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Published: Sunday, 6/17/2001

Guilty pleasures: We often hide embarrassing things we like

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Shelly Conyngham, president of the Junior League of Toledo, has a horrible secret. She was on the telephone the other night when her eye drifted to the TV -- to the Backstreet Boys.

“Can I call you back?” she asked one friend, then later, another.

“I know,” she said. “I blew off two calls to watch the Backstreet Boys. But I couldn't help it. I love them. I just think they're a really neat group.”

Such are the awful depths to which we sink for those dark corners of discernment: Guilty pleasures.

We've all been there, and we're not necessarily talking about schlock, cheese, or kitsch - not like The Brady Bunch, which was so uncool it became cool (until it became uncool again). We're talking about stuff that is dorky, stays dorky, and you still love it. You just don't want to admit it.

Well, admit it anyway. It's summer, prime time for guilty pleasures.

Do you slow dance in piano bars to “Close to You” by the Carpenters? Have a cheesy James Whitcomb Riley poem (“Little Orphan Annie's come to our house to stay.”) tacked to the inside of a kitchen cabinet? Actually enjoy the occasional Adam Sandler movie? Play video games until 4 a.m.? Gasp - read InStyle magazine for the articles?

Here is one testimonial offered by a co-worker who shall remain anonymous:

“During the August I was 19, I yearned for a man who liked me but loved someone else. I met him at JCPenney where I worked as a salesclerk. He was a stock boy. `Faithfully,' that ballad from [the rock group] Journey, was a standard that summer. Something about its mawkish melody and overwrought singing touched me. Even then I knew the song lacked subtlety, yet by September my mind had forever linked that song to my love for that stock boy. Now when I hear it, I turn up the radio.”

Shudder.

Lifestyle guilty pleasures are easy to fess up to: donuts, curb shopping, devouring a pint of Cherry Garcia in under five minutes. We weave these into our day.

But when it comes to the arts, our inner-snob warns us against mentioning that weekend we drew the curtains and watched a Saved by the Bell marathon, then chased it with two hours of Who's the Boss? So context is everything. Your occupation, education, and social circles weigh heavily on your choices. Reading The Hobbit is fine in junior high, but pathetic when you recommend it to your bowling league.

Norman Rockwell paintings are another guilty pleasure. Norman Rockwell paintings are another guilty pleasure.
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Likewise, watching bowling on TV might be sad if you're also a club DJ. Stereotyping also has a lot to do with why we hide guilty pleasures. For example, Conyngham has something else that she'd rather keep quiet from the Junior League.

“I love to read trashy novels.”

Wow. OK. Well, go on.

“Not exactly trashy novels, but romance novels,” she said. “Like Harlequin Romance novels. They might be a little off-color, I guess. But people always end up happy in them, and I like them. It's kind of embarrassing that I do, but I do.”

Man cannot live on high-brow alone. So we asked some of the Toledo area's, ahem, respected culture mavens to share with us their favorite lapses in taste. Their answers were better than a litter of bulldogs playing poker:

  • Who: Jon Hendricks, renowned jazz vocalist (and part-time Toledoan).

    Guilty Pleasure: “I turn on Lawrence Welk and watch him on the television and I really like him.

    “I don't say that around a lot of jazz people - they wouldn't understand that. But the drummer is a black guy and he was a tap dancer, and who has a tap dancer on a TV show? That is hip.” He caught Welk fever after listening to a Johnny Hodges record with Welk-penned liner notes. “He wrote, `I like jazz best because the jazz artist creates art right before your eyes,' and I thought, `Wow! How insightful is that?'”

    Wait, so what about Kenny G?

    “Boy, that would be guilty.”

  • Who: Clyde Scoles, director of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library.

    Guilty Pleasure: Monty Python.

    “I'm not sure I would admit that to many people. They did some real raunchy things. They're acceptable today. But a while ago, I would check them out here [at the library] and hide them in my suitcase when I left the building.”

  • Who: Heather Rohrs, executive director of the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo.

    Guilty Pleasure: “I read cook- books cover to cover.”

    Also, she likes video games. “Whenever I get a chance to play, I jump at it.” And - gag - she loves the British PBS sitcom Are You Being Served? “It's mindless humor, but so what? I really like it.”

  • Who: Andrew Massey, Toledo Symphony conductor.

    Guilty Pleasure: Oh, so many.

    “The one piece of music that has always haunted me is Ray Charles singing `I Can't Stop Loving You.' ” He likes Comedy Central's current misogynistic hit, The Man Show. “It's so blatant and I like that.” Incidentally, he never listens to classical music in the car; he listens to George Carlin tapes. “I've also had a subscription to Penthouse [magazine] for, like, 30 years. One must keep up with sports and gynecology - actually that [last line] is from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.”

  • Who: Bill Booth, Toledo COSI director.

    Guilty Pleasure: Arnold Schwarzenegger flicks.

    “I'm embarrassed because there's death and violence in them and I disapprove and don't think people should watch them. Yet at times, they are mindlessly relaxing and when they're over, I forget them immediately.”

  • Who: Shirley Timonere, general manager of Toledo public broadcasting's WGTE.

    Guilty Pleasure: Glen Campbell. And get this: “I really like boxing on television. Not kick boxing, not wrestling. Honest to goodness WBA action.” (That's World Boxing Association.) “It's the last bastion of mano a mano, I say.”

  • Who: Peggy Grant, art director of 20 North Gallery.

    Guilty Pleasure: Norman Rockwell.

    “I really do like his work. I would never tell my serious art friends. They would think I have pretty low taste.” Critics say he's corny, she added, “but he's a terrific draftsman. People don't like that he's easy to understand.”

  • Who: Dee Baker, artist and campus minister of Toledo Campus Ministry.

    Guilty Pleasure: Sci-fi and fantasy novels.

    “I go to church conferences and people are sitting reading, like, essays on church administration, and I'm trying to hide my copy of Harry Potter.” Also, she likes line dancing of any kind. “`The Electric Slide' will start up at a wedding and people will be amazed when the pastor jumps in!”

  • Who: Jason Kucsma, editor of Clamor magazine.

    Guilty Pleasure: “I'm addicted to music that I like despite my better judgment.”

    Background is important here: Clamor is a far-left leaning Bowling Green-based publication, and Kucsma is heavily involved in the local punk scene. “But I can't stop listening to [Top 40 pop artists] like Destiny's Child and Eve. I think I'm going to buy an Eve CD even though I know how the music business operates. They overcharge.”

  • Who: Roger Berkowitz, director of the Toledo Museum of Art.

    Guilty Pleasure: “I will admit that the only TV show my wife and I watch is Smart Guy.”

    That's right, the WB sitcom. “It's about this young kid who is in high school and way ahead of his years and it's just about the situations he gets in. It's a wonderful program. What's funny, is it's hard to let yourself admit guilty pleasures to yourself. I mean, the even guiltier stuff, I think I just block out.”



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