From the annals of a trigger happy world


This just arrived. The story is told here: “Ballad of the Old Mariner given notice of activation in case it disturbs students”, by Craig Simpson, Telegraph, November 21, 2022:

The old sailor’s rhyme academics have given it a trigger warning for depicting the death of an albatross.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1798 masterpiece, recounting the hair-raising adventures of a sailor, has been deemed potentially disturbing to students at the University of Greenwich.

The poem, which revolves around the eponymous sailor shooting an albatross, now requires a content warning for depicting “animal death”, according to academics from the University of London’s English department.

Coleridge’s story of a cursed journey has also been marked by “supernatural possession” and “human death”, common themes in Gothic literature.

The rhyme of the old sailor, Famous for the lines “water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink”, it centers on an old sailor who tells a stunned wedding guest about a voyage during which he shot an albatross.

The offending stanza, the content warning suggests, reads: ‘Hail, old sailor!/From the demons that torment you like this!/Why do you look like that?’—With my crossbow/I shot the ALBATROSS .”

The ship then becomes cursed. The crew, succumbing to dehydration, then “went down one by one.”

Later in the poem, the curse is lifted and “Under the lightning and the moon / The dead gave a groan.” The possessed crew then begin to navigate the ship to safety.

These supernatural elements can upset students, according to content warnings, along with the themes of numerous works of Gothic literature, which is defined by its focus on the macabre.

Other works taught in the Gothic Literature module have also received warnings. Mary Shelley’s short stories “On Ghosts” and “The Mortal Immortal” come with a warning for references to suicide, and Lord Byron’s 1813 poem The Giaour, about the murder of a concubine, received a content warning for violence and murder.

Trigger warnings do a great service: they alert us to scary or offensive content that can cause fear and trembling. Some have been known to be permanently scarred by their encounters with texts that triggered deep emotions of an unwanted kind. No one should be forced to listen to stories of violence, or even death, like that of the unfortunate albatross in Coleridge’s poem. However, therapists agree that if we are properly warned early enough, with the triggering warnings that should now be considered essential, we should be able to withstand any psychic shock. I tried it myself. Thanks to that activation warning quoted above, I knew that if I dared to read the frost of the old sailor – and I could have backed out at any time, no one was forcing me, but I was determined to move on – I would eventually find myself with the murder of an innocent bird. Would he be able to bear the anguish that I, a sensitive soul with a quick tear, in short, a Man of Feeling, was sure to experience? I had been preparing all week, imagining different birds—gulls, sandpipers, Atlantic puffins, emperor penguins—might exhale their last breath in a line of four, or possibly just three, yambs.

So when I crossed the line “With my crossbow / I shot the ALBATROSS”, I was ready. And I bore the shock of the line, manfully.

It occurs to me that we should have trigger warnings in a lot of texts that have hitherto gone unnoticed.

Take the high school student assigned to you Village. That innocent student doesn’t know what to expect from such a hidden text. He (or she) needs to have a copy of Activate warnings for dummies, where he (or she) simply goes to the entrance of Village and find this:

Village. Incest between mother-in-law and brother-in-law. Dirty father murder before the game even starts. Murder of old runner (Polonio). Cemetery scene with poor Yorick’s skull. Hamlet’s bride goes mad, drowns (“there is a willow that grows leaning over a stream”). Mother accidentally poisoned. Uncle deliberately murdered. Lots of unnecessary violence with a total of eight deaths (Polonius, Claudius, Gertrude, Ophelia, Rosencrantz, Guildenstern, Laertes, Hamlet. Reading the play without activation warning leads to poor scores on norm-referenced personality tests, including the NEO -PI, the 16PF, OPQ and FFPI-C.

But let’s not stop there. Many other Shakespeare plays deserve trigger warnings. Here are a few:

Richard III. He makes fun of people with disabilities (hunchback). Child abuse: suffocation of the two young princes in the Tower, King Edward V and Richard, Duke of York. King Richard has a very scary dream, then dies at the Battle of Bosworth Field. Consequences of reading without activation warning include failing scores on the Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory.

Antony and Cleopatra. Sexist representation of Cleopatra, who deserves our respect as a career woman (queen). Racist depiction of brown-skinned Egyptians rowing the barge on which she sat, which “like a burnished throne, burned on the water.” Cleopatra’s suicide by asp venom damages the image of all reptiles. Anthony falls on his sword (unpleasant to watch). Obvious negative consequences for Cohen’s kappa coefficient.

Macbeth. Unkind to the Scots, variously represented as witches, ghosts, and murderers. The work violates the Equal Protection Clause of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

Othello. Racist portrayal of the main character, a Blackamoor who is unable to control his childish emotions and is easily fooled by the motiveless evil of an intelligent white man (Iago). Spousal abuse (Desdemona’s death). Unkind words about Muslims, when Othello says: “Say, that in Aleppo once/Where a wicked and a Turk in a turban/He beat a Venetian and translated the state/I took the circumcised dog by the neck/And I beat him like that ”. It should be avoided unless much of Othello’s dialogue and monologues are rewritten. The radius coefficient increases according to the Keirsey temperament classifier.

king lear. Significant elder abuse everywhere. Main character, an old man, represented with senile dementia. Judicial error (Cordelia is hanged). One obvious consequence among unsuspecting readers is the rise of oppositional defiant disorder.

The Tempest. subalternity and racism. Slavery Described in Positive Terms: Caliban, the brown-skinned product of the witch Sycorax and the devil, is rebellious and spiteful, portrayed as deserving of his slavery to the wonder-working white man and Duke of Milan, Prospero. Not recommended for readers under 25 or over 65.

Children’s stories should also include trigger warnings.

Jack and the magic beans. Giant launches murderous threat: “Fee, Fie, Fo, Fum/I smell the blood of an Englishman/Dead or alive/I will grind his bones to make my bread.” Even a single reading can cause trauma. to be avoided

Ferdinand. Belittles cruelty to animals (bulls in bullfights). Anti-Hispanic messaging. Without trigger warning, the listeners’ Keirsey personality scorer may be negative.

Three Little Pigs. Scary stereotype of a big bad wolf. 78% of young listeners who were read the story without triggering warnings exhibited subsequent signs of PTSD and had a significant increase in Keirsey personality disorder.

This is just a small sample of the thousands, no, millions of thousands, of text messages that will require activation warnings. All of us – parents, educators, caregivers, psychiatrists, juvenile court judges – need to roll up our sleeves and get to work, protecting our children, college students, nuclear families, seniors, from the scare stories that they are. all around us, embedded in texts that we once, in the innocent past, read without a trigger warning, and didn’t think about it. Now we know better.


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