Getting to the bottom of those guilty pleasures

Embracing artistic nostalgia.

Admit it, music snobs: amid your grandiose collection of hip, undiscovered indie music lies the ever embarrassing Flo Rida, Pussycat Dolls, and Black Eyed Peas albums.

Art snobs, you’re not completely innocent either. Even though you’re all about your carefully composed and artfully developed film photographs, the favourite photo you’ve ever taken is the duck-faced digital selfie you took of you and your friends in high school. And let’s not ignore the film geek who revels in foreign art house films, but hides an unconditional love for Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. Even though we might try to pretend that we have only the most refined artistic taste, it’s clear that sometimes all we want to do is watch the The Notebook or read Us Weekly.

But these so-called “guilty pleasures” don’t mean that our artistic standards have lowered. They don’t make us shameful posers. We shouldn’t even feel guilty about loving these things in the first place. The fact that I will forever dance my heart out to the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good eighteenth century opera aria or an emerging Canadian band. These things are not mutually exclusive.

The reasons we love things that would seemingly contradict our usual artistic tastes are simple: common experience and memory. Art creates a profound and tangible connection to memory that is unmatched by anything else we know. Art is history. It’s a way to access the past in its most realistic, vivid form. I believe that art, in any medium, has the power to connect a group of people who otherwise have nothing in common.

Let’s refer back to my love for the Black Eyed Peas. In my first year at Mount Allison, “I Gotta Feeling” was our frosh week anthem. The Orientation Committee would blast this song back to back for hours, all the while forcing us to repeat hip-thrusting cheers and chants (and if you remember your own frosh week, you know I’m not exaggerating). By the end of the week, this song had become the unifying element among a group of students who didn’t yet know each other, didn’t know Sackville, and didn’t know what they were in for as they began their first year of university.  Amazingly, this stupidly catchy song was able to create a lasting connection between everyone in the class of 2014.

However, this art-induced nostalgia isn’t limited to music. Virtually any artistic medium can evoke the same connection to a person, a place, or an experience. A film, for example, can transport us back to a distinct aesthetic state of being. It doesn’t matter if the film you love is a revered feat of genius, or a guilt-ridden love affair like High School Musical (not for me, obviously…). Movies take us out of our own skin and remind us of a memory or a version of ourselves that we sometimes ignore.

Literature is another powerful way to remember a forgotten version of yourself. As an English major, I’ve read Jane Eyre about a million times. However, each time I read it, I discover something new, and oftentimes these discoveries are not limited to the text. I can remember who I was the last time I read it, or who it reminded me of, and what it taught me then. Even though the words don’t change, my experiences and maturity levels have.

This is the wonderful thing about a work of art: it doesn’t change. We, the audience, change. And we can measure these changes by revisiting a piece of work time and again. Art is our connection to the past. Overtime, our personal tastes evolve, and we might grow out of things we once loved. We begin to feel embarrassed by those things, just because they don’t “fit” with who we are now—hence our guilty pleasures. But a guilty pleasure is a pleasure for a reason. It’s an extension of ourselves and our experiences. So go ahead; readPeople Magazine with pride while rocking out to Fall Out Boy, and revel in your nostalgia without pretending that you’re reading Kafka and listening to some band you’ve probably never heard of.

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