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10:18 am: Superversive Blog: Trigger Warning or Smelling Salts?

Smelling salts


A Victorian administers smelling salts to a lady who has fainted.



I know of a family where the father was a man of many virtues, but—like all of us—he also had some vices. One of his vices was that he treated his wife quite imperiously, ordering her around and expecting a great deal of her, treating her a bit like a servant of old.


But, for the most part, she did not mind. She loved him. She had been raised to believe that marriage was service, and she served with joy. Besides, she felt he had a right to have things as he liked—he was the sole breadwinner of the family.


Basically, he had the virtues of his vices.


This couple has a son. The son is a disabled adult. Unfortunately, he adopted some of his father’s vices without the corresponding virtues. For instance, he orders his mother around in just the way that his father did and speaks disparagingly of her efforts in exactly the same manner.


Except…the father was the woman’s husband and her breadwinner, at the very least, he deserved respect. The son neither deserves honor from his mother, nor does he provide for her.


He does not have the virtues of his vices.


(I do not in any way mean to imply that the son does not have his own strengths. He is a dear person. But this particular vice is not accompanied by a corresponding virtue.)


The Victorians are renowned for their hypocrisy—but you have to shoot high, to have noble standards, to have whole portions of society bother trying to pretend to live up to them. And for all those who only pretended to be virtuous, or Christian, or caring, there were those who actually did live up to these noble goals. Those who helped fight slavery or poverty or a thousand other ills.


The Victorians might have been judgmental, but they valued rationality and carried themselves with dignity.


They had the virtues of their vices.


Not so the Neo-Victorians (Neo-Vics for short), by which I mean this new brand of social do-gooder that is so popular today. Like the Victorians, they make a career out of rushing around and trying to improve things by pushing their noses into other people’s business. Unlike the Victorians, they are totally lacking in dignity.


They do not have the virtues of their vices.


But there is another way in which the Neo-Vics are like their predecessors. Victorian women are famous for their delicacy. Women of earlier eras did not faint away at the sight of a mouse or at an uncouth word. (Pioneer women, for instance, did not faint away at anything.) Nor did the ladies of, say, Queen Elizabeth’s day.


Fainting spells and hysterics came from two things: one, tight corsets—not a problem we have today. (Thank, God!) Two, hysterics were a way to show disapproval. If one fainted away at the very mention of something, men at least had to keep it out of the drawing rooms.


Sadly, we are seeing that again today.


Colleges used to be a place where people went to confront daring ideas and learn from them. Now, even 2000 year old Ovid’s Metamorphoses is so objectionable that students are demanding that they not be asked to read it unless the university provides them with atrigger warning, to prepare them ahead of time for the vile humanity reflected within.


ovid


Ovid may be old, but Echo and Narcissus still seem timely.



But is it really a trigger warning they need…or smelling salts?


(In case the term is unfamiliar, smelling salts were what they used in Victorian Days to help a young woman who had swooned recover from her faint. Smelling salts are also called “salt of hartshorn” because the ammonia that is the active ingredient in the solution was once distilled from the hoofs and horns of deer. Today, smelling salts are used by some athletes to stay awake and aware for games.)


I find this encouragement of mass-hysteria very sad indeed.


In my youth, feminists faced issues such as getting women into work places where never a high-heeled shoe had trod. Men truly thought women were too emotionally weak to survive in the workplace, so we gals set out to show them that they were wrong.


We were tough. We could hack it. We were the equal of any man.


This striving to show the strength of our character had a second benefit. We became strong. When problems came—and in life, problems come—we were able to face them, if not with dignity then at least with courage.


It breaks my heart to see the current generation succumbing to fits and hysterics rather than striving for strength and courage.


To use a single example from many, thee is a woman named Adria Richards who is known across the internet as an outspoken feminist. Her claim to fame is that she reported two geeks at a tech conference—for telling a risqué joke involving the word “dongle”.


Putting aside how strange this is when compared to the crudity of almost every walk of modern life, doesn’t this strike you as exactly the kind of thing Victorian women were known for?


Objecting to crudity in men's speech? Shrieking at the mention of bodily functions? Covering piano legs so that no one would see a leg and, oh horrors!, be reminded of a woman’s leg and, thus, of….sex!!!!!


Only Victorian gals actually did refrain from discussing many of these things among themselves—even in private. The Neo-Vics insist on routinely using words, mainly related to bodily functions, that I would not use in my personal speech, much less put in print.


They lack the virtues of their vices.


I remember being a teenage girl. It was a very emotional time. I remember being having to choose whether to become more or less hysterical at times. Some environments encouraged me to exaggerate my weaknesses. Others encouraged me to bear up and develop strengths.


I was lucky. I encountered more of the second than of the first.


But today’s young people?


They are being taught that fits of outrage and hysterics is what society rewards. That they should communicate their moral outrage by exaggerating their weaknesses. Society aside, this cannot be good for them as individuals—to stress their fears rather than their strengths? To have their failings, their loss of emotional control, rewarded?


Those lessons may not serve them well when they encounter the real problems life brings.


And what is college for, if not to prepare us to be better suited for real life? (That was why employers used to pay more for college graduates. They performed better.)


So, should people be allowed trigger warnings? Safe spaces? And other mechanisms designed to increase and celebrate victimhood?


Or do they deserve more? Might they be better off if society handed them a box of smelling salts and said, “Take a good whiff, deary, and pull yourself together”?


What's your opinion?


Comments



Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)


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Comments

[User Picture]
From:wenchpower
Date:May 13th, 2015 02:39 pm (UTC)
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Like most things, I think trigger warnings have a place--mainly in settings where PTSD can be an issue, or when the audience is very young and impressionable--but can be misused. As an example of the first, I have a very dear friend who was raped as a teenager. She then had a college professor who showed "Blue Velvet" in class without warning them that it contained a graphic rape scene. She was a wreck for days because it gave her flashbacks, and I don't know how many other students had the same experience. This is a pretty inarguable case where trigger warnings are good.

The problem is when the second one is over-applied. When I taught middle school literature to an 85% black class, we did The Call of the Wild. The kids loved it--but I knew there was a chapter that mentions Buck running through a field of a plant called "niggerheads." I knew I couldn't just let that go without comment in a class full of black twelve-year-olds, and that I'd have to warn them what was coming before we read the chapter. We ended up spending literally the entire class talking about how language evolves, how Jack London wasn't tossing around racial slurs to be cruel but genuinely didn't know in those days that the word was offensive, how "niggerhead" might have been the proper phrase back then just like "gypsy moth" is the proper phrase nowadays even though a lot of actual Roma hate the word "gypsy," etc., etc., etc. It was a very necessary "trigger warning" discussion for twelve-year-olds, and I'm glad we had it. It would not have been a necessary discussion for college students, and I think the overuse of trigger warnings comes when adults are treated like twelve-year-olds.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 03:03 pm (UTC)
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I think your examples are very good...but there is a huge difference between telling a person that something that really isn't "fit for mixed company" is present, or, in your second case, explaining context and background for those who don't otherwise know, and encouraging adults to throw hissy-fits.

What you did is called teaching. ;-)

It is true that there are those who have suffered bad things and really don't want to face them again...and I think they should not have to!

But our modern society puts the brunt of this on the person presenting the info...and then expect the person to anticipate every possible objection and cater to them all.

As with many things, it starts off as kindness and ends up as a kind of bullying.
[User Picture]
From:wenchpower
Date:May 13th, 2015 03:15 pm (UTC)
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Very true. And I think part of the issue with trigger warnings for things that aren't "fit for mixed company" is losing all shades of nuance, forgetting that there's a difference between the graphic representation of something and an allusion to something. In this way, it's sort of like a "Hanna-and-Annah" thing where the liberals are doing exactly the thing they hate when conservatives do it. I remember that in Steven Greydanus' review of Star Trek Into Darkness, he mentioned a throwaway sexual gag in one scene: Kirk sits up in bed, and a sexy alien babe sits up next to him, and then a previously unseen second sexy alien babe sits up on the other side of him. A commenter was absolutely furious that SDG could do anything but decry a movie with a threesome joke and demanded that he immediately change his review to give the movie a -4 on the moral/spiritual scale (which, in his ratings system, is as immoral and spiritually toxic as a movie can get). SDG politely told the person to get a life. The person was forgetting that there's a difference between a minor sexual joke and a pornographic sex scene. I think the trigger warning people are doing the same thing--forgetting that there's a difference between, say, Blue Velvet and a classic work that alludes to rape without describing it. The first could easily trigger PTSD flashbacks; the second, not so much.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 03:18 pm (UTC)
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That's a very good example. The joke is funny and is there only to show character traits. A scene depicting such a relationship...or even Kirk pursuing such a relationship on screen...is a very different matter.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 13th, 2015 07:04 pm (UTC)

Blue Velvet? Really?

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That the professor didn't give a trigger warning on Blue Velvet places the problem one step too late: why would you show a movie like that to college students as part of a class in the first place? There's a point to this? We run out of Shakespeare, and already did Citizen Kane?

But let's say there's a good reason. Forget trigger warnings - how about a 'this R-rated movie involves a severed ear, kidnapping of a child by psychopaths, a man repeatedly slapping a woman, rape, gunshot wounds and other altogether unpleasant aspects of humanity. In other words, there's something to ruin the day for anybody with a functioning non-trivial sense of morality." And then maybe an explanation of why it's a good idea to watch it anyway. You know, as you said above, *teaching*

(BTW: that info comes off IMDB. Never saw the flick personally)

The point I'm getting at is the hypocrisy here: On the one hand, our college and university professors take it as a fundamental right to be as outrageous and provocative as possible *and* support the idea that 1) certain people aren't allowed to outraged AT ALL yet 2) certain other people must be shielded from any chance of offence. Trigger warnings are the crippled spawn of these attitudes.

Looking to the Victorians for guidance here, the fainting and hysteria were the acceptable means to put a lid on topics that it was *pointless to discuss* 99% of the time. Today, sex is discussed way too much and for the most part pointlessly at best and destructively at worst. Actual helpful discussions of sex - like the ones parents have with their children if they're sane - are exactly the kinds of discussions drowned out in all the noise. Maybe we don't need to talk certain topics to death in the classroom?

I think my position is that trigger warnings are a bad idea 100% of the time BUT actual explanations of what it is you're up to and hope to achieve by examining a work that contains X should be the normal process. Talking about college here.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 07:48 pm (UTC)

Re: Blue Velvet? Really?

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I think that is nicely put. And you are correct...for some reason, really demeaning things don't get warnings and relatively decent things, do.

I guess that is one reason that the bit about Ovid (I think that was at Columbia)drew my attention.
[User Picture]
From:juliet_winters
Date:May 13th, 2015 03:55 pm (UTC)

Victorians v. Neo-Victorians

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The difference is simple. Victorians were, on the whole, Christian and using the Bible as a basis for their morality.

So, Biblically-speaking a man would be head of the household. But he would also have duties to his wife whom he was instructed to cherish as Christ cherishes the Church. All the other Christian precepts were consiered sound arguments for behavior. Fruits of the spirit, kindness to children, that sort of thing.

Yes, a lot of blowhards used their physical/financial strength to only push male dominance without the corresponding virtues. But it wasn't considered right. It wasn't considered gentlemanly.

There was a piece of correspondence between my great-great grandfather and the young man who would marry his daughter in which he tells him nicely but firmly that she is a delicate young lady who had been gently reared and she should receive the same treatment should they wed.

He wasn't saying his daughter was weak. He was saying that the potential son-in-law had best mind his manners. Bless him.

My grandmother was born in the waning days of the Victorian era. She was strong-minded, worked as a teacher and married a gentle and genteel soul. She was also a firm church-goer, as most were. When someone proposed a course of action to her, she would demurr.. "...if Joe permits..." but that always got titters. Because she always got her way.

The neo-Victorians, as you call them, really don't have any of those societal/social/religious inhibitions. They lack manners or civility. They were not raised with a sense of duty, and that is vital. Take away the Bible, and you still had \people raised with core Roman virtues of duty.

"It's not right" or "it t'aint fittin'" depending on where you were is what would be said about a man who was known to abuse his family. Depending on how ba it got, the church or the law might get involved. Assuming it was known. Anne Perry has written books and books about well-bred, Victorian-era families with these kinds of secrets coming to light.

Hypocrisy is the other side of that apparent virtue, yes, but at least there were standards of virtue. Today, neo-Victorians want all of the indulgences and none of the duty.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 04:03 pm (UTC)

Re: Victorians v. Neo-Victorians

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One has to shoot high to be able to have hypocrites. The Victorians strove as a culture to live up to the Christian virtues.

Some failed...but some truly did their best...which is infinitely better than not trying.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:11 pm (UTC)

Donglegate

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I think the dongle joke outrage was triggered by Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Donglegate

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Thanks, I'll fix it. The original article I read about it said Sarkeesian, but that could have been wrong, too. ;-)
[User Picture]
From:Stephen Barringer
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:21 pm (UTC)

Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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One correction: The woman who reported the men at a tech conference for the "dongle" joke was named Adria Richards. Like one of the men she reported, she subsequently lost her job due to social backlash. Anita Sarkeesian is a media critic known for her stance on improving female presence in video games and the gaming community.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:33 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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I fixed it. Thanks!
[User Picture]
From:jordan179
Date:May 14th, 2015 01:28 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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... and getting good game reviews by her choice of bedmates.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 14th, 2015 06:14 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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Lol You are the 5th person who has told me, and I changed it in two places...but the Internet is so maze-like that I keep finding more places I missed.

But thanks! I'll fix it here, too!
[User Picture]
From:yamamanama
Date:May 18th, 2015 09:57 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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1. Wasn't that Zoë Quinn?
2. Whatever, it's not true anyway.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 18th, 2015 10:16 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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I haven't really heard much about any of these ladies.

How did you find out it wasn't true?
[User Picture]
From:yamamanama
Date:May 18th, 2015 10:20 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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I don't even know. Gurpgork has been at it so long and I found out so long ago.

It was Zoe Quinn, though.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 18th, 2015 10:27 pm (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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Thanks.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 5th, 2015 02:03 am (UTC)

Re: Adria Richards, not Anita Sarkeesian.

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And lying about the games she's reviewing.
From:boryon
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:22 pm (UTC)
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*delurk*

It was Adria Richards who was the lady who complained about puerile dongle and fork jokes at a conference. Anita Sarkeesian is a feminist video blogger talking about women in TV, film and video games.

Regarding the meat of your article, what I have seen on the internet backs up your views. Thankfully, I have not seen any of it in real life. It may be that this attitude hasn't got out of academia on this side of the Atlantic, yet.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:29 pm (UTC)
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I fixed it. Thanks!!!
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 05:31 pm (UTC)
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I would be less worried about attitudes in academia...if political correctness had not come out of academia--and I remember when I first heard of it and thought it was just silly.

I don't think there is anything wrong with warning about graphic content--that's why movies are rated--but it seems to be getting a bit silly.

Still...I think there is much hope. ;-)
From:boryon
Date:May 13th, 2015 06:16 pm (UTC)
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Heh, I see that 3 of us got caught in your spam filter.

You are, unfortunately, correct about PC coming out of academia, hence the final "yet"...

I don't have a problem with very coarse rating systems like those employed by film industry. The whole "trigger warning", which was beautifully parodied by one professor recently (to the point where the trigger warning pointed out that it should have a trigger warning), is getting ridiculous. While there is no such thing as a normal person, there is a range in which most people just do not have a problem.


[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:May 13th, 2015 06:31 pm (UTC)
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Exactly. Reasonable warnings are fine. It is very reasonable to warn people about a graphic scene in a movie, for instance.

But...Ovid? Mythology? And dozens of other things.

It seems...kind of over the top.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:June 18th, 2015 03:56 pm (UTC)

Trigger warnings, and such

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The point is not protection, it is censorship. Those who demand trigger warnings (when not justified by bitter previous experience) are not interested in protecting anyone but themselves and anything but power (even if imaginary). They want to control what you THINK. If you cannot mention a given subject without giving into demands for "trigger warnings", "safe spaces" and "avoiding microagression", you have lost free speech. I get offended all the time by those who think they can justify control of others' speech, actions and ultimately thought; this is a 21st century attempt to institute "thoughtcrime", and I will not cooperate.
Your need for trigger warnings will not stop the Commissars from pulling their triggers - and I'm not sure the one isn't meant to lead to the other.
[User Picture]
From:arhyalon
Date:June 18th, 2015 09:42 pm (UTC)

Re: Trigger warnings, and such

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>They want to control what you THINK.

Exactly.
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