I haven’t had anything to say about trigger warnings until now. I had been leaning on the side of “not necessary” or “too coddling,” as most of the media I consume had been framing them in this way. But I’m surprised to say that I think I’ve had a change of heart, inspired partially by this editorial published in The Guardian, “Trigger warnings don’t hinder freedom of speech; they expand it,” by Lindy West.
As West argues, a trigger warning is actually mean to “increase engagement and increase accessibility” and that paying attention “to the needs of students with PTSD doesn’t hinder academic freedom; it expands it.”
But I found myself getting distracted as I read her article, going down a thought tangent. It occurred to me that I constantly write things in which I warn people at the beginning of the article that they might not want to keep reading. I begin blog posts with “notes” and “warnings” and “spoiler alerts” all the time. Why? Because if someone hasn’t seen Fight Club, I don’t want to upset them. If someone doesn’t know what happens at the end of the ninth episode of Game of Thrones, I don’t want to ruin it for them.
Am I coddling my readers by doing this? No way. I’m doing them a huge favor. When I fall behind on a favorite television show or don’t make it to a movie on opening night, I avoid social media to ensure it won’t be spoiled. Many others do the same. But not everyone can read or see everything they want to read or see as soon as they want to read or see it. So I believe in the courtesy of spoiler alerts. I believe in telling someone “I’m going to discuss the existing five ASOIAF novels in this blog post, so be forewarned.” Does it make sense to believe in being courteous toward True Detective fans but not toward people with PTSD? If you don’t properly tag a post with a spoilers in any of the book or television subreddits I visit, your post will immediately be deleted.
This entire thing reminds me of something that one of my heroes, Neil Gaiman, said about political correctness: “I started imagining a world in which we replaced the phrase “politically correct” wherever we could with “treating other people with respect”, and it made me smile.”
Lots of things that Neil Gaiman say make me smile. And I figure that if I can treat people who demand spoiler alerts with respect, then I can treat people who want trigger warnings with respect too.