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May 15, 2014


It was 1987 when I first encountered the "Washlet" in a Tokyo hotel. Took me two days to work up the courage to try it out, mainly because the controls were only labelled in Japanese and I worried I would flood the bathroom if I pushed the wrong button. What a moron I was.

After saying (out loud, I swear)"This thing is GREAT!" my next thought was "How the hell would they go about marketing this in the US? What could the TV commercials possibly look like?" Nevertheless, I figured that in 5-10 years, tops, the Washlet would be common here too.

And I figured the obvious first market segment for Toto would be nursing homes and hospitals. But I'm no marketing expert. In any case, the fact that Washlets are still rare in the US nearly 30 years later is astonishing.

Incidentally, it was on that same trip in 1987 that I was invited to a colleague's new house. The toilet included a Washlet seat, of course, but also a motorized lid that opened automatically when you walked into the bathroom and closed itself afterwards. That struck me as frivolous. I wonder if it has caught on.


No doubt it is merely my lack of experience. But the question that always arises when someone is talking about a bidet is: OK, so you've washed off . . . now, how do you get dry. No doubt there is a simple and obvious solution, which merely has escaped my tiny mind.

No doubt there is a simple and obvious solution, which merely has escaped my tiny mind.


There is also the middle-of-the road solution: a bidet shower. A hand-washing tap equipped with a shower costs no more than 20 euros more than a simple tap, so it is much more affordable than a special, automated seat. In addition, it is much nicer for a man, because you can direct the hand-held shower to shower also from above. This makes it easier to wash off bodily fluids from your lower stomach after a sexual act. You can't do that with a toilet seat that has a fixed shower.

In Finland, a bidet shower has been standard baathroom equipment for 30 years and for some 15 years, they have been quite commonplace also in public lavatories.

I hesitate to tell the story of the first time I used a bidet. Without going into details, let me just say I thought it was an alternative to a toilet, not something you used afterward. Much work with a twisted coathanger and lots of water to clear the evidence of my mistake.


i love the picture on that Wiki article! "An attempted fart lightning"!

Fart lightning? Is that followed by a thunder crap?

In related misspelling news, it seems losing weight can be quite dangerous.

I have no idea what you people are talking about.

Okay, a little bit of an idea, but I don't want the NSA to gather that much more info on my surfing habits, so I'm gonna have to remain in ignorance.

I want Ugh (or similar) to put up a post about the FCC and Net Neutrality and whether internet connections should be regulated like a public utility or why not. Because I don't feel as though I really understand it enough to put up a post.

Though I suppose I could put up a "explain this to me" post.

Donald, the term "you people" is a sin. As a sinner, just letting you know.

Not sure what you're referring to sapient--some past tiff you've had with local management, I'm guessing. I was just joking here (even about the NSA).

I guess sapient is still smarting over this comment. Comprehension hint: the point made in the above comment is not the appearance of 'you people'. 2nd comprehension hint: Donald's comment is only pejorative if you are lacking any sense of humor.

On a different thread, russell invited me to change the subject. I will change it to this. Considering that this blog is where I first heard about "trigger warnings" I thought that the article might be worth discussing.

Although many people in the world have endured trauma, I'm uncomfortable with trying to ferret out "triggers" in literature or most types of speech in order to protect people. Obviously, we all censor ourselves a bit when we're around people we know to be sensitive about particular issues. But isn't one of the purposes of literature to find a safe place to explore difficult issues? I'm not necessarily arguing against opting out, but I thought that the protest regarding the man in his underwear statue was absurd.

If I'm not mistaken, the objective of the trigger warnings wasn't to bowdlerize the literature to remove all offensive passages, but simply to give folks a heads up that it was there.

So, not re-write Huckleberry Finn, but simply tell folks that it contains language they might be upset by.

Good idea, bad idea, I couldn't say. Just wanted to clarify what was under discussion.

my problem with "trigger warnings" is that there can be no limit on the number of things that people can be upset by: the list of things that people would need to be "warned" about would never stop growing. so, a professor would have to spent much time and effort cross-checking a text/film against the ever-growing list of things that people can be upset by (and we know people have no trouble finding things to be upset by). the first day of a new book would be spent reciting legalese and disclaimers - which is about as productive and engaging as listening to drug commercials or reading the fine print on car ads.

A solution might be a form for students to fill in at the start of their course to enable them to request trigger warnings for specific upsets ?

I don't think this would be massively onerous... after all, isn't analysing texts what literature departments do ?

I think trigger warnings are ridiculous. This is what gives the left a bad name. In some cases (graphic depictions on film of rape or other violence, for instance), it's reasonable for the professor to mention this at the start of the film, but to turn this into a policy for all sorts of works and about every issue which might upset someone is absurd. I don't really think it should be a policy at all.

As I mentioned at "Taking It Outside", the other problem I have is that I expect this leftist cause will be lumped in with another issue which currently has the pundit class all upset--protests against the choice of certain graduation speakers. The merits of those protests will vary depending on the speaker, but this is about whether a particular individual like Condoleeza Rice should be given a stamp of approval by a university on graduation day. Students have every right to protest such choices. But the pundit class (Andrew Sullivan, Timothy Egan, and other gasbags) are portraying this as a question of free speech and censorship by students. So not only do people like Rice lie us into wars which kill 500,000 people, they also deserve to be treated as wise gurus with interesting things to tell graduating students, who must respectfully acquiesce to the choice of speaker or be denounced as delicate flowers who can't stand opposing POV's.

well, they do it for literary critique reasons, not for psychological screening reasons. to teach, not to shelter.

and, should this become commonplace, it will also become a legal matter. there will be teams set up to pre-screen books and prepare lists of things that need to be warned about. and that will certainly have an effect on which books get chosen and which don't.

and, frankly, it seems like it sets up an expectation in students that the world will be pre-screened for them, that nothing upsetting will come their way unexpectedly.

i understand that some people have real and serious issues. but as the NYT tells it, this has gone way beyond what most people would consider to be serious issues.

It seems like it would be simpler still if those who have things that upset them take responsibility for screening their own input. Those of similar sensitivities can make up their own lists of problematic work and share them.

In addition to being simpler (the rest of us don't have to guess what someone might be upset by), it would be a useful educational exercise -- they would learn how to find the information that they want concerning things encountered outside the classroom.

they would learn how to find the information that they want concerning things encountered outside the classroom.

This is a really good point. Does the idea of "trigger warnings" in literature classes implies that students are only going to read literature in school? That's rather disturbing.

This is what gives the left a bad name.

Why does this belong to "the left"?

The professors don't want it. They see their role as challenging the student's precious minds by confronting them with difficult and uncomfortable material.

Aren't college professors a bunch of lefties?

Free speech advocates aren't going to like this either. Aren't they a bunch of lefties? Or, at least, number a bunch of lefties among their ranks?

I think a lot of different things are getting lumped under the heading of "trigger warnings". The young woman at Santa Barbara wants trigger warnings because she felt obliged to watch a movie which included a graphic portrayal of a rape.

Should she be obliged to watch a woman be raped? Even if it's just a movie? Or would it have been reasonable for the professor to give a heads up and give students the option to not participate?

Trigger warnings often strike me as overwrought, but then again I've never been raped, or assaulted, or basically subjected to much of any significant trauma. I don't really feel qualified to tell other people what should or shouldn't disturb them.

If we were talking about banning literature, or films, or whatever, I'd feel strongly that this was a very, very, very bad idea.

If we're talking about the students themselves asking to be told in advance about material that they might find objectionable, it just doesn't bug me. I'm not seeing a threat here.

There is really no way know which books contain triggers. As an anecdote, I could tell my personal experience. I was reading the "Velveteen Rabbit" (of course in Finnish) as a good night tale for my small child. I had just loaned the book from library and did not know the story. The plot aroused a very strong emotional reaction in me, because a very old, traumatic childhood experience of losing a well-belowed toy for medical reasons surfaced. I am not prone to crying, but I cried for more than a quarter hour.

And this was a very benign classic children's book. Clearly, a trigger warning would be appropriate, based on my reaction.

All literature, if it has any merit at all, involves human relations, different life experiences and emotions. Any book can contain triggers. Thus, you can only state: this course will contain material that can arouse powerful feelings and reactions. Experiencing them, learning to cope with them and, eventually, analysing them with self-reflection, is called "growth". If you feel unable to do this, please contact your medical care provider for psychiatric care.

Naturally, there are persons whose mental health cannot withstand study of literature, and those persons should avoid it. However, they don't have the right to dictate others' curricula.

From the UC Santa Barbara campus, a professor weighs in:

“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom,” said Lisa Hajjar, a sociology professor at the university here

*Any kind* of blanket trigger policy? Inimical to academic freedom?

"I'm going to show a movie that depicts a rape. If that is going to disturb you, please feel free to excuse yourself if you feel the need to do so".

That's a trigger warning. Whose academic freedom has been compromised?

I really don't have a dog in this particular fight, but the professor's comment seems as extreme as those of the other side.

Trigger warnings strike me as stupid, but as no worse than stupid.

FWIW, here's the underwear guy at Wellesley.

It's kind of a dorky statue, it's hard for me to imagine being threatened by it.

On the other hand, I'm not paying $40K a year to go (or for my kid to go) to Wellesley.

And, on the other other hand, I'm not a woman, and I've never been subject to sexual assault or harrassment, not even by a dorky guy in his underwear.

So, I'm not the expert on what should or shouldn't bug the women at Wellesley.

If the kids who go there don't like the statue, and are bugged by it, don't they get a vote in whether it's on campus or not?

That's a trigger warning.

but it's not necessarily part of a blanket trigger warning policy.

a policy around this takes what should be simple courtesy and brings it into the realm of bureaucracy and office politics.

the NYT article makes it pretty clear this is about more than movies with rape scenes. people are talking about all of their favorite -isms (sexism, racism, agism, classism!, colonialism!)

can you imagine having to warn students that the book they're about to read contains scenes of classism? you couldn't get through a 19th C English Lit course without pages of disclaimers for every book: classism, colonialism, sexism, racism, militarism, paternalism, etc..

May we also require "spoiler alerts" for the "trigger warnings"?

"Now class, I'm asked to warn you ahead of time that those who find suicide to be an objectionable and gruesome option for fictional female protagonists may find the endings of "Anna Karenina" and "Madame Bovary" a bit traumatic.

Those who feel so compelled may wish alternatively to read "A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Conner" which .... oh wait .... cold-blooded murder by the side road of a country road may make some of you nauseous ..

.... no, instead, let's see ... well I was going to suggest Cormac McCarthy's work .. but I see Larry in the back row starting to shake and going pale .. good God! Larry, not there ... HERE, in the waste basket!

.... well, what about "Moby Dick"? Now there's a corker of a story ... I'm sorry Suzanne, you say whaling is an abomination and besides, you're prone to seasickness?

.. alright then, Kafka's "Metamorphosis" it is! .... No? According to Nabokov, Gregor Samsa awakens as a type of beetle, NOT a cockroach, so that should be passable .. alright, I can tell already by the screaming and groaning that's a no go. Sam, don't stand on your desk!

I've an idea. We could read Dostoyevsky's "Crime and Punishment" and those forewarned about the crime committed therein can skip that part and those scandalized by the punishments meted out can skip those bits and the two groups can be tested separately.

Dante's "Inferno"? No.

Lolita? Nope.

David Foster Wallace's "Infinite Jest" might be acceptable. No one can tell what the hell is going on in that work and besides, no one has read the thing all the way to the end, especially the footnotes. I'm sorry, Robert, you say you have a fear of opaqueness in literature. So I guess that's out, too.

"Tess of the D'uber .... what? Yes, she does.

Alright kids, why don't all of us retire to our separate corners and kind of chew over what each of us finds gross, objectionable, disgusting, and traumatic in literature and art, and maybe take some leisure down time to browse porn on the internet or submit anonymous, racist comments on right wing websites or read the collected works Dinesh D'Souza, or the Bible, where, by many readings, nothing objectionable in the sex, murder, and torture Axis seems to ever happen, and we'll meet back here early Monday morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed to outline a syllabus.

but it's not necessarily part of a blanket trigger warning policy.

Yes, that's true. And if you click through the various links in the NYT piece you'll find that what the actual policies require varies pretty widely.

As noted, I don't really have a dog in this fight. College campuses are the natural homes for tempests in teapots, and as far as I can tell, that's what this is.

If the policies are stupid, they'll probably go away. If not, maybe not.

In either case I'm just not seeing any kind of threat to academic freedom or intellectual life. Nothing's being banned, no books or films are being edited or otherwise hacked up to remove offensive bits.

Yes, a "trigger warning" about classicism in, for instance, the works of Jane Austen (duh!!) seems stupid. But as CJ Colucci notes, not much worse than that.

A trigger warning about a graphic depiction of a rape in a film, or graphic depictions of torture in a discussion of warfare, seems reasonable. To me.

Chacun a son gout.

So, is there like some sort of massive anti-typepad movement that keeps DDoSing ObWi? Or does my internet just suck?


If the policies are stupid, they'll probably go away.

You haven't spent much time in academia, have you? I'm kidding a little, but really any hierarchical institution is loathe to let go of rules on the books: corporate, government, private.

But its especially bad at universities. Or at least the ones I've worked at/with.

Frex, I am currently working on a form that is required by my department. Who claims its only required because central accounting requires it. Who claims the only reason they require it is because my department requires it.

And really, its because the form used to be required by the NIH. 10 years ago.

So no, stupid policies do not just "go away" at universities.

On trigger warnings, I don't have much of a dog in the fight. I think letting people know in advance about graphic violence is a good, polite thing and would encourage profs to do it. But in general, I'm loathe to tell experts in their fields how to best teach their students. Nor do I think blanket policies generally allow for the granularity required to handle complex subjects like that.

Well, it's not just your Internet connection. (Assuming you mean that fact that the site was unavailable all day yesterday.)

Well, I'm glad its not just my connection.

But its especially bad at universities. Or at least the ones I've worked at/with.

They don't necessarily go away, they just become irrelevant and are ignored.

When I was at college, bomb threats at finals time were en vogue.

The university's policy was that, if a threat was called in for a building, the professors had to announce the threat.

So, they did. Then, everyone got out their notebooks and we had class.

In general, if nobody gives a crap about stuff, it gets ignored, and eventually fades away. Believe it or not.

And yes, I've worked and lived in bureaucratic environments.

I don't really care much either way if schools adopt a trigger warning policy or not. If students want it, I don't really see much harm in it.

They are the customer, right?

I certainly see value in giving people a heads up if they are going to be asked to sit through enactments of violence - including rape or torture - so that they can make their own choice about whether they want to participate.

Warning people that Huckleberry Finn discusses racism, or that Pride and Prejudice discusses classicism, is like warning people that biology might involve a discussion of sexual reproduction.

But if that's what floats folks' boat, I'm just not gonna lose sleep over it.

What I do find somewhat objectionable in all of the discussion is the assumption that things like trigger warnings are, ipso facto, silly politically correct feminazi bullsh*t.

There are categories of content - graphic depictions of violence being an obvious example - that are predictably disturbing to some people. Not "disturbing" in the sense of "I don't want to trouble my poor little mind", but "disturbing" in the sense of viscerally upsetting. Like, can't-sit-through-it upsetting.

I don't see a problem with giving people a heads up about stuff like that, even as a matter of policy. It just seems considerate, at a basic level.

To each their own.

What I do find somewhat objectionable in all of the discussion is the assumption that things like trigger warnings are, ipso facto, silly politically correct feminazi bullsh*t.

I am a feminist. I believe that women should be given the same opportunities as men, that society's institutions should be reexamined to determine their subtle effects on women's opportunity to realize their own potential. I believe in promoting institutions that allow women the freedom to do that. I don't believe that adult women need to be treated as victims. Some people are victims, and they should seek counseling to learn how to manage their trauma, including how to avoid situations that are unmanageable. However, trauma is part of the human condition, and most people have some kind of trauma in their lives at some point. It's the purpose of art and literature to address the human condition, to pose questions and suggest challenges that make people think about their own lives and the experience of other people. Sexual assault is a violent crime, and a trauma that many people experience. Car accidents are traumatic. Suicide of a loved one is traumatic. Betrayal by a lover is traumatic. Disease is traumatic. Trauma is part of the human condition. A general study of the humanities necessarily touches on these things.

There are categories of content - graphic depictions of violence being an obvious example - that are predictably disturbing to some people. Not "disturbing" in the sense of "I don't want to trouble my poor little mind", but "disturbing" in the sense of viscerally upsetting. Like, can't-sit-through-it upsetting.

The general warnings about graphic violence and sexual content that are given with films seem sufficient to address this kind of content for a student in a general curriculum. Anyone majoring in film or literature, or who is taking a more focused look at particular kinds of artistic expression should be prepared to confront subject matter that is disturbing.

This film includes a graphic portrayal of a rape.

This book discusses sexual abuse of a minor.

During class we are going to look at pictures of torture committed during wartime.

If you will find these things disturbing, please feel free to absent yourself that day.

These are all trigger warnings. Too victim-coddling for you?

The general warnings about graphic violence and sexual content that are given with films seem sufficient to address this kind of content for a student in a general curriculum.

Yes, and as far as I can tell, all that is being asked is that professors include something of exactly that kind in their course materials.

I am kind of neutral on trigger warnings. On the one hand, people should exercise their own due diligence and mental bracing, if needed. OTOH if you're going to show me a video of something really unspeakably awful that will put me off my feed for a week or more, or worse, then I personally would like to know beforehand so I can decide whether or not to watch.

But I am pretty much unaffected by such things, at either end of a discussion. Basically, if anything I have ever said or did or shown made someone think they'd really wanted or even needed some kind of warning beforehand, those people probably need to self-limit a bit more. Because whatever I have done or said is not exactly a distribution tail of horribleness. If it's caused you any difficulty, the rest of humanity is going to cause you a lot, LOT more.

The above is probably more words than I have written previously, sum total, on the issue. I have sympathy for people who are genuinely reactivated by things that they read; not so much for folks who are just looking for things to be outraged/offended by. There's a difference. I am not going to promise not to offend anyone or piss anyone off. Offense/anger and genuine, uncontrollable, soul-searing horror: two different things.

Too victim-coddling for you?

Actually, although I find the warnings to be considerate (polite), I don't think they should be required, except to the extent that the film or book itself contains those warnings (when people aren't being treated as "victims" but because general social norms, including those shared by non-victims, don't include the idea that it's generally considered acceptable to portray graphic sex or violence).

I don't think that people should be treated as victims. The term "victim-coddling" assumes victimhood. People who really are victims need to learn to identify situations where their victimhood needs to be handled or accommodated.

Slartibartfast, Russell,

You make quite valid points but you forget one thing: if it's a policy, people will get fired over violations of that policy. And any literary work can be a trigger. I've read several thousands works of fiction and fact, often covering subjects that might act as triggers. I had never experienced anything like I experienced reading the "Velveteen Rabbit". No one in his right mind would give a trigger warning for that book, unless she would be giving it for every book.

My concern is that if you omit a trigger warning even once, any student who doesn't like you can fake a trigger experience and file a grievance. If the administration doesn't like you either or just wants to cover their ass, you are fired.

On the other hand, any decent person will give the audience a notice that the subject ahead will be particularly upsetting. That, however, should be completely voluntary act of decency, not a policy.

On the other hand, if you are a literature major and unable to deal with difficult concepts for psychological reasons, it may be that you are really unable to study literature altogether. That is something to be accepted. Just like blind people cannot be pilots, nor people with crippled hands can be surgeons, a person with a crippled mind may be unable to become a literature student. It is just the way it is. No one's fault.

The actual school policies discussed in the piece include Oberlin's, where teachers are asked to be sensitive to a cornucopia of triggery "isms", as well as UC Santa Barbara, where the student government has asked teachers to give a warning about material that is like to trigger post-traumatic reaction among students who have been subject to sexual abuse, or have been in wars.

So, a range.

Oberlin's policy seems overly PC to me, personally, but it's Oberlin.

UCSB's policy - not even a policy, just a request from the student government - seems thoroughly reasonable to me, personally. And it was initiated by a young woman who actually was blindsided by a movie shown during class, which included a depiction of a rape.

In no case has anyone asked for any material to be removed from the curriculum, or censored, or bowdlerized, or otherwise changed. In no case has anyone asked that certain topics not be discussed at all, or that any point of view be suppressed.

If you think something you are going to present in class will be disturbing, give a heads up. That's what the policies request. Not require, request.

Is Oberlin's list of "things that might be disturbing" a little too precious? In my opinion, yes, folks shouldn't need to be shielded from images of, for example, the able-bodied walking about. Just my two cents.

Can students ask to be given a heads up before being asked to read or watch depictions of really disturbing behavior? I don't see the problem with that.

I think it was a slow news day at the NYT.

if it's a policy, people will get fired over violations of that policy.

It might be worthwhile to click through and see which things under discussion are actual policies, and of those that are, what the actual policies require, as opposed to request or suggest.


A few minor points which I don't want to belabor. I think part of the problem is something that was noted upthread: People aren't objecting to triggers in the context of graphic violent imagery, but the expansive definitions colleges are considering utilizing, which includes Huck Finn, etc.

You've distinguished between the cases, as did the UCSB student (who handled it well, IMHO). I think a lot of the concern revolves around people that aren't distinguishing the cases well, along with general policies written in the most general way possible.

What I do find somewhat objectionable [...] silly politically correct feminazi bullsh*t.

I would agree that is objectionable, but I don't think anybody here, or in the article, made that point.

You also quoted a UCSB prof upthread and called her extreme, but truncated the quote. The rest is below.

“Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom. Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong. The presumption there is that students should not be forced to deal with something that makes them uncomfortable is absurd or even dangerous.”

I feel that's a pretty reasonable statement: Individual students might need accommodation, but blanket policies are a good approach. You might not agree with it, but the characterization of "extreme" seems a little unfair.

If students want it, I don't really see much harm in it.

I think policies to the extent being discussed in the NYT article would probably have a negative affect on humanities classes through a chilling effect on what profs are willing to include in their lectures.

I think that's not good. Universities are, of course, free to make up their own minds without consulting with me, and students are free to pursue higher learning if and where they choose.

Sapient/Slarti: I pretty much agree with both of you.

...and I'm too slow. Russel, your 4:32 made a lot of the points I was trying to get at.

I think it was a slow news day at the NYT.

I would have thought so too, other than the fact that "trigger warnings" have been given here on this blog. In other words, people who are coming together on a web site to discuss political and social matters have to be "warned."

People have all kinds of peculiar mannerisms, and it doesn't bother me so much that some people feel that they have to warn people that they might be talking about something offensive (remember though, that as Lurker said, who even knows what is actually going to "trigger" something - for many people, their own reactions are unpredictable). What bothers me is, that as a feminist, the feeling that there should be a "requirement" to do so is labeled as feminism. I resent it - it's the kind of attitude that makes many women eschew the label "feminist."

Wait...we have to do trigger warnings, here?

I'm always the last to find these things out.

Literature that doesn't run the risk of upsetting anyone isn't Literature.
Art that doesn't run the risk of upsetting anyone isn't Art.
History that doesn't run the risk . . .
Anthropology . . .
Biology . . .
COLLEGE that doesn't run the risk of upsetting anyone isn't College.

I appreciate that some people need to find a "safe space" sometimes. College isn't it.

As noted above, I think that it's useful to click through the various links in the article and see what things are actually policies as opposed to an individual student's letter to the student newspaper, and also to see what the actual policies require.

All parties, in all cases, are basically emphatic in their insistence that no material be censored or excluded.

Oberlin's policy encompasses "isms" that I, personally, am not sure really require special handling, but Oberlin's kind of a special place. And even there the policy is a matter of suggestion.

UCSB's seems reasonable, to me.

There are people who are acutely sensitive to violent and overtly sexual content. No small number of them come by their sensitivity honestly. Some of those folks go to college, and I'm not sure it's my place to say that they should be required to participate in things that disturb them. Nor is it my place to insist what kind of therapy they get, if any, nor on what timetable.

If the solution is to give folks a simple warning when sensitive content is going to be presented, I don't see what the problem is. I wish all problems had solutions that simple.

And yes, there are folks who offer trigger warnings here and elsewhere in the online world. And yes, trigger warnings are often associated with dreaded touchy-feely liberal political correctness, and give right-wingers something to point and laugh at if they're so inclined.

I guess my thought about that is that if the warning is useful to you, bob's your uncle, and it doesn't apply to you, don't worry about it. Eat the meat and spit out the bones, right?

There are worse things in life than being overly sensitive to other folks' feelings.

In any case, I don't really care all that much about what right-wingers point and laugh about. They have their own weirdness to account for.

I think it was a slow news day at the NYT.

I'm not so sure. The AP did a story on this last month, so it's been on mainstream media outlets' radar to some.

I saw that when a friend who teaches philosophy posted about it on Facebook. Her school doesn't have a policy, and her take was that she wouldn't want one, but she'd also be managing student expectations such that her students would know what was coming and could prepare themselves. Her reason for opposing more-than-barebones blanket policies were vague allusions to "academic freedom" coupled with pointed references to not wanting to make it harder to discuss certain "troubling" topics (this link was posted along those lines).

Wait...we have to do trigger warnings, here?

Warning - this post may discuss guns, corporate personhood, drones, the NSA, global warming, the presidencies of either George Bush or Barack Obama, and/or vodka martinis.

You have been warned.

"This is what gives the left a bad name.

Why does this belong to "the left"?"

Because lefties push it. I'm a lefty and this silliness comes from my side. There is a rightwing equivalent--it's when the right objects to unpatriotic or anti-religious content which might hurt their feelings or traumatize them, poor babies. But the NYT article is about lefties being PC. And no, it doesn't mean that all lefties feel the same way.

I said above that I think it's reasonable for professors to warn that a film contains graphic violence and will add that anyone who might feel disturbed by that should be able to leave. Though I wonder just how far one is supposed to take this. Can people opt out of reading literature with graphic violence? The NYT article makes it clear that people are pushing for trigger warnings that go far beyond common sense. It's all the stereotypical PC crap that one hears about--unless of course the NYT is simply making it all up or exaggerating.

Incidentally, I have an irrational phobia. You'd never be able to guess what sort of scene in a movie or TV show makes me feel intensely uncomfortable. It's something utterly innocuous and I'm not going public with it.

And then there are the trigger warnings (at least things that I could label "trigger warnings") which are not based on keeping those exposed from being offended. Just to keep them out of trouble.

I'm thinking of videos labeled NSFW -- Not Suitable For Work, as in, "your boss (or your co-workers) may come down on you if you play this at work, so wait until you get home."

You have been warned.

As someone is gluten and/or lactose sensitive, the most recent discussions on cheeseake made me uncomfortable.


More seriously, I have some concerns (not overwhelming ones, but present nonetheless) about statements like this:

All parties, in all cases, are basically emphatic in their insistence that no material be censored or excluded.

I think that's really good that everybody is saying that. But I think there is outright censorship and a chilling effect. And both should be concerning.

I have a concern that if campus admins take student complaints "seriously" and apply pressure to faculty (and I'm not even talking firing, discipline, or anything like that), faculty will decide that some things aren't worth the trouble, or the risk, or the potential for pushback.

Is the Wellesly art director going to think twice next time someone has an off the wall art installation? Probably. And there are probably good sides and bad sides to that.

I'm a scientist, and I tried to take as few humanities courses as possible. But from what PhDs in humanities are saying, this is a concern for them. As I said upthread, I'm prone to defer to humanities professors how to best teach the humanities.

This isn't the end of the world. And some fairly legitimate concerns are getting subsumed by some more ridiculous proposals out there.

But universities, imho, benefit from academic freedom by their faculty. And I think that benefit bleeds out to the rest of society. And so I'm loathe to support even minor infringements.

vodka martinis


Thank you, dr ngo. College is about unsafe intellectual places.

Should there be trigger warnings when talking about evolution? Should there be trigger warnings when talking about atheism or non-Christianity? Should there be trigger warnings for orthodox religious people who might see something of a different gender that they aren't supposed to see? Should there be trigger warnings for heartbreaking emotional situations, which have caused the suicide of more than a few of us? Should there be trigger warnings for drug use to spare reforming addicts?

Come on. People are legitimately traumatized in many different ways. That's why we're human. That's why we foster individual compassion. That's actually why it comes up in literature.

I have no issue at all with voluntary trigger warnings. They're annoying, but so is endless, nonstop defense of the indefensible. Both are permitted.

nonstop defense of the indefensible. Both are permitted

Thanks so much, Slart! I knew I liked you!

vodka martinis



It’s come to my attention that some people believe martinis are made with vodka. I hate to get snobbish about it, but a martini should be made with gin or it’s not a martini. Call it a vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing.

vodka + vermouth = 'kangaroo'

And both should be concerning.

If there's anything that will drive me straight out of my gourd faster than PC bullsh*t it's stuff that "should be concerning".

It's like "slippery slopes", and "chilling effects", and the dreaded "unanticipated consequence".

Things that "should be concerning", or that are "slippery slopes", or that have "chilling effects", or that might have "unanticipated consequences", are just as freaking silly as any trigger warning I have ever encountered.

No matter what you do or don't do, something bad might happen. So, we'll just have to stipulate that and move on, won't we?

Can you point me to anyone who actually has changed their curriculum because of the dire threat of trigger warnings? If you can, then maybe there actually is a censorship issue.

Otherwise, maybe there's not.

If students are to be required to gird their loins in the face of possible exposure to material that they find disturbing, why aren't professors required to gird their loins and present what they think is important, even in spite of the dreaded "chilling effect"?

Who's being childish, here?

Nobody in any of the various articles linked to anywhere in this thread has called for any scrap of content to be excluded from anyone's syllabus, or modified in any way to cater to anyone's preferences, or otherwise held back from public discussion.

On the contrary, in *every case*, folks have insisted that objectionable material should not be excluded.

Some students have asked that professors give a heads up in their syllabus if they present material that some folks might find disturbing or offensive.

The long list of "isms" that everyone cites, and which appears, verbatim, in almost every article cited, comes from Oberlin, specifically, and is part of their guidance for dealing with students who may have been abused, sexually or otherwise.

Is it extraordinarily broad? Yes. Welcome to Oberlin. Don't want to live in a liberal fishbowl? Oberlin's not your place.

Seriously, it's like going to the Chicago B school and being shocked to discover that folks are expected to have read Friedman and Hayek.

I see that NPR is on this topic now, which I guess means it's a thing, so apparently sapient has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

I've been through all of the links that everyone has linked to, and what I've seen is that Oberlin doesn't want anyone to feel verklempt, the UCSB student government would like professors to give folks a heads up if they're going to present material that is overtly violent or sexual, and lots of people like to write to the student newspaper.

I think college should be a challenging experience, folks should encounter things that make them reconsider their prejudices, folks should have their minds opened and their horizons broadened.

And if they don't want to watch movies of people being raped, they should be able to opt out of that.

And if undue concern about the traumas of ageism seems silly to you, don't go to Oberlin. No-one will make you.

This is a really weird thing to go to the barricades about. IMO.

i imagine Les Miserables would be quite a different play if, instead of actually going to the barricades to fight, they all ran off to write disapproving blog comments.


The Times gloms on to this, but there are some other facets that they miss. I'm not for or against, but having had to deal with situations where what teachers use in class comes under question, I think there are some other aspects.

It's been mentioned about the difference between movies and films. You show a movie in class, you can't really escape, and for most people, actual talking humans experiencing (even if it is only acting) those events is much more 'triggery'.

A second consideration is how the curriculum is created and managed. If you feel strongly about your subject (as teachers often do) the argument is made that this is something all students need. This also, coincidentally, plugs into questions of employment. So if the student has no other alternative but has to take the course, then a different set of considerations come into play as opposed to if this were just an elective.

I'm not a lit person, but I know one of the big battlegrounds is the old guard arguing that the texts are in some form of dead trees while the new guard suggests that texts can come to us as film, tv, etc. Applying triggers to all texts, while stupid, may be a reaction or a gambit to prevent one from of text from being shunted off to the side. These kinds of fights play out at different institutions for reasons quite separate from the questions raised here, so it may be misleading to assume that all of these examples represent the same impulse

Trigger warnings: Isn't Trigger a horse? This thread has set a new record for the assertion that "I don't have a dog in this fight." I disagree. We all have dogs in every fight. Some are just expendable.

You will get no further comment on this issue from me.

BUT. YES, but. Calling a mixture of vodka and vermouth a "martini" is an abomination unto God.

Open thread: Evidence confirming that we invaded the wrong country in 2003 continues to mount.

Your normal programming shall return shortly.

I see that NPR is on this topic now, which I guess means it's a thing, so apparently sapient has his finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist.

Maybe it's a thing; maybe it's not a thing. I just brought it up because it is a thing in the news, and it's been a thing here at ObWi - I noticed it here first.

My interest in this, and my beef with it, is that I'm a feminist, but I don't consider rape and "rape culture" to be the most important issue ever. I am your age, russell, and we both grew up in an era where many of our parents were certainly suffering from PTSD, and many of us and our peers had trauma in our childhoods. All around me, in my very youthful days, were African-Americans who were living in a segregated society. It's not over yet: there are migrant workers from other countries that face horrible discrimination, and make slave wages. There are people who work full time and are homeless. There are victims of all manner of violence, fraud, social inequality, appearance prejudice, cruelty, bullying, etc.

I feel that it is very anti-feminist to pick out a particular group of crime victims, and to treat them as though they are weak and incapable of overcoming adversity. It's insulting to women, a huge percentage of which have faced sexual assault. Many women are perfectly capable of literacy and discernment, even after rape.

And, as usual, the Count said it all.

No, the Count missed one: Marcel Proust's famous "trigger", the madeleine. Anything that sets off multiple volumes of sentimental prose should require a warning, from the FDA if not the French Lit department.


Tony P., please join me in celebration of Proust. July 10. Bring a madeleine from your own recipe.

or better still, a recipe from your grand-mère.

I never read Proust. What did I miss?

Lots of very long sentences. And la mer.

Actually it's quite a beautiful portrayal of obsessive love, sexual ambiguity and bohemianism in early 20th century France. Read it and then look at some of the color pictures that have come to light recently, like these here: http://visualhistory.livejournal.com/51055.html?style=mine#cutid1

I think that you can find many more. Most fascinating period in history.

Trigger warning: not for the depressed.

Thanks so much, Slart! I knew I liked you!

You thought I was talking about you?

We may be more alike than I had thought.


If there's anything that will drive me straight out of my gourd faster than PC bullsh*t it's stuff that "should be concerning".

Alright, fair enough. How would you like me to express a low level of discomfort/uncertainty about something? As "concerning" seems to be equivalent to "Going to the barricades" perhaps you could suggest another adjective?

Because concern is pretty much exactly how I would describe it. I'm not horrified. I'm not shocked. I'm not angry. I'm not going to the barricades.


Because I think college is a place where people get challenged and uncomfortable, and that's a good thing. I worry, in general, that there is too much focus students-as-customers and bad press and that this is to the detriment of the education.

I've seen syllabi eroded for those reasons. (Although in science/engineering classes, so it didn't have anything to do with trigger warnings.)

I see how overbroad trigger policies could be a part of that. I'm not an expert on teaching humanities, however. But the professor quoted in the NYT seems to think poorly of it. And NomVide's friend seems to think poorly of it. And in general, I'm going to defer to the experts. They seem bothered by it, and it's a concept consistent with my experiences in the science side of academia, so I'm going to side with the profs.

Which, again, is not a battle cry on the barricades. It's a concern.


If you feel strongly about your subject (as teachers often do) the argument is made that this is something all students need.

I think its a really important aspect of this discussion.

Shouldn't teachers feel strongly about their subjects? I admit, I'm not as well versed in humanities as I should be, but I'm loathe to tell professors that they don't know what is or is not a necessary part of their curriculum, or how to best convey it to the class.

and russell:

I should have included this earlier, but your point about Oberlin is well taken. I'm really not trying to say this is a trend that has gripped every single college in America.

I'm just It just strikes me as a facet of a trend I've observed in my own experience in academia. A trend towards student accommodation at the expense of education.

It concerns me. It probably doesn't concern you, and that's fine.

I feel that it is very anti-feminist to pick out a particular group of crime victims, and to treat them as though they are weak and incapable of overcoming adversity.

Fair enough.

Alright, fair enough. How would you like me to express a low level of discomfort/uncertainty about something?

Actually, "I'm concerned about it" is fine.

To be honest, and in case it's not obvious, I'm mostly playing devil's advocate here. Basically, I went and looked at the links, and just did not see anything that appeared to actually amount to censorship, or suppression of ideas.

So I was just not getting what the fuss was about. Not specifically here on ObWi, but in general. Like, why was this a big deal all of a sudden?

As mentioned on TIO, one thing that occurs to me is that trigger warnings are sort of part of the etiquette online, or at least parts of the online world. Kids going to college now grew up with that, it seems to me that they may just be bringing that same etiquette to the college context.

I understand, and agree with, the idea that college should be a place where people should be challenged, in a variety of ways. I also recognize that concern for, for lack of a better word, other folks' issues can be excessive to the point of infantilization.

All of that said, college is also a place where people from lots of different backgrounds get tossed in the same big salad bowl and have to make their way. Even aside from issues of victimization, people at college often come from very different family and cultural backgrounds, and are often in the midst of trying to sort out fairly large personal and other issues. For a lot of them, it's the first time they've ever been away from home.

So, if students want professors to give them a trigger warning about sensitive or disturbing material, I'm not really put off by it. Especially if, as seems to be the case here, it's driven by the students, and not something imposed by some misguided admin.

I think at least some of the issue here may also just be the words "trigger warning". "Trigger" implies some kind of automatic response to a stimulus, beyond the control of the person affected.

There are folks who have suffered serious, catastrophic trauma - lived in war zones, seen loved ones killed, been subject to extraordinary abuse - who might be prone to that kind of true flashback, psychic break reaction. But for most folks, the experience of being confronted with disturbing material is not that acute, and I'm not sure anyone's interests are well served by conflating the two.

So, if a phrase like "trigger warning" is off-putting, maybe just think of it as a heads up.

I'm still wondering what the "graphic depictions of torture" thing was about, and why that would be a necessary part of a class about war. Specifically, so necessary that a student should be required to view it, even if it was disturbing to them.

There is likely more than one agenda in play here.

Proust occurred to me, specifically the madeleine, when I was writing my comment far up thread, but I ran out of time, which, come to think of it, seems anti-Proustian.

Anyway, Tony's (trigger warning: $5 word used ironically) exegesis was funnier and pithier.

I'm going to re-read the thing one of these years (trigger warning to self: better get started -- time, it skedaddles).

But it occurs to me as time passes that my old habit of reading while laying on the couch with the book resting on my chest or held at arm's length above me is not particularly "efficient" any longer for a book like that (and a heavy one at that) on account of one's propensity to fall into nap status pretty quick.

Maybe I'll set up a lectern and declaim it aloud to myself in the living room.

bobby: "What am I missing?"

The "trigger warning" alone for "Remembrance ..." is a good one hundred pages itself, and besides, I don't do trigger warnings.

I could have used a trigger warning before it was announced to me at whatever tender age that Roy Rogers and Dale Evans had the real Trigger stuffed and displayed somewhere, but then no one ever gives a trigger warning in real life, and besides, who would believe it, as anyone who has lived and been slaughtered in Ukraine over the past 500 years will tell you through dead lips.

The first thing that occurred to me when I heard the Trigger taxidermy (the mount is mounted) fact of life was whether Roy had also done the same to Andy Devine and Pat Brady, the actors who played his sidekicks in various shows, perhaps displaying them seated upright and side by side in full rictus in Nellybelle, itself having been emptied of its crankcase oil and filled with automotive embalming fluids like a Jeep version of Vladimir Lenin, or Ronald Reagan as now preserved in conservative memory of dingbats past.

Later, I began to wonder if Gene Autry was going to do the same thing to the entire roster of the California (Los Angeles) Angels baseball team during their zombie period.

"Lying" on the couch, probably, not "laying".

I've lied on couches plenty too, if given good reason.


No objections to any of that. Especially agree with:

There is likely more than one agenda in play here.

To change the subject slightly (open thread and all):

I'm still wondering what the "graphic depictions of torture" thing was about, and why that would be a necessary part of a class about war.

To me, this makes sense (although it depends on the specifics). I think american media tends to be overly cautious in displaying violent imagery in the context of war.

I think that hinders peoples understanding of what war is, what torture is, what "enhanced interrogation" is, etc.

Again depending on the specifics, I could see how graphic depictions of violence and torture could be central to a class about war. Seeing those images makes it a little harder to just dismiss the human cost war.

Which is why I think movies are like Marines at Tarawa, Restrepo, Fog of War, etc are important for people to see, as they take abstract concepts and bring them home.

None of that should be construed as a lack of sympathy for people struggling with PTSD and other trauma victims. Just that I see a valid educational reason for exposing people to graphic depictions of violence (again, depending on context). Especially considering how much violence the US employs as part of its foreign and domestic policy.

I feel that it is very anti-feminist to pick out a particular group of crime victims, and to treat them as though they are weak and incapable of overcoming adversity.

And some feminists will wholeheartedly agree with this, and some will vehemently disagree. Welcome to the old circular firing squad. I will say I've seen more feminist support of SA trigger warnings than opposition to them, though; indeed, the first (and still the most common) place I saw trigger warnings of any sort were in the feminist blogosphere...

(Personally, I have mixed feelings. I've never known anyone whose PTSD from SA made them incapable of dealing with routine exposure to media depicting SA, but I have known servicemembers who could get triggered by depictions of combat conditions (or aspects thereof). So even if I rely strictly on personal experience I'm definitely sympathetic to the motivation behind trigger warnings. But I'm also pretty big on the academic freedom angle (particularly coupled with a rejection of "student as consumer" pedagogy), and am no longer young enough to fail to appreciate a certain "kids today" and "get off my lawn" angle as well.)

Trigger warning: I've haven't read the NYT article, but references to it are everywhere I look.

John Cole at Balloon Juice is now opening each of his posts with a trigger warning, as if his byline wasn't enough.

I suppose lj's reference to "backwash" will serve as a trigger warning about the evolution of this thread into a discussion of trigger warnings, much as Jon Stewart last night pointed out to Phillies Manager Ryne Sandberg, who came down with some food poisoning allegedly from a food joint at the Mets' ballpark, that if he didn't want diarrhea then maybe he shouldn't be visiting a place called Flushing.

It occurs to me that if, as many critics assert, including Harold Bloom (Gary Farber trolling), that the works of Shakespeare encompass all that is human, then a blanket trigger warning has been duly issued for all of the Western canon, and I'm sure all of the other canons fit the bill too, as far as literature goes.

Tis but a mirror. Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who is the finest of them all?

Mirror trigger warning: None of us, you humans, you.

Maybe we need to be more specific for specialized tastes.

To pick one out of the hat, oenophiles, disability rights groups and pressure groups that seek to arrest nymphs for ambling while wanton, all fine people in their way, should be forewarned that Richard III, an ugly hunchback who is "rudely stamp'd", "deformed, unfinish'd", and cannot "strut before a wanton ambling nymph", has his brother Clarence upended into a barrel of Malmsey in the Tower.

I think folks who have quit or are trying to quit smoking should avoid all film noir, especially Robert Mitchum and Alan Ladd movies wherein the entire cast sets an extremely low bar for developing lung cancer, and their French cousins are even worse, if you can make out what's happening through the smokey tobacco haze in every scene.

I can think of several other examples where trigger warnings might have been useful:
The Armory Show early in the last century which resulted in all kinds of shouting and fighting by the unforewarned; Stravinsky's introduction of "The Rite Of Spring", and the time John Lennon said the Beatles were more popular than Jesus (after all, John Lennon had not been crucified yet, so he was still an optimist), which resulted in conflagrations of art-burning among the usual suspects.

Actually, Ringo was the most prescient when he said John was probably right because all of those records would have to be replaced for the kids whose parents and various disc jockeys were rattling their jewelry while stoking the flames.

I watched the classic film "The Rules of the Game" the other night, and there is an introduction by the Director Jean Renoir who waxes eloquently and bitterly about the violent reception the film received when it was released in the late 1930s (and banned, I think), including the story he related of attending a showing and watching in horror as a man down front, half way through the film, calmly unfolded a newspaper, produced a cigarette lighter, and set the paper on fire and threw it at the screen.

Obviously, this character hadn't taken the warnings contained in the virulent reviews at the time to heart ... or maybe he had.

My favorite and most recent trigger warning was issued by Chipotle Mexican Restaurant to Texans who think traipsing (maybe Texans do the two-step, I don't know, all I know is some of them walk funny) into their restaurants with loaded, unconcealed weapons of war, like maybe the burritos need an armed guard during the trip from their table to their effing gullets.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but if I'm in a restaurant or any other venue and jagoffs enter so-armed, there will be no trigger warning for the colossal violence that I will being to their tables.

Would you like some hot sauce with that bullet to the head, kemosabe?

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