‘Degrassi’: The Guilty Pleasure of a Generation

I read a quote once that I now am unable to find via the usually helpful Google search, but the gist of it was, “One should never feel guilty about pleasure.” I want to say that the quote is from Mae West, but that might just be wishful thinking. Anyway, while I want to agree with the spirit of that quote, I feel too much embarrassment about some of my television choices to fully accept that mantra.

There are many shows I’m not exactly proud to say that I watch, but none that cause me quite as much shame as Degrassi: The Next Generation. This reigns supreme as my guilty pleasure, beating out such favorites as The Real Housewives franchise, Jersey Shore and even House Hunters: International, for a variety of reasons. First and the most obvious, it’s a show that revolves around kids aged 13 to 17 and I am a grown woman of 21. Second, the plotlines consist of the stuff you’d expect to see in bad ’70s after school specials (were there good after school specials? Probably not). And third, on a good day the acting can only be described as mediocre.

So what makes me love this melodramatic little juggernaut? That is a question I have asked myself many, many times and created numerous excuses over the years to explain, but have yet to find a concrete answer. My first taste of the Degrassi drug came at a sleepover in high school. A friend happened to be a fan and made the mistake of having it on while I was there. I was instantly hooked and subsequently forced us to watch a marathon that night, forgoing the usual social sleepover activities to watch Manny struggle with the decision to abort her baby.

From that point on, I watched it on and off for a couple of years. Discovering that, as with most addictive, guilty pleasure shows, Degrassi is a show that was made for a marathon.

I actually went about a year without watching Degrassi at all, but then a friend acquired all the DVDs and I was thrust again down the dark hole of endless marathons and deep conversations about whether the kids should really forgive Spinner for getting Jimmy shot. At this point I was 20 and I began to realize that maybe I was getting too old to care if Marco was addicted to online gambling.

As the new cast of characters slowly began to take over, it seemed the perfect time to wean myself off the show. After all, I was a purist, loyal to the original cast. But, as with all addicts, I could only stay away for so long. Back at school, with nothing to do but avoid productivity, my roommate and I took to spending our weekends watching the seemingly never ending Degrassi marathons. Soon I was hooked all over again.

It’s always been a show I watched with someone else, it was a semi social experience, to talk through the ridiculous drama as it unfolded. Somehow it made it seem less sad that adults were spending their days watching crazy Canadian kids get into trouble. So when my roommate moved back home and I was left to live on my own, I expected that would be the end of my Degrassi phase. Once again I was wrong. And it is much sadder to be a 211year-old watching Degrassi alone, but that’s not enough to stop me.

I’ve tried to convince myself that I’ve always been a fan of the teen drama genre, and while that’s true, I hardly think it explains my love for Degrassi. I gave up Gossip Girl after my own high school days ended and One Tree Hill is but a distant memory. Even with my beloved Skins, I can’t bring myself to connect to the new cast. Yet, with Degrassi, casts come and go and here I stay. Maybe I’ll never understand it, but I’ve learned to embrace it. Like maybe Mae West said, there is no reason to feel guilty about the things that bring you pleasure.

I will say this though; I don’t think I am alone in this guilty pleasure. I have come to realize that Degrassi is the dirty little secret of my generation. Whenever there are discussions about the shows that we loved as adolescents Degrassi has never come up. Boy Meets World? Always. Saved by the Bell? Of course. Disney series of all shapes and sizes, new and old, and even the likes of The O.C. and Gossip Girl all get credit and admiration. But never have I had a conversation about Degrassi outside of an actual communal viewing.

Yet a recent status update on a post about my love for the Degrassi “soar-y” got a surprising number of likes. People may not be talking about it, but they’re watching Degrassi, too, and that level of shared ‘shame’ is comforting.