guilty pleasures are in an article she wrote for The New Yorker.
Guilty pleasures are a mix of both highbrow and low-brow; guilty pleasures do not exist because Kesha’s discography is totally bad, they exist because one wants to be perceived as classy in his or her tastes, but also likes Pinoy Big Brother, with a chuckled ‘kind of’. We treat something as lesser or more when we hear other people’s opinions, and it forms a chunk of what we want to think.

Truth be told, I watch Pinoy Big Brother because it brings me something that I can’t find from other shows. Granted, I sometimes find myself thinking why I even put up with it, but there’s a hook. Whether one considers Glee or PBB bad or good, I realized that the best discoveries I have found have stemmed from looking for something better than what I already know.

Guilty pleasures have been lambasted for so long. People tend to forget they also tell stories; for better or worse, they mirror what we are, as a society, through the excess and the melodrama. Unless it’s hurting you or someone else, what’s stopping you from taking it? The next time someone calls you out, clap back. If it makes you who you are, what are you guilty for?

Daniel Ian Comandante

By Daniel Ian Comandante

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