Friday, 17 June 2016

Trigger Warnings And Why They Are Essential

The following link will take you to an article written by Gina Berreca for the online site The Lima News and was posted on 10th June 2016, 6 days before Jo Cox was murdered. Trigger Warnings...
I submitted the following as a reply because Gina, an English Professor at the University of Connecticut, clearly does not understand what a trigger warning is.

"You clearly do not understand what a trigger warning is. It is not a "you might get a bit emotional over this" neither is it a "you're gonna need a tissue for this next bit" it is far more serious than that. For anyone that faces the challenge of mental wellness a trigger warning can be essential for their safety and for those around them. It is more like a Red Flag and do not swim here because you are at risk from drowning. Trigger warning are set in place when there are stimuli that could be hazardous to the individual or the public at large. Jo Cox was murdered by someone who has a history of mental illness and, almost certainly, he or those around him missed a trigger warning. You see? If you ignore or fail to notice a trigger warning people can die. This is not an extreme view this is common place and is not something to be ridiculed or down played"

Now, I do see what Gina is trying to say in that we shouldn't be removing the challenge of literature and we should always attempt to lead people out of their comfort zones. However, by saying that she will refuse to use a trigger warning she is being irresponsible. It has come across so badly that it could be read that we shouldn't protect our children and that the whole concept of trigger warnings is a kind of dumbing down. Gina, has portrayed herself as an uncaring individual who is more concerned about teaching how she wants to and she belittles and ridicules the serious issues which can arise with anyone. Her inclusion of the "If you’re afraid of cats and you’re assigned “Winnie-the-Pooh,” do you need a Tigger warning?" phrase is hugely offensive and shows her breath taking lack of understanding.

I posted this reply and submitted it for moderation by The Lima News, it was deleted and removed. This is also a challenge to free speech and proves further that the media do not understand or wish to even consider the possibility that mental health has wider issues and concerns. Or that a well qualified and respected teacher, who you would hope would be fully aware of the issues surrounding mental health, may have got this one very, very wrong. This is such an important issue that I felt I wanted to publish it on my own blog and I welcome replying posts without editing or removal.


  1. Hi. I've come to this debate quite late, but I thought it would be worth contributing my experience of content warnings. (I prefer to use the phrase "content warning" over "trigger warning" for reasons below.)

    Waiting for Gandalf was a difficult one because it would have been impossible to warn about the themes in advance without giving away what the play is about, for reasons obvious to every who's seen it. Equally, I was aware that for anyone unlucky enough to have been what Kevin went through, they may well not want this theme bringing up with no warning - it would be reasonable to warn them in advance so they can choose to either not see it or brace themselves.

    For what it's worth, the only practical thing for me to do is go along with whatever the venue policy is. Both Underground and Sweet have a policy of no content warnings unless the customer specifically asks, so I work on the assumption that anyone thinking of going to a show in this venue knows the rules and knows to ask. For the previews, I did put a warning of "upsetting themes" on the publicity because this play was different to what these audiences are used to.

    The strange thing is, no-one ever asked about the upsetting themes, and as far as I know, no-one minded the harrowing stuff at the end. The one time someone DID walk out was something that didn't cross my mind at all - he was a visiting officer for the army who had to break the news of deaths, and that bit of the story was too much for him. I updated my content warning in light of that, but the lesson learned is that upsetting content can come up where you least expect it.

    Even on the subject of themes of sexual violence, there's no easy answer. A victim of rape might be triggered by an account of a similar event on stage - or she might be triggered by something mundane to the rest of us, such as the actor wearing the same shirt as her attacker. Ultimately, trigger/content warnings I feel can only work as a courtesy. It requires common sense and discretion on the part of both performers and audiences. Once you start making trigger warnings a firm requirement, you open the door for everyone to insist on trigger warnings for every last details - do that, and you can't do your job as an artist.

  2. Thanks so much Chris, you raise some really good points and I don't have any easy answers either. My article was in response to the tone that was struck in that it was very "I will never offer trigger or content warnings" and then went on to ridicule them. Yes, everything can be a trigger and there is no way you can warn against everything. I have found that the most upsetting elements are those that crop up out of the blue and can be as innocent as a smell or yes a shirt. For the record, i didnt realise that was Sweet's policy at all.
    Thank you for your contributions as always