Trigger warnings

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Trigger warnings

Postby KleinerKiller » Sat Nov 03, 2018 9:13 pm

So this topic has been on my mind lately, for reasons listed below. It's been discussed a lot in other threads, but I've searched all over the subforums and can't find a specific thread for it -- if there does exist one under some obtuse name, I'm sure it's far back enough that it's outdated now. Or maybe I'm a blind idiot and there has been one relatively recently that I just haven't been able to find! Anywho.

If you have a strong opinion on politics and social justice, as most people on the internet (including me) do one way or the other, there's a strong chance the mere mention of a "trigger warning" sets off a knee-jerk reaction in you. Be it defensiveness or hostility, it's become one of the calling cards of social justice controversies on the internet.

Semi-recently, one of my web stories was flooded with a sudden surge of comments outraged to the point of insults and threats because I included a warning at the start in a story that occasionally deals with parental sexual abuse, only some of which were anonymous and thus able to be blocked; it's worth noting that this warning was in a chapter posted in early 2015, but only got this "feedback" earlier this year. And this morning, sarcastic anime analyst Mother's Basement uploaded this critical video about Goblin Slayer, a recent anime that's split the internet wide open over a brutal, fetishized rape scene in the first episode. The video was immediately met with hundreds of preemptive dislikes and the number continues to swell by the minute, and judging by many of the comments when I last read them, the main reason is not his breakdown of the show's mistake (he's pretty positive about its overall quality and not against depictions of rape in general), but the fact that the video starts with a warning about the depicted subject matter.

So my question is... why? Why is this the emblematic issue that breaks the internet so often? It's very very true that trigger warnings are abused to absurdity on hard-left/SJW sites like Tumblr and the Gizmodo Media Group, but they're hardly the only thing or even the most common thing abused to absurdity in that territory. Used in proper context, they're just a slightly more pointed iteration of a "viewer discretion is advised" on TV -- they let people who might not want to watch the thing (whether because of PTSD, sensitivity toward the topic, or just lack of interest in seeing it) know ahead of time, and they're easily drowned out by everyone else. They seem in another territory altogether from more understandably controversial things, e.g. safe spaces being exclusionary, privilege totem poles, what have you. They straight-up don't affect whoever they're not intended for.

I used to feel similarly to those against it, but as I've gotten older, I've found the backlash toward this increasingly stupid. And I know a fair bit of it is alt-right shitheads from 4chan et al on a crusade against anything liberal, but I also know there are good peeps on TCS who aren't alt-right shitheads but who do hate trigger warnings out of hand. So what's the problem with them? Why are they the blazing flag of culture wars? Are they inherently bad in your opinion, or are they just commonly misused? Is there ever a situation where you appreciate them? Does it just boil down to "kids these days are too sensitive"?

Let's discuss it all in a civil manner and hope the thread doesn't instantly spiral out of control.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby iMURDAu » Sat Nov 03, 2018 9:33 pm

It's all context for me. If you're an anime reviewer and you're going to be discussing an episode of a show in which a rape is featured I don't see a problem with a warning. That's not what you'd expect to find in that setting imo so if there's kids around or god forbid you're watching videos at work where others are in earshot it's okay to have an advisory.

In that scenario I'd have a problem if the channel just put a blanket warning before every video that there may be unsettling topics being discussed. Stock disclaimers are for MTV shows.

And anyone who went to insults and threats because you put a warning in your own story needs to seriously get a life because they're triggered by a damn warning. How you gonna get triggered by a trigger warning. I can understand scoffing, rolling your eyes, finding another video to watch/story to read, but why waste your time whining about it? What change will come from that?

Now of course if you or someone else put a trigger warning because someone eats ice cream in the story and there might be a lactose intolerant reader then that's deserving of ridicule.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby IamNotCreepy » Sun Nov 04, 2018 12:13 am

I have mixed feelings about trigger warnings. To be honest, I started to say that I understand appreciate "legitimate" trigger warnings, but that is very subjective, and I guess that's kind of the point.

The point of trigger warnings is to protect people from who have PTSD or have suffered trauma that could be triggered by images or certain discussion. The problem is, certain groups have co-opted these ideas and applied them to anything that makes them uncomfortable.

To me, the first thing that pops in my head when I see or hear the term is to think of the excellent piece in the Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Basically, there is a trend within American universities and today's youth to get upset at any ideas or concepts that make them uncomfortable. Instead of challenging these ideas or learning how to deal with them, they avoid them at all costs, and trigger warnings are essential to that.

There is a benefit to coming outside of your comfort zone and looking at things that might make you think in a different way or give you a different perspective. The backlash against trigger warnings is a backlash against people being in an echo chamber, too afraid to confront ideas outside of what they already believe in.

The downside is that there are people out there who legitimately need trigger warnings because of actual trauma and PTSD. But I think that for the most part, trigger warnings are not aimed at those who need it but at those who don't want to deal with anything that makes them uncomfortable.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby Absentia » Sun Nov 04, 2018 12:24 am

I have no problem with anyone choosing to give a trigger warning. Sometimes they get pretty silly, in my opinion, but it's no skin off of my back. I can't imagine getting upset about it.

I do get irritated when people are admonished for not including a trigger warning, because it does seem awfully entitled to say that the entire world of media should be your safe space where you never encounter anything troubling. But that's a different issue.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby Marcuse » Sun Nov 04, 2018 11:26 am

I think it differs depending on the content. For current affairs, it seems sensible to add a warning before a description of traumatic things like torture, mass killings etc that have really happened in the world. I don't think that this should stop us reading about them though, because it's important to know what's going on in the world and not shying away from it. One problem with trigger warnings is that it can encourage people to avoid things they just don't want to care about.

However, I think this is more focused on media and writing and in this sphere I'm way more ambivalent. I will say that having a story which states front and center that it includes rape spoils the story. That's supposed to be the emotional low point of a story and it's a banner on the start in case some people get upset. From what I understand about Goblin Slayer the problem is not necessarily the rape, it's how it's been depicted in such a shallow and creepy way. I don't think we should trigger warning media for bad depictions of rape. An easy solution would be hidden content warnings you have to click on to see. People who wanted to see them could, and people who wanted to avoid spoilers could not click. It's not a difficult problem to solve.

I do however, respect that people don't wish to consume media that contains this kind of content because it's distressing. I feel that way myself sometimes and I have appreciated warnings on things which I decided I didn't feel like I could cope with. I think the reason this is so controversial is that generally media hasn't been seen as something which can permanently affect the mental state of the viewer in such a negative way. People are supposed to be moved by media, but not to the point of depression or anxiety, and I think the criticism of trigger warnings comes from the realisation that media can have such a profound affect on people's mental states. The backlash against this seems to be based on the impression that people are weak to allow a film or book to affect them so strongly when one can simply turn off a movie or put down a book. I don't agree with this, because the point of media is to deliver human emotional stories in a realistic or fantastic setting and real people's emotions are supposed to be affected by this. It stands to reason that people who have suffered trauma will then be affected by this to a greater degree and so I don't see why it's not fair to ensure people know what they're getting into when they make a decision to consume something, so their decision is informed.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby AsamiSato » Sun Nov 04, 2018 3:22 pm

IamNotCreepy wrote:To me, the first thing that pops in my head when I see or hear the term is to think of the excellent piece in the Atlantic, The Coddling of the American Mind.

Basically, there is a trend within American universities and today's youth to get upset at any ideas or concepts that make them uncomfortable. Instead of challenging these ideas or learning how to deal with them, they avoid them at all costs, and trigger warnings are essential to that.


As someone who teaches about race, gender, sexuality, etc. at college, I think the whole "coddling of the American mind" thing is way overblown (and right-wing media blows it even more out of proportion, makes it seem like all college professors and college students are 100% bought in on the most extreme views). Yes, there is a small subset of radicalized students who have been convinced that the best form of political expression is policing speech and they are annoying and I have experienced some fairly intense bs because of that (once). But for the most part, in my experience, young people come to college with an open mind and ready to learn.

I don't use trigger warnings because I find them annoying (admittedly, I am different from some of my peers in that) and also I feel like pretty much everything I teach could be triggering to someone. It is impossible to teach sociology without going into controversial political territory. I do give a general 'content warning' if I show a video that depicts extreme violence and I let students know ahead of time if we are going to be talking about rape/sexual violence but that's about it. I did have one Muslim student who did not want to be exposed to anything sexual and so she would just leave for some of the examples I used in class that showed people being sexual (the one that comes to mind is Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke's VMA performance). Like individual students can make arrangements with me if there is content they don't want to see or participate in, but that happens very rarely and when it has happened the students' requests have seemed legitimate to me.

I don't like how the Atlantic article connects the trigger warning stuff to mental illness. I think that is irresponsible. Students are anxious and depressed for a lot of reasons, and I highly doubt that too many 'safe spaces' is the reason. I think it's telling that a lot of the examples used in the article are university administrations using these ideas to punish faculty and students who step out of line.
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Last edited by AsamiSato on Sun Nov 04, 2018 5:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby sunglasses » Sun Nov 04, 2018 4:26 pm

Yes, some people take trigger warnings too far. But some people need them. Anyone who's got PTSD or gone thru a traumatic experience does appreciate them. A read a webtoon that's rather light hearted so when they had a rather graphic episode the author straight up said: warning, this is graphic violence. And it was. Arms were ripped off.

Do we need them for things that are inconvenient? No. But I can see having a warning of the very real depictions of war atrocities if you were in a history class and covering the rape of Manilla. Or what happened to the comfort women in Korea. Some times people need to steal themselves for such things.

This being said, lambasting someone for including a warning is just silly.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby ghijkmnop » Tue Nov 06, 2018 7:07 pm

Personally, I find the phrase "Trigger Warning" Triggering; these all-encompassing catchphrases annoy me.

I have no problem with the warnings themselves, and wish that more subjects were included, like "this article on nature has a section featuring extreme close-ups of predatory spiders." or "BATS!!! If you have an issue with bats, don't read this."
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby NathanLoiselle » Wed Nov 07, 2018 1:11 am

I have to say that this discussion is triggering me. We should have a trigger warning on it.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby ftl » Wed Nov 07, 2018 2:15 am

As far as I can tell, both of you guys that posted just above me are mildly annoyed rather than triggered.

It's a term from PTSD, which based on your posts neither of you are experiencing.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby ghijkmnop » Wed Nov 07, 2018 3:44 am

ftl wrote:As far as I can tell, both of you guys that posted just above me are mildly annoyed rather than triggered.

It's a term from PTSD, which based on your posts neither of you are experiencing.


I'll be 60 next year. I knew PTSD before it was called that.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby Irishjava » Wed Nov 07, 2018 4:36 pm

Every lefty I follow on Youtube (Shaun, ContraPoints, Three Arrows, Lindsey Ellis) uses the term "content warning" instead of "trigger warning". I like that a whole lot more, as most on this thread have (correctly) pointed out that since "trigger" is tied to PTSD, it can feel really excessive sometimes. "Content warning" has no such implication, just seems like a decent heads-up for those who want it, and it lends itself more easily to the "Viewer discretion advised" comparison.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby NathanLoiselle » Thu Nov 08, 2018 2:20 am

ftl wrote:As far as I can tell, both of you guys that posted just above me are mildly annoyed rather than triggered.

It's a term from PTSD, which based on your posts neither of you are experiencing.


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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby 52xMax » Fri Nov 09, 2018 8:29 am

Good thread. All (most, anyway) sensible opinions so far, and I can't find nothing much to disagree. I think the "content warning" is an attempt at further cleansing a term that's already PC, so that's kind of ridiculous. But as long as they're not tone trolling and trying to impose this new word over the previous one (like "handi-capable"), I don't really mind one bit if they themselves favor its use.

Similarly, I don't have a problem when creators decide to put labels all over their work about pretty much whatever they want. I'm gonna comment when I think it's excessive or that it diminishes the value of said work, but if they think it's justified for whatever reason I'm not gonna try and stop them.

What I mostly object is when moral busybodies acting on behalf of the poor souls who don't know better try to change the works of others because "won't somebody please think of the children". Especially when it comes to content that was not designed for the audiences these people pretend to be offended for and claim to protect, such as movies and video games rated for adults only, or literary works that have been around for centuries and use language that was not controversial at the time or which is being used deliberately to illustrate a point.

Stamping a trigger warning on the cover of "Huckleberry Finn" or "Uncle Tom's Cabin" for using "the 'n' word" or for their depiction of slavery entirely misses both the context and the point of those stories. It's like banning Anne Frank's diary because there's Nazis in it, and that might trigger the two dozen people who are still alive that remember WW2.

There's also the matter (I do recall this being discussed, perhaps in the now infamous "social justice absurdity" thread, long before your time, KK) of how much it actually contributes to add these warnings to people actually suffering from trauma and PTSD, and if these attempts at sheltering them from the outside world (when not futile) might not be causing harm instead by preventing them from confronting their fears in a controlled environment such as a classroom, before being exposed to those things out in the real world with no one to protect them.

Anyone interested in the coddling of the American mind, you'd be happy to know that its authors Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff recently expanded the ideas of that paper into a book, by the same title. It's on my reading list, but if anyone gets to it before than me, please share your thoughts on it here, on the books thread, or directly through PM.
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Re: Trigger warnings

Postby IamNotCreepy » Fri Nov 09, 2018 4:06 pm

One thing that strikes me as odd about trigger warnings is I just don't see how they would be useful for the written word.

I mean, I definitely get trigger warnings for videos. Due to how realistic some videos can be, someone with PTSD could easily be triggered by graphic depictions of violence.

I don't get how that translates to the written word. People don't get that same visceral reaction by reading that they do from video. Also, it's much easier to stop reading in the middle of a sentence if you realize something graphic is occurring.

With written text, you could spend a whole page describing something that could be depicted in one image -- you know, the whole picture being worth a thousand words thing. At any time, you can stop reading, but once you see that picture, it's too late.
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