Brain Babies: Trigger Warnings

brain-babies

I’d like to believe I’m sensitive to people’s feelings. I would. And, I think, for the most part, I am. But, I gotta tell ya, this whole “trigger warning” thing has gone too damn far.

I recently heard from a guy who does stand-up comedy, in a New York City burlesque club, for fuck’s sake, that he got complaints about his material. Someone felt that they needed a “safe space” and that his material had “triggered” an upsetting emotional response.

I’m sorry, but … WHAT?!? It’s fucking comedy, you asshole. It’s supposed to push the envelope, to shock, to disturb. Why the hell were you in a burlesque club for a comedy show in the first place? Why were you even outside of your cozy little room, if you’re so sensitive you can’t take a joke?

(Takes a deep breath to calm down, so he can type again without bashing the keys)

All right. So, let’s talk about trigger warnings and books. I write horror, among other things, as, I imagine, do many of you. I’ve written some pretty sick shit, too. Body parts being hacked off, people being eaten, genital mutilation (yeah, I went there) and other stuff I won’t mention here because it’s too gross.

I’m pretty sure some of that stuff is going to trigger a reaction. In fact, I’m fucking counting on it. I want to spur an emotional response in my readers. I want them to care about the characters, to really develop a meaningful attachment to them. That way, when I stick a knife in the character’s lower back, severing the spine and paralyzing them from the waist down, the reader feels it¸ too.

Here’s my take on the whole thing: if you feel something might be upsetting to you, that it might cause some trauma to resurface from the depths of your subconscious … don’t go anywhere near that thing. Simple, right?

If you’re reading horror, or, say, going to a comedy show (in a fucking burlesque club in NYC!), you should be prepared to experience some shit you might find disturbing. And, you shouldn’t expect an apology from the writer/comedian/whatever.

You sure as shit shouldn’t demand one.

It’s not my job to protect you from the things that might hurt you. It’s your job to protect yourself. Stop blaming the artists for your own discomfort. Fuck you. You know what my job is? It’s to make you uncomfortable.

So, yeah. With all due respect to people who’ve had traumatic experiences (haven’t we all?), it’s on you to stay away from the stuff that’ll trigger you. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to the stand-up comic. We’re supposed to be edgy. We’re expected to be dangerous.

If you want someone to hold your hand in the darkness, fine. No problem.

But don’t ask me to do it. You’re likely to pull back a stump.

Ken MacGregor

Ken MacGregor’s work has appeared in a whole mess of anthologies and magazines. His story collection, “An Aberrant Mind” is available online and in select bookstores. He edits an annual horror-themed anthology for the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers. Ken is an Affiliate member of HWA. One time, he even made a zombie movie. Recently, he co-wrote a novel and is working on the sequel. Ken lives in Michigan with his family and two cats, one of whom is dead but still haunts the place.

You may also like...

8 Responses

  1. Brilliant! I believe that’s all I need to say.

  2. R.C.Mulhare says:

    Heartily seconded. Isn’t horror supposed to be a means whereby, on some level, the reader/viewer/audience is able to confront fear and the things that make us afraid and to do that in a controlled environment? I’ve dealt with people inSISTing on warnings for bizarre triggers that I didn’t even think to warn for, since the days I was writing fanfiction (and trust me, fanfic is an even bigger wasps nest of trigger warning demand), including the time I started to write up a complete list of every possible bad thing in a 100 word drabble… and ended up with a list longer than the damn drabble. I just put “‘Evil Character Name’ being Evil. Consider this your warning.”

    Anywho, thanks for posting this: it’s a breath of fresh air in the middle of a smokestorm.

  3. PB says:

    >if you feel something might be upsetting to you, that it might cause some trauma to resurface from the depths of your subconscious … don’t go anywhere near that thing. Simple, right?

    Sounds like you’re in favor of giving your audience enough information so they can make an informed decision about their sensitivity to your work. Heck, it’s trivially easy to turn a trigger warning into an advertisement: “This anthology contains child abuse, dismemberment, eyeballs leaking out their sockets, and some damn scary clowns.”

    >It’s fucking comedy, you asshole. It’s supposed to push the envelope, to shock, to disturb.

    Odd. I thought comedy was supposed to be funny.

    • PB – I’ve seen several books that do just that: use the warnings to entice a certain kind of reader. I’m considering putting out a collection of graphic and disturbing shorts myself, and will probably borrow that technique in promoting it.
      Comedy is supposed to be funny. Good comedy, however, is not just funny, but makes some sort of social commentary. Good comedy is bold, and knocks one out of their comfort zone.
      Thanks for your feedback. I appreciate it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This