More and more recently the term “trigger warning” has been coming up in conversations I have, articles I read, and the news. Most of these are centered on colleges petitoning for “trigger warnings” to be put on books that might potentially contain disturbing themes or ideas or situations.
Seriously? When did we decide to stop thinking for ourselves? When did we, as a culture, begin to become emotional infants? Does this mean we are going to have to put a trigger warning on Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn? And what about Moby Dick? Are we now becoming so politically correct that classic stories have to come with warnings?
The student government at the University of California in Santa Barbara seems to think so. Last year they petitioned to have trigger warnings put on books to warn of possible distressing material. A short list of books they cited as needing trigger warnings included:
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
The Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare
“A draft trigger warning policy from Oberlin, quoted in Inside Higher Education, used Achebe’s acclaimed text as an example of a work which might require a warning, saying the novel was “a triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read. However, it may trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide, and more.” ~ Cited from www.theguardian.com. Read the full article here.
I’m sorry. The last time I looked I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand or pat my back saying ‘there there, it’s okay, it’s just a story.’ I have never needed to go talk to a therapist because Stephen King scared the crap out of me. Ok, so maybe Stephen King’s books need warnings. But, really, we all know he’s going to scare us silly so isn’t that the only warning we need?
For writers, what does this mean? Am I going to have to begin being sensitive to what I can write about because it might disturb someone? I can tell you right now that I am never going to be the kind of writer who does that. I write what is in me to write. If you can’t handle that, then don’t read my stories or poems. Put as many trigger warnings as you want to on my work but it’s not going to stop me from writing about the hard stuff, the ugly stuff, the stuff that makes you upset. I won’t apologize for it either. We are adults. We don’t need trigger warnings on books. Stand up, act like a mature adult, and use the grey matter in your head that you were born with. Because as far as I’m concerned, putting warnings on books is today’s version of book burning and book banning.
When I saw that Neil Gaiman had put together another short story collection and titled it Trigger Warning, I knew I had to read it. The one thing I love about Mr. Gaiman’s short story collections are his introductions. They are worth reading. The one in Trigger Warning is no different. I love what he has to say about ‘trigger warnings’. In short, he says “we are mature, we decide what we read or do not read.”
He goes on to explain that “what we read as adults should be read with no warnings or alerts beyond enter at your own risk.” I understand that there are people who have problems and issues and that certain things can bring on certain anxieties. But when did we have to start putting warnings on books? To me it has always been common sense. There is a title and a picture on covers of books and usually a summary on the back or on the inside flap of a book cover. That summary should be enough to tell you “hey, this contains material that might bother you.” If you choose to read the book, it is your personal responsibility for dealing with the ideas, themes, emotions that the story may reveal to you. Do we seriously have to begin putting warnings on books?
Life does not come with trigger warnings. The only way we know where our comfort zones are is by stepping out of them, by encountering situations that force us to think outside our normal parameters. The best and safest way to do this is by reading books that “might” distress us. Books that force us to deal with ugly emotions and feelings, that make us uncomfortable, help us to deal with those situations in the safety of our own homes. No one ever has to know that we had to go change our underwear because of Stephen King. And if we need therapy because of it, then that’s our little secret. You also learn that if you don’t like having the crap scared out of you then don’t read Stephen King again. No warning needed.
“There. Consider yourself warned. There are so many little triggers out there, being squeezed in the darkness…Now all we have to worry about is all the other books, and, of course, life, which is huge and complicated and will not warn you before it hurts you.” ~Neil Gaiman, Trigger Warning.