Trigger Warning Culture

I’m bothered by the idea behind trigger warnings. Normally, I skip posts that start with one because I can’t muster any enthusiasm for the writings of a person who considers me such a delicate tender flower that I have to be warned before reading – no even seeing or hearing – but simply reading about certain issues.

My readers keep asking me if I actually invent all those stories about my students who can’t deal with a movie that has a sad ending or a fictional character who is not completely perfect. However, isn’t this precisely the sort of human being that the creators of the following trigger warning had in mind?

Got it? People need to be warned in bold type that “brief mentions of rape” will occur. Isn’t this completely insane? There is a definite suggestion here that unpleasant realities like rape should not even be mentioned in polite company because they can traumatize everybody too much. Who cares that we cannot address an issue that is never even mentioned? The important thing is that nobody’s feelings get hurt by allusions to anything that is not all happy-happy-joy-joy all the time.

Movies and books should only have happy endings, magazines and TV shows should only present extremely young and impeccably looking people, unsavory realities should not even be mentioned in articles and blog posts. Haven’t these attempts to sanitize reality gone way too far? We are getting to a place where nothing is sanitized enough for the prudish among us. These people are so terrified of life that they need to turn it into a cartoon in order to be able to live at all.

Why are we humoring them?

19 thoughts on “Trigger Warning Culture”

  1. “There is a definite suggestion here that unpleasant realities like rape should not even be mentioned in polite company because they can traumatize everybody too much.”
    It’s not really about traumatizing ‘everyone’ too much, it’s about possible triggering people who have experienced something, e.g. rape survivors for whom certain descriptions may trigger PTSD. Other scenarios trigger warnings might be useful: I have in the past self-harmed. During those periods, especially when trying to stop, I avoid descriptions of SH as, depending on how they are portrayed and how much I identify with them, they may trigger me to SH. Trigger warnings can be useful.
    Trigger warnings are not for ‘everyone’. They’re for people who need to protect their emotional well-being due to some incident. Sure, sometimes they get taken too far, but I’d rather be safe than trigger someone’s PTSD.

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    1. “It’s not really about traumatizing ‘everyone’ too much, it’s about possible triggering people who have experienced something, e.g. rape survivors for whom certain descriptions may trigger PTSD.”

      – There are no descriptions in the post I quoted. It announces “brief mentions” of rape. Which means that the word “rape” is mentioned twice. Why do you read “brief mentions” as “descriptions”?

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  2. For the first time in my life I had to reassure students that no, the novel we are reading is not an apology of pedophilia. Two students were scandalized that we were reading a novel in class that apparently ‘is not apropriate.’ I am afraid that I lost my proverbial patience today.

    The novel is Pacheco’s Las batallas en el desierto.

    I am tired of these sentences: “It’s inapropriate” and “I’m confused.”

    So I guess I should have warned my students before reading the novel that a pre-teen falls in love with a twenty something woman in it. And nothing happens. So please do not be upset. And I am sorry that you are confused.

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    1. If a novel is ‘inappropriate’ for university-level academic analysis than what the hell is it appropriate for? It sounds to me like your sounds are just regurgitating buzzwords they heard in elementary school.

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      1. They learn it at church and in all sorts of places. The university is a polite, “society” venue where only certain things should be shown.

        This set of ideas is entirely different from the purpose of trigger warnings, although they are now often conflated.

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      1. This semester, yes. I was not prepared for such a reaction. Weidly this novel is causing strong atagonisms in my class.

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  3. I go back and forth. On the one hand, a trigger warning can just be an attempt to be polite: if you’re going to write a post that will mention something serious, like rape, you don’t want to hurt a reader unnecessarily. And also, you don’t want to give rape victims the impression that they shouldn’t be on the internet then, as if they’re being a rape victim just to ruin everyone’s day.

    On the other hand, I’ve seen it taken too far. I’ve looked in vain for the horrid thing that was supposed to be a trigger and not seen it so much as mentioned. I suppose the person edited their post and forgot to take off the trigger warning. And often they are unnecessary. A blog titled “Let’s talk about rape” does not need a “trigger warning: rape” note on it.

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  4. I use my own feelings on the subject as kind of a barometer on whether or not I need a trigger warning: When I’m talking in detail about something personal which hurt me greatly, like my eating disorder, or instances of sexual assault, or abuse or trauma, I put on a trigger warning. Or if I include photographs, video or detailed descriptions of events in the news, like the abuse at the Judge Rotenberg Center, then I’ll include a trigger warning.
    The thing about it is, you can’t really predict what will trigger everybody. I know people who are personally triggered by swearing, and one who is triggered by certain smells. So it’s impossible to really help everyone, but broadly speaking, it can help. Since I use my blog partially as a therapeutic device for helping me get over -my-traumas though, I won’t censor topics or refuse to talk about potentially upsetting things if I feel the need to.

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  5. It’s part of the ideal to glide above material reality as if it does not exist. If you have “experiences”, there must be something wrong with you.

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  6. Since I have only quite recently started to read blogs, I was also surprised about these ‘trigger warnings’. Is that something that only has been recently introduced? I have never seen that in an article or blog in my native language. So I have a question: Are there also trigger warnings at the start of newspaper articles, TV shows, movies, books in the US? Or is this only something that is only used in blogs? If yes, why?

    I can imagine that blogs/the US are ahead of society in this respect, and that we will shortly find ‘trigger warnings’ on classical novels. This would really irritate me. I think what I don’t like about it is that it makes writing about something difficult feel like planting a mine in the ground that needs to be protected by warning signs.

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      1. Clarissa, were Hollywood actresses homely looking in the 30ies or 50ies, when white people didn’t care to sanitize their racism and sexism?

        There are 2 different things here and they aren’t identical, even though they may at times meet at some point (or rather look as if they’re meeting). F.e. feminist community using warnings for its’ mentally disabled members VS somebody without PTSD wanting to have warnings to lead sanitized life.

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        1. Vivien Leigh was a very good actress, but she was British. Can’t think of anybody else right now. I’m not big on American movies from the 50s. That was a lost era for political reasons. People were terrified of filming anything even remotely worthwhile.

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    1. I first encountered trigger warnings (for rape, eating disorders, abuse, etc) on English feminist sites and view it as a good thing. Why? Because relatively many readers of those communities experienced some of those things and without warnings wouldn’t be able to read at all because of PTSD. One can get PTSD from combat and … f.e. from domestic abuse.

      Accessibility for the Disabled also is quite recently coined expression and even today people with mental disability sometimes are viewed as “not really disabled” or/and are forced to face stigmas.

      Using warnings doesn’t mean not talking on those topics. On the contrary, the warnings are necessary in the 1st place because the topic is brought up for discussion! Imo, feminist blogs and other blogs for specific audiences with above average chance of PTSD, eating disorders, etc. should be courtous enough, thoughtful enough about people they claim to care about & include the warnings.

      Of course, *every* good idea can be taken out of context and be abused.

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  7. I’m actually not a huge fan of the trigger warning, either, but it can be useful for most of the bloggers I interact with. Since most of my blog focuses on mental health and many of my readers have issues with mental health, the trigger warning ensures that readers who are in a sensitive mood won’t something aggravate their emotions. I just created a blanket disclaimer for those situations. I don’t want to warn people every time I talk about something sensitive. For me, there’s no easy way to predict what triggers me, and since I’m mostly talking about mental health, I think it’s appropraite.

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