“Trigger Warnings” on Books


According to the New York Times, so-called “trigger warnings” are being proposed in a few colleges on syllabi containing books or movies that may “trigger” discomfort for students. As one student in favor of the move says:

“For many students, trigger traumas are daily, painful experiences … However, by creating trigger warnings for their students, professors can help to create a safe space for their students — one that fosters positive and compassionate intellectual discussion within the collegiate classroom.”

He wants the professor to specify “trigger” passages and “safe” passages in the books.

Seriously, this has to be one of the dumbest damn things I’ve heard. I’d love to be in a classroom opposite someone arguing this because it’s just asinine. Good literature is supposed to be thought-provoking, provocative and in a sense, to shake our sensibilities — to open us up to new perspectives, new lived-lives and so on.

To coddle and protect students — students whom are supposed to be in the epicenter of learning, growing and critical thinking — from such books or material is absurd and defeatist.

That such proposals are occurring in 2014 alarms me. That books are still being banned in 2014 alarms me. That people want to alter an author’s work because it would offend someone (like Mark Twin’s Huckleberry Finn) in 2014 alarms me.

Good a time as any to copy/paste this passage from Neil Postman in the forward to, “Amusing Ourselves to Death,” where he discussed George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and said:

“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one.”


4 thoughts

  1. I believe trigger warning began as a protection for those who had suffered some sort of trauma related to the topics being discussed. But I agree that it shouldn’t be used in order for people to remain willfully ignorant of facts they deem “uncomfortable.” Stumbling upon and learning about experiences you aren’t familiar with is the number one benefit of literature.

    That quote at the end is terrifyingly accurate. =/


    1. Absolutely. I think there have been some good arguments in favor of trigger warnings for survivors of sexual assault and rape and perhaps veterans dealing with PTSD. In those instances, it would make a lot of sense. I just worry about those that want to take it beyond that.

      And his quote is shockingly prescient.


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