I thought that today I would look at trigger warnings and, lose some followers along the way.
So, yeah, a controversial topic and in the words of Eminem:
“Now this looks like a job for me
So everybody just follow me
‘Cause we need a little controversy
‘Cause it feels so empty without me
I said, this looks like a job for me“.
By trigger warnings, I don’t mean a warning for Trigger, Roy Rodger’s horse.
Neither do I mean a warning for Trigger from Only Fools and Horses.
No, what I mean by a trigger warning is, well, firstly here is flasher Gremlin revealing himself as I prepare to reveal to you the definition for trigger warning! 🙂
The dictionary definition for a trigger warning is:
a statement at the start of a piece of writing, video, etc. alerting the reader or viewer to the fact that it contains potentially distressing material (often used to introduce a description of such content).
So, that would mean that by including a list of trigger warnings at the start (or end) of your review that you are highlighting any sensitive subjects/topics that you think are likely to be triggering to a reader of the book.
A list of possible triggers (this isn’t an extensive list and I know that there are many many many more out there) are:
- Animal cruelty.
- Extreme gore.
- Graphic violence.
- Gratuitous sex scenes.
- Child Abuse.
- Rape and Sexual Assault.
- Mental and Physical Abuse.
- Eating Disorders.
- Hate crimes.
So, yeah, all of them would probably be listed for the ASOIAF by George R. R. Martin book series! 🙂
I ran a poll on twitter asking if you included trigger warnings in your reviews.
As you can see 224 people voted (I don’t know if that is a good number or not for a poll) and the results were very close! 47% said that, yes, they do include trigger warnings in their reviews while 53% said that, no, they don’t include trigger warnings in their reviews.
Now, I will say that personally, I don’t include trigger warnings in my book reviews and I don’t intend to start. Also, I AM NOT disputing the importance of trigger warnings to those who suffer from PTSD, those of you who are triggered or the seriousness of Mental Health.
Perhaps, I, like others are uncomfortable listing triggers when we are not triggered by things ourselves as we feel that it would be hypocritical to offer a list of possible triggers when we can’t possibly know what will affect others. I ask, how could I know what would trigger you and how could you know what would trigger me? I couldn’t and you couldn’t either! Yes, there are many lists of potential triggers available but they are generic, for the masses and what is to say that they include triggers that are obscure and innocuous anyway? A trigger, that for all your good intentions you may never think of including and miss in your warnings! Do you think of what triggers you when writing a list of potential triggers or do you think of what could trigger others when writing your lists?
Perhaps, we just don’t agree with using trigger warnings and don’t want to see them (I’m sure that many people who are triggered do not want to see them, holla if you are one and you agree) which is perfectly valid and acceptable! If you disagree with that then that is fine but you at least have to respect the decision and choice by each individual person even if you don’t agree with it!
Even if someone doesn’t specifically use trigger warnings in their reviews it doesn’t mean that they don’t warn of upsetting themes in the actual review. Only that they don’t include a list of triggers at the start of or end of the review
Just because someone has been through something in life it doesn’t mean that reading about similar will be a trigger for them. I have stood at the edge, stared into the abyss and cut myself to feel, to keep myself alive and yet, I have no issue with reading about suicide or self-harm at all. It is not triggering for me. Sure, it is uncomfortable reading about it but that isn’t due to my own personal experiences, simply, it is an uncomfortable and tough topic and not something that any sane person would enjoy reading about. But, triggering? For me? No. Yes, I can understand how the subject is triggering for some who have been through it but it is not triggering for all. Same for any other possible trigger too. Just because it has happened to a person in real-life it doesn’t mean that reading about it will be a trigger to them.
Likewise, as I’m being objective, some things that haven’t happened to a person, that hold no relevance to them at all could be a trigger.
Is there a difference between reading something that is simply uncomfortable to read about and something that is triggering? Many situations are uncomfortable in life and often, you can’t ignore them and you have to deal with them.
So, yes, trying to avoid triggers, sure, I get that and that you want your reading to be a safe but if you are trying to avoid things that only make you ‘uncomfortable‘. Then, those are the things that you have to face as being mature means that you can’t hide, put your head in the sand and ignore them. Just because you read about something that upsets you that doesn’t make it a trigger. Most people will be uncomfortable reading about certain things and many others will get upset about other things too. You can’t label something as triggering just because it elicits an uncomfortable feeling and reaction in you otherwise nearly everything would need to be classed as a trigger.
There is a difference between reality and fiction. No one is doubting that words have power but fiction is fiction, it isn’t real. If you choose to read certain genres knowing full well that they include what can only be described as harrowing subjects then has that not been your choice to read that genre and book? Is it not on you if you find certain topics triggering and then get upset by reading a book that includes them not on the blogger/reviewer/review for not including a list of potentially upsetting topics.
Do you not think that there needs to be some personal responsibility involved? Maybe, if you love a specific genre but find many topics that it includes/might include in a book triggering then you need to think about avoiding that genre? Sorry but you can’t solely rely on or expect bloggers to list triggers for you as it is the emphatic and kind thing to do as you can’t rely on anyone in life, only yourself as if you do you will always be disappointed
I do think that people should manage their own issues and triggers though and it is not up to the publisher, blogger and the review to list them for you! Many do but it is not a requirement on the part of anyone to have to do it.
What happens if the twist in a book is a massive trigger? Do you spoil the book for the sake of what could be a potential trigger to some when many who don’t have triggers will also read the review? Yes, yes, telling people about potential triggers far outweighs spoiling the book and it shows empathy and how kind and empathic you are but this is my blog and bite me!
The trigger warning itself is not a spoiler, I admit and agree with that. A list of potential triggers at the beginning or end of the review does not spoil the book. But, when someone then adds detail about each potential trigger, where it happens in the book, to which character, what effect it has on the story, etc then sorry but those things are spoilers! If you read a review and it told you that one of the main characters dies half-way through due to natural causes, asleep in their bed and that they drifted off peacefully to the land of eternal rest (nothing triggering) then you would be crying spoiler as you’ve just been told, how and when a main character dies. That is a spoiler and when, for example, let’s take suicide as the trigger you are warning people about you then write next to that trigger that one of the main characters dies half-way through due to suicide then that is also a spoiler! Your intentions may well be good but you can’t turn it around to your point of view that it isn’t a spoiler just because it is a potentially triggering topic. Trigger warning, NOT a spoiler, going into excessive detail about the trigger, spoiler.
Do you think that books should contain a list of trigger warnings on their covers? Is it feasible? Video games and DVD’s/Blu-Ray’s often don’t. Take Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, it only states on the back of the box that it contains violence, gambling and bad language, nothing else. It is an 18-rated game and you expect violence and bad language! Take Logan on the Blu-ray only states that it contains strong bloody violence and strong language. Like RDR 2 it’s 18-rated and you expect that content! Suicide Squad, sustained threat and moderate violence, it’s a 15-rated film, again, you expect that type of content. No triggers insight just a content warning for what you would expect to find in that genre of game and film anyway!
Would you want grimdark fantasy books to say on the cover that they contain strong bloody violence and bad language? Those are things that you expect from the genre so what would be the point? Romance books to say that they contain sex? Ya know, surely that one is obvious. Thriller books to say the same that they contain strong bloody violence/moderate violence? When, again, you would expect that to occur in that particular genre of book especially if it involves a serial killer! Obviously, for those who want trigger warnings, those mere content mentions wouldn’t be enough and would, in essence, be pointless anyway as you already expect those things to occur in those genres.
Likewise, before they start films and TV shows mostly only state that they may contain scenes that are upsetting for some viewers with no list of potential triggers at the start of the show or film! That is then followed by a phone number to ring afterwards if the scenes did distress anyone but no trigger warnings in site. Reading is a solitary and personal experience, I get it but often so is gaming and watching TV or a film. You don’t always do it with others you often do it by yourself and if you can just turn the channel for a few moments with no prior warning then switch back then you can skip a few pages of a book too. Even if you are with others then, when you see something triggering it would still only affect you so it would still be personal.
One might argue that giving a warning about potential triggers allows readers to make an informed choice about the book but does that not apply to all other media to and not just books or book reviews?! Do you expect to see trigger warnings in video game and TV show/film reviews? I checked out many video game and film reviews during writing this (hello procrastination and well, hardly any had any type of trigger or content warning in them). I would ask, when will it stop? When everything is classed as being potentially triggering? Let’s face it, in today’s day and age anything could be called triggering. Would we end up with no new books, no video games, no TV shows or films because everything is now classed as a trigger and the writers are scared of triggering people? Honestly, if that happened it would trigger my boredom threshold – yes, that point is tongue in cheek and self-deprecating.
What about catharsis, where you release possibly repressed and strong emotions. Could reading or watching triggering subjects, for some, not be cathartic?
Trigger warnings is a phrase that is associated with PTSD and not everyone has PTSD and not everyone is triggered. Some just don’t want to read about certain topics and/or events as they find the content disturbing and upsetting and that is fine but that doesn’t mean it is triggering to them only that they don’t want to read it. Due to that, perhaps the term content warning (if the blogger so chooses to use them at all) is better suited to book reviews and reviews, in general, to warn of potentially upsetting content rather than triggers as not everyone is triggered.
It might be a controversial question buy it needs to be asked, how do you know that someone is genuinely triggered by a certain topic and not just that they find it unsettling to read about? Because there is a difference, many topics are hard, upsetting, unsettling and tough to read about but that doesn’t mean that they are triggering to the person, no! Only that the person finds the topic hard to read. Most of the list of potential triggers that I included are what you would call tough topics as who likes to read about suicide, death, terminal illness, animal cruelty, etc? No-one! Those topics trigger many and don’t trigger many too but on the whole, they are all topics that people find uncomfortable to read. Triggering subjects aren’t topics that any normal person thinks, for example: ‘oh goody, suicide‘ in a book to read as they are tough topics and if someone seriously enjoys reading about suicide or animal cruelty, etc then they are a very disturbed person indeed. Finding something tough to read doesn’t mean that you are triggered by it though just that you found it uncomfortable. yet you label it as ‘being triggering‘ and that way of thinking is doing a disservice to all of those who are legitimately triggered by certain topics. Sadly, it will be the case, some people hide behind the term ‘triggered‘ when they haven’t been, they have simply found a topic uncomfortable to read about.
People who suffer from genuine triggers and have PTSD can be any age and PTSD is a terrible illness to have. Many readers during a book will read about a subject that is unsettling/upsetting and one makes them feel uncomfortable and they deal with it, stiff upper lip, tough it out, move on in the book and carry on enjoying their reading. With today’s culture do some readers instead of doing the same say that they have been triggered when in fact they have simply read (like the other reader) something that has made them feel uncomfortable? Because, if that’s the case, crying out that you have been triggered when you haven’t makes light of everyone who has genuine triggers and who suffers from PTSD. Yes, it’s controversial and scandalous but what would a blog post be without some sensitization on the part of the writer.
Bloggers come in all shapes and sizes, all ages too and I’ll ask, do you think that age has any influence on the attitude towards trigger warnings? Do you think that older bloggers are less inclined to include trigger warnings in their reviews and have a different attitude towards them than, say, younger bloggers? Or, is the age of the blogger irrelevant?
Also, the genre. Do you find that trigger warnings are more prevalent in some genres than others? Are bloggers in one genre more likely to include them than those in another? Take YA, yes, I know YA is an age range and not a genre but, for example, say, do you find more reviews with trigger warnings included in the YA fantasy community as opposed to say, the thriller community?
As I said at the start, I don’t use trigger warnings and I won’t be doing so either. Using and including them in reviews is not for me or my blog (for as long as I have it). I respect those of you who do, they are important to you, it is your choice on your own blog and I have no issue with that whatsoever. Much respect to you all, carry on doing what you want and I and the others like me who don’t use trigger warnings will carry on doing what we want. There’s room for us all in the book blogging community.
OK, I know this is a controversial topic and so, I ask that you all respect that this is my blog and that you do NOT get personal in the comments. Discussion and debate are welcome. After all, it’s a discussion post but personal attacks on me for my views and any other commenters for their views will NOT be tolerated.
Now, the discussion:
What are your thoughts on trigger warnings? Do you include trigger warnings in your reviews? If yes, why? If no, why not? Do you think that all reviews should include trigger warnings? If yes, why? If no, why not? Do you think that trigger warnings are important? If yes, why? If no, why not?