I’d like to believe that I possess a great sense of humor and that I’m pretty accepting of other people’s sense of humor as well. However, something that I cannot, for the life of me, understand is “triggered” jokes.
Essentially, people say that they’re “triggered” when something annoys or bothers them.
Example: “Ugh, I have a math test tomorrow, I’m so triggered.”
Yeah, no. Not even close to what a trigger actually means.
A trigger is something that sets off a flashback taking the person back to the event of their trauma. Someone who resembles the abuser is a trigger. A sound associated with the time and place of the abuse is a trigger. Anything that is related to the abuse is a trigger.
Triggers can be breakfast foods. Triggers can be certain movie characters. Triggers can be anything.
Triggers are not something to throw around lightly, to joke about because such jokes hurt and degrade victims of abuse and trauma. The distorted definition of a trigger is severely mentally damaging, yet some people think that it’s funny or cool to poke fun at the psychological effects of trauma by implying abuse victims are just oversensitive.
Making fun of triggers and trigger warnings is the equivalent of bashing people who actually need these warnings.
And we need them more now in a society that ignores and belittles marginalized groups that discuss their negative experiences in their communities by calling them “special snowflakes.” Take the University of Chicago’s letter in August that was sent to incoming freshmen. Basically, the university warned that it would not tolerate “intellectual safe space” and “so-called ‘trigger warnings.’”
The assumption behind this letter is that trigger warnings obstruct free speech and other freedoms. However, as UChicago alum Audrey Truschke observes, the point of trigger warnings is not to silence debate but rather to prepare people so that they can “move beyond their initial reactions of shock, horror, disgust, and trauma and enter into an intellectual discussion of the materials and questions at hand.”
Furthermore, CUNY historian Angus Johnston notes, “There’s no college in the country where [professors] are required to give trigger warnings. They’re all voluntary pedagogical choices.” Therefore, the use of trigger warnings is not a threat to academic freedom but instead a “manifestation” of academic freedom.
What even is a safe space? It takes the form of campus affinity groups, worship groups, and support systems for marginalized groups, which already exist on UChicago’s campus, as its Center for Identity and Inclusion shows.
Safe spaces don’t stifle free speech. Safe spaces aren’t meant for students to cover their ears with their hands and yell, “La, la, I can’t hear you.” Instead, safe spaces encourage and facilitate free speech so that people can fully explore conversations that, for the sake of sensitivity and decency, occasionally are unfitting for the classroom.
Current implementations of safe spaces, however, are far from ideal, as Cameron’s piece from the October issue of Margins on how safe spaces can still be sites of trauma explains.
But there’s a long, nuanced discussion of triggers, trigger warnings, and safe spaces that we all must have, yet “triggered jokes” ignores the possibility of holding such a discussion and therefore limits the opportunity to educate oneself and to become a more socially aware, open-minded person and citizen.
My solution to “triggered” jokes? Stop making them and do yourself a favor: find a better sense of humor.