The absurdity of trigger warnings

Russell McCarthy

Topics Politics

The US National Association of Scholars (NAS) has launched a Twitter contest that humorously highlights the absurdity of trigger warnings in academia.

There has been an escalation in calls over the past year, in both the US and UK, for universities to take responsibility for the content of classes and prescribed books whose contents may trigger unpleasant memories in students who have experienced traumatic events. The NAS points out that almost every significant work of literature could qualify for a trigger warning and they have challenged the public to submit warnings for their own favourite books with the hashtag #triggerwarningfail. The NAS campaign was inspired by Jonathan Zimmerman, a lecturer at New York University, who demonstrated that, following the reasoning of trigger warnings, every single module in his American history course would warrant one.

The calls for trigger warnings have become so ludicrous that it is now often difficult to separate fact from fiction. Below are a mixture of real trigger warnings that have been suggested by concerned students, and joke ones which the NAS has come up with. See if you can tell the difference, then scroll to the bottom to see if you’re correct:

a) Homer’s The Iliad: disturbing scene for those suffering sports injuries.

b) F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby: scenes of gory, abusive and misogynistic violence.

c) Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex: prejudicial treatment of alternative family structures.

d) William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: contains anti-Semitism.

e) Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels: size-ist.

f) Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway: addresses suicide.

The contest is open until Friday 6 June. Entries can be submitted on Twitter with the hashtag #triggerwarningfail or via the NAS Facebook page here.

Answers: a, c and e are fake; b, d and f are real.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


Want to join the conversation?

Only spiked supporters and patrons, who donate regularly to us, can comment on our articles.

Join today