Not that bollocks about trigger warnings again

That argument about trigger warnings has popped up again, and I feel compelled to write about it again.

This time, the nexus of nonsense seems to be around putting trigger warnings on classic books, with university students asking for this concession to be made. It seems like a reasonable and trivial request, but this hasn’t stopped the commentariat nonsensically screaming censorship.

Let’s start with the obvious: warning that a book contains content likely to cause trauma is not the same as censorship. Do these hacks sit in the cinema, harrumphing about Big Brother when the BBFC certificate pops up and announces that the film will contain scenes of violence? Do they switch off their TV in a rage and write a column about censorship when the announcer points out that there will be an abuse storyline in the next episode of Hollyoaks? How does one even live like this? The only way one can make an argument that content warnings are akin to censorship is if one doesn’t know what censorship is.

And of course, every time this argument rears its head, we see the same ridicule thrown around by privileged journalists. They are mocking people who have survived trauma. They are mocking people who live with mental illness. They are mocking a strategy which helps people to stay alive. That’s the crux of it: putting a trigger warning on something takes only ten seconds of your time, and can mean the world to other people.

I have yet to see a compelling argument against trigger warnings/content warnings that isn’t nonsensical and, at its heart, completely and utterly disablist. It’s selfish and puerile to kick against them, and largely makes you look like a complete bellend. I applaud the widening of the application of trigger warnings: it’s about time they hit the mainstream.


5 responses to “Not that bollocks about trigger warnings again

  • Wendy Lyon

    They are mocking people who have survived trauma. They are mocking people who live with mental illness.

    Yes. And there is nearly a 1:1 correlation between them and the ones who were giving out a few months ago about bad manners in online debate. That’s what really floors me about this.

  • illuminaughtyboutique

    My free-speech hairs on the back of my neck had gone up a few times about this before I gave it a good, honest thought. Censorship and bowdlerization are trying to prevent people from accessing content. Trigger warnings are trying to help people access content in a way they’re prepared for, so they’re not caught off guard. If you don’t have a problem with the content, ignore the trigger warning. Easy as that.

  • armitage_codebusting

    I’ve realised recently that, when I feel my knee jerking at a trigger warning, that it’s because I don’t like being reminded that trauma happens, and would rather have remained in denial. Which is obviously pretty solipsistic and petty. I suspect those who complain out loud and at length about them often have pretty similar motivations?

    Similarly, when it comes to literature, I wonder if it’s associated with the struggle to acknowledge that great works can be incredibly problematic? And that a trigger warning isn’t a moral judgement! For example: I bloody adore Jane Eyre, but its depictions of mental illness are not exactly compassionate or enlightened. And though there is nuance and historical context open to rich discussion, it doesn’t often seem to be acknowledged that detached debate of traumatic issues is quite a privileged pursuit.

  • surreptitious57

    I have absolutely no problem with trigger warnings even though as someone with thick skin they are not applicable to me. But that does not mean that they may not be applicable to others. Some human beings are more sensitive. It is not a sign of weakness rather of diversity. And if putting a trigger warning on a particular book prevents someone from experiencing a negative emotional reaction to it then that is something I am in favour of. It is most definitely not one step removed from censorship. Absolutely not. My only problem is where to draw the line – nowhere or everywhere is the answer to that one – but I have no problem with the general principle. Those who would not be affected need to remember that it is not about them. I notice that The Guardian has actually
    deleted some comments on this in the comment section. Now that is censorship

    • ana

      Being “thick skinned” has nothing to do with needing or not needing trigger warnings. A trigger warning isn’t for people who find things upsetting or uncomfortable to deal with, it’s for trauma survivors that don’t necessarily want to be reminded of what they went through.
      Saying you don’t need trigger warnings because you’re thick skinned but understand that some people are more sensitive than you is a little irritating.

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