Should students be warned that reading The Great Gatsby might “trigger” a past trauma? The campus censors think so. But they are only protecting your feelings.
It’s with a twinge of nostalgia that I recall all those incredulous faces. Sometime in the 1990s, I suggested to a group of college friends that it wasn’t exactly right to brand Ian Fleming a hopeless sexist (his deeply held dislike of America, all agreed, was a more agreeable phobia).
This note of dissidence was interrupted by the sound of jaws shattering as they hit the floor, a crescendo of denunciations, and a few dramatic walkouts.
One of those who remained said, with a jabbing finger, that mine was the argument of someone “unaware of his gender privilege.”
It was almost inevitable, regardless of one’s personal politics, to find oneself — with bowed head, like an undergraduate Rubashov—accused of trespassing some previously unknown frontier of offense.
I would soon learn never to object to the charge of privilege: it’s a phantom, something one possesses and abuses without knowing it. And like denying your alcoholism, a denial doubles as an acknowledgement that you’re afflicted with the disease.
Floating in the fog of privilege, all sorts of voguish developments in language control bypassed me.
But through the daily horror of Twitter, where these concepts are released into the non-academic world, I’ve been exposed to all the latest phrases doubling as argument, like the various prefixes affixed to “shaming” and “‘splaining” (the latter so rendered, I assumed, in homage to Desi Arnaz, before realizing this was a vulgar indulgence of Cuban stereotypes).
“Shaming” and “‘splaining” are fluidly defined verbs, though it seems an admonition to people with my biography (boring white guys) that they engage in conversation about race or gender in particular ways, with particular conclusions—and only when speaking to particular people.
Thus, there is the scourge of “slut shaming,” which one can be accused of, for instance, when questioning whether the so-called Duke porn star is indeed “liberated” when shooting videos for defaceherface.com.
And there’s the promiscuous use of “mansplaining,” defined by a fusty man at The New York Times as a condescending chappie “compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything — especially to a woman.”
This midwived the now ubiquitous “whitesplaining,” best demonstrated (Link): in this Atlantic.com polemic upbraiding a member of the indie band The Black Lips for having opinions about—whitesplaining — hip-hop music. Not in a racist way, mind you. It’s just none of his cultural business.
These faddish portmanteaus suffer from overuse, but one can at least see the point: They are polemical words, more pointed and ideological than what we used to call know-it-all-ism and sexist condescension.
Being so behind the times, I only just discovered the neutron bomb of censoriousness masquerading as concern: the “trigger warning.”
This is, roughly, a label that would accompany an article, film, song, book, or piece of art warning potential viewers that the content might make them upset or uncomfortable (often the point of art) and thus trigger memories of a traumatic event.
Continue reading “Warning: This Column Will Offend You – by M. Moynihan (Re: Trigger Warnings in Written Material, Terms such as slut shaming, man-splain, etc)”