A few nights ago, I gave the felines I am fostering (The X-Kittens) baths to relieve them of their smelliness and flea-related itching. They’re too big for their mom to force them into tongue-baths yet too little to clean themselves adequately, plus they’re too young for the safe administration of flea medicine. That one bath won’t stop the fleas or the stank forever, but it will stop the poor things from itching their neck fur ragged and from being embarrassingly stinky when we take them to the vet tomorrow. Plus, sweet-smelling, fluffy, soft kittens make for excellent napping buddies.
Would you argue that I ought not to have bathed them because that option isn’t quite nuclear? Unlikely. So why hold trigger warnings up to such an impossible standard?
Imperfect measures are an essential part and fact of life. We take them all the time. Fastening your seatbelt won’t stop you from dying in every kind of automobile accident. Condoms don’t prevent every possible STI you can contract; every form of birth control, even surgical sterilization, still has a failure rate. Flu shots, Gardasil, and other vaccines don’t protect against every strain of the disease they help to prevent. Eating mindfully and engaging in aerobic exercise doesn’t fully guarantee against death by heart attack.
You don’t see widespread outrage against the abovementioned imperfect measures based solely on the fact that they are imperfect. People with religious agendas may bring up the failure rates of things like birth control, condoms, and Gardasil, but they’re using those numbers to bolster their existing abstinence-only stance rather than figure out a reasonable, fact-based position. Try to find a discussion about trigger warnings that doesn’t contain some variation of “I am opposed to trigger warnings because I can’t anticipate everyone’s triggers”, though. I couldn’t — and even inadvertently courted such responses with my previous post on the matter.
It is true that there is no easy or universal formula to determine what ought be noted or warned against. That is precisely why requests, call-ins, and yes, even call-outs are so vital and helpful. They bring attention to ways by which you might help others avoid unnecessary or even debilitating distress that you may not have been able to anticipate.
Being mindful of some of what might cause emotional distress in a viewer or reader is not a bad thing just because you may not know of everything that might cause such a reaction. It’s perfectly okay to be imperfect. Unilaterally opposing something based solely on the fact that there is no such thing as perfect execution is dubious at best. Like anything else in life, the various flavors of content notices are not an all or nothing prospect.
And frankly, it seems like an excuse to me to treat them, but nothing else, as such. A little bit of harm reduction is better than none at all.