As someone who could quite easily quote the entire Twilight saga from memory, and has read all of the Gossip Girl books (more than once), I am no stranger to obsessing over ‘lowbrow’ culture. So, when I heard the first few seconds of the Sentimental Garbage podcast, proclaiming itself ‘the podcast where we talk about the culture we love that society sometimes makes us feel ashamed of’, it was music to my ears. Each week, host Caroline O’Donoghue discusses, laughs and cries over an aspect of culture that a guest is fanatical about, but that is generally looked down upon by society at large. The topics are not necessarily niche or controversial, in fact quite the opposite, episodes have dealt with beloved classics such as Mamma Mia and The Devil Wears Prada, as well as the word ‘like’ and the phenomenon of the red carpet. What Sentimental Garbage does is give these cultural artefacts the rigorous, obsessive deconstruction they truly deserve, and have not been afforded due to their status as ‘trashy’ or ‘chick lit’. O’Donoghue talks with her guests about the (sometimes slightly insane) specificities of why they love or are obsessed with the facet of culture they have chosen, how it is important to them as well as all they know about it. The joy of listening to Sentimental Garbage is not in being persuaded that something generally deemed ‘lowbrow’ does in fact possess artistic merit, but in listening to people talk about things that they love, and provide them with the same thoughtful analysis and passionate contemplation that more respected pieces have always been afforded.
In a subsection of the podcast, ‘Sentimental in the City’, O’Donoghue is joined by Dolly Alderton, and roughly two hours is given over to a deep dive into each season of Sex and the City. What could easily be a critique of the failings of the show or discussion of what has aged badly is instead a fervent deep dive into characters which appear on screen for a matter of seconds, discussions of hypothetical situations – sometimes including Alderton writing a script to truly explore the roads not taken – and the occasional tear shed about beloved relationships. Sentimental Garbage reminds me of the joy it is to be a fan of something, and to share that ridiculous love with someone else. Whenever a guest explains why a miniscule detail of their topic is so important to them, it could easily seem ludicrous, but somehow it never does. Instead, the podcast treats ‘guilty pleasures’ with an absolute absence of shame or ‘guilt’, and in doing so also cares for those who love them.
Podcasts are often considered another way to optimise otherwise ‘useless’ time – to learn something new whilst on the bus, or catch up on current affairs whilst you cook dinner. Of course, this has merit, but listening to Sentimental Garbage fits into the other category of podcasts, the ones which feel like having a conversation with a friend. This podcast highlights the unifying power of loving the same thing, and how exciting it is to be a fan of something, no matter how it is looked at by society. Not only does it make me a more ardent fan of those subjects I already love which episodes are devoted to, but I find I am looking at the ‘sentimental garbage’ in my life differently now, and more and more often treasuring the ‘trashy’.