My husband isn’t much of a sports fan: on the rare occasion when we turn on a game (the Superbowl, the Stanley Cup finals), it’s usually at my instigation rather than his. Part of the reason for that, I think, is that hubby is temperamentally unsuited to the role of a fan. Once, when we were dating, we attended a Buffalo Bills game. For the first hour or so, a good time was had by all: sure, we were huddled miserably in the snow, but the maniacal cheering of the thousands of red-and-blue-clad fans kept us warm. Then, right about the time hubby’s beer-buzz wore off, the Bills scored a touchdown putting them up by twenty points. From then on, hubby’s expression became increasingly dour as he simmered with disgust at the gloating Bills fans whose cheering was unabated by the lopsided score in their team’s favour.
"Pissing on the parade," is the expression his ex-girlfriend reportedly used to describe his habitual need to moderate the excessive enthusiasm of others. With his innate appreciation for the virtues of balance and moderation, he is uncomfortable on a bandwagon: the more rabid the behaviour of those around him, the stronger his impulse to inject a healthy dose of negativity.
This is not a trait I share, of course: as I’ve admitted before, I never saw a bandwagon I didn’t like. I love to get caught up in a crowd, relishing that moment when critical detachment is lost in a tide of shared emotion. It doesn’t matter whether the hero-worship is directed at Bono as he belts out the opening lines of "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," or at Joe Sakic as he angles the puck into the uppermost corner of the net: I thoroughly enjoy the cult-like experience of losing myself in that temporarily forged group identity. Back in ’85, I was one of those people who thought that doing the wave was the coolest thing ever.
As resistant as I am sometimes to hubby’s rebellion against the coercive forces of group-think, I do share some of his rebellious instincts when it comes to the things I’m not supposed to like. Perhaps because I’ve spent so much of my life in an academic environment, I take a peculiar pleasure in embracing the low-brow, the despised, the mediocre. As a Masters student, I wrote essays comparing Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale to the Harlequin "American Romance" series; likewise, my M.A. thesis was a passionate defence of sentimentality in which I suggested that our cultural contempt for the "tear-jerker" genre arises from a misogynist distaste for fluidity. (There was a perverse pleasure for me, I think, in co-opting French feminism for the purpose of celebrating L.M. Montgomery Rilla of Ingleside, an unabashedly sentimental novel that is the fictional equivalent of John McCrae’s "In Flanders Fields" – another popular icon that earns nothing but scorn in academic circles.)
I’m tempted to psychoanalyze the sources of this impulse to affiliate myself with low-status forms of expression. I teach Children’s Literature. I use references to The Bachelor to illustrate my lectures on Paradise Lost. Is this habit my long-term reaction to those years of high-school persecution for being too smart? Is it, like so much else in my personality, a result of my deep desire to be liked by everyone? (It may be relevant to note here that when asked to come up with something positive about me, the members of my church small-group identified "uses big words" and "isn’t scary" as my top two positive attributes.) Or are my low-brow tastes evidence instead of a peculiarly Canadian dislike of anything uppity or pretentious – a fundamental distrust of status and success?
All those explanations might hold a grain of truth, but they obscure the fact that many of the best things in life are those guilty pleasures that normal people indulge in secretly while I trumpet my enjoyment of them to my stunned undergraduates. If I had ever managed to become more of an intellectual snob, it might have been good for my career, but then I would have missed out on these gems:
- Ian’s proposal to Meredith at the end of season 2 of The Bachelorette
- Nick’s Kind of Woman (my all-time favourite Harlequin, in which two people who are deeply and fundamentally unsuited to one another finally admit that they’re in love and get married – oh, wait, all the best Harlequins are about that)
- the Outback steakhouse’s Bloomin’ Onion
- the oh-so-1990s Country Traditions calendar hanging in my kitchen
- that karaoke night in 1999 when hubby sang "Friday, I’m in Love"
- many a breakfast at the Cracker Barrel restaurant (not so low-brow, perhaps, until you consider that I’m willing to drive two hours for the privilege)
- jumping out on the dance floor at the opening bars of "Karma Chameleon" or "Come on Eileen" so that I can do the moves (invented by Madonna) that I first learned at my grade-seven lunch-hour dances
- Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (or, better, A Night at the Roxbury)
Okay, so that list kind of expanded from its original purpose to include not only the low-brow but also the trashy, nerdy, and tragically unfashionable. So confess! What are your guilty pleasures?