Thursday, May 29, 2014

Trigger Warnings

This year’s tragedies include the kidnapping of more than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, the mudslide in Washington state, flooding in Bosnia, the recent shooting in Santa Barbara, California, and so much more. And the year's not half over. Life isn’t easy or pretty or fair.

As adults, we have to prepare the next generation to navigate a world that's both glorious and treacherous. That’s why we must say no to “trigger warnings" for college texts.

Students at several U.S. colleges and universities and the student government at the University of California-Santa Barbara have called for trigger warnings or alerts for classroom material that may upset them.

The works trigger-happy activists think should come with warning labels include Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice with its look at anti-Semitism and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which addresses suicide. Read the New York Times article on the trigger-warning trend here.

Anti-Semitism was an issue in Shakespeare’s time and is one today. Slapping a warning label on books, plays, exhibits, and movies that depict it won’t make it go away. Confronting it, on the other hand, might change a few hearts and minds.

The suicide of World War I vet Septimus Smith in Mrs. Dalloway is relevant today as it was then. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a war wound that may not show on the outside but can cause more damage as a bullet. The number of male veterans under the age of 30 who commit suicide jumped by 44 percent between 2009 and 2011, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. We honor our vets by educating people about PTSD and erasing the stigma of mental illness. We dishonor them by slapping warnings on books that touch on the effects of war on warriors.

Education, be it via college or the school of life, exposes us to triggers. We’re supposed to be shocked disgusted, and angry. We learn how we think when we’re challenged.

In The Guardian, Jill Filipovic writes: “But the space between comfort and freedom is not actually where universities should seek to situate college students. Students should be pushed to defend their ideas and to see the world from a variety of perspectives. Trigger warnings don't just warn students of potentially triggering material; they effectively shut down particular lines of discussion with 'that's triggering.'"

Kristen Lamb, who teaches writers social-media skills, says writers should be as concerned by the call for trigger warnings as college professors. Here’s Lamb on the issue: “My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.”

As you can tell, the trigger-warning movement triggered my anger. I’d be less a person if I hadn’t read certain books. How about you?



Jennette Marie Powell said...

Kristen's post couldn't have been more spot-on, nor could her post yesterday about how PC has gone overboard. I feel for those who've experienced trauma, but life doesn't come with a trigger warning.

Lark Howard said...

Great post, Pat! Nobody seems to say, "Toughen-up, Princess" anymore. I can understand putting ratings on TV shows so parents know that Game of Thrones is not for children, but trigger-warnings for college students? Ridiculous!

Isn't that the time young adults are supposed to experience things beyond their little worlds and have their minds, values and attitudes challenged? When I was in college, we would have seen trigger warnings as censorship and taken to the streets/Washington/the media in protest (like we did about a lot of other things we saw as infringing on our civil rights).

I fear that kids have been programmed to extreme PC-ism and as a result condemn anything they have been told is in the least non-PC and judge others when they don't share their specific values.

It's sad that college students are so afraid of being exposed to anything outside their comfort zone that they think trigger-warnings are a good thing.

Patricia Rickrode w/a Jansen Schmidt said...

Go you, Pat.

Don't judge a person by the books they read or write. Don't assume every gun owner is a serial killer.

We live in a world where there are so many gadgets to make our lives simpler, yet everything seems so much more complicated now.

I just sigh.

Patricia Rickrode
w/a Jansen Schmidt

Liz Flaherty said...

I agree with what you've said here, though it's taken me a while to come to that point. Since I really appreciate movie ratings, I thought I might like trigger warnings on books, too. However, don't things like jacket copy, book reviews, and word-of-mouth already take care of this by the time one has reached college?

My other concern about it is that I'm afraid someone will jump on and start up a book-banning wagon and we don't even want to go there.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Jennette,
"…life doesn't come with a trigger warning" says it all.

Kristen Lamb's pc post made me squirm because things I've said or written could be taken out of context and misinterpreted. Here's a link to it:

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Lark,
We came of age at a good time, didn't we. Yes, we would have protested trigger warnings. We didn't want to be protected. We wanted to experience life.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Patricia/Jansen,
I crane my neck to see what books people are reading but don't (I hope) define people by what they happen to be reading at a moment in time. People are contradictory, which is lucky for us writers because we have so much material to tap.

Things DO seem more complicated, don't they.

Pat O'Dea Rosen said...

Hi, Liz,
Like you, I read jacket copy, Google books and authors, and read the first few pages of books. I'd have thought college students would do the same but maybe not. And maybe they skim required texts and ignore foreshadowing and miss clues, but whose fault is that?

I have to tell you, though, about a terrible rental-movie mistake I made with the Coen brothers' Fargo. I had the idea it was a family comedy. Talk about missing clues! Anyway, I rented it for my husband, daughters, and me. My girls would have been about 16 and 14. I almost died when one of the bad guys was shoved into the wood chopper. Arghh. My husband and daughters LOVED Fargo, though.