Rants and Rambles: Trigger warnings.

Rants and Rambles: Trigger warnings.

Hello everyone. Welcome to my first rant and rambles post. In these articles I’ll be talking about a topic that is somewhat writing related. Sometimes I’m complaining, sometimes I’m making an argument. Sometimes I’m ranting and rambling. Enjoy.

The first topic of rants of rambles is Trigger Warnings.

A trigger warning, also known as a content warning, is a message given at the start of something to warn that the following content may be upsetting. Although trigger warnings are more popular online than in novels, they are becoming more common, with some universities even applying trigger warnings to required reading texts. These include academic essays and classic novels such as Tess of the D’Urbervilles.  The rise in popularity of trigger warnings has sparked a debate on their necessity and their usefulness.

Here’s an example of a Trigger Warning from the BBC, taken from my iPhone. Note the trigger warning at the bottom.

The main positive of having a trigger warning should be obvious. By placing the warning, the reader is less likely to become upset. This is particularly useful if the person in question is suffering from PTSD or another mental illness which, depending on the individual and the text in question, could lead to mental or physical harm. In almost all cases trigger warnings are easy to apply. All that is needed is a simple sentence along the lines of: The following contains scenes of assault that some may find upsetting. The definition of trigger warnings can be vast. Although most people think of website posts as containing trigger warnings they are also used in news reports and films. For example a news report saying: the following report contains disturbing scenes or the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) rating a film U, PG, 12,15 or 18 are types of trigger warnings. These can be useful for parents who want to decide if their child should watch a film or a news report about a war. The appliance of trigger warnings is very popular, particularly among people of my generation and for those who do not like them they are nothing more than a mild annoyance. There is also the shallow point that trigger warnings are good marketing tools. If the cover of something such as a DVD or an album has a trigger warning, it has been proven it is more likely to sell.


Sadly, memes like the above are common online, lampooning the idea of a trigger warning and labelling anyone who believes in them as a millennial snowflakes.  Although I am firmly rooted in the for camp, I do understand some of the points against trigger warnings. The point I most sympathise with is that a trigger warning can ruin the impact of a story. If the first page of a novel or first frame of a film has a trigger warning for death then the surprise of a character’s sudden death is ruined. There is also an argument that that there are no trigger warnings in real life and therefore there shouldn’t be trigger warnings in the media we consume. A simple counter to this is that if we have the opportunity not to upset someone, we should be considerate and take it. The point that the mention of the trigger warning is triggering in itself is harder to parry. If the victim of a sexual assault sees Warning: the following contains scenes of sexual violence, they will instantly think back to their own experience and become upset. In some cases they will be more upset by the trigger warning that the scene the warning is for. If we return to the example I used at the top of the article, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, if someone was to find a trigger warning for the rape scene in the novel they may be put off from reading it. Finally the warnings can often be vague or over over-exaggerated as the examples from the QI clip below proves.

(Oddly enough I am adding a trigger warning to this QI clip. It contains very strong language!)

I think that the answer is a compromise… and a bit of common sense. You can not protect someone against every single fear. It is a noble but impossible task. Some triggers, such as my own ornithophobia (fear of birds) is not as important as someone else’ trigger of domestic violence. Even if a trigger warning isn’t available, it can be heavily implied. It can be assumed that something upsetting happens in every crime novel (more often than not a murder!) so people of a nervous disposition should read something else. The front cover of the novel and a well written blurb should indicate to the reader what lays ahead.

An example of what I would call a compromise. You have a meat knife, a font in blood red and the title is a dead give away.

What are your thoughts on Trigger Warnings? Do you like them or are you against the idea? Let me know on social media and I’ll see you next time.



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