by Zach Terrillion
illustration by Ginger Kohn, contributor
What defines a guilty pleasure? According to the ever-reliable Urban Dictionary, a guilty pleasure is when you “enjoy a type of music or particular program, but you are ashamed to admit you listen/watch it to your friends and family.” It’s a paradox of a phrase. Why do we find shame in something we enjoy? Shouldn’t things we love just be called pleasures? Either way, it’s the type of take where disclosing it would get you, at best, a roasting. At Oberlin, guilty pleasures are hard to find. Obies are open about their tastes. Still, a definer of those tastes is how refined they are. I, and I assume a lot of you, wanted to come to Oberlin because it was refined. The students here were “cool AF,” and just soaking in their “vibes” would give one the power to also “be cool.”
I realized Oberlin’s coolness was both alluring and intimidating. In the summer before school started, my first-year class set up an Instagram account for everyone to introduce themselves. It was my first impression of my peers, and it seemed like I’d be arriving on a foreign planet. Folks posted clever memes that had some “liberal artsy” thought put into them. To me, they felt hip and eccentric—something out of a Marxist New Yorker. Meanwhile, I posted a picture of Raini Rodriguez photoshopped onto a Wicked poster. People listed artists I had never even heard of, while I just dropped ABBA as my favorite group. Was I just uncultured?
This experience foreshadows the ultimate culture at our school. College review website Niche polls students from various colleges, including Oberlin. One question asks, “What one word or phrase best describes the typical student at this school?” 15%, the third highest response, found Oberlin’s student body is “so different that they’re all the same.” In other words, many of us may think we’re trying too hard to set ourselves apart.
This is quite noticeable at our school. While all tastes are seemingly valid, students sometimes use their tastes to assert their status rather than their real personality. “Yes, I listen to ‘obscure artist’ with less than a million plays on Spotify, which makes me particularly cool and different.” I have had experiences where I’ve attended club meetings based on a particular interest. Still, that interest is taken to an elite level to where the club becomes inaccessible, and leaves you isolated in your interest. “You love movies, so let’s discuss French experimental cinema instead of Amazon’s Cinderella” (which one left a greater cinematic mark, I’ll let YOU decide). Of course, this is not the club’s fault but Oberlin is a crunchy school. To be crunchy, one must have a strong bite, a strong edge that only high-brow media tastes can provide.
People often get dragged when talking about their tastes that aren’t exactly high-brow. Yes, I have admitted that I unironically like Twilight. For this, I’ve been attacked, dammit. These attacks are just fun jokes, but there are other times when people’s sillier takes have been harshly criticized for being too weird or “not good.” A friend of mine recently said they had been getting into The Bachelorette. It’s entertaining for them, but they must justify their viewing around others. “I always just say it’s an interesting sociological experiment,” they attest.
When Oberlin students admit their pleasures, they always cover them with academic terminology. They’re also sure to preface their confessions with phrases like “unironically” or “ironically” to categorize further what media they consume. People say they like the media, but they look at it with a critical eye. It’s an assignment for a class—a detached, analytical, or cheeky perspective rather than an authentic engagement. Just enjoy the thing, man.
Elitism in media taste is intrinsic to Oberlin’s culture, whether we like it or not. To tear it down, we must be more honest about what we consume. We, as Obies, need to shed our “coolness” for just a little bit and admit to what we are ashamed of. We need to share our truest, guiltiest pleasures. We should also start calling them for what they are. Our “pleasures.” We should let them exist on the same plane, not putting some above or below the brow.
Admitting these guilty pleasures is a tool for community building. Oberlin is such a great place because people are open to anything. Sexualities. Subcultures. This openness should include tastes. There is a camaraderie from liking the same shitty thing; you form a community out of raw vulnerability. Such an idea counteracts the poll on Niche. Rather than people trying to set themselves apart, we learn to come together. So different in our tastes that we become alike.
My favorite memories at Oberlin are taking excos tuned to everyone’s strange and random hyperfixations, whether trashy YouTuber drama or fanfiction. For me, a guilty pleasure is the television show Glee. It’s one of my favorite shows, ironically or unironically. I aim to teach a Glee exco before I graduate because there is a community of Gleeks here, however closeted it may be. A will to gravitate around something you love that is otherwise universally hated. Oberlin could always use more community.
One of my major conduits for shameless likes is a Spotify playlist. It’s titled “Guilty pleasures but I mean it.” Every song on this list is certified hot garbage. Among the “hits,” you find “JAM” by Kim Kardashian, songs from RuPaul’s Drag Race, the Cash-me-Outside Girl (aka Bhad Bhabie), and Seussical. Whether I’ve listened to the songs “unironically” or “ironically” is beside the point. I listen to all of them in my free time. I’ve exposed myself here, and it’s relieving. I mentioned this playlist to a friend, and they said they had a similar playlist. A highlight of theirs is “Dolphin on Wheels” by Kill the Noise.
With my persona thoroughly discredited, I don’t want people to think they should feel bad about having “elite” tastes. It’s ok to be pretentious! Be proud of it! I am too at points! As cheesy as this sounds, it makes you stand out. However, don’t worry about suppressing some things that make you look “uncool.” Let them coexist. Make space for both. When one embraces the “cool” and “uncool,” one sparks a firework of a personality. I want to meet a person who reads Socialist theory for a beach read while listening to Cupcakke on the radio.
Knowing one’s guilty pleasures, or pleasures in general, may be the best way to understand a person. Someone at their most vulnerable is shedding the layers to expose the soul’s recesses. On the Niche page referenced earlier, a phrase ranked even higher than “so different they’re all the same” is “quirky.” Oberlin is “weird in the best way possible.” That’s why we come here. Weird doesn’t mean cool. It doesn’t mean guilty, either. Be weird. Be shameless. Admit you listen to Glee in your off-time. Our school will be better because of it.