Why I’m Disappointed By Neil Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning”

Perhaps I’m just whingeing over semantics here, but I had to get this off my chest.

When I purchased the audiobook for Neil Gaiman’s book on short stories I was very excited. Not only am I a fan of Gaiman’s writing, I am also a big fan of his narration. His dulcet tones and faint English accent make him a perfect narrator.

I was preparing myself for another boring day of organizing charts upstairs at the dermatology clinic where I worked and I needed something to listen to in order to keep the monotony from reducing my brain to yogurt.

So I placed the charts on a table, plugged in my earbuds, and I began to listen.

Gaiman gave a perfect introduction into this collection, explaining how he’d come to discover the term “trigger warning.” He conceded that, while trigger warnings may be well intentioned, sometimes we need to read things that make us uncomfortable, that force us to ponder imponderable things, see the world in darker hues.

He warned us readers (or listeners in this case) that what we were about to read would likely disturb us.

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I listened for several hours, nearly finishing the book in it’s entirety during a single shift. It was interesting, imaginative, captivating, visceral, everything a book should be. However, there is one thing that it was not: triggering.

I loved the stories, loved the narration, but I kept listening with a growing sense of expectation. Is this the story that’s going to trigger me? Is this the story that’s going to challenge my preconceptions about life and put me on a 2001: A Space Odyssey styled journey to self-discovery?

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The answer to that would be a nope.

Again, I loved the stories, in fact I consider this the best short-story collection I’ve ever read.

But with a title like Trigger Warning you expect something a little more…triggering. That’s not to say they weren’t disturbing. There are stories with murder, revenge, cannibalism, monsters, stalking, etc. They’re horrifying and dark with lovely twists and turns, but nothing I wasn’t expecting from something written by Gaiman.

And they were not what I was advertised.

Now, it’s not Gaiman’s responsibility to make sure that I, specifically, have all of my desires met. He is perfectly entitled to write what he wants and I believe he he does an excellent job of it.

However, let me explain why I was a bit disappointed.

There has, I think, been a shortage of books and stories in recent years that truly push the envelope. Books and stories that challenge ideas and behaviors that we see routinely in our day-to-day lives.

In our new easily-offended world there are any number of taboo subjects that deserve to be explored, but it would seem as if  no one has the nerve to tackle them in a literary capacity in a long while, lest someone get their grandma panties in a wad.

I was hoping that Gaiman, in his uniquely stylized way, would touch upon such subjects or, at least, ignore the restraints that these perpetually offended people insist writers use. Nonetheless, there wasn’t much in his book that would truly “trigger” someone, provided that person doesn’t live in a perpetual state of duress.

I just wanted something a little more challenging. I wanted Gaiman to approach the likes of Lovecraft or King and throw down the gauntlet, saying, “No, gentlemen, this is scary.”

I’ve read a handful of the Sandman comics, I know what he’s capable of.

I only wish he’d gone balls-to-the-walls the way he did with that series.

Or Coraline.

Now that would have been truly triggering.

Unpopular Opinion: Censorship and “Offensive”Bookstagram Pictures

I don’t consider myself a controversial person, nor do I try to stir the pot when I see a problem brewing. However, it’s becoming progressively more difficult to stay quiet on certain issues, particularly issues involving censorship.

Today I was exploring Bookstagram when I came across a picture from one of the content creators I follow. In this photo advertising the book “Carve The Mark” the photographer painted her arm twilight blue and golden slash marks on her forearm.

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Wow. That’s a lot of dedication, I thought.

I proceeded to scroll on.

Later, I discovered the same photograph covered in white text reading “TRIGGER WARNING TRIGGER WARNING TRIGGER WARNING.” Curious, I investigated to find a crap storm of biblical proportions.

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Apparently many people were complaining that this photograph promoted self-harm and that the photographer should take it down immediately or else they would file a formal complaint. The content creator explained that it was just art and she hadn’t meant any harm by it (she suffers from depression herself). Nevertheless, commentators were not appeased and continued to espouse PC rhetoric about how this could trigger someone or that this was somehow romanticizing cutting.

I’m not in the business of offending people, but I am in the business of creating and defending others that choose the arts as their vocation.

As such I have to say I’m getting tired of this cultural elitism that demands artists change their message or content because someone somewhere might be offended by it. Art has many interpretations and just because you interpreted something a certain way doesn’t give you the right to say something needs to be taken down. What gets me is most of the people that rushed to their keyboards don’t even have depression. They are becoming offended on another person’s behalf.

“What if someone with depression saw this and it triggered them?!”

“What if someone who self-harms saw this?!” 

I don’t know. What if aliens saw Keeping Up With The Kardashians and decided they didn’t want to make first contact anymore? Are we really going to crucify someone based on a hypothetical?

In their quest to come to depressed peoples’ aid they verbally attacked a person with actual depression for posting a picture they didn’t like.

Don’t misunderstand. I am not dissuading criticism. I think critique is perfectly fine. The problem occurs when someone tries to shut a person up or hurl vulgar abuse at them rather than have an intelligent discussion on the subject.

My problem, first and foremost, is with censorship. People being offended by everything is a close second, but censorship is by far the most important issue.

Anyone with any creative background should support another person’s right to make art. It’s as simple as that.

If you don’t like someone’s work, don’t follow that person. Don’t give them your money. Don’t give them your time.

You are not the definitive voice on what is and is not offensive. You don’t have the right to try to de-platform someone just because you don’t agree with their views or what they have created.