Not Guilty! Embrace Your Pop Culture Pleasures

Real Housewives Reunion

Danny Pellegrino on why we shouldn’t feel bad about the shows and movies we love

Welcome to Hot Mic, the op-ed column of Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter (subscribe here!). Today, Danny Pellegrino —a comedian, writer and host of the podcast Everything Iconic —is here to tell us to stop feeling guilty about the things we love. Read on.

Reality television shows and romantic comedies are often described as “guilty pleasures,” and we need to change that immediately. With a global pandemic to deal with, I think it’s time that we finally give ourselves the gift of not feeling guilty about our pop culture pleasures. That means turning on that new episode of The Real Housewives of New York, and then pouring a glass of pinot noir for another viewing of You’ve Got Mail without any remorse.

Anxiety can be different for everyone, but for me, anxiety feels like chaos inside my head. I overthink every decision, and the last thing I need to add to that disarray is shame over what I’m watching. Factor in the pressure to keep up with the 24-hour news cycle that plays itself out on our screens, and I can suddenly be overwhelmed every time I sit in front of the television. While it’s incredibly important to stay informed, having cable news on all day is way too much, especially when most of us have second screens also keeping us up to date on world events via Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. We’re refreshing timelines while the pundits are yelling at each other on our news shows, so maybe it’s time to change the channel to Bravo to see a different kind of yelling while we recharge our emotional batteries.

Bravo reality shows, like the Real Housewives franchise, are often criticized for being a poor representation of women. That can certainly be true at times, but what is also true is that it is one of the few places on television, scripted or otherwise, where you can see women of a certain age dealing with grief, sex, marriage, divorce, and starting businesses. They are vibrant, often dramatic, women dealing with all the cards that life dealt, but they often ignore what’s going on in the larger world for the viewer’s sake. We rarely see current events play out, so we can enter their worlds for an hour and evade our own. There are moments that will make you cringe — but there are also moments that will make your heart soar — and in between, you’ll get a lot of endorphins flowing as you watch the cast members navigate friendships.

Most reality TV aficionados will tell you that these programs help them relax. I’m personally never more at peace than when I see Lisa Rinna, Porsha Williams, or Ramona Singer in a confessional setting (a reality trope) talking about a dinner party they went to or breaking down the politics of room assignments on a group vacation. And when Andy Cohen gathers the cast members in elaborate gowns to rehash their actions on a reunion stage? Heaven. There’s something about watching other people deal with petty drama that makes me feel like I have more control in my own life, and that soothes me. These shows help me, and many others, escape from the painful 2020 reality that often feels inescapable.

Maybe you’re reading this, and you’re not sold on reality television because you just can’t get past the fighting, and I can respect that. If that’s the case, I encourage you to allow yourself a romantic comedy marathon as a form of self-care instead. Films like Sleepless in Seattle, Father of the Bride, Return to Me, Love Simon, About Time, Bridget Jones, Last Holiday, Something’s Gotta Give, Crazy Rich Asians and so many others are often derided as lesser forms of entertainment. They are passed up for awards when it comes to Oscar season, but they are the movies that we watch over and over (and over and over and over) again.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m rarely putting on Academy Award-winners Green Book or Birdman for a rewatch on a Saturday morning. I am, however, watching Coyote Ugly any chance I get. Rom-coms are comfort food for the soul, and that’s something we should embrace, especially during this time in history. When you put on a Nancy Meyers film, you can be transported into another world full of romantic mix-ups, food porn, and lush kitchens for a couple hours. It feels like a warm hug, and in the era of social distancing, there’s nothing we need more right now than a warm hug. Which reminds me, let’s all cross our fingers that Nancy Meyers gifts us with another film when this pandemic is over. Her last, the fabulous The Intern, came out in 2015, and while she has certainly earned a break, I desperately crave her voice on screen again…and while we’re at it, I also miss Meg Ryan and Cameron Diaz, but that’s a tale for another time.

All of this is also applicable to those movies that people call “chick flicks.” I’m talking about the films that bypass the romance for laughs or drama but are also often considered by critics or audiences to be fluff. Things like Sister Act, Heartbreakers, Magic Mike, and First Wives Club can be categorized as fluffy — but fluffy is good, and fluffy is what the world needs now. It’s the perfect time to let the cinematic visual of Channing Tatum stripping to “Pony” momentarily heal you, and to let Whoopi Goldberg in a habit keep you company.

My generation has never lived through a lonelier time in history. Staying inside, not traveling, and social distancing is distressing. These are things that would take a toll on anyone, but it’s enough to send someone who already deals with anxiety and depression over the edge. We have to be kind to ourselves because the universe isn’t being particularly kind to us right now, so embracing these forms of entertainment should be of utmost importance as they support our emotional well-being.

The news is filled with experts concerned with our physical health, who tell us to wear a mask when we’re out in public, and to clean everything before bringing it in the house. While it’s incredibly important to follow CDC guidelines when it comes to the physical, I think we also need to concern ourselves with our mental health.

Take some time this week to consider your pop culture guilty pleasures and indulge yourself in them while you’re quarantined at home. Don’t feel bad about turning off CNN and turning on When Harry Met Sally. Self-care is necessary to get through this challenging time, so slather on a face mask, light a three-wick scented candle, wear your coziest faux-fur robe, make your favorite homemade meal (or support one of your local restaurants with a take-out order), and turn on that thing that makes your heart swell and forget about the darkness for a brief time. The only thing you’ll be guilty of is taking care of your mental health.

Follow Danny Pellegrino on Instagram and Twitter, and subscribe to his podcast Everything Iconic.

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