I never liked the term “Trigger Warning.” It quickly became synonymous with mocking people who wanted to know what might pop up in a story — as though that’s such a bad thing to consider.
People who wanted to know what might be in a story were deemed weak…it’s literature after all, and we survived all this time without those warnings…
That Indie Comic Book
I got my start writing in independent comic books. Along the way, my wife and I even self published some issues.
In the 90s, it was not uncommon — especially on independent comics and lines like DC’s Vertigo — to see a little “Mature Readers” notice on covers. We opted to not include those advisories; our rationale at the time: “Novels don’t do that, so why should we? Comics should not be inherently treated as lesser literature in need of warnings…”
We did let distributors know they should likely list things as “Mature” because it was a thing they mentioned with similar books. But it was our decision to not add it to covers…
To Each Their Own
While I never saw the need for warnings on books, I never looked at those who wanted to know what they were getting into as weak. That seemed to be the point of those triggered by trigger warnings: “We’re sanitizing everything for snowflakes!”
Someone wanting a bit of a warning didn’t affect me. (Imagine having the time to get so worked up about someone wanting further information about a story?) So…I just read and listened to things as I always did, and didn’t care if others wanted more details about what they were about to get into.
Somewhere along the way with Not About Lumberjacks, I began running a content advisories before stories.
As a courtesy to listeners and readers…
Just because I don’t have a desire to know what might be rough in a story doesn’t mean what works for me should work for everyone. If people want to know what might be rough in a story, it doesn’t hurt me to say, “Maybe these things might get to you?”
I’ll admit, I was initially worried about content advisories potentially spoiling stories for some listeners and readers. If I mention a story contains the death of a parent and the story is about a child/parent relationship, you know that parent is likely dead by the end.
But for someone who just lost a parent and might not want that story at that particular time in their life, what’s the harm in mentioning it? I see that advisory as a caring message to the people who listen to Not About Lumberjacks.
Here’s the thing: most people I know who read and listen to fiction (and appreciate content advisories) read and listen to challenging works. They are likely to have read things far more involved and emotionally devastating than those calling them “snowflakes!” (You know, the kinds of people who come unhinged and take to the Internet when Cracker Barrel offers a plant-based sausage! Talk about snowflakes!)
In fact, most people I know who appreciate content advisories still adore challenging works — they just want to know what’s coming their way. And yeah, sometimes they might not be in the place for a certain theme or scene — there’s nothing wrong with that.
Not About Lumberjacks
Every story on Not About Lumberjacks has at least a written content advisory in the show notes. And many have me reading a content advisory before stories begin. (I can’t remember when I started, but it’s now part of my process each episode.)
Because it’s just me, to go back and record content advisories for older episodes that only have written advisories would be an effort and expense. (Audio hosting works like this: you pay for an amount of storage you can load each month. Anything over that amount usually comes with an additional cost. And this doesn’t account for recording the advisories, adding them to old files, processing those files again…well, you get it: time and money. [Although I have considered recording an advisory for “Purvis,” ’cause that’s a very rough story…])
I still worry some might be spoiled by certain things mentioned in my content advisories, but…I’d rather err on the side of kindness. And…sometimes, coming up with content advisories is fun; in fact, I find they actually pull a lot of people in.
Here are a handful of my faves:
- Milkboy: Milkboy deals with emotional manipulation, stressful working conditions, infected food, passing mention of a grizzly death, demonic possession, and cartoonish violence. And, of course, there’s plenty of swearing. (A bit more than usual, in fact.)
Also, if you’re driving: be aware that anytime you hear characters in a vehicle after the mention of Yummy’s Greek Restaurant in Denton, Texas…there will be yelling, squealing tires, and even a collision. Really, from that point on…just expect the story to get louder and more ridiculous with each new paragraph.
- Pepper: Language, some [gloriously] crude humor, and discussions about the death of a family member from cancer. Yeah, Pepper dies, so it’s technically a dead-dog story…but he’s the protagonist’s reincarnated dad.
- Booger: Swearing, bullying. Mention of masturbation. A father who cheats on his wife. Overbearing mother. Violence: young boys fighting. Gross sound effects. (Seriously, I received more feedback about “Booger” than any other story…all about how disgusting the sound design is. It is a story about a vile monster, after all.)
- The Hidebehind: Swearing. Violence (involving fights and knives). Alcohol use. Mass poisoning. Horror (monster in the woods). Dementia brought on by environmental factors. Implied cannibalism.
- Bobo: Swearing. Mention of alcohol use. Bullying. Mention of old clowns attending a strip club. Childhood trauma brought on by a clown.
So far, the books I’ve read have not come with content advisories…but I know some publishers have included them for their audiences. Why that would trigger someone opposing them is beyond me!
The music I listened to (and still listen to) often comes with an parental advisory. As a kid, my father took me to R-Rated movies like The Exorcist, Taxi Driver, Dog Day Afternoon, and The Deer Hunter. I’ve played video games intended for mature audiences.
In all those instances, it largely seems like industries vaguely warning audiences; in part, to protect themselves from people who try banning art. (And succeed in banning art.)
What seems different with content advisories in books and audiofiction is they are carefully tailored for readers and listeners. It’s not a thing slapped on a cover to say, “Our lawyers want us to put this here…” but rather, “We acknowledge these works can deal with sensitive topics in very deep and personal ways, so…be advised…”
Probably because my dad took me to the kinds of movies I listed above at a very young age, I don’t require content advisories. But I’d not expect others to be like me.
More than that, though, because I create written and recorded art intended for people I care about, it hurts me not one bit to consider my audience and provide advisories. Not About Lumberjacks is all over the place (it’s not built around a genre or theme…one story might be stupid and crude, and the next, literary or horrifying), so content advisories are a courtesy for the listeners and readers I’m fortunate to have.
It’s really that simple…