Trigger warning: life on planet Earth
As the ever-growing demand for trigger/content warnings in a variety of environments is facing a vehement backlash, especially on the internet, social justice activists exert themselves to make the rest of society capitulate. In this effort they use what they know best – guilt and manipulation. In this article, dissenters are varnished with a mixture of laziness, insensitivity and self-assuredness originating from being (what else?) privileged.
Many people talk about the inconvenience of content warnings. As a writer, I’m calling bullshit on that.
Even if writing an additional sentence at the beginning of my article were difficult (which it’s not), it will never compare to the inconvenience of a serious panic attack, a flashback, or a dissociative episode that a survivor might have if they encounter a trigger in my work.
Inconvenience is not the issue here. Caving in would mean acquiescing to the idea that avoiding the real world is beneficial to anybody, including survivors of trauma.
Avoidance will not make the triggers disappear from the affected person’s mind or cause less damage while living in constant fear of them. The only way to get rid of unresolved emotional problems is to deal with them – and that only depends on the individual. As accommodating as everyone else tries to be (down to walking on eggshells), it is ultimately in the hands of the person who has suffered and is suffering to seek treatment, counselling or other ways to return to functionality. A hundred trigger warnings per written piece or media production cannot restore their peace.
When people oppose content warnings – treating them as though they are frivolous requests coming from oversensitive people – they completely undermine the seriousness of conditions like PTSD.
Not only are they frivolous but they are utterly unrealistic. These people will be forced by the sheer nature of their existence to deal with events happening in real time in their close proximity. Not all of these events will be easy to manage emotionally. There is no trauma-free life; it’s unheard of. If they indeed have a serious problem, their only logical recourse is to treat it. There is no trigger warning before the death of a loved one, an earthquake or a terrorist attack. Everything is unexpected nowadays.
You don’t need to tell a survivor that “the real world” is hard, because they already know that. They’re already living in it, trying to survive and trying to heal. And your refusal to include content warnings takes already difficult circumstances and makes them even harder.
Aside from those who dedicate their time to “social justice” activism, most of the demands come from very young people – especially students. Whereas they may well have lived through hardship and abuse, most have no experience of what it’s like to ensure their literal survival – meaning becoming employed, securing a home, raising a family etc. These come with a vast array of problems and compromises of their own.
If a young person schooled in this manner does not waltz straight into an executive position at a well-standing company, and instead goes to their first job making entitled demands, that might result in more serious consequences than the lack of a trigger warning. Young people need to understand that.
On a side note, I get the strange sensation that some of those who demand warnings and safe spaces are only preoccupied with what they personally find negatively impacting and not necessarily the shocking reality shared by everyone else. I get the feeling that some could tranquilly have a piece of toast while watching the news about hundreds dying due to a catastrophe, whilst freaking out over reading words that a bully threw at them fifteen years ago in front of the school gate.
When you act like content warnings are just a silly request, what you’re really saying is that mental illness and the people who are surviving with it every day are just “silly.”
That is not the point at all. You’re trying to protect them from their own minds, and that is impossible. No external help is good enough for such a task, unless it comes from someone who specialises in helping those in such situations.
There is no established guideline of what can be triggering as that depends on every individual. A person might be triggered by a chestnut tree, if their father hung himself from it. Others might be triggered by a pot of water if they were scalded in the past. Car accident survivors might be triggered by cars. Etc ad infinitum. Words are just representations of the realities that will keep surrounding them, whether they see something in their homes, in the street or on the news.
I recognize that I won’t make every single person happy with my writing. There will always be individuals who are a bit disgruntled. But I also recognize that when a community calls on me to make my content better, I should tune in and see if there’s a way that I can do it.
There is no community when it comes to thinking, which is what makes people embrace or reject a literary creation. There are only individual minds, choosing some ideas over others. Pardon the vocabulary but intellectuals are not meant to be the bitches of any political faction, group or “community”, caving to pressure or intimidation. In that case they cease to be intellectuals and become political pundits. The left is well acquainted with this phenomenon.
If you don’t care about the impact that your work has on the community that you are serving –whether it’s with your articles or your films or a lesson you give in your classroom – what exactly is the point of what you’re doing?
Here’s where I have an even bigger problem. Whereas mandatory education is up for debate as many things slip in there that parents find inappropriate, higher education is something people choose of their own accord. It’s fair enough to leave if you feel you cannot handle the material you are studying, but do not expect to get the same results as everyone around you while refusing to make the intellectual effort assigned to you. If you find yourself in the wrong university, you can always use the exit and never return. Demanding that the university seeking to train you lowers its standards to adapt to your needs specifically is indeed absurd.
These same people have no issue with gender studies material being shoved down the throats of students who reject it. They have no problem with forced diversity courses, the pushing of Marxism and so forth, in unrelated fields where students had no idea it would be included.
The article linked above describes a whole new trend – that of “advising” writers on how to be sensitive to cultural issues. Let me note that I think it’s great for a writer to spend a lot of time ensuring that the context they describe is factual and relatable. However, I also know that sometimes locations are chosen arbitrarily (I can give one example which became symbolic of a region and that is Dracula, whose location on the world map was chosen after the book was actually written).
The complexity of a character matters far more than any other trait such as nationality or race. Since this world contains an infinity of possibilities regarding someone’s personality, which is fluid anyway, I’d argue there’s no impossible scenario solely judging by shallow traits such as skin colour or background.
Information is one click away these days and one can easily check potential factual errors. However, seeking endorsement regarding how a character is allowed to feel or talk in order to avoid offending a certain group is not only unproductive in terms of free thinking but also reminiscent of very sad times, when art was subject to political approval.
Mostly the work I do is mundane, I help authors flesh out characters, I point out when their attempts at AAVE are wrong, and occasionally I have to tell them that the thing they wrote is a hot mess. That last conversation is awkward, fraught with a lot of emotions and generally not something I enjoy at all.
My question is whether those authors are trying to write books or develop custom-made products they can sell in large numbers. Because as far as I know and speaking to other writers as well, they wouldn’t generally need anyone’s help to “flesh out characters”. Somehow this process sounds very unnatural for a creative mind.
This post is about the idea that not wanting bigoted tropes to be replicated in fiction is about political correctness, censorship, or some unfathomable agenda.
Like most people possessing a brain, I deeply dislike the mass use of tropes, for instance in Hollywood films, where they annoyingly abound. However, I do see danger in setting limits when it comes to literature – for instance dictating how a character cannot possibly be portrayed, due to above-mentioned traits which say little (if anything) about them. Here’s where we get to the point – warnings and interdictions, to be more specific.
You want to write a character with a different race, sexual orientation, religion, gender ID than yours? Okay. But before you set that character loose into the world, do some basic research. Do some basic work in understanding what obstacles that community faces, what narratives are most offensive to them? Are you replicating tropes that are used to dehumanize and erase members of that community?
The intent here is clearly not to be factually accurate but to avoid offending a minority of some sort. Offensive narratives can also be rooted in reality or be partially represented when any group is involved.
What is at stake here is not the truthfulness or plausibility of someone’s work but its social justice value.
It’s easy to justify shoddy writing by proclaiming it is art. Well, okay your art is your art. Your art can also be offensive, your art can be harmful, your art can be wrong as wrong can be. You have a right to create it, you don’t have a right to never see it challenged. You don’t have a right to never have your biases questioned, or to never be told that you fucked up.
I’m really interested in finding out who is the supreme authority proclaiming that an author “fucked up” in that sense (though some say that about Hitler, but he was a special case). To be clear, art has been and continues to be challenged since times immemorial. I haven’t heard of anyone’s aspirations to change that. However, the incisive tone of this article suggests that some biased writings should never see the light of day, by merely declaring them harmful.
So if I write a trans character and someone from that community tells me I fucked up? I need to shut up, listen, and do my best to make amends. This is part and parcel of being a writer.
No, it’s part and parcel of being a product developer and trying not to piss off the right market.
I’m not saying objections should not be taken into account if superficiality might be involved; however, prostrating oneself before a single complainer and making all demanded “amends” right away seems a bit much.
No two individuals are the same and no one can claim to speak for an entire category, particularly a large one, based on race or ethnicity. I understand being corrected when making factual errors; however, when describing a person’s feelings or behaviour, nothing is impossible.
And here’s the thing, there’s a million and one resources on how to not to be harmful. You can use TVTropes.org for a quick and dirty check of your character design so that you know when your bare bones character is problematic. You can ask someone you know in that community.
You can ask them whether the character is plausible or whether they would like to read such a story? To SJWs, I believe it makes no difference, as a single I find that offensive is the equivalent of a stop sign. If every writer were to do that and stop at the first objection, allow me to assume the whole process would come to an end. Worldwide.
Though if you don’t know anyone from that community, you’re not part of that community, and you’re unwilling to connect with that community? You probably shouldn’t be writing that character. Because not only are you not adding to diversity by creating a poor representation of someone else’s community, chances are excellent that your own internalized biases are about to be splattered all over the page.
What this person is saying, basically, is that no outsider is morally allowed to portray a member of a “community”, or minority, in a negative way, regardless of the negative aspects in question, which might have absolutely nothing to do with that status. And better yet, they should just avoid writing about people who are different than them, in any possible way.
I’m sorry – is a writer’s job on this planet adding to diversity or creating captivating stories? Or is there no demarcation anymore between who is a social justice activist and who isn’t?
Writers have the power to create brand new worlds, so we should always stop and ask ourselves why we are so hung on replicating everything wrong in the old one?
No one says writers should stick to reality, but likewise, no one should say that they mustn’t replicate any uncomfortable part of it.
Writing about utopias for social engineering purposes reminds me of the communist mentality.
Yes, you have a the power to create, the power to sway your readers in one direction or another, but if you’re going to embrace that power fully, then you need to do so responsibly.
In other words, if you merely seek to entertain through your work, without considering other implications, that is by default morally wrong. Instead, you should see yourself as a tool in the greater plan of social reconstruction and behave as such.
This type of thinking stems from the same “illumination” which brought forth the idea that anyone’s private conversations, jokes, thoughts or even unmanifested subconscious biases should be put through the social justice grinder.
When they are done with you, nothing will have remained intact but what they have given you to parrot, like the docile little robot that you are.