Problem With Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning” Title?

Kameron Hurley thinks Neil Gaiman did not make a good choice in calling his latest story collection Trigger Warning. Commenting at SciFiNow, she first explains the use of the term in its original context, then levels this criticism at Gaiman:

The problem with mainstreaming this kind of use of the term is that instead of saying, “Yes, trigger warnings are useful so let’s not continue to water it down” what you do when you title a rather typical short story collection “Trigger Warning” is that your work becomes part of the problem of breaking it down into meaninglessness and slapping it on any old thing as a marketing gimmick. You co-opt a term used in feminist spaces, and you use it for shock value, to be edgy and subversive, instead of acting like an ally who has empathy and understanding of the term for its intended use.

Gaiman, in his introduction, goes immediately from saying “Yes, I understand its intended use” to “I decided to use it in this work in a way in which it’s not intended.” A little whiplash, there.

I’m not part of the presold audience for the issue, but this post made me willing to think about it more. What I like about Hurley’s approach is that she unapologetically explains what she believes and equips the reader with enough information to understand the issue, while stepping up to challenge a writer who influences a wide audience. She respects the reader, and takes risks.

9 thoughts on “Problem With Gaiman’s “Trigger Warning” Title?

  1. I’ve never come across the term *trigger warnings* before. For feminists to appropiate it as *one of theirs* is okay with me as long as I don’t have to spend any time talking to them about it.

  2. Meh. I remember that the “trigger” usage originally came from the abuse survivor community and that said use goes back to at least the early 1990s. So I am nonplussed by the claim that it somehow belongs now to “feminist spaces”. If anything, it’s the online trivialization of the term for anything that might conceivably offend someone that watered it down long before Gaiman’s using it for a title. Gaiman’s ironic use of the term isn’t really co-opting it, because that’s already happened. So more power to Gaiman for doing something creative with what’s now a cliche.

  3. The introduction to the book is literally a story by story breakdown of which triggers exist in each chapter, permitting a reader to read some or none of the content.

    Heck, viewed one way, the title of the book is itself a cautionary label. Hurley acknowledges this in her last line – so, functioning as intended!

    The funny bit is her view that Gaiman empowered people who chose to interpret his title choice as validation of views that she finds repugnant. ‘Oh no, someone on Twitter is mocking that important thing I care about and using a respected author’s book title as ammunition! Bad author, bad! I’ll never read it- that will show him!’.

    Making a list of all the ways that a given gender, race or sex should be mocked, marginalized or understandably hated? Well, that is pretty-terrible.

    Feeling hurt by an author’s title choice when baddies point out the ridiculous overuse of an appropriated phrase by borrowing a book cover? That is one sensitive tomato.

  4. After what they did to both his friend and his wife, it is safe to say that Gaiman does not like the crowd who appropriated the term trigger warning from actual abuse survivors. Combined with his popularity this allows him to rub their noses in it while getting to write some damn good horror stories. Which makes it a win for everybody else.

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