Image courtesy of “fawad’s art, sketches, etc.” http://www.conceptart.org/forums/showthread.php/32855-fawad-s-art-sketches-etc

Before I started writing this, I picked up the closest book to where I’m sitting. For me, it happens to be “Star Wars – Tales from Jabba’s Palace” that toddler brought me from my bookshelf. This book has a number of features that helps classify the writing inside.

There’s the title in the characteristic Star Wars font across the top. If I didn’t like Star Wars, I probably wouldn’t have read this book. That title on the cover page in no way disallows me from reading it. I would simply choose not to.

There’s an editor name – Kevin J Anderson. If I didn’t like Kevin’s work, I probably wouldn’t have read this collection of stories. His name on the cover in no way disallows me from reading it. I would simply choose not to.

There’s a price on the back – £4.99. If I didn’t agree with that price, I probably wouldn’t have bought it. That price listing on the cover in no way disallows me from reading it. I would simply choose not to.

While this collection of short sci fi stories does not contain a trigger warning, just like the other descriptors listed above, it would not disallow me from reading it. I would simply choose not to.

Even if I did choose not to, those descriptors wouldn’t prevent you from reading it, either.

Listing a title, author’s name or book price is not censorship. Listing a trigger warning isn’t censorship either. It’s simply a way to classify the text inside. For some, this ‘controversial’ descriptor is more necessary than for others.

A lot of what I’ve said above is echoed in this post from “Sometimes, it’s just a cigar”, where jemima2013 goes on to say that “The idea suggested by the Guardian that trigger warnings are censorship is just laughable…” I’d take it a step further – to say that it’s insulting to those dealing with actual censorship (the practice of officially examining books, movies, etc., and suppressing unacceptable parts) issues.

I think that’s what’s upset me the most about the ‘anti-trigger-warning’ posse. You’ll keep your WordPress blogs and Facebook accounts and post your videos to YouTube, but heaven forbid if someone wants to get a warning that there’s a rape scene in the text they’re about to read.

But there’s another argument that I’ve seen echoed in some circles – the ‘slippery slope’ of trigger warnings as a future method of censorship. Adding that descriptor as possibly triggering to rape victims, military veterans, child abuse survivors, or any other group which may have an adverse reaction to the material could be used to suppress the material from the general public.

Sure, that could happen. So could book burnings based on a title, or author name, or price range. Why do we not call for the removal of those descriptors, as well? It’s because those descriptions serve a valuable function, just as trigger warnings do.

I also worry that the specific issue highlighted in the Guardian & New York Times piece is getting blown way out of proportion. (I’ve called it the Chicken Little Syndrome in the past.) Groups of students at some American universities are asking that trigger warnings be placed on the course syllabus.

They are not asking for these books to be removed from the course or from the university itself.

They are not calling for publishers to have mandatory trigger warnings on all texts.

They are not asking for these books to have ‘ratings’ which prevents the sale of these books to certain age groups, demographics or locations.

They are requesting additional information so they can make informed decisions about their reading.

For those who are saying “well surely no one needs trigger warnings on the classics / well known authors / usual college standard fare (because everyone already knows what’s going on with those books)” – check your privilege.

For those who think that trigger warnings aren’t necessary because “life is traumatic” – check it again.

Trigger warnings have a valid place in written material, just as the title, author name, and price listing do. I do find it rather strange that those who want to banish trigger warnings from existence are doing so on the basis of those warnings censoring the works. The ones making the fuss are in fact suppressing what they have deemed ‘unacceptable parts’ themselves.

Filed under: Ruby on Writing

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