[I recognize the irony in placing a Trigger Warning on this post, but I’m doing so anyway to cover all bases. TW: Rape, Sexual Assault, Gang Violence PTSD, War, Virginity. Also, spoilers for Kick-Ass 2 if you haven’t seen the film or heard about the controversy yet.]
So, apparently there is an attempted rape in the movie Kick-Ass 2 – I haven’t seen the movie yet or even read any of the comics after the first Kick-Ass, but I came across this movie tidbit from the resulting (and sadly, expected) bitch-fit thrown by every self-lacerating social justice warrior on Tumblr. So I went on Wikipedia to see if I could find a more neutral description of the controversy in question. That’s where I found out that 1) it is an attempted rape portrayed in the movie, not a “rape” or a “rape joke” or whatever the masses are misinterpreting it as, and 2) there was an actual rape in the source material, of an established character, no less, which apparently was so disgusting that the actor who played the assailant in question was grateful that it wasn’t adapted into the film (although Kick-Ass’s artist John Romita, Jr. states that the rape in question was never actually shown).
Now, while I admit that I did like the first Kick-Ass movie (and I liked the comic even better), I’m not too much of a fan of series that take their sequels up to a grimdark level, so I’m not sure if I’m ready to take the plunge into Kick-Ass 2 just yet, if at all. I suppose I should be grateful that I came across these spoilers before I dropped unnecessary money on the graphic novel compilation and had nightmares, but my intention here is not to echo the cries of offense about gratuitous violence, but to address something that has been bothering me for a while…the concept of “trigger warnings.” The Kick-Ass 2 controversy is just the latest in a long string of sanctimonious demands that anyone in the art and entertainment industry put disclaimers on their work for the sake of individuals who have been victimized by past crimes.
Just as there are people out there who believe that all the sexual violence in the world can be eradicated by simply teaching men to keep it in their pants, there seems to be an uneducated mass that is delusional enough to assume that posting one-word “trigger warnings” is going to save somebody from an unwanted flashback. Besides the obvious “freedom of speech” banner that anti-censorship advocates like to wave around, we must understand that everyone’s trauma is unique: it may not be so much a rape scene in a movie that triggers a sexual assault victim, but if said victim’s assailant happened to be chewing bubble gum during the attack, hearing some asshole loudly smacking his gum in the back seat of the theater can potentially trigger a flashback. This phenomenon is actually common with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) upon hearing fireworks on the Fourth of July.
Actually, let’s take a moment to examine that example – this article here tells of a man who suffered from PTSD after coming home from deployment in Iraq and was triggered by fireworks. He tells of his experiences with such…and how he overcame (and continues to overcome) them, and is even working in the Oregon National Guard to help other soldiers overcome PTSD. He even says in this article, “It’s not permanent. PTSD is not permanent. There is help for it. You just have to do the work.” The same goes for victims of any traumatic event.
Back to the subject of sexual assault: tagging your Tumblr posts with “TW” isn’t going to make the trauma go away. The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) mentions on their “Info for Survivors” page that “what happened is not your fault, and you will recover,” and then proceeds to list several support groups and hotlines. That’s right – the idea behind “surviving” a traumatic experience is moving forward, becoming stronger…overcoming the trauma. Victims are not meant to be victims forever, and tagging every single topic that could potentially become offensive to them (which, when taking into account any and all negative experiences) is everything), even if it were successful or relevant, is actually harming them further by saying to these people, “Something bad happened to you. I’m going to remind you that something bad happened by letting you know that the same bad thing is mentioned in this rant or story I’m linking to. But I’m just letting you know in case it potentially bothered you, so…no big deal.” I reiterate, the goal of surviving a traumatic experience is overcoming such things – to stand up and say to those demons, “I am not going to let you own me. I am not going to let you make me suffer further.”
Now, there is actually something that used to trigger me, in a sense…I really don’t want to ever talk about it ever again after the backlash I got last time I brought up something that happened, but I will say this much: there was a word, a scenario, that triggered me. Coming across it, whether it was innocent or meaningful or played for laughs, it left me with this empty feeling…this dryness in my throat, this strange tightness in my chest…it left me bitter and in a bad mood…and it was a stupid thing, really, and I honestly feel embarrassed for even mentioning that it bothered me, let alone the fact that it did. The buzzword/scenario in question wasn’t “rape” – it was “virginity.” I will not go into detail as to why it bothered me, just that said scenario for me was once the worst experience of my life (and is now only second worse after being stranded overnight in a strange town after my last ex-boyfriend stood me up…something else I don’t want to talk about), but it is why I have not watched movies like Juno or The 40-Year-Old Virgin, why I was once blocked someone on Facebook after he revealed to me that he had never had sex, why I had a bad experience with the guy who was once my best friend…even now, sometimes the concept upsets me, and even now as I type this I feel uneasy. But I don’t want to be like this forever. I don’t want to be catered to, for people to treat me with kid gloves because I had a bad experience…I want to overcome it. And so far, I’ve trained myself, little by little, to becoming desensitized to the concept: I’ve watched Teeth (which is a good movie, in my opinion, though many men might find it disturbing), I’ve allowed myself to read about other people’s opinions and experiences, and I’ve even asked myself, “Why does this even bother me?”
The point that I’m trying to make, if rather ham-fisted, is that “trigger warnings” are ineffective, and even dangerous. We cannot account for everyone’s individual “triggers,” so what’s the point? Are we to assume that everyone who has been affected is going to be protected if we cover the basics of “rape,” “war,” and so on? If we do, are we really protecting people or are we censoring awareness? Maybe there is no one answer to those questions and that in and of itself shows that we can’t really cover all bases with a single label. Encourage people to seek help, not to avoid your status updates.
[Also, a list of help hotlines can be found here, and many other places around the internet.]