The Trouble with Trigger Warnings

June 1, 2014

By Ruth Fowler at Al Jazeera America

Students across the U.S. — most notably in California — have begun requesting “trigger warnings” for potentially upsetting or disturbing material used in assigned canonical literature such as F. Scott Fitzgerald's “The Great Gatsby” (which apparently references “gory, abusive and misogynistic violence”) and Virginia Woolf’s “Mrs. Dalloway” (with its references to a suicide). The insistence that everyone may potentially be traumatized by literature seems to undermine and devalue the very real and disabling condition of post-traumatic stress disorder — a condition that can be triggered by anything, not merely a reference to the original traumatic event. The American tendency to pathologize negative experiences and label everything a “trauma” is well chronicled in a long, celebrated history of torts and ambulance-chasing lawyers...