'Talking makes you weak, and weakness makes you vulnerable.'
April 17, 2016 6:11 AM   Subscribe

 
This is brilliant. I can't believe I never thought of that before.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 6:28 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Could be any number of reasons, of course. Some of it is probably not wanting to talk about trauma or engage because they've already discussed it and want to put the episode(s) behind them. Trigger warnings and talk of them put these issues out in the open, which can make plenty of people uncomfortable.

My personal theory is that people have have a lot less empathy because we're dealing with so much information, we're overwhelmed. So having to grapple with more "stuff" puts people on edge and they shut down. We could all use a week or two at the beach.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 AM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Sadly I think Penny isn't understanding Fry's point. He (and other critics of trigger warnings, safe spaces and the like) are saying the opposite of what she is accusing them of. They aren't advocating for silence and ignoring any painful realities. She is.
posted by twsf at 6:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [73 favorites]


I have encountered far more articles and arguments about the scourge of 'trigger warnings' in the past year than I have encountered trigger warnings themselves.

This is true for me, too, and I'm on campus at a very liberal US university.
posted by escabeche at 6:32 AM on April 17, 2016 [68 favorites]


I think that we're in the "counter-over-reaction" phase. There was a time a year or two ago, when trigger warnings were first getting traction as a Real Thing To Pay Attention To that there were a few overreaches that were reported (and sensationalized) when people...reached too far. They were very few and far between, but we all know how media amplifies the negative outliers. The waves were seen as breaking high upon the shores in one direction, and so the push back began - and now is well and truly at the peak in the other direction. I used to see the "trigger warning" label get misused on occasion, but these days it's pretty well contained to the things that, well, are real trigger concerns. People have figured out how to use it appropriately - but that doesn't mean everyone's got the message yet. Give it time, the reaction will wash back in the other direction, and eventually we'll grind to a halt, and articles like that will help make where everything all settles out a place that's better for everyone. I always prefer understanding and empathy to polemic.
posted by Punkey at 6:42 AM on April 17, 2016 [18 favorites]


They aren't advocating for silence and ignoring any painful realities. She is.

In much the same way that listing allergens on food packaging is advocating for starvation, sure.
posted by beerperson at 6:43 AM on April 17, 2016 [106 favorites]


THis is a much more empathetic take on the 'recalcitrant generation' who have loud media presences and use them to criticise 'safe spaces' and so on to such a point that the criticism is vastly, vastly more socially penetrating than the safe spaces themselves. It is very difficult to read it as anything other than a battle over whose feelings matter more (I am being opressed by not being allowed to speak/you are being oversensitive by not wanting to hear). Hats off to Penny for finding empathy in that conflict. I guess I can half believe it of Fry, because of the very specific situation of his personality and upbringing (the public school stuff is on point), but the rest? I struggle to be so kind.
posted by AFII at 6:44 AM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Fuck Stephen Fry's "uncle touched you in a nasty place" remarks and his "sorry I hurt your feelings" apology. I don't even especially care about the trigger warning debate but about the shaming of victims that his comments represent. This is how we get silenced; this is how our voices are minimized. For my whole life, I did not speak about being sexually abused, not even to loved ones, because of this "don't feel sorry for yourself; don't attract attention; get over it" attitude. I was afraid people would think I was lying or making excuses. Well, stuff like this-- from someone I even respect-- sure doesn't help!
posted by fair isle sock at 6:50 AM on April 17, 2016 [90 favorites]


One of the things people don't get about "Trigger Warnings" and "Safe Spaces" is that they are not tools for censorship and avoidance. They are tools for preparation.

Instead of a professor saying, "Go read chapter five of this book." and a rape victim coming across a passage depicting sexual assault that they weren't prepared for, the professor can say "Chapter five of our text contains sexual violence that might be triggering." The student can then prepare on their own. This really came into perspective for me while reading a novel, Brutal Youth which is about school bullying. I was a viciously bullied child throughout my school career, though less so come middle school, and reading this book—one I picked for my own pleasure reading—was often painful and triggering as fuck. *

*That said, I'm glad I read it. It's very good, and very well written. If you're able to deal with the subject matter, I recommend it.

A "safe space" is a place where marginalized people can exist away from the world of microagresssions and not-so-microagreessions that often happen in society. The idea isn't to live in a safe space, where nobody can ever hurt you. The idea is to have a place you can go and just be when the world is giving you too much shit. How is this such a bad thing?
posted by SansPoint at 6:51 AM on April 17, 2016 [138 favorites]


This is a good piece and compassion between the generations seems so rare on the ground these days that I hope it starts a lot of necessary conversations. It reminds me of how feminism began as a movement about women's pain but awoke many men to their own trauma under patriarchy.
posted by emjaybee at 6:59 AM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


If you think that the police should inform a murder victim's family before public announcement so that they don't first find out about it on Facebook or television or something like that, you believe in trigger warnings. The rest is just which people and which traumas are too unimportant to deserve them, because you can't imagine yourself in the traumatized person's place.
posted by XMLicious at 7:00 AM on April 17, 2016 [242 favorites]


Researching a piece for the New York Times in 2014, I learned that the British boarding school system is an ancient, terrible and precise machine designed, over a number of centuries, to take little boys and systematically traumatise them until they are capable of running an empire.
She could've read Orwell's "Such, Such Were The Joys" and learned that.

I suppose a writer's entitled to state an opinion in an opinion piece, but I'm dubious that the psychoanalysis here is sounder than it is in any other newspaper op ed. If you're writing a story on why Stephen Fry was so angry, seems like the thing to do is ask him.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:01 AM on April 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


I think the useful take-away from this is: social norms change and can leave us high and dry. Old reactionary folks don't always start out reactionary—in many case what's happening is simply that they unthinkingly internalize the societal norms of their youth, and retain them despite societal change taking place around them.

To be middle-aged or elderly and still progressive is difficult; you need to regularly re-evaluate your beliefs and probe your blind spots, because Change Happens.

In this case, Stephen Fry (aged 58) lost track of one aspect of change that clearly doesn't directly impinge on his day-to-day life, and consequently stuck his foot in his mouth in public. As a 51-year-old myself I have a sneaking sympathy for his circumstance: how dare society change around me without my permission?! Nevertheless, Change Happens, and Shouting At Clouds is generally unproductive, and apologizing to the clouds is harder than not doing it in the first place, and you didn't want to get rained on anyway.

These days, when I see something that I don't understand and that makes me want to engage in Shouting At Clouds or ranting about the Youth Of Today, I try to remember to back away from the keyboard before I shoot my mouth off in public and risk making a fool of myself. Then I remind myself that it's not about me: it may be a cause that I don't understand, but obviously it means something to the people who are getting upset about it, and I should give it due weight accordlngly— by imagining myself in their shoes and seeing if it makes sense. Sometimes after due consideration I conclude that it still makes no sense (hello, red pill/MRA/neoreactionary fringe) and at that point I feel free to sound off about it; but at least I know, going in, what I'm going to take fire for criticising. At other times? I may not have a gut feeling for why trigger warnings are sometimes essential[*], but I can model it in my head, bite my tongue, and STFU before I inadvertently offend a lot of people I don't want to offend. And, as someone-or-other said, "a gentleman is one who never hurts anyone's feelings unintentionally."

[*] I'm a middle-aged British male product of the second tier of the same education system as Stephen Fry: I recognize the failure modes Laurie Penny is talking about because, hello, personal first-hand experience here.
posted by cstross at 7:12 AM on April 17, 2016 [132 favorites]


I think this makes sense when talking about Stephen Fry. (And she doesn't mention it, but he's also a gay man who was born in the late '50s, which is to say someone who was at ground zero for AIDS, which I'm sure informs his responses to trauma and how to process it. AIDS had to have been a very specific mind-fuck on that front, because it was such a massive trauma for people who were directly affected, but many of them were also interacting with people who were barely affected at all.) But you also hear this stuff from older progressive activists who are not products of British boarding schools, who were not outsiders in the ways that Fry was an outsider, and who don't share his particular traumas. So I think this is an admirable act of empathy for Fry, but I'm not sure it answers the bigger question about why so many people seem to be so outraged by younger activists' unwillingness to be silent about personal trauma.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


designed, over a number of centuries, to take little boys and systematically traumatise them

Although to be pedantic it only feels as if you've been there for a number of centuries.
posted by Segundus at 7:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


Another point on Trigger Warnings. The term was originally for warning soldiers suffering with PTSD about things that could trigger it. If you wouldn't leave a shell-shocked veteran at a fireworks show and say "good luck," why would you do the equivalent with rape and abuse victims?
posted by SansPoint at 7:17 AM on April 17, 2016 [65 favorites]


I honestly think the jargony/new languagy nature of the phrase "trigger warning" sets people off -- if you call it a "content advisory" nobody bats an eyelash. "Trigger warning," being a newer phrase, gets people all NYT trend piece about it and they act like it's not the same damn thing Cronkite was doing in the 60s to warn you the news was about to show disturbing footage.

Penny's piece is interesting and now I'm sad for Stephen Fry and other boys who went through that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:29 AM on April 17, 2016 [98 favorites]


A "safe space" is a place where marginalized people can exist away from the world of microagresssions and not-so-microagreessions that often happen in society. The idea isn't to live in a safe space, where nobody can ever hurt you. The idea is to have a place you can go and just be when the world is giving you too much shit. How is this such a bad thing?

The rallying cry of the modern right-wing harassment movements is "Nobody has the right not to be subject to me" so it's little surprise.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [32 favorites]


I find it hard to believe that Fry has ever really come in contact with a group who used the terminology. By chance, my house is currently watching an old episode of QI, which I always find difficult but Fry talks with so much confidence to the point of talking down to the guests for humor. I've always found it disingenuous because I think its really hard to believe he's an expert on every single thing brought up in the show. He's developed a very strong ability to talk about things he has no expertise in with extreme levels of confidence, and I don't think this is much different.
posted by lownote at 7:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Sadly I think Penny isn't understanding Fry's point. He (and other critics of trigger warnings, safe spaces and the like) are saying the opposite of what she is accusing them of. They aren't advocating for silence and ignoring any painful realities. She is.

A note before purchasing a ticket to Titus Andronicus that says "This play contains rape and violence." is not silencing or ignoring anything, and is demonstrably beneficial to people for whom rape in cultural performance causes them to relive past pain.

It is the most basic element of humanity to avoid causing one another pain if it can be avoided at no cost. I've read Titus three times, and knowing what was coming in it did not detract from the experience one bit the second and third time I read it - otherwise I wouldn't have read it again. There is zero cost to people getting a heads up about what's in material or a show.
posted by scrittore at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2016 [40 favorites]


if you call it a "content advisory" nobody bats an eyelash.

Pretty much. I believe the irritation comes from the regular use of a clinical term ("trigger warning") in regular contexts (blog articles, a Salon article, MetaFilter posts) etc by non-clinicians.

"Trigger warning" has also been deprecated into jargon, as a pompous in-group cue that is in some ways exclusionary.

Far better to communicate using plain language: "There is some content here that may be upsetting," etc.
posted by My Dad at 7:34 AM on April 17, 2016 [42 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: I think there's a real sense of smug pride in being able to tolerate absolutely gross crap among a certain subset of young males in the Internet Generation. You see it in places like 4Chan and Reddit where there's groups dedicated to posting just pure vile and disgusting stuff: pictures of dead bodies, extreme pornography, animal abuse, etc. Any reaction to this stuff beyond blasé disinterest is seen as a sign of weakness.
posted by SansPoint at 7:39 AM on April 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


Far better to communicate using plain language: "There is some content here that may be upsetting," etc.

Or use the language that literally everyone who has need of trigger warnings understands. This is another one of the "listen to the oppressed" moments, and not a time to assert pedantic linguistic superiority.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:43 AM on April 17, 2016 [33 favorites]


Pretty much. I believe the irritation comes from the regular use of a clinical term ("trigger warning") in regular contexts (blog articles, a Salon article, MetaFilter posts) etc by non-clinicians.

I would imagine the perception that it is an Americanism would tend to cause more of a reaction from Fry.
posted by biffa at 7:47 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


if you call it a "content advisory" nobody bats an eyelash.

Pretty much. I believe the irritation comes from the regular use of a clinical term ("trigger warning") in regular contexts (blog articles, a Salon article, MetaFilter posts) etc by non-clinicians.

"Trigger warning" has also been deprecated into jargon, as a pompous in-group cue that is in some ways exclusionary.

Far better to communicate using plain language: "There is some content here that may be upsetting," etc.
I think the real generational divide here is that the approach to "triggers" is different. The original use of "trigger," in the "WWII vet's shell shock" or "Korean War vet's operational fatigue" or "Vietnam Vet's PTSD" sense, had an implicit treatment modality of AVOID THIS TRIGGER AT ALL COSTS. Vets would stay away from the fireworks and no one would have a Rambo First Blood episode.

Nowadays, the use of the word "trigger" is more in line with the term "content advisory," where the protocol is more aligned with "forearmed is forewarned." No reasonable student is going to stop reading plays or classic literature which have instances of rape or racism or murder or cannibalism in them. (The kind of student that would find any excuse not to read at all will, I am sure, seize upon triggers as an excuse, but if it weren't a trigger, it would be something else.) For these students, or consumers of media, it is nice to know what you're about to see.

So why has the approach to dealing with triggers changed? Simply put, because we as a society are better at dealing with PTSD than we were a generation ago, and a generation before that. There's still a long way to go, but the fact that a soldier has options[*] besides shoving his trauma into a vault and avoid loud sounds is a factor. The fact that we acknowledge that trauma is a spectrum, from the macrotrauma experienced by a wounded soldier who watched his platoon die, to the aggregated microtraumas of being a member of a marginalized minority, is a factor. In a certain sense, the evolution of the word 'trigger' and this friction over redefinition or expansion of the word and its implied protocol of actions is a sign that society is doing something right and that this is a growing pain toward a greater goal.

[*] That said, there is a lot of work to do. There is still a stigma toward discussing this with a therapist. Veterans Service Organizations (VSOs) are doing a great job of helping provide informal support networks, but there is much more cultural change that needs to be done within the military itself to make it okay to talk to someone during your debrief.
posted by baconaut at 7:54 AM on April 17, 2016 [21 favorites]


The resistance comes from the cultural left, too, I think, because there's a whole generation of people who grew up with 60s happenings and theater movements that were all about breaking down the fourth wall and confronting people in painful ways with art. I think the concern in those circles is by normalizing trigger warnings, you make it harder for artists to creatively ambush people with provocative or disturbing ideas. Artists may feel, given the cultural developments in American art since the 50s and 60s that it's vitally important for artists of all kinds to have the freedom to make their audiences uncomfortable and that sometimes catching people off guard and disturbing them unexpectedly is somehow crucial to making art that can be deeply affecting. That seems to be where the reluctance/resistance from some of the older folks comes from. I'm not sure there's any easy way to resolve that tension except to acknowledge that different audiences, different forms of expression, different settings can and should come with different social/cultural expectations. The urge to over-generalize and see something like trigger warnings as a threat to speech in the abstract confuses the issue to the point it can be seen as a form of censorship, despite in fact being an obvious example of free expression.
posted by saulgoodman at 7:56 AM on April 17, 2016 [67 favorites]


not a time to assert pedantic linguistic superiority.

Team "trigger warning" v. Team "content advisory." Indeed, wars have been fought over less.

What strikes me about Penny's piece is how you could plunk it down in, say, 1968, and it wouldn't be at all out of place. Why don't the old lefties get us, man? It is true: the old can't make sense of the present and the young can't make sense of the past.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


feckless fecal fear mongering: "Or use the language that literally everyone who has need of trigger warnings understands. "

I don't know that this is the case; I know "trigger warning" is in broad use in internet communities, but I know plenty of people who've survived significant trauma and who avoid triggering media but who are not primarily internet media consumers and are unfamiliar with the jargon; they would have no idea what a "trigger warning" meant or why they should look at the trigger warning until it was too late.

Which isn't to say "don't use the phrase trigger warning" -- I think it's a stylistic preference rather than some moral imperative one way or the other -- but I don't think it's blindingly clear to everyone who needs it, and I think we can probably think critically about how to communicate very clearly to trauma survivors without getting moralistic about the choice of language. If you're on Tumblr? Yeah, use "trigger warning," people are going to get that. If you're writing in a daily newspaper? "Content warning" might be more clear. Trauma survivors are not a monolithic group of whom "literally everyone" understands the same things; they come from across age and class and culture spectra and have different communication needs and I think we can respect that without turning the specific choice of words themselves into a fight over who's more sensitive to trauma.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:58 AM on April 17, 2016 [53 favorites]


baconaut Also, consider that the accepted psychological treatment for PTSD is controlled exposure to a triggering stimulus. The key word being controlled. I've seen too many otherwise smart people trot out the line that people need to be exposed to the thing that hurts them without considering the "controlled" part of it. A college professor is not a licensed psychotherapist (and if they are, they're not operating in that mode in the classroom), and they don't have the right or ability to determine what amount of exposure is right for a student. In the absence of that, it is up to the student to decide, and Trigger Warnings help with this.
posted by SansPoint at 8:00 AM on April 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


Or use the language that literally everyone who has need of trigger warnings understands.

Hang on, are you saying that you think every person who needs trigger warnings is up on the jargon enough to understand the term? There do not exist any people who, you know, just live in a town somewhere, who have had bad stuff happen to them, but don't necessarily hang out in the exact weird corners of the internet that would give them an understanding of the term "trigger warning"? That is a bold hypothesis!
posted by officer_fred at 8:00 AM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


The first time I heard the phrase "trigger warning," I knew exactly what it meant. It's one of the most apt and clearly understandable pieces of jargon I've ever known. The panic attacks I've had feel exactly like a switch has been suddenly slipped or a trigger pulled.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:08 AM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


i think when people quibble over a word, saying, if you just say it this way i'll be empathetic, that they (or others) will find a reason to dislike the new word and request, often politely, another new one. these people are almost always the outgroup. for things where i'm in the ingroup, i tend to just bend to the new term, but i remain suspicious that it'll help at all instead of just being another way for those who haven't surivived, say, childhood sexual assault, to feel more comfortable right up until they convince us to stop talking about it all together. the fact that it's so often wrapped up in the idea that we're censoring them...well...
posted by nadawi at 8:11 AM on April 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


I don't know, Eyebrows. I agree that something about the phrase "trigger warning" sets people off, and people are much less likely to object when you say something like "just a heads up that this movie has a graphic rape scene." But the discussion about trigger warnings, I think, is not just about the phrase. It's about the phrase as a stand-in for the idea that young people (especially young women, because this is a highly gendered discussion) are weak and self-indulgent for thinking that their emotions are valid and their sensitivities should be respected. They are bad people for thinking they're entitled not to be hurt gratuitously. They should realize that their feelings are silly and their trauma is not legitimate, and they should deal with the fallout quietly, alone, on their own time, without complaint.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [60 favorites]


Perhaps feckless fecal fear mongering's point was that "trigger warning" is a clinical term pre-dating internet usages, and folks who have received medical treatment for ptsd likely have heard it in that context, regardless of how much time they spend on the internet.
posted by eviemath at 8:14 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


One thing I want to say about trigger warnings: I don't have much of an opinion on their effectiveness or how they should be implemented in mass culture (I leave that to PTSD and trauma experts), but yesterday I was going through a box of old papers and found a photograph of myself as a child with a friend who was a relative of my abuser. I got upset when I saw it and stayed up half the night crying and having nightmares. The picture was a trigger. Nobody could have warned me about that, but what people can do is not use "trigger warning" as a term of ridicule, a buzzword to reduce trauma victims to a bunch of whiny millennial babies. People can implement the warnings or not, I don't care much, but I do care about the way the dialogue mocks people with PTSD.
posted by fair isle sock at 8:19 AM on April 17, 2016 [82 favorites]


there's also the issue that there are pretty vast sections of the internet where the idea that (especially female) rape victims comparing their trauma to war vets is the epitome of [all the bad things the manosphere thinks about women], so the objection is based in the idea that our trauma isn't real and we're just glomming on to terms to increase our own presence while reducing the severity of the term in the public eye. i, obviously, don't agree with any of this, but the push by some to not use the term 'trigger warning' is very much about saying trauma that is often coded feminine isn't as severe as the trauma coded masculine (they ignore, of course, that women can get ptsd from combat and men can get it from being raped, but they only care about male rape victims as a pawn in other discussions).
posted by nadawi at 8:20 AM on April 17, 2016 [45 favorites]


Again, pre-internet, PTSD triggers were seen (unjustfully so) in the sense of "going postal" or "First Blood" - someone who has been traumatized and snaps and then they (trigger warning: violence) go on a murderous rampage everywhere. Younger people who use the term "trigger" in its more colloquial sense, when triggered, are more likely to experience severe distress, upset, etc. but certainly not (trigger warning: violence) likely to go shoot up a public place.

The older generation views the evolution of the term as equivocating the reactions of "severe upset and distress" with "snapping and [trigger warning: violence] committing mass murder." They feel that as disrespectful to the term, when in reality, the upset is the far more common use case and always has been.
posted by baconaut at 8:21 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


nadawi: not just female trauma, but the trauma of people of color, of queer people, the trauma of anyone but traditionally masculine white men is considered as not real.
posted by SansPoint at 8:22 AM on April 17, 2016 [36 favorites]


someone who has been traumatized and snaps and then they (trigger warning: violence) go on a murderous rampage everywhere. Younger people who use the term "trigger" in its more colloquial sense, when triggered, are more likely to experience severe distress, upset, etc.

which again is how rage and extreme upset expresses differently when coded masculine or feminine. the masculine form of violence is seen as something important to fix, us destroying ourselves isn't seen as that big of a deal as long as we keep quiet about it.


SansPoint - absolutely and totally agree.
posted by nadawi at 8:25 AM on April 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


" It's about the phrase as a stand-in for the idea that young people (especially young women, because this is a highly gendered discussion) are weak and self-indulgent for thinking that their emotions are valid and their sensitivities should be respected."

I think that's absolutely correct. Which is part of why it stands out to me, and irritates me, that people who would consider a "content advisory" a la Cronkite just polite get their underpants in a twist over a "trigger warning" that is exactly the same thing. Which obviously has to do with who they perceive as "demanding" these "trigger warnings," which stand out to them as new (and apparently threatening), versus who was being served by a "content advisory" before Vietnam footage (for example) ... in my head, that's a traditional family of heterosexual parents and 2.5 children and the "sensitive viewers" being warned are the wife and kids. Which is okay to these folks. But a 20-year-old autonomous female college student is threatening in and of herself to them, so they rail against trigger warnings as the downfall of culture. (But the 20-year-old wife of a breadwinning man? Obviously the sort of delicate flower who shouldn't be exposed to scary material.)

In fact a lot of the middle-aged pontificator dudes who complain about trigger warnings being the downfall of society were totally on board with "content advisories" on CDs because children were being exposed to rap.

I don't know, I think it's a lot of things, and the manosphere objections are distinct from the middle-aged bloviator objections. I just suspect that if you call it a "content advisory" the middle-aged bloviators forget to notice they're offended. Because it's not the ACTION that bothers them, it's the newer language(/jargon if you prefer) that's reminding them of cultural shifts that irritate them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 AM on April 17, 2016 [32 favorites]


self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity

Stephen Fry's own battles with bipolar disorder & depression are well documented (often by him - for the public, and for himself). This sounds like something someone fearful of slipping into those kinds of dark places might say.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [24 favorites]


saulgoodman: I think the concern in those circles is by normalizing trigger warnings, you make it harder for artists to creatively ambush people with provocative or disturbing ideas.

Yes, definitely. Let's not forget the way the terms of reference of the radical left and liberation movements have been appropriated by the right and used as hammers to demonize or exclude those forces; consider the coding of the term "political correctness" in right-wing rhetoric today, for example, and the agenda of the people who loudly and frequently denounce things they disapprove of as "political correctness gone mad".

Trigger warnings themselves are no bad thing; but politically motivated demands for them are an easy way of burdening or silencing creatives—and it's the sort of thing I expect the authoritarian right to pile on as soon as they realize it's possible.
posted by cstross at 8:31 AM on April 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


i totally agree stephen fry's comments were influenced by his own mental health struggles (and his...sometimes unfortunate...way of talking about or understanding women). as such, i have been trying to stay away from his specific comments to discuss the wider pattern, because there's a lot to unpack with him specifically which doesn't lend itself to the wider conversation, i don't think.
posted by nadawi at 8:34 AM on April 17, 2016 [20 favorites]


i think when people quibble over a word, saying, if you just say it this way i'll be empathetic, that they (or others) will find a reason to dislike the new word and request, often politely, another new one.

This this this this. When I'm in the ingroup for this, honestly, I don't just take whatever people quibbling hand me, because I have learned from bitter experience that it's just a way to derail the conversation away from the things I'm trying to actually talk about. If I accept the criticism and shift to a new word, someone will find fault with the new word and try to make me come up with a new one. Oh, the people finding fault never propose terminology that would work better--if they do offer up suggestions, it's always things like "normal" or "default."

When I'm in the out-group, accordingly, I don't fucking try to words lawyer when someone says "this is the term I use for this concept." I shut up, listen to their definition of the concept, and then evaluate the concept on its own merits regardless of the word they're using. Trigger warnings might not be the perfect word to use to refer to the concept of letting people know when potentially deeply disturbing material might be present in the media they're going to consume so they can make their own choices, but the concept itself isn't actually a bad one.
posted by sciatrix at 8:39 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Trigger warnings themselves are no bad thing; but politically motivated demands for them are an easy way of burdening or silencing creatives—and it's the sort of thing I expect the authoritarian right to pile on as soon as they realize it's possible.

If you look at the recent flood of anti-gay "religious freedom" and "bathroom" laws as the right's way of policing public space and rigidly defining who has the right to it and the right to express themselves in it, then they have already long ago realized it's possible, and this is only the beginning of what they will shove through.
posted by blucevalo at 8:43 AM on April 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


i have been trying to stay away from his specific comments to discuss the wider pattern, because there's a lot to unpack with him specifically which doesn't lend itself to the wider conversation

Yeah, true. It'd have been good if the wider issues had been more substantiated in the article. Re Fry, I do think it's worth noting that his entire MO as a person and artist has involved publicly confronting his demons. I suspect he must believe in it sincerely, as an ethos (maybe it's tied up in Aristotelian ideas around the value of art as catharsis, as a responsible commitment?). Spitballing, sorry.

posted by cotton dress sock at 8:47 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


there's also the issue that there are pretty vast sections of the internet where the idea that (especially female) rape victims comparing their trauma to war vets is the epitome of [all the bad things the manosphere thinks about women], so the objection is based in the idea that our trauma isn't real and we're just glomming on to terms to increase our own presence while reducing the severity of the term in the public eye.

I think this is right, and I suspect that many people object precisely because they think the vocal presence of women and women's trauma in a growing number of contexts is inherently illegitimate.
posted by clockzero at 8:51 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Trigger warnings themselves are no bad thing; but politically motivated demands for them are an easy way of burdening or silencing creatives—and it's the sort of thing I expect the authoritarian right to pile on as soon as they realize it's possible.

Honestly I've yet to see that from the left (to the point of actually achieving anything, at any rate), but I've seen a lot of established progressive opinion-formers cry "silencing!" and "censorship!" the moment their more retrograde opinions are criticised and/or have consequences that come back to them (in the form of losing speaking engagements, for example), which usually has the effect of silencing voices more progressive than theirs.

The right's methods of silencing are generally more crude.
posted by these are science wands at 8:52 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Artists may feel, given the cultural developments in American art since the 50s and 60s that it's vitally important for artists of all kinds to have the freedom to make their audiences uncomfortable and that sometimes catching people off guard and disturbing them unexpectedly is somehow crucial to making art that can be deeply affecting.

Great point but oh, I think in a wider sense that all goes further back in history than the 50s or 60s or American art only - here’s a piece from a couple of days ago about trigger warnings and art and it’s about... Caravaggio.

(Well, Caravaggio and the BBC website and museums and art in general and yes Stephen Fry too. The internet needs a "mentions Stephen Fry" warning if he keeps up the offending-apologising routine any longer)
posted by bitteschoen at 8:57 AM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


WARNING: This link may contain youngsplaining.
posted by entropicamericana at 9:06 AM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


> self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity

Stephen Fry's own battles with bipolar disorder & depression are well documented (often by him - for the public, and for himself). This sounds like something someone fearful of slipping into those kinds of dark places might say.

There's also simply a variation of the "stiff upper lip" attitude in British culture—exemplified by the end of Lord of the Flies where all the little kids start crying and their rescuing naval officer "turns away to give them time to pull themselves together"—where it's not stoicism in the face of hardship or mere indifference to expression of emotion, but outright contempt for it, that is the expected response.
posted by XMLicious at 9:11 AM on April 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


WARNING: this article may contain youngsplaining.

But that ain't pedantic language superiority.
Or is it ?
posted by y2karl at 9:12 AM on April 17, 2016


I learned that the British boarding school system is an ancient, terrible and precise machine designed, over a number of centuries, to take little boys and systematically traumatise them until they are capable of running an empire.
The bits of knowledge I picked up about British boarding schools from writers like Colin Turnbull and Roald Dahl made me think exactly this. When it works, it produces grace and charm and manners along with the capacity for whatever private cruelty is necessary to maintain power. When it really works, it produces the ability to make public cruelty seem gracious and charming and mannered. What tool could be better for preservation of Empire?

And those a few steps down the social ladder, of course, aped the manners and ideas of their social betters as best they could. I vividly remember a scene from an Adam Curtis documentary in which an unhappy British couple from the 50s? 60s? talk very calmly and flatly about their unhappiness. I could relate to that much better than to the more modern, emotional televised family sharing that he contrasted it with.

The ideas of trigger warnings and PTSD got huge pushback inside the military when they were introduced, and I'm under the impression that they still get a lot of pushback in unofficial, not-in-the-PR-materials military and police culture today. Same thing going all the way back to "shell shock", which was ridiculed mercilessly by those who wanted young men to keep going back to the front lines in WWI. All along the way, the ridicule does seem to be linked to those who want to preserve existing power relationships.
posted by clawsoon at 9:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


This is the only time I've ever seen trigger warnings interpreted as mere content advisory. Every other usage of TW I've ever seen is just that -- a warning of danger and a recommendation of avoidance. TW culture results in less reading and experience, not more. Books get pulled from curriculum, not added-but-with-a-TW-sticker-on-the-cover.

TW is just a content advisory? I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I agree that something about the phrase "trigger warning" sets people off

To me, it's always sounded over-dramatic like so many other bullshitty pop psych terms.

The idea has never been a problem. Content advisory comes across as bland and corporate, but communicates the same idea, more or less, without out need for the eyeroll.

Just my personal reaction, but there you are.
posted by bonehead at 9:14 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: Where are you seeing books pulled from the curriculum and given a scarlet letter over Trigger Warnings? This is the first I've heard of it.
posted by SansPoint at 9:16 AM on April 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


As an older guy, I think Fry's frustration may stem from a place that those under 25 years old might not consider. When we start putting trigger warnings on things and establishing safe spaces, some might see this as a prelude to blacklisting (or worse banning) of important pieces of art, literature or basic speech. While Fry's "get over it" speech was offensive, maybe we need to ask why are some old school liberals so freaked out by these new concepts especially with the definition of what constitutes a trigger warning being broadened. As an old liberal myself, I'm worried that individual offense will lead to an institutional(schools and universities) embrace of those offended individuals resulting in extremely important concepts of liberalism being harmed by those that self-identify as liberal.
I am definitely not trying to tell young people to shut up, quit being offended and move on. We are just trying to say "BE CAREFUL" walking the road of labeling things as offensive. We have seen were this can lead.
posted by Muncle at 9:20 AM on April 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity

It seems Fry's comments are consistent with this position, which is defensible, regardless of the issue of courtesy warnings or why he thinks this way. For example, if people employ self-pity in order to get others to feel sorry for them, then we're also talking about emotional manipulation, and all the clinical baggage that goes with it. And there are indirect victims, easily imagined as a charity fundraiser where there was only so much relief to give, but it goes to someone who deserves it less, but perhaps is more apt at spotlighting it. This is all compounded by feeling sorry for oneself based on guilt, where the guilt is not shared generally and therefore the sympathy is not forthcoming. In those cases, there may be subconscious dismay along with the expected pity, and any scandal of someone lacking empathy may silently carry the indignation of them lacking guilt too. In any case, the author has a point to make in that if someone looks like they are completely insensitive, they may understand the problem personally and merely cannot be moved until a certain threshold is reached.
posted by Brian B. at 9:22 AM on April 17, 2016


TW culture results in less reading and experience, not more. Books get pulled from curriculum, not added-but-with-a-TW-sticker-on-the-cover.

TW is just a content advisory? I don't think those words mean what you think they mean.


C'mon man - you've been on this site for a decade and trigger warnings are a thing that happens on posts that last around here but contain material that might be harmful to others. You can't possibly have missed that TW as a content advisory is in fact in use today on the very site you're on right now.
posted by scrittore at 9:22 AM on April 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


The manosphere objections are distinct from the middle-aged bloviator objections. I just suspect that if you call it a "content advisory" the middle-aged bloviators forget to notice they're offended. Because it's not the ACTION that bothers them, it's the newer language(/jargon if you prefer) that's reminding them of cultural shifts that irritate them.

The what's allowable in the public emotional range has increased dramatically in the last 30 years. That's what Penny is trying to say, I think. What was appropriate expression when Fry was 20, seems cold and repressed to many 20-year-olds now.
posted by bonehead at 9:23 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


That's fascinating, Cool Papa Bell, because I've seen trigger warnings all over the internet, including on this very site, used to warn people about the contents of a link. Obviously, the idea isn't that everyone should avoid the link. If it were, why post it? The idea is to present a warning to people who are particularly sensitive to that content, and then they can choose to prepare themselves or to skip the content as they see fit.

I think that you may be responding to a discussion about trigger warnings, which is pretty distorted, rather than to the actual things.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:24 AM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


After working with populations for whom English is a difficult second language, I am all for simple language. Which is extraordinarily difficult to do -- to strip one's speech of jargon and idiom. If the ideas are important and can be explained in plain language, it is not necessarily pedantic superiority. Sometimes it helps to get a point across. Speaking in an ingroup jargon shorthands things for the ingroup. Not so much for everyone else sometimes.
posted by y2karl at 9:24 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Cool Papa Bell: "This is the only time I've ever seen trigger warnings interpreted as mere content advisory. Every other usage of TW I've ever seen is just that -- a warning of danger and a recommendation of avoidance."

I've seen a lot of people put trigger warnings on articles they wrote about sensitive subjects. If they thought absolutely everyone should avoid the article, I expect they just wouldn't have written it. I also see it a lot here on Metafilter when there's a link to something potentially triggering, but again, if they thought nobody should read it, why would they post a link to it?
posted by RobotHero at 9:25 AM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


If you were pulling a book from your syllabus for offensive content, why would you ALSO need to use a trigger warning? It's already NOT THERE. Trigger warnings are for content that is present, not content that has been disappeared and made absent.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:27 AM on April 17, 2016 [45 favorites]


Brian B.: When in history has letting people know that what they're about to read might contain a graphic sexual assault so they could make the decision about wanting to read it lead to broad government censorship or the oppression of a group of people?
posted by lownote at 9:28 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Brian B., did you read the full sentence as quoted in the OP article? Because it's literally not wanting to read depictions of rape because your uncle raped you as a child that he's referring to as the "ugliest emotion in humanity".
posted by XMLicious at 9:30 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Where are you seeing books pulled from the curriculum and given a scarlet letter over Trigger Warnings?

Tipper Gore lead a campaign in the late 1980s-early 1990s to create Parental Advisories labels to ban pop music, hiphop, metal, even Frank Zappa, from US stores. Ostensibly this was just a warning label, but in practice the retailers, Walmart being chief among those, wouldn't carry albums with explicit lyrics. This lead to decades of bowlderized music.

Parental Advisory Forever: An Oral History of the PMRC'S War on Dirty Lyrics
posted by bonehead at 9:31 AM on April 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


That's just one example, there are others. The same trick was applied to games a decade or so later in the early 2000s.
posted by bonehead at 9:32 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


I feel the trigger warning debate has become derailed by "It is a space for potential censorship" and "omfg emotions, I'm uncomfortable with your trauma" discussions. It's people from outside activist communities, who are confused and laugh and point fingers at something they don't understand, for paid adviews. It's appropriation and mis-usage and derogatory dismissal from people who don't know shit. This type of discussion between generations is really important and needs to happen more often, because it could help re-open up more narratives that could have not been talked about decades ago.

I'm frankly annoyed by discussions about trigger warning on the internet, because I never see them once talk about how the over-explosion of media is so overwhelming to process and absorb, along with the dichotomous clickbait that keeps roaring back and forth between old liberals and right-wing flame columnists.

The current usage of trigger warning is a content warning advisory that allows people to prepare for content ahead, which can be related to PTSD as related to sexual assault, suicide, violence, war, etc. Semantically, I believe that is where 'trigger warning' comes from. The queer feminist of color spaces that I am in, we discuss topics related to sexual assault, rape, and other traumas, and even perform them in our spoken word and performance spaces. We use trigger warnings because it is helpful to let the audience know what the content is. I love talking to my older professors about its usage, and them using it as a way to discuss their own histories and trauma in class, and how they used different tactics to discuss it, or maybe they didn't get a chance to discuss it at all earlier in their organizing. It's exciting work.

For those community spaces, "shock value" is not going to make them more woke, it is validating and representing their pain that is. Why re-traumatize your community members unnecessarily? We already don't have enough safe spaces as it is.
posted by yueliang at 9:33 AM on April 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


bonehead: To me, it's always sounded over-dramatic like so many other bullshitty pop psych terms.

Yeah, that's a bit of it. "Trigger warning" as a term annoys the hell out of me but "content advisory" does not have the same effect.

I think part of it is the over-dramatic aspect, but also trigger warnings feel like they've been overused and misused; they get used in situations where nobody is really in danger of being triggered (for instance, on articles about / pictures of spiders), they get used in situations where the content of an article is obvious (i.e. trigger warnings of sexual abuse on an article about sexual abuse), and people use them to play the 'gotcha' game (complaining about the absence when the intention is not to fix real problems, but just to prove that one is holier / more empathetic than you). I understand how they could irritate the hell out of people, despite not personally disagreeing with the root principle involved.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:34 AM on April 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


bonehead There's a difference between an imposed rating system from a bureaucracy, and a teacher or content creator saying that something might be triggering.
posted by SansPoint at 9:35 AM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


What's disingenuous about comparing complaints about content advisories to complaints about trigger warnings, though, is that a lot of the same cultural commentators who supported and continue to support content advisories on music and ratings on games and movies "because parents have a right to know what their children are being exposed to," are the same ones who are objecting to it when it's called a "trigger warning" and when it's rape and abuse survivors who want them. Like I said above, Standard American Family in suburbia wanting to avoid bad words in music -- YES! IMPORTANT CULTURAL GOAL! -- but autonomous female college student wanting adequate warning before being required to watch a movie about rape in a college class that has nothing to do with rape? SOCIETY IS COMING TO AN END.

It's not the ACTION of warning or labeling that these guys (the middle-aged bloviators, I called them before) have a problem with; it's for whom we are doing it. They are DELIGHTED to limit art and culture based on its perceived offensiveness when the people asking are Standard American Families and the offense is stuff that they find offensive. When it's young women asking, and it's rape culture, they find it not just trivial but oppression (of ... rapey dudes?) and censorship that must be actively fought.

If you call a trigger warning a "content advisory," you won't get a peep out of them because they forget they're offended by all the censorship if you don't use the modern "snake people" jargon.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:39 AM on April 17, 2016 [76 favorites]


Brian B.: When in history has letting people know that what they're about to read might contain a graphic sexual assault so they could make the decision about wanting to read it lead to broad government censorship or the oppression of a group of people?

Those were comments directly above mine, by someone else (which I happen to agree with nevertheless). If you read Gay Talese, Thy Neighbor's Wife, you can find many cases of censorship in the US, even until the 1960's, and some based on ancient art published in books, but sent in the US mail across state lines to a more conservative location. They ordered it for the purposes of being scandalized over it, and then successfully sued the publisher for obscenity, some going to jail.
posted by Brian B. at 9:40 AM on April 17, 2016


"Trigger warning" as a term annoys the hell out of me but "content advisory" does not have the same effect.

I'm not here to point out that user specifically, but this is a comment I have heard echoed time and time again from people who are not in activist communities and literally have no investment in this word or the context of it.

These slight semantic differences? Trigger warnings have meaning. I would seriously like to see more people walk the talk, and put in the work to host community safe spaces and try to help heal and organize around the concerns of those who are traumatized by experiences related to institutional oppression. You try to find other words that would be helpful and cathartic and be good warnings that help give the proper gravity to the weight of experiences.

If these words are not helpful for those who react badly or skeptically towards it, then okay. If people don't like it, I don't fucking give a shit, because I'm not sure if those people are really in need of the spaces we are hosting at the moment, since. I'm sure me and plenty of other activists feel the same way, because what is these people's stake in the fight? I may not like some of the words Shakespeare uses, but I didn't write his damn plays.

Let us do our work, or actually, maybe have some empathy and be interested in learning how to participate in our work.
posted by yueliang at 9:41 AM on April 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


It's also interesting to me that I don't get nearly the same pushback when I talk about avoiding migraine triggers as I do when I talk about avoiding eating disorder triggers. People claim that the issue is trivializing the word trigger, but they're actually fine with colloquial use of trigger in contexts that don't have to do with women expecting people to respect our emotions and mental health.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 9:44 AM on April 17, 2016 [57 favorites]


The dismissal of the whole discussion and original usage of trigger warnings is condescending to the feminist and activist communities who are using them, and ultimately reinforces institutional oppression and patriarchal and sexist attitudes.

I'm just so frustrated. I just don't get why people are so stuck on trigger warnings other than for clickbait purposes, instead of focusing on the fact that our societies largely fail to accomodate for traumas on so many different institutional levels, and we need more efforts to really improve them.
posted by yueliang at 9:46 AM on April 17, 2016 [14 favorites]


What's disingenuous about comparing complaints about content advisories to complaints about trigger warnings, though, is that a lot of the same cultural commentators who supported and continue to support content advisories ... are the same ones who are objecting to it when it's called a "trigger warning" and when it's rape and abuse survivors who want them.

Who and why, more than what, iow. Which, fine.

But that's the same argument that was made then, too. Gore was seen as a rational social progressive in 1986. She wasn't the Moral Majority.
posted by bonehead at 9:48 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


If people don't like it, I don't fucking give a shit, because I'm not sure if those people are really in need of the spaces we are hosting at the moment...

Well, perhaps not. However, I might suggest that using terms that don't annoy people might help with general acceptance and participation. Kind of like how inventing new pronouns for non-binary genders never went anywhere but the singular 'they' is making some headway.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:50 AM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


"How do we move forward, firmly but kindly, with the recalcitrance of older generations who have maintained their dignity through suffering in silence things that today's young people are simply not prepared to put up with?"

But the thing is -- his generation did NOT "suffer in silence." Did they? Stephen Fry is 58. That means he's old enough to have been in the thick of it when AIDS hit like a bomb. Were ACT-UP and other queer demonstrations and loudness in the 1980s, when Fry was in his late twenties or early thirties, a form of "suffering in silence"? Did David Wojnarowicz, Larry Kramer, and Karen Finley suffer in silence? Did New Queer Cinema depict people suffering in silence? Were people who threw bricks and marched through the streets in the 1980s protesting against Margaret Thatcher "suffering in silence"?

What planet does Laurie Penny think people in the 1980s and 1990s lived on? Did not the example of their NOT suffering in silence actually pave the way for the louder, more hardcore, more in-your-face demonstrations of just how fully young people today are NOT prepared to "suffer in silence"? And I'm sorry, I see the point that 58-year-old Stephen Fry is trying to make, but does he think his crotchety-old-man tsk-tsk routine does anything to honor and validate the legacy of people in the decades past who fucking suffered indignities, beatings, jailings, and who DIED to make possible his art and his life as a successful artist and beloved "national treasure"?
posted by blucevalo at 9:51 AM on April 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


Brian B. One key difference is that I don't think anyone is demanding that Trigger Warnings be mandated on all media in the same way as movie or video game ratings. I've not seen anyone demanding legislation that all colleges put trigger warnings on every single piece of media in every classroom. Nobody* is trying to use Trigger Warnings to deny the world access to art and literature in the way Gay Talese describes.

* Well, I bet some extremists are, in much the same way as there's a fringe element to every group. If we focus only on the fringe and not what regular people are asking, we'll get nowhere.
posted by SansPoint at 10:09 AM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


bluecevalo: Ahem, you seem to have mistaken Stephen Fry for an American. News: he isn't. ACT-UP is an American organization. The folks you mention are all American. (Perhaps you meant to mention Peter Tatchell?) Things were pretty different in the UK in the 80s, the era of Thatcher, Clause 28, and those fucking government anti-AIDS tombstone ads.
posted by cstross at 10:10 AM on April 17, 2016 [19 favorites]


I'm not sure I entirely agree with Penny, and I definitely am disappointed with Fry, but the article (and the discussion here) is thoughtful and worthy of some introspection.

I'm 49 and must admit my initial reaction to "trigger warning" was defensive and derisive. Thankfully I was able to get past that, but to me, my initial reaction to the phrase was like the built-in sexism and racism I inherited from being raised in our society. I have to fight that in ways mostly small--but occasionally disturbingly large--constantly because it was baked into me when I was a kid (and I cannot tell you have sad and angry that makes me).

Racist, sexist, insensitive to the trauma of others is not who (I hope) I am, is not who I want to be. I try to recognize when I have such a visceral reaction to something, the very first thing I should do is determine why I have such a reaction. Odds are I'll discover an internal fault rather than an external one. (cstross said this better and more eloquently tens of comments earlier than this one!)
posted by maxwelton at 10:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


Ostensibly this was just a warning label, but in practice the retailers, Walmart being chief among those, wouldn't carry albums with explicit lyrics. This lead to decades of bowlderized music.

Hahaha WHAT?!!?!!?!? When were these decades of bowdlerized music?

Need a content warning for some disingenuous motherfuckers making up history in this tread.
posted by nom de poop at 10:17 AM on April 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


When sanctions and cautions developed with good intentions become weaponized (cf. the incident at the University of Missouri), that weapon will be used by the powerful and the fearful to exert the very control and inflict the very violence that these things were intended to curb. I don't know how to solve or avoid that.

I just want to amplify what octobersurprise said, "It is true: the old can't make sense of the present and the young can't make sense of the past," and borrow another bit of wisdom, "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
posted by chimaera at 10:18 AM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


nom de poop For certain values of bowdlerized music. There were, and still are "Explicit" and "Clean" versions of albums and singles. Even if Wal-Mart wasn't insisting on them, they'd still exist due to FCC regulations on obscenity on the radio. For a recent example of this, see Cee-Lo Green's single "Fuck You" with it's Radio-Friendly variants: "Forget You" and "F You".
posted by SansPoint at 10:24 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


The trigger warning backlash makes me think of the backlash against the McDonald's hot coffee lawsuit of the 1990s (see https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald%27s_Restaurants for example). It was a big thing and much discussed at the time.

The hot coffee-labeling-backlash argument was something like "what are you some kind of idiot? Of course coffee is hot, how could you not know that and take appropriate precautions?" It was a huge furor at the time and provoked similar commentary to what we see with trigger warnings complete with accusations of coddling and similar.

In a general sense many/most narrative forms are about love, death, difficulties and conflict of many various types, depending on the story.

I think some people naturally bridle at yet more rules to play by, whether it's adding a warning to every hot beverage or enumerating every type of conflict or violence a piece contains. Also the rules aren't always clear. Is it a warning only about non obvious things? When you've already talked about something being a war story, do you need to warn "maybe, you might encounter some violent deaths." Or maybe Lord of the Flies might have some bullying. O rly?

The "Free Range Parenting" movement is another type of backlash against more strictly prescribed rules from recent (some would say overly protective) social norms.

There may be elements of misogyny or other sinister motivations, yet I think it's a mistake to attribute the backlash only to those things. It's complicated and also ties in to other trends and broader ways of viewing the world. You might think those ways of viewing the world are misguided, but that could be a different issue.
posted by clickingmongrel at 10:25 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


In much the same way that listing allergens on food packaging is advocating for starvation, sure.

nope. ideas are not pathogens/allergens. the analogy fails.
posted by j_curiouser at 10:40 AM on April 17, 2016


I think you may be a little unclear about what an analogy is.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:43 AM on April 17, 2016 [39 favorites]


j_curiouser ideas are not pathogens/allergens. the analogy fails.

Are you sure about that? There's been plenty of ideas that have been harmful and spread like pathogens. A couple examples: anti-vaccination paranoia, racial segregation, and denial of human-caused climate change.
posted by SansPoint at 10:44 AM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


Using "trigger warning" over specific clarification of potentially disturbing content is a little like handing someone the Sunday New York Times and saying "there's something about you in here".
posted by bobloblaw at 10:49 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whoa, whoa. Did she just put down Titus Andronicus?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:52 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Using "trigger warning" over specific clarification of potentially disturbing content is a little like handing someone the Sunday New York Times and saying "there's something about you in here".
I've usually seen "trigger warning" followed by something specific: "trigger warning: graphic depiction of sexual assault" or "trigger warning: child abuse" or "trigger warning: violence, photos of corpses."
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:57 AM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Douglas Adams observed that any technology that's in use before you reach the age of 15 has always been around: anything introduced between age 15 and age 35 is new and cool: and anything that arrives after age 35 is unnatural and against the laws of nature.

I'd like to propose that this goes more-or-less for social change as well. Stuff prevailing before you turned 15 is traditional, stuff that comes along between the ages of 15 and 35 are trends you can get on board with, but once you turn 35 it's all too easy to dismiss everything as those goddamn kids making noise about their latest campaigning obsession.

But you don't have to succumb to this creeping ossification. Be aware of change, remember it's not about you (or directed at you, if you're feeling defensive), and cultivate empathy. Change will still sandbag you across the shoulders from time to time, but it needn't frighten you into lashing out at allies.
posted by cstross at 11:08 AM on April 17, 2016 [60 favorites]


j_curiouser ideas are not pathogens/allergens. the analogy fails.

"Language is a virus from outer space." (William Burroughs)
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Every other usage of TW I've ever seen is just that -- a warning of danger and a recommendation of avoidance. TW culture results in less reading and experience, not more.

Choosing a story to read because of the warnings, rather than in spite of them, is a well-known fannish phenomenon. Indeed, the AO3 (a big mainstream fandom archive) uses "warning" rather than "trigger warning," and other communities use variants of "content notice," precisely because some people didn't like having their erotic preferences in fiction characterized in a negative way. And you can opt of the AO3 warning system altogether if you choose.

Also, if reading or viewing some piece of art would be dangerous to you--would upset you for days, would make you want to self-harm, would make it harder for you to be good to those around you--what is the point of experiencing of that danger? There is so much art in the world! To the extent a person chooses to try to desensitize themselves to a trauma, that's great, but you will not be hopelessly cut off from existence or from world art if you stay away from stories with gang rape in them. Most people expect that they won't see close-ups of disemboweled children on the front page of the NYT, even though there are certainly times when a comprehensive depiction of the news would require them, and don't go seeking those images elsewhere: are they suffering from a blighted narrow experience?

(I support a number of animal welfare groups, and while I don't have some particular trauma related to them, I learned early on that I cannot look at images of extreme animal cruelty, injury, or illness. Because the images haunt me, exhaust me, and make me cry. I cannot stay engaged with the cause in a state of constant emotional exhaustion, and so me sitting around crying over a hurt dog literally hurts the cause and helps no one.)
posted by praemunire at 11:14 AM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


because there's a whole generation of people who grew up with 60s happenings and theater movements that were all about breaking down the fourth wall and confronting people in painful ways with art. I think the concern in those circles is by normalizing trigger warnings, you make it harder for artists to creatively ambush people with provocative or disturbing ideas.

this does a pretty good job of stating my concern with trigger warnings. Not saying it proves trigger warnings wrong. Am saying that some of the most relevant cultural experiences I've ever experienced contained shocking moments, and had I been warned up front, the impact would have been lessened. Which seems to make the issue a sort of weighing of options:

Is our guiding concern here to comfort the potentially afflicted, or to afflict the over comfortable?

Either way, there are babies lurking in that bathwater (and regressive conservative types lurking in the bushes). Please, let's be careful with our demands.
posted by philip-random at 11:22 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think an important distinction is being elided here: the choice by a creator to offer a trigger warning versus attempts to mandate trigger warnings (of which there have been multiple examples recently on American school campuses).
posted by twsf at 11:24 AM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


praemunire: You make some excellent points, but one reason why Trigger Warnings are so controversial is that they're often coming up in the setting of higher education. When you're taking, say, a required course on literature, and some of the content in that course might be triggering, choosing not to engage that material has potential consequences on grades. By providing a warning up front, a student is given the chance to prepare and either engage, or work with the professor (one hopes) to find a way to maintain their involvement in the class without traumatizing themselves further.
posted by SansPoint at 11:25 AM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Where are you seeing books pulled from the curriculum and given a scarlet letter over Trigger Warnings? This is the first I've heard of it.

With school out for the summer, Columbia is making changes to next year’s required reading that reflect some student concerns. Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”—a book students said was potentially offensive because of its sexual violence—is out, and a Toni Morrison novel was added.

All I did was Google "book curriculum trigger warning," and that was the first result.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:26 AM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


The hot coffee-labeling-backlash argument was something like "what are you some kind of idiot? Of course coffee is hot, how could you not know that and take appropriate precautions?"

I would suggest that this case does not support your argument in the way you think it does. That coffee was far hotter than coffee normally is and gave a seventy-nine-year-old lady third-degree burns around her genitals. McDonald's was warned hundreds of times about the possibility of this kind of injury and ignored it, because keeping the coffee dangerously hot allowed them to wait longer between brews (which meant they could pay their CEO more). When the old lady was injured, she asked for all of $20,000 to cover her medical expenses and her daughter's lost income in caring for her. McDonald's initially offered her less than $1,000. The Wikipedia article tries hard to be "even-handed," but most people who hear the actual story, rather than a BS right-wing-spun version filled in with lazy assumptions from ignorance about the carefully-unspecified facts, do not consider this verdict an outrage.

(By the way, the injured senior died a few years later without regaining her quality of life, according to her family.)

So, I mean, if you're arguing that much of the criticism of the very idea of trigger warnings comes from people with unexamined ideological assumptions talking out of their sleeves about situations whose facts they don't actually know, then, sure, it's a great analogy. But I don't think that's what you intended.
posted by praemunire at 11:26 AM on April 17, 2016 [48 favorites]


twsf A college campus might be one of the places where mandating Trigger Warnings would make sense. As I mentioned in my response to praemunire, in a college setting you often don't get a choice about what material you're going to be engaging with. A Trigger Warning allows a student to prepare and if they're not confident in their ability to handle it, work with a professor to find an alternate solution.

Cool Papa Bell I'm WSJ Paywalled out of that article, but I can't say I'm terribly bothered by Ovid being replaced by Toni Morrison. Got another citation on this? There seems like there might be more to it than simply "Ovid is too sexually violent," since Toni Morrison's not known for shying away from sexual violence either.
posted by SansPoint at 11:32 AM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


one reason why Trigger Warnings are so controversial is that they're often coming up in the setting of higher education.

This actually drives me nuts, because I do participate in some groups in which the use of and rhetoric around warnings has been a bit...unnuanced, shall we say? I have argued against mandatory (or socially-mandatory) use of warnings in some of these settings before. But one of the contexts in which warnings are most easily justified is in education, where the whole point is to present the material in the way that the most students can most readily understand it. If you know that something about the material means it will be unusually difficult for some students to grasp, you do what you can to address that. That's why the student is studying with you rather than on her own in the first place! So the student knows ahead of time to prepare herself--that's what a good course does!

Frankly the people who think trigger warnings would be an excuse for students to nope their way out of all of Western civilization are demonstrating a very very dark view of Western civilization. It's true--if you denaturalize or deaestheticize rape, if you point out that rape is actually a horrifying topic and viewing images of rape can be profoundly disturbing for many people, including many rape victims, then a whole lot of Renaissance art suddenly looks deeply fucked-up. I love the Gardner Museum in Boston with all my heart, but its most famous painting is just blandly labeled in the catalog The Rape of Europa as if that were a perfectly normal subject matter for a painting. It's something people don't want to confront. It's something we as a whole desperately need to.
posted by praemunire at 11:36 AM on April 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


A slight aside: the section on British boarding schools gave me massive Peter Wimsey feelings, and it's got interesting connections to the themes in some of Sayers's books about WWI PTSD and how British society dealt (and didn't deal) with it. Conundrums for the Long Week-End is great, if anyone's interested.
posted by you're a kitty! at 11:39 AM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I guess that it seems to me that places like the WSJ are perennially freaking out about trigger warnings, which do a whole lot of ideological work for them, and what they say doesn't really resonate with anything that I actually see on the ground working in higher ed. And as SansPoint points out, that's a weird example, because a lot of Toni Morrison's work would definitely warrant some trigger warnings. I think that may be more a fable about how trigger warnings are a way to push out deserving white men in favor of undeserving women of color, which I think is part of what's at stake in a lot of conservative discussions of PC-run-amok on college campuses.

As I've said elsewhere, the only explicit discussion of trigger warnings I've ever encountered on my campus had to do with being sensitive to the issues of veterans with combat-related PTSD. I'm pretty sure the WSJ would not find that nearly so objectionable.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:49 AM on April 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


I think there's a real conceptual difference between the phrase "trigger warning" and a "content advisory" (or simply, a "warning") that is not about Protecting Our Daughters or middle-aged bloviators "forgetting to be outraged."

"Trigger Warning" says that it is a presenter's duty to anticipate whatever might be upsetting to anyone listening. There are MOOCs where college professor's classes are free on the internet for the entire world, so putting the burden of anticipating that on the presenter is a big ask.

A "content advisory" is just asking them to give a heads up about the material they are presenting, which is something the know intimately and in advance. They don't have to guess how someone else might react.

I do think for a lot of older, mostly male professors it might be hard to appreciate how common rape and sexual abuse are, and how many of their actual students right in front of them might be affected. Trigger warnings are being expanded to other topics though, ones as vague as "sexism" or "racism" which many people would agree affect every person in a society. That's a lot more of an ask then flagging incidents of graphic physical/sexual violence in the material.
posted by msalt at 12:00 PM on April 17, 2016


Artists may feel, given the cultural developments in American art since the 50s and 60s that it's vitally important for artists of all kinds to have the freedom to make their audiences uncomfortable and that sometimes catching people off guard and disturbing them unexpectedly is somehow crucial to making art that can be deeply affecting.

I think one of the problems is that for every work that approaches those issues with a modicum of sensitivity, there's oh about a half-dozen modern-day "penny dreadfuls" where rape and violence are used for a cheap shock or a "kick-the-puppy" moment. Depending on content, tackling either could be a struggle for me. But I'd much rather deal with a serious critique of patriarchy and sexuality than "OMG! Look at us! We're so edgy! Buy our DVDs!" (I'm not terribly convinced that a gratuitous rape subplot makes your historical dramas more truthy either.)

I don't particularly mind that people keep producing that kind of material, or that there's an audience for it. But I'm not that audience. I also have stories up on AO3 and in progress that deal with survivors processing stuff, and I make it pretty clear that they're not for any audience either
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:01 PM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Artists may feel, given the cultural developments in American art since the 50s and 60s that it's vitally important for artists of all kinds to have the freedom to make their audiences uncomfortable and that sometimes catching people off guard and disturbing them unexpectedly is somehow crucial to making art that can be deeply affecting.

In a different context, "there's a big violent scene coming up" would just be a spoiler.
posted by msalt at 12:09 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Be aware: a powerful image or two is embedded somewhere in this comment,.

I have been dealing with triggers for almost forty years. In my universe this is a fairly technical term. I see this word used often, usually by people who are not well grounded in how it works--sort of the same way I see the term "bonding" used, when they actually mean to say "we had dinner and a chat, and got to know each other a bit."

To me, the word trigger is perfect: touch it and you get an explosion. So, when my buttons get pushed by a triggering event, something drastic happens to me. Over the years I have gained an understanding of my own triggers, so I can choose, sometimes, how to react to a specific thing. What I'm getting at here is that I would prefer to see something characterized in a more general way than using the word trigger. "Contains graphic violence/ contains graphic descriptions of rape..." or some such. I guess it's just the desire to get a pony, but when I see the word trigger used by a person who is not a trained counselor of some stripe I am reminded of those who sell copper pain bracelets or use pyramids to sharpen their razor blades.

Out in the cold world I suppose it's proper to not worry about this sort of thing so much. Movies generally aren't hard to figure out, or books. General conversations and casual bandying aren't things that ought to be constrained, or prefaced with codewords, just because a word or topic may have a triggering effect on someone in the group. (Please, I don't mean to say that if you are aware that your friend has issues you should ignore them.)

Since inhabiting the MeFi boards I have been able to calibrate my sensibilities a bit in favor of people, like me, who have triggering events lurking in their past. Being an old fart, and having been schooled about my tripwires, I don't usually have to deal with surprises any more. Anyhow, it's sort of like the "have a nice day" or "thank you for your service" dialogues we've had in here. Using the word trigger ought to mean that you actually know what my triggers are, because when you say that word without knowing me, then it's pretty clear that you are making assumptions way above your pay grade. For example, why do you suppose a image of a person shredded by a claymore would be any more powerful a trigger than the smell of a grape soda?

...I guess that's like when the waitress calls me honey. She means well, and I would probably appreciate the effort she makes in being friendly if I didn't find her undue familiarity off-putting.

Just another $.02 in the bucket.
posted by mule98J at 12:17 PM on April 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


In a different context, "there's a big violent scene coming up" would just be a spoiler.
I guess? If I tell you that Outlander has really a really prolonged, graphic depiction of torture and rape, I don't think that's exactly a spoiler. It doesn't tell you who or why or when, and my hunch is that people going in cold wouldn't guess any of those things. It does give you a chance to opt out if you had assumed, as would be reasonable, that it's a fun period romance that probably doesn't contain a two-episode-long depiction of extreme sexual violence.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:19 PM on April 17, 2016 [9 favorites]


On the subject of jargony speech grating on the prescriptivist part of one's ear, the metamorphosis of "ask" into a noun (ahem) is approximately infinity percent worse than "trigger warning", which is actually less coy and PRish, and more straightforward, than "content advisory".
posted by busted_crayons at 12:22 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


There was another article a few weeks ago that pointed out that we make inferences about the violence content of various media from book covers, episode previews, and trailers anyway. Content warnings (which seems to be the preferred term these days) provide that service for works that rarely get the benefit of an artfully edited trailer complete with Movie Announcer Guy(tm), orange-and-teal saturation, and "BEERRR-OWWW(tm)" to punctuate every action beat.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:27 PM on April 17, 2016


Like, one can imagine the famous George Carlin routine modified to describe the sad (counterfactual) linguistic arc that started with the evocative, direct "trigger warning" -- which actually got its point across -- through the vague, mealy-mouthed "content advisory", until finishing up at "known to the State of California to precede retraumatization in susceptible individuals" or something. "Trigger warning" might be a phrase associated with a particular community, but it doesn't satisfy the rest of the definition of "jargon" because it doesn't require one to be some sort of insider to understand; it's self-explanatory, especially compared to alternatives. By contrast, the very phrase "content advisory" should come with a "genuinely devoid of content" advisory.
posted by busted_crayons at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


i would be open to arguments that trigger warnings could be spoilers or could lessen the effect of some art if we lived in a culture that cared for a single second about the growing hoards of walking wounded. sometimes it feels like people who aren't survivors of trauma think it's an extraordinary outlay for a smallish group of people, but ptsd isn't all that rare really, especially when you consider the going estimates on childhood abuse, domestic abuse, and sexual assault survivors. the pushback against warnings feels like people saying they don't think we deserve to participate in art if we can't buck up. it becomes another way we're shut out of the experiences of living.
posted by nadawi at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2016 [35 favorites]


As an old liberal myself, I'm worried that individual offense will lead to an institutional(schools and universities) embrace of those offended individuals

"Offense?" I'm not offended when I unexpectedly see or hear graphic depictions of domestic violence. Rather, I feel like I'm going to vomit and wet myself at the same and my body is flooded with the extra adrenaline that thinks it's going to need because it imagines that my father is right around the corner with his belt and his steel-toed boots. But if I know it's coming, I can mentally prepare for it and I'm okay.

For a long time I thought the diagnosis of PTSD and refused any treatment for it because I was brought up to believe the PTSD was just for soldiers.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:31 PM on April 17, 2016 [55 favorites]


D' Onofrio was great in that, that one movie...
I still remember the record label controversy about explicit lyrics and Tippers' sticker crusade.
posted by clavdivs at 12:47 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I can't say I'm terribly bothered by Ovid being replaced by Toni Morrison.

"Hi, class. Welcome to Intro to Latin literature. This semester we'll be reading Virgil, Seneca, Plautus, Apulius, and, uh, where it says 'Ovid' write in 'Toni Morrison.'"

As someone pointed out, an educator's job is to educate and it's perfectly reasonable, even expected, for an instructor to prepare students with the information they need to approach a text/film/etc. which they may find alien, offensive, or distressing. Whether any given instructor calls that a "trigger warning" or a "content notice" or something else entirely seems best left up them. (Tho, like the Oxford comma and the use of "impact" as a verb, every choice is certain to elicit strong opinions from its defenders and detractors.)
posted by octobersurprise at 1:04 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Another old white guy telling everyone what to do.
posted by freakazoid at 1:13 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


But you don't have to succumb to this creeping ossification.... Change will still sandbag you across the shoulders from time to time, but it needn't frighten you into lashing out at allies.

I get this, but, as I get older, I start to look at the more liberal fringes and realize just how many criticisms are driven by the concerns of college students. Whatever wave of feminism we're up to now (for example) is fantastic about intersectionality but pretty much silent about the concerns of older women. I think that it's possible for older generations to object to a narrative for reasons that don't have to do with them being reactionary -- and, as raised upthread, one of those reasons can potentially be because the older crowd is far more likely to see the ways in which a theory that seems fantastic now can backfire terribly five years from now.

None of which is to say that this the reason that Stephen Fry specifically objects to trigger warnings. But the narrative shouldn't always be that the older generation is succumbing to ossification. It's possible that they are. It's also possible that they're objecting for entirely valid reasons. And even when those objections aren't framed in ways that younger people consider acceptable, I think it's still worth giving them a moment's though before just rejecting them as those of a generation that's out of touch with the present.
posted by steady-state strawberry at 1:14 PM on April 17, 2016 [17 favorites]


When were these decades of bowdlerized music?

For the PAs in particular, about 1986 through the mid 2000s? It's hard to say exactly. It's still kind of happening today. But what else would you call the choice to either not sell through the major commercial channels or produce "alternate lyric" versions? It's true, explicit lyrics were banned from radio, but the PA stickers meant that many people, teenagers mostly, couldn't get the original version at all and that artists lost money as a result.

Even Madonna and Eminem were affected, which was about as white main-stream as you could get, though I think it's pretty clear that one of the major outcomes of PAs was to deny black artists commercial success.
posted by bonehead at 1:20 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


For those (including me) paywalled out of that Wall Street Journal article, there are plenty of pieces in the Columbia Spectator (since 1877) describing the controversy. It was kicked off by this editorial (April 2015) by several members of the campus Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, which attacked Ovid:

Ovid’s “Metamorphoses” is a fixture of Lit Hum, but like so many texts in the Western canon, it contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

They called for making the classroom a safe space and proposed, among other things, "a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors." Two months later the the syllabus was revised, removing Ovid's Metamorphoses, Medea, Oedipus Rex, the Book of Job, and Faust, and adding Sappho, Paradise Lost, the Decameron, the Bacchae, and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon." The removal of Metamorphoses was not one of the originally recommended changes, so the campaign against it appears to have worked.

The controversy over trigger warnings continues, and some activists seem to be using TWs as leverage for more general critiques of the diversity (or lack thereof) in the curriculum, which may have little to do with PTSD. That last article quotes Tracey Wang, one of the authors of that first op-ed:

"I don't want people to think [Morrison] simply being there is enough... I want a Core that teaches the texts we have in a critical and radical way, in a way that is informed by historical oppressions that have happened to make these books as powerful and foundational as they're held up to be now.”

posted by msalt at 1:22 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, the course in question was Literary Humanities, not Hellenic Literature.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:25 PM on April 17, 2016


True, but as SansPoint and ArbitraryandCapricious noted above, Toni Morrison has plenty of triggering material in her work as well. If you think she's more deserving of a place in the literary canon, great, but just say that. Don't use trigger warnings as an excuse to make the change.
posted by msalt at 1:30 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


" If you think she's more deserving of a place in the literary canon, great, but just say that. Don't use trigger warnings as an excuse to make the change."

Well, the Wall Street Journal is claiming trigger warnings were the reason, rather disingenuously. From the Columbia department in question:
"Despite the debate over the student opinion piece, there is no plan to eliminate triggering texts or mandate trigger warnings, Roosevelt Montás, the director of Columbia’s Center for the Core Curriculum, told HuffPost. The syllabus for the Literature Humanities course was updated earlier this month, following a routine review, and Toni Morrison’s “Song of Solomon,” selections by female poet Sappho and John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” were all added. The April op-ed said Morrison’s work “should be valued as founding texts of the Western canon.” The decision to add Morrison was driven by a desire to add a more contemporary author to the end of the syllabus, and “Song of Solomon” was chosen by a faculty vote, Montás said. Sappho and Milton have previously been included in the curriculum."
While Columbia's faculty discussed a student's being triggered by Ovid in their discussion of removing Ovid from the syllabus that year, acknowledging a student piece criticizing the current syllabus, they in fact declined to require trigger warnings.

So, just in general, a wildly disingenuous claim, with wildly disingenuous reporting by the WSJ. There are no trigger warnings; requiring trigger warnings was specifically rejected by the faculty of Columbia; Ovid was not removed because he's triggering; Toni Morrison was not added to replace Ovid but as part of a routine general review of the syllabus and desire to add more modern pieces of the canon to the course.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:40 PM on April 17, 2016 [56 favorites]


and, as raised upthread, one of those reasons can potentially be because the older crowd is far more likely to see the ways in which a theory that seems fantastic now can backfire terribly five years from now.

I believe the word for this is wisdom. Not all of the older crowd have it, not all of the younger crowd are bereft of it, but you're more likely to have a bit if you've struggled, fumbled, fallen, got up, got down, made a fool of yourself etc for some decades.

I mean, I hope all that was for something beyond my age related aches, pains
posted by philip-random at 1:41 PM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


I've seen too many otherwise smart people trot out the line that people need to be exposed to the thing that hurts them without considering the "controlled" part of it.

Yeah that is a particularly disingenuous argument.
posted by atoxyl at 1:41 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


If the words "trigger warning" set people off into a such a rage because of their constant oppression by the PC Police, perhaps we could use some sort of phrase to let people know in advance that they might end up seeing it.
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:01 PM on April 17, 2016 [26 favorites]


You mean like a trigger warning warning?
posted by octobersurprise at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


Toni Morrison was not added to replace Ovid but as part of a routine general review of the syllabus and desire to add more modern pieces of the canon to the course.


Of course the idea of reviewing and revising the syllabus itself is terrifying to the sort of people who write articles like the one in the WSJ. There is supposed to be a fixed group of dead white males that make up our literary canon and to even imply that one of them might lose his place in favor of *gasp* a WOMAN is anathema.

Now, how this is supposed to be related to the idea that people should have the absolute right to shove rape scenes in the face of rape survivors, well that's a bit more convoluted reasoning.
posted by happyroach at 2:04 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


comparing trigger warnings to parental advisory labels is either disingenuous or dumb.
posted by nadawi at 2:06 PM on April 17, 2016 [13 favorites]


Wait, you don't remember when Madonna and Eminem went broke because of the warning labels?
posted by Cookiebastard at 2:08 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


but when I see the word trigger used by a person who is not a trained counselor of some stripe I am reminded of those who sell copper pain bracelets or use pyramids to sharpen their razor blades.

Oh Hell Yeah. "Trigger Warning: snakes" was when I realized the misappropriating was a done deal. People with no clue about the difference between stressors and triggers will blithely continue to spread misinformation secure in their self-righteousness.

For me the sound of an approaching Huey is a stressor and a 5 degree burn is a trigger, for a buddy it's the exact opposite, put them both together and neither one of us is worth knowing for the rest of the day.

How big of a sub population of people stressed or triggered by the sound of a Huey does there need to be before we rate a trigger warning?

Oh and a tip for people in multimedia arts, if you use a Huey soundtrack when a Sikorsky is on screen, you're an asshole.
posted by ridgerunner at 2:09 PM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


Wait, you don't remember when Madonna and Eminem went broke because of the warning labels?

consider the case of the shitstorm over the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album.

It was later revealed that the Dead Kennedys album was chosen because it was released on an independent label, one that could be put out of business by being sued, thus teaching a lesson to other labels to better censor themselves or suffer the same fate.
posted by philip-random at 2:15 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


consider the case of the shitstorm over the Dead Kennedys' Frankenchrist album.

for clarification, this was all part of the greater shitstorm surrounding the PMRC and warning labels on albums.
posted by philip-random at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2016


still - nothing at all to do with trigger warnings, unless you think walmart will suddenly start caring about abuse victims.
posted by nadawi at 2:17 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


The first time I ever saw the phrase 'trigger warning' was maybe 10 (or more?) years ago in fandom, when someone asked on her livejournal* for people to label fics with graphic rape, because she was raped herself and had begun a fic with such a scene and it sent her on a terrible emotional spiral. The amount of people coming in to say 'I feel bad you had such a reaction BUT I DON'T WANT SPOILERS FOR MY FANFIC' was staggering. I don't believe there is anything in a fanfic, book, movie, newspaper, whatever that is worth my or anyone else's mental health. I trust the judgment of those who know they can't handle graphic depictions of rape or abuse or trauma to know when they can't read something, or even if they should read it at all. As someone said above, a trigger warning is no different from an allergen label.

* Yes, I'm old.
posted by toerinishuman at 2:19 PM on April 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


I honestly think the jargony/new languagy nature of the phrase "trigger warning" sets people off -- if you call it a "content advisory" nobody bats an eyelash. "Trigger warning," being a newer phrase, gets people all NYT trend piece about it and they act like it's not the same damn thing Cronkite was doing in the 60s to warn you the news was about to show disturbing footage.

Part of the difference seems to be in whether it is treated as a clinical/medical/psychiatric phenomenon, or a personal choice. "Viewer discretion advised" presumes agency on the part of the viewer: here's some information about upcoming content, so you can make an informed, intelligent decision about whether you want to watch it or not. For any reason, or for no reason at all.

Trigger warning is narrower, since it refers to the specific phenomenon of PTSD being "triggered" by an unexpected mental anchor (the classic example being the Vietnam veteran hearing a helicopter, and associating into traumatic wartime experiences).

It's helpful for consumers of media to know whether they want to want to watch/read/listen to something or not, whether or not it has any connection to a formal psychiatric diagnosis of PTSD.
posted by theorique at 2:21 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Oh, and I should have said this in my comment: The people who didn't want spoilers were not the readers but rather the writers of said triggering fanfic.
posted by toerinishuman at 2:22 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


I remember all that PMRC stuff and Tipper Gore, etc, and it was nothing like trigger warnings. It was explicitly framed as a way for adults to prevent children from getting morally inappropriate material, it was very much a reaction to punk and rap (that is, left and experimental music), and it was from a center-right moralistic standpoint. There was huge opposition to it on the left and among artists. This is nothing like the matter of trigger warnings, which is broadly supported by the left and hated by the right, which is not about children's access to material and which is not about the idea that explicit and violent materials are morally corrupting.

Both the matter of trigger warnings and the PMRC issue are about how society responds to artistic and cultural materials but that's where the similarity stops.

Upthread the point was made that The Rape of Europa is considered a perfectly normal high-culture topic for art, and that people don't really want to talk about how messed up that fact is. In my own experience, I tend to naturalize a lot of really rather horrible events in classic art and literature because I have been raised to see them as legit subjects for high culture - I have been raised with the idea that even talking about the content as meaningful is rather declasse. (I remember the moment when it dawned on me as a teen that basically all those 18th and 19th century painting and sculptures of gratuitously naked classical ladies were really not that different from soft core porn....but it's not nice to point that out. ) I tend to think that the objection to trigger warnings on anything that isn't extremely graphic contemporary material really does come from not wanting to accept that all these things we've learned to identify as very serious high culture are - in addition to whatever technique or historical importance they may have - a record of how women, people of color and marginalized groups have been held in contempt by people with power. That's an unattrative thing to acknowledge - far better to pretend that rape jokes are just humor as long as they were published before about 1970.
posted by Frowner at 2:46 PM on April 17, 2016 [30 favorites]


The comparison with music parental advisory labels is a complete derail. The comparison is off-base entirely. Trigger Warnings are not a Scarlet Letter, or a prelude to censorship so that every person who may have been the slightest victim of some trauma or another, can feel good and never experience pain again. The way some people go on, it sounds like we're only a few years away from banning paper books entirely, lest we trigger someone who was traumatized by a vicious paper cut.

As I mentioned way upthread, I had a triggering experience of my childhood of bullying due to a novel that I chose to read. Had there been a Trigger Warning somewhere, would I have chosen to read it? Maybe. Probably. I'd heard so much good about it, and I can't say that I didn't know what I was in for, at least in terms of subject matter.

But I wasn't prepared. And the fucking thing sat, partially read, for weeks, until I was ready to tackle it again.

The author is not a bad person for writing a novel about school bullying. Amazon.com is not a bad person for selling it. I am not a bad person for being triggered by reading depictions that resonated with the emotional damage of over a decade of systematic abuse by my peers during childhood, even it was half a lifetime ago. I do not want the book banned. I do not want any books banned.

Nobody is advocating for censorship in this thread. Nobody wants authors, musicians, and artists to go broke because they violated our delicate sensibilities.

As individuals, we have a right to choose what we consume based on criteria that includes our mental health. I use bullying as an example because that is the one personal trigger I have the most experience with. It's not a leap for me to imagine a victim of child abuse, of sexual assault and rape, of racially motivated violence, of any sort of painfully common trauma to react in much the same way I did to a book. It's not a leap to imagine that same person reacting worse.

Maybe you've never experience trauma like this. Good for you. May you never have to experience it, but have some sympathy for those of us who have.

Maybe you're a victim of trauma, and maybe you're over it. Good for you. There's still plenty of us who are recovering at our own speed, and we don't need you pushing us into something we're not fucking ready for.

Think before you make a comparison between warning someone about art that could trigger real, psychological trauma and a sticker on an album cover that says the music has swear words. They are worlds apart.
posted by SansPoint at 3:27 PM on April 17, 2016 [22 favorites]


Laurie Penny's article made me feel uncomfortable because she never acknowledges that Stephen Fry is a rape survivor, and that he wrote about it in his autobiography Moab Is My Washpot. It is a gut-wrenching and deeply affecting scene. He certainly didn't "make a joke of it", like Penny claims.
posted by Kattullus at 3:36 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the "making a joke of it" was in reference to Fry's dismissive comments about not protecting the feelings of people who were "touched by their uncles."
posted by saulgoodman at 4:00 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: While Columbia's faculty discussed a student's being triggered by Ovid in their discussion of removing Ovid from the syllabus that year, acknowledging a student piece criticizing the current syllabus, they in fact declined to require trigger warnings. So, just in general, a wildly disingenuous claim, with wildly disingenuous reporting by the WSJ. There are no trigger warnings; requiring trigger warnings was specifically rejected by the faculty of Columbia; Ovid was not removed because he's triggering...
I don't know what the WSJ said because, as I noted, I am paywalled away from that article. That's why I went to the student newspaper where this debate has mostly taken place, and linked all those articles.

I'm not sure why you're so convinced that "Ovid was not removed because he's triggering." As I noted, the initial proposal to change the syllabus -- on April 27th -- did not remove Metamorphoses or include Toni Morrison. (It had a generic slot for "one late 20th-century or early 21st-century work.")

The op-ed that criticized Ovid as triggering and advocated Toni Morrison was published 3 days later on April 30th. And your source notes that it was considered in the deliberations. The final list (published June 6th) then was changed to remove Metamorphoses and include "Song of Solomon" (and King Lear) instead.

That is precisely what people are worried about. You're right, they did not decide to require trigger warnings. They removed the piece entirely because the controversy over triggering made it easier to include something else.
posted by msalt at 4:01 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


msalt: So, there are no courses at Columbia that teach Ovid now? Did they rip all the Ovid out of the Columbia Library and burn it on the Quad? Are students having their bags searched for contraband copies of The Metamorphoses?
posted by SansPoint at 4:06 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


(It had a generic slot for "one late 20th-century or early 21st-century work.")
Right, and that's what they did. Why are you assuming there's something suspect about the late 20th century work that they included?

Literature Humanities covers the whole of western literary history in two semesters. By definition, they can't read everything. They switch around the curriculum all the time. There's no evidence that they switched out The Metamorphoses because it was triggering, but even if they did, so what? It's a great books class, and I'm sure that whatever else they're reading instead is also great. It's hard to argue that students are going to suffer some terrible result because they read King Lear. If that's the worst thing that happened because of the terrible threat of trigger warnings, and I'm failing to see the problem.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:14 PM on April 17, 2016 [8 favorites]


include "Song of Solomon" instead

This proves it: they removed Ovid because they literally wanted to move from trigger warnings to parental advisory instead.

"Your two breasts are like two fawns", "How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!" etc. Also, "I went down to the nut orchard"?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:35 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


SansPoint

... Trigger Warnings. The term was originally for warning soldiers suffering with PTSD about things that could trigger it.

Hi, could you tell me when and where that happened? My history with PTSD counselors, shrinks and groups goes back to the '70s, and the talk was about the idiosyncratic nature of triggers, how subtle they could be and how to identify them. Weird stuff like the smell of Grape Neihi, burning kerosene, pork, or shit, things that sound like military machines, the faint rumble of far off thunder, or a sudden silence, the feel of a warm breeze or a touch on your left shoulder. Recognizing the specific things or thoughts was an important step in gaining some control.

Maybe some people were just trying to be helpful, or it happened East of the Mississippi and I missed it, but the cynical part of me suspects someone was claiming we needed a warning to help legitimize their agenda.
posted by ridgerunner at 4:56 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


saulgoodman: I think the "making a joke of it" was in reference to Fry's dismissive comments about not protecting the feelings of people who were "touched by their uncles."

Fair enough, that's a plausible reading. But I read this to mean that Fry both makes a joke of the trauma of others, and his own trauma: "The way that Stephen Fry responded to deep personal trauma as a young man, the way he advises others to respond to it now, was in large part the way he had been taught. He survived by making a joke of it, by making a joke of everything, striving hard to get ahead through sheer talent, force of will and yes, immense privilege."

Having read Moab Is My Washpot, that is not how I would characterize how Fry has dealt with his personal trauma.
posted by Kattullus at 5:00 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


ridgerunner: I'm not sure where I learned that from, but a cursory google brings up this recent New Republic article seems to make the claim. For what it's worth, googling this is hard, because I'm mostly getting a bunch of similar Anti-Trigger Warning wonkery.
posted by SansPoint at 5:04 PM on April 17, 2016


ridgerunner: Either way, I think it serves as a very apt analogy. If a veteran returning from war isn't going to respond well to: "Weird stuff like the smell of Grape Neihi, burning kerosene, pork, or shit, things that sound like military machines, the faint rumble of far off thunder, or a sudden silence, the feel of a warm breeze or a touch on your left shoulder" then would you want to put them up against those stimuli without any help or warning? People are often really, really, really bad at fixing their own traumas. Not that it doesn't mean we don't try. I'm not a veteran, but I've sure as hell tried with and without help to get over my traumas as related elsewhere in the thread.
posted by SansPoint at 5:06 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


If a university chooses to take the easy way out and completely remove a book from the syllabus instead of putting in the effort to teach and discuss it in such a way that students won't be unnecessarily triggered by it, then it's the fault of the University who made that decision and not the fault of the students who were being triggered.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 5:28 PM on April 17, 2016 [7 favorites]


Learning about trauma and suffering for the sake of alleviating it would be a valuable thing. Using trauma for entertainment value is something that I don't think is as important in college education as some might think it is.

After all, the older generation who think their raunchy exposure to rape and violence did them "good" for all it's exposure to rape and violence, doesn't seem to care much about the trauma of survivors. At least not enough to create meaningful supports.

They still seem to think you just "get over it" if you try hard enough. If I thought people were reading about sexual assault in Ovid to become deeper humanitarians I would think, great, let's kepe that stuff in reading lists.

But in reality, a lot of people think rape is and should be a part of life and accepting it and becoming tolerant to descriptions of it is preferable to not tolerating it- to making BETTER works of art where maybe Athena isn't telling everyone as a representation of divine feminine power that subjugation to men is her favorite things. When these things are read in the context of "Let's face how people who did horrific things to other people justified them in their culture" it's one thing (and something I support).

When we see the "greats" of human culture as rapists, slave holders, and imperialists; it's hard not to wonder why these values persist. I think some people are uncomfortable with hero's they hold dear being seen for the sometimes shits unworthy of any praise at all who essentially slaughtered and invaded and are still viewed as cultural icons worth reading as the greatest men (and it's usually men isn't it?).

I mean look, I grew up on Throbbing Gristle (who I once thought made songs like Persuasion for the sake of "art" but suspect it was more of a description of personal behaviors) and Gummo and GG Allen and all kind of MESSED up shit and I get that stuff has it's time and place. But a lot of those people weren't elevating the human race, being anally expulsive for shock value does not mean one is using this "art" to become a more aware and empathetic person. I was abused time and again by people in this crowd and you would think "DUH" of course! Dark people do that! (Well, so do not dark people, at least they were honest about it).

I don't care much about trigger warnings for myself because when I hear Nirvana sing "Rape Me" on the radio, same song that guy played before he raped me, I think "I DONT CARE".

LALALALALA I don't care.

But I know what the irritation really is, the idea that people might have ongoing trauma issues and need help. That's annoying.

Because our society is set to "rape survivors should heal up and be normal or dis-the-fuck-appear because it's not my problem". Not to mention the expectation that "you will heal one day" that leaves a lof of suffering people shaming and blaming themselves when the hurt doesn't go away like they are told it would if they did therapy hard enough, or thought happy thoughts well enough or whatever someone is making money off telling the world survivors could be perfectly normal and happy if they would just do is.

I'm pretty tough, I don't mind pissing people off and I don't mind suffering, I've done a fuck of a lot of it. But I don't mind at all if people who want to not care about survivors of traumatic events have to face some discomfort or inconvenience. The people with the heaviest burdens are given the most lectures about bootstraps and treated like crap, unwanted crap. And I'm sick of it.

We learn all kinds of useless bullshit in math and the people with the grades get the jobs with the pay (the jobs that destroy the earth, make people sick with shitty toxic products they don't need, of poorly paid labor)... those who thrive in the system as it is have assumed they should leave everyone else behind and ignore the needs of everyone around them, it's our culture, pretend every person is self made when it's a ludicrous ridiculous lie. You get to the top based on how deeply you've internalized it's your right to discard anyone around you who needs help and actively stomp on top of them to get what you want.

I would love that cultural trend to fall apart and empathy to be considered the most worthy achievement.
posted by xarnop at 5:30 PM on April 17, 2016 [27 favorites]


"Stephen Fry ... the mental health campaigner insulated by wealth and success from the worst of his demons."

This statement is literally, figuratively, totally, unreservedly ignorant.

Stephen Fry has very publicly talked about how he has attempted suicide due to mental health issues several times including as recently as 2012. I suppose that would be the best of his demons? Or would that just be an average level of demonic torture?

Now I have to go read the article a few more times until I can get past this glaring idiocy.
posted by aureliobuendia at 5:42 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


Fry: "There are many great plays which contain rapes"
Rape Culture is one of our oldest traditions, and the campaign to genuinely remove it from our culture (unlike the grossly dishonest but successful campaign to define Rape as "only something a stranger/certain type of person does") is still in its very early stages.

Fry: "self-pity is the ugliest emotion in humanity"
Not. Even. Close. Smugness is worse (but that's Mr. Fry's default mode, especially on QI and I ENJOY QI); Insincere Outrage is far worse (the mode of the loudest 'trigger warning' critics); Avarice and greed, Envy and jealousy, Hate and Rage are all worse than self-pity, which while definitely negative, is mostly self-inflicted and therefore ranks just slightly worse than schadenfreude (the hottest new negative emotion)

Pope Guilty: The rallying cry of the modern right-wing harassment movements is "Nobody has the right not to be subject to me" so it's little surprise.
This. A thousand times. The ethos of today's horribly mutated "Free Speech" movement is that "my speech is not FREE unless EVERYBODY can and HAS TO listen to it". That also explains the "money=speech" thing because wide distribution costs a lot.

What's the big awful difference between a "content advisory" and a "trigger warning"? The latter is MUCH more honest and MUCH less 'euphemistic'. Eyebrows McGee noted "if you call it a "content advisory" nobody bats an eyelash.", which means that its long acceptance has made it much less effective. If you think the term "trigger warning" is triggering, you're definitely part of the problem. I lived for years with a bigoted, profane, obnoxious (now dearly departed) father who I was frequently "triggered" by at various levels and who I felt the need to warn about before introducing him to people, using something like MeFite My Dad's (how eponysterical) "There is some content here that may be upsetting," and I would have loved to have something as concise as "trigger warning" to do it.

I was in the Radio Biz in the 1970s, when a LOT of language was simply not allowed on the air. So any artists who wanted radio play HAD to record 'radio safe' versions with 'alternate' lyrics. Elton John, by virtue of being the biggest star of the moment, broke through in getting "bitch" off the banned list (after the Rolling Stones fell short). Playing George Carlin's "Seven Words" monologue after midnight got one non-commercial station stripped of its license by the FCC. And millions of kids got their parents to okay buying certain records which the parents considered "okay, since I heard it on the radio" but which contained "naughty parts" the kids didn't dare play in front of them. Tipper Gore's "Parental Guidance" stickers ruined that scam for the next generation, and that was probably the worst damage it did.

BTW, I would like to see all links to the WSJ properly labeled, not as "triggering" but (1) almost sure to be inaccurate and misleading and (2) only accessible by subscription, which if the MeFite linking it has one, speaks way too much about that MeFite. But in fact, I would like to see label (2) applied to all paywalled media - not too long ago I tried a subscription to the New Yorker to get over the paywall, but I realized that aside from enjoying the cartoons more than most people, I am totally NOT a New Yorker Person - and I have previously declared that (1) also clearly applies to EVERY NYT "Trends" piece since MetaFilter began.

annnnnd xarnop just made the best slightly-off-topic comment of this entire thread: "When we see the "greats" of human culture as rapists, slave holders, and imperialists; it's hard not to wonder why these values persist. I think some people are uncomfortable with hero's they hold dear being seen for the sometimes shits unworthy of any praise at all who essentially slaughtered and invaded and are still viewed as cultural icons worth reading as the greatest men (and it's usually men isn't it?)."
And that is SO MUCH why we need to be shown the Truth, not just the HIStory. With PLENTY of Trigger Warnings of course.
posted by oneswellfoop at 5:55 PM on April 17, 2016 [11 favorites]


SansPoint Your Google-fu was better than mine.

Re: your last comment. This applies to military PTSD, I know jack shit about PTSD post sexual assault. You skipped the word idiosyncratic in my post, triggers are personal, I just gave a very small sample of the possible triggers for a small sub population in the U. S. I don't know how to warn for triggers with out making a value judgment of which triggers deserve to be warned against. I don't expect to ever see a warning, " Huey sounds" my friend and I ain't gonna go hermit over it. That answer would be worse than the problem. So for us it comes down to, "Tough Shit, suck it up." (What's sad is I like Hueys when they aren't sneaking up on me).
RL calls, I'll think about it some more.
posted by ridgerunner at 6:29 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


There was a time a year or two ago, when trigger warnings were first getting traction as a Real Thing To Pay Attention To that there were a few overreaches that were reported (and sensationalized) when people...reached too far.

Tag your pomegranates!
posted by Jacqueline at 6:33 PM on April 17, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, perhaps not. However, I might suggest that using terms that don't annoy people might help with general acceptance and participation. Kind of like how inventing new pronouns for non-binary genders never went anywhere but the singular 'they' is making some headway.

I don't know how making trigger warnings 'more public friendly' would actually help organizers with getting resources and safe spaces that they need, when it is the opinionated ignorant assholes who have no real stake in the argument who decided to inform the public with their clickbait 'opinions,' who completely muddled the definitions of trigger warnings and safe spaces in the first place. They are fucking it up for the rest of us involved, because now the public (and by extension, some of the commenters on MeFi) have some takes on trigger warnings that are egregiviously underinformed.

If you believe in this Mitrovarr, then consider it from my perspective. Why don't you go do the work of garnering greater acceptance for a different vocabulary word than trigger warning then, that still respects and validates the original people and spaces who use trigger warnings? Why don't you write that thinkpiece that would get reposted on Metafilter, so there can be widespread acceptance of another word, and then do the work of putting it forth in creating community spaces and talking to your average layperson to make it work? Organizing to create safer spaces is hard, hard work, and it's daunting. I'm not sure whose audience you are concerned about.

In my day to day life, I've literally had to talk to cis people, who don't really accept "they/them" unless I mention how "Shakespeare used they/them," Shakespeare has higher esteem value than the person (me) talking to them in their face. As a non-binary person, I'm profoundly annoyed and irritated by your statement, especially for my non-binary friends who do not wish to use they/them and still have their gender identities respected, because they didn't create their pronouns to be 'accepted into wider society'. They did it because the English language has a failure to consider people who do not fall into gender binaries, and that is institutionalized through the usage of said language.

Normative society is destructive, it is couched in institutional oppression, and it is better for everyone involved if people learn to be more respectful and understanding and empathetic for those on the margins of society, because there are many different perspectives to be had to be understood, for understanding that other people live life in different ways that you do.

Again, like I'll state before: Trigger warning does really well for those of us who do have horrible PTSD reactions to traumas. The Underpants Monster's comments are a visceral and highly accurate description of the benefits of trigger warnings.

But honestly, parts of this thread and the condescending intellectualism over how 'trigger warnings are so annoying' is reinforcing the wider societal values that I see, where people's traumas are really not as important as other people's opinions about how people should handle their trauma. There is no help, no sympathy, just a lot of complaining.

Their actions remind me of how normalizing lack of sensitivity and empathy is obviously preferable to trying to make more accomodating and sensitive spaces to those who have had really hard shit dealt to them, which by definition, would help expand spaces for those who lack the language or tools or access to have their traumas supported. Because honestly, people already don't get enough support on a daily basis to really understand the healing powers of being heard and validated, and to emotionally process their own traumas. Without that, they don't know models of how to be supportive of others, and then don't do it for others.

Learning about trigger warnings and other aspects of feminist, activist modalities that help support people's emotions and experiences, in a world that really condescends to them and tells them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, has made me a much better and more empathetic person. I also recognize that most people don't want to participate or don't have access to participating these spaces, but it's no excuse for being intellectually lazy and shitting on something without really getting to know what the actual problem is. All the Google searches for the trigger warning debate completely drown out actual feminist voices which talk about trigger warnings and their actual purpose, and most of the 'outraged thinkpieces' are by really misinformed and ignorant people on the subject. It's just infuriating bullshit all around.

I've watched this discussion go on for nearly two years now. I'm ready for people who have made all that money from the ad revenue of clickbaiting about trigger warnings, to donate to domestic violence and veteran's shelters if they really cared so much about finding 'alternatives to trigger warnings.'
posted by yueliang at 7:06 PM on April 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


I also want to state, that if you have ever been traumatized and had to read the same experience in a book or a piece of media, it re-activates the same brain and neural connections related to pain when the trauma took place. Trigger warnings are there so that people don't end up getting re-traumatized and re-experience their rape or assault.

People in classroom curriculums often do not have the choice of opting out of curriculum or required readings/viewings, so trigger warnings helps them prepare for this re-traumatization. As an English major, I was literally told by professors, both women and male, to take my re-traumatization of reading rape and assault in novels as a "way to expand and produce knowledge." I had no idea if they either experienced these events, or didn't experience it, and focused on the literary value of the texts, but I would have appreciated some trigger warnings so I didn't have to spend hours vomiting and nauseated, so I could actually have appropriate time to do the literary analysis essay that they wanted. (I still wrote them.)

This is why I hate this discussion so much - these outraged columnists haven't even bothered to think about the potential benefits of trigger warnings, because they themselves are scared of even going near that territory.

Reading Words Hurts:
The impact of pain sensitivity on people’s ratings of pain-related words

Can Reading a Fictional Story Make You More Empathetic?
posted by yueliang at 7:13 PM on April 17, 2016 [15 favorites]


People in classroom curriculums often do not have the choice of opting out of curriculum or required readings/viewings, so trigger warnings helps them prepare for this re-traumatization.

Yup. If you know that class is going to be bad that day then you can take a preemptive Xanax, which helps a lot (speaking from personal experience).
posted by Jacqueline at 7:20 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


yueliang: I also want to state, that if you have ever been traumatized and had to read the same experience in a book or a piece of media, it re-activates the same brain and neural connections related to pain when the trauma took place. Trigger warnings are there so that people don't end up getting re-traumatized and re-experience their rape or assault.

Bingo. And this is something I have been privileged enough not to understand until it happened to me. Not understanding, however, should not be a barrier to compassion in this case.
posted by SansPoint at 7:21 PM on April 17, 2016 [3 favorites]


This is gross, (be warned) and an inferential leap on my part, but is Penny suggesting that Fry is suggesting that if British schoolboys of Fry's era (or any era) knew someone's vulnerabilities they would enthusiastically start in on triggering that person on purpose?? Because "brutality and toughness; eat or be eaten; something something something".
posted by puddledork at 7:35 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


removing Ovid's Metamorphoses, Medea, Oedipus Rex, the Book of Job, and Faust, and adding Sappho, Paradise Lost, the Decameron, the Bacchae, and Toni Morrison's "Song of Solomon."

Geez. Anyone who thinks these particular changes reflect a fear of including violence and dark sexual content in required reading has a problem not with trigger warnings, but with a really unfortunate ignorance of the foundations of Western literature. Perhaps they should take the course!
posted by praemunire at 7:40 PM on April 17, 2016 [12 favorites]


they would enthusiastically start in on triggering that person on purpose?? Because "brutality and toughness; eat or be eaten; something something something".

Yes. There is nothing more vicious or useless on earth than the young male. Not even joking.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:43 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


Part of my personal crazy is that I was sexually assaulted as part of a youth organization. As part of that organization, I saw some adult/child stuff that I still worry about.

So, a few years ago we had the whole Penn State scandal. One of the things I twigged onto real quick was that I couldn't go to my usual lunch location while that was happening. TV "news" pitches outrage as its primary emotion on the best of days, and listening to ESPN anchors spin the story became physically painful. (Tachycardia and hyperventilation are two symptoms, followed by monomanical brooding over it for hours. Strangely they got worse with distance, or maybe I'm just getting older and they hurt more.)

Luckily, a victim-advocate blogged the trial over on Daily Kos, with trigger warnings at both the post level and prior to paragraphs explicit testimony from the brave guys who testified. So I could pick and choose the best times, the best ways, and the best angle to tackle the subject. I felt the need to keep up with what was going on during trial, but I needed metainformation so that I could manage my symptoms during that process. Sometimes I read the detail, sometimes I didn't. Sometimes I avoided the news. Usually though, I picked a time when I could deal with the information with the help of a supportive partner who's also a survivor.

That's just one example. I admit to ambivalence about the word "trigger" because it evokes a fairly narrow range of what might be a very bad day for a survivor. But I don't think that many rape survivors want to pretend that rape doesn't exist, or that it's a common theme in literature, or that it's something that shouldn't be discussed. I think it's really about having control, or at least having enough metadata about the discussion to come at the subject sideways, or backward, or through an analytical lens, or not at all if the venue looks uncomfortable.

Personal boundaries are good. One of the few soundbites of wisdom to come out of the mass media in the last few years is, "I'm not your monkey." Just because I'm a survivor doesn't mean I'm down for talking about the rape of Ganymede today. Just because I'm queer doesn't mean I'm going to be forthcoming about my bouts of bathroom-phobia over the dinner table or my dysphoria in a discussion about "feminist masculinities."
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:35 PM on April 17, 2016 [16 favorites]


is Penny suggesting that Fry is suggesting that if British schoolboys of Fry's era (or any era) knew someone's vulnerabilities they would enthusiastically start in on triggering that person on purpose??

Hell, get the right group and this era's will do it.
posted by charred husk at 8:41 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


"enthusiastically start in on triggering that person on purpose?"

Not merely a feature of British public school.
posted by perianwyr at 8:42 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be fair young females can be just as vicious as young males. Young humans in general are often savage little monsters to each other. The idea of opening up to others in an environment of shared support in a classroom setting is laughable when there is usually at least one effective sociopath who will take any sign of, 'weakness,' and use it to make your life a hell. I am the product of American public schooling during the age of esteem building and I can tell you that it was bunkum then and it is bunkum now. I can only imagine the nightmares of a school tradition that encourages the viciousness and cruelty of young males.
posted by Ignorantsavage at 9:12 PM on April 17, 2016 [5 favorites]


Fun Metafilter game: write a question about the subject at hand and then keep rewriting it until you're sure you're not going to piss anyone off. You end up discovering the answer before hitting Submit!

Thanks for the discussion, everyone. I think this old man finally understands specifically what a trigger warning is and why that specific verbiage is important.
posted by charred husk at 9:20 PM on April 17, 2016 [10 favorites]


is Penny suggesting that Fry is suggesting that if British schoolboys of Fry's era (or any era) knew someone's vulnerabilities they would enthusiastically start in on triggering that person on purpose??

Hey I went to a bog-standard grammar school and it wasn't a matter of people 'knowing' your vulnerabilities: they would actively put you under pressure to discover your weak spots, and create new ones.
posted by um at 10:18 PM on April 17, 2016 [4 favorites]


I"m also in the camp that detests the term "trigger warning" but finds "content advisory" perfectly fine. And claims that its just pedantry are missing that there is a world of difference in the two terms.

I think using "trigger warnings" requires you to accept a certain psychological model of the self, that can be "triggered" by particular content and experience something beyond control etc. That there is a psychological model of the human behind the usage.

to use "content advisory" is to completely suspend this. There is content in the following that may or may not be "objectionable" for whatever reason. There is no need to accept any psychological model to use this term.
posted by mary8nne at 10:38 PM on April 17, 2016 [6 favorites]


There's no way to respond to social events without reference to some psychological model, implicitly held and explicitly constructed. I think it's important to be aware of what that is for ourselves just in general, and especially in cases of considering complex social issues, so criticizing the psychological model behind a certain usage is fine and useful. Criticizing that there is any specific psychological model makes no sense, because no one is operating without one. There is no space for some default that isn't chosen; in any case, declining to choose is itself a choice, one alternative among many, and one that makes it easier to not examine our own assumptions because of the illusion of there being some fixed default.

Which is to say, finding "content advisory" fine but not "trigger warning" isn't exempt from the same criticism of reliance-on-psychological-models used against "trigger warning"-fine "content advisory"-bad (I'm closer to this end); no one has the high ground wrt assumptions, because there is no difference when you dig down deeper. There's no way to escape that kind of reliance on assumed-models, which plays a huge part I'm sure in how a lot of these conflicts emerge at all.
posted by obliterati at 11:16 PM on April 17, 2016 [2 favorites]


SansPoint: So, there are no courses at Columbia that teach Ovid now? Did they rip all the Ovid out of the Columbia Library and burn it on the Quad? Are students having their bags searched for contraband copies of The Metamorphoses?

False dichotomy much? It was removed from the core curriculum that all students read. Are you saying that there is no such thing as suppression of thought short of making a book illegal and searching students for it? Come on.
posted by msalt at 12:06 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


A&C: There's no evidence that they switched out The Metamorphoses because it was triggering
It was not on the list for removal on April 27th. After an official advisory board recommended removing it on April 30th specifically because it was triggering, it was removed. And the people involved said they considered this advice in their decision. What kind of proof do you need?
It's hard to argue that students are going to suffer some terrible result because they read King Lear. If that's the worst thing that happened because of the terrible threat of trigger warnings, and I'm failing to see the problem.
There's substantial evidence that students who objected to Ovid's Metamorphoses on political grounds used trigger warnings as an excuse to get it knocked off the syllabus, even though the replacements arguably contain plenty of triggering material of their own, and no one will be warned about the triggers in the new work.

Perhaps that doesn't bother you. It bothers me a great deal. The change helps no one, and -- if it's true that the school responded to this political pressure -- it was fundamentally dishonest, using the trauma of people who've been through nasty shit to advance unrelated poltiical goals.

Trigger warnings make a lot of sense where someone might be blindsided by unexpected violence (sexual or otherwise) in a text that is not well known. It's hard to make that argument when the text is a classic that was published more than 2,000 years ago.
posted by msalt at 12:16 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


I"m also in the camp that detests the term "trigger warning" but finds "content advisory" perfectly fine.

obliterati already made a more useful criticism of this than what follows, but: what of the fact that "trigger warning" is a phrase whose content is actually aimed at its communicative goal, while "content advisory" says essentially nothing? "Be advised: the following has content".
posted by busted_crayons at 2:45 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


msalt, are you suggesting that Ovid doesn't need a trigger warning because it's so old that everyone knows what's in it? Because then you can hardly claim it's being suppressed when it's removed from one course at one university which regularly cycles through the vast mountain of classic literature. I mean, I don't think Ovid is that well known, but it turns out they didn't put warnings on any of the books after all, most of which would qualify for warnings according to the people who want them. I seriously doubt the pressure group is actually happy with the result. It really seems like you're clutching at straws to find a problem with this example.
posted by harriet vane at 3:16 AM on April 18, 2016


It seems to me the students asking for trigger warnings weren't the ones responsible for censoring Ovid. That was the school administration, which chose to overreact in a political move to make the protesters look bad and feed a backlash for their own political ends. The students just asked for trigger warnings, not taking the book off the curriculum, right?

It's like when an employee complains about the lack of peanut free snacks in the break room at the office and instead of addressing the concerns of the allergic employees, the boss says, "You know what? Screw it, no more free snacks in the break room for anyone! See what happens when you complain?"
posted by saulgoodman at 3:58 AM on April 18, 2016 [7 favorites]


That was the school administration, which chose to overreact in a political move to make the protesters look bad and feed a backlash for their own political ends.
What on earth are you talking about? The "school administration" had nothing to do with it. There was a scheduled review of the curriculum, undertaken by a committee of faculty who taught the course. They made a change in the curriculum that they had not previously discussed in an article on possible changes. Maybe they were intimidated by the editorial suggesting that the Metamorphoses was triggering. But maybe once they started discussing it, they realized that nobody was really that excited about Ovid anyway, and a lot of people would rather teach King Lear. Maybe it provided an in for someone who was appalled that you could have a course on the great books of Western literature without studying Shakespeare, and that person convinced the other faculty. Maybe once they started discussing it, they realized that it was irresponsible to discuss The Metamorphoses without engaging with themes of sexual assault, and those themes weren't what they wanted the class to be about. (It appears that classicists have been discussing the question of how to teach classical texts that include depictions of rape, and maybe they sought out those articles and realized it was a different task than what they envisioned Lit Hum doing.) There are many, many explanations that assume that the Columbia faculty is capable of making better decisions about the curriculum of Columbia classes than are the Wall Street Journal or some randos on the internet.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 4:41 AM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


I've always thought of myself as a sensitive person who thinks through the ramifications of the things I am discussing. Last semester I showed a trailer from a movie about expectations of masculinity and its stifling of men's emotional expression which included a woman talking about her brother's suicide. And. It turned out I had a student who has just returned to school that semester after being hospitalized following two different suicide attempts. She was totally unprepared, burst into tears, and didn't come back to class for several sessions.

After apologizing profusely, I promised to preface videos, readings, and discussions with a brief heads up if there was potentially upsetting content. I haven't changed my course material, but i try to give students enough warning for them not to be totally derailed. I'm considering asking at the beginning of the semester in an anonymous questionnaire if there is a topic for which they would like a quick heads-up. I'd rather be thoughtful and compassionate about what I'm teaching.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:23 AM on April 18, 2016 [23 favorites]


We should also give students the tools to make decisions for themselves about what they do and do not feel up for discussing. There was an important panel at the conference I was at this weekend on dealing with harassment and assault in our field, but... I just couldn't do it. And so yes, I missed an important event that I objectively should have participated in, but it would have ruined the rest of the conference for me. College students have their whole college experiences to grapple with difficult issues, and their whole lives. If someone decides that they really don't want to dispassionately discuss the implications of rape in classics in a lit class because this is a topic they're already saturated by dealing with in their personal life, that is an important thing for them to be able to do. Give people the information they need to have agency over their academic experiences.
posted by ChuraChura at 5:32 AM on April 18, 2016 [12 favorites]


msalt: What is it about Ovid that makes it so important to you that students at one school are forced to read him? Nobody at Columbia has stifled any student's choice to read Ovid. Nobody at Columbia has banned Ovid. One class has chosen, for multiple reasons, to teach a different text in the place of The Metamorphoses. This is not censorship. Censorship is saying "Nobody must read Ovid," and backing that up by enforcing it. I've yet to see this happen in the name of Trigger Warnings.
posted by SansPoint at 5:39 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


That may also have been a consideration, ChuraChura. LitHum is a required course that every Columbia student has to take to graduate. Every section reads the same texts. Most students take it in their first year. In this case, the only way not to be exposed to a literary depiction of rape would be to transfer to a different institution. That may have featured in the committee's decision about whether it was a good text for the class.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:40 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


The issue with the word "trigger" is that it's associated with a fairly narrow range of what a panic attack looks like. Some people love to rules-lawyer around what that exactly means, and sometimes the better part of valor is to just stop that derail before it even starts.

And panic attacks are only one symptom that a person may need to manage.

Some of this can be managed on the content-provider side by being transparent with describing content rather than using the word "warning." But, we're also in a media environment where mystery meat, shock sites, tag brigading, malicious rickrolls, screamers, and suicide encouragement are a thing for the LOLs.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:57 AM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


There was a scheduled review of the curriculum, undertaken by a committee of faculty who taught the course.

Sorry if my use of "administration" was confusing. Point is, wasn't it the same people who created the original curriculum that made the change to remove Ovid, when what the students were asking for was simply the addition of trigger warnings to the material? If not, why are we discussing trigger warnings? If I'm mistaken, forgive me. It's very possible I'm not fully informed on this case. I'll follow up and try to educate myself better on the details when I have more time.
posted by saulgoodman at 6:09 AM on April 18, 2016


I think that what happened is that the WSJ is trying to make something out of a situation that doesn't merit it. This class has been required of all Columbia students since the 1930s. The syllabus gets revised periodically. Students raised some concerns about a text, and the text was removed from the curriculum. It's possible that those things were related. It's also possible that they weren't. Either way, it's not a sign of PC run amok. Even if the faculty did listen to the students' concerns and decide that this wasn't a good text for this particular course, that's not sinister. They could have thought "you know, it never occurred to me that this could be disturbing for survivors of sexual assault, but now that you mention it, I can totally see that, and I don't think we have the time or resources in this particular course to handle that issue in the way that it deserves." That's not a bad thing. It's ok for professors to listen to and take seriously input from their students.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:35 AM on April 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Point is, wasn't it the same people who created the original curriculum that made the change to remove Ovid, when what the students were asking for was simply the addition of trigger warnings to the material?

So is the argument here that making changes to the curriculum is wrong? That students absolutely must bb made to read Ovid? Is there a select list of dead males that are required reading, and removing one of them is a crime?

If not, then under what circumstances can the curriculum be changed? When can say, Ovid be removed from the required reading list?
posted by happyroach at 6:57 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


There's substantial evidence that students who objected to Ovid's Metamorphoses on political grounds used trigger warnings as an excuse to get it knocked off the syllabus, even though the replacements arguably contain plenty of triggering material of their own, and no one will be warned about the triggers in the new work.

This makes absolutely no sense, unless you think the people advocating for trigger warnings on Ovid are too freaking stupid to even google, say, the Decameron to see if there is rape in it (spoiler alert: there is). "We demand that you use trigger warnings with this book, because we are deeply concerned that it may deeply harm some readers with its depiction of sexual violence! Oh, you're replacing it with another book? YAY! We don't even care what that book is or whether it depicts sexual violence, job done, we can all go home now."
posted by praemunire at 7:59 AM on April 18, 2016 [2 favorites]


"This is why I hate this discussion so much - these outraged columnists haven't even bothered to think about the potential benefits of trigger warnings, because they themselves are scared of even going near that territory."

I just spent an hour composing my thoughts about agency, trauma, and kindness. The good news is that the 400 words I put together, then edited, let me realize that I don't need to post them. I put some things in order. When your sensibilities get tweaked you have to work at it to realize when to let go.

This is why I like this discussion so much. Thanks guys.
posted by mule98J at 9:26 AM on April 18, 2016 [4 favorites]


In the British boarding school experience that the author talks about, it wasn't just reading about rape that was assumed to build your character, but being raped (and then shutting up about it). It's nice to see the "trauma is good for you" idea slowly fading.
posted by clawsoon at 9:42 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


They made a change in the curriculum that they had not previously discussed in an article on possible changes. Maybe they were intimidated by the editorial suggesting that the Metamorphoses was triggering. But maybe once they started discussing it, they realized that nobody was really that excited about Ovid anyway, and a lot of people would rather teach King Lear. Maybe it provided an in for someone who was appalled that you could have a course on the great books of Western literature without studying Shakespeare, and that person convinced the other faculty.
King Lear was already in the syllabus. The initial draft planned to remove it and replace it with a different Shakespeare play to be named later. After the kerfuffle it was kept and Metamorphoses was dropped.
posted by msalt at 11:36 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


msalt So King Lear stayed and The Metamorphoses, which students had taken issue with, was dropped. Fine. You've yet to explain why this is a problem beyond some vague notion of Ovid being censored. An idea which does not hold water.
posted by SansPoint at 11:47 AM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


Ok, so a committee of faculty made decisions about course content. They may have taken into account student input, or they may not have. I don't understand the outrage. I don't understand why you or the Wall Street Journal are more qualified to make that determination than the people teaching the course are.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 11:53 AM on April 18, 2016


So many straw men in this discussion:
So is the argument here that making changes to the curriculum is wrong? That students absolutely must bb made to read Ovid? Is there a select list of dead males that are required reading, and removing one of them is a crime?

What is it about Ovid that makes it so important to you that students at one school are forced to read him? Nobody at Columbia has stifled any student's choice to read Ovid.
Those are absurd and tendentious arguments. No one has said anything like any of that. Attacking the WSJ is also a straw man since none of us can or have read that article. I went to the original source, the Columbia student newspaper, and have provided lots of direct links.

Here's the deal. The controversy at Columbia is an argument over what constitutes the literary canon, which I think we all agree is a political question as well as an artistic one, and should include consideration of gender and ethnic diversity. Great. This is the key question:
wasn't it the same people who created the original curriculum that made the change to remove Ovid, when what the students were asking for was simply the addition of trigger warnings to the material? If not, why are we discussing trigger warnings?
Exactly.A trigger warning would have been a more useful and appropriate response, but that wasn't what the activists wanted. The goal was changing the syllabus to fit their political agenda.

And that's also fine. What I object to is using the trauma that many people have gone through as a weapon to advance unrelated political goals. The fact that they did not seek or get actual trigger warnings shows the insincerity of that appeal. It's similar to the Missouri protest, where the concept of a "safe space" was hijacked to justify violence against a legitmate news photographer who was trying to take pictures of a public demonstration.
posted by msalt at 12:07 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


But we don't know if the Trigger Warning aspect of Ovid was the motivation for removing it from the curriculum or not. It may have been a factor. It may not.

We. Do. Not. Know.

And we cannot assume that it was easier to replace Ovid than provide a warning.
posted by SansPoint at 12:26 PM on April 18, 2016 [3 favorites]


I just.... it's like we inhabit different realities, msalt. First of all, the people who created the original curriculum aren't alive anymore, because this class has been around for 80 years. This was a scheduled curriculum review. The big change, which was adding a contemporary work, was already in the works before the controversy over The Metamorpheses. The pre-controversy Spectator article that you linked discusses it and names the authors with the most faculty support, a list which included Toni Morrison. The revised syllabus continues to reflect an extremely traditional conception of the canon. Students still read Ovid, even. I understand that you have a narrative and are convinced that this episode must fit into that narrative, but I think that's something going on in your head, not something going on at Columbia.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 2:00 PM on April 18, 2016 [9 favorites]


What narrative are you so sure that I have? This issue wasn't even on my radar until this topic appeared.
posted by msalt at 2:59 PM on April 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


[Couple comments deleted. Can we not make insinuations here. Keep the tone civil. If you have a point to make, make it without ascribing intentions to others. Thanks.]
posted by vacapinta at 12:54 AM on April 19, 2016


I think you see this as an example of PC run amok, a narrative about higher ed that conservatives have been pushing for the past 30 years. It's student activists trying to impose their politics on the curriculum, disingenuously using demands for trigger warnings to impose gender and ethnic balance and destroy western civilization as we know it. And I see it as a routine review of a course that has actually remained extremely resistant not just to student activism but also to contemporary academic trends. You could not have picked a weirder, less apt example of PC run amok than a class that has basically remained the same, despite minor changes to the syllabus, since the 1930s. If your example of PC run amok is that students are reading Ovid's Heroides, rather than the Metamorphoses, then maybe that's not such a great example.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:17 AM on April 19, 2016 [9 favorites]


But that's the same argument that was made then, too. Gore was seen as a rational social progressive in 1986. She wasn't the Moral Majority.

I was 16 during the PMRC nonsense and I assure you - while Gore may have been married to a democrat, nobody viewed her as a progressive. The PMRC's participants tended right, and you can see from the wikipedia article that Gore was the only person in that initial gang of four who had an association with the D label.

And really, the same argument as trigger warnings wasn't being made at all. The PMRC's entire focus was on providing information from one authority to another. The P in their name stands for parents, the people who they were interested in communicating with. Here is the information you need to decide what to keep away from your kids was their whole thrust. If you want infantilization to be irked by, there it is.

Trigger warnings, on the other hand, are all about providing information to the consumer of the material so they can make their own decisions and preparations. When I see this thing about content warnings being fine but trigger warnings a bridge too far I can't help but view it as a very pro-authoritarian view.

I don't think it's any coincidence that more digital ink has been expended up-thread here over students supposedly pressuring a faculty advisory committee by having opinions than anything else. Uppity kids, wanting things, sometimes stupid things. So what? So everything they want, including some sense of personal control and a right to manage their own minds must be garbage.

There's a serious stink of shut up and listen, if you need to be concerned about something we'll tell you in the anti-TW crowd. I have no doubt many of them think their concerns are about censorship and suppression but you don't have to scrape very deep before it looks more like you can't tell me what to do! In the grosser versions it looks like you can't tell me what to do.
posted by phearlez at 7:12 AM on April 19, 2016 [10 favorites]


A trigger warning, as is mentioned in the term itself, is a warning. I'm getting rather old myself and yet I can't see what it is about these words that's so very objectionable. I mean, I really don't get it. It's a warning that something contained within the link/book/movie/whatever could cause upset. Why is a warning a bad thing? It's not a klaxon saying HONK HONK DO NOT READ, it's a bloody simple warning.

I still love Stephen Fry, by the way. I understand people not getting stuff that I get. I just think we would all do well to embrace empathy, him and me and you. The best way to do this is to listen to others. Empathy is a good and powerful thing and it would be great if we could stop fighting it so very much every time something doesn't necessarily apply to us.
posted by h00py at 7:41 AM on April 19, 2016 [1 favorite]


A&C: I think you see this as an example of PC run amok, a narrative about higher ed that conservatives have been pushing for the past 30 years. It's student activists trying to impose their politics on the curriculum, disingenuously using demands for trigger warnings to impose gender and ethnic balance and destroy western civilization as we know it. And I see it as a routine review of a course that has actually remained extremely resistant not just to student activism but also to contemporary academic trends. You could not have picked a weirder, less apt example of PC run amok than a class that has basically remained the same, despite minor changes to the syllabus, since the 1930s. If your example of PC run amok is that students are reading Ovid's Heroides, rather than the Metamorphoses, then maybe that's not such a great example.
Thanks for spelling that out. You're wrong. And I despise most of the conservative commentators you're so eager to lump me in with.

As I've said in this very topic, I think the construction of the literary canon is appropriately seen as a political decision, and that obviously it has been constructed from a narrow and insufficiently diverse frame. It's a more complicated issue than either side of the "gender and ethnic balance" argument presents it, IMHO; as one former LitHum teach puts it,
“Herodotus was not writing about a world that was ever white. The Greeks are very clear about a world where Africa exists, where Asia exists,” she said in June. “We've been taught to read them as kind of the greatest that Western society has to offer, and that the best and greatest have been produced by men who thought of themselves as white men. And some of those men didn't even think of themselves or know that they were white men. It's a construct that happened after them.”
Personally, I think it's ridiculous that the course is limited to Western thought, as if Confucius, the Mahabharata and the Tao Te Ching have had no influence on the modern US. But whatever.

The thing is, none of that has anything to do with trigger warnings. And yes, I dislike what I consider "emotional blackmail," using appropriate empathy for people with difficult life experiences as ammunition in political battles. As many people have shared from their own experiences in this topic, PTSD triggers are highly idiosyncratic and difficult to predict. It is literally impossible for an instructor to guess what might trigger a student. But every instructor knows whether their readings contain nasty violence (sexual or otherwise).

And you shouldn't need a case of PTSD to earn the courtesy of a heads up that there's some horrible content headed your way. That's why "content warning" is preferable, IMHO. The instructor can't know their students' triggers, but if they know what's coming, students can adjust as needed, knowing themselves.
posted by msalt at 1:58 PM on April 19, 2016


"And yes, I dislike what I consider "emotional blackmail," using appropriate empathy for people with difficult life experiences as ammunition in political battles. As many people have shared from their own experiences in this topic, PTSD triggers are highly idiosyncratic and difficult to predict."

Uh as a person who prefers a warning but doesn't give a crap what words are used, I think trigger warning is fine, people with trauma issues are not a monolith but I personally (as someone who has them) think there is nothing wrong with using them for the sake of the people they work for.

I would rather side with empathy for people with really severe reactions who have stated in THEIR OWN WORDS that these warnings are very helpful, then take the trauma survivors words who don't care for them and use that as ...well the same ammunition you think you don't like.

I guess you don't like it unless you're the one doing it.
posted by xarnop at 7:06 PM on April 19, 2016 [3 favorites]


I must not be making myself clear. What I'm objecting to is using the issue of trauma warnings to advance UNRELATED political issues, such as the need -- which I agree with -- to better diversify which literary works are considered part of "the canon."

-- Rebalancing canon: good.
-- Warning students about highly violent/rapey content: good
-- using concern over PTSD insincerely to get books you don't like removed from the canon: bad.

To repeat: there are still no warnings using any wording about the content of books in the LitHum canon, many of which contain potentially triggering content. They just removed some books and added others.
posted by msalt at 12:04 AM on April 20, 2016 [1 favorite]


msalt: -- using concern over PTSD insincerely to get books you don't like removed from the canon: bad.

There may have been diverse campaigners who temporarily banded together for a common cause - and it may be that those campaigning for trigger warnings are dissatisfied by the end result. From the outside it might look like transparency, while from the inside it looks like one part of the alliance walking away as soon as it got what it wants. I'd be curious to know.

This tangentially reminds me of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. He wrote it to bring safety standards to the meatpacking industry by getting people to have sympathy for the horrible conditions of the workers. Instead, it brought safety standards to the meatpacking industry by getting people freaked out that they might be eating bits of other people.

"I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach," he said.
posted by clawsoon at 6:30 AM on April 20, 2016 [2 favorites]


s/transparency/hypocrisy/
posted by clawsoon at 7:02 AM on April 20, 2016


clawsoon -- that may well be. And if I misunderstood the politics of Columbia, that changes everything of course. All I know are those articles in the Spectator.

I think common sense leans towards using PTSD as an issue tactically rather than sincerely, though, since the editorial from the diversity committee came in direct response to the recommended changes in the LitHum syllabus, 3 days later.

Trigger/content warnings could be added or discussed at any time. Applying pressure right when people are deciding whether to add or remove books makes it pretty clear that that is your target.
posted by msalt at 7:44 AM on April 20, 2016


[I feel like at this point the speculation/argument over the whole "was it sincere or tactical" thing has gone around enough and then some, and it's kinda taking up an outsized footprint on the tail end of the thread; maybe just let that drop at this point as points stated.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 8:55 AM on April 20, 2016


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