I’m sorry. I’m a “Boomer College Prof.” That makes me toxic and old. When I take my bottom teeth out, I require a trigger warning stuck on my shirt like those stupid name badges at social get-togethers (excuse me, “meetups”). In fact, my missing lower teeth came about during a Seventies anti-war demonstration when I was hit in the mouth by a local pig, (that’s what we called police), and I was a USA veteran! My grandkids love it when I take my teeth out.
Being old, I am also a very big “complainer.” Top that off with the fact that I write novels and horror, I become a super toxic boomer who is lame and not up to snuff with society or its trials (in the Kafkaesque sense).
Here’s the deal (in the speaking style of our present Prez in the USA). I just saw a “horror” anthology that had a “trigger index.”
No shit. It was so tied to political correctness that it “confessed” what each story (they all pretty much sucked) “might” trigger inside the reader’s consciousness. So, now, in 2022, we’re being psychic fortune tellers for the public?
How in the holy fuck (whoops, trigger warning, I am cursing) do I know (either as one person or as a collective “mob of intellectuals”) exactly what triggers somebody? I get triggered by their “trigger index,” for fuck sake! Nobody warned me about that.
Now do you see how old I am? To me, a “Trigger warning,” is when television’s Roy Rogers’ horse (named Trigger) is about to step on a rattlesnake or a prairie dog’s hole on the prairie. I’m really not being factitious here. I’m asking a simple question: Why in heaven’s name (or hell’s, for that matter) does a horror anthology need a trigger warning index that delineates, in very detailed terms, mind you, exactly which triggers will affect the reader before he/she/it/they/them/our/ (did I get them all?) reads the fucking story?
Believe me, as both an online and in-the-classroom professor for over 25 years, I understand the purpose of political correctness. I lived it. For example, I had a colleague (woman professor) who constantly “instructed me” about never, under any circumstances, call the first semester of English studies “Freshman English.” To her (and she insisted that her students used the Feminist dictionary when they wrote), using the term “Freshman” was sexist because it was used when women were not considered equals in our society. Guess what? They’re still not considered equals in 2022. Look at Iran or 2/3 of the globe. Even in the USA in some states and households. What the heck will changing a “non sex based term for any person (or animal) who happens to be in the first semester of studies” do to help “equalize” the problems between sexists and non-sexists?
As I “mansplained” to her, “Any chosen word can have an effect only in the mind of the reader.” Why? Because the person who chooses the word to use is the only person who existentially knows what is meant by that term. Unless that person who chooses the word is able to convince a majority (democracy at work!) of others that her/his definition is the “better definition.” In the case of “Freshman,” the only time it was sexist in the history of the world was when men only were allowed to attend school or that specific class. Otherwise, during the time when both men and women could attend a class, it was accepted that the term “Freshman” was for any first-semester student and had no connotation of sexual identity.
That brings me back to horror. I write all levels of horror, and the only difference I make is between “adults and children,” which, in itself, is probably debatable, as children are growing up mostly on their own these days, but I won’t get into that right now. Wait. I will, for a second. I heard a young woman call herself a “Gen Z” on TikTok recently. When I taught, back when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I never thought about my students as being from a generation. They were simply fellow thinking, breathing, and experiencing human beings who were being pressured by society just as much, if not possibly more, than I was. Are current teachers labeling their students this way so that it “sticks” in their brains? How sad.
Anyway, why do we need to make things continually more complex to satisfy our own egos and thoughts of the “perfect society” (which will never exist, except in our own minds)? I was raped by six older guys when I was twelve. I have constant flash-backs to those string of “moments” in my life, sure. Guess what? I wrote about the experience and now I can read about any kind of rape, sodomy, porn sex position, torture, or what have you. By exploring my mind’s experience of being raped and “man-handled,” when my psyche wasn’t prepared for it, I was able to lower my trigger threshold.
My argument is this: why would I want to explain to others what they might be triggered by before they even read it? Perhaps, like me, they can actually learn what being raped is really like instead of some creative fiction writer’s idea of what it’s like. But that’s not the point I’m making. As an adult, I want the First Amendment “right” to choose what I believe will or will not affect my consciousness negatively or positively. If, for example, I don’t enjoy reading any horror stories or novels, like my sister-in-law, then just don’t read the fucking thing. Why be treated like a child and lectured to about what some editor(s) think is triggering inside my mind?
Granted, I suppose reading a “trigger index” would be interesting to somebody like the late (great) author of asides and complex explorations of “gnats’ asses,” David Foster Wallace. He was a genius who could make a bold statement about anything written, simply by showing how ridiculous it was in his creative writing. That’s my point, exactly. Why don’t we accept how ridiculous we are and not attempt to organize everything down to the proverbial “gnat’s ass”? Whose ass, by the way, is not very attractive as seen through an electron microscope (unless you’re “into” that kind of kinky thing). Do we need a trigger warning for gnats asses that might be shown? Thank you, David, that one’s for you, man!
Here’s another thing. Put all the trigger warnings you want on anything you want. It won’t prevent all the crap going down every second of every day all over the world. As I was saying, I believe it’s the added “complexity” we add to our cultures that causes most of the problems we have. Utilize and don’t analyze. As an adult, if I think something I’m reading scares the living fuck out of me, I don’t read it. That’s it. Drop the book or shut off the eBook reader. No trigger warning index required (except for satirists like DFW and me).
Let me leave you with one more old guy author gripe for today (if you’ve read this far). This guy has over 99,000 five-star reviews on Goodreads for his book that is basically what an old-timer guy named Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in Thus Spake Zarathustra. How did that work out? They carted old Fred off to the funny farm. What’s his theme in both of his best-selling, intellectually stimulating and “pro-science” books? That we will become like God! Wowza! Didn’t see that one coming. I hope he doesn’t get carted off. Seems like a friendly enough chap. I wonder if he ever saw tiny kids mowed down by a psycho with an assault rifle inside a classroom? Or women being ritually raped at gunpoint in Ukraine? Or if he’s read Nuclear Winter by the late (great) scientist, Dr. Carl Sagan (and others)? Oh, yeah. Their “nuclear winter thesis” is already being doubted by even “more modern” scientists (who work for the nuke purveyors). Forget about that. However, the entire power pantheon of the nation-states today is controlled by who has the biggest weapons. Oh well. Maybe we can be God after all! Trigger warning!!! That God might be pissed off. Guys like this guy who wrote Homo Deus give me the heebie-jeebies. But hey. In my personal philosophy, anything’s possible. So there’s that.
Finally, somebody asked me what my “punch line” is for this rather extended diatribe. If you can understand irony, then my punch line is that I was over-explaining some incidents that affect me only, and this is the ironic humor. Too bad David Foster Wallace checked-out (tragically) too soon. He would have enjoyed the hell out of this!
Punch line: Nobody really cares about what you write unless it affects them.
Both his parents were academics, and I may be a different breed than he was used to.