Pulling the Trigger Warning

Friday, March 14, 2014

Transcript

(YanivG/flickr)

Trigger warnings on the internet have been around for years as a way to prepare for potentially disturbing subjects. Recently a group of students at the University of California, Santa Barbara passed a resolution imploring administrators to include mandatory trigger warnings in potentially offensive syllabi.  Bob speaks to journalist Jenny Jarvie, about the spread of the trigger warning.

Guests:

Jenny Jarvie

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [13]

Avid Listener in NC

I am definitely liberal in my politics, but I will say political correctness I thought was something mostly from the past. Obviously folks are more politically divided. OTM takes a sarcastic and eye-opening scimitar, which I love, to all of this. The Great Gatsby needs warnings? Growing up, I knew Oberlin College was a super leftwing bastion. I got in to the school, but I decided not to enroll for various reasons. I guess I should be happy to hear that things don't really change. Once again, OTM pushes me to think, but make one laugh & cry in the process.

Mar. 22 2014 03:37 AM
Marty

There should have been a "sound quality warning" for this podcast. Jenny Jarvie must have been on a cellphone and was very hard to hear and understand.

Mar. 19 2014 08:56 AM
marcus P from BOSTON MA


Counterarguments to this article:
1)We have no problem with warnings about sexual content (e.g. NSFW). On the contrary, we expect this. That most of these warning involve simple nudity (which so far as I know has never been found to be traumatic to adults or children in any way) does not dispute the fact that these warnings are expected and desired. No one is arguing that they imperil free speech, are overly PC, or interfere with our emotional reaction to them.
2)We also have no problem with the MMPA association warning audience members on screen and in the home that what they will be viewing contains violent content and the audience should be advised. By the article’s argument, how are the MMPA warning not similarly an expression of PCness or presumptuousness?
3)The is no research to suggest that fictional accounts of violence on screen, in novels, in video games is or can be traumatic. The DSM V explicitly excludes such content as potential sources of trauma. So the “having an effect….” arguments as to being something to be warned about are flatly wrong.
4) Why do reporters suddenly feel competent to speak on issues related to psychology and trauma, when they would appropriately consult with medical professionals, doctors, if the issue of a medical condition came up? There are many instances of this e.g. when there is an act of extreme violence, the naive, arm chair reporter/psychologists proliferate and provide some of the most irresponsible speculations of motive and character.
5) Trigger warning is a misnomer as it assumes a particular response to the content. (I have been unsuccessful at tracking down the origin of “trigger warnings”.) These warnings should simply more accurately convey that the post contains "distressing content", just like the warnings about "sexual content”. This would accurately convey the potential for varying degrees of distress.
6) You conflate warnings about course content with web and blog content. These are importantly different because course material may be a required aspect of the instruction. Web or blog content is completely at the whim or control of the viewer.

Mar. 18 2014 12:49 PM
Marcus P from Boston MA

PC Redux with mental illness stigma thrown in for entertainment value

When political correctness is invoked and then attacked, it is almost always to criticize a straw man with the secondary intent of conveying they we should be entitled to our prejudices. In this case, we can ignore the sensibilities of the traumatized. I am not exactly sure what the “Pulling the Trigger Warning” piece was meant to convey. The gist of it seemed to be to revivify (the hackneyed meme) that political correctness has run amok and is destroying our free speech, a reassuring trope for those who wish to ignore the experiences of others, with a bit of schadenfreude toward the mentally ill/traumatized thrown in.

First of all, almost all of the “facts” and assertions in the NRP story and the On the Media recount are unsupported by any credible documentation/information and most of it is largely unverifiable/speculative, e.g. that Trigger warnings have "Exploded onto the media”; that such warnings are tantamount to "compulsory emotional correctness”. There is no evidence that trigger warnings began as an attempt to mitigate "panic attacks”, which can exist separately from trauma and are not even part of most traumatic reactions? There is no evidence (that I know of) that fiction or literature can be traumatic or triggering. The term “trigger” has been defined down by this article to become meaningless: to “have an effect”, “warnings on words”, “offense taking”, “imposing personally feeling”, and “exacerbating conflict". No psychologist who has any sense of trauma and trauma reactions would agree to these characterizations. Its seems the piece was meant to revive the tired PC meme while ridiculing the mentally ill. “Do you have separation anxiety?….” Hilarious!

Unfortunately, OTM missed an important opportunity to critically examine the role of trigger warnings in the age of mass (peer to peer) communication and what the responsibilities of reporters, aggregators, and bloggers might be in conveying content that contains horrific images, narratives, or videotape to their anonymous audiences.

Mar. 18 2014 12:45 PM
William Tomlinson

This article was ridiculous. If anything, a trigger warning makes it easier to discuss certain issues by making people aware that sensitive subjects will come up so that they aren't likely to object to reading these things unexpectedly. There is no risk of trigger warnings chilling speech, and uttering two words is not some terrible burden. There's a reason this is catching on, and it will continue. This is just another example of someone who is afraid of change.

Mar. 18 2014 10:06 AM

I found this to be unfortunately one-sided. I would like to see the perspectives of victims represented in this, as a counterpoint to the guest's book. I have a lot to say, and there is a lot that I disagreed with from both the guest author and Onthemedia's host. But I will say, briefly, that trigger warnings, as I see them, are in NO WAY contributing to censorship or an anti-art sentinment. Nor are they some form of political correctness. Trigger warnings are merely attempts to defend victims, and the sufferers of post-traumatic stress. This does not necessarily mean that victims will avoid the things that carry warnings. And I don't believe anyone is asking for art to cease (or even change, aside from carrying trigger warnings). The members of this community, I would argue further, have until recently been very much marginalized and have often been refused the right to speak. And therefore have been victim to violence and neglect in many forms. This broadcast seems to reify that history.

Mar. 17 2014 11:03 PM
Stephen from Brooklyn

I found this to be unfortunately one-sided. I would like to see the perspectives of victims represented in this, as a counterpoint to the guest's book. I have a lot to say, and there is a lot that I disagreed with from both the guest author and Onthemedia's host. But I will say, briefly, that trigger warnings, as I see them, are in NO WAY contributing to censorship or an anti-art sentinment. Nor are they some form of political correctness. Trigger warnings are merely attempts to defend victims, and the sufferers of post-traumatic stress. This does not necessarily mean that victims will avoid the things that carry warnings. And I don't believe anyone is asking for art to cease (or even change, aside from carrying trigger warnings). The members of this community, I would argue further, have until recently been very much marginalized and have often been refused the right to speak. And therefore have been victim to violence and neglect in many forms. This broadcast seems to reify that history.

Mar. 17 2014 10:46 PM
Rebecca Cary from Durham, NC

Jarvie's claim that she couldn't find any research showing that trigger warnings are useful is somewhat surprising. The role of trauma triggers in PTSD symptoms and treatment is quite well established. Trigger warnings make it possible to manage exposure to trauma triggers, which is important for treatment, since one of the goals of treatment is often for the patient to get to a point where particular stimuli do not cause symptoms such as flashbacks or panic attacks.

Mar. 17 2014 02:33 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

Yes, that's what I meant: "inedibly result".

Mar. 16 2014 06:00 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

The only trigger warning I feel is justified for organs of NPR is the immanent broadcast of acts of hideously fried, aggressively high-rising terminated phrasing such as those unceasingly and IRRITATINGLY committed by Ms Jarvie throughout this segment.

For the safety of all across the country and the prevention of random acts of mayhem that will inedibly result, responsible producers and programmers should be required to subject the vocalization of any female journalist under the age of sixty to appropriate electronic tonal modification before air time. This MUST become accepted as a norm of responsible professional behavior. The consequences of ignoring this imperative will be grim.

Mar. 16 2014 05:51 PM
Henry from Here

At what point do trigger warnings simply become tags or very brief synopses?

Mar. 16 2014 05:37 PM
Drew Messinger-Michaels from Chicago, IL

It's important to understand that trigger warnings are not about anything so nebulous as "individual feeling" or "fragile personal sensitivities." When Jarvie says that trigger warnings "began as a way of moderating Internet forums for the vulnerable and mentally ill," the "vulnerable and mentally ill" people in question are survivors of rape and sexual abuse, for whom descriptions or discussions of such events can produce something so much like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that it we may as well go ahead an call it Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Even if we leave aside the marginalizing language at play here—we can't possibly accommodate anybody who's "mentally ill," so why bother trying, right?—it is tremendously disingenuous to pretend that having a flashback to a traumatic event is the same thing as being merely offended.

Nor does heroically ignoring the issue make one a crusader for free speech. That same self-congratulatory non-logic tells us that any discussion of white male privilege is "political correctness run amok," that women who suffer harassment online need only grow "thicker skins," and so on.

When it comes to Jarvie's more apparently risible examples, I don't know enough about the psychology of infertility (for instance) to weigh in. But providing trigger warnings for rape survivors seems absolutely legitimate to me, and I'm really not comfortable dismissing it as touchy-feely pearl-clutching. That starts to sound an awful lot like privileged people telling less privileged people to shut up and go away.

Mar. 15 2014 10:16 AM
Ben Asher from NYC

Anyone who is interested, or involved in, issues relating to potentially "offensive" speech, art, comedy, and particularly the whole rape joke imbroglio of the past year or two, should listen to this. One of the best articulated defenses of free speech and what it means to be an adult member of our society who participates in public discussion. It's only a few minutes an well worth the listen. Thank you OTM and Ms. Jarvie for bringing this to our attention. It's frightening. People need to grow up.

Mar. 14 2014 09:51 PM

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