Guest post by staff writer Will Van Stone, Jr.
I recently republished a short story called Sonny Came Home about a very angry woman who goes on a bloody and graphic murder spree and she’s the good guy. The first thing readers (should) see when they check it out is a nice little Reader Advisory box letting them know there’s some very bad things ahead:
I also have one for Good Christian Boys Chapter One and Two due to the naughty bits I wrote, and will continue to write, as well as going back and adding those to previous posts that could use a warning for various reasons. Let’s be honest: I write some things that certain individuals would rather not read due to content. In a way, those simple little boxed are like trigger warnings and…
Are Trigger Warnings Censorship?
Oh, shit, did I censor myself!? Damn. I hate censorship; it’s downright un-American, y’all. I mean, there’s been a whole big thing online and IRL about trigger warnings from the humble University of Chicago’s Dean of Students and this great debate about how they’re a SJW attempt to censor people’s free speech, so there must be some truth to the warning equaling censorship argument. After all, The First Amendment means something, damnit! Just look how the words are CAPITALIZED, and we all know that caps are only brought in for Very Important Things.
So how the hell does some keyboard warrior think they can tell anyone what they can and cannot talk about!? How dare they tell me what I can and cannot publish on my website! That’s downright super un-American!
Whoa. Hold up there, big boy. Let’s look at this ridic argument that keeps making the rounds, shall we?
Freedom of Speech
Before you get all wrapped up in the Bill of Rights, let’s look at what the First Amendment actually says.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
See that word Congress there? That means government, specifically the federal government, though the Supreme Court has decided that state and local governments are to adhere to the basic right as well. So, to call trigger warnings an act of censorship that goes against what’s written in the Constitution is a major misunderstanding of the all-important document. Now, please, stop with that pointless argument. Also, shut up.
The Following Movie is Rated…
The question remains, is it still censorship? Private institutions don’t necessarily need to abide by the First Amendment, so there’s always the chance it could happen. But does it? Does having an R-rating attached to the latest blood-filled horror flick mean that film is being censored? It’s still available to view, at the theater, even.
Last I checked, if something is there to watch, it hasn’t been censored. Let’s check on that, though. According to Merriam-Webster, the legal definition of censor is to examine (as a publication or film) in order to suppress or delete any contents considered objectionable. While films may remove scenes to be granted the desired rating, the MPAA doesn’t themselves cut up a film. They simply rate what they’re given and assign the warnings deemed appropriate.
Along with the basic rating (G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17) we also have qualifiers telling us why a film received its rating. Ever notice things like thematic content, some disturbing images, and language? They’re so movie goers know what kind of content to expect in case someone doesn’t like, or doesn’t want their child to see, some disturbing images.
Basically, it allows filmmakers to keep all the f-bombs without worrying that someone who doesn’t, or shouldn’t, hear them will, well, hear them. Honestly, it’s common decency and smart business.
Now, look at the words trigger and warning and replace them with the following is rated PG-13 for thematic content, some disturbing images, and language and tell me again how it’s a liberal conspiracy to shut down opposing opinions.
The Truth About Trigger Warnings
Having a trigger warning isn’t a way to shut you up; it’s a way to warn someone that what’ll be discussed might not be the easiest subject to hear about for many reasons that I’m not going to mention here ‘cause I’d be here forever. It’s a quick, mess-free way to be a decent human being.
Imagine, if you will, that you’ve got an aversion to reading about the gay butt stuff. Wouldn’t you be kind of upset, pissed even, if your eyes fell upon a very graphic description of that scene from Brokeback Mountain? I’m guessing you’d have appreciated a head’s up that two dudes were going to get all loved up on each other. For some people, that same kind of warning can help prepare them for what they’re about to see – hence trigger being the important part.
If it helps, think of it as a guard against complaints, and more. If people are aware that you’ll be discussing sensitive topics, nobody can bitch about what you say and you’re free to say whatever comes to mind (kind of like Donald Trump grabbing things). Except hopefully not racist and misogynistic and every other kind of bigoted.
Think Beyond Your Own Experiences
In Sonny Came Home, I wrote some graphic rape scenes and, yes, they are important to the story. When I chose to place the warning in front of the words, I wasn’t doing so because people are whiny weenies who need a warm blanket to hide under because the world is a big, scary place. I placed it there because there are actual rape victims and survivors out there, online and IRL (something that U of C Dean would do well to remember) that might be saved some pain with just a quick “hey, rape talk here.”
Even if you don’t trust the figures presented on RAINN’s website (there are some who don’t and this isn’t an argument for or against it so don’t start that argument today), there are still those out there who have been sexually assaulted who, if they end up hearing or seeing something rape-related without warning, could be affected in ways those who haven’t been assaulted couldn’t understand. And, as an added bonus, your simple warning guards you against attempts to silence you. Doesn’t that seem like a good thing? That little trigger warning, contrary to what some dumbasses think, is a defense against censorship. So, stop playing a victim and bitching how hard it is to be a decent person.
Let It Go
Listen to Elsa. Seriously. What possible harm could come from including a little warning to readers and viewers know that what they’re about to experience may be difficult or disturbing? You’re not being stopped from saying what you want; you’re just allowing someone who may need it the time to prepare so they don’t go full on breakdown in the middle of it.
The Tattooed Professor put it quite well with [d]isplaying empathy for the different experiences our students bring to the classroom is not a threat to our academic freedom. Allowing for a diversity of perspectives to flourish, even when that diversity might challenge the very structure of our course and its material, is not a threat but an opportunity.
Makes sense to me so why can’t certain other folk (like the ignorant and conservatives and ignorant conservatives) understand that shit? Is it that hard to be considerate?
Oh, and as for my first question? No, I’m not censoring myself or my writings. All I’m doing is being a decent person. And I’m not just protecting other people who need the early warning so they can prepare to continue or just opt out; I’m protecting myself from someone else trying to censor me. See? Everyone really does win when you get over stupid assumptions and actually listen to what someone else has to say.
Try it some time.
photos courtesy of pixabay
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