If I want to start an argument on the internet right now, I really only have to type those words. There are some people I know and respect who are disgusted by the idea of giving trigger warnings and others who I also know and respect who talk quite passionately about the with PTSD who have had issues with works of art that contain themes and accounts that cause them a lot of mental anguish.
First off, while I am a huge Free Speech advocate, I am also someone who thinks that a parental warning or a rating is a good idea for comics, TV shows, movies, etc… Yes, formatting, presentation and other cues can help, but if a parent is watching Ultimate Spider-Man with their 9 year old (which the show is aimed at) goes to a comic shop and picks up the trade paperback of “The Other” (a Spider-man story from about a decade ago) and sees Spider-Man eat someone’s head, or the Future Spider-Man story where Mary Jane dies of cancer from Peter’s radioactive sperm, it’s not a Good Thing.
Does this mean that stories involving traumatic things should be eliminated? No. Art examines all aspects of life, good and bad, and to wall off a section of life and state art can’t deal with it goes against what I believe. Art has to explore everything, that’s why we do it. For every piece of crap that exploits a horrific incident, there is probably a piece of art that does it in a thoughtful manner that illuminates or enhances.
I keep hearing that the problem is that “kids today can’t handle the rough stuff” in fiction, art, etc… But, how much of that is that we have abdicated our role in introducing people to the idea that art CAN be disturbing? That art challenges and pushes boundaries. That sometimes it will fail when doing so, but in doing that it pushes us further as people. When we decide to shy away from talking with harsh realities with children, and only have them consume bland entertainment and art that passes time rather than helps them understand the world they live in and how people explore it through creative venues, we rob them of the ability to be ready for art that challenges and stretches them.
Was “All Quiet On The Western Front” wrong to dig deeper in the depiction of war and the horrors within? Was “Clockwork Orange” wrong to illuminate both the fear of human violence and the idea that in fighting it, we may obliterate freedom and individuality? No, but if these are handed to people without setting the stage about what they will be reading or seeing (or both), they may not be ready for what lies within.
There are a LOT of novels I read that stir up unpleasant feelings. The Travis McGee novel I am reading now has depictions of death, meditations on mortality, sex, torture and other things that can stir up the sediment on the bottom of my mind, bringing back unpleasant memories. Art affects us, and it can do it better if we understand that and know it going in.
So, I ask, what is wrong with saying something contains depictions of graphic violence, sexual violence or other elements that may be upsetting?
Can it go too far? Of course, everything can go too far. We still have religious colleges that ban dancing by students and on the other hand have colleges that don’t allow works by “old white men”. But if we spend all of our time worrying about the extremes and raging against them, we aren’t have a dialogue and are instead looking for things to feed our rage. And the thing about rage is, it doesn’t get any better the more you feed it, and eventually, you are no different than the nuts on the street corner screaming at women that their skirts are too short and that accepting gay people has allowed terrorists to get through “God’s protective shield.”
“Lighten up, Francis.” – Sgt Hulka, Stripes