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If Loving Gossip and Shirtless Men is Wrong . . .

2004-10-23 - 9:51 a.m.

Okay, so. I promised a fun entry on guilty pleasures, and I intend to deliver. However, I need to say that, as much as there are a ton of things that I want to write about--and I'm sure the events of the coming month will prompt me to vent on this computer, whether it's to offer ecstatic yet qualified joy at the ousting of America's dictator, or the despair of having to tolerate four more years of intolerance, greed, and violence--this diary is going to play second fiddle if not eighth fiddle for the next month. This will be the time I'll spend working on my big papers, and while it will still be less than 30 pages of work, it will take a lot of my time to research everything that I need to research. So, while I probably will write at least once a week, and more around the election, don't expect the usual run of entries until after December 10th, when all my papers will be handed in and I will be able to get on with my life.

Having said that, I am going to post a link in the next couple of days to an important film everyone should see, but, as Sondheim once said, "Tragedy tomorrow, comedy tonight!"

Last night I went to go see PJ Harvey. I wanted to check her out, because she is often mentioned in the same breath as Tori Amos and Bjork, whose albums have occupied a special place in my heart and in my CD collection for many years. In fact, for a long time my computer's wallpaper was the cover of Q Magazine that featured PJ, Bjork, and Tori with the caption "Hips. Lips. Tits. Power." I'd bought a few of PJ's albums, but while I had enjoyed them, I hadn't gotten into them the same way I'd gotten into Tori and Bjork. However, I wasn't into Tori that much before I saw her live, so I figured that seeing PJ would take me from passive enjoyment to full on communing with a rock goddess.

I was so right. She was so great. Oh my God, is that woman sexy as all motherfuck. She wore a pink top, a red mini-skirt, and big red boots, which is a great contrast because, if you don't know her music, she's of a tradition that includes Janis Joplin, Patti Smith, Siouxsie Sioux, and Joan Jett, among others, of gutsy, fearless, raw as Hell rock women. I haven't headbanged in a long time, and it was great to be slamming my head up and down to the interplay of guitar, drums, and the voice that could out-growl a tiger and out-wail a banshee.

Now, I bring PJ up not only because I wanted to highly recommend her to all those out there who have yet to have a taste, but because she is exactly what I am NOT going to be talking about today. She is anything but a guilty pleasure. She is one of the epitomes of cool, someone whose albums are always considered the best of the year by all the important magazines, while still managing to avoid the death-dealing labels of sell-out or mainstream. Loving her stuff is nothing to feel guilty about. If anything, dropping her name in certain contexts will no doubt earn you instant admiration.

Now, there are other things that I enjoy that others might consider guilty pleasures, but I certainly don't. Tori Amos is actually one of them, as there are a number of people who see her as too inaccessible or too emotive (of course, no one EVER levels THAT kind of criticism at female artists or women in general, EVER), but I have no problem launching into numerous defenses of her work, and if those still don't convince whoever it is I'm talking to, I won't give a fuck.

I can do that with just about everything I love. I feel no guilt about loving Romy and Michele's High School Reunion, or Sex and the City, or Dude, Where's My Car?, or blink-182, or most reality television programs I enjoy, or any movie that features Carmen Electra in a comic roll (I know it sounds crazy, but that girl has damn good comic timing) and I can defend them without resorting to "Well, I enjoy them ironically," which is the most common defense of those who wish to remain cool but still enjoy those things that might get them a sneer from whoever it is that they're trying to get sleep with them. I enjoy The Amazing Race, and Good Burger, and Anna Nicole Smith, and Meat Loaf (the singer and, before I was a vegetarian, the dish) with absolute sincerity. When VH1 listed "I Will Do Anything for Love (But I Won't Do That)" among the most awesomely bad songs ever, I was ready to go down there with a gun to liberate one of my favorite songs ever, not to mention Deep Blue Something's "Breakfast at Tiffany's" and 4-Non Blondes' "What's Up," both the original version AND the dance mix.

However, I do have some guilty pleasures, some things that I feel bad about gushing over. There are some things that do not enjoy for anything approaching a right reason. Most of these things are on Bravo.

Bravo itself is a guilty pleasure. Once upon a time, Bravo was The Film and Arts Network. It showed foreign films. It showed Broadway musicals and operas. Inside the Actor's Studio only let on the creme de la creme of actors, people who had substantial careers full of lauded performances. Then NBC bought Bravo, and everything went rapidly to shit. Five Star Cinema now included Helen Hunt movies. West Wing episodes began showing around the clock--don't get me wrong, The West Wing's great, but shouldn't they get shuttled over to TNN? This year, Inside the Actor's Studio welcomed J-Lo, who is maybe three levels above Pauly Shore and falling fast. On top of all this, Bravo decided to become The Gay Channel. It brought the world Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and the Cher concert, and Boy Meets Boy aka Why I Don't Date. Now, I am happy to see gay people taking a prominent place in television, but when the image of gay people is exclusively upper-middle class white with one token minority per every 5-10 men on a show, I tend to get annoyed fast.

This doesn't mean I stop watching. Oh no. I have watched Bravo more in the past two years then I ever did in the entirety of its history. Before the switch, I would occassionally flip to Bravo to see if anything was interesting and inevitably flip back to Comedy Central or Cartoon Network. Now, I spend evenings with The Fab 5 and the Bartlett White House. I know it's so wrong. I know that Queer Eye is perpetuating an image of gay men as materialistic aesthetes with nothing better to do than shop, and perpetuating a narrow ideal of male style and beauty, but I watch. I watch and I enjoy.

A few nights ago, it reached a zenith, a glorious zenith of guilty relishing. First came Kathy Griffin's special, The D-List. For people who don't know, Kathy Griffin was the redhead on Suddenly Susan whose comedy routines revolve around her encounters with celebrities. A lot of people have trouble with her, because they don't know how ironic her love of celebrity is. I've got news for these people: it isn't ironic at all. She loves celebrities and longs to be a huge star, and I love her for it. She knows she will never be a huge star and is okay with being a vicarious celebrity, and I love her for that, too. People who need her to be ironic need to deal with themselves, preferably with arsenic.

Her routine was friggin' hilarious. She told stories about Whitney Houston, Sharon Stone, Rosie O'Donnell, Anna Nicole Smith, Little Richard, and Britney Spears. For me, her best line was regarding Whitney Houston's reported lesbian tendencies. Kathy Griffin said, "I have no idea if it's true or not, but it is a rumor, and that's good enough for me."

That's what it comes down to. I love Kathy Griffin because I love celebrity gossip. I love hearing about who's fucking who, who's on what drug, who had a breakdown, who had what plastic surgery, and, most of all, who is sleeping with people of the same sex and trying to hide it. No matter how unsubstantiated the rumor is, I will latch on to it with my life. When I hear the Ewan MacGregor, Orlando Bloom, and Colin Farrell will pretty much sleep with anything, I give little cries of joy. It doesn't even have to be a celebrity I'm attracted to: I was ecstatic to hear that Sherman Hemsley (aka George Jefferson) and George Takei (aka Mr. Sulu) were gay. I can now look forward to seeing them at the International Gay Conference, where we establish The Gay Agenda for the year.

This is a guilty pleasure for two reasons. First of all, why the Hell should I care about whether Ben and Matt are best friends or boyfriends when bombs are falling in Iraq? Second, I love celebrity gossip because I am, myself, an inveterate gossip, and it is not something I am proud of. It is one of the few things that I really want to change about myself. I've been better about it since coming to Berkeley--I don't reveal emotional shit if people aren't okay with revealing it anyway--but there is still a part of me that is thrilled that I am entering a profesion that is as full of gossip as the film industry. Every time I hear dish on the glitterati of academia, I giggle like a schoolgirl inside. Again, I am not proud of this. I am good about keeping the big secrets, but the little fun ones always leak out.

So, to all the people getting to know me, you need to specify "This is something I don't want blabbed all over the planet" if you are not telling me something obviously delicate, like "My partner is cheating on me" or "I killed a man in Reno just to watch him die." I promise I am trying to get better, but it's an uphill battle.

As if Kathy Griffin weren't enough, Bravo then showed two episodes, back-to-back, of Manhunt. Manhunt is essentially America's Next Top Male Model. It is a bunch of pretty men running around in underwear that does little to hide the outline of their penises acting stupid, selfish, and shallow (in other words, like anyone on reality television). There are no words for the brilliance of this show. I will just say that, on the episode where they went sky-diving in their underwear for the ostensible reason of "learning teamwork" and the actual reason of "skydiving in your underwear," the song they played during the skydiving? Was "It's Raining Men."


Now, as much as I might laugh at the wacky hijinks that these scamps get themselves up to, there's another reason why I watch this show: it's free gay porn. That's about it. And I feel bad about it because there is not a single guy up there who appeals to me in any way other than visually, except for Paulo, who has a South African accent, who also appeals to me aurally (note spelling). This show does so much to make The Beauty Myth an equal opportunity oppressor. Even I'm a victim. I feel so much less attractive (in other words, fatter) since I started watching this. And yet I cannot get enough, because it's gorgeous men with their shirts off and there is nothing that trumps that ace.

I should note that, although the men ACT stupid, I'm sure a number of them are quite intelligent. I should also note that I couldn't care less. Even I objectify, and I feel bad about it, fun as it is.

In these instances, the guilt has a moral level to it, and in those cases the guilt is healthy. I don't want to be gossipy or superficial, and so if I want to enjoy Kathy or Manhunt I need to learn how to indulge without letting my vices spread outside of the shows. However, there is another type of guilty pleasure, the aesthetic guilty pleasure, and in those cases I need to get over the guilt. What I'm talking about in this instance is the tendency to love something--let's say a song--that isn't cool by the standard that you've set for yourself. In this case, the guilt is the problem, not the piece of art.

Take me, for instance. I tend to think of myself as someone for whom cheesy songs of love and loss hold no value. When they are interesting and complex songs of love and loss--the kind, say, created by PJ Harvey--it's a different story. When it's one of the little girls so prevalent on the radio today--Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton, Avril Lavigne--I throw up at the saccharine and simplistic notions of romance. Why do I gotta go make things so complicated, miss thing? Because they are.

There is, however, a song that I love. I heard it on a mix CD and loved it. Then it started getting played on the radio, in the middle of song sets full of crap like Five for Fighting and Pink and even Celine Dion. I stopped talking about the song as something I enjoyed. I stopped listening to that mix CD, having since bought a number of albums that had songs featured on the mix (made for me by the lovely and talented Miss Mindy, whom I was thrilled to hear from this past week). I wondered if I should allow myself to like this song.

Well, the debate is over, because the debate was stupid. I like the song. Enough said. I like Maroon 5's "This Love." No, not just like: love. I dance around in my chair whenever I hear it in the coffee shop (I heard it while writing this entry, and believe me, I danced). I don't know if I'll like anything else by them, but I will at least give them a chance. There is no shame in enjoying the cheesy. Cheese is a beautiful thing.

This entry actually goes out to St Caroline, who has been wanting me to write about a song I was ashamed to love. I also want to applaud GreatSirG for admitting to liking "Why Can't I" by Eliza Phair, because that song is an absolute piece of shit and it takes guts to admit to loving it. Notice the use of the name Eliza, prompted by the lovely J-Moore, because I refuse to refer to the creator of "Extraordinary" by the same name as the creator of "Fuck and Run." It just hurts too much.

Yes, I am a slave to the author function. I don't intend to feel guilty about it.

ADDENDUM: Josh Kornbluth e-mailed me! Eeeeee! It was to add me to the update list, but it was wonderfully personal and warm for a "You're now on the list" e-mail. That's going to make spending a day studying SO much easier.

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