Until recently, I thought a trigger warning was a sticker attached to a new firearm. As it turns out, a trigger warning is something writers and publishers put on their product to advise potential readers of content which may dredge up memories of traumatic events from the reader’s past.
Trigger Warning: This article contains descriptions of trigger warnings that describe bad things that happened to your Aunt’s friend’s deceased therapist’s third-cousin’s mailman. Your will likely need to be cuddled and spoon-fed warm broth for several days.
Think of a trigger warning as when your mother would tell you not to watch Nightmare on Elm Street because it would give you bad dreams. Except for the fact that as a writer, the chances of me having to rock a reader back to sleep are pretty slim.
The origin of trigger warnings, as near as I can tell, was a casting of the net to ensnare as many people as possible into the category of victim. A society of victims and those who rush to kowtow to them are pliable. The media, universities, and public schools have been steadily pushing a culture of victimization for at least twenty years.
I noticed it during the first Iraq war when all the Baby Boomer burn-outs dusted off their old protest signs and re-lettered them with “No blood for oil” slogans. By this time, their bell-bottoms no longer fit, so they had to make a run to Ross for appropriately worn-out jeans with holes in the knees. Besides, the old geezers had already passed on the originals as hand-me-downs to their socially conscious, spoiled brat teenagers to wear.
Profoundly unhappy by the collapse of their communal dreams, but all too happy to have ridden the rising economic tide of the Reagan policies, the old hippies had sought refuge in academia to wage generational insurgency against conservative principles.
These were the same people who, along with their vegetarian children, celebrate Earth Day, Cesar Chavez’s birthday, and NAFTA. They love an underdog to the point of self-loathing. And their ranks have grown through indoctrination.
The first little while after coming back from overseas is an adjustment period. You forget to flush the toilet because you have used port-a-potty for so long. Driving at highway speed scares the crap out of you because for the past six months top speed was forty kilometers per hour (That’s 24 mph for the metrically impaired). There is a moment of panic when you reach for an M-4 that you’re no longer carrying around everywhere and think you lost it. You put on shower shoes for the ten foot walk across the carpeted bedroom to the bathroom. Even for the fobbits, little peculiarities hang on for a while.
Depending on a guy’s job, how much time he has outside the wire, and what all he got up to, it might be a while before he can go to the Fourth of July fireworks show without his butt-hole puckering a little.
I don’t mind cutting those guys, or anyone who has endured authentic trauma that leaves them a little fucked up, some slack, but only after something sets you off. The reason for that is twofold.
First, if something as mundane as a college lecture or a piece of entertainment has the capacity to flip your switch so profoundly that you can’t function normally, I would suggest you dedicate your free time to fixing what is broken.
Exactly why is it your wife’s fault when you’re the one punching and choking her out in your sleep? It’s the same way with trigger warnings. You know you do it, so why make everyone else walk on eggshells because you’re damaged?
The second reason for my hard-ass position has to do with an accounting principle. If you own stock in a company, and the company decides to raise money by issuing additional stock, the value of all the existing stock is diminished somewhat because there is now more of it available on the market.
Posting a trigger warning in front of a lecture hall or printing a content warning in a book has the effect of diminishing the realness of the problem. In our current victim culture you’re nobody unless you have overcome or are currently suffering from something someone else did to you. After two centuries of being winners, the height of American social status is to be a victim.
I hate to break it to people, but Little Suzy Sorority Sister regretting the drunken Pledge Night anal gang-bang is just a shade different from being the only survivor from your MRAP hitting an IED.
In either instance, it’s nobody else’s responsibility to modify the way they do things to fit you. If you’ve really got something going on in your head, speak up about it. Even a jackass like me will work with you. However, putting up a warning sign is inviting every slacker who readers it to manufacture a reason to get out of pulling his weight for a class.
The entire concept of placing warnings signs on everything that might run afoul of someone’s sensibilities is absurd. Outside of emotive, overly-sensitive, progressive bastions such as universities and social media, exactly where in life will the traumatized be catered to and so thoroughly coddled? The bar is continually lowered.
Colleges in general have become gathering places for the perpetually offended. Now, the nineteen year old who has literally done nothing but go to school and play video games his entire life, is having his extended adolescence reinforced by college leadership who worry entirely too much that their charges might be made to feel uncomfortable or, God forbid, take responsibility for their themselves when faced with an idea that does not line up with their own.
When did American start raising such little bitches?
Offended students can get professors fired. They can influence the administration to un-invite speakers. They can have monuments to Confederate heroes removed from universities those same men founded. Colleges have become such easily offended places that several big name comedians (Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld, to name two), refuse to book shows at colleges because the amount of grief offended and emotionally triggered college audiences give them is not worth the trouble.
The Depression Generation, born prior to 1945, was the last American generation to know widespread hardship. They did nothing less than save the world from fascism, whether they carried a rifle or worked in the Arsenal of Democracy. My big complaint about the Greatest Generation stems precisely from the hardships they endured; they spoiled my parents’ generation rotten.
Having had my head filled with propaganda in a government school about the fall from economic grace that was the Great Depression, I once asked my grandmother what it was like to live during that time. Her response could have been the inspiration for a line from “Song of the South” by the Oak Ridge Boys.
“We was always dirt poor. We didn’t notice much difference until the Roosevelt Man told us we were poor.”
Maybe that’s why I escaped so much of the touchy-feeliness. There simply wasn’t time given over to worrying about how something made you feel. Grandpa died in a farm accident shortly after returning from the war, and the other side of the family are those pre-1965 Immigration and Nationality Act immigrants, which were entirely different from the Teddy Kennedy immigrants allowed in for the past fifty years.
There has been a halving of greatness each generation since 1945. My father was half the man my grandfather was. I’m half the man my father was, and my sons will be lucky to be half the man I am. The same goes for the women, and the generations as a whole. We are all lucky to be half of the generation that preceded us. And it is slowly destroying the nation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is nothing new. I imagine it has existed since the first cave man was attacked by a Sabretooth Tiger. Noah probably had a rough time surviving the flood. King Saul is described to have had “The spirit of God left him, and an evil spirit sent by the Lord tormented him.” (Samuel 16:14).
In World War One, it was called Shell Shock. Then, Battle Fatigue in the Second World War. Before the current generation of pansies who inhabit universities and bookstores, people understood that when something reminded them of “the bad thing,” the onus was not on everyone else to pop out a boob and let you suckle until you felt better.
Just like my grandfathers, when your grandfathers woke up from a nightmare, they didn’t wake up your grandmothers to cuddle and talk about their feelings. Those men went to the kitchen, had a couple shots of whiskey, and went back to bed…like men do.
God help the millennials when they have to fight their war. Between all the women, fairies, and trannys, we will most assuredly lose because the sort of man you want fighting your wars refuses to join such a military.
Honestly, the first time I ever heard about a trigger warning was during a drunken Facebook party, which is basically me all alone on a Saturday going through my social media accounts while doing my best to polish off a bottle of Kentucky’s finest corn squeezings.
At first, I thought the subject was raised by someone trolling to stir up trouble, but the responses flummoxed me. I understand the ratio of responses was in no way representative of anything. The writers who think trigger warnings are demeaning to readers, unnecessary, or simply more politically correct hogwash more than likely refrained from getting mixed up in the silliness.
I lurked because I didn’t want to introduce research bias.
The fear I find laughable is possible civil liability for actions taken by a reader. If you’re writing is sufficiently powerful to push a suicidal person over the edge or cause some mental patient to shoot up a movie theater, quit your day job immediately and start writing full-time because you’re wasting your life doing anything else.
Not a one of us could afford to buy the publicity that would come with a single teenager dangling from a noose in his parent’s garage, much less a rash of them.
A somewhat more reasonable explanation for the desire to strip every semblance of tension and surprise from the plot with a content warning is the heartfelt concern of triggering a reader into a PTSD episode.
If a writer has so little faith in the reading public’s ability to understand their own weaknesses, recognize a possibly hazardous situation as it approaches, and put down the God damn book, why publish such a destructive piece in the first place? A written work powerful enough to shut down a person’ normal daily function should not be available to anyone.
John Hinkley is only the most notorious in the string of people who is associated with Catcher in the Rye as a contributing factor to his evil deeds. Stephen King no longer allows Rage to be published because of his belief it contributed to several school shootings.
We should have a Universal Background Check for all book purchases to make sure they do not wind up in the hands of the wrong people. Perhaps even a full registration scheme where we track ownership and location of each book by its ISBN. It would only be a minimal intrusion on liberty and make our children so much safer.
I’m sure some writers put content warnings on their work with the best of intentions. They want to avoid freaking out readers. Although, I shudder to think what the world would look like had Stephen King slapped a trigger warning on his early work.
I wonder how many readers, both first-time and life-long, Stephen King would have missed out on had his early work carried trigger warnings. Stephen King is a master of the long reveal where the reader’s limits of disbelief are stretched so gradually that conscious suspension is not necessary.
Imagine if Carrie had a content warning that the book contained bullying, child abuse, domestic violence, self-injury, filicide, mental illness, rape, matricide, and a school massacre. The government would confiscate every copy as a hate crime.
I don’t see anything on the cover of the first edition that promises any of the horrible things listed above. Truth be told, it looks more like a romance novel than a horror novel.
The ultimate effect of plastering over book covers with warning labels will be a net loss to the writer. The minuscule number of those “helped” by avoiding whatever it is that gives them the vapors will not reward you by purchasing another title of yours. On the contrary, those readers will be lost forever because they have pigeonholed you as a writer that is not for them.
Another segment that will vastly outweigh the first group are those who don’t have the confidence to deal head on with your subject matter. These are wishy-washy sorts that occupy the middle of the Bell Curve who would not know to be on the lookout for offense unless they were clued into it by the content warning. I think there is a sizable portion of the population who would gladly feign butt-hurt out of a sense of political correctness.
And then there are the jackasses like me who, rightly or wrongly, equate trigger warnings with poor story telling. A book’s cover and back material make certain promises to the reader of what he will encounter inside. Content warnings take away much of the suspense and pleasure of discovery by telegraphing what are inevitably crucial plot points.
It’s your book. Do what you want with it. However, you won’t ever see a content warning on my material because it benefits me nothing. A trigger warning only serves to handicap me as the writer.