This rant got me kicked out of the “Creative Writers” Facebook group a few months ago. I seem to make a habit out of being banned from facebook writing groups.
So I’m reading the posts in this group and I come across a member’s post that apparently had comments locked by an admin. Reading the shitstorm that resulted from this post has helped me to realize why I keep getting into fights with so many people on facebook lately. I’m not going to requote the post or comments because I hate drama, but I AM going to talk in more detail and clarity than the OP did, even though many of you will not even bother reading to the end (or you will, but you won’t actually pay attention). This does have to do with authors, so bear with me.
I almost didn’t bother writing this, but I’m posting it anyway, partly because I have first-hand experience with this issue as a content creator and I’m tired of putting up with it, and tired of watching others fall victim to it; partly because posting elsewhere would feel like preaching to the choir, which is just pointless masturbation; partly as an exercise in “not being afraid to speak my mind”, as is the norm on the internet nowadays; and partly to point out how this sort of thing actually affects your audience. For that last point alone, you authors need to read to the end and think about it. Don’t argue: I know a lot of you are already opening the comments box to refute me, but you’re doing it out of anger and not thinking straight. Pretty sure the admins will close comments anyway, to prevent further drama — necessity of the topic notwithstanding. So don’t argue. Just think about it, is all I ask. Have a beer or a spot of tea while you think. If you HAVE to argue, first take a week off to calm down, then message me about it when you’re rational. (Again, coming from first-hand experience here, it really helps if you take a break before responding).
Here’s the topic:
The person in question argued that authors shouldn’t be required to use trigger warnings on their books or posts, nor should they be bullied into it. A ton of people jumped on him and called him a troll for saying this. I don’t know the context outside of that post and its reaction: maybe he had posted incendiary stuff before, or maybe it was his first post in the group on the subject.
The fact is, though, he’s fucking right. It IS ridiculous to expect me to add detailed disclaimers on a regular basis, for the sake of people who (theoretically) need professional help so badly that mere words like “rape” or “suicide” send them into a helpless, sobbing mania. Not just here in this facebook group, but anywhere. And whether he was serious or not, it’s the members’ reactions I’m more concerned about: the sincere and angry argument that it’s the author’s solemn duty to warn the reader of every potential trigger that pops up in their work, and if they don’t they’re an irresponsible asshole who should be ostracised. That is as ridiculous and unreasonable as it is impossible, especially these days.
I am NOT responsible for the mental stability of my readers. Not even on facebook. Argue the contrary all you want, you’re still wrong.
Rating systems like we have with films are more than enough, as unreliable as they are: R means adults only, and therefore all content is fair game, the theory being — flawed as it is — that adults are mature enough to handle things like death, sex, drugs, rape, cursing, etc. If a book isn’t for kids, it is not found in the YA or children’s section, and therefore the content is fair game.
However, the issue goes beyond merely having gruesome content in a work of fiction: trigger warning enthusiasts are championing for the weak and the wounded, worried that the poor dears will fall apart if they read a depiction of something they themselves experienced. If that’s ever the case, it’s because the victim isn’t getting the help they need (or like in a few cases I’ve personally met, because they WANT to feel like victims). In most cases it’s people who have no experience with the trauma in question, which is even more pathetic. In no case is it the author’s fault, nor is it the author’s responsibility to rectify it or pander to it. Nor should that author be crucified for being so insensitive as to include bad things in his adult-oriented story that happen in real life to real adults.
So I did an experiment that panders to the trigger warning demographic. Here’s what the front page of The Helios Legacy would look like if I adhered to this sort of mentality and listed everything I know someone would be offended or triggered by. Because let’s be real, listing one or two wouldn’t be enough if we want this to be a standard practice: we’d have to cover all the bases with a proper disclaimer, and make sure everyone knows exactly what they’re getting into, so nobody feels misrepresented or left out. These are all things that I’ve seen people flip out over. So hold onto your butts.
Trigger Warning: contains depictions of, or references to, the following:
– harsh language
– harsh language around minors
– harsh language by minors
– characters contemplating suicide
– attempted suicide
– attempted suicide by a minor
– sexual abuse
– sexual abuse of a minor
– use of the word “rape”
– use of the word “cunt”
– use of the word “fuck” and all its variants
– use of the word “suicide”
– taking the lord’s name in vain
– racial slurs
– homosexual slurs
– violence against women
– woman protagonist who shows vulnerability
– women who speak of subjects other than women
– unflattering portrayals of radical feminism
– references to and depictions of social anxiety
– references to and depictions of depression
– references to and depictions of wartime PTSD
– unflattering portrayals of radical leftist politics
– lack of trans characters
– scary imagery
I took about two hours making up that list, just to make sure I didn’t leave out any subject worth a safe space visit or an angry email. Now nobody can say I didn’t warn them about the content of the book…though I had to do it at the expense of misrepresenting the content of said book. You read “sexual abuse of a minor” and probably think of seven chapters of wanton kid-rape in excruciating detail, but in fact it’s just a vague reference to the fact that the kid was abused and you don’t actually see anything. I had to mention it as part of the trigger warning, so there it is, context be damned.
Did reading the disclaimer give you second thoughts about reading the book? Good, because that brings me to yet another reason trigger warnings are a stupid practice.
It’s anti-marketing. By scaring potential readers away with an out-of-context list of vague warnings (even if I had only listed rape or suicide), they miss out on a good story with engaging characters they can actually care about. They miss out on the soldier who helps the traumatized boy learn to trust adults again. They miss out on the damaged mom who finds the will to live after a terrible loss. They miss out on a villain who’s actually likable and sympathetic. They miss all the cool little moments between the guilty war hero and the mother of her dead teammate, or the flashbacks of a romance that was meant to be, but ultimately self-destructed. They miss out on the imagery: a nuclear winter city, a passenger train splayed across a snowy wasteland like a dead behemoth. They miss out on a really awesome scene with improvised firearms. They miss out on the surprise of picking up a random indie book they never heard of and actually enjoying it.
They miss out, period.
At some point we as a species need to stop babying each other. I’m very close to people who have actually suffered abuse or serious mental illness. If you told any of them that trigger warnings were essential for anyone, least of all for them, they would think you’re a condescending asshole out to empower yourself at the expense of others, and they’d be right. The world depicted in Demolition Man was intended as a joke, not something to aspire to.
Enforcing this kind of thing isn’t helping anyone. It turns people away from your books for superficial reasons. It empowers the self-righteous and makes people afraid to speak their minds. It forces people to be hypervigilant on a constant basis. It takes those who have actually suffered and paints them like blubbering infants. It ensures that those who THINK they need trigger warnings and safe spaces never fucking recover, and live the rest of their lives with a victim complex. Most of all, it insults your reader’s maturity.
So I urge everyone to drop this practice and start respecting their readers again. That’s ultimately what you’re doing when you include a trigger warning: you’re treating your readers like children. In which case, you’re probably writing in the wrong category.
It is now 2017 and it’s time to stop assaulting your peers with your “superior” moral values. You’re not doing it to save the world, you’re doing it to make yourselves feel important at the expense of others.
There’s a difference between stopping powerful people from doing bad things, and bullying people you disagree with. You are not saving the world when you spray an unarmed political rival with mace, or ruin a man’s life over a t-shirt he wore, or harass a game designer for not adhering to your personal views. You cannot improve society through fear, arrogance, or irrationality, no matter how righteous you believe you are. You cannot call yourself progressive, then justify unfair treatment of others when it happens to a demographic you have beef with — that is called hypocrisy. You cannot champion free speech while trying to suppress your enemies.
It doesn’t matter what youve been through, or what you THINK you’ve been through. It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. When you go around preemptively weaponizing your grief or your politics against others, you have officially become the bad guy. You aren’t saving the world, you’re throwing it further into chaos.
Just treat people how you wanna be treated, and listen to what they say instead of just reacting to it. It’s not that goddamn hard.
Another Regressive Idiot
C. S. Wilde said to try this, so I tried it.
What are you writing?
Spy fiction set in the samurai era, a humorous fantasy novel, and a sci-fi western. The first is being published professionally; I’m planning to self-publish the other two at the risk of no one taking me seriously as a writer ever again (ha-ha like they ever did in the first place).
How does your work differ from others in its genre?
It’s pulp fiction with fleshed-out characters rather than archetypes, so readers can enjoy it on multiple levels: as disposable trash fiction or as something with a bit more meat to it. I also try to come up with really unusual settings and ideas, let them loose and see where they go. Mostly it’s all to keep my own interest so I can actually finish what I start. Writing a standard western would probably bore me; writing a post-apocalyptic western with a cast of wicked, depraved women would totally keep my interest.
I suppose my horror fiction differs from other internet horror fiction in that I took a professional approach and actually proofread what I wrote. I couldn’t publish my horror stories, so I put them all on the creepypasta wiki for free.
Why do you write what you do?
Lots of reasons. I write adventure and horror because that’s what fascinated me as a child. I write character-driven plots out of my love of westerns and samurai tales. I write quirky women probably because I’m single. Mainly I write because I can’t help it.
How does your writing process work?
Like cooking ramen noodles on a busted stove. First I have to find a mix of ingredients that look appetizing and bring them all together in the pot. The soup stews for a good long time, and occasionally I stir it, until sooner or later it looks edible. Often I’ll get burnt out and put it on the backburner to work on something else for awhile: I generally have three different meals going at any given time. The downside is it takes me forever to finish a project; the upside is, I end up with several finished projects at once.
Do you have any artistic pursuits besides writing?
Too many. I like to draw things, with varying levels of success.
I used to do comics, but I’m focusing on writing at the moment. Comics take too much time and work for something that nobody really notices in the end, which is what happened with my last comic. I tend to work in black and white when I do comics, and I draw everything by hand. Here’s a glimpse of my page creation process for Daddy’s Girl:
I draw everything traditionally, ink it with black micron pens and red ball-point gel pens, then scan in black and white so the red becomes gray and the black stands out. I do the lettering by hand as well. Repeat for three years until well done.
I’m also a game design hobbyist, and I host a lot of board games and video games on my site. I do the graphics for all my video games, and tend toward lo-res retro graphics because it’s not as time-consuming (and I like how it looks better than 3D rendered crap).
What literary character is like you?
Charlie Brown: bad luck, girl troubles and all.
I know he’s a cartoon, but he’s a famous cartoon, and they made him into a musical play, so I say he counts.