“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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