I must confess there are times when my good feminist principles desert me completely and I succumb to the vile manipulations of screen and song, wallowing in the worst excesses of girlie fantasy and rampant sentimentality — or guilty pleasures for short.
I know while I’m watching Pretty Woman that I shouldn’t be enjoying it. I know I should be scorning its improbable happily-ever-after— with a load of consumer goods thrown in — ending and its toxic message that a fulfilled existence for a woman can only be provided by a rich and handsome man, but I can feel my smile spreading as the film draws to a close. I don’t care that, in reality, an LA hooker would probably be a million miles away from Julia Roberts’s fragrant tart-with-a-heart-and -educational-aspirations Vivian, or that a stuffed shirt like Edward would be incapable of accessing his softer side, still less of passing up a mega deal guaranteed to destroy a family business.
It just pushes all the right buttons (for me, buttons labelled frocks, shopping and opera, rather than Richard Gere, it has to be said). No wonder it has the highest number of ticket sales for a romantic comedy in the US.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, I am also in thrall to Jolene, and in fact to Dolly Parton herself (although mass adoration at Glastonbury must be a kind of canonisation, and she is surely a candidate for damehood, those wigs notwithstanding). Yes, it’s demeaning to women for the singer to be begging Jolene not to take her man, to feel so inferior in the face of Jolene’s beauty, and to claim that her life will be destroyed forever if she loses her man. And it doesn’t say much for the ethics of the sisterhood that the aforementioned Jolene may be prepared to lure away this man (who must have his charms but it’s not clear from the song what they are) on a whim: ‘just because you can’. It’s all there in the line ‘I cannot compete with you, Jolene’: women locked in a ceaseless struggle over men, divided rather than united, doomed to despair.
But again, the chord progressions, Dolly Parton’s vulnerable voice with its heartbreaking catch, her soft Southern diction — all conspire to make this song irresistible.
I know I’m a disgrace, but I bet others have similar skeletons lurking among their more predictable favourites. Don’t be shy: share them with us.