I don’t usually watch Shortland Street, but last night I tuned in about halfway through. In the closing scene, a woman is collecting some takeaway food. The male server offers to walk her to her car, and she shrugs and says “No, I’m fine.”
(Content warning: mentions of rape).
Of course, red flag in these sorts of shows.
She wasn’t fine, and the closing scene involved her being dragged into the bushes by a masked attacker. It was pretty intense for a show at 7.30pm.
But then, the closing credits included a message along the lines of “If any of the events in tonight’s episode were an issue, you can contact Rape Crisis.”
That’s not a super new thing, but I was interested to see whether the warning had been there at the start, rather than a kind of “oops, this has already been a problem, here’s how to get help.”
The answer seemed to be yes, going by the OnDemand version,
Content, or trigger, warnings are a controversial topic. “Triggered” has become an insult on perceived “over-sensitivity,” when it was actually part of a specific lexicon for communicating a psychological and emotional experience. It was a useful way of expressing the depth of a reaction, usually related to trauma. Now it’s been co-opted and its usefulness diminished.
I find it bizarre that one of the biggest arguments against content warnings is “You can’t have warnings in real life.”
… OK? Yes, I can’t – I know that from personal experience, that’s one of the reasons I need the warnings where I can.
Instead of “shielding me from real life,” (as if this was a horrible thing to do), what content warnings allow me to do is engage with life on my terms. I get the opportunity to approach things with care, as and when I’m ready to do so, rather than being hit in the face unexpectedly and being completely thrown.
You’re not stopping me from experiencing “real life” by putting up fences. You’re helping me to deal with the amount of Real Life I have already faced.
I’m not certain I understand why there’s such a fight against that.
It takes two minutes to add a line letting people know what’s ahead. Two minutes, to help avoid violent flashbacks, pain, or heartache.
And yet, you fight it? Why? Because you believe in the school of hard knocks? Because you think maybe no one will read on if there’s a warning? I guarantee you they will, just like they still watch R rated movies. After all, this is not the majority of the population who need this. And maybe that’s your issue. Maybe you don’t care about the marginalised. Maybe you’ve never experienced anything, out there in “the real world,” that might mean you need this form protection. If that’s the case, I’m happy for you.
You know what? I’m a journalist – and I don’t read news. You heard me. Unless it’s a story linked to from Facebook or Twitter and I trust the source, I don’t read it. I don’t go to the homepage of any news sites except for The Wireless, The Spinoff, and NZ Geographic. Because I trust them – I know their headlines are not gratuitous, I know I probably won’t stumble over something that’s going to make my world crash down around me. Even then, that’s not always the case. I read a Wireless story recently where rape was mentioned suddenly in the third paragraph. That’s what got me thinking about warnings on news stories.
Yep, I’m a delicate snowflake. Reading about rape upsets me. It more than upsets me. Because I’m triggered by it. And though I’m going to therapy for my PTSD, I can’t control that reaction. That’s what trigger originally meant – not just that you find something upsetting, but that you have a strong and involuntary reaction.
I don’t know why this is so hard. Every person should have the right to curate their reality. This is why I don’t subscribe to the “echo chamber” argument. I cannot control what people on the street do around me – but I can online, by using the block button. That block button is a form of power and a welcome relief.
Content warnings wouldn’t make me engage with less work online – they’d give me the power to go ahead with a lot more. When people are assured of their safety, they’ll go into a store and shop there, knowing none of the clothes conceal knives.
Want me in your store? Point out where the knives are, so I can buy everything else. And of course, those knives won’t bother everyone. You’ll still sell just as much – if not more.
Stop the arguments. Use courtesy and give people the headsup. And if you don’t have the decency to provide warnings, just because you don’t have the experience to understand why it matters… then I don’t want to read your content anyway.