By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
A COUPLE OF YEARS ago rumours began to spread that students on American campuses were demanding “trigger warnings” about books they may find offensive (see my Fortnightly article).
Now it appears this insidious nannying culture of trigger warnings has already arrived — not so much at British universities (though that will be inevitable) but in the hallowed and righteous halls of the broadcast media. There used to be a thing called the watershed at nine o’clock, after which time more adult material could be shown. We didn’t need to be given explicit warnings about filth and violence.
That hasn’t proved enough for the broadcasting nannies, however, so now before nearly every programme we have to be warned by some patronising voice that it “contains strong language and scenes of a violent nature that some viewers may find upsetting.” Oh boo-hoo, it’s a crime series, there will be bodies and blood — what are we to expect? For years we’ve been used to them appending Nanny’s voice to the end of various programmes offering us routes to counselling if we “have been affected by issues” brought up in what we’ve just watched. Might as well have her doing the same at the beginning.
WE’RE BEING TREATED like children but at the same time we’re being fed most unchildlike fare — strong language and visions of gory violence. Imagine broadcasting the kind of programme loathed by Mary Whitehouse only to have her pop up before and after, offering warnings and consolation. We have entered the era of depraved puritanism.
It’s enough to drive you to your safe space for a cuddle with your teddy bear and a suck of your thumb. What’s funniest is when they warn us about the strong language just before a foreign language film. Unless they translate the original Swedish, say, into something a bit more fulsome in English, most of us are not going to realise whether a character is effing and blinding or reciting lines of poetry by Tomas Transtromer.
The universities are not immune to the language corrupters and Cardiff Metropolitan University has come in for some stick from The Daily Mail for its ultra-PC Equal Opportunities Policy’s “inclusive” terminology requirements, since apparently revised. Words such as “housewife” and “mankind” are forbidden (though nothing would ever stop me from using them), as are “charwoman” and “Christian name”, neither of which has been in use for years. I’d put money on no student even knowing what charwoman means. We used to say “charlady”, anyway, which would be doubly offensive.
When it comes to sexuality all hell breaks loose. The most laughable example of contemporary ignorance, however, is the following: “These days the terms ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ seem laden with the values of a previous time. Referring to ‘same-sex’ and ‘other-sex’ relationships is a good option.” Given that homosexual actually means “same sex” and heterosexual means “other sex” I can only assume that the authors of this bilge have eschewed the use of the dictionary. And they ought to get out more: those “values of a previous time” are the ones that most people still hold.
To be fair to the university, though, I think it’s clear from the preamble that what they’re really concerned about is covering their backs in case some disgruntled student takes them to court for offending the left’s relentlessly self-refining definitions of sexual and cultural correctitude.
And while I’m at this language thing — what happened to the word “Easter” in Easter eggs? I noticed the other day in a nearby supermarket that none of the boxes built up in a great pile at the entrance featured the word. It sometimes turned up on the side or back as a grudging reference but none of the manufacturers (Aero, Cadbury’s, Mars) could bring themselves to call them Easter Eggs. “Eggs”, yes, but God forbid they should call them anything else, despite the fact that they are only selling them at this time of year — since it’s Easter. I presume they’ve done extensive market research to cover themselves against possible offence to certain groups. Don’t want to trigger anyone, do we? Everything now is presided over by the Trigger Nanny. Thank God they can’t do it with Christmas (though they would if they could get away with it): the frenzy of money-making is too firmly wedded to the word Christmas to be separated from it. For once God and Mammon are helping each other.
Currente Calamo columnist, poet, writer and lecturer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire . From 2005–2008 he was the Royal Literary Fund fellow at the University of Lincoln where he now teaches English Literature and Creative Writing. His poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent collection is Spyglass Over The Lagoon. A selection of his Fortnightly Currente Calamo columns, Sucks To Your Revolution: Annoying The Politically Correct (US), is available as a Kindle ebook.