Trigger This

Reading used to be fundamental. Now it’s a source of trauma. Thus sayeth the self-appointed protectors of the easily startled. And so we have a call for “trigger warnings” on the classics of world literature that may contain scenes, characters, themes, and sly references to all manner of politically incorrect naughtiness.

Particularly sensitives to violence? Hamlet may “trigger” early-life experiences that entailed waffling Danes and staged swordplay, sending you into paroxysms of LCD — Literary Canon Distress. A trigger warning accompanying the text can offer a kind of protection, a mental prophylactic, if you will, or at the very least a warning that danger lurks in these pre-enlightened pages. Think MPAA film rating. You’ve seen them a million times: “R—no one under 17 admitted without parent or guardian. Contains nudity, sexual situations, violence, profanity, cannibalism, Rob Schneider, charter schools, contempt for recycling.”

Now leave it to some smart aleck to make light of this obvious advance in the infantilizing of yet another generation of Americans. From the National Association of Scholars:

Trigger Warning Contest

This spring, students at the University of California at Santa Barbara, Rutgers, Oberlin, and George Washington University have called for “trigger warnings” on syllabi and in courses that deal with potentially “triggering” material, the New York Times reports.

A trigger warning is an alert that what follows may activate trauma. The Times mentions that some people have suggested that classic books could benefit from trigger warnings, including “Shakespeare’s ‘The Merchant of Venice’ (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s ‘Mrs. Dalloway’ (addresses suicide).” A Rutgers student recommends that The Great Gatsby be tagged as possessing “a variety of scenes that reference gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.”

One NYU professor has revised the syllabus for his U.S. history course to include trigger warnings on every segment. In the spirit of his satire and because in the future it appears that no one will make an intellectual endeavor without first ascertaining its triggering content, we thought that we should make a practical contribution. The National Association of Scholars (NAS) is keen on helping to inspire Americans to read good books. Lest the lack of accompanying trigger warnings discourage people from such reading, we are building a collection. But we need your help.

Of what should readers be warned before reading, say, Hamlet, The Republic, Anne of Green Gables, or The Wind in the Willows?

We invite readers young and old to write and submit trigger warnings for well-loved books. You can do so on Twitter, including NAS’s handle and the hashtag #triggerwarningfail.

The Iliad: warning – disturbing scene for those suffering sports injuries. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg
Oedipus Rex: warning – prejudicial treatment of alternative family structures. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg
Gulliver’s Travels: warning – size-ist. #triggerwarningfail @NASorg

You may also make submissions on NAS’s Facebook page.

NAS will review submissions and on Friday (6/6/14) will announce the top 3 trigger warnings. The top 3 will each receive a free copy of NAS president Peter Wood’s book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now (warning: not recommended for the apiphobic).

I’ll go first:

Don Quixote
—scenes mocking alternative energy sources and the mentally disabled; paternalistic; sexist; misuse of sanitary medical devices; slave maltreatment; anti-Hispanic violence
#triggerwarningfail @NASorg

—scenes of animal cruelty; stereotyping of differently abled and Native Americans; racist; anti-tattooist
#triggerwarningfail @NASorg

Crime and Punishment
—violence against women; disparagement of sex workers; lack of socio-economic-political context for criminality
#triggerwarningfail @NASorg

The Bible
—hate speech; anti-Semitism; graphic scenes of violence; nudity; anti-immigration; homophobia; misogyny; anti-witch; anti-Canaanite; slavery; long lists of incomprehensible names
#triggerwarningfail @NASorg

Your turn.

  • Tossaway

    Warning: may trigger non-collectivist thoughts.

  • Carl_Bankston

    Reading has always been a source of trauma. Didn’t “The Sorrows of Young Werther” provoke a rash of suicides? But, then again, thinking can be traumatic. So, maybe the best way to safeguard our students is to get rid of all of the literature above and replace it with having students repeat cant phrases about “diversity,” “inclusion,” and “social innovation.” Otherwise, we run the risk of literature becoming an ax to smash up the frozen sea inside of them. And that could get us sued.

  • Elisabeth

    Loved this article!

  • Evangelical Orthodoxy

    John Cage’s 4’33- May contain graphic depictions of sexual violence, drug references, racism, misanthropism, depression and other psychological disorders, an unsuppressable desire to pull the wings off bluebirds, an uncommon distaste for any noodle not shaped like a spaghetti, and whatever else lies within your deranged mind.