Guts Don’t Come Cheap in the Cinématheque, Pal: Guilt, Pleasure, and America’s Funniest Home Videos

Curator's Note

As part of Film Comment’s guilty pleasures series, scriptwriter David Newman confessed, "I’m ASHAMED of [these films]. I KNOW they stink. And still I love them. Do you know what it takes to admit that in public? Guts don’t come cheap in the cinématheque, pal." Guts are not inexpensive in the télétheque, either. And yet, when In Media Res called for confessions of guilty television pleasures I knew I had to step forward and say, "I watch America's Funniest Home Videos and I laugh until tears roll down my cheeks." Oh, sure, one could make claims for the cultural significance of AFV: an obvious harbinger of both reality television and YouTube. Yes, there's no doubt of AFV's cultural significance, but there's also no doubt of the egregiousness of AFV's original host, Bob Saget—the Full House actor whose attempts to reinvent himself, through The Aristocrats, as a comic who works blue have just confirmed his egregiousness. And no one could dispute that AFV trades in the currency of low comedy. The multitudinous videos of men and boys having their testicles assailed provide ample evidence of that. I didn't discover the pleasures of AFV until I began watching it with the sound off. Working at a radio station that kept a TV in the control room for the purposes of monitoring weather radar, I would sometimes channel surf as I spun CDs. Freed from the tyranny of Sagetisms, I could take pleasure in the Buster Keatonesque moves of toddlers upended by toboggans, their little legs making perfect V's in the air. I could enjoy the travails of knuckleheads botching home repairs that cause walls to tumble around them. (Again, the Keaton comparisons were inevitable; but see also the Lumières' Démolition d'un mur.) And the clip montages—collecting dozens of piñata catastrophes, for example—would have made Eisenstein proud. Viewing AFV as silent cinema, I found pleasure amid the guilt. Later, I discovered AFV's audio pleasures—as in the giggling quadruplets in this $100,000 prize winner. Recently, AFV has begun presenting its videos online in their raw form, without narration, music or sound effects. One suspects they might soon be viewed without any guilt whatsoever.


Very fun clip. This week's videos has revealed and reinforced to me the personal nature of the guilty pleasure. I don't think I would feel too guilty about liking any of the other four items under discussion. I have never seen Contact but have liked other movies by Zemeckis and don't feel bad about it. I love Gilmore Girls. Hex looks like fun. And AFV is hilarious, though I haven't watched in years. And so I find our explanations for our guilt, our justifications for liking the things we think we shouldn't, to be more revealing than the objects themselves. For instance, Jeremy, you begin with a reference to Film Comment, which you also quote in your title. This tells me the standards you might have in mind when you watch AFV. But why do you/we value these standards? And why might we want or not want to adopt a cinephile approach to TV, especially when cinephiles tend to assume that television is beneath cinema?

Good point, Michael. I didn't feel at all guilty watching and enjoying the Ying Yang Twins video, and I imagine that's because I didn't connect to it in the same way you did. I found it pleasing, but not a pleasure - I enjoyed it, but I don't feel pulled to watch it again. Similarly, the quadruplets trigger my "aww, cute" reflex, but I don't need to seek out other giggling baby videos once this one ends. If the videos that become pleasures for us are the ones that connect more intimately with some part of our brains, then the guilty pleasures must make contact with the parts we don't always want to acknowledge. Identifying them as pleasures reminds us of the guilt, but publicly acknowledging them as such confirms it, despite the fact that no one else would be likely to identify the point of connection based on the particular work. Suddenly, I'm feeling a little exposed.

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