Shameless: The podcast cancelling the 'guilty pleasure'

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The Shameless podcast has created a space for intelligent and nuanced discussion about the media, eliminating guilt about enjoying entertainment journalism. Feature image by Miranda Stokkel.

The shame of our ‘guilty’ pleasures

“Oh, you’re kidding me! You’re too intelligent to watch that crap!”

The words hurtled at me across the office felt like a solid blow. My cheeks flamed as I started to explain my newfound Love Island habit. It didn’t matter what flimsy excuses I tried to pass off with a falsely joking tone. My colleague was adamant the show was trash and by default I assumed my taste was too. 

It’s this collective sneer at our interests that has seen women seek solace in Australia podcast Shameless. The podcast has become a haven for "smart women who love dumb stuff".

Let’s forget about my Love Island addiction for now. Instead, we need to talk about why women are shamed for enjoying things palmed off as ridiculous or overtly feminine. 

I’m sure we’ve all heard someone (or been that someone) faux-whispering their ‘guilty pleasure’ film or tv show. These discussions are often wrapped in phrases like “I know it’s silly, but…” and “it’s just something you don’t have to think too hard about”. 

Why should we feel guilty about our interests? And have you ever heard a man use that ridiculous phrase?

Two women facing the camera, but looking at each other.
Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews, co-hosts of Shameless. Photo by Miranda Stokkel.

Shameless community: ‘smart women who love dumb stuff’

I found Shameless thanks to an utterly unfathomable V-string bikini. I’d clicked on an article which pictured journalist Michelle Andrews on the beach, face screwed up in discomfort as she tried 2018’s “most controversial bikini trend”.

Shameless is hosted by Mich and fellow Melbourne journalist Zara McDonald. (I can't call them by their last names, because I feel like I know them from the podcast). Each week they discuss a selection of the big issues in the entertainment and social sphere.

Shameless is now the place where I get to listen to two intelligent, forthright, and fiercely feminist women discuss topics usually dismissed as frivolous and low brow. It's also how I consume most of my entertainment news now.

Discussing what no one else will

In Shameless I found a podcast where there was no need to hide my own outspoken views on the patriarchy, activism, and social justice issues. Sometimes when these topics came up at work or with my friends, I felt like I was overthinking things and looking way too deep into the latest viral moment storming my Twitter timeline. 

When I found that V-string story I was sitting with Caitlin, the person I most frequently have these deep, feminist conversations with. We read the article together, reading our favourite lines to each other and cackling with joy.

Shameless leaves me feeling the same way. It's like I’m sitting with my friends having genuinely thoughtful conversations about stuff everyone palms off as shit. 

I don’t watch Married at First Sight, but I still found myself totally intrigued by Mich and Zara’s nuanced discussion of emotional abuse in the 2019 season. I became deeply invested in the question of how much responsibility reality tv show producers have in showing these types of relationships. 

There’s no topic too shamefully pop culture for Shameless. The podcast is not a place to shame other women. I can’t emphasise enough how articulate and cognisant of social nuances Zara and Mich are. 

Daring to take up space with our interests

Zara and Mich addressed the dismissal of women’s interests in a recent Shameless episode. Unfortunately it came on the back of some ignorant and rude comments from another Australian sports-based podcast. I don’t want to give the jokers any extra publicity. But the gist of their conversation was: how dare women talking about relationships top the podcast charts.

The pair explained they initially didn’t want to give these negative comments any airtime. But the ‘lad’s talk’ tone highlighted exactly why Shameless exists and why women find solace in podcasts. 

Michelle commented on the prevalence of sports-related media, which is lauded by many as more ‘important’ than entertainment-based conversations.

It’s a bunch of guys kicking leather around a patch of grass and there are thousands upon thousands of pieces of content released about one game on a patch of grass every single day. It’s ironic that men never look at their own interests as being frivolous or silly.

There's no space in mainstream media for women to talk about things like the latest Love Island updates or the importance of influencer marketing. Sure, Love Island might not be your jam but there’s a lot of value in clever conversations of the kind Mich and Zara have on Shameless

Two women holding coffees, looking at each other.
Zara McDonald and Michelle Andrews, co-hosts of Shameless. Photo by Miranda Stokkel.

Entertainment can be a gateway to discussing serious issues like emotional abuse (in the context of Love Island contestants Adam or Joe) or the phenomenon of hate-following

During the discussion Zara said “by virtue of our age, our gender, and the subject matter that we choose to cover in our jobs as journalists … I am acutely aware that people think we are dumb”. Hearing that, I felt the same inexplicable hurt that flushed through my body in the office when I talked about Love Island

Feminism isn’t feminism at all unless it’s intersectional. The women of Shameless share these same values. They've talked about ableism with Say Hello author Carly Findlay, and discussed cultural appropriation in festival make up with Rowi Singh. Ultimately, this podcast is all about creating space for everyone. 

Podcasts like Shameless have gained a guerilla following undermining mainstream media because it’s where we find a space for us. We don't have to feel guilty, or justify our interests.

How do you feel about the term ‘guilty pleasure’? Is there anything you’ve been made to feel guilty about enjoying? Leave a comment and let me know, or get in touch on Twitter or Instagram.

Meet the podcasters reclaiming space for intelligent and nuanced discussion about the media, eliminating guilt about enjoying entertainment usually dismissed as frivolous or silly.