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"Guilty Pleasures": NPR on Public Revelation of Media Consumption Habits

Traffic was bad on the way home Friday, but the upside was that I got to listen to more of NPR's All Things Considered than usual. Among the many interesting pieces was commentary by Paul Ford on "Be Proud of Guilty Pleasures", in which he confesses his embarrassment of his own media consumption habits (especially science fiction novels), his hypocrisy in being a sneerer as well as a sneeree with respect to judging others' public displays of media consumption, and his admiration at those who are willing to reveal their media consumption habits without fear of judgment (being "at peace with their inner dork").

A partial, unofficial transcript of some of the highlights (IMO) of Ford's commentary:

Why are so many of the things I love so embarrassing? Computer programming, science fiction, blogging: every one of my passions is something to sneer at. You're supposed to not care -- just do the things you love and ignore public censure -- but who doesn't know better than that.


There's something terrible about being judged by your preferences. I'm thinking of my friend Ken who is reading Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections on his morning commute, and was so ashamed of being lumped in with all the other trend-conscious Corrections-reading subway riders that he tore off the cover of the book and blacked out the spine. He wanted to read it without feeling judged. And he's right to be paranoid. I like The Corrections too, but if I'd seen him on the train, I would have rolled my eyes at yet another sheep who bought into the marketing. I'm a sneerer as well as well as a sneeree -- a hypocrite.

We're all ashamed -- probably all sneering. Everyone except for a minority of a few, very pure, snobs has some secret media consumption habit that they don't discuss at work or at a party. The Justin Timberlake album, romance novels, My Big Fat Obnoxious Fiance, the WB. Just because some of the characters in books I like have horns and live in different galaxies shouldn't make me a social pariah. That's why I was glad when a few weeks ago another friend emailed me a huge involved invitation to his biannual Dungeons & Dragons competition. He and his wife were going to decorate their apartment with a medeival theme, and everyone was going to wear cloaks, and twelve-sided dice would be tossed without fear. I was deeply impressed to see someone so at peace with their inner dork, so open and unapologetic. It was inspiring. Of course I didn't go, because I'd never played Dungeons & Dragons. I mean, even I have some standards.

While there are undoubtedly those who are embarrassed by some of their media consumption, and those who render harsh judgments about those who consume certain media, I think many people enjoy revealing the [mass] media they consume both in the physical world, through printed tee-shirts or blaring music, and in the digital world, through reviews on Amazon or in personal blogs. And, of course, as I commented in a recent post, many people are willing, even eager, to display personal media such as photos. While Paul Ford may not want to reveal that he is a Corrections reader to those sharing a subway train with him, I wonder if he'd be willing to reveal that he is an NPR listener -- and/or NPR commentator. In fact, given the right context, I wonder whether he would be willing to reveal content from his blog to those in his proximity.

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