Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Friday, May 23, 2014

So Trigger Warnings Are A Thing

In the last 48 hours, suddenly "trigger warnings" are everywhere.

Basically, trigger warnings are designed to warn a reader that there is something graphic or upsetting in a book that might trigger flashbacks or PTSD.  Let's say you were raped, and you read a book with a graphic rape in it.  This could be very upsetting.

In some ways, trigger warnings are no different than the rating systems used in movies and now TV.  It's helpful to know if a movie is too intense before you watch it.  I'm sure many people would've appreciated some warnings before watching Bambi.

Part of the problem is that these trigger warnings are used in academic.  Presumably, you might buy a book with a "trigger" without knowing it, but that seems unlikely.  If the book is assigned to you, then that becomes more problematic.

On the other hand, in college, you are supposed to grapple with things that aren't easy for you.

I'm incredibly torn about this concept.  I recognize the desire to shield people from things that will really hurt them emotionally.  Yet I also worry that we are creating a generation of emotionally stunted young people who are incapable of navigating the vicissitudes of life.

The other day, the Senior class had their prank.  They basically walked around school wearing sombreros with some mariachis, disrupting classes.  It was designed to be harmless fun.  But there were some people who found it offensive to use Mexican culture as a crude, stereotypical punchline, especially in a school where Hispanic students are very much a minority.

Both sides are right.  It's just a joke, but don't make other people into a joke.  This also means both sides are wrong.  Don't be mean, and lighten up.

All humor offends someone.  And the great curse of political correctness is its humorlessness.  And one of the reasons we create humor, why we laugh, is to cope with the things that worry or hurt us.  If you shut yourself off to that humor, you prevent yourself from healing the things that hurt you.  But you also don't need other people laughing AT you.

When my students brought it up, I said the important thing is that both positions have validity, but the important thing is the discussion that comes afterwards.  If someone says they were offended, try and understand why.  If someone sincerely was not being malicious, then don't read into every joke an attempt at oppression.  But most of all, talk to each other.

We have enough problems if our jokes and literature wind up being used to divide us into ever smaller and smaller islands, until finally we stand alone on a strip of sand, wondering where the world went to.

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