“You should be ashamed of reading that”

“You should be ashamed of reading that”

I recently wrote about being a fan of the Planet of the Apes (I was linking to the original book). One of my regular readers, Tuli Reno, commented (thanks, Tuli!) that

“I love Planet of the Apes and am not ashamed of it. For some reason someone I know thought I should be.”

There is no reason to be ashamed of what you read or watch or play or to which you listen.

Oh, I suppose…let me get this out of the way. There is content which is created as the result of a crime, or that exploits real people. That’s a different story. The issue there is the crime, the production of the material.

One weird thing that I remember being proposed was banning sexually explicit animation…making it a crime to produce. I can understand people not wanting to watch it, but there has hardly been a crime committed against the pixels. 😉

So, with the issue of production out of the way, let’s talk about “content shaming”.

It’s interesting to me psychologically.

Why should it matter to one person if another person reads (or otherwise consumes) something that the first person thinks is too “babyish” or “silly” or that it is just junk?

Is the argument that they should be reading something better?

I can certainly see that being a slippery slope…isn’t there always something better? 😉 Should you not be reading a really good novel because there is a great one you haven’t read? 😉

My feeling always is that if you are getting nothing out of a book, the lack isn’t in the book…

If you have enough imagination, and choose to exercise it (and it is exercise…it can be tiring), you could read a great novel in a blank book, right?

I just never understand the point of diminishing someone else’s happiness.

I’ve heard the argument about all kinds of things, from comic books, to romances, to mysteries, over the years.

“Stop reading that drivel!”

I do have a theory.

Years ago, I had an  epiphany.

I realized something, and said it this way:

“We hate in others that which we fear in ourselves.”

Let’s say that someone has been taught that crying in public is bad.

They were punished for doing it (“I’ll give you something to cry about!”).

They never cry any more…it’s not that they don’t want to cry sometimes, but that they repress it.

Then, they see someone freely crying in public.

For some people, the reaction to that in that situation is instant anger.

They may yell the same thing at the other person that the authority figure in their life yelled at them.

They hate that the other person is crying, because it is something that they struggle with in themselves…that they work hard to crush.

I honestly think there is something like that at work in some content shaming.

Someone who was told to stop reading Sweet Valley High or The Animorphs or Robert Heinlein, for that matter, learns to repress the desire to do so.

When they see somebody else reading, say, The Hunger Games, they may have that same lashing out.

I’m a proud geek…and we are really used to this sort of thing. 🙂

Now that geek has become mainstream, it’s a bit different…but yes, watching Star Trek or playing Dungeons and Dragons or reading Lord of the Rings could get you a sneering lecture in the past.

We used to gather in conventions to find like-minded people…but now, you can do it on the internet.

If you are a fan of pretty much anything, you can probably find like-minded people online.

That can help.

I should also mention that not everybody who thinks of themselves as a geek is open to all content. There have been geek feuds (Star Trek vs. Star Wars…or Star Trek vs. Lost in Space, back in the day), and you can see some geeks putting other people down. There is a derogatory term, “skiffy” (a deliberate mispronunciation of “sci-fi”) that some people use for…I guess I’ll say they might call it schlocky pseudo science fiction. When I see someone use that, it makes me a bit sad.

Geek culture should be about acceptance, not exclusion. George Takei has made this point about Star Trek and Star Wars…after all, Takei has appeared in both universes (having done a voice in Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Many other people have as well, although perhaps not with such prominence.

My main message on this, though, is that if someone else shames you because of what you are reading, it’s not about you…it’s about them.

A lot of how you emotionally react to things has to do with how you frame the situation.

After all, you are fine with your doctor doing things that would horrify you if someone else did…because you’ve framed it as happening for medical purposes.

If someone wants to content shame me, my framing of it makes me pity them. I feel sad both that they can’t get the joy out of the material that I do, and that something happened to them that made them fear in themselves something that I enjoy in myself.

I think, perhaps, the proper response is just to let them see that it isn’t hurting you…what you are reading, I mean.

Shamer: “Why are you reading that junk?”

Reader: “I like it.”

Shamer: “It’s stupid.”

Reader: “It’s interesting to me.”

Shamer: “You should be reading Tolstoy or Shakespeare.”

  • Reader (response 1): “I do [only if that’s true]…I enjoy that, too. This isn’t Shakespeare…but Shakespeare isn’t this, either. I just like different things at different times.”
  • Reader (response 2): “Yes, that’s another thing I’d like to try some day.”
  • Reader (response 3): “You know, I’ve always been kind of scared of that…I’m not sure I’d understand it. Maybe you could help me get into it: where would you suggest I start?”

The bottom line, I guess, is that it should end up with a shrug on the reader’s part. You don’t want to be dismissive of the other person…showing interest in what they are saying would probably be best. You really don’t want to get defensive and engage the anger…that’s a rarely a good strategy.

I think one thing I might do is send the person a gift of a book in the genre…a book that I particularly like. I’d probably include a message that was something like, “I know that what I was reading didn’t make much sense to you, and I can understand how it could seem weird. Here’s a book I think you might enjoy…and if you want to talk about it afterwards, I’m open to that. If you want to trade it in for something else, that’s fine…I just wanted to give you an opportunity to see what I see in it.”

I know, I know…some of you think I’m a dreamer. 🙂 Yup…and proud of it. 😉

Have you ever been content shamed? What were you reading/watching/playing? What did you do about it? Have you ever converted somebody who hated a genre into respecting it? If so, how? Name a book which you think would be a good “ambassador” to get somebody into something (for example, I’d go with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for somebody who doesn’t like the idea of comic books and graphic novels). Outside of something criminal or exploitative, is there something that has a fandom that you just don’t get? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think, by commenting on this post.

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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


6 Responses to ““You should be ashamed of reading that””

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    When I was in grade school, we didn’t have a school library until I was in 6th grade. I discovered the Dr. Seuss books and started checking them out because I’d never read anything quite like them before. I loved the rhymes. One of the teachers scolded me for taking out books for little kids. She said I should be reading books more appropriate for children my age. I tried to explain to her that they were new to me and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t supposed to be reading them.I hadn’t discovered them in the public library or I would have read them at the appropriate age, except with Dr. Seuss ALL ages are appropriate. It’s a shame more adults haven’t discovered the depth of children’s literature. Luckily, my own teacher overheard and came to my rescue reminding her that the whole library was new and assuring her that I probably had already read all the books for children my age. After that teacher walked away, my teacher whispered in my ear, “Dr. Seuss is one of my favorite writers, too.” [Mrs. R was one of the best teachers I ever had. I was lucky enough to have her as my teacher for both 5th and 6th grade.]

    Now, if somebody tried to shame me for reading cozy mysteries or YA fiction, I’d just tell them I’d be glad to place my lifetime reading next to theirs and see whose had the most classics. And if anyone told me I should be reading Shakespeare, I’d tell them that I already have, even the more obscure plays like “Troilus and Cressida” or “Coriolanus.”

    When people try to shame me for enjoying TV shows like Big Brother or The Real Housewives, I speculate that if Shakespeare were alive today he’d most likely be producing reality TV. He was successful not because he was highbrow and aiming to entertain only the upper crust. He was successful because he knew how to entertain them as well as the folks standing in the pit ready to throw things if they weren’t entertained.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Great story about your teacher!

      I used to tell people that Shakespeare was the Laverne and Shirley of that time period…but part of what is fascinating about the Bard of Avon is that Shakespeare was also the Downton Abbey. The Shakespeare plays (as you know) range from “low brow” slapstick type farces (like 2 Broke Girls) to thrilling histories (think Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln) to heavy dramas (compare, perhaps, Othello to The Sopranos).

      We’ve certainly had other writers who wrote in a variety of genres, but it’s tough to come up with someone else who wrote stylistically so differently and for different audiences so well. I suppose that’s one reason people doubt that all of the plays were written by the same person…

  2. Kerry Montgomery Says:

    Bravo! Well said! Not only have I been shamed by others for my reading choices, I even criticize my OWN choices. Surely, I should be reading more refined books! More classics! More culture! More non-fiction! But you know what? A Stephanie Plum novel is darn entertaining, and I will no longer apologize for it! Wow!!! That was freeing! 😉

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Kerry!

      Your comment made my day! 🙂 Freeing someone is a good thing to do…and tends to have long term effects. Getting freedom can encourage you to want freedom for others. I tend to be on the side of freedom versus restrictions…

  3. rogerknights Says:

    Here are a few quotes from George Orwell’s “Good Bad Books”:

    Some indefinable quality, a sort of literary vitamin, is missing from them [much highbrow “literature”].
    Perhaps the supreme example of the “good bad” book is Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It is an unintentionally ludicrous book, full of preposterous melodramatic incidents. It is also deeply moving and essentially true.
    . . . “light” literature has its appointed place; also . . . there is such a thing as sheer skill, or native grace, which may have more survival value than erudition or intellectual power. There are music hall songs which are better poems than three quarters of the stuff that gets into the anthologies.

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