Friday, August 23, 2013

Guilt-y vs. Guilt-free

I was listening to an old WTF podcast exchange between Marc Maron and Dave Grohl recently. During the interview, Dave addressed the notion of "guilty" pleasures. Cool as ever, he insisted that we should strip the guilt out of our pleasures. If it is something you enjoy, then you should just enjoy it. Own it and don't give a hoot what anyone else thinks. (although Dave Grohl is way too cool to use the phrase "don't give a hoot")

I have always identified many of my pleasures as being of the guilty variety. But why the guilt? There's nothing to feel guilty about if it's something that gives you pleasure. I believe it is a phrase we have invented to cover for liking something that may be unpopular, or even worse, uncool. I use the default header "guilty pleasure" when something is embarrassing... but embarrassing by whose standards? Who makes the rules and the lists? And why do we think we should feel guilty if what we like is not on, or worse, on those lists.

It's hard to deny the validity of his sentiment. Why should we feel guilt for liking something? I do agree with him, and yet, I'm not sure that I am personally ready to strip the guilt out of absolutely everything I enjoy.

The truth is that some of these pleasures should involve guilt: The guilt of contributing to a gossipy culture where useless information is provided as "news" although it has absolutely no value whatsoever and tends to verge on over-exposure or invasion of someone's privacy. The guilt of taking time, sweet precious time, and utilizing it for something as mind-numbing as a television show that dramatically gives intimate details of the lives of people I do not know, do not care to know, yet for some reason am fascinated by. The guilt of judging others for what they sound like, look like, cook, wear, listen to, create, dance like or whatever other competition show they come up with next. The guilt of thinking that I personally have the right to make any distinction between the right to privacy different babies should be afforded.* So, just as I teeter-totter between extremes in the rest of my life, I go between happily stripping the guilt out of all of my pleasures and angrily acknowledging my own contributions to a voyeur culture I am not all that comfortable with.

Musically I think I can remove the guilt. I like to think I have good taste in music. I also tend to believe that liking pop music is in direct conflict with thinking I have good taste in music. The truth is, I like some pop music. I can't help it. Pop is short for popular, afterall. There are some songs that get under my skin and I enjoy singing along to them like a fool in my car or anywhere else I hear them (supermarket aisle dance party anyone?) It is not a blanket affection though, and I wish Kesha (yeah, I spelled it without the $ sign cause that's how little respect I have for you) and Justin Beiber would just go away... somewhere he could get the help he so desperately needs. ("needs" - according to my husband who has a very serious, if somewhat strange concern for this kid's well-being).

I do not deny liking some pop music: that Bruno Mars is one heck of a talent; 18 months later I am still singing along to Call Me Maybe when it comes on; and though I know it samples a very guilt-free Marvin Gaye song, Blurred Lines makes me boogie every time I hear it. I'm no fool though. I know it can't last forever. I swore I would never get sick of Hey Ya, but I did... eventually. Thankfully pop music provides an endless stream of catchy, toe-tapping, easy listening (easy not like Sunday morning, but like requiring very little thought) so that I can easily move on to the next hit without a thought as to what "whatshername" will be up to in 20 years.

So to Dave Grohl's point, we must embrace the things that move us, even if it is just a little wiggle in the cereal aisle. If we reject the things that speak to us, we are rejecting a part of ourselves and will be unhappier for it. Lose the guilt and embrace your inner teenager once in a while. Tune in to see what all the fuss is about. Most of it may be auto-tuned crap and hype, but there might still be something there for you to enjoy... and who wants to turn down enjoyment these days just because of a little embarrassment?

That being said, some other types of pleasures should still utilize the "guilty" part of the title. I know when I get sucked into a Real Housewives marathon for a few hours, those are hours I cannot and will not get back. I can sit and itemize the many things I could have accomplished in that time instead, and that alone justifies my guilt. Organize my photos? Nope, I'm busy watching seven bitchy retorts, twelve grammatical nightmares and a potential nip-slip, thanks. I could have a heart to heart with my husband about the state of the world tonight... ah, but the Bachelorette is on! For these things, I must retain the guilt, lest I truly believe that is the best use of my time.

So while I want to fully agree with Dave Grohl (who doesn't, he's a legend), I must say that not all mindless uses of our time that provide temporary moments of satisfaction are worth confidently embracing. Sometimes we must retain the use of the word "guilt" because we know we should be ashamed for liking, supporting, watching, listening, eating, whatever it is. In some instances, if we lose the guilt, we are accepting that these things are ok and should be embraced. And let's face it, these are not things that improve us as a people. I believe one possible result of our accepting this lowest common denominator of entertainment is the end of the civilized world as we know it. If things continue on this trajectory of false fame holding more of our interest than famine, society will surely crumble. One option would be turning it off completely, tuning it out and finding something better to do with my time. Another option, and the one I am more likely to continue to exercise for now, is the use of the header "guilty" in front of anything I know basically represents the apocalypse. Fashion Police features and Who Wore It Best competitions don't help the state of the world, but they sure do make a manicure fly by. 
*oh the shame*


OK, that's Willow Smith: troubled teen singer and daughter of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, sister to actor brother Jaden; followed by Miley Cyrus: troubled child star growing up into even more troubled pop star and daughter of country music one-hit superstar Billy Ray Cyrus who is incidentally in the midst of what sounds like a bad d-i-v-o-r-c-e; and lastly Rosie Huntington-Whiteley: model and arm candy of Jason Statham, you know, the English guy who has starred in either two or 20 movies that all have identical action/suspense themes and plot lines, yet no real entertainment value and Snatch (or the other one like Snatch, I get them confused).

Um, Pope Benedict something or other and the one that came after him?
*In case you are wondering how I feel about celebrity babies and their right to privacy: Kim & Kanye should have no privacy since they sell pictures of themselves, and will do the same eventually with their "precious" no doubt... make no mistake Kanye, the fact that the first photo netted you no money, but was instead shared at the end of a horrendous season of a tv show that should never have seen the light of day but to showcase that one photo, and to have milked a whole season out of poor viewers only to reward them in the end with that one photo... well, let's just say that taking a fat check from the National Enquirer for that photo would have been more tasteful, not that we look to any member of that clan for taste or class cues; Will and Kate and baby Georgie on the other hand should just be left alone to be a cute little monarch family in their royal abode.

What is your biggest guilty pleasure? Add it to the comments section below...

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Open Sesame

Between you and me, I had practically written my entire scathing yet witty review of Sesame Place before we even started planning our trip down there. Based on all the input we had gotten from friends and family, my review was going to be a sarcastic romp on all things cheesy, trashy, fat and dirty; an eloquent jab at the commoners we would be forced to endure in order to make our child happy. And then a funny thing happened... we had the best day ever. Ok, maybe not the #1 best for him and I (I guess we have to count our wedding, her birthday, blah blah blah), but easily top 5... and it was definitely her #1. Unfortunately that leaves me plus one fantastic family day but minus one hysterically funny post on how horrible Sesame Place is... because it isn't.

So, here are a few of my thoughts on the place; some realizations, reflections and regrets... just kidding, I have no regrets. It was the best day ever.

As this was our first visit, we didn't know anything, including whether or not we would need two days to see it all - we didn't. We probably could have turned around for home after she saw the shrubbery in the parking lot that was shaped like Elmo and Oscar. She totally freaked out with excitement and would have been satisfied with that.

Leading up to the entrance they have these Hollywood Walk of Fame style handprints of all the characters. She spent about 20 minutes checking out each and every one of these. Between the flower bush characters and the cement handprints, we could have saved the price of entry and just driven home there and then. She'd have been psyched. She is either way too easily impressed or just an incredibly gracious, excited little girl. I desperately want to believe it is the latter, however she is my daughter, so...

A few things we did right that I would say should be on your to-do list:
DO: Go during the week. It was crowded, but not crazy. Going on a weekend day would have been WAY too crowded me thinks.

DO: Go on a nice day. We actually read a review that said to try to go on a day that predicts some rain to avoid the crowds. This is ridiculously bad advice since the park can best be enjoyed on a lovely warm and sunny day, which is thankfully exactly what we had to work with. Who actually tries to go on a crappy day? And who gives advice like that??

DO: Have a toddler that is old enough to walk and climb and run but not too old that they need to run off and do stuff on their own. We heard the "lost parent" announcements all through the day. These made us thankful to have someone it was easy to keep an eye on, yet expectant that in another year or two it will be our turn to be the ones heading over to reclaim our kid.

DO: Book one of the character dining options. The food throughout the place isn't cheap, and the character meal options are even more expensive, but A-it's an all you can eat buffet, B-she got a free character cup (free? I'm sure we actually paid about $70 for it, but I loves me a giveaway), C-it's a lot of food and then a lot of dessert, and if you're an 86 year old woman like me, you can put a few cookies in your bag for later. Oh, did I forget to mention that I am an 86 year old woman? When it comes to sticking "free" cookies in my bag I am. But the best part of the meal is the fully interactive theater experience. The characters all came around to our table, and she actually got to meet and hang out with them.
No I can't do next Tuesday... I'm having lunch with Cookie
It was a much nicer experience than when we lined up to get a snapshot with Oscar and felt the next person in line glaring at us to hurry the F up... oh, like I'm just gonna "hang" with Oscar for some extra time cause I think it's nice to make a man in a full body fur suit spend extra minutes outside on an 85 degree day. Calm yourself buddy!

DO: Try to forget what goes on in water rides with children that have not yet or are in the midst of potty training. It will help improve your enjoyment if you don't float down the Big Bird rapids suspicious of each and every warm spot you float through.

DO: Heed the guidelines of this sign. As if I needed something else to make me smile that day.
Great use of the word "vomitus" Sesame Place!
Of course that would explain why the place is actually so clean.

DO: Take a picture of the mother who decided to sit on the outside horse on the carousel because yes, I do believe in photo shaming in a scenario like this. Just so we're all in agreement, the outside horse of a carousel is the one that everyone wants, right? Right. We were on a full carousel... FULL. Frankly, I am still dumbfounded at the fact that she thought and maintained that this was acceptable.

She needs to get off her high horse... and by high I mean outside
I married him because even though he wasn't on the ride, he knew to take a picture of this ridiculousness

DO: Buy the food that gives you the souvenir cups and plates. I don't know why, but coming home with three plastic sippy cups and a cookie monster plate made me extra happy. Again, I know it's not really free, but somehow it still gives me that free giveaway buzz and I like it.

And I guess if I am telling you to DO stuff, I should also tell you what not to do:
DON'T: Worry about the characters freaking your kids out... they don't talk, thank goodness! So if they can get past the oversized moving stuffed animal thing, at least they won't have to deal with a smoker voiced Elmo or a teenage girl voiced Cookie Monster. We were blessed with the fact that ours wasn't one of the kids who sees human-sized furry monsters in real life for the first time and freaks out. Which, to be honest, is kind of weird. Can you imagine having only one concept of muppets (one dimensional as seen through the shiny box on the wall) and then one day they are real, in your face and trying to hug you? That is some f-ed up sh!t. Yet somehow we have a kid that was like, "oh, hey Grover, what up?"
She's so cool
DON'T: Feel like you have to hit all the shows. We were happy to get out of the sun for a bit and went to see Elmo's World. It was OK. At the time I thought she was totally freaked out by Mr. Noodle, but she has mentioned him more than Elmo since we got home, so maybe not. Mr. Noodle, like most of the staff, was under 16 so maybe she's just a bit scarred like I am.

DON'T: Sweat the whole parade placement thing. "Where the blue meets the black" is the middle spot, but it is also the most crowded spot. You get to see every character from every spot along the route.  They did think it through. We actually walked down the side while it was going on just to get a fresh perspective, but there wasn't anything even closely resembling a bad spot to be in. Relax.

DON'T: Be embarrassed when your kid pees through her swimmy diaper while walking down Main Street... Thank you to the mom who witnessed this and gave me that all important smile that says it's ok, it's funny and not to worry. I needed that.

DON'T: Forget your camera... they take pictures of you with the characters, but we were happy to have our own and not feel obliged to buy all of the official ones. And if I didn't have my camera, how could I take pictures of all the parents wearing bad bathing suits, too short shorts and too tight clothes... or so I thought, right?

All of the commentary we got on Sesame Place (and the visitors of) was dismissive and negative, if also slightly funny. I was assured that "when you go there, you will feel skinny," "everyone there is not-in-on-the-joke funny," and "the rides and entertainment are lame." After the input we received, we had certain expectations. I love good people watching. And I love making fun of things... hello! Have you read this blog? But aside from a handful of funny folks (come on, we live in New York City... I eat funny folks for breakfast... and by that I mean I see at least a few weirdos every day), we felt like most of the people were...*gasp*... normal. We were expecting some sort of reality show reject review: Jersey Shore meets Biggest Loser meets Teen Mom meets whatever the reality show about tattoos is called. So you can imagine our shock when we went and everyone was kinda sorta like us. 

My husband and I are now convinced, based on these conversations prior to our visit, that everyone we know thinks we are fat, cheesy and lame weirdos. Honestly, what other logical conclusion could we come to? We looked around and obviously saw a few people who maybe should have opted for a bathing suit coverup on the line for lunch, but in general it wasn't a complete sh!t show, which is what we were expecting. This had us wondering... does that mean we're the gross ones everyone was referring to? OK, sure there were some impressive tattoos on display, and the median age of the parents was probably less than the drinking age, but for the most part, everyone appeared quite similar to us. Yikes.

We managed to get past our paranoia pretty quickly because the place rocks. It is small and manageable with a toddler. It has plenty of rides and attractions to fill a day. I don't really know why you would want to do two days in a row... sure you could, but it seems unnecessary. And since it was around 1.5 hours from New York City, we did the whole trip in a day and still had time for a chilled out evening upon our return.

It was a fantastic day at a fun place and we highly recommend going and judging for yourself. (Don't believe the hype!) We had the time of our lives. Seriously, best day ever. 

We spent that evening trying to imagine what our daughter was dreaming about, given the scope of her day, but alas, imagine is all we can do.

Big blue and red furry monsters are actually real. Why don't you just sleep on that.