This week, YR's Adult ISH podcast is shaking things up with a special guest host: YR Media musician and audio engineering fellow Christian Romo! Christian and co-host Dominique French get to the bottom of their guilty pleasures – what they are, where they stem from, and why they feel so dang guilty. With help from therapist extraordinaire Keanu M. Jackson, the duo explores pop icons, video games, The Bachelorette and so much more.
Adult ISH is produced by YR Media and brought to you by PRX’s Radiotopia. Be sure to follow all our socials @yrAdultISH!
Dom: Welcome to Adult ISH, produced by YR Media and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I'm Dominique French and today we have with us the very cool, the very present, the very funky, Christian Romo. Say hello!
Christian: Hey guys. I'm Christian Romo. I'm a sound designer nerd from East Oakland. I work with the great folks here at YR Media in the podcast department as an audio engineering fellow. But I also create beats and do mixdowns over at The Reef on the side. And yeah, it's a pleasure to be here.
Dom: Oh my gosh. Such a pleasure to have you. Part of the reason that I wanted to have you on the episode is because you're just a person who is deeply unique and I wanted to hear more of your opinions and I wanted to get your big juicy brain-thoughts on the topic for today, which is guilty pleasures.
Christian: Yes, a very, very deep topic, but I'm very flattered by what you said, that means a lot to me. I feel like I kind of always had this weird relationship with guilty pleasures where like just not seeing people around me enjoying similar things kind of made me feel like guilty. So I'm just really excited to be here and be able to talk about this.
Dom: When I was first thinking about this episode, the things that popped in my mind in terms of guilty pleasures were pop icons. Um, you know, your Cher's your Britney's. And I also think about like quote unquote bad TV, like reality TV, TV for the girls. The girls and the gays, you know.
Christian: Mm. The good stuff.
Dom: The good stuff. [laughs] Exactly! The good stuff. But I want to know what first popped in your mind as far as guilty pleasures when I reached out to you?
Christian: Yeah. Initially my gut reaction was to define the term and then also, you know, have a refresher of what my actual guilty pleasures are. And I was like, How am I going to go on this amazing podcast and talk about cringe compilations and like speed run, like rage, whatever, like just all sorts of weird stuff I tend to watch. So I feel like part of me was like. How deep do I go into this? Especially because, like with this topic, it's so like, associated with things such as shame and I mean guilt in the name. So I knew I'd be putting myself in a vulnerable place. I, I had to, you know, ask myself if I was willing to do that.
Dom: Two things. One, I love how you think you're like, I'm going to show up to the Dominique circus. I'm not going to be embarrassed. Dominique's going to be the… Dom is going to be the one making a fool of herself. And two, what is the definition that you came up with for yourself, for what a guilty pleasure is?
Christian: Uh, that's so funny. I feel like for me having a guilty pleasure is when you objectively just enjoy something, whether it's a piece of media or an act. But for some reason, it goes against some value you've obtained throughout your life. Whether it's something that you personally agree with or it's just something you haven't really questioned to begin with.
Dom: I think that is a stellar working definition, and I think…
Christian: [whispering] Oh, thank you.
Dom: You’re so welcome. And, I think the part that like really, like, [chef’s kiss] pièce de résistance - takes it over the edge is that it's like something that's been… The guilt has been given to you. It's like you're just out there vibing. And then, like, society or a parent or someone else is like, “Cut that out.” You know what I mean?
Christian: Yeah. “It's wrong to have joy.”
Dom: Yeah! ”It's wrong to have joy,” which we tell young people in so many ways, including just like verbally, by damning their choices in media and their likes and music and television, which is the way that most of us express ourselves and see other people expressing themselves at such a young age. And that's really, really freaking complicated and so hard to navigate as a young person.
Dom: Which is why we thought to bring in a professional. Keanu Jackson is a therapist based in Brooklyn, New York. He works with The Expansive Group, a collective of therapists catering to queer people trying to figure out their stuff.
Dom: What is the difference between guilt and shame?
Keanu: Ooh. Ooh, ooh, ooh. It's kind of funny. I talk about guilt and shame a lot to people or with folks. And so, I'll start off by saying that with any of our emotions, right, there tends to be like a reason as to why they emerge, right? Like they serve like a purpose. They serve like a function that can be useful as far as like guilt and shame. I feel like they are really much of like the same family. However, I think that a caveat between the two is really just thinking about like, of like the direction of that energy, if that makes sense? Or I feel like a lot of times like shame is really like exert it like towards you, like, oh, like you should feel shameful for this thing. I feel like with guilt, I find it to be a little bit more like an internal experience that is then inflicted upon the self, which of course like there is definitely some overlap between the two. But it's always interesting to me to kind of just see how guilt and shame, together, kind of make this like blended just concoction that can just impact a person.
Dom: Why do we feel shame about the things that we like?
Keanu: Oh well, let's have a conversation about value judgments. Let's talk about feeling othered in society or in general, or feeling as if you don't fit in or, or about, you know, the different ways in which we are and why. For some reason, that seems to be a problem for other people… and I really feel like there would be a lot less shame if people were really allowed to just exist and to be curious and explore in just a way that just feels very playful and feels just very delicate, if that makes sense.
Dom: Mm. By delicate, do you mean that people should be allowed to experience that play and that experimentation with. Like a treatment of delicacy from society. Like with a gentle hand.
Keanu: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Exactly. Exactly. I feel like there can be like a lot of vulnerability that just exists within that exploration process that a lot of people are just. Not afforded. And by that, what I mean is that oftentimes we are made to feel like we just have to know, like what is right, what is wrong, what is the correct way, what’s not the correct way. But I just that's not that's not that's just like not true. And I think that by being able to be curious, to be explorative, to find out what works for us and what doesn’t in a way that is delicate, like letting us have our hands be held in some capacity as opposed to being ostracized or being ridiculed or being branded in some particular way? I think that that's where we really find ourselves reducing a lot of shame and allowing people to make decisions that just feel just more aligned with who they are.
Dom: I feel like that's so true. From everything to like your guilty pleasure pop song to like your deep interests in like your romantic endeavors. Like that is a statement that applies to, like, the shallowest of who we are and what we experience, to like the depth of who we are and what we experience. How do you think shame affects our relationship to our interests and to those around us?
Keanu: Mm. So immediately my mind takes me to identity. And thinking about how in a lot of ways, due to our identities, people make certain assumptions about us. And oftentimes those assumptions then translate into social or cultural expectations. An example that I would love to share, just like personally, is that, you know, like I am a Black man. I lived through that experience. It's fantastic. Love this for me. But I recall it growing up in a variety of ways. I people really did not take me seriously as a person who was like. Into academics. Like at all. Like someone who had a very deep interest and just like academia. To me, as a person who really wasn't sipping the Kool-Aid as a child, I was like, What do you mean? Like, I can't like books. Like, what do you mean that I can't like science? What do you mean I can't like these things? But I realized, like, really early on, that a lot of that was because, like, a lot of people just assumed that, like, Oh, because I am a, I am a Black boy, that I would much rather be outside playing in the dirt. I would much rather be, you know, trying to come up with like a quick like, well, hustle or like trying to go play sports or something, which, you know, of course, like I was also interested in those things too. But at the same time, I watched how my other interests were just diminished over time. And I think that that is something that happens to a lot of us. We're told that, like our interests do not fit within the boxes of our like identities. And I think that is incredibly unfortunate because that's not something that we got to choose, right? Like, we don't get to choose what our interests are. In that case, people make those assumptions rooted in biases and say, Yeah, this is what you need to be interested in.
Dom: Do you think that guilt or shame ever serves a purpose?
Keanu: Absolutely. I always like to use the framework of our emotions serving as guides to our needs. And, when we are looking at guilt, for example, a lot of times when guilt is emerging, it's because there is some moralistic, like, judgment assigned to circumstance or something, like, decision that was made. Something that is occurring either to us or around us, that, that may be in conflict with perhaps another part of who we are, or with an idea, or a belief of someone that we care about. I ask folks to really think about that. And, as they're uncovering, you know, that guilt - seeing what's, what it's holding, then asking how can we, like, reframe this? The statement of “I feel guilty because of…” into an invitation to access or provide some care of some sort.
Dom: Next up, Christian and I are walking each other through our own guilty pleasure interests. I'll go first. Today, I'll be teaching the children about femme media. So. What do Britney Spears' single Baby One more time, Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice manuscript, and reality TV's The Bachelorette have in common?
Christian: Uhh, I don't know!
Dom: They're all gross and yucky cause they're “for girls” - and they were all at least initially declared flops. But, later they each found huge commercial success, because even if male-dominated fields of critique say that they're “silly” or they're “frivolous,” which is coded language often used to damn the interest of feminine people, girls, gays, and theys still spend their coin, tune in, and turn the pages.
But what if you want to partake in this media unabashedly? Or perhaps you're not a feminine person, quote-unquote, but someone has deemed your interest as girly. Then, that's definitely a guilty pleasure.
Okay, I'm gonna level with you. I used to be the judge-iest media consumer on planet Earth and a lot of hate of mine went toward things that were girly. I didn't listen to boy bands, I didn't like rom-coms, because I desperately wanted to be taken seriously. But, about six years ago, something inside me changed, I think, because of an episode of an amazing podcast called Still Processing, which everyone should check out, in which Wesley Morris, who was one of the hosts, raved about his love of Carly Rae Jepsen’s second studio album. Here is this brilliant person rejoicing over this pop girly's music, and I realized that I could do that too. It gave me permission to be the brilliant, you know, person that I am. And, like Gossip Girl at the same time, which is my fave. And, to do so without shame. We're seeing this huge resurgence of femme media finally getting its just desserts. And I also credit that with helping me let go of some of the self-hate around my own likes.
Dom: So it is my hope that we can wise up, skip the lag time and start enjoying things that are, quote, just for girls now, while the authors are alive, and the artists are still in their respective industries, and while we're still around the consumers. Because, who wants to live their life feeling guilty for liking something that's “girly?”
Christian: Well said.
Dom: Danke schoen, my friend.
Dom: Alright Christian, now it’s your turn! Time to teach the children about guilty pleasures of… the internet. Take it away!
Christian: By now you've probably heard of phrases such as “We live in the age of information,” or that, “everything lasts forever on the Internet,” which can both spark a deep conversation surrounding how we could better use the Internet efficiently. But, what about what we do on our off time? I mean, yeah, we can learn about complex topics with a casual surf on the web. But, let's not forget about the current millennials - that were losing it over cats asking for cheeseburgers over a decade ago. Let's face it, there's an oversaturation of content on the ‘net, and it doesn't look like that will change anytime soon. And, at any given moment, literally thousands of forums can be accessed and you can find almost any tidbit of knowledge, regardless of its value to you.
Now, what does this have to do with guilty pleasures? Well, everything. With the variable of Internet anonymity, you can have any niche and engage in any community, free from judgment, forming specific interests that can sometimes be inaccessible in your environment. So I was doing exactly that from the ripe age of seven all the way into my 20s. The computer became my mystical window into the world and I cannot stop thinking about my next visit on the web. Pages like Smosh, Annoying Orange, and SUPEReeeGO, were my very early go-tos. But, I would watch almost anything.
I was chronically online before I was officially a thing. I don't think I should be proud of it, but I wouldn't change a thing about the content I consumed. I feel like I now understand that even those rougher phases contributed to my overall personality and the tendency to welcome differences with open arms. What I would change, given the impossible power to do so, is how I was approaching the content at that time. I wasn't looking at it as a means of entertainment, but rather one of assimilation. The more time you spend on the net, the more you're absorbing things from outside of your environment, inadvertently making you not fit in. My point of reference for what was in was becoming way more vast than I expected. The aspect of guilt came from something deep within me, and due to the nature of the internet, I can navigate these spaces with this insecurity hidden. And, seeing others utilize their anonymity to be vulnerable made me more comfortable to continue being in these forums. I gained a sense of confidence exclusive to being behind the screen, and I feel like that's a recipe for isolation.
It took a while for me to understand how much of external perception is out of our control, and that viewing things for the purpose of self-fulfillment will always outweigh doing so for the sake of performing well in a certain situation. At that point, you'll be living for the sake of others’ comfort instead of for yourself. Now, really think about that for a second. Is that how you want to live?
Dom: Ooooh that’s deep… you literally just boggled me mind. Thank you, Christian. I think the anonymity that you talked about, the way it gave you confidence is such a double-edged sword. It can help you become, you know, this great person that you've become. Or, it can embolden someone who's, like, really full of hate. And, those two different people will create two different kinds of media. And, I think, that gets us into the question of, “What kind of media should I be consuming? If I feel guilty about consuming media, do I feel guilty for a reason?” Because not all guilt is baseless. If you are consuming media, that's maybe from someone who's hateful and hiding behind anonymity.
Dom: That could be a problem, when it comes to consuming content. How do we decide what we should and should not partake in? Never fear we’ve got some helpful tips for ya! Let’s take a listen.
TikToker: Only girls are supposed to be sweet. That's why eating candy makes you a girl.
Billy: Oh, man. I scrolled onto one of those Tik Toks again!
Announcer: Has this ever happened to you?
Billy: Everything they're saying is making me question my values.
Announcer: Never fear, Billy. You just need some media literacy.
Billy: What's that?
Announcer: Well, Billy. Media literacy is the ability to think critically about the content presented to you on the World Wide Web using your fancy personal computer machine.
Billy: Why would I want to think critically? I just want to have fun.
Announcer: What could be more fun than safely navigating the Internet superhighway?
Billy: What's so unsafe about surfing the Web?
Announcer: You see, Billy, some people put out false information just for the sake of clicks. That information may even be targeting certain groups of people.
Billy: Well, that just sounds disingenuous and plain mean.
Announcer: It sure is. They can even affect the way a growing mind, like yours, understands the world!
Billy: I don't want them to do that.
Announcer: And, that's what media literacy is for. It helps you decide whether the information you're receiving is factual, just, and in line with your values.
Billy: Well, but how am I going to do all that?
Announcer: Just remember to EAT.
Announcer: E. A. T. Educate, Ask, and Tap Out. Educate yourself. Do your own research or talk to an adult you trust. Ask questions. Like, “is this a reliable source?” and, if not, Tap Out. Hit the x button. Click “not interested” or “report” if the content is breaking community guidelines. Do you think you can remember to EAT, Billy?
Billy: I sure can. [giggles] I do it every day.
Announcer: That's the spirit, sport. Run along now and don't forget to EAT: Educate, Ask, and Tap out.
Christian: It's so easy to be critical of oneself, but it's important to understand where this voice of criticism comes from, and how it can hinder you from certain experiences. I feel like conversations like these are so important, so I'm beyond thankful for having the pleasure to do so.
Dom: Thank you so much for joining us, Christian. Where can people find you on the interwebs?
Christian: Yeah. So, you could find me on Instagram at chris.to.o and you can also hit up The Reef studios. But yeah, if you can't find me, that's for a reason.
Dom: [laughter] I loved talking about guilty pleasure media, and I loved talking about it with you even more.
Dom: I really hope this episode gives listeners just, just an ounce of freedom to like what they like, unabashedly.
Dom: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young journalists and artists creating content for this generation. Our show is produced by Georgia Wright, Nyge Turner, and yours truly, Dominique French.
Christian: Our Engineer is James Riley, and our Audio Engineering Fellow is me, Christian Romo. YR’s Director of Podcasting is Sam Choo.
Dom: Our Senior Director of Podcasting and Partnerships is Rebecca Martin. Our intern is Quinn Castro.
Christian: Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR, myself! Andres Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, and David Lawrence. Music Direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler.
Dom: Art for our show by Brigado Bautista. Art Direction by Marjerrie Masicat. Creative Direction by Pedro Vega Jr.
Christian: Special thanks to Eli Arburton.
Dom: We are also proud to be members of Radiotopia by PRX, an independent listener-supported collective of some of the most amazing shows in all of podcasting. Find them at Radiotopia.FM. And if you haven't reviewed our show on Apple Podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five Stars is very much appreciated.
Christian: You can follow us on all the socials @YRAdultISH. And on that note, byyyyyyyeeeeeeeee!