Can books be harmful?

/ posted in: General

I read a lot of comments on my twitter feed about the idea of books being harmful.  I don’t get it.  At least, I don’t get it in the context that a lot of people seem to using the term.

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Harmful to a Group

This I understand.  I can see how a book that characterizes a particular race or gender as less intelligent than everyone else, for example, could be harmful if people in other groups thought this was a fact and then acted on that information.  This is why books like Pr@tocols of the Elders of Zi@n are harmful because they have incited hate and violence towards people.

I’m not arguing about that.  But that doesn’t seem to be how the term is being used.

Harmful to an Individual

The idea seems to be that people should not be exposed to books/TV/movies that will offend or misrepresent them because it is permanently damaging to their psyche.

I’ve thought a lot about this and I can think of several books that have deeply offended me. There are those that still anger me when I think of them years later. There are things that I wish I never saw or read. There was one that I was listening to last week that I wish I could warn everyone away from because the representation of something very important to me was so misleading. But, I do not feel personally harmed by any of those books.  I don’t think that I have been damaged by being exposed to ideas I hate or having people write about aspects of my identity in derogatory ways. I’ve cussed out authors in my mind and then walked away from books.  No permanent harm done.

I’m not saying people should read things that they find offensive.  If it isn’t right for you, that’s fine.  Walk away and don’t look back. Whatever works for you.  But are you so malleable that you will let a book change your feelings about yourself? That’s what I think of when I see people using the word “harm” in this context.

I think this might be a generational thing.  I don’t seem to see anyone over 30 using this terminology.

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Am I the only person confused by this?  Are older people just better at looking at BS and not taking personally?  Is this a self esteem thing that we’ll never understand because we weren’t raised in a time when that was considered important?

Readers over 30, have you ever been harmed by a book?