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Trigger Warnings On Classic Novels? Now You've Gone Too Far, Pearl Clutching Ultra Liberals

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | May 19, 2014 |

By Dustin Rowles | Miscellaneous | May 19, 2014 |

Look, I am a progressive person. I vote Democrat. When there’s a viable Green Party alternative, I will vote for him or her as well. I talk about feminism on this site enough that readers roll their eyes whenever I bring it up. I believe in same-sex marriage, in the welfare state, in universal healthcare, I buy cage free eggs, and I don’t believe in the death penalty, except in cases in which I might know the murder victim (because I’m a hypocrite).

But sometimes, ultra liberals take it so far that I am forced to confront the fact that I’m not as liberal as I think I am and use terms like “pearl clutchers,” which I hate because it is too often used to describe jackasses like me. I don’t like this feeling, but then again, I don’t like the idea that groups of people are arguing for “trigger warnings” in classic novels that might contain racism or homophobia or suicide that might upset the reader, especially when in most cases, THAT’S THE F**KING POINT.

The New York Times covered the issue of trigger warnings over the weekend, and apparently, they’re sweeping the nation’s liberal arts colleges. First off, what is a “trigger warning”:

Explicit alerts that the material they are about to read or see in a classroom might upset them or, as some students assert, cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or in war veterans.

So, they’re showing I Spit on the Grave in classrooms (something for which I would most assuredly argue for trigger warnings)? No, it’s not like that. It’s books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or Things Fall Apart or Mrs. Dolloway that merit trigger warnings. Wait, what?

The most vociferous criticism has focused on trigger warnings for materials that have an established place on syllabuses across the country. Among the suggestions for books that would benefit from trigger warnings are Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” (contains anti-Semitism) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (addresses suicide).

And yes, not that you needed to ask, but the trend is popular in Ohio’s Oberlin College, students are asking professors to put trigger warnings in their syllabuses.

The guide said they should flag anything that might “disrupt a student’s learning” and “cause trauma,” including anything that would suggest the inferiority of anyone who is transgender (a form of discrimination known as cissexism) or who uses a wheelchair (or ableism).

“Be aware of racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, cissexism, ableism, and other issues of privilege and oppression,” the guide said. “Realize that all forms of violence are traumatic, and that your students have lives before and outside your classroom, experiences you may not expect or understand.” For example, it said, while Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe — a novel set in colonial-era Nigeria — is a “triumph of literature that everyone in the world should read,” it could “trigger readers who have experienced racism, colonialism, religious persecution, violence, suicide and more.”

So, basically, these students are looking for excuses not to read books that might upset them because knowledge is gained best through source materials that neither offend nor challenge our notions of right and wrong.

They’ve gone too far. They’ve f**ked with literature now. So, basically anything of substance that deals with real, grave issues should have trigger warnings so that those of us who have dealt with issues with real, grave consequences can avoid them, lest they trigger post-traumatic stress? Because we’re all ninnies, I guess.

I think Patton Oswalt said it best:

Screen Shot 2014-05-19 at 2.50.15 PM.png

I mean, there’s got to be a middle ground somewhere between our sensitivities and our common sense. Fox News on one side, and on the other, and the rest of sane American trapped in between two insanely loud voices.

Source: NYTimes

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.