Warning signs: the significance of trigger warnings

Story by Elizabeth Schoof, Opinion Editor

“Warning: This episode contains (insert sensitive topic). Viewer discretion is advised.”

Trigger Warnings. We’ve all seen them. The “disclaimer” that comes up at the beginning of a TV show or a Youtube video. A little description that comes up with the rating right before a movie begins. A simple message to let people know that sensitive content is about to be discussed. Content that might trigger anything from a panic attack to flashbacks. Content that might lead to viewers being physically or emotionally harmed if they aren’t given proper warning.

Someone once told me that trigger warnings are a hindrance in our society. They thought  that these little notifications limited people’s understanding of the real world because if something “bad” was going to be shown, they would stop participating. If the content were a movie, people would turn it off. If the content was a discussion, people would leave the room.  Trigger warnings give people the opportunity to avoid the negative parts of the world and that simply wasn’t realistic. Through avoiding the controversial parts of the world, they were simply refusing to see things from the other perspective.

Let me be very clear. Trigger warnings aren’t present so that people avoid the negative aspects of the world. Survivors don’t need to sit in a room and relive an experience through a movie or other form of entertainment. They don’t need to listen to someone get up and talk about what a terrible thing something like sexual assault or hate crimes are. They know exactly how cruel the world can be. They experienced it first hand. It’s not a matter of providing someone with the opportunity to leave because something is “uncomfortable”. It’s a matter of providing someone with the knowledge that the content they’re about to view could lead to unnecessary harm.

It isn’t about censoring content or trying to hide the bad things. It’s about protecting people who have been impacted by the topic. When someone goes through a traumatic experience, there’s a significant amount of healing that goes into recovery. Mental health disorders such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) carry side effects such as panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, even flashbacks. All of these cause damage to an individual’s mental health.

The very last thing any director or public speaker wants to do is lose viewers. Trigger warnings aren’t a method of censoring speech or preventing people from discussing sensitive topics. Rather, they recognize that there are people in the world who have experienced the topics and deserve the opportunity to prepare themselves for what’s to come. Whether that be through simply being aware, or potentially leaving the situation, they deserve to know ahead of time what they will see. Trigger warnings aren’t out there so that people can avoid the bad stuff. They’re out there so that people who have experienced the bad stuff and have personal experiences can prepare themselves accordingly.

elizabeths faceAbout the writer: Elizabeth Schoof is a sophomore at Aquinas studying English and Communications. She loves reading, writing, photography, and laughing at her own jokes

Categories: Opinion, Uncategorized

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