Real Life Doesn't Come With Trigger Warnings

I was cursed with the stomach flu recently and spent a couple of long, tummy-rumbling days in bed, wishing away the worst of it. I didn’t really feel like doing much, so I turned to the tv to keep me company and keep my mind off how sorry for myself I was feeling.

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I binge-watched a couple of shows over those two days, which gave me ample time to be exposed to my least favorite new trend in entertainment – trigger warnings.

One series had a different one for every show.

WARNING: This show contains discussions of sexual assault. 

WARNING: This show contains discussions domestic violence.

WARNING: This show contains discussions of suicide.

WARNING: This show contains discussions of child abuse.

The show was a drama, so naturally there were all kinds of disconcerting themes at play. There was a trigger warning for every one. It began to make me viscerally upset. At one point I just turned off the tv in disgust, I was so tired of the trigger warning lectures. I suppose someone (probably my children) might say that’s a bit of an overreaction. It’s five seconds of a friendly warning, in case a topic might be too much for a viewer to handle. Get over yourself. It doesn’t change your experience of the show at all.

And technically that is true…it does not change my experience of the show whatsoever. However, it does change my experience of modern society. It is a sharp, blatant, infuriating reminder that we are raising an entire generation of lily-livered, yellow-bellied, spoiled weaklings who are so fragile and have spent so much of their lives in metaphorical and emotional bubble wrap, that they can’t even watch a pretend tv show without first being warned of all the sad and bad things they might be exposed to.

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Who turns on Law & Order: SVU (Sex Victims Unit) and is shocked to see actors portray victims of sexual assault? Needing a warning on a show like that, or any show that deals with the human experience (which is all of them), is as stupid as needing a warning on a coffee cup that the coffee inside will indeed be hot. As stupid as the latter is, we do have that nowadays (thank you, litigious America). I guess the soft idiots who are dumb enough to be shocked that the hot coffee they purchased is hot are dumb enough to be shocked that tv shows are about people and the things that happen to us.

I find the weakness of modern, young America to be wholly repulsive. My gag reflexes are (pardon the expression) LITERALLY TRIGGERED when another trigger warning shows up on my screen.

I am repulsed that any thinking American would tune into a show, particularly a drama or a thriller, and suddenly find themselves so upset by someone just talking about an assault or just pretending to assault someone that it would throw them into a suicidal fit, or leave them mentally scarred and broken, curled up on the floor in the fetal position.

Why must the entire entertainment industry hold your hand and spell out every bad feeling you might come into contact with during a show? It is truly one of the most pathetic things about modern youth. Personal responsibility is so foreign to them that they cannot even fathom risking feeling emotions without being fully warned and coddled ahead of time. Any responsible adult should at least understand that tv and movies portray emotions and trauma. Just don’t turn it on, if you can’t even handle a whisper of a trauma. Why are you even watching tv in the first place?

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It’s just a few words on a screen, but it is a sign of a generation of people who are not prepared to make their way in a world that does not come with trigger warnings. There will be manipulators and deceivers, liars and lovers, allies and enemies—and a successful human being needs the skills to read them all. Those people don’t come with signs. They don’t have their dangerous qualities tattooed on their foreheads.

This fragile generation is not prepared to face those people, read those people, or even learn from those people. They will expect every risk and every opportunity to be telegraphed and because that is not how real life works, they will fail far more than necessary. Many will never get off the ground. They will succumb to the sickness of self-absorbedness because everything in their world has been set up to coddle them rather than challenge them.

A successful adult needs to learn to see around corners and anticipate hardship. The trigger warning generation can’t even see into the second act of a one-hour drama without someone putting padding on those corners first.

So, sure, it’s just a few words on a blank screen, but to me it’s a sign of the weakness that has been sown in a nation that is barely hanging on to its status as the strongest nation on earth, and I find that intolerable. I find it saddening, and I don’t care to be reminded of the glass chins that will one day be leading this country.

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So, no, dear GenZ and whatever generation is coming behind you, real life does not come with trigger warnings. We shouldn’t want that anyway. The worst part of growing up is all the responsibility you have to take on – you’ll need to know how handle the challenges that spring up unannounced along the way. But the best part of growing up is all the wonderful and beautiful surprises that life has to offer, surprises you’ll never get to experience if your requirement for life is knowing all the risks ahead of time.

I pray some (even most, if I dare to dream) of you learn quickly that you are not owed a smooth ride ahead. You are owed nothing. Your gift was life, and the bow on top was life in the greatest nation on earth…and the story you tell will be the one you write for yourself, if you have the courage.

But please, don’t write that story with a trigger warning on the first page.

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