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Debate – To Trigger A Warning or Not


Posted September 7, 2015 by

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To Trigger A Warning or Not

There was a fair amount of debate recently over trigger warnings. The Atlantic posted a lengthy article decrying the overuse of trigger warnings, claiming that students of today required molly coddling and shelter from the big bad world. The article covers several different aspects of today’s American student society but the one that’s jumped out at most has been the condescending misunderstanding of the nature of trigger warnings.

With the onslaught of internet writers, the average reader has become used to warnings being posted before articles and videos. Some even take the time to conceive hilarious ones, such as The Mary Sue’s many warnings of going into a Hulk rage.

The average person probably won’t understand the need for it, but if you’ve ever come across a Buzzfeed article that features images of ‘cutting’ (which usually shows up in tattoo articles), you’ll know from the comments section that there’s a real need for a disclaimer. Not everyone can – or should have to – control the impact certain articles or terms will have on them. It may mean nothing to you or me, but we don’t know the effect on the wider public.

This is why I find The Atlantic’s approach baffling. Their entire position is on how people use trigger warnings to avoid distasteful material. But that’s not true. It just means you can be prepared for something that may affect you, emotionally or psychologically. This is especially true for those suffering from PTSD. To negate the use of warnings is to negate the psychological fragility of a large number of the population.

What got me thinking about this again was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’. I finally sat down to watch it the other day. In the normal course of things I would have avoided this film like the plague (just like I had avoided the others in the franchise). But, after having read so much about the themes and representation in the film, I had to give it a go. The cool thing about this film is that while it deals with a lot of uncomfortable themes – rape, being on top of the list – it does an exceptional job of not shoving the idea in your face. Its MPAA rating doesn’t even mention it, Rated R for intense sequences of violence throughout, and for disturbing images.

But if you contrast this with pretty much any other post-apocalyptic or dystopian film, you will want to, and rightfully so, call for an addendum informing you of the same. Because way too often sensitive subjects are not handled sensitively.

It was earlier this year that I realised just how important trigger warnings can be for mainstream media. I diligently watched the entire first season of ‘Daredevil’, and while being suitably impressed by a lot of it (though not all); one of the episodes struck me as the archetype for a story in need of trigger warnings. Episode 8, ‘Shadows in the Glass’, is a villain origin story. We see Wilson Fisk as he is now compared to the boy he was. Verbally abused by his domineering father, Fisk and his downtrodden mother bear with a man never able to reach his goal. When one day push comes to shove, Fisk’s father takes out his rage on his mother leading to young Fisk making a bold and terrifying decision. The decision isn’t horrifying; the abuse of his mother is. Though well directed enough to not make the scene explicit, the covert actions are just as disturbing.

It really made me wonder why the episode didn’t come with a warning, because that was not an easy scene to sit through, no matter how blasé about life you may be. Would the warning have molly coddled us? Or would it just have spared a lot of viewers a sleepless night?

From atop a pedestal of privilege we can all laugh off the need for ‘protecting’ the consumer. It doesn’t affect me, so I don’t care if it affects you – that’s just not the way forward.

While I agree that not everything requires a trigger warning, sensitive subject matter should be highlighted beforehand. After all, many news presenters still make a declaration when the upcoming news story will be graphic and internet articles come with NSFW tags, if only for the language used.

One of the reasons the MPAA is in existence is to weed out the R-Rated trailers from being aired before Pixar films (that is an exaggeration, by the way).

If the growing public is calling for sensitivity to an issue or issues, it is not because they are overly sensitive and can’t handle the real world; it’s that they’re simply asking for the mainstream to understand different states of being and to show a little empathy for the same.


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Lestat de Lioncourt
Random Thoughts – Lestat’s Blog
Freelance Contributor

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One Comment

    Helen Ronald

    Great article- depicting a sensitive an intelligent point of view. It’s a pity we don’t hear or read more of this in the media amongst the maelstrom of views telling us we overprotected- there are many people in the world who are not fortunate enough to have had healthy and positive experiences to call upon before being asked to understand difficult material.

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