CHOOSE YOUR WORDS CAREFULLY

AMBER LOVE 15-DEC-2014 I’m certainly no psychologist nor market researcher. In 2014, I saw some calls for people to start including #TriggerWarnings (#TW or #trigger) when promoting books or blog posts or even links to news stories. I also saw that countered with arguments against the practice of trigger warnings by feminists in academia who honestly think students will use it as an excuse to skip reading an assigned book or skip class. Maybe they are feminists who are afraid trigger warnings will decrease sales of their product or products they represent. I don’t see how putting a trigger warning on content is any different than the MPAA film ratings, the video game industry’s ratings, or companies that issue an age range appropriate for a toy. It’s about putting information directly up front on a product so people have choice.

MICDOTCOM-VALENTI

WHEN DISCUSSING SEXUAL ASSAULT
There was a lot of change reporting rape. Some people have chosen to not use the word. Part of it may be because it’s a triggering word for many survivors. Or it may be substituted because the definition of what it is can be lost on governing bodies like college judicial boards but also on people the Princeton Mom who don’t understand. Whatever the reason, I saw “sexual assault” used more and more. It could absolutely be my own perception or the way I chose to change who I was following on Twitter. Twitter’s microblogging might be a reason for people to go with a shorter but recognizable word like “rape” as opposed to “SA” to make a statement fit. 

The reason that I addressed sexual assault first is because it has an advantage in protecting people by the sheer awfulness of the subject matter. This is not true of the word SUICIDE. Here’s a word that writers, comic creators, military leaders, and marketers have taken and tried to make it sound brave or courageous.

Those words are not the same in meaning.

suicidecourageous

This is not in any way about judgment. As a suicide survivor, my baggage is not the issue. This is not about arguing with assholes like Henry Rollins who don’t understand what it feels like – or people like him who say suicide is a cowardly act. It’s about the opposite argument where it’s seen as something noble. The Kamikaze and suicide bombers seem to be the root cause of equating suicide to courage in this backwards way.

WHAT’S COURAGEOUS IS SURVIVING.

Putting down the bottle of pills, the razor, the gun or getting off that ledge, is where the courage lies. The courage does not lie in wanting to do it. It lies in knowing that the feeling ebbs and flows and that feeling needs another chance to ebb again.

suicide-squad

DC Comic book creators came out with a team of badass mercenaries that they called the Suicide Squad back in 1959 but it’s more commonly accepted that the later 1987 version by John Ostrander is the true team. Then, as DC Comics tends to do, they inserted stories at a later time which basically wedged teams together into the past continuity. The retconned team consists of supervillains hired by the United States to pay penance. They are sent on do-good missions by Amanda “the Wall” Waller. The Hollywood film version will change the team roster, no doubt, but includes Harley Quinn and Deadshot adding the Joker because he’s one of the Warner Brother/DC’s biggest money makers next to Batman and Superman.

Because the comic book squadron is a spandex clad version of a military team, they took on the military usage equating suicide with crazy people who throw themselves into missions where they might not come back.

ALL WORDS ARE NOT CREATED EQUAL

Imagine now, if the word “suicide” was treated the same way as the word “rape.” Suicide blog posts and news articles are often prefaced with trigger warnings. People are beginning to understand how individualized triggers can be. But you won’t see the film SUICIDE SQUAD altered to a new name like TASK FORCE X even though it work just fine as far as viewers are concerned. Instead WB/DC takes every opportunity to associate characters with the word “suicide” while failing to see the gravitas.

Harley Quinn New52 hughesDC did this already with Harley Quinn during the artist hunt contest where people were asked to follow a short script, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, where the artist was meant to force Harley to try and kill herself in a variety of ridiculous ways. They included things like dropping toasters into her bath water, holding a  lightning rod during a storm and baiting a crocodile with chicken. Harley, if you aren’t familiar, is a former psychologist who went insane (feel free to ask Dr. Drea Letamendi on the clinical diagnosis she would give Harley since I’m not a doctor). Incidentally the contest went well and they had some talented people submit their art despite the egregious insensitivity of the script’s content.

No creative team in comics or Hollywood would put a character in a situation that mocks sexual assault unless it was part of telling the evil personality of that character. You would never ask artists to enter a contest where they are trying to make a character rape other people and have the character “fight back” with the artist as Harley did in the suicide contest panels.

You would never get DC Comics to name a mercenary team, the RAPE REGIMENT but SUICIDE SQUAD is totally fine.

Evil things happen and they shouldn’t be censored from storytelling. However, the producers, editors, and creators should begin exercising some common sense in avenues that have exposed new mental/medical concerns that were rather unknown in 1959. You’ve had over 50 years of advancements in PTSD diagnosis to understand that trauma can have lasting affects on people. “Shellshock” doesn’t need to be actively showing symptoms 24 hours a day to be real; if that “shellshock,” which is now part of the larger PTSD diagnosis, is not from military service but from another traumatic experience, why would you mock it by naming something entertaining after it? It’s because “they” the producers/creators/etc. think the word “suicide” is so fun and resonating that it’s the best thing they could come up with for marketing a brand.

I’m one hundred percent sure the die hard fans would call this debate “overly sensitive” or (laughably) “censorship” rather than what it is: It’s calling out a company that has an opportunity for growth but ignoring it in lieu of branding.

Would anyone be truly courageous enough to start one of those CHANGE.org petitions asking for the film to be renamed? (Let’s face it, more people will see the film than the comic). No. No one would tackle that because it’s not about “ism” sensitivities, sexual violence, or LGBTQ-phobias.

4 comments on “PTSD #TriggerWarning words & marketing & writing”

  1. The problem here is that suicide is a result of depression or mental illness. It’s not a disease in itself. No one “suffers from suicide”. If the book was called The Depression Squad or the Mental Illness Squad or the Eating Disorder Squad, then I might agree with you.

    There are a variety of things that happen as a result of suffering from Depression and/or Mental Illness, not just suicide. Memory is also affected. So should we put trigger warnings on usage of the word Memory? We should be sensitive, but not to the point of making every word that someone associates something bad with a “trigger warning” word.

    What if someone trips in the bathroom and cracks their head open on the bathtub and develops ptsd. Are we to put trigger warnings on all material that has the word Bathtub on it? Should Bed Bath and Beyond put “trigger warning” before their sign? What if we’re hit by a drunk driver while driving? Do we put trigger warnings before the word “Car” or “Accident” or “Liquor”? Do we cover bottles of booze with plain wrapping that says “trigger warning”? There are many breast cancer survivors and mastectomy who have PTSD. Do we put “trigger warning” before the use of the word “breast” in all literature? No.

    You’ve crossed the border from “sensitive” to “can’t take you seriously” because your ludicrous premise would make just about every word that exists a trigger and that, along with your comparison to rape, actually devalues the word rape and devalues people who actually do suffer from PTSD, depression and are rape survivors. And, ironically, that’s incredibly insensitive.

    • Ironically I’m all those things you think I’m devaluing which shows you don’t understand my point in any level. Suicide related posts in many circles already come with trigger warnings. That’s not something I invented. So I’ve never said all things should also have warnings. I’ve said THIS example of calling an outdated comic booK series from 1959 that is being welcomed into a new market because of a film, should be given a different name. I didn’t even sat it should have a trigger warning because it’s not even about suicide. So before you go off on a tirade publicly perhaps you should actually READ what’s being stated.

  2. Hi! I randomly came across this post from a retweet. I wasn’t sure what you meant by “marketing words being more important than trigger warnings” but was relieved to see that you meant that as less of an opinion you hold, and more of an observation. I agree that more caution should be used.

    My story is very relevant to your example. In September 2014, I was traumatized by someone attempting suicide in front of me. Only months ago, I was prescribed beta blockers and stopped having daily panic attacks. Somewhere along the line, I was able to start seeing the word “suicide” with only a mild headache (as I’m getting while writing this) and maybe a slightly lowered mood. For about a year, seeing the word when I wasn’t expecting it often ruined my entire day with intense “fight or flight” emotions and rage.

    Being in the transgender community, I can’t really get away from that word; it’s a topic that comes up almost constantly as a major issue that affects our community. I have definitely spent entire days in bed, lying in the dark and crying because of the name of this DC Comics-based movie being hyped by my friends.

    While I’m getting better, I have no doubt that it will trigger me again when I’m more mentally vulnerable. And I still can’t handle being around suicidal people, even if the word affects me less often now.

    My social worker tells me that my trigger over the word may have lessened because of my constant exposure to the word. (Of course, it also matters that I have been fortunate enough to find medicine that stopped my panic attacks, and have had a social worker teach me concepts like mindfulness and distress tolerance.) But the regular exposure to the word gave my mind practice to see that I’m not in danger by reading it. Of course, that doesn’t make it better to just bombard people with triggering content hoping that they de-sensitize to it in that way. It was an extremely painful year for me, and the more you’re exposed to triggers, the less you can function as a human being. Besides, with subjects like trigger warnings for sexual violence, there could be other side effects. There isn’t a “suicide culture” glorifying and excusing suicide the same way there’s a rape culture.

    But I couldn’t agree more about marketers. They have no clue what people like me go through, and what we re-live day after day because of their decisions.

    • I’m so sorry you went through such trauma, Melissa. I try to inform writers and creators of these things that they might not even be aware of. There’s a ton of slang for example that I don’t know and I have to learn about. I don’t know when things are slurs unless context really gives it away. But I’m particularly bothered when writers and creators (like the DC editorial staff) don’t seem to even believe the public on certain issues like triggers from the Batgirl cover or the derogatory language in that series with the trans villain. The fans are out here saying, “Hey! Please LISTEN!” and they seem to get no one. At least when it came Batgirl, the actual story team vocalized their own apologies for the problems they created or were tied to.

      Normalizing a thing is why there’s so much objectification of women’s bodies and not men’s or non-binary bodies. It’s why little girls are sexualized with fashion ads. The exposure to something does tend to make a person numb whether it’s violence, sex, or self hate.

      I learn SO much from Twitter. It’s been an important community for me.

      Stay well,
      Amber

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