Wednesday, March 24, 2010

a serious response about trigger words

On my main blog, Chalicechick left this comment on for people with "trigger" words: "Given that everyone I've ever known who has had a "trigger word" was some kind of abuse victim, I don't really see the need for self-congratulatory mocking." Because my main blog has several feeds, I'm responding in a new post:

Where's the self-congratulatory mocking? The Onion is making a point, as it often does, by carrying an idea to a logical extreme. No one thinks, for example, that the death of someone's husband is funny.

We understand why trigger words are triggery. But that doesn't mean the solution is to make them socially unacceptable or illegal. I believe the opposite: the more forbidden a word is, the greater its power. See what happens to "Nazi" in Germany, where the word and its symbols are banned.* Or compare the people who say "the n-word" rather than "nigger." In the first camp, you get people who want to ban Mark Twain. In the second, you get great thinkers like Lenny Bruce, Aaron McGruder, and Dick Gregory (who titled his autobiography Nigger and told his mother, "Whenever you hear the word Nigger, you’ll know they're advertising my book.")

People like me are sorry that words are triggery. But replacing those words is not the solution.

I'll let Lenny Bruce have the last word: "The point? That the word's suppression gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness. If President Kennedy got on television and said, "Tonight I'd like to introduce the niggers in my cabinet,: and he yelled "niggerniggerniggerniggerniggerniggergigger" at every nigger he saw, "boogeyboogeyboogeyboogeyboogey, niggerniggerniggernigger" till nigger didn't mean anything any more, till nigger lost its meaning-- you'd never make any four-year-old "nigger" cry when he came home from school."

*ETA: Censorship in Germany isn't quite as simplistic as that hasty sentence implies. Context is taken into consideration. See:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship_in_the_Federal_Republic_of_Germany#National_Socialism_and_Holocaust_denial

But it's still censorship, and it makes people feel powerful when they embrace the forbidden.