Dear lord …! A working-class BAME woman of colour, I am evidently a child in need of white commentators protecting me with “trigger warnings” on book covers in case my delicate sensibilities are offended by sexist, homophobic, racist content.
“Look, here I am, the good fairy, here to protect you while, incidentally, shutting you up.” See how this works? I don’t need “protection” from the arts: I need it from purported leftists who use us as career fodder.
Perhaps the New Statesman‘s own Tipper Gore should revive the Parents Music Resource Center (making me Frank Zappa versus the Mothers of Prevention) which campaigned to slap warning stickers on music that scared them.
Are we to cut a swathe through the culture and label film, music and print with “read with caution” stickers … or “may contain nuts”? Do I lack the resilience and analytical powers to read Sax Rohmer’s yellow peril archetype Fu Manchu, or the critical faculties to watch DW Griffiths’ Birth of A Nation without fainting in the aisle?
“Is it a book you would wish your wife or servants to read?” Are we now “no-platforming” Mark Twain?
Am I allowed to make up my own mind or should the cultural commissars do it for me?
Who are the literature police who will decide what warnings go where? Oh, let me guess.
As the world grows nastier, the more some culture pundits attempt to infantilise us, to Disneyfy the culture that reflects our world. We must all be treated like trauma victims in a therapy group. However, art allows exploration not only beyond our own experience but of the experience of others: the world beyond our own personal space. It’s an effective and empowering way of equipping us to deal with the real horrors to come.
This is the value of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Charles Shaar Murray says, “My parents stopped monitoring my reading by the time I was 14. After that, they assumed that I was sufficiently mature to deal with anything I was likely to find on the page — or, for that matter, on the screen. Hell, my late sainted mother even walked me into Polanski’s Cul De Sac before I was legally of age for X films.”
It’s a rule of politics to think long and hard before taking on powers which you would not wish to see being used by your opponents. Here’s a nice litttle dystopia for you. Imagine UKIP in government … or, more credibly, in charge of your local council library and plastering their stickers over everything.
Trigger warnings on literature will ultimately be like Asbos, a badge of honour for writers with integrity. It’s a stupid idea only the worst half-wit click-bait controversialists would promote. Philistine commentators willing to wreck the culture for a few career points should be let nowhere near it.
In the words of Phil Polley, “Suggest a sticker applied to forehead of all newborns ‘Warning: Life – May Not include Trigger Warnings'”
Laurie Penny responds
Anna’s food blog here: