I was a high school sophomore when I first experienced entertainment guilt. I had loaned my book, "The Happy Hooker," to a friend. Her mother, in hearty disapproval, tossed it, along with their leftover dinner, into the family trash compactor.
The somewhat soiled book was retrieved and returned to me, arousing a storm of anger . . . and guilt. Entertainment guilt.
The anger eventually subsided but the entertainment guilt did not. Entertainment guilt is an insidious emotion, shaming the innocent victim whose only crime is the pursuit of good, slightly un wholesome fun. My old nemesis returns whenever I watch a "Munsters" rerun or buy a Jackie Collins novel. It taps me on the shoulder if I play a video game. Entertainment guilt has nagged, scolded and harassed me unmercifully, and I'm sick of it.
Eighteenth-Century Frenchmen didn't feel sinful while enjoying a weekly picnic and guillotining. Entertainment guilt is purely a phenomenon of the 20th Century, invented shortly after the television. Around the time the phrases boob tube and great wasteland were coined, so was the guilt.
Seen as Stress Reducer
I say it's time to abolish this type of teeth-gnashing and admit that we need trash entertainment. We need it because it's fun, it's harmless, but most of all because it's a great stress reducer. After dealing with an impossible boss, hostile sales clerks or an indifferent lover, we require "The Wheel of Fortune" and a microwave dinner. We crave "The Tonight Show" and Twinkies. After a day like most, don't give me the "Moonlight Sonata" and warm milk. I must have a diet soda and a tacky paperback.
Trash entertainment is escapism in its purest form. For my friend Lucille, a single parent and Girl Scout leader, it's the fantasy she loves. "For a few minutes I am one of the 'Hollywood Wives'--not an overworked CPA from Van Nuys."
'That Trash' Includes 'Classics'
My best friend Joanne claims she doesn't go in for "that trash," but more than once I've seen her leaf through the National Enquirer at the Safeway check stand. Twice, I've seen her buy People magazine. "It's not for me," she explains. She's also a sucker for old movies. "Classics," she calls them.
Do not be fooled. Someone is always trying to legitimize old movies by calling them "classics." Old films are just about the only trash entertainment that can be savored without guilt. Through nostalgia-induced amnesia, these pictures have achieved respect. Were most of them made today, they'd probably rank on a par with a mediocre television movie of the week.
Trisha, a former college roommate of mine, now an English professor at a private Eastern university, has bookshelves bulging with Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Virginia Woolf. She's also a lifetime member of the National Organization for Women. However, in her bathroom closets, behind the towels and dental floss, Trisha's vice is lurking--romance novels, the thin ones. The kind with bosomy heroines and rock-jawed heroes.
My former boyfriend, a documentary writer, used to rail against commercial television and swear to watching "only PBS, now and then." We never went to movies, only "films"--the ones that required subtitles. But like the common crowd he avoided, he had his trash side--the soaps. He didn't hear me open the door that morning as he sat, transfixed, in front of "All My Children." "I was just doing research," he explained, finally noticing me snickering behind him. "I'm writing a documentary on the dangers of daytime television. I have to see this."
Rollicking at the Globe
Americans today have raised the world's appreciation of mindless fun, but they weren't the first to have worshiped at the temple of the plastic Buddha. In Shakespeare's time, the theater was such an abomination that it was forced to locate on the outskirts of London. Each week the peasants packed their lunches, including rotten fruit for throwing, and trudged their grimy way to the Globe. It wasn't "Bowling for Dollars" but it was a heck of a good time.
In comparison to bull fighting, sacrificing virgins and public stonings, today's mindless fun is relatively harmless--and widespread. Still, it's best to be discreet. Whistling the theme from "Gilligan's Island" will raise an eyebrow or two, and demonstrating wrestling holds in the company lunch room could get you talked about.
I was going to finish reading "War and Peace," tonight, but my favorite "Beverly Hillbillies" episode is coming on, the one in which Jethro decides to become a brain surgeon. And by the way, I don't feel the least bit of entertainment guilt. Tolstoy and pizza simply do not mix.