Monday, December 11, 2006

Anatomy of a Guilty Pleasure

When I was a sophomore in college, I was given what any student of Greek mythology should have thought twice about opening: a mysterious box, handed over with a cryptic smile and minimal explanation.

A few minutes earlier I’d been complaining loudly about my miserably boring coursework and wondering if I’d ever remember what it was like to enjoy reading a book – whereupon a charitable friend dragged me up to her room and presented me with a large cardboard box. (And, if I remember correctly, asked me very nicely to shut the hell up.)

I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t what I found: an impressive collection of romance novels whose covers were so worn from age and use that the sight was almost tender, as if it were a collection a well-loved, mildly pornographic teddy bears. I was intrigued – and, let’s face it, a little desperate –so I sat down to read my first romance novel. I can’t remember the exact plot, but I’m fairly certain that it involved cross-dressing and pirates.

In other words, it was awesome.

Ever since, I’ve been a devoted fan of the written romance. But until recently, I was also a deeply closeted fan. Whenever I bought romance novels, I’d avoid my local bookstore and go instead to one that was two bus transfers away. I was always sure to pick up some sort of dry, intellectual tome as well, just in case I needed hard evidence when I told the cashier that the romance novels were for a friend. (As a result I have at least 50 books that I will never, ever read on subjects I will never, ever care about, including Lyndon B. Johnson, the Interregnum, and cod.)

Whether you want to call the current age modern, postmodern, or – God help us all – post-postmodern, there’s no escaping the fact that we are increasingly identified not by what we do, but by what we consume. You need only to have been confronted with the gaping, existential horror of a blank Internet dating profile to know that this is true. When we choose to broadcast what we like, it’s not just a matter of taste – it’s a matter of identity.

Our preferences, however, aren’t nearly so biddable as we might like them to be, and so from time to time we have to account for something that isn’t quite in keeping with who we are – or, more accurately, who we want to be. The Guilty Pleasure ... Click here to read complete article.


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