PBS’ new special, Guilty Pleasures is an intriguing work. This feature delves into the world of the romance novel and what drives its readers to its many stories. Throughout the course of the feature’s near ninety minutes, Guilty Pleasures follows the lives of three completely different women who are avid readers of the often sneered upon books, and what it is that interests them so much in the stories. Also included in this documentary is a look at the man who has served as the model for over two hundred covers. The semi-sociological look at each individual’s life presents a much deeper concept that is requiring of its own feature.
Guilty Pleasures crosses the globe for its subjects of study. The trio of women featured in the special come from Japan, the United Kingdom, and India. The man featured on the cover of over two hundred of the racy books’ covers comes from the United States. The juxtaposition of each figure’s life to that of the books is what makes this documentary intriguing. In Japan, housewife Hiroko reads the novels, and dreams of a near Cinderella story, even going so far as to pull her husband into her dream of becoming a ballroom dancer. In the case of Shirley (from the United Kingdom), she reads them as an escape, and to find ways to enhance her own marriage. At the same time, Shirley admits to knowing that they’re just an escape. She seems the most grounded of the women in terms of knowing the line between reality and fantasy. Perhaps the most interesting case of all is that of Shumita. Shumita has recently separated from her husband after she discovered that he was cheating on her with a much younger woman. She has escaped into the Mills & Boon books as an escape as well. She reads them, hoping that eventually things between herself and her husband would get better and maybe even as in the books. One can’t help but feel sympathy for her more so than either of the other women presented here.
Shumita, Shirley, and Hiroko all present a different and interesting angle for this presentation. But equally interesting is the comparison of model Stephen’s life to the images that he has presented to women for so long on the cover of the books that they read. Here is a man of whom so many women dream of being with. Yet in reality, his life is anything but those overly romanticized scenes. Stephen is actually single. He admits at one point in the program that he’s actually divorced. He adds to this statement the occasional difficulty that comes with balancing being divorced and being a sex symbol for so many women the world over. It makes for an interesting comparison of a person with two entirely separate identities.
While the cases already mentioned make for an interesting program, just as interesting is the case of the person behind the creation of so many of the books that have become so beloved by their audiences. The individual behind many of the books is–believe it or not–a retired, single man. He is largely a simple man. He is nothing like the men of whom he writes in the books. Even more ironic is that he admits in his interviews that he prefers solitude to anything in the books in question. That alone will make any viewer laugh and think at the same time.
While the material in Guilty Pleasures doesn’t go into the full depth that it could, it at least scrapes the surface of why exactly certain individuals become interested in romance novels. The subjects shown here present the beginnings of a much deeper sociological study that could be reserved for another feature. Keeping that in mind, Guilty Pleasures is a feature that any student of the social sciences will enjoy. It can be ordered now at PBS’ online store, http://www.shoppbs.org.
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