Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Warning of What?

I recently read an interesting article over at Slate about 'trigger warnings'. Trigger warnings are tags included at the top of articles warning readers that the article may contain content that could trigger known mental illnesses, such as an eating disorder or post traumatic stress disorder. The trigger warnings allow the reader to decide whether they want to proceed with reading the article or give it a miss to avoid painful relapse or flashback.

The article specifically links these trigger warnings to feminist blogs. I'm not sure why such a correlation would exist (do feminists have more mental disorders or are feminist bloggers just more considerate to those who do?) but I think Slate is wrong to focus just on warnings on feminist blogs without considering the prevalence of warnings on all sorts of media.

Usually, I don't mind a warning when perusing the internet. I appreciate it when fashion blogs warn me whether a particular editorial contains nudity (particularly when I'm perusing while at work) and I appreciate it when news organisations warn me about particularly gory video content before I accidentally traumatise myself. And of course, warnings are not limited to the internet: most murder/ crime shows are accompanied by warnings pertaining to their graphic nature to warn off those with a delicate constitution. However, there are occasions when I'm confronted with a warning which makes me feel somewhat uneasy.

I was recently watching a documentary about Christianity, specifically it was debunking a number of myths about Jesus (for example, the shroud of Turin). The documentary was not particularly salacious or controversial and, to be honest, I probably would have forgotten about the whole thing if the documentary had not been accompanied by a somewhat peculiar warning. At the start of the documentary, and repeated after each ad break, was a title card reading something along the lines of, "warning: contains talk of Jesus." What mental disorder could possible be triggered by discussions of Jesus? Who was this warning supposed to benefit?

If you're non-Christian, you probably don't care what this documentary has to say about Jesus. If you are Christian, you're hopefully unafraid to engage with an academic debate that challenges your beliefs. And if you're Christian but also narrow-minded and uncritical, then you're probably exactly the kind of person who should be watching an informative documentary about theology. People should not be pilloried for their beliefs but neither should those beliefs go unquestioned and no-one should shy away from the opportunity to reassess or reaffirm their opinions. Warning people that there is healthy debate on religion afoot is not indicative of a thriving intellectual discourse in our media.

So, by all means, keep your trigger warnings on your blog posts if you want to discuss eating disorders or rape without exacerbating the trauma of those who have endured them. But we shouldn't have to warn people against intelligent or sensitive debate. When we start seeing warnings like, "warning: contains political views contrary to your own", or, "warning: champions minority opinions", then we know something has gone seriously awry.

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