I think a word of introduction is in order here. This post is written by my 21-year-old son who lives in California. He has learned a great deal while out there and that is what this post is about. I love his heart and his passion. For those who don’t know, SJW means Social Justice Warrior.
From my son:
Earlier this week my dad shared a satirical Facebook post that mocked people who get offended about everything. The first line was “TRIGGER WARNING,” a favorite punchline of the cabal of new-school right-wing reactionaries to whom “SJW” is analogous to McCarthy-era Cold War America’s “commie.” The rest of the article explored the many ridiculous ways in which a picture of a potato could “trigger” someone.
The rest of the post carried on the narrative: getting too offended about things is silly; “trigger warnings” are symptomatic of a paranoid, hyper-sensitive world where jokes are banned and political correctness is law. Given that my girlfriend and I had seen my parents as recently as Christmas, and I’d done my best to be diplomatic in explaining this new “social justice” movement I was now part of—not to mention how distraught my dad was about the death of Eric Garner—it was disheartening to see him share a post like that.
If you frequent Reddit, as I do, or a handful of other allegedly liberal news sites, the first thing you’re likely to hear is that “it’s just a joke.” “Why are you getting so offended? It’s just a joke. We’re poking fun at the crazy Tumblrinas who think they need ‘TRIGGER WARNINGS’ for everything! Loosen up. Goddamn SJWs.” Even my moderate, diplomatic dad asked me (humorlessly) if I understand satire. As if, by virtue of being a joke, any joke’s content is a-OK.
Let’s put aside the fact that including the phrase “TRIGGER WARNING” in your post with no context is essentially the fart joke of satire. A trigger warning is a common courtesy afforded to people who suffer from PTSD—not, as is popularly believed, a no-fun-allowed mantra invented by a Tumblrina, Reddit’s word for any person who uses Tumblr and is not both heterosexual and cisgendered. It should be obvious to any decent person why mocking a victim of PTSD is in incredibly poor taste.
(An interesting aside: for all their self-proclamation of neoliberalism, Redditors react to nonstandard sexualities and gender identities the way cats react to a vacuum cleaner. They are the new conservatives, believing themselves to be progressive and open-minded by virtue of comparison to their Republican baby-boomer parents, and because the gay marriage cause now has so much political momentum they have no choice but to accept it.)
Back to PTSD. “Oh, but we’re not making fun of PTSD,” cry the trigger-warning parrots. “We’re making fun of privileged white girls on Tumblr. We don’t have any problem with PTSD victims. It’s the Tumblrinas that want trigger warnings!” (Privilege, by the way, can be applied to people you don’t like to invalidate their experiences, but don’t worry, it doesn’t apply to you!)
I’ve also heard “SJWs wanting trigger warnings on everything distracts from the people who ACTUALLY need them!”, as if these people cared about PTSD victims before they could use them to support their arguments. This is “you’re the real racist!” applied to PTSD jokes. See The Internet on why that counterpoint is stupid.
But the crux of the matter is the fact that there are things you really just shouldn’t joke about. Turning “TRIGGER WARNING” into a punchline sends the message to everyone reading it: “trigger warnings” are a joke, and anyone who needs them is a hysterical crybaby. It doesn’t matter if that’s what you meant or not. That is what people see when they read it.
I saw a series of tweets a few weeks ago that summarized this issue much better than I can, though they were about rape culture instead of PTSD. The gist was the same: for every 10 people that read a rape joke and think “heh, that’s funny,” but understand that it’s just a joke, there’s an actual, real-life rapist who reads it and thinks “Nice. Rape is a joke. It’s not a big deal, and clearly nobody takes the victims seriously, because someone’s joking about it.”
This is what’s called normalizing abuse, and it’s a problem whose impact is difficult to overstate. It’s part of the reason so many women (much more than men) are afraid of walking home alone at night, why LGBT athletes find it so intimidating to come out, the ridiculous amount of homophobic and transphobic abuse non-straight kids hear in school, why trans people are eight times more likely to be murdered than their fellow cis people—the list goes on and on.
It’s disturbing how difficult it was to convince my own dad (straight, white, male, and middle-class though he may be) that him sharing the post was actually a problem, and not just my brand-new hypersensitivity to “just jokes.” To hopefully eliminate the remaining possibility of “it’s just a joke”, I pointed out to him that one of the most-liked comments on the article said “#PotatoLivesMatter.” I brought up the fact that he could, because he shared the post, feasibly be associated with the kind of person who thinks that campaigning against police who murder black people is worthy of mockery.
But it didn’t do any good, until my mom had some words with him offline. Maybe he needed a voice of reason closer to home. Either way, that’s one down, fifty million to go.