The Guilty Pleasure Syndrome or: How I Learned to Not Care If People Know I'm a Mickey Rooney Fan
I’ve never had any use for the term Guilty Pleasure. Well, except for the purposes of this post…A Guilty Pleasure is usually defined as something of dubious quality or reputation that one enjoys ashamedly. In classic movie parlance, it’s often a critically reviled, poorly made, or widely despised film. But even then the term requires further clarification; as certain movies become cult favorites and earn “cool” status, such as Reefer Madness or Plan 9 from OuterSpace. Everyone knows those films are "bad", but they’re "good" in that they’re unintentionally hilarious. Those cinematic masterworks have an infamous reputation and thrive because of it. Therefore, they can freely be declared guilty pleasures without fear of ridicule.
The true guilty pleasure consists of movies that are largely unknown or formerly popular movies whose reputations haven’t aged well because they represent either an “antiquated” viewpoint or lack the “edginess” that every friggin’ thing in pop culture must have these days. These “shameful” or “lame” films haven’t received critical or cultish rehabilitation, either, so you can rest assured that you’ll blush if you dare admit to liking, say, anything with Mickey Rooney in it. As a matter of fact, Rooney’s films are the so-called “Guilty Pleasure” that inspired this very post.
I love Rooney’s Andy Hardy films, a wildly popular and hugely profitable movie series produced by MGM in the 1930s and ‘40s. Despite being made during the heart of the Great Depression, the delightful Hardy movies embody an idealized America and were everything that MGM studio honcho Louis B. Mayer thought represented the best of America. The movies have a naïve charm, wit and sense of optimism that the times required. Seen now, they’re probably laughably “lame” or “saccharine”, and worse than that, “Disneyesque”, which has become another pejorative term. Andy’s father, the stern, patrician but understanding Judge Hardy, was a wonderful counterbalance to Andy’s kooky and youthful zeal. Today’s kids aren’t kooky, or ebullient; in fact, they’re often self-absorbed teen vampires; kind of a Party of Five with fangs.
Rooney aka The Mick, was once the biggest box-office draw in the US of A. And despite a (up and down) career that’s lasted some seventy-five years, Oscar nominations, an honorary Oscar, and praise from no less than Laurence Olivier (Rooney was “the single best film actor America.”), Rooney’s reputation pretty much lies in tatters, so to claim to be a Mickey Rooney fan is tantamount to being a Boy Named Sue. The whole idiocy of the Guilty Pleasure is based on some sort of “cool” taste. In fact, I'm conviced that the term Guilty Pleasure was brought to you by the same people who use the term “They say…” when dispensing advice or “facts.”
The Bottom Line: I don’t believe in Guilty Pleasures. All of my movie interests are present and accounted for. There is no boundary line between what I like that is hailed as a masterpiece or what is routinely reviled by my fellow classic movie aficionados. In this age of revisionism and retro-themed interests, most every film can receive a critical and popular—as defined within classic film circles—reappraisal, thus freeing it from perdition.
So be proud about your less-popular classic film interests and fer cryin' out loud, write about them! The world doesn't need another review of Casablanca but it could sure use a well-thought-out analysis of Andy Hardy Meets Debutante.