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[Article] – Trigger Warnings, Bannings & Violence

 

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Posted April 30, 2015 by

 
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I heard a story the other day of a friend who was accused of being a “rape apologist” thanks to a year old review on I’m With Geek about I Spit On Your Grave. Now, this review was in no way my friend shooting a gun into the air in support of the antagonists who assault a young woman. In fact, it was a very educated and visceral response to film that explored rape revenge and starkly portrayed the violence. My friend in no way support the sickening act but instead intellectually delved into the mind of our heroine as in the aftermath of the abuse as any great critically writer and thinker should.

Unlike my friend who uses these scenes to cathartically to help her through her own difficulties, I have an opposite reaction to particular sets of violence in cinema that are relatable to my troubled history. In a lot of circles now, the term would be called a trigger warning where PTSD, flashbacks and extreme emotions of stress occurs to the point of the inability to cope. This is largely suffered by people with mental health issues or have suffered some sort of abuse.

The terminology and recognition is become more and more prevalent in this day and age of social media and awareness The backlash has caused a split of public opinion with a lot of studios and filmmakers becoming in trepid in their filmmaking whilst others meet those trying to explain their stance with instant dismissal negating that being triggered by something – as innocuous as it seems – is a serious mental health issue.

The best way I can describe it is the scene in Silver Linings Playbook when Patrick here’s a song in the middle of the street and it practically possesses him. Clearly distressed it seems to tackle his breathing, heart rate and spirals him into despair only to be helped by Tiffany who has suffered similarly before. It’s not a mild discomfort at a scene or word – it’s a complete mental and emotional response that immediately instigates panic inside of you as your worst points in life encompass you again. It can push you to relapse into addiction, self harm and other damaging cycles. It’s not as simple as an awkward bum shuffle – it’s a complete mental shut down.

When it comes to trigger warnings, bannings and provocation in cinema, I’m always and will continue to be split. Art, after all, is meant to provoke a cascade of emotions – including offence. Extremities kept really clear from this (racism, pedophilia etc), intellectual adults need to inform themselves of what film they are heading into and what aspects would make them uncomfortable or react negativity. Similarly, policing how thousands of people will react because of your internal anger is extremely narrow minded. My aforementioned friend did not find I Spit On Your Grave “triggering” because she enjoys watching gang rape – she finds it cathartic because of its honest brutality and the recovery our protagonist takes.

Yet at the same time, issues and mental health are not there to titillate or entertain in some kind of awful fantasy fulfillment. Cinematic can only progress by recognising the soul and stories of the people they are putting through the ringer here. For example, The Hills Have Eyes terribly executes violence and rape as a way to make the audience reel back in horror and earn gasps along the way, like the whooping and hollering of the voyeurs in the accused. Similarly, Re- Animator was a superb horror film until it deviated into sexual violence and nudity for absolutely no good reason, these are not elements you through in on a whim of entertainment. Comparatively, to films such as the recent incredible Hyena and American Mary, the violent acts are given the coldness and bleakness they deserve. They move the story and the character rather than through it in there for the sake of controversy, fleshing out these moments in cold brutality.

What needs to happen is a working relationship between audience and filmmakers – particularly with intent. As someone who suffers from particular set of triggers but has jobs in both filmmaking and film journalism, I understand that cocooning myself away from the sexual violence and all the nastiness in cinema is an inevitable defeat on my side. I’ve learnt several techniques on how to cope and have learnt to be honest and intellectual with my emotions to the extent that I can talk myself and others through what I am feeling without seeming hysterical (note: this word is to explain my personal extreme reactions to film. If you are enraged, be enraged). At the same time, filmmakers, though are not necessarily obliged to, need to be truthful when pinpointing their intent behind their cinematic actions, in order to appear as anything more than pathetic directors and writers out to score shock value points on the whim of victims. Are we telling a story or are we entertaining? Either way you have to be prepared for the backlash and allow open debate with shooting reactions down without reacting like a child to critical thinking.

After all, however banal or extreme a reaction is, people cannot control how they viscerally connect with a film. But they can control what rectory act they should go through.

Like writing an opinionated article!

 

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