Trigger Warnings?

I had a rant set to post this morning about trigger warnings. It was pretty nasty, but the very idea puts me in a foul mood.

What are trigger warnings? A number of colleges decided that certain aspects of the Western Canon might contain passages that could trigger bad memories or deeply upset those who might have suffered a past trauma. If it upsets you, they reason, then you should not have to read it.

Well, if that’s the case, Sally Struthers and Sarah McLachlan would need to stop appealing for starving children and abused animals. And let’s be honest here. We’d have to put a lot of political pundits out of work. Quite frankly, I don’t want Rush Limbaugh asking me if I want fries with that, since that’s about all he and his ilk are qualified for. (Well, Keith Olbermann did go back to sportscasting.)

I have no problems with something telling me there’s certain content in a book. That’s what the jacket blurb is for, actually. We do this for movies (although the NC-17 rating is absolutely meaningless since they dropped the X rating. Dumbest move ever made by the MPAA ratings board.) We do it for video games. We do it on CD’s. Apple even slaps an “explicit” label on some songs. And they should. Why?

It’s as much advertising as it is caution and warning. Anyone who grew up in the 1980’s and 1990’s will tell you that the “Parental Advisory” label on an album was like dangling candy in front of a baby to any teenager. That sticker sold a lot of Beastie Boys and Metallica albums. At the same time, it told parents that there were things they might not want to expose their children to.

But that’s for kids. Guess what. In almost every country in the world, you are considered an adult at 18. And being an adult means you are going to get offended. You are going to see upsetting things. You are going to be traumatized if you haven’t been already.

I’m hardly an “I hate people” type, since that mentality suggests I’m somehow better than everyone else. Bullshit. I’m not a narcissist. (Well, I try not to be, anyway.) At the same time, I have a deep, abiding faith in man’s ability to be an unrepentant dick to his fellow man. (“Man” as in human being.) Hiding from it is not going to help you deal with it. It’s not going to make you stronger. It’s only going to make you afraid and timid.

By all means, tell me there are a bunch of “N” bombs in Huckleberry Finn. I’ve read enough Twain to know what he ultimately thought of the word. (Hint: After a brief stint in the Confederate Army, Mr. Clemens said, “Screw this” and went west.) Go ahead and tell me that the people in Gatsby are a bunch of narcissistic sociopaths.Tell me that the people in The Grapes of Wrath will suffer some of the most brutal conditions anyone could endure in modern America.

But to give you a pass to avoid it if that’s what you’re studying in school? Go home, curl up in the fetal position, and never leave the house. We can’t be afraid of getting upset or offended. Sooner or later, something upsetting or offensive is going to happen, and you’ll be in no condition to deal with it.

Tell me how that trigger warning worked out for you then.


4 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings?

  1. What about for YA then? I think trigger warnings aren’t intended to prevent people being offended but to help people, especially young people, make a decision about what they want to expose themselves to, for example, a teen who has recently recovered from or is still dealing with self-harm may not want to read a book containing scenes of self-mutilation. This isn’t about not wanting to get offended or even upset, but rather about trying to protect themselves from psychologically profound trauma. While it’s not always possible to guard against triggers in real life, why shouldn’t it be possible for books?

  2. That’s nice you have an opinion on the subject. But unless you’ve suffered trauma, maybe you aren’t the best person to judge.

    There is a HUGE difference between being offended by something and being triggered into relieving a past trauma.

    Yes, for trauma survivors, we can’t avoid everything that’s a trigger, we do have to learn to deal. And maybe, we don’t have to avoid the subject all together in classes we take. But a heads up can help us to mentally prepare for dealing with it.

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