I literally cannot believe I have to do this. Of course, I’m not using “literally” literally. I’m just trying to convey how utterly annoyed I am. I can believe I have to do this, because no matter what, high school – and the world in general – will always be populated by ignorant people who need to be informed or insensitive cretins who definitely don’t want to be informed, so I’m just screaming and stomping my feet for my own relief, I guess. But to satisfy all the English teachers reading this: I am LITERALLY so angry at this whole “triggered” meme I just might fill a spray bottle with water and use it on everyone I hear partaking in it, shouting “BAD! BAD!” as if they are a bunch of disobedient cats.
If you’ve been on social media and/or around a greasy 13-year-old boy recently, you’ve no doubt seen or heard about this whole “triggered!” thing. At its simplest and stupidest, the “joke” is simply the use of the word “trigger.” Those who use this term in a joking way often think it means “to get upset,” especially an overblown reaction to something minorly offensive. People often use this joke to dismiss and detract from feminists and other civil rights activists. For instance, a feminist might call out someone on a sexist joke, to which that someone would respond “Stop getting triggered!” Other times, people use the word amongst themselves to exaggerate their feelings on something (much like “literally,” as seen above). If something, such as a celebrity, a sport, etc. gets mentioned in a conversation and someone is not fond of said thing, they might say “Triggered!”, referring to themselves. Cue “ba-dum tssh” and/or soulless laugh track.
So, to put it in a way the imbeciles who use this joke will understand, why am I so “triggered” over all this? Well, let’s set some things straight first. Triggers and trigger warnings have garnered a lot of controversy over the years, especially concerning their place in the education system. Many schools, especially colleges, use or have considered using trigger warnings in their classes. Those against these decrees claim such a system would cripple students’ education. But what is a trigger warning? More importantly, what is a trigger? Spoiler alert: the hordes of teenagers and “edgy” Tweeters joking about triggers have no idea what they actually are.
“Trigger” is shorthand for “trauma trigger.” This means something that causes a traumatic past event to come back into a person’s memory. It could be anything from a picture or other visual aid to sounds or even scents. The concept of triggering was first coined in the early 1900s (sorry, no “newfangled Tumblr BS” here). The term is most commonly applied to people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When someone is triggered, their reaction can vary from sudden and violent to slow and suffocating. Regardless of someone’s symptoms, being triggered is a horrible experience, often including distressing flashbacks. Rape and abuse victims, war veterans, and other traumatized people can all be triggered by reminders of their trauma, no matter how small.
Thus, “trigger warnings” came about in the ‘90s, when the Internet first blossomed. Suddenly, anyone online could be reached, and anything online could reach anyone. Out of consideration for trauma victims, feminist and other social justice groups began putting trigger warnings before potentially triggering content. This action was not and is not meant to censor, as modern critics often think. Trigger warnings are simply that: considerate warnings for trauma victims, so they can prepare themselves to see potentially upsetting content. Trigger warnings actually worked against censorship. They enabled people to openly write and talk about difficult topics (e.x. sexual assault) and make sure no one gets hurt at the same time.
The practice of trigger warnings continues into internet use today. I mean, unless you exclusively browse Reddit, 4chan, iamacompletenincompoop.com, or other sites frequented by people who think triggers and trigger warnings are things to make fun of. Which they aren’t, in case you didn’t realize that yet. People don’t get triggered by something they don’t like, or even something that offends them. Getting triggered is an extremely upsetting experience that trauma victims unfortunately have to deal with. How would you like to live life not knowing when something will bring you back to the death of a loved one, a terrorist attack, or even your own rape, and then have everyone around you saying “Triggered!” and giggling to each other?
I sure hope some of the people reading this have started to questioned themselves by now, whether they joke about triggers or they let others do so. It’s hard to keep seeing something as funny when, y’know, it’s something incredibly real for people whose lives have been nearly ruined, and to joke about it is to kick them while they’re down. If, after learning the truth, you still think triggers are no big deal and everyone is being “too sensitive,” then congratulations on your serial killer-esque lack of empathy. I must say that you are truly an asshat of the highest degree and stature, the King of All Asshats, even. Wear your Hat of Ass proudly and shout “Triggered!” from your splendored throne atop Turd Mountain, and rain your might down upon us, the lowly social justice warriors and “too sensitive” peasants, and we shall surely bow in the face of your obtuse, insensitive glory.
Just kidding. To quote the Emperor from Mulan, “No matter how the wind howls, the mountain cannot bow to it.” And, to quote late 2000s-era rap duo New Boyz, “You’re a jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk, jerk.”
“But still, it’s just a joke!” some of you will inevitably say. Yes, being knowingly offensive is very popular among the youth, I know. If you’re really not willing to give up on the super-original side-splitting comedic genius that is “Triggered!”, let’s play pretend for a minute. Let’s pretend it really is all “just a joke.” Now, you might want to sit down for this one: it’s still not funny. Even discounting the fact that you’re making fun of trauma victims, saying “Triggered!” over and over like the world’s most annoying broken record is the lowest form of humor this side of Adam Sandler movies and typing “5318008” into your calculator. I could probably find funnier, more clever jokes in Highlights magazine. For people whose sense of humor still hasn’t risen above an 8th grade level, please just go back to armpit farting and watching Let’s Players on YouTube. For once, you’ll be doing everyone a favor.
Joking about triggers is like saying you’re “OCD” because you keep your bookshelf organized or calling women “feminazis”: you can do it, but only people just as uninformed and/or jerkish as you will laugh, and everyone else will make a mental note to never do anything nice for you, ever. For those of you who will eventually accost me in the hallway and impart the great, mind-blowing proverb of enlightenment that is “Hahaha why so triggered LOL don’t tell me what to do it’s a free country,” just know that the First Amendment means the government can’t tell you to shut up, not that I can’t tell you to shut up. So I say this with all the sincerity in my cold, black, bitter, “triggered” heart: shut up.
Drawing by Angeline Stein.