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by Tomás Allende Conte
Last year I was writing my final essay for my film aesthetic class. One of the films we had to watch was ‘A woman under the influence’ by Cassavetes. The movie deals with a woman’s descent into mental illness and the effect it has on her family. While I was watching one of the most climactic scenes, where she’s finally institutionalized, my hands started shaking and I started feeling a great deal of panic. I paused the movie, as I remembered when I was institutionalized, the questioning of my own sanity, the impotence, the fear. I hadn’t revisited that moment of my life in a long time, and after a few minutes remembering it and calming myself down, I continued with the film. Apparently, using the modern SocJus lingo, I had been triggered.
This wasn’t foreign to me. Films have always been a passion of mine and emotional catharsis meant the film had been effective in delivering the story to an emotional realm using very carefully constructed imagery and dialogue. This is not melodrama, I am referring to a sentiment of empathy that’s only achievable through a careful introspection into the human experience. It’s unbelievable to me that people need to be warned that a given piece of media may cause an emotional reaction, and yes, I am referring to the ridiculous amount of trigger warnings given at most universities.
Now, I understand the intent of trigger warnings, and as with many failed progressive policies, the original intent is a noble one, prevent already traumatized people from revisiting the trauma unnecessarily. Sounds fair enough, however when talking a look at the priorities as well as the target demographics for this trigger warnings, it’s obvious that real trauma is not the reasoning. When you have a white girl doing minor in African American Studies sobbing uncontrollably over a scene from ‘Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song’ this is, as Frank Furedi described it, ‘… trigger warnings as a form of narcissism, with the concerns not really being about the content of a book or work of art but about individual students asserting their own importance’ No amount of empathy or personal distress can cause this reaction. The simple conclusion I can come up with is, this girl didn’t understand the importance of the film in it’s given context, particularly for black cinema, and when confronted with a lack of understanding, the default reaction is to break down over the ‘racism’ of the scene, a scene from a movie made by black people for a black audience.
If such reaction is real, my recommendation would be going through it and afterwards figuring out what caused it. That’s a pretty basic aspect of self growth and healthy introspection, I can’t think of one great mind that was cultivated in self-censorship and utter rejection of everything foreign by over emotional reactions, yet, that’s what’s being done in most major universities.
Most interesting to me, most real sufferers of PTSD I’ve met don’t want content warnings in the classrooms, and their triggers come mostly from real life, and the world, as much as some people would want to think otherwise, is not a safe space. Taking the case of Melody Hensley, the infamous woman who got (sighs) PTSD from Twitter. While the idiocy of her claims are self-explanatory, I feel it’s worth an explanation of why it’s such nonsense. First, people with PTSD went through intense trauma, war, rape, assault, domestic violence, natural disasters. They don’t choose to continue living the trauma, especially when the source can be literally turned off. Then she has the audacity to tweet from her house she’s afraid of leaving her house because of the PTSD cause by using the platform she is using to type this. Ask a veteran suffering from PTSD if they would like to go to war again, even if they don’t have to. That level of cognitive dissonance can only be found in indoctrinated people, usually with a personality disorder, AKA feminists.
Back to my original point, there are people who break down listening to an Aria, reading a book or watching a film. We choose to do that because the emotional catharsis causes a release that overall makes the experience all the more powerful. We challenge ourselves. Maybe we use the release as a form of therapy. Whatever the reason, the one point I want to highlight is choice. A person who breaks down watching a mildly rough sex scene or hearing the word nigger without having a direct trauma related to any of those is making a semi-conscious choice. They are deciding to break down because they have been indoctrinated to think that crying is the proper reaction to ‘misogyny’ and ‘racism’ (‘9½ Weeks’ is not misogynistic, ‘Boyz n the Hood’ is not racist), even when they’re not real. And more likely, especially when they are not real, since they are unlikely to encounter them in their real life.
This extreme example doesn’t excuse people who belong to certain groups for which an -ism or a -phobia have been invented. I love Scorsese, and if someone gave me a trigger warning over homophobia, I would probably laugh out loud in their fucking face. I’m done having (Insert first letter) words, and faggot is not the F-word…for painfully obvious reasons. A kid may get more understandably more upset, but there is a rating system, and if you can’t handle faggot, nigger or cunt by the age of 17, I recommend avoiding movies all together until you fix whatever the fuck made you such a hypersensitive histrionic spastic.
There is a one big question regarding trigger warning that is probably the most important; Do they work? Do people with real trauma and PTSD benefit from them? The answer is no. The empirical data has proved this time and time again. Taking the perspective of someone who would like to implement trigger warnings (Anyone reading this is not that person. Neither am I) the first problem arises with the fact that, there are simply too many triggers, and it’s impossible to accommodate the personal triggers of every single student into the class. Then, there is problem of mirror-reactions, students are more likely to get ‘triggered’ if a fellow student is triggered, effectively transforming the entire class into a Jenga tower of emotional instability. Finally, when we’re confronted with the most basic question, we observe that in theory and practice, trigger warnings actually make things worse. The moment the student listen to the trigger warning, the build up to the expectancy of a trigger will cause anxiety, the sympathetic nervous system goes into Fight-or-flight response, so when the ‘trigger’ finally appears, the susceptible students will have a reaction, whether that trigger was worthy of that reaction or not. In simpler terms, the trigger warning, more often than not, is the main trigger.
Personally, I find the whole issue absurd, mostly because how much the concept of a trigger has been distorted. I don’t have PTSD but I am a recovering junkie. Not knowing my triggers and not taking responsibility in actively avoiding them would mean a relapse. A way they are described within the ‘putting psychoactive and damaging shit inside your body’ community, is people, places and things. Meaning anything, anyone and any place that my brain subconsciously associates with drugs. My dealers, friends that use drugs, the metro station where I bought my morphine, the park where I got my uppers, needles, burnt spoons (learned that one the hard way), pipes, smells, sounds, etc.
I’ve gotten used to most of them, I can’t completely avoid certain things, so being conscious and moving on is the best I can do. Now, can a piece of media be triggering? Yes, but it’s nothing in comparison to real triggers. So, for people who do have triggers, whether it is trauma or drugs, we tend to be very aware of them, and a film or a book simply isn’t much of a trigger, it’s a fucking book. We’re not retarded people, no matter what the real retards want you to think.
So, is this level of triggering what the universities and websites go after? Of course not, they’re literally people, places and things. I’d quite enjoy watching a professor teach a class avoiding all possible triggers, but just for the fuckery. I go to college to learn, not be cuddled in a fetal position while being told how awesome I am. The type of triggering addressed on campuses is no more powerful than an emotional catharsis, usually a fake one that arises from narcissism, but an introspective look to even the most shallow of reactions would lead to the realization at the very least of how fucking shallow it is. If you break down to any piece of media or art, more than likely you’re having a profound emotional connection with that film, book, Aria, etc. Rejecting that is rejecting a form of satisfaction that you should be both proud of and humbled by having; something many people don’t get to experience, something that many people actively avoid over the fear of losing control, of experiencing something that the doctrine can’t explain.
And I find that, very, very triggering.by