“The onus was on the reader, not the author, to protect themselves with the information given. Basically, AO3 took the early fandom nugget ‘Don’t like, don’t read’ and made it policy.”–rapacityinblue, on Tumblr. (I’m not going to try to get my mind around how a Tumblr discussion should be cited.)
I found this discussion about Archive of Own Own (AO3) fascinating, and it made something clear(er) to me that I have not understood for a long time: trigger warnings.
When I read an article that includes trigger warnings, it is normally from a mainstream source that has largely been sanitized of content that would trigger me. So, they seem unnecessary.
I’ve never spent any appreciable time on A03, but it is clear that the content in the A03 archive has not been sanitized. And if you are browsing something where you truly don’t know what you are going to get and it is possible that it may not be what you want, it should be tagged in such a way where you can make a rough determination of whether it is something you want to get into before you start to read. If there’s a good chance you aren’t going to like it, you can tell in advance and not read it. The responsibility lies with the reader.
I spend most of my time reading sources that do not have any, or much, “triggering” content (at least for me). In that environment, I do not need a trigger warning. I am free to read everything.
I was trying to think of another example in a different media, and there are definitely films I can think of that would benefit from this kind of tagging. For example, I suggested that my wife and I watch Oldboy when it came out in the theaters. We knew nothing about it going in, and to this day, my wife won’t watch South Korean movies. It’s a movie that can “trigger” a lot of people. Others that come to mind would be Requiem for a Dream and Se7en, and a case could be made for films like The Silence of the Lambs, Reservior Dogs, and others. What would it be like to watch Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story if you had a history of anorexia nervosa? What seems benign to me certainly may not be benign to another.
And it made me realize that most of our environments have been sanitized. We do have systems to tag content, such as when a movie is labelled “R”, Restricted. But, it is interesting that these labels are based on maturity and age. And while there are designations like “graphic violence” or “strong language” that are used in conjunction with the rating, there’s a world of difference between the “graphic violence” in Oldboy than most other films that get made. But, we don’t need a better system of tags because challenging films like Oldboy, largely don’t get made.
So, the next time someone with a conservative outlook talks about “snowflakes” being “triggered”, perhaps it would be a good time to suggest they try a double feature of Oldboy and Requiem for a Dream and see if they think these films should having something more extensive than an R rating for “for strong violence including scenes of torture, sexuality and pervasive language” or “intense depiction of drug addiction, graphic sexuality, strong language and some violence”, respectively.
See also: The reaction to Isabel Fall’s short story, “I Sexually Identify as an Attack Helicopter.”