Political Correctness

Trigger Warning: "Trigger Warning" is By Definition Triggering and Should Be Replaced with "Content Warning"

Where did the need to bubble-wrap every conversation come from? And will it ever end?


Via the Twitter feeds of Thaddeus Russell and Tom Owolade comes this beyond-parody explication of the dangers of using the term trigger warning to caution prospective readers about content that might upset them.

As an intro to an article that claims to be "Your One-Stop 101" about trigger warnings, the editors at Everyday Feminism write:

Everyday Feminism definitely believes in giving people a heads up about material that might provoke our reader's trauma. However, we use the phrase "content warning" instead of "trigger warning," as the word "trigger" relies on and evokes violent weaponry imagery. This could be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence. So, while warnings are so necessary and the points in this article are right on, we strongly encourage the term "content warning" instead of "trigger warning." 

And then, this:

Content Warning: This article discusses triggering in detail and mentions common topics of triggering (sexual assault, anxiety, health anxiety, depression, death, non-specific fears and phobias).

Emphasis and italics in the original.

I've written recently about why I think that "college students are human veal." That is, they are being treated as if they cannot endure the slightest moment of upset or discomfort, even or especially in the safe space of higher education. Sometimes they are the ones demanding to be treated this way but often it is paternalistic adminstrators who are speaking for the delicate flowers in today's hothouse campus environments.

This phenomenon is a long time coming and extends far beyond the hallowed halls of academia and what Christina Hoff Sommers has called "fainting-couch feminism." As Lenore Skenazy documents here at Reason and on her own blog, Free-Range Kids, we are increasingly treating our children as china dolls who are fragile beyond belief.

I first noticed and wrote about this trend for Reason back in 1997, in an article titled "Child-Proofing the World." Even back then, "this trend ha[d] been intensifying over the past two decades or so…":

…lurching from isolated scares about poisoned Halloween candy in the 1970s and child abduction in the 1980s to a generalized calculus that places perceived harm to children at the center of seemingly every discussion. The tendency is ubiquitous enough to be fair game for parody. On The Simpsons, for instance, one character routinely asks at any public gathering, "What about the children?" It is not coincidental that the rise of such attitudes to cultural dominance occurred as the baby boom generation—that gargantuan cohort born between 1946 and 1964—shifted into parenting mode and started to grapple with the most unfamiliar role of authority figure. While it is unclear what effect this may have on the kids themselves—Will they respond to doomsday scenarios by shrinking from the world or by becoming what-the-fuck nihilists?—one result has been a gradual shifting of the costs of raising children onto wider and wider swatches of society, and not merely in dollars: If kids have access to TV, for instance, then all programs must be made child-safe.

The threats are everywhere, we are told: If children are not hounded by ritual satanic child abusers at day care or by perverts on the Internet, then they're sucking in too much asbestos at school, or chewing on too much lead at home; if television, purportedly the babysitter of choice in the overwhelming majority of American homes, hasn't transformed kids into underperforming, slackjawed dullards, it has overstimulated them into feral children who must be tamed with Ritalin and Prozac; if we haven't failed the kids by not spending unlimited amounts of tax money on them, then we have transformed them into shallow consumers who can only measure affection in terms of dollars spent; if they're not at elevated risks of brain cancer from eating hot dogs, then they're likely to become punch-drunk from heading soccer balls; and on and on.

Read the whole thing here.

I think it's easy to conclude that yesterday's (and today's) kids have not become "what-the-fuck nihilists." But they have become, at least in certain settings and circumstances, ever-more constrained by ideological and emotional bubble wrap. In general, society has never been more pluralistic and tolerant and empathetic (not perfectly so, whatever that would mean, but much more so than just a decade or two ago). And yet the remaining points of misunderstanding and disagreement have never loomed so large.

In the 1997 Reason story, I chalked up our hypersensitivity to objectively lower level of threats to children to a variety of factors: We have fewer kids and invest more (emotionally and economically) in them, so our stakes in them are figuratively and literally higher); post-war America was raised to believe in a crypto-Freudian notion that a single bad traumatic experience—even something as banal as a scary movie or violent video game or a heavy dose of processed sugar—could forever damage our psyches beyond repair. We have forgotten not just the distant past, when universal human misery was the rule, but the near past, when full-on economic depression and world war was the rule. Most important, generations of activists, in pursuit of a sympathetic audience, routinely overgeneralize the tragic circumstances of the few to gain a hearing in a media that loves to tell tales of widespread decline and degeneracy.

There are other causes, of course, but the result is where we live today: In a world where before you can even talk about how to best to instruct your audience on how to disseminate trigger warnings, you need first to apologize for and revise the very term trigger warning.

There are signs that this particular intellectual death spiral is drawing to a close, or at least being increasingly quarantined on college campuses and in serious public discourse. Every bit as much as violent revolutions, ideological revolutions ultimately eat their own and die out like Ebola pandemics. That's good news, especially because it will allow for exactly the sort of productive and meaningful—and yes, often uncomfortable—conversations people need to have to grow beyond old, worn-out, and unfair prejudices and arrangements.

Reason TV talked with Robby Soave about 3 of the Most Fucked-Up Campus Stories of the Year. Take a look:

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  1. But did they use grammar good?

    1. Yes, their very good spoking.

    2. If one thing is certain, it’s that all triggering content must be systematically expurgated from the texts studied in our institutions of higher learning.

      In this regard, one form of content that is especially harmful to the atmosphere of safety we need on our campuses is satire. Authors like Sterne and works like the Letters from Obscure Men (appropriately banned by Pope Leo X in 1517 because of its triggering nature and lack of content warning) should be strictly forbidden. Students should also be advised that certain forms of inappropriately deadpan parody are so triggering that they are illegal in this country: hopefully a small step towards the ultimate eradication of all triggering content from our Great American Social Text. See the documentation of America’s leading criminal satire case at:


      1. If I were a professor, my trigger warning would be, “Certain passages in the assigned texts may cause discomfort to individual students. Those students must decide whether that discomfort exceeds the discomfort of the failing grade I will give them if I detect that they have not read the text.”

        That’s why I’m not a professor.

  2. How about this:

    “Warning: The following video depicts graphic imagery that may be disturbing for some viewers. Viewer discretion is advised.”

    1. +1 dun-dun

  3. I’m not so sure about that word “warning”. It makes me pee my pants.

    1. How about “watch”? Works for hurricanes and tornadoes.

      1. Out of the question. Wasn’t Zimmerman part of a neighborhood “watch”? That word could re-traumatize people still upset about Trayvon.

        1. *puts nock in privilege card*

        2. Or a grieving [SPOILER WARNING REDACTED] fan.

          1. True Detective Season 2 Episode 2 Fan?

            All the bad reviews make me like it even more.

            1. How dare you disengage from uber nerdy television reviewers!

            2. No, something more medieval.

  4. Shoulda’ saved my comment from several months ago.
    I asked how can you warn someone without *being* a “trigger”? The act of warning, under the laughable definition of “triggering” is in fact “triggering”

    1. Duh, you simple warn them that you are going to later issue a warning that the following trigger warning is going to be about content which may be triggering.

      1. The lack of EDIT BUTTON is triggering.

        1. “The lack of EDIT BUTTON is triggering.”

          Not to mention the arrival of the skwerlls; I was afraid when the screen came up again, there was going to be three Sevo posts instead of one.

      2. “Frank, why don’t we sit down?”

  5. Where was the trigger warning for alt-text-less pictures?

  6. Greek lefty econ now affecting the arts! The ARTS, I say!!!

    “Theatre producer Oli Sones says a cast of 23 performers were due to fly out to Athens tomorrow to perform Jesus Christ Superstar at the Herodes Atticus as part of the festival. But the promotor has now decided to cancel the shows”

    Is there no end to what lefties can screw up?

    1. Prove to me that you’re no fool- walk across my swimming pool.

      1. Instead of screwing up the thread randomly, I’ll keep it here.
        Two ‘free-shitters’ hope to solve the problem!

        “Another sign – if needed – that the current Greek crisis has repercussions beyond just the eurozone.
        French president Francois Hollande has been on the phone with US president Barack Obama about the Greek situation, Reuters is reporting. The two reportedly agreed to work together to help restart dialogue on the crisis.”
        (same link)

        I’m guessing they immediately agreed on “Moar free shit!”

  7. I propose that the term should be trigger wanking. On the part of the progs.

    1. Tosser alert: content wanking.

  8. For a semi-serious post:

    The idea of replacing the “trigger” warning with a “content” warning strikes me as exactly like the stupid idea that changing the term from “retarded” is going to make it stop being offensive*. People are going to use whatever term is used to described very low IQ individuals as an insult (retarded, imbecile, moron, idiot, etc). It’s insulting because it describes a low intelligence group, not the other way around.

    *Disclaimer: I am not saying that trigger warnings actually are triggering, but merely accepting that premise for the sake of argument.

    1. The point isn’t that the warning is triggering; it’s that the word “trigger” can trigger its own problems, due to the violence inherent in the blah blah.

    2. Per my comment upthread, I don’t really understand why they needed to invent the term “trigger warning” in the first place. The television industry has been dealing with issues like this for decades by having graphic content disclaimers in front of TV shows, with very little fuss. And that has, in fact, included things like rape scenes.

      The only difference is that the list of potentially disturbing content has expanded slightly to include racially offensive language and not just swear words.

      The term “trigger warning” was ALWAYS idiotic, because it conveys the impression that this is some radical new concept in need of a new word.

      1. They’re trying to make it so that people are not responsbile for their response to words, by taking terminology from actual PTSD attacks.

        1. Which people? Actual veterans with actual PTSD have been out there for many decades and have been satisfied with a graphic violence warnings.

          It wasn’t until this became a campus activist cause that someone felt the need to psychologize it with the “trigger” terminology.
          Seems to me they are looking for an excuse to throw hysterics, not an excuse to avoid them.

          1. “Trigger warnings” aren’t for actual people with PTSD or even there in order to help anyone. They’re just a form of masturbation for SJW-types. It’s just theatrics for the victimhood cults to give them a means to control other people’s speech. Looking at it from that perspective, it all makes perfect sense.

          2. Right, because their goal isn’t to stop personal responsibility.

            But for the progressives, by (falsely) linking it to a triggering a flashback, they can try to make the reaction the fault of the speaker, instead of the responder.

            1. Yeah, because everyone is supposed to be psychic and anticipate all of the ways in which audience member might conceivably have a negative response to some content.

              What it really is, is a ready-made excuse to selectively target disfavored speech. If anything and everything can be triggering, then you can always find *something* to bitch about. It’s an impossibly high bar that nobody can pass, but you can give a pass to people you like, and not give one to others.

              Care in point, the Brown talk. Are there “safe rooms” when the speaker is speaking out against “rape culture”? No. They only have a safe room if the speaker is questioning feminist orthodoxy, not if they are affirming it. The safe room only exists to be a bitchy form of protest against the speaker. “Your speech is so offensive, we had to create a safe space so people wouldn’t be harmed by it!”

  9. I propose that Dune, should be required reading in high school. Mandatory discussion topic for class should be, why the Fremen were able to defeat the Sardaukar’s.

    Struggle makes one stronger, codelling makes one weaker.

    1. Dune is too boring for high school.

    2. Yes, fiction is a great way to learn real-life lessons. Let us hope those who learn this fallacious lesson don’t start applying it to other works of fiction.

    3. “Struggle makes one stronger, codelling makes one weaker.”

      Donner Party Conservative!

    4. The Complete, Unabridged, Analtated SugarFree.

  10. +1 Crysknife

  11. “Content warning” is ridiculous. If you’re content with the situation, why do you need a warning? It should be “Discontent warning”.

    1. Excellent! I am content with your content concerning content warnings.

  12. Trigger warning came from the psychobabble of “discovering the things that trigger reactions to past trauma.” It never had anything to do with guns.

    These idiots are astoundingly ignorant of their own history.

    1. Bullseye.

      Wait, oops.

  13. Ouroboros eats itself.

  14. I propose that instead of either Trigger or Content Warnings, all potentially sensitive topics should start with the statement ADULTS ONLY. Because you know that will only make the little bastards curious and that will trick them into reading things that will Absolutely Destroy their fragile psyches.

  15. Everyday Feminism definitely believes in giving people a heads up about material that might provoke our reader’s trauma.

    Traumas cannot be provoked, since a trauma is what results from an action. You can only provoke a reaction from someone.

    This could be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence.

    Military and police are not forms of violence, they’re adjectives denoting the cause of the violence, for instance we say “military violence” so we don’t have to say “violence caused by military action.”

    1. Everyday feminism believes in giving those who disagree with them traumas without warning.


  17. One part of the whole “triggering” thing that I find tiresome is that the proponents of the warnings routinely invoke rape victims, PTSD sufferers, etc. but I strongly suspect that many of the people who claim they’re being “triggered” have not in fact suffered any of these things directly. They’re “experiencing” these things vicariously and jumping on the bandwagon, since being a “victim” is a status symbol nowadays.

  18. This could be re-traumatizing for folks who have suffered military, police, and other forms of violence.

    And other forms?!?!?

    For the average college kid in America today, military violence is unheard of, and police violence very rare if you come from the affluent white liberal background typical for fainting-couch feminists. “Other forms” of violence are much more common. Like *criminal* violence. Seriously. I’ve been the victim of criminal violence. As in cocked guns jammed into my face and not knowing if I’m even going to be alive five minutes later. As one of the privileged classes I don’t need trigger warnings, but the idea that military and police violence are the dominant forms of physical violence against college students is absurd.

    1. You might want to leave police violence out.
      Most who attend college have never experienced violence most being to big of a wuss to do more than speed or buy pot.
      Majority of the one’s experiencing police violence typically don’t attend college, except the one with iron bars inside the fence, and read very little.
      Except their pleadings.
      Also they typically earn their share of violence directed toward them and theyhave traumatized plenty of innocent victims in the past.
      Was raised in bad neighborhood, am ex military, did experience police violence,worked in max security prison and am psychologist.

  19. And “Content Warning” being the goal all along. Now they’re just honest about it.

  20. This is SO wrong. I came up with the idea in my satirical FULL DISCLOSURE. It was stolen. Copycat rats.

    FULL DISCLOSURE: As an obnoxious asshat who represents the blowhard stupidity of Reason magazine’s commenting peanut gallery, I hereby declare that my comments are typical internet bluster and hyperbole, hardly valuable to public discourse, and must not be construed as “true threats” in “interstate or foreign commerce” in violation of federal statute 18 U.S. Code ? 875. Any precious snowflake or federal judge offended by my worthless comments should see a plastic surgeon to graft thicker skin, or wait and pray for stem cell therapy innovations to grow said thicker skin. Because the word “trigger” is a part of the phrase “Trigger Warning” and may trigger a repressed fear of firearms in some people, no trigger warnings shall precede my comments

    1. Great warning……like majority of warnings pure sophistry saying nothing.

      LOVED IT!!!!!!

  21. I guess that Americans have gotten so weak that they cannot tolerate somebody with a different point of view. Rather pathetic

  22. What this article boils down to is this….the WW II generation raised us,the boomer, as a bunch of spoiled brats.
    We,the boomers, raised our hothouse children to feel entitled, fragile and to be a bunch of narcissistic pussys……and with no sense of loyalty to God or country.


  24. Reason commentariat called this a long time ago.
    Parody becomes reality. Good job, gang!

  25. “In a world where before you can even talk about how to best to instruct your audience on how to disseminate trigger warnings, you need first to apologize for and revise the very term trigger warning.”

    Have you considered that maybe when people try to be considerate about not triggering others they’re not necessarily requiring you to do the same?

    That article on Everyday Feminism is directed only at people who want to help, yet this article on Reason seems to treat it like a personal attack. I see that sort of mindset a lot, like when people feel threatened by the existence of atheists, or vegetarians, or gay people. People wanting to live in their own way is often perceived as a demand that you must also adhere to their values, and it isn’t. Perhaps you can learn to let them be.

  26. “White privilege trigger warning”

    Bunch of white American women unfairly qualifies for the World Cup finals.

    America vs. Germany match was the whitest thing I ever saw.

  27. I wish people would stop asterisking swearing, as is done in the title at the top of the video from YouTube without any warning. As someone who has been repeatedly exposed to broadcasting of supposedly “censored” material played out from televisions and radios in public places in the past and the meaning either being entirely specific and clear (and therefore explicit, emphatically not clean) or else suggesting something far more offensive, and being made extremely uncomfortable as other people are around me, I now have a PTSD trigger from seeing asterisked swearing. I therefore wish that people would stop being stupid by printing asterisked swearing and trying to be a false pretence that somehow the meaning isn’t known (somewhat illogically the unasterisked actual words no longer bother me, but then I was never caused serious emotional offence by the actual words in public places as they were not used in the broadcasts, and emotion is illogical) and people ought to consider the emotional impact of what they are using on someone, like me, with PTSD (I’ve felt my heart going a bit again). Btw, not sure if relevant, I also have Asperger’s syndrome. Many thanks.

  28. It does also indicate ‘how far do you go?’ sometimes doesn’t it? But by the same token how I am to be protected from serious (that is, emotional) offence?
    I hope that my post has helped people to grasp the impact on other people (such as myself) – in this case, if the actual unasterisked word had been used in that place, I would never have posted. So, yes, its use IS worse than the unasterisked word (particularly as that is so commonplace these days so as not to cause me any offence in printed text like this) and people ought to consider what they are doing so as not to cause emotional reactions in people such as me with PTSD. Dear, I am creating a karfuffle aren’t I in my reactions to something as a result of it giving me a PTSD trigger on this occasion (although fortunately not the worse one I’ve experienced), coupled with an Asperger obsession in the topic of origins of swearwords, emotional impacts or otherwise and swearing.

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