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Warning – this article contains warnings about trigger warnings | Catherine Bennett

The Royal Opera House recently emailed some well-intentioned content tips to people who purchased tickets for its production of Handel’s Oratory, TheodoraIt was first performed in 1750.

The new show, “by the ever-radical Katie Mitchell,” said it, “a frank exposition of scenes of sexual violence, harassment, exploitation and [the] evoking themes of terror.” This sensational information was sent to seasoned opera fans who may have been accustomed to watching, for example, young women being stabbed to death in sacks, kidnapped, betrayed, left in the underworld, or, taking the initiative, the bridegroom murdered. Junk in the sea of ​​blood. Perhaps it was inevitable when Theodora Opened last week, some excited onlookers couldn’t help comparing the actual proceedings with their stated potential to shock. “This is not the shocking phase we were promised,” was the headline of one review.

As writers of motivational warnings know, there is a definite art to it, beginning with the seemingly arbitrary act, as above, of what to warn against. Then, since triggers within a single script may range from, say, “blood” to “stratification” via “sexual assault”, “hate language” and “death or death”, the professional warning must decide the number of warnings as well Many. in case if Romeo and JulietThe Globe Theater was willing to condone legal rape but did mention “references to drug use,” along with theatrical blood, gunshots, and suicide.

Let’s say it’s a good idea, as academics at Royal Holloway reportedly decided to warn master’s students about it Oliver Twist It is filled with child abuse, domestic violence, and racism, so was it right to rule out accidental cruelty to animals, not just for Bill Sykes’ wretched dog, Ein Paul? “Mr. Jamfield murmured fiercely at the donkey, in general, but more specifically in his eyes; and running after him, he dealt a blow to the head, which would inevitably have been struck in any skull but that of a donkey.”

challenged on torsion Warning, Royal Holloway told mail on sunday that the use of content warnings is “standard and accepted practice within academia,” part of its “responsibility to support the mental health and well-being of our students” and exists “to educate and inform students in advance about topics that may be sensitive and that may cause them anxiety or distress, possibly as a result of past experience “. Or in other words, is torsion The warning was no more absurd than others that UK universities have recently applied to work including Jane AirAnd One thousand nine hundred and eighty-four The BA Children’s Book Unit features J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Where, as many ten-year-olds know, the child hero begins a school of magic. Older students are advised to tell the teachers “if anything is particularly difficult because of its personal relevance”.

The assumption that students should be protected from harassment caused by literature and ridicule has been criticized, with surprisingly little effect, since trigger warnings began to become widespread in the United States, circa 2015. The broader application of the term previously used therapeutically in relation to survivors Shockwaves have been defended by academics such as philosophy professor Kate Mann, who wrote in The New York Times: “It is to allow those who are sensitive to these topics to prepare themselves for reading about them and to better manage their reactions.” These students may routinely watch content ranging from Netflix shows rich in blood, weapons, and drugs to news reports about real child murder, catastrophe, and genocide, not a reason, for such teachers, to downplay the discomfort of fakery. The story of a nanny from the nineteenth century.

From a teacher’s point of view, dealing with such heightened cautionary engagement is perhaps easier than dealing with the kind of response that Bernardine Evaristo—and many others—have to Virginia Woolf: “I didn’t get in touch with her at all.” Jacob Rees-Mogg’s reflexive denunciation of the warnings—”universities should get a little bigger”—is another reminder that feeling overwhelmed is generally better than not. In addition, sometimes you can see the point. Many students must be stunned, even as they might expect, at the racism that plagues so much of the Western literary canon. Still shocking back to Oliver Twist, to see Dickens intersperses passages of deep companion feelings with those in which Fagin is frequently “the Jew.” Nor is this generation the first to regress. A Jewish mother wrote to Dickens in 1863, calling on him to “atone for a great mistake.”

Lately, it’s unfortunate for some of us that the agonizing ability of certain fantasy novels has never stopped Lord of the Flies And Of mice and men They are perfect introductions for 12-year-olds to human cruelty. Samuel WeskersAlso, you might benefit from a content warning, not to provoke infant panic attacks, but to give them flashbacks of a drowning rat and a kitten shrouded in dough.

Indeed, the most common objection to issuing warnings, that they will sow generations of vulnerable and controlled victims, may be less effective in reversing them than mounting evidence that, regardless of the purported benefits, they are futile. When defended by theaters and universities as a standard practice, it not only lacks evidence of efficacy, or any coherent system of application, it ignores academic findings that raise warnings that they have no effect on anxiety and do not dampen negative emotional reactions. Warnings, in the case of trauma survivors, may make matters worse. One study notes that “we found, ‘substantial evidence that triggers counter-warnings of infection, and reinforces survivors’ view of their trauma as the center of their identity.’”

As long as the deliberately disturbed literature is understood as a threat to students’ well-being, it appears as though academics need to find another therapeutic approach. Of course it won’t work with everyone, but after a few minutes with snuff shows in MailOnline They may turn to Bill Sykes with relief.

Catherine Bennett is a columnist for the Observer

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