Saturday, March 15, 2014

Trigger Warnings

Listening to the NPR program On the Media earlier today, I noticed that Things Fall Apart and Beloved were mentioned within a few words of one another.  The context was a report on "trigger warnings"--notifications, most common in feminist blogs, before potentially disturbing material that the material contains such-and-such type of disturbing thing; for example, "Trigger Warning: This content deals with homophobia and hate crimes."  The idea is to ensure that nobody suffers a traumatic memory upon reading the material, or making sure they avoid "trauma triggers." On the Media more or less always takes the stance that the media should be able to say anything worthwhile to as large an audience as possible, so they said that trauma triggers are unnecessary and counterproductive because they are intended to make people avoid material that might be outside their comfort zone (I definitely agree.)  Two examples they gave were Things Fall Apart and Beloved: Things Fall Apart because of the racism and colonial violence it portrays, and Beloved because of all sorts of sexual violence, racism, physical and emotional abuse, and so on.  Of course, there are no trigger warnings in these books, but the report said that the principle of trauma triggers seems to imply that works like these should be avoided by those who might find them unsettling, when in fact the entire purpose of them, and especially of Beloved, is to discomfit and disturb the reader.  PTSD, memories, and in fact "trauma triggers" are all salient in some form in Beloved, so I think that it is interesting that some people think that some of the people to whom Beloved is in fact most relevant should avoid it for that very reason.  I think the debate itself is even reflected in the book, with Sethe and Paul D often actively trying to forget their experiences, when in fact they cannot live worthwhile lives without accepting them.  It seems like Toni Morrison and On the Media were both essentially saying that it is worth the risk of offending somebody or "triggering" the recall of a traumatic memory to ensure that we can freely talk about potentially disturbing things.

2 comments:

Samantha Gillen said...

It's very interesting how you made that connection between the black community repressing their traumatic experiences in the book and today's media cautioning its audience against the book's material because it might trigger unwanted emotions. PTSD fascinates me. In fact, the mind in general fascinates me. How can slamming a door or listening to a certain song trigger some of the most intense emotions a human can feel? Our discussions in class about Freud, the mind, and other psychologists have made me begin to contemplate going into psychology just because I am so intrigued by the mysteriousness of it all.

Kincy GIbson said...

I did part of my Eliot project on the effects of PTSD. I watched a sixty minutes segment on a new coping method for traumatic experiences. The doctors would ask patients to retell their traumatic experiences over and over again until they didn't sting any more. They would ask about the lighting, the sounds, and the smell of everything. I guess the point of the exercise was to destroy the power of the trigger that brought back their memories. It made them talk about their experience with others, also helping them cope. It makes sense, but the study still isn't done.