Loving Guy Fieri and Meat Loaf: the case for taking the guilt out of guilty pleasures

After a bad breakup, writer Rax King started to think differently about the things she hadn’t allowed herself to enjoy. She says we should disregard the naysayers and unapologetically embrace the things we love.
Writer Rax King says Guy Fieri and Meatloaf are perfect examples of what "emotional generosity" looks like. (Facebook)

Rax King is over it, but not in the way you might think.

Over the last few years, she's been thinking about the ways that we as a society talk about so-called guilty pleasures, those things you love but are ashamed to admit you really enjoy.

From role playing games like Dungeons and Dragons to steamy Harlequin romance novels to what's considered "trash TV," it seems like everybody has one.

So why do we think of them as "guilty" pleasures and why do we feel so bad about enjoying these things? 

According to King, it's probably because we've been told it was either outdated, unsophisticated or just plain uncool. And coming out of a bad relationship made her interrogate the things she allowed herself to enjoy.

"I was married to a super mean man [and] one of the things that he especially took exception to was my cooking," she said.

After they got divorced, King found herself developing a deep admiration for television host Guy Fieri.

His show Diners Drive-Ins and Dives features him touring restaurants and eateries across America in search of the best "greasy spoon" spot. 

Boisterous, funny and larger than life, Fieri brings what King calls an "emotional generosity" to everything he does, which was a real departure from her ex who was often much more mean-spirited.

"I loved that he was always so enthusiastic about these local, out-of-the-way restaurants that he visited. I love that he never had an unkind word for or about anybody. He was this totally non-threatening avatar of appreciative masculinity for me," she said.

And King said once she embraced Guy Fieri, it became easier to free free herself from the burden of other people's tastes and judgments in other parts of her life.

"I've been able to apply that to other things that I enjoy [like] music and books," she said. "I think that the concept of good taste is kind of tyrannical and puts other people's perceptions of what you're listening to and reading and watching at the forefront of what should be a pretty internal experience."

Love what you love and do it unapologetically, says writer Rax King. (Rax King / submitted)

But in a world where the restaurant review is king and what's considered "good" is determined by a select few, Fieri is not always taken seriously as a gatekeeper for worthwhile dining. 

"It's fun and easy to take him down because on the one hand, he doesn't come from a haute background, he wasn't trained in a French kitchen. And he's a pop figure rather than a food figure. And that makes him an easy target," King said.

And for those who want to consume the things they like while protecting themselves from other people's criticism, the strategy is often to engage those things ironically, King explained. 

Take hate-watching a TV show you don't think is good for example. As she explains, doing something ironically simultaneously permits one to engage in it, while protecting you from the scourge of being known as a partaker in that thing.

"If you can put that degree of distance between yourself and the thing you're doing and say, 'No, I'm doing this as a joke' nobody can make fun of you for it," she said. 

Another person who's also been an easy target for people of supposedly "higher tastes" is the singer Meat Loaf. King says that same generosity of spirit that drew her to Fieri, allowed her to fall in love with the rock star and his 1977 album Bat Out of Hell.

"Even in the very first track it's feelings upon feelings," she said. "It's a real rollercoaster ride both musically and lyrically. And it just feels to me like such an act of musical generosity to put it all up front like that and lay yourself bare."

And although many have called that same generosity overwrought and silly, it's something she's come to appreciate.  

"Our impression of Meat Loaf is sort of stuck in what music critics have always said about him. It's all about making out with your teenage girlfriend in the backseat of a car. Why should we care about this?"

Over it, online 

King says this kind of dismissive too-cool-for-school attitude seems to have found a natural habitat on social media.

"Twitter is the website where I spend by far the most of my time and unfortunately, it's just a really difficult, toxic place," she said. "It just seems as though there is nothing you can say that's so innocuous that someone won't find a reason to make fun of you for it."

And she says that definitely has an effect on how we live our lives and the things we invite other people to enjoy with us. 

"That urge to say to all your friends - and anyone else who might be listening - how full of wonder you are ... I think that has been quashed a bit."

And even though she no longer feels as guilty about the things she loves, King says loving things unapologetically is something that she is still actively working on.

Still having to "swallow the urge to sneer at people sometimes," King resets her taste-meter by indulging in something that a lot of people have considered objectively bad.

"I watch the movie The Room about twice a year. It's widely considered to be one of the worst movies, if not the worst movie of all time. 

And she's also got a few other things that she would like to see get a cultural revival including the reality TV show Jersey Shore, the band Creed and one of her personal favorites, the great American shopping mall.

"The mall is one of very few places teenagers can just hang out unsupervised," she said. "It was a place of relative freedom."

King urges others to seek that same freedom to love and enjoy things without apology, simply because they are meaningful. 

"I think that life is just too short to trip over ourselves and apologise for the things that are important to us."