Why Do We Love Guilty TV? Three Women Explain Everything

guilty TV
Photo: The cast of Real Housewives of Orange County, Season 11. Photo: Paul Drinkwater/Chris Haston/Bravo.

When I was growing up, I had a myriad of guilty TV pleasures. The worst one was watching roller derby on Saturday morning on Channel 9 (then WOR-TV in the NYC area). Because I was a meek, bookish kid, and a target for bullies and classroom derision, my childhood fixation might have seemed on the surface strange and curious. But if you view it through a psychological lens, it makes sense — in seeing these tough, muscular women violently nudge and jostle each other on the track, I was vicariously vanquishing my cruel peers via these butch women on roller skates.

Over the years, I’ve had other guilty TV pleasures, ranging from daytime soap operas (One Life to Live, General Hospital) to tacky reality TV (Real Housewives of New York City). Truthfully, I can’t say that my watching them has any underlying Freudian meaning other than affording me a pretext to put my brain on hold and let it happily atrophy for an hour or two. Blogging all day on business and financial matters does that — sue me!

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Recently, I spoke to three women, all different ages and backgrounds, to find out about their guilty TV pleasures and if they’re in the closet about it.

Stacy, a 29-year-old writer, confesses to loving Keeping Up With the Kardashians“I hardly tell anyone about it because so many people hate the Kardashians and what’s funny about it is I do too,” she admits. “But they seem like a close, blended family. I enjoy seeing that because I’m part of a blended family that isn’t close.”

She concedes to another reason accounting for her enjoyment of the show.

“I kind of have a slight crush on Kris Jenner.”

Like many millennials, Stacy doesn’t own a TV.  Rather, she prefers to stream the episodes online as “there are websites with nearly every current show and past show, which pretty much makes cable an unnecessary expense.”

She’s not a fan of any of the show’s spinoffs, such as Kourtney and Kim Take Miami and Rob and Chyna “because I feel like the fakeness is slightly more subtle in the original show, whereas in the spinoffs, it is so obvious the drama is scripted.”

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Like me, Laura, a 43-year-old freelance consumer marketing manager, also has a strong affinity for the Real Housewives franchise on Bravo. She singles out Real Housewives of Orange County as her unquestioned favorite and most guilty TV pleasure.

“I don’t keep it secret, but I don’t let my kids watch and my husband usually won’t,” she says. “I’ve been watching since the first season, so it’s also a longevity thing. I feel like I have to see it through. I like it so much because I know it’s not real, but it’s still fun to look into these people’s lives.”

For Laura, the show represents “total escape” — and the diametrical opposite of her life.

“Not that most reality shows are [reality],” she says, “but taking place in the ‘OC’ is about as different from where I live on the East Coast as it gets, so it’s purely a fantasy. I kind of feel like I have a history with the women. I’ve been watching so long that [stars] Tamra Judge and Vicki Gunvalson almost feel like people I know or could care about.”

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Andrea, a vice president of a marketing/PR firm in her 50s, echoes Laura’s sentiment about using guilty TV pleasures as escape vehicles. Like yours truly, Andrea was a fan of the erstwhile ABC soap opera lineup. Now with All My Children and One Life to Life (sniff) cancelled and vaporized into the ether thanks to corporate stupidity (yes, I’m bitter), Andrea still faithfully watches General Hospital — on DVR. And like Stacy, Laura and me, Andrea is a passionate devotee of reality TV.

“My daughter and I admit to watching everything in The Bachelor franchise — The Bachelor, The Bachelorette, Bachelor in Paradise,” she says. “While this show is pure TV trash, it is fun to watch. We have our set spots on the couch, and no one can interrupt us when we are watching. Friends know not to call when we’re watching, and my husband and son have learned to leave us alone. Oftentimes we read tweets during commercial breaks (when we’re not watching via DVR) and share our picks for who should be the finalists.”

If she had to pick her biggest guilty TV pleasure, however, she notes that it would be one of several shows on HGTV — House Hunters, House Hunters International, Beachfront Bargain Hunt, Island Life, Caribbean Life or Mexico Life.

“When traveling on business, if the hotel doesn’t have HGTV, I’m quite upset,” says Andrea. “It is a great way to relax after a long day of work and to dream about a beautiful home, preferably on a beach.”

Reflecting on her guilty TV pleasures, Stacy expresses an opinion that likely hits a visceral nerve with those who like to watch shows that would make the highbrow crowd blanch in horror. “Trashy TV can be fun sometimes,” she says. “Especially right now when the world is so depressing.”