There are so many feel good movements on the Internet that I can’t keep track of them all. Some of the most prevalent ones (that I’m aware of) are the push for people to use gender neutral terms (which is really fucking difficult when the language you’re using is English), stop using the word retarded, and include trigger warnings on any material that may trigger a traumatic memory of people you haven’t met. The last one has been gaining some traction as of late and it appears to be spreading outside of the Internet:
It’s a phrase that’s been requested this semester by a number of college students to be applied to classic books — The Great Gatsby (for misogyny and violence), Huck Finn (for racism), Things Fall Apart (for colonialism and religious persecution), Mrs. Dalloway (for suicide), Shakespeare (for … you name it). These students are asking for what essentially constitute red-flag alerts to be placed, in some cases, upon the literature itself, or, at least, in class syllabuses, and invoked prior to lectures.
These feel good movements, in addition to being an attempt to protect everybody’s sensitive feelings, generally have an (sometimes) unintended side effect: censorship. As the article goes on to state:
Of course, life doesn’t come with a trigger warning, even if it should. And while a classroom conversation about emotionally fraught subjects would seem not only advisable but also just part of any decent teaching method, slapping a trigger warning on classic works of literature seems a short step away from book banning, a kind of censorship based on offenses to individual feelings.
Whenever I run across a comment that says some permutation of “Dude, add a trigger warning!” (Dude? Way to jump to assumptions that all offense things on the Internet are posted by men you misandrist asshole!) it triggers my trigger, which is triggered whenever I run across somebody bitching because there isn’t an included trigger warning. How is the author of an article or a comment supposed to know that the content of his work is going to set off some random stranger’s traumatic memories?
Of course the opinion that trigger warning are bullshit isn’t generally accepted within the halls of the social justice warriors so they will often demand that you be censored for expressing it. And if you do include a trigger warning they will demand that you be censored because you posted something online that you expected to trigger somebody’s traumatic memories.
Imagine a class of 30 students. Each student has lived a separate life full of different experiences from every other member of the class. More than likely more than one of the students has suffered a traumatic experience and it’s also likely the the type of trauma suffered by each sufferer is different from the other sufferers. What happens when the instructor of a literature class chooses to assign Huck Finn and one of the students who suffered racial trauma objects? That instructor will be faced with deciding to assign a different book or being labeled an asshole for making a student who is triggered by the assigned material read it. Since the former is less likely to end in a week long bitchfest on Twitter as social justice warriors create a clever hashtag to use to derogatorily refer to the instructor he or she will probably choose to assign a different book. So let’s say that the instructor decides to assign Mrs. Dalloway instead only to find out one of his students was traumatized by a past attempt to commit suicide. Again we return to one of two options. Eventually the only titles that become acceptable to assign are sanitized tomes devoid of almost everything that makes for a great work (namely addressing or exploring a controversial topic).
In addition to being based entirely on random people’s feelings, trigger warning are also time period dependent. Consider many of the works of Samuel Clemens. Many of his titles contain what we now consider to be very racist language. But when they were written the terms used were part of the vernacular. When the books were written nobody would have demanded a trigger warning be added to the book. So in addition to having to predict the feels of every potential reader authors and publishers must either predict what will offend individuals in the future or periodically update the included trigger warnings.
Trying to manage such a subjective time sensitive clusterfuck as trigger warnings on novels is retarded (I’m just going to tick off all of the easily offendeds’ boxes). Because of the difficult of managing such a mess colleges and instructors will choose the much easier path of assigning completely sterile works to the detriment of students everywhere.