Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Content Warning!

The title is not necessarily a warning about this post; it’s more me ruminating about the need and/or usefulness of "warnings" for works of fiction, particularly horror fiction. I've recently seen a few good discussions on the subject — not heated, dig-in-your-heels, double-down types of discussions, but respectful and thoughtful exchanges. These have prompted me to consider the prospect in a somewhat different light.

Initially, I felt such warnings superfluous, since horror — extreme horror, in particular — has never been in any way a "safe" subject. To my mind, it seems that anyone going in to read a book bearing the "horror" label will be treading on thin ice, as far as emotional security goes. That not-so-novel notion has always seemed to be a given. That said, and this has been a topic of discussion since time immemorial, "horror" is not limited to the genre; it's a potential component of any genre, of any facet of life itself. It's a handy label for books about cosmic monsters, the supernatural in general, psycho killers, et. al., but it also goes far beyond that.

The term "trigger warning" for books gave me (and still gives me) an ugly sense. For right or wrong, it seems a term that implies emotional weakness, putting those who might truly become disturbed by something in a piece of fiction, particularly as a result of past trauma, in a needlessly defensive position. I've seen the suggestion that "content warning" is more neutral, giving the creator the opportunity/responsibility to better target the appropriate audience. I find myself gravitating toward this, especially having read so many accounts of negative emotional reactions from people who've suffered specific traumas. Maybe it's a tiny change in wording, but this goes to the significance of word usage itself.

Certainly, most or all of us have suffered severe physical and/or emotional trauma to varying degrees; but just as we all deal with grief in our unique ways, so we deal with trauma. Truthfully, whatever I have suffered in this life, I can't find anything in fiction I could honestly consider a "trigger." I can find things that unsettle me, even mess up my mind to an extent. But then I realize that I deal with grief, which I have suffered in the past couple of years, quite profoundly, in very different ways than others. So, looking at the question of warnings from this perspective — and, as I mentioned, reading so many accounts of how certain topics, and their depictions, in fiction can and have truly triggered some readers, I'm finding myself far more open to the idea of "content warnings" than I was not terribly long ago. Perhaps, as some other proponents have noted, the term "Advisory" might be more apt.

I also feel educating myself on such concepts is paramount to remaining an active participant in the business I've chosen. I may be an old fart, but I do make every attempt not to be a stagnant old fart. Because that stinks.

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