I’m not disparaging my work when I refer to it as “trash.” I use the term broadly and affectionately, often in reference to media that does not intend to have any educational, cultural or, in the case of books, literary value. Not having those ambitions doesn’t necessarily invalidate a work; everything has a function, and if it lives up to its intended function it can be considered a success.
At a minimum, trash should be entertaining.
One of the trashiest shows to air in 2016 was Secrets and Lies, which entered its second season with a new murder mystery and a mostly new cast. It wasn’t enough that it asked who pushed Jordana Brewster’s character from a rooftop in the premiere, it had to sustain itself for multiple episodes by trafficking in a ton of wacky subplots — an escort service run from a property owned by the main character’s firm, a detective straddling both sides of the law, a side family, and many more secrets and many more lies. It was populated with pretty actors with varying degrees of skill and peeled back layer after layer of reveals that complicated the narrative in the most salacious ways. It never aimed to be more than entertaining trash. Even Shonda Rhimes dramas with their shocking twists and speed-of-light pacing season their narratives with more noble aims, exploring sexual politics, racial identity and other weighty themes that inspire your favorite thinkpiecers.
Shows that are straight-up trash allow the audience to forget the important and mostly awful things happening in the world by not commenting on them. They exist in a universe where those things just don’t happen but multiple extramarital affairs and extortion are par for the course. Yes, affairs and extortion aren’t activities we should aspire to but, as viewers, we don’t have to perform the same cultural reckoning we would in response to story lines about police brutality and rigged elections. Even when our favorite reality shows touch on similar topics we understand their core function is not cultural commentary but to provide fast-paced melodrama as economically as possible while the audience pats itself on the back for not being as dysfunctional. Trash, one way or another, is designed to make us feel better about our circumstances if not completely ignore them.
My questionable tastes were cultivated by Dynasty, Melrose Place and Jackie Collins novels and none of it made me a better person. It did, however, give me perspective. You are not your tastes. You are allowed to enjoy what you want and needn’t give into the temptation to qualify or defend your interests. Many of us smart, artsy types have not come to terms with how we enjoy media that isn’t very cerebral. There’s a shame in it, a shame that compels us to over-intellectualize our low-brow entertainment by being long-winded and shaping our defenses with complex academic jargon. We refer to these things as “guilty pleasures,” as if watching an episode of Vanderpump Rules is the same as eating half a sheet cake at two in the morning.
Can bad media rot your brain? Maybe, if there’s no balance in your consumption, but it’s not the responsibility of that media to manage the guilt over your intake. It is not in charge of your identity.
This was a long way to say it’s okay to think of Gorgeous as trash. Even if you walked away having gained insight into how urbane Black gay men reckon with their own emotional growth and perceptions of adulthood, at its core it’s melodrama, plot twists and beautiful people with enviable sex lives. The worst you can say is that it’s not entertaining.