S P Oldham
I have recently noticed a growing tendency for writers to make a note of potential 'trigger warnings' for readers at the start of their work, in particular it seems in the genre of YA fiction.
I have to admit that I am not enamoured of this. Surely, the blurb of a book or even the subject matter of a piece of writing if it is a shorter work, should be enough to forewarn people of the likely content of the writing? If it is something a reader might find offensive, disturbing or upsetting, surely that would be notice enough for them to perhaps find some other, more suitable, reading material? No need to get upset, simply close the book and pick something else. Easy.
Reality doesn't come with trigger warnings. Life doesn't give you the heads up in advance that things are about to get ugly. Someone may start a conversation that is uncomfortably close to your own personal experiences at any given moment. In a bar, a coffee shop, a supermarket, on the bus; anywhere. They don't stand up beforehand and say "I'm about to discuss x, y and z. I realise this might be upsetting for some of you. Please choose to drink/eat/shop somewhere else, or would you prefer me to leave?" No one will ever check in with you in advance of a debate, just in case their views and/or experiences are likely to unsettle you. In fact, in Real Life that is often the desired effect of the speaker.
That is life; learning to deal with that is a Life Skill.
I seriously worry for the coming generations. I worry that they seem to think everything should be sanitised - a sort of 'one size fits all' deal. Books, in my view at least, are meant to move us; to make us think and to make us rethink. They exist to show us perspectives. They are there to induce rage, lust, fury, fear, angst and yearning. They prompt new ideas and unearth long forgotten ones. They introduce us to the wonderful, the magical, the obscene, the repulsive, the abandoned, the sinful and the angelic. We know when a great book has had an effect on us because we are still thinking about it days, weeks, months, sometimes even years later. Plots carry us along at breakneck speed, intricacies absorb us, twists confound and confuse us. Characters who start out 'good' may turn out to be 'evil' and vice-versa; still others remain wicked throughout. Or corrupt, twisted, afraid, vulnerable. They take us on their relentless journey and we, as the reader, can choose either to go on to the end or jump ship; or car, or aeroplane or whatever. There abusers and the abused, there are slave masters and slaves, monsters and puppet masters, whores, pimps, executioners and lawmen alike and many other incarnations of man between the covers. How can there possibly be a trigger warning to encompass all the bold, brave, terrifying, monumental stories, plots and devices out there?
There is a danger, I think, in never straying beyond our comfort zones. I understand absolutely that the vulnerable must be protected.I applaud the notion, but in my heart I cannot help but feel that 'trigger warnings' where books are concerned do little in that regard. The tone of the book should be obvious from the blurb and, not least, the genre. No one picks up a horror book in the expectation that no violence will occur amongst its pages. No one picks up erotica expecting nothing more than a chaste kiss upon a page. Isn't it time we allowed people to think for themselves again, instead of constantly wrapping ourselves up in cotton wool and expecting only the lovely things in life to get through to us? The world simply doesn't work like that.
I also fear it is a dangerous way to go in terms of setting a precedent. How long, I wonder, before someone takes an author to court for not writing a trigger warning, or worse still, not writing one definitively enough in that reader's opinion, and is therefore deemed responsible for setting off that person's trigger - even if that person read the book cover to cover before filing any complaint...