Ralph Fiennes is right to go to war with trigger warnings

Audiences don’t need to be protected from challenging content.

Thomas Osborne

Topics Culture Free Speech Politics UK

Trigger warnings – the practice of alerting audiences and readers to potentially ‘distressing’ content – are everywhere these days.

University courses warn students of the ‘toxic relationships’ in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, the ‘emotionally challenging’ content in Peter Pan and the ‘graphic fishing scenes’ in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea.

Theatres have got in on the act, too. Last year, Shakespeare’s Globe in London warned audiences of the ‘suicide and drug use’ in Romeo and Juliet and the ‘racism and misogyny’ in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Around the same time, a theatre in Sussex flagged up the ‘distressing threat posed by Nazi Germany’ in the stage adaptation of The Sound of Music .

Thankfully, actors have started to speak out against this absurd and infantilising trend. At the weekend, Oscar-winner and West End-fixture Ralph Fiennes hit out at the proliferation of trigger warnings in theatre performances.

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) February 11, 2024

Speaking on BBC One’s Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg, Fiennes argued that audiences do not need to be coddled. In fact, they should expect to be ‘shocked and disturbed’ by what they see on stage. This is precisely what makes theatre so special. ‘Shakespeare’s plays are full of murderers, full of horror’, he said. ‘I don’t think you should be prepared for these things.’

Fiennes is dead right. Trigger warnings assume that theatregoers are too fragile to cope with challenging content. They treat audiences as fragile beings who will melt at the hint of anything offensive.

Thankfully, Fiennes is not alone. Last year, Ian McKellen was furious when he discovered that attendees of a play he starred in were being warned about ‘loud noises… smoking… [and] bereavement’. Christopher Biggins, a veteran of the pantomime circuit, has accused venues of ‘insulting the mentality of theatregoers’ by slapping trigger warnings on plays.

Good. A war on trigger warnings is long overdue.

Thomas Osborne is an editorial assistant at spiked.

Picture by: Getty.

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

Topics Culture Free Speech Politics UK


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