Something Wicked This Way Comes & Why Writers Could Be in Great Danger

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Image courtesy of Raymond Brown via Flickr Creative Commons

Today, we are going to take a bit of a sideline from our acrostic. Over the holiday weekend, I was resting up from a nasty bout of bronchitis and puttering around Facebook. I’ve been long frustrated with this new culture of “Everyone’s a Winner.” Back in 2005, my young nephew was in soccer. I recall being horrified that everyone received a trophy.

What was the point for working harder? What gain did it give my nephew that I ran extra drills with him after school and off the practice field? He “won” the same trophy as the kid who showed for one game out of the season.

Trying is all that matters.


Deep. Never mind the TYPO. The person “tried.”

We see all over the news where schools are attempting to cancel Honors events because those kids who didn’t achieve honors “will be sad” because they are “left out.” We can’t honor the kids who traded video games or time with friends for extra work, far more difficult work.

We can’t reward those who sacrificed because those who didn’t might have their delicate sensitivities permanently bruised. We’re seeing flyers being sent home to parents that Field Day isn’t about winning, athleticism or competition and promising that “the urge to win will be kept to a minimum.”

In a world that lives and dies by competition, how is this healthy?

I can appreciate the desire to protect and shelter our young. I’m a mother. But life will not hand out trophies because of attendance. And this is all I’m going to say about that nonsense because it’s just the tip of the spear.

Sunday, I ran across something that chilled my blood. As writers we should be frightened of this new trend.

The Culture of “Special”

Yes, every person is a special unique snowflake. I wholeheartedly believe this. Every one of us is gifted with talents, drives, memories, passions that are uniquely ours. There will never be another YOU or another ME. WANA is dedicated to cultivating those gifts.

But, lately, this social disease of “Everyone is a Winner” has made me want to scream. Yes, everyone is given a set of gifts, but rewards are given based upon action. What do we DO with those gifts?

Showing up is the basest of requirements.

What I’m about to say might be unpopular, but I’m a writer not an Ad Man. Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics. Writers have always changed the world. Why? They were fearless enough to point out the unpopular. To shine a light on an ugly reality and maybe even extend some logic of how a social cancer might spread if left unchecked.

Something Wicked This Way Comes

There is a terrifying movement popping up in our universities. In my opinion, it’s the “shot across the bow,” the seed of the Thought Police.

If PC wasn’t bad enough, the new political flavor of “Everyone is so special they should never feel any discomfort” is Empathetic Correctness. According to a recent post in The Atlantic, Karen Swallow Prior explains:

While political correctness seeks to cultivate sensitivity outwardly on behalf of those historically marginalized and oppressed groups, empathetic correctness focuses inwardly toward the protection of individual sensitivities. Now, instead of challenging the status quo by demanding texts that question the comfort of the Western canon, students are demanding the status quo by refusing to read texts that challenge their own personal comfort.

I didn’t believe this when I read it and dug deeper and yes, this IS happening. Some of our most prestigious universities are calling for literature to be marked with “Trigger Warnings” to point out any areas a student might feel uncomfortable or traumatized.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 11.47.07 AM

In a New York Times article, Warning: The Literary Canon Could Make Students Squirm, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf and other literary staples are in the EC crosshairs. Issues like slavery, oppression, misogyny could be “traumatizing.” Such literature might make students and young minds “feel bad” and thus students should have the option of reading something less distressing.

*head desk*

I know The Diary of Anne Frank, Elie Wiesel’s NightThe Scarlet LetterThe Red Badge of Courage, To Kill a Mockingbird, 1984, Brave New World, Mrs. Dalloway, The Hours, and even The Hunger Games changed me. These works disturbed me, made me weep, and most of them made me more than a little angry.

But isn’t that the point?

My fiction isn’t about rainbows and unicorns and the world holding hands. I don’t write My Little Pony. I strive to write about regular (often innocent) people thrust into the bowels of darkness who through sheer force of their humanity confront evil, grow into heroes and WIN.

I even write works that challenge what we believe about our world or ourselves. What are we capable of under the right circumstances? My short story Dandelion is raw, viscous and utterly heartbreaking.

It was meant to be.

The High Cost of “Higher” Education

Higher education is supposed to expose students to other people with differing beliefs, ideas, and opinions…and live to tell the tale. Perhaps they might even learn to think critically instead of parroting. Heck, maybe they’ll even realize they’re really blessed and that there are plenty of people on the planet who’d gladly trade places and not B%*$# that the wi-fi is slow.

That is a mark of becoming an ADULT.

When I attended TCU, one of my closest friends was a refugee from Uganda who fled to the US for asylum after her father (a teacher) was brutally executed during a regime change. My other best friend’s family lived in a Palestinian refugee camp in Damascus, Syria (where I went to briefly live after college).

My university exposed me to the brutality of the “real world” and made me angry enough to want to change it. So this white girl with blonde hair and a big mouth hopped a plane to the Middle East instead of Cabo San Lucas the day after graduation.

I traded a tan on a beach for a hijab. I wanted to understand even when it scared me half to death. I wanted to see if someone like me might make even a little bit of difference. To at least try.

Maybe we are offended or traumatized, but maybe we should be. Perhaps that’s what is going so wrong.

And to add an increasing burden to teachers, exactly how are they suppose to thread the needle between PC and EC?

As Chester E. Finn, Jr. points out in a recent post in Politico Magazine:

Does the history professor refrain from mentioning that Hitler killed homosexuals as well as Jews? Does the English teacher shun James Baldwin and George Eliot because one was gay and the other was a woman using a man’s name? Avoid Toni Morrison because one of her books includes a rape scene? Not teach astronomy because just two of the 23 best-known constellations are recognizably female?

Writer Beware

I suspect why this is so disturbing to me is right now there is pushback. But what about in ten years or twenty?

Orwell predicted a world where thoughts would be controlled, and we laughed. Should we be laughing now? Alduous Huxley predicted we’d eventually live in a world driven by the Orgie Porgie Feelies of the Centrifugal Bumblepuppy. Pillars of truth would be buried under mountains of meaningless. All that would matter is “feeling good” even if there was no depth or substance. The human spark would snuff out since we only find our greatness in the crucible.

I’m not laughing.

And I suppose why I bring this up is what is the long-tail of this thinking? Years ago, I blogged about the dangers of Amazon and their strong-arm tactics. It was a level post praising Amazon but also cautioning what could happen if we failed to appreciate their past business behavior (and more than a few people called me a nut). Yet, lately it seems so many people are surprised that BUY Buttons can disappear. And this is Amazon’s business and not really my point.

My point is this: In a virtual world, books are “allowed” to exist.

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 9.23.02 PM

Let’s take Amazon out of this and let’s speculate that another business comes along and uses Amazon’s business model and improves upon it. Fluffy Fairy Dreams takes over and does it better…and embraces EC.

What “warning labels” would be on your books or mine? With enough political pressure, could our writing disappear? If universities press down this path of making everyone happy and comfortable, will there be generations who no longer remember works like Huckleberry Finn or The Merchant of Venice? Or find them so “distasteful” the BUY buttons vanish?

We no longer need to burn books when we can just “delete” them. 

I know today’s post is disturbing. It was meant to be. Maybe it should have come with a warning label 😉 . Yet, the duty of bloggers (who are a form of journalist) and writers is to start the conversation. This Brave New World scares me. Yes, The Digital Age of Publishing is wonderful. Works nearly driven to extinction by the print paradigm are springing back to life. Writers can reach new audiences and emerging markets abound.

But we must remain vigilant. Who would have thought in 1980 we’d take pictures with our phone? What was laughable then is now commonplace. If we scoff at the idea that books can vanish…?

What are your thoughts? By the way, I never mind anyone disagreeing with me so long as the disagreement is respectful. Maybe I do need a tin foil hat. I’ll own that. But, maybe I don’t.

What warning labels would be attached to your writing? Did you find healing from past trauma through literature? Maybe realizing you weren’t alone? Are you writing on a delicate subject hoping to encourage a dialogue, understanding or catharsis? What do you think about this trend of being “empathetically correct”?

I LOVE hearing from you!

To prove it and show my love, for the month of MAY, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly. I will pick a winner once a month and it will be a critique of the first 20 pages of your novel, or your query letter, or your synopsis (5 pages or less).

If you need help building a brand, social media platform, please check out my latest best-selling book, Rise of the Machines—Human Authors in a Digital World.




11 pings

Skip to comment form

  1. Most of my writing is aimed at making people smile or laugh, but I can honestly say that I write because of the disturbing and thought-provoking things I’ve read in the past. Starting with mild Agatha Christie murders and mysteries when I was a pre-teen to Edgar Cayce and his dire predictions of the future to Stephen King and his horrifying depictions of evil, I learned the joy of being able to close a book on something and the evil ends (well, except for the nightmares ;)). What you’ve described here is an insidious evil that won’t end. Writers have to be free to write whatever they feel compelled to write. Demanding that everything be “fluffy happy dreams” is just wrong.

    Demanding that every child receive a trophy is just wrong. How can a parent possibly teach a child to work harder if everyone is awarded? I spend a lot of time talking to children about my disabled cat and the “Betty Tales” book. My message? Anything, any goal worth achieving, demands hard work to get there–and its worth it. I won’t stop teaching it and I won’t stop buying the books that make me think.

  2. I, too, am aware of this trend and it is frightening! Although I am not a “published” author…yet…I work to tell good stories and sometimes to point out the flaws in humanity and human nature. What are people other than individuals who have problems and who usually solve them? However, the trend is growing that, if you even *have* a problem there is something undefinably wrong with you. I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said.

  3. Great post. I also hate the “everyone’s a winner” mentality. We, as a society, need to think further than the next 5 minutes.

    Some food for thought: When my daughter wanted to try out for cheerleading in 6th grade, I let her. She didn’t make it. And that was OK. She was disappointed and hurt and frustrated. But she evaluated her talents, realized that she was musically inclined, and found her niche with band. Would she have done that if EVERYONE “made” cheerleader? I think not making it was good for her – it helped her figure out who she was.

    And kudos to you for pushing the envelope and setting an example for us and the Spawn.

  4. I actually don’t mind trigger warnings. I work designing mental health facilities, and sometimes the warnings are justified. PTSD is a very real phenomenon. But the catch is, there are triggers everywhere. Smells, images, buildings can trigger PTSD. Having said that, the reason I appreciate trigger warnings at the university level, is for the same reason I appreciate reading back-covers. I like knowing what’s being taught. If it’s something I disagree with (like having to stomach Freud) at least I know in advance he has a particularly disagreeable point of view on women. I like being warned in advance that there are graphic images for things being shown, because then I don’t have to go through the shock of revulsion, I can simply be educated on that particular topic, without feeling like I have to leave the room to regain control of my emotions. And besides, it’s really so the professors won’t be sued by showing anything that might be uncomfortable.

    1. But if the point of the university is to be uncomfortable. How are they going to take on Putin, China, ethnic cleansing, child abuse, neglect, alcoholism, bankruptcy, divorce, failure? These are the leaders of tomorrow. Will Iran offer a trigger warning? And I suppose the disturbing part is it starts out as a benign little warning label. What is the extension and progression of this? And frankly, why should a student be allowed to sue for being offended for being made uncomfortable? In a world where people are starving and dying and being enslaved, we are suing because our feelings are hurt?

      1. I’m not saying they shouldn’t present things that are uncomfortable. Otherwise the topics wouldn’t get covered. But saying at the beginning of a lecture that a film being shown includes a rape scene can help people mentally prepare for the film.

        1. Yeah, but I don’t have a beef with that. The part that bugged me was they could opt out for something “less distressing.” Slippery slope. And to be blunt, life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. Life is about getting gut punched and enduring. Death, job loss, divorce, addiction, etc.

          1. Very true. I agree that it shouldn’t be replaced with anything less distressing or easy.

  5. Kristen–you DO NOT need a tin foil hat. Being an adult is wanting a happy ending and knowing that you may get something wonderful, but it will probably not be a happy ending…not the My Little Pony kind, anyway. I never write perfectly happy endings. They are not life. We were made to strive for something more than we usually get, but life is the striving. Our writing needs to honor that.

  6. I do think the whole EC/PC thing is way out of hand. Although I have no problem with a teacher explaining that a book they will study has material that may disturb some people–as long as that does not then excuse a student from reading the book. People who have experienced rape and abuse or suicide or murder may need the warning in order to mentally prepare for reading the material. But I draw the line at saying, “This material might disturb your long-held beliefs in the way the world works, so you don’t have to read it.” That is, in fact, the very reason you SHOULD read it. Chew on new ideas and then decide for yourself what you believe. That’s what education is all about. In my novel that’s coming out next year, I deal with what Kristen is talking about–a world where all books are electronic and controlled by the government. So nothing the government doesn’t like gets through. We need to be aware and alert and keep speaking out.

  7. AMEN, sister. Couldn’t have said this all better myself.

  8. I had this experience in college as well. I studied hard, worked my tail off, and often kids were given the same grade or complained when I messed up the curve by actually studying. It’s so frustrating. And it’s bad for society. It’s important for us to read things that make us think! Thanks for this!

    1. I actually had a couple of fellow students lash out because I wouldn’t discuss my term paper with them. Sorry, if you don’t understand what is being taught or don’t feel like thinking for yourself, I am not obligated to help you.

  9. I can understand your concern and it looks as if EC is a pretty bad idea. But I doubt if it will spread world-wide. So your more discerning students may end up having to study abroad – which is expensive and means only the rich can do it – which creates yet another political/social problem.

  10. Though I didn’t know it was called “empathetic correctness,” I heard about this curriculum trend (some schools shielding high school and college ?! students from books/materials that might make them uncomfortable) last week on NPR, and it made my blood run cold.

    Isn’t the whole point of studying literature to make us think? To learn about places and experiences different from our own? Isn’t a big point of education to study tragedies real and fictionalized, in the hopes of preventing repeats? To create empathy for people different from ourselves? To learn that we’re not so different after all?

    I don’t have older kids, and I certainly protect my four-year-old from certain adult themes, particularly violence.

    But by the teen years, I think it’s more than reasonable that we expect students to grapple with uncomfortable subjects. What’s next? Shall we gloss over history class?

    I’m an optimist, and I don’t think we’re at the point where we should worry about books vanishing. I’m hopeful that rational brains will prevail and university faculties will dig in and soundly reject this trend of sanitizing literature.

    After all, books without conflict tend to be dull, and if you take away the controversies stirred by great novels, professors will have less material to teach.

  11. Reblogged this on An Author in the Works and commented:
    Liked this blog. It’s something that niggles at the back of my mind a lot…thought provoking read. 🙂

    • gloriarepp on May 27, 2014 at 1:09 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent article. Thank you for your courage — and please keep writing.

  12. Wonderful, wonderful post. I totally agree with you, I don’t think this trend is helping anybody and could be incredibly dangerous. This is actually one of the reasons I’ve become such a big fan of the YA genre lately. You mentioned Hunger Games, and I think its writers in YA (Like John Green and Laurie Halse Anderson) who are not afraid to get dark and intense and gritty.

  13. The best book I have ever read on the emotional flat lining of a university education is “Closing of the American Mind” by Allan Bloom. Written in 1987, note the subtitle: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Ask a citizen of any other country in this world what it means if “everybody wins” and you will not sleep until challenge is brought back into the lives of our children, our young people, and those who lead us.

  14. Kristen, I’m not sure who offends me more. Is it the prejudiced, half illiterate who embarrasses even his mother? Or, is it the person who presumes to know what is best for me and lies to herself that she does not notice our differences? Both kinds of people destroyed my culture and tried to eradicate my heritage. I wish there was a third way, but there never has been. Silent

  15. Yes, yes, YES! I read that article in The Atlantic and have been discussing this in my own circles. It is DEEPLY disturbing to think of how little people want to be challenged. Without books that made me angry, I would be completely self-absorbed and self-concerned. You know–the type of person so consumed with self that they go shoot up schools and theaters. How can we develop empathy if we never look beyond ourselves? A pox on the thought police!!!!

  16. WOW! Thought provoking post, Kristen. I agree that codling our high school/college students who will be our future leaders will in no way prepare them for the real world. Your response to Heather said it perfectly.

    • Betty on May 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm
    • Reply

    Bone chilling prophecy, I mean reading.

    Betty Dobson


  17. Definitely in my top ten blog posts of the year so far. We’ve become a soundbite society, unwilling to do the hard work (thinking) needed to make solid decisions. Thanks for sharing!

  18. I’ve never really correlated this kind of thinking with how it could affect my writing career (and thanks for pointing that out because I hate being in the dark!) but I’m one of the many people who grit their teeth and start twitching maniacally every time this kind of stuff comes up. The first time I read about the school who took the BALL away from a soccer game so that the kids couldn’t actually tell who was winning or losing, I nearly threw up on my computer. The more that we “protect” people (especially kids) from EVER having to feel anything other than PERFECTSUNSHINEHAPPY!, the more we create people who can’t handle it when their feelings ARE hurt. Teach a kid that it is their right to feel happy and accepted and comfortable and perfect ALL THE TIME, and we wind up with people like that crazy kid who killed a bunch of girls because they wouldn’t have sex with him.

    And that’s where I’m going to leave this comment because I could totally rant about this kind of thing all night. >.<

  19. Reblogged this on A Beautiful Fiction and commented:
    If you read, educate, are going to school, or have a pulse, this post is worth your time.

  20. Yeah, PC/EC is not about respect. It isn’t. If we were being respectful we would allow others their opinions without degrading or shaming them into recanting. Respect is about listening, understanding, and, if we disagree, persuading someone to change their minds. What we experience today is about destroying independent thought. I’m sick of hearing about people who are told they are wrong and have to behave, speak, or think a certain way. Societies greatest moments were not experienced by people who thought about the sensitivities of others or fairness. It was about doing something worth talking about, making others uncomfortable in the hopes that they would think. And the greatest of achievements are born out of opposition! I mean I could go on about EC/PC crap. It honestly infuriates me. I’m glad to see that you addressed this topic though, Kristen! Thank you!

  21. Reblogged this on The BiaLog and commented:
    Awesome post!

  22. Awesome post! There’s something seriously wrong with the way things are heading.

    • Anni on May 27, 2014 at 1:25 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you bring up a tremendously important issue, but I would like to point out that these requests for trigger warnings have come from students and are (to my knowledge) not supported by academics. The New York Times story you’ve linked to illustrates this important distinction, so I wouldn’t say it’s the prestigious universities doing this as much as (some of) their students. I hope the debate that has followed has turned some of those kids’ heads.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you on harmfulness of the Everyone Is A Winner mentality.

    1. Perhaps. But the professors of today won’t live forever. What happens when these guys become teachers and politicians?

        • Anni on May 27, 2014 at 2:07 pm
        • Reply

        Well, I’m hopeful that some of them will question this mindset as they start to understand why these books are read and these painful topics discussed, and some future teachers and politicians will not have shared these views in the first place. I am being optimistic and hopeful, of course – I think it is extremely important that we keep talking about this and recognize this tendency to avoid difficult, unpleasant topics which should be examined openly and honestly.

  23. This is why I refuse to curve exams or let students simply do extra credit work because they failed a class. I worked by butt off in college and I demand the same of my students now that I’m a professor. It amazes me how much students expect to just be handed a passing grade *shakes head* Gee, I wish I could be given my monthly paycheck without having to earn it first 😉

  24. Kristen, I’m boggled by this EC idea–and I thought PC was bad enough. I am writing a memoir that not one of these special snowflakes will be able to read, rife as it is with rape, abuse, and neglect.

    I suppose that it will still help me to write it, but damn it, I am also writing it to help the next person who wonders if it was her (or his) fault that rape happened, or whether she/he wasn’t worthy of being taken care of at 2 years old.

    Thanks for writing this post, Kristen, especially since now I’m so hopping mad I may just prowl my ivied halls snarling.

  25. When it comes to providing and spreading information the internet is greater than all that came before it. Too, when it comes to the potential for controlling and manipulating information the internet is the greatest tool in history. Yes, let us store all knowledge on the cloud, it’ll be great…so easy. Then one morning we’ll awaken to a sunny, cloudless day. What then? In the 2000s I was told banks “couldn’t” crash…the ’29 disaster initiated the controls that made that impossible. DON”T anyone tell me about impossible.

  26. You are preaching to the choir here! I agree wholeheartedly. I HATE this “Everybody’s a Winner” new deal. They won’t even rank our kids at the Junior High, because it promotes bad feelings. Heck, I want to know how much harder we have to work in HS. It’s nuts.

    Thank you for you post. Thank you for saying all this. I will be on the lookout for this kind of censorship.

    It is all too possible and could come to pass.

    On the flip side on the revolution of self-publishing, I have a bit of pinch that it’s an everybody wins mentality here, too. Writers rush to publish so they can be called “published authors. Writers blame bad algorithms on their books not being a success. We’re all really winners. It is my hope (and many blogs, yours included) have assured us that the cream will rise to the top. I hope so, and I hope when it does it will not need labels 🙂

    • Melinda Primrose on May 27, 2014 at 1:29 pm
    • Reply

    I think you’re spot on with this! Making books of the past PC outrages me, but to then make them EC is more than I can stand. If all books had to be PC and EC, we’d end up with everyone living happy simple uncomplicated lives. There would be no mysteries because of the violence in them. Same with suspense novels. There would be no happily ever afters because it might hurt the feelings of someone who didn’t get theirs.
    It would end up mmarginalizing a new group of people. I don’t think anyone would be able to connect or identify with characters in these kinds of books. Empathsizing with characters is so important. Readers get to walk that proverbial mile in someone else’s shoes. It’s importan because it makes people realize that they are not the only ones who have gone through the things they have. EC would only isolate everyone, in my opinion.
    Now, the question is, how do we stop this from actually happening. I’m hoping at the university level, more rational heads will prevail. I know I will be doing my part with my child and encouraging her to read books that challenge her ideas.

  27. Kristen–as a writer of science fiction, I think it’s important to investigate and interrogate the human condition–to attempt to portray what’s wrong–and right–with real-world humanity and imaginatively build a vision of a better world. Doing this necessarily may mean making some people uncomfortable. In my novel “Annah”, there are themes of racism, arranged marriage, interracial (and interspecies) marriage, and the overarching theme that all life is one, no matter our artificially imposed divisions. I’d always thought that might get me in trouble…so far it hasn’t. But I think fiction isn’t worth much if we don’t use the tools of imagination to dissect, diagnose and heal our real, living world.

    • Chris on May 27, 2014 at 1:32 pm
    • Reply

    Completely agree with you. The “It’s not your fault” culture we have created is, I feel, the root cause of most of the problems in this country. People need to teach their children that hard work is its own reward and that nothing in life is guaranteed. And if you find something offensive, that is okay.

  28. Kristen, your arguments are so well supported and you always seem to create a stirring in me, like I feel an uprising coming and I should get out my placard and walking shoes!

    I mirror your concerns, and wonder what you think of the seeming social-acceptance of ‘tweeting’ all of the most cruel, crude and ignorant things on our minds, the You-Tubing of dangerous stunts, racist, violet and misogynist rants and music videos, and the proliferation of distasteful ‘reality’ TV shows….which are all gaining in notoriety at the same time that our education systems are fighting for EC??

    I often argue that a pendulum swung too far in one direction will have devastating effects as it swings back in the opposite direction…but I am stumped at the moment by a pendulum pulled in both directions at once…what happens then? What does the crash look like when they both fall out of popularity and ultimately collide in the middle?

    1. Perhaps when the extremes collide in the middle, it will look like sanity.

  29. Gah! Sometimes life kicks you in the teeth and you just have to stand up, wipe the blood off your chin, and hit back. Any university embracing the idea that students should be offered “less distressing” content is doing a gross disservice to those students and our future. And the students should be offended by the idea that they’re too delicate to deal with life. The world is as brutal as it is beautiful.
    (And now you’ve got me thinking about the “warning labels” that I’ve added to my books’ marketing descriptions. Are they necessary? I’m not marketing them to children, so why do I feel the need to warn adults that there’s sex, violence, and cussing between those pages? Something I’m going to take a close look at. Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Kristen.)

    • lesedgerton on May 27, 2014 at 1:43 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen, you have written many great blogs, but this is far and away the best ever. I applaud you.

    1. Les, your books need warning labels, you insensitive jerk :P. LOVE YOU!

  30. If it’s a consolation (and I realise it might not be for you folks over in the US of A) there is zero chance of literature courses in the UK ceasing to look at books with challenging or counter-social themes. Academics who teach literature here are well aware of the importance and value of contextualising stuff and looking at much more complex webs of cause and effect than just ‘it makes me unhappy’.

    But there is an interesting thing I come across in historical fiction (which I write as well as read), in which there seems to be a need in some readers / reviewers for what you might call the ‘voice of modernity’. So it’s OK to talk about, say, slavery in ancient Rome, so long as at least one of your main characters is revolted by the idea and wants to change it. Similarly for things like women’s issues, war and other things too.

    Now of course one reason many of us read and write historical fiction is precisely because there is a sense of timeless values, but this need for the ‘voice of modernity’ is a real threat to attempts to remain authentic to a past era.

    1. Talk about insecure… What kind of people need a character in a book to reassure them that their ‘beliefs’ are correct?

  31. Does that mean they’re going to start censoring real life so as not to offend anyone?

  32. Yeah, I get it. The world is becoming homogenized. We are being force feed a steady diet of “good enough” and “that’ll do.”

    But the fact that you get to rage against it keeps me hopeful. For every story I hear about how field day is no longer going to be about competition, I read two that are lambasting (wouldn’t LAMBasting be a good name for one of your series?!? Seriously.) the idea.

    As soon as I read your post I took a look at the YA section of the NYT bestseller list:

    1. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, by John Green. (Penguin Group.) A 16-year-old heroine faces the medical realities of cancer. (Ages 14 and up) 77 weeks
    2. LOOKING FOR ALASKA, by John Green. (Penguin Group.) A boy seeking excitement finds that and more when he meets a girl named Alaska. (Ages 14 to 17) 77 weeks
    3. THE BOOK THIEF, by Markus Zusak. (Knopf Doubleday Publishing.) A girl saves books from Nazi burning; now a movie. (Ages 14 and up) 76 weeks
    4. PAPER TOWNS, by John Green. (Penguin Group.) After a night of mischief, the girl Quentin loves disappears. (Ages 14 and up) 63 weeks
    5. IF I STAY, by Gayle Forman. (Penguin Group.) A young cellist falls into a coma. (Ages 12 and up) 7 weeks
    6. WE WERE LIARS, by E. Lockhart. (Delacorte Press.) Four friends decamp to a private island off Martha’s Vineyard. (Ages 12 and up) 1 week
    7. AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, by John Green. (Penguin Group.) Colin Singleton wants to break the pattern of being dumped. (Ages 12 and up) 36 weeks
    8. MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN, by Ransom Riggs. (Quirk Books.) An island, an abandoned orphanage and a collection of curious photographs. (Ages 12 and up) 53 weeks
    9. THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, by Jay Asher. (Penguin Group.) Before she commits suicide, a girl sends recordings to 13 people. (Ages 12 and up) 42 weeks
    10. ELEANOR AND PARK, by Rainbow Rowell. (St. Martin’s Press.) The world opposes the love of two outcast teenagers. (Ages 14 to 18) 24 weeks

    Not a one of these titles strikes me as light and fluffy reading. This is some major drama….heartwrenching even. That’s what keeps me heartened. The bestselling books for these kids who have been patted on the head and handed a trophy will make them take a good long look at their life.

    Leanne Ross ( & @LeanneRossRF )

    1. I agree that today we are blessed, but we MUST remain vigilant if we want sanity to prevail. The road to mediocrity is gently sloping with no clear markers or signs.

  33. Kristen, I have struggled long and hard with this as a writer. I don’t think the issue is making people uncomfortable by the way – it is to do with enabling students to prepare themselves for things that could cause PTSD symptoms. I write a lot of fiction that involves suicide. My best friend tried to kill herself four times, and she was passionate that a sympathetic, uncensored discussion of suicide that did not say “don’t do it, kids” but dealt head-on with what it is like should be had. Much of my writing has taken on her wishes and seeks to reach out a hand to those who are looking over the edge but refuses to judge them or “talk them down.”

    Now, on the one hand, I am passionate that these voices be heard, that honest writing about suicide that refuses to label is available. On the other hand, I am aware that the kind of honesty this involves runs a genuine risk of triggering behaviour in those whose vulnerability is one of suggestibility – suicide charities in the UK specifically outline potential triggers in their guidelines, triggers which are there in my writing.

    I felt when I brought the book out that whichever way I chose I would be unhappy – if I trigger warned, I would be implicitly diminishing her voice, potentially deepening aloneness and despair and endangering lives. If I failed to, I would be placing other lives potentially at risk. I reached a decision. I did not put warnings on my book. I fully accept that I may have been very wrong.

    What bothers me most about this debate, I think, is the glibness I sometimes see. It doesn’t bother me if writers dismiss trigger warnings. It does bother me when they seem to think there is no question. There really is a question. A very serious question about a real life responsibility to our readers.

    1. Life doesn’t come with trigger warnings. My father’s sudden death, a family member’s attempted suicide, being homeless, losing my job, my husband getting orders to deploy to Afghanistan didn’t come with trigger warnings.

      If someone has PTSD that badly, then perhaps the university campus isn’t a good place to be. I am not glib, but this mollycoddling is dangerous. And frankly, if we read the back of Elie Wiesel’s “Night” we know it’s about the Jews in Nazi Germany. Do we really need a warning label?

      The university is to prepare our kids to be adults. The IRS doesn’t give me a “Trigger Warning” with my tax forms. That isn’t life. And while I can appreciate PTSD having had it myself after my father’s sudden death on the phone with ME (and then four tragic deaths after in the same year), this is just getting absurd.

    • Patty H. on May 27, 2014 at 2:02 pm
    • Reply

    I really dislike that we are so afraid to let our children learn through action (or non-action) and reaction. I tell my kids, “Choose your consequences.” Most of the time in life, you get back what you give out: hard work = good grade. Failure is a great (but sucky) learning opportunity. On the other topic, I had a discussion recently with my 16 year old son’s buddy. He said, “Hitler would never get away with what he did today.” I was agog. He had no idea that genocide occurs today, not did he have a clue that Hitler’s power started with small oppressions (like taking away a ‘buy’ button). We need to tell history–the good and the bad–so we can recognize when we are being oppressed. I’m not worried about it hurting my kid’s feelings to see the horror–I’m worried about it hurting his life.

  34. It’s also, unfortunately, the same kind of bullshit that helps grow narcissistic, sociopathic, entitlement-minded little f*ckers like that one that just massacred innocent people in California. They showed one of his “videos” on TV and I wanted to reach through the screen (and beyond the grave) and beat the snot out of that little goddamned punk and tell him to f*cking grow the f*ck up. Maybe if he’d had to WORK for a living and EARN everything the hard way, instead of being given shit just for breathing, he wouldn’t have made the news. Maybe not, maybe he was just batcrap crazy in a bad way. I don’t know.

    My son was born with spina bifida. When he was little, sure, I went easy on him in some ways. He couldn’t walk and we knew he’d be spending his life in a wheelchair. But age- and ability-appropriately, we started pushing him. Nudging him. People would think we were “mean” for making him do stuff for himself. But you know what? He’s 18 and he received his Eagle Scout ranking last year. He EARNED it. He worked his wheelchair-rolling ASS off for it. He’s also an athlete and currently still holds one record in swimming in his division. At the time he first did it (he was 10 or 11 at the time), he was the youngest wheelchair racer to compete in a local (and nationally known) 15k race. He’d been competing in their 5k for a couple of years at that point already.

    Now what does he do? He mentors other kids who are adaptive-sport athletes. He doesn’t cut them any slack, either. He pushes them to work the hardest and do the best. If it isn’t enough, well, then it isn’t enough, but they won’t win medals or qualify for nationals if it’s not enough.

    Fundraising for equipment always made my eye twitch. Because he’s on medicare and let me tell you what, they do NOT pay for things like racing wheelchairs, throwing chairs, and the expense of having to drive your ass across the country to get to one of the events. People would say, “Oh, I contribute to Special Olympics.” (And NOTHING against S.O., mind you, it’s a great organization.)

    I’d have to THEN explain that no, my son was in the same national juniors program that fed into the Paralympic system.

    As in, OLYMPIANS. US Olympics. And that if they didn’t qualify in regional events, they didn’t GET to compete in nationals. And that kids were routinely disqualified in events if they violated a rule (like straying out of their lane on track, throwing an implement out of bounds on field, improper turn or touch in swimming, etc). Some people were even horrified that they’d disqualify disabled kids.

    Um, it’s called LIFE. And I’ve seen what kind of spoiled brats some disabled kids turn into when their parents and family DON’T push them to strive to be the best and work the hardest. They turn into entailed-minded little whiners who never reach their full potential and never take personal responsibility for anything that happens to them when it frequently is their own darn fault, because all their lives, they were told, “Oh, it’s okay.”

    No, it’s NOT okay.

    My son, at one time, was on a juniors team with one of our Team USA gold medalists from the sled hockey team that participated in Sochi.

    A few years back, one of the youth coaches from a different team at the time was featured in the movie “Murderball.” (Wheelchair rugby, also a Paralympic sport.) My son was ecstatic the next time he saw him.

    When my son was years younger, he was INVITED to Paralympic training camps.

    You don’t get a pat on the back for just showing up.

    At one camp, the elevator in the dorm building broke down. One of the Paralympic athletes, also in a wheelchair, taught my son how to go down stairs BACKWARD in his chair.

    It was that, or miss the next workshop.

    You want to get ahead in this world, then just showing up ain’t gonna cut it. The world doesn’t owe anyone SH*T. And AMEN to you for this post, because I’m SICK AND TIRED of writers wanting their egos stroked, and wanting to be told how good their self-published crap is, and then getting pissy when you point out that apostrophes are not to be used to indicate plurals.

    I WANT people to succeed. I LOVE a great success story. But if you want me cheering for you, then you need to be working your ass off, because my son is my hero. If he can figure out how to make something happen, then there are VERY few people–including myself–who I will cut any slack. And if you’re going to whine and NEVER do anything about getting better (we all deserve a whine-break every so often as long as we don’t STAY stuck there) then you don’t get any sympathy from me.

    Suck it up, buttercup.

    1. And I got on a roll and didn’t include my actual POINT. Sorry…

      It’s one thing to use keywords to classify a story. Whatever. But I have PTSD. I do not expect an author to pull punches in the books they write just so it doesn’t offend my sensibilities. (If you post an out-of-context excerpt, I would expect a little warning, tyvm.) I get that there are people who are worse off than I am with the extent of their issues.

      I. Get. That.

      I am NOT unsympathetic to that.

      HOWEVER. The world at large is NOT going to pull punches. (Katrina. Little f*cker in California last weekend. Earthquakes. Wars. Genocide. Crime. Kardashians.)

      You have to be able to figure out how to function in this world, with the good AND the bad. You have to figure out a way to work your way through it, because the problem is YOURS (mine, too) NOT everyone else’s. To dumb-down the world is farking STUPID. Literally.

      I graduated high school in the late 80’s. How the hell did we get to the point we are now in that short amount of time? We weren’t given good grades just for showing up. We had to work our asses off. (And we walked to school uphill, both ways, in three feet of snow…barefoot…)

      It’s time to learn yes, we ALL have baggage. We ALL have problems. You know what? Adapt, improvise, overcome. Get help if you need it, figure out how to get through it to the other end, because I guarandamntee you that I can find a handful of people without even trying who WISH they had your first-world problems and nothing else to worry about.

      Not to trivialize anyone’s problems, but seriously? SERIOUSLY? It’s called LIFE. And we ALL FARKING HAVE TO GET THROUGH IT. Deal with it.

      I do have to disagree with you. We are all NOT “special.” I think it’s that mentality that has gotten us to where we are. We ARE, however, unique.


      No. Not by a long shot. Not in the grand scheme of things, NONE of us are special. And if we expect the world to treat us that way, we are only doing ourselves a grave disservice.

  35. I went on a rant on Facebook after I read this. I totally agree with you on it. I feel like an old fogie who is saying “Back in my day…” but that’s the reality, it really was different back in the day. And I did put a warning in the front of my book that there is a rape scene in it. It’s not gratuitous, there is a big reason for it that will show up in later books, it furthers the storyline. But if I was to sit down and examine all the stuff I have in the books, I would have to make a whole chapter just about what someone might call uncomfortable and I refuse to do that.

    Love this blog entry and I’m sending it out to friends. THANK YOU!!!

      • Stephanie Scott on May 28, 2014 at 12:17 pm
      • Reply

      I’m contemplating all this; I agree with your choice to add a warning about a rape scene in the book and whatever explanation was helpful for readers to provide context. Though I do get the concern of where is the line? Do we only trigger for sexual violence and nothing else? And especially in the classroom, the decision to apply a warning and offer a different choice of reading material, that I’m not sure I follow. Ideally, I would hope that the classroom is a safe place to discuss those intense issues, though having gone through college myself, that’s obviously wishful thinking.

      I don’t know the answer here, though I think if authors themselves want to offer a trigger warning on their own work, I support that.

      1. Having gone through a few scenarios which would cause “triggers,” I personally find that it is the sexual assault scenes which cause the problems for me in books and TV/movies. Robbery, identity theft, miscarriage, death of my spouse – those are things which caused me issues the first year, maybe two, but I was able to work through them after that, partly thanks to good literature (not one for therapy). I still have a hard time hearing a code blue called at work almost twenty years after my husband died, but in fiction I can handle it. But rape? I have a time travel series on my kindle which is really good. Unfortunately, I hit a scene set sometime maybe 1000BC, where there was a war, with accompanying spoils of war, including women. Unfortunately, the scene was too graphic for me to deal with, and I have yet to finish the rest of the book. On the other hand, I loved the Kill Bill movies. I had a very difficult time during that certain scenes, but I was glad I stuck with it. I have wondered if I should attempt the Girl with the Dragon tattoo.

  36. Been reading these articles and having this debate and discussion with other writers on Facebook. Personally, I think it’s the next logical terrifying step beyond PC and toward fascism and thought control. I’ll loan you my spare tinfoil hat, if you need it.

    • Cris on May 27, 2014 at 2:10 pm
    • Reply

    I totally agree with you. I teach at a private school where emails about a kids’ self-esteem and emotional state are common. It’s scary. I have to mind their feelings even in my feedback/grading. Grades are fixed so often here. To make matters worse, the principal is the emotional sort who wants school to be more about fun than education. So, truly challenging texts are often discouraged and dissenting opinions are punished. As teachers we do the best we can (amidst administrative complaints that the reading for English isn’t “fun” enough), but it’s really disheartening. As a writer, I am striving to make my work something that challenges people. I write because I want to challenge the absence/portrayals of people of color in the genres that I love (sci-fi, mystery, romance, horror). That by definition is uncomfortable to many people. As a human, I want the challenges; they change my world. I would hate for the next generation to be feel-good zombies, but it looks like that’s where they’re headed…at least if they come through private school. 😉

    • Julia on May 27, 2014 at 2:13 pm
    • Reply

    Excellent post & points. It scares me, too!

  37. I don’t know if we should bury the time capsule full of “authentic” books quite yet. I refuse to believe there’s a future where the majority of readers want to read bland, uneventful fiction devoid of “uncomfortable situations.” What would be the point? This “EC” POV is a cycle, or rather, a phase. It won’t be tolerated for long, if at all. There are more books out there pushing the envelope than not. Authors may rise out of the “uncomfortable” places and situations of the world because of the innate human need to read “uncomfortable” stories. We are born voyeurs. I understand being disappointed in institutions that promote sameness. Revolutions and their rebels are always waiting in the shadows. Do not fear! They will emerge.

    • annerallen on May 27, 2014 at 2:19 pm
    • Reply

    There are kids living in war zones. Watching their houses blown up and their families murdered. But our little darlings shouldn’t have to know about it because it might upset them?

    They need to be upset! We are bringing them up to be narcissistic moral midgets. That little monster who rampaged in Santa Barbara this weekend thought he was entitled to everything he wanted. Because everything wasn’t handed to him, he felt entitled to murder anybody he saw. If he’d read a few “upsetting” books, maybe he’d have known that nobody gets a perfect life handed to him.

  38. Kristen, this is refreshing! I walked away from teaching high school because of the pressure to pass everyone was the message. Parents argued why their son or daughter was not passing when they were not doing the work or what they did manage to turn in was childish and off topic. I see EC as a fallout in the college world as making sure all students can be accepted (along with their enormous student loans to pay those inflated tuition and book bills). Failing students is a profit and loss proposition. As long as the student (customer) gets what he or she wants they will keep spending and when they finally find their way through the educational exercise after 5-6 years of undergrad and maybe 3-4 years of post grad work, because everyone says it is what they need, what does the student (customer) really have to show for it? A diploma like the Wizard of OZ gave to the Scarecrow, which magically made him full of wisdom so they can flip burgers or bag groceries after they leave campus. As a former football coach I remember parents coming to me to ask why “Johnny” was not playing, he done everything and never missed a practice. My response was usually something like this, “You son is a persistent, hard working young player and I admire him and that is why he is on the team, but he is 5’9″ and weighs 130 lbs soaking wet. In practice I can make sure he gets matched up against players that will help him without hurting him, but in the real game, they 6’4″ and 250 lbs. and do not care about your son’s safety. If you sign a waiver for me that removes me from responsibility to sending him into game like that then maybe…” I also have the parents who claim their son is the best on the team, but he never shows to practice but is always ready to go on game day, but he kicked off the team. Which would I rather have on my team? Give me the Johnny’s, at least he has heart and perseverance. To hell with EC! Sorry, you touched a hot button… Wish more like you could make a change before we are a country where mediocre is the new benchmark for success,

  39. Our leaders (corporations, politicians, the 1%) don’t want us to think. Thinking leads to realization and understanding and a desire to change things. The only change they want is for us to STFU and sit down. We are moving toward a world that chills me to the bone because I won’t have a place in that world. I am the enemy. Anyone who reads, writes, or discusses anything is the enemy.

  40. I’ve always been a proponent of ebooks, and always thought that most of the arguments against them were didn’t hold much water, but I must admit that the danger that, being electronic, they can simply be ‘removed’ from our world is kind of scary.

    Your comments made me think of the Kurt Vonnegut story ‘Harrison Bergeron’, where nobody is permitted to be ‘better’ than anyone else at anything – ballet dancers are forced to wear hideous masks and tie weights to their feet to prevent them from dancing too well. The result – the accomplishments of humanity sink to the lowest common denominator.

    I agree with you that censorship won’t necessarily be overt. In our electronic world, where everything is ‘virtual’, people might not even be aware it’s happening.

  41. You are so on point with pretty much your entire post. I wanted to comment especially on your education comments. I think that it can be just as harmful to those who are not winners to receive trophies as it is for those who are competitive. Why? Because those children will learn that they can half-a** something and still be awarded as fairly as someone else. It is building a culture of laziness. I have Dyslexia and while I was in grade school, I couldn’t read. My best friend back then was an avid reader and I wanted to be as good as her, if not better. Guess what. I just graduated from Florida State University with a BA in Editing, Writing, and Media with no records of my Dyslexia anywhere in my file, and with a membership and recognition in Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society! Its a shame that our world has become overly sensitive. The next generations will become more sheltered, and as a result, we will loose some of the great works of art. Romeo and Juliet was pretty much the only focus for my 9th grade English class. I can’t imagine that being gone. So many stories have been based off of that story plot. What if all are erased because they are considered crass or rude? We need to keep on bringing light to the importance of competition. There is such a thing as healthy competition, which results in more acceptance as a whole. I never realized how alive racism and other stereotypes were until I moved to Florida and gained more knowledge of the past. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird or stories by Toni Morrison teach us of a past that isn’t worth reliving. We can learn from this literature to grow our futures to a better tomorrow. Thank you for sharing (and sorry for the long comment!). (:

  42. Reblogged this on Live, Love, Laugh, Dance, Pray and commented:
    I left this comment on the post: You are so on point with pretty much your entire post. I wanted to comment especially on your education comments. I think that it can be just as harmful to those who are not winners to receive trophies as it is for those who are competitive. Why? Because those children will learn that they can half-a** something and still be awarded as fairly as someone else. It is building a culture of laziness. I have Dyslexia and while I was in grade school, I couldn’t read. My best friend back then was an avid reader and I wanted to be as good as her, if not better. Guess what. I just graduated from Florida State University with a BA in Editing, Writing, and Media with no records of my Dyslexia anywhere in my file, and with a membership and recognition in Sigma Tau Delta, the International English Honors Society! Its a shame that our world has become overly sensitive. The next generations will become more sheltered, and as a result, we will loose some of the great works of art. Romeo and Juliet was pretty much the only focus for my 9th grade English class. I can’t imagine that being gone. So many stories have been based off of that story plot. What if all are erased because they are considered crass or rude? We need to keep on bringing light to the importance of competition. There is such a thing as healthy competition, which results in more acceptance as a whole. I never realized how alive racism and other stereotypes were until I moved to Florida and gained more knowledge of the past. Books like To Kill a Mockingbird or stories by Toni Morrison teach us of a past that isn’t worth reliving. We can learn from this literature to grow our futures to a better tomorrow. Thank you for sharing (and sorry for the long comment!). (:
    But, I felt the need to reblog this too, after writing so much because it is important. I do believe that history can repeat itself when it comes to conflict. I’m not saying that it will happen exactly the same way, but we learn from our mistakes. Literature is a great way to teach of our past failures, mistakes, pains, as well as our successes! I get warning children under the age of 14 about sex in books. Please don’t let children that are 8 read some inappropriate stuff, but also be an adult about this. If you are in college and are easily offended by this stuff, you might as well leave because you are not willing to approach subjects with an educated view. Now, don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of times that I was disgusted by topics that my professors discussed because they bashed my personal believes, but they are also entitled to their opinions. And, if I never heard their opinions, how would I be able to share mine with someone who shared their views and be educated about it? Have you ever had an experience that dealt with overly sensitive people or topics?

  43. When I was in culinary school a teacher had a goat carcass brought in for butchering lessons and such. There was no warning. Girls cried and whined. Here’s the thing, you can’t become a chef without being willing to deal with the nasty part of the job. You will get cut, you will be burned, and you will have to deal with distasteful situations. This is the same as life everywhere.

    I never understood the mentality of people who think that every situation they will be in will give them warm fuzzies.

  44. Oh no, “empathetic correctness? Why am I not surprised. At this point, all I have to say is this whole mess is pathetic. This should easily finish the dumbing-down process. All I have to say is that my generation is a generation of destroyers. I’m sick of it.

    • Laurie A Will on May 27, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    • Reply

    I am not sure I believe that books will go away, but the digital age certainly will make it easier to sensor books and make it harder for people to buy. This would not surprise me. I seems ridiculous to me for everyone to win, and everyone’s feelings cannot be spared. It’s a nice idea, but when our kids get out in the real world there will be winners and losers. A company cannot give a job to every applicant. Not every boy or girl your child asks out are going to say yes. Not everyone at the company is going to get a promotion. What disturbs me most I think – and I saw this in last 1990’s when working on a graduate degree – is that parents no longer teach their children to think for themselves. We went around the classroom. The question was, have you ever questioned any of your parents’ beliefs? I was the only one that said, yes. In the end, I agreed with most of their beliefs, but I questioned everyone one. I thought it through for myself. My classmates didn’t bother. That scares me. In world where we don’t think for ourselves anything can and will happen. Because not questioning things, makes it easier for those who want to take away the ‘buy the book’ button.

  45. Wonderful post, and I agree. The true sense of accomplishment comes only if you worked long and hard for something, not if it was handed to you on a silver platter just because you showed up. Granted, happy feelings are good for us, but heartaches and disappointments and hard life lessons make us grow as individuals. How can we discover what we really love doing in life if we don’t have to work for it?

  46. America would not be the great nation it is without the inventors, the creators.
    And to invent, to create, we need to think outside of the box.
    A nation of robotic people won’t be able to invent better robots….

  47. The short story ‘Harrison Bergeron’ always stuck with me in school and I feel that’s basically the direction America’s heading.
    I think the answer is to reward action, like you said Kristen. The public schools don’t care about the children; they just want an easy way to treat every kid the same so they don’t have to deal with outliers.
    Would it be so hard to reward every child for something they actually DID? Or better yet, teach him to reward HIMSELF for his accomplishments. Who gives a shit what the school values as worthwhile?–we should be teaching our children to value themselves in their own eyes instead of to rely on some uncaring authority to bestow recognition.
    When I was a kid I went out for some sports–problem is, I suck out loud–and since I didn’t really care about sports, I didn’t practice. I think I placed 8th at my best event… So I saw others excelling around me, and I looked to stand out in other ways. So I tried to make people laugh.
    Once at the shotput, I was getting really frustrated seeing everybody’s puts fly farther than mine. I was having a particularly tough day–throwing even shorter than I usually did–and everyone else’s throws seemed to just fly WAY past mine, no matter what I did.
    So after two poor throws, I picked up the shot-put, wound up, leapt high into the air, and spiked the shortest throw I could without hitting the cement.
    It was less than two inches.
    Everybody laughed, and I worked out my frustrations. Plus, years from now, everyone at that track meet will have their medals and ribbons and no one will remember who got what place. But you can be damned sure they’ll remember my throw!
    Anyway, the point of my long anecdote is that I would never have had that kind of fun if I was going to get a medal no matter what I did. Being a loser at shotput helped me become the funniest guy at the track!

  48. Outstanding post! The only sentence I disagree with is this one: “Leave the propaganda to the bureaucrats and sheltered academics.” Believe me, the academics are howling about these disturbing trends too and praying that sanity reasserts itself. I am both a mystery writer and a teacher (who will continue to teach both Brave New World and 1984).

  49. Your use of Ray Bradbury’s quote in this respect is just perfect and poignant. It’s some pretty scary stuff, especially to someone who loves literature as I do. But it did make me realize something. While it wasn’t to the level you’re describing, I went to college at a time where it seemed all the professors wanted to depart from the usual Western canon and explore different, often more modern books. As a result, I haven’t read a lot of the classics one would expect an English major to have read. But now I’m discovering them when I’m older and more mature and much more likely to appreciate their profound impact. Would I have like to have read them in school? Yeah, of course. But it makes me realize that there’s plenty of fellow literary bibliophiles out there that will seek out what they hear so much about, perhaps even more eagerly because it wasn’t something they “had” to read.

    I might be an exception. It makes me sad to accept that I probably am. But, even if we’re a minority, there will always be bibliophiles. We will always be hungry for books and devour them with famished insatiability. And we are going to talk about the books we love, the books that left profound influences on it, and someone else might be curious and check it out. Human have loved literature for centuries; sometimes, the horizon seems a bit grim, but I don’t see that dying out any time soon. There might be blips, there might be this strange push against anything that offends or gets too deep, but there will always be a push back, too.

    1. L.S. – You’re not alone. Although I DID read a lot of the classic canon in high school and college, I also went on a “classics” binge a while ago. I read (and re-read) a lot of classics, and I am so glad I did!

  50. My books would carry a warning label for those who strive even though all the odds are stacked against them. My stories take people and strip away their comfort zone and they are forced to achieve or basically perish. Where heroes tread, the ordinary rise or vanish. In our society, currently, achievement is nearly a sin. My characters are sinners, in spades.

  51. Wow!
    And amen, sister!
    I now know what I’m blogging about tomorrow. Hope you won’t mind the link back to this incredible post and perhaps a few direct quotes.
    It just keeps snowballing. If we don’t get out in front of this with our shovels and ice picks, our children could be buried in a mindless reality.

  52. Reblogged this on everwalker.

  53. Your prognostications might be slightly shrill, but far worse, I fear; is that like many of our troubles, they will come true in such a slight way that only a few will recognize them, and even less will do anything about it. Perhaps the future hemorrhages plagues of subtle duplicity, powered by super computed intelligence in the hands of the fearful.

  54. You know, I had another thought–this debate has happened before. The Comics Code Authority caused people to worry that they would destroy comic books and I think the establishment of the MPAA (the guys who rate movies) caused some fear, and ESRB caused some worry about the videogame community.
    But what if authors arranged and agreed upon our own system?
    I think the MPAA ratings have worked pretty well–barring a few easily resolved problems–Indie authors could establish and agree upon a rating system–on their own honor, of course; no centralized committee who needs to review every book–that gives readers an idea of what to expect. It needn’t even be oriented toward reader age; it could be based purely around content, or gravity of subject.

    The heaviest of subjects–
    Explicit depictions of:
    Sexual Assault
    Torture or Gore

    Medium heavy Subjects–
    Explicit depictions of:
    Consensual Sex
    Drug use

    Medium Light Subjects–
    Themes of:
    Drug Use

    The Lightest Subjects
    Explicit depictions of:
    Boring Tea Parties
    Descriptions of The weather

    What do you guys think?

    1. I don’t mind a commercial rating system, but that’s different than institutionalized”trigger warnings” and an option to read material less “offensive”. In college I read a lot of stuff that offended me. That’s the point of higher education and why it differs from free time activities.

      1. I agree with you there–the only option not to read should be to take a different class or go to a different school.

  55. I wake up every day hoping to encounter disturbing ideas. Like all truly original thoughts they’re distressingly rare and as we age they become more so. The idea that the world is getting dumber and soon only morons will walk the Earth is itself an old and not particularly disturbing notion. I would be concerned if there was evidence the world is actually getting dumber but frankly it’s always been pretty dumb.

    You are right to be concerned with Amazon’s monopolistic behavior. It’s a rare entity that can resist throwing its weight around. The good news is that the pushback is already happening. Amazon has been my vendor of last resort for some time. They’re not as important as they think they are. I have also given up eBooks for some of reasons you and your commenters have noted. The idea of a corporation or government being able to “delete” a book from the shelves of my library is so abhorrent to me that I will not voluntarily put myself in such a position. Additionally, the idea of eBooks collecting “data” on my reading habits is a gigantic red-flag. In the Snowden era reverting to paper books for security is not paranoid it’s prudent.

    • lynettemirie on May 27, 2014 at 3:15 pm
    • Reply

    When my son was young, his step-father taught him how to play chess. He never let the boy win. The child felt awful about it but took the challenge and grew a determination that could not be quenched. It took years, buy my son finally beat his teacher. He turned out to be excellent at chess and became the president of the chess club in high school. Just saying.

  56. This “everyone’s a winner” BS is breeding an attitude of entitlement. I once encountered a new employee (we’re talking less than 2 months) pouting in the breakroom because they weren’t entitled to any paid vacation days until they’d been with the company for a set amount of time. Umm… last time I checked, you have to EARN your vacation days.

    Meanwhile, those who have TRUE talent and ability (beyond simply showing up) may remain completely unaware of it because they are not recognized for fear it may hurt someone’s feelings. What’s next, closing schools like Julliard because not everyone can get in? I fear for the future of mankind.

  57. I’m old enough at 43 to remember an older spike in PC-thought back in the early 90s. It too, at least in theory, was all about protection of mind and emotion. It meant well, but it ultimately ended up not working on multiple levels: the silent majority knew better than to fall prey to it and let it eventually shoot itself in the foot, it was questioned frequently and intelligently by its detractors, and, well, good old fashioned reality eventually won out. I’m erring on the side of history and feel this too shall eventually pass.

  58. I was so glad to read this post, Kristen, because I feel the same way, that society is started to slide down a slippery slope and few people notice or care or even “get” it. It starts with warning about disturbing material & ends with censoring the material outright. That day will come. I write horror these days, and if anyone is distressed by it, well, the fact that the genre is horror should have been a clue. Hell, I killed off Santa Claus once. ;-} But lately some of my stories have had as their theme: 1984 isn’t coming, it’s here. And even a year ago, such a thought wouldn’t have even crossed my mind.

  59. Great post Kristen! I’m concerned about the future for my kids and as an author I worry about what Amazon’s doing.

  60. “Everyone’s a winner” and “no child left behind” are the banes of modern society, as they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Failure is not a bad thing and we need to better teach people that, otherwise you end up with unaccountably extreme responses to failure. So in short, totally agree with you, and I think a lot of folks who are truly paying attention will agree as well.

  61. Well, you’re not the first one to decry the idea that you get a trophy for showing up, so that’s good news. But you’re the first person I’ve encountered who has addressed EC which is the first time i’ve heard of it and holy crap is that terrifying. I mean, with trigger warnings, I can almost understand. I don’t want to read a book with an actually written-out rape scene, and that has more to do with religion and the fact that at this stage in my life it would freak me out way more than is good. Rape is really scary. But then, that’s very violent and very graphic. And I am not a fan of the idea that we can’t address rape. Just because the idea of rape frightens me doesn’t mean I can pretend it doesn’t exist. That dosn’t fix the problem, doesn’t make it go away. The opposite, even. As for things that aren’t even necessarily violent or graphic – misogyny? Seriously? You can’t just bury your head in the sand.

    This is very Brave New World terrifying. And man…I mean, it’s a funny joke when I say “My grandma can never know what I write”. I don’t want the whole world to do that, to say “this isn’t sunshine and rainbows. This doesn’t inspire good feelings (except for it does in the long run but that’s not good enough). This is therefore…bad.”

    Hrm…labels…The one I’m working on is mild.

    broken families
    war & death

    possibly sex…not particularly, though, there’s just a part where this lady propositions the main character and he says no and that’s pretty much the end of it. But hey, in a Brave New World you never know!

    But man, what will be my greatest work, what will be my masterpiece…that thing will have more labels than it will have books in the series.

    Physical Torture
    Psychological torture
    Rape (implied)
    War & Death
    misogyny & chauvinism
    misandry & chauvinism
    violence (yes, beyond the torture)
    medieval-ish equivalent of school shooting
    Religion, religious-based conflict, and religious douchebaggery (I’m pretty sure that’s exactly how that label will be worded, too)
    Demons and Hell
    transgender and gender confusion
    magic (gasp!)
    black magic (bigger gasp!)

    …idk, political intrigue? There’s more but I’m kind of getting bored thinking of them. Look, if you want to say, hey, I know you are uber hypersensitive to excessive gore so maybe this isn’t a good book for you, or this book contains a graphic sex scene and that conflicts with your moral beliefs so you may steer clear, fine. I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. Usually that stuff is unnecessary, in my book, anyway. But the only time you take weighty themes and consider a different audience is when you think that you’re going to write a children’s book and then you realize…no, I’m not. One does not need to be downright disturbed…but maybe a good book should make us a little uncomfortable.

    • Marinda on May 27, 2014 at 4:14 pm
    • Reply

    I completely agree. This methodology worked years ago to allow one power hungry man take over and kill thousands of people. Back then it was book burning. Now it is file deleting.

  62. I think occasionally warnings ought to be included. In my last two years of school we studied books like The Bell Jar, spending entire lessons discussing Esther’s suicide attempts without the teachers bothering to check if any students had depression or struggled with self harm. (At the time, I was trying to quit; my English lessons were difficult and often resulted in panic attacks, which I had to try and keep secret until I could get somewhere private). We spent hours on the rape vs seduction argument in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, but they never bothered to check if there were any rape survivors in the class. It’s situations like that which only further the problems people face. It’s not cathartic to be pushed to the edge of your limits; it’s not comforting to find yourself fighting an urge to slice your wrists open because you’ve just had to read about someone doing the same thing. It’s irresponsible teaching, and students should be given the opportunity to opt out of studying books like that, or at least to leave lessons when they’re uncomfortable.

    It’s easy to go too far, and many people misunderstand what triggers are. People should have to read about things which shock and upset them. But they shouldn’t be obliged to dwell on subjects which resonate on a personal level and cause them serious discomfort.

    1. I think you have an excellent point here: there’s a big difference between “this makes me uncomfortable, I shouldn’t have to deal with it” and “I’m already dealing with this in real life and I don’t need another dose from the page!”

      1. Yes, that’s a good way of summarising my rambling point, thanks. 🙂

        1. Glad I didn’t misrepresent you!

      • Stephanie Scott on May 28, 2014 at 12:29 pm
      • Reply

      This is exactly the situation I was thinking of in regards to trigger warnings. I don’t know what the solution is.

  63. THIS. WAS. TOTALLY. RIGHT. Thanks for telling it like it is!

  64. Reblogged this on Montairyus and commented:
    Kristen Lamb tells it like it is. What she says might be hard to accept, but it is unquestionably true!

  65. This is a problem I faced trying to write more literary fiction than genre fiction, yet it pops up again. In my last book, set in the Deep South in the 1050s, there is rape, more than one abortion for different reasons (the book was about an illegal abortionist and the people around him). In an editorial review, the reader told me that the book needed trigger warnings for those things. There is also an interracial relationship which some might find offensive. The “N” word is used. It was the time period.Things were alluded to in the book description, but why should I attach a trigger warning and spoil the whole plot for readers who are not offended? There was a deep and meaningful message in that book.The very ones who might be offended are the very ones who probably need to read it.

    Then there is the new book I am writing. Genre fiction. A crime novel. 30,000 words into the story with a villain I want to be worthy of killing, I have a human trafficker. A criminal that is rarely punished, but needs to be. I wanted to make her particularly bad and involve underage girls in pornography. I WANT a reason to kill her brutally. I read an article on writing crime fiction today. It says that, rape, child molestation, and animal cruelty are ABSOLUTE taboos. (We are in the entertainment business and people don’t find those things entertaining.) So I guess my girls won’t be underage. We’ll call it prostitution instead of rape (It’s better if the woman is at least a little guilty). We are a hypocritical society that prefers to sweep under the rug anything we might find offensive. Let’s just not look at it, and it won’t be there. No literary substance required.

    You can’t watch Law and Order without exposure to those things. Murder, blood, and gore is acceptable everywhere. I am a nurse. I do understand what triggers are. I also know they are in this world we live in. I’m not insensitive. I have personally suffered some traumas, but learning to cope with their consequences doesn’t come from hiding away from reality. That’s the easiest way to induce mental illness. Another taboo subject people don’t want to deal with. ~ Former Psych Nurse

    • Debbie Johansson on May 27, 2014 at 5:17 pm
    • Reply

    The world’s gone mad! I encourage my kids to read and keep them informed with what is going on around the world in order to teach them the realities in life, rather than keep them wrapped up in cotton wool. Great post Kristen.

    • lonesome lee west on May 27, 2014 at 5:19 pm
    • Reply

    this trend’s been around for a while, now. they mean well, but they’re going about it all wrong. How does the saying go? Oh, yes, now i remember: the road to hell is paved with good intentions…

  66. Well, Kristen, this writer is already in danger. I can count on one hand the number of people over here that actually give enough of a damn about my writing to genuinely ask about it. As far as the rest of the country is concerned, I might as well be invisible because they don’t want to know.

    In frustration, I contacted the office of Fiona Hyslop, in the Scottish Government. They’ve been considering my letter for over two weeks now.

    You don’t need to have your work deleted if the entire system is designed to crush the creative spirit out of people and turn them into perfect little automatons so they will never write anything thought-provoking or push the envelope of the existing culture. There’s your thought control right there. A sanction for this guy, and this guy, and this one, and in a few generations you have a nation of impoverished dolts with no prospects.

    I’m going to ask this in the hope that someone’s going to answer.

    Are you creative but stuck in a poor town with no idea how to escape?

    Stuck in a dead-end zero-hours contract job for a laughable pay while you dream of a day when you earn something worthwhile from your real work that you pursue at home?

    Trying to write but struggling against poor self-esteem and negative thoughts and anxiety?

    If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone.

    For example, I live about thirteen miles from the city of Edinburgh. I might as well live fifty miles away, considering the horrendous commute time. And yes, sure, I could probably relocate there, but with the higher property values there, I’d effectively back to where I started in financial terms.

    See how easy it is to control poor people and stop them from becoming cultured, never mind educated?

  67. I used to get really upset over books . . . WHEN I WAS EIGHT.

    Anyway, this is a fantastic article, Miss Kristen! And I appreciate the reference to Ray Bradbury in the title (unless you were meaning to reference Shakespeare ;-)). This business about “trigger warnings” reminds me of a scene from Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451 (another book that a lot of school officials can’t swallow). At one point, the captain of the firehouse says that firemen are keepers of the peace because without books, there is nothing to argue about or feel bad over. I thought he was supposed to be the villain of the story, but it looks like America’s college students actually agree with him now!

    No, I think you’re right: 1984 and Brave New World are both a lot closer than we’d like to think.

  68. This is so true! We have gone overboard in “protecting” our kids. As far as history goes and books like Anne Frank, we need to know our history not to repeat it. We can’t hide from our past and should not. We need to learn from our past. And just because it makes someone uncomfortable should not preclude us from being aware of it

  69. I don’t have any children in school – or anywhere else for that matter (couldn’t have any) – so I did not realize such “over-sensitizing” was going on. What you say here horrifies me. Our civilization is not only being divided into the ultra-haves and the ultra-have-nots, but the have-nots are being reduced to the lowest common denominator, which is too low, in my opinion, to sustain a healthy civilization. “Brave New World”: Here we come, sliding in on a slip-n-slide while, I’m sure, the ultra-haves laugh their arses off.

  70. Ha–as soon as I read the quote in blue under “Something Wicked…” I thought of Fahrenheit. Then I scrolled down and saw the picture. 🙂 I think there’s a big difference between high schools and universities. As adults, we should be able to make decisions for ourselves about what we read–but we shouldn’t force what we think is the “right choice” on other people. Students need to be taught to analyze, critique, and move past a text to the mind that created it–questioning that mind…and appreciating the creativity therein. This will help them learn to make decisions for themselves.

  71. Well said. Way too many people hiding under beds or burying their heads in the sand. I worry that our youth are going to get out of college and have a culture shock. The one they grew up in isn’t the one they’ll enter. I can only imagine how they’ll react to poor quarterly review. “But, I showed up! Don’t I get credit for that?” As a former supervisor, I’d have to let go anyone who just showed up. The company actually demanded my employees be ranked by value to the workplace. People lowest on the scale were to get lower review scores. Not an environment for people who’ve grown up with “no competition”, “You’re so special”, or “There are no winners or losers here.” They won’t know what hit them.

    • Lanette Kauten on May 27, 2014 at 6:02 pm
    • Reply

    I’ve never been prone to wild conspiracy theories, but this makes me a little nervous. Before there’s a totalitarian regime change, the writers must be silenced. This is more insidious than any outright attack, but changing the people’s thinking will have lasting consequences stronger than anything requiring force.

  72. Well said, Kristen. I’ve been saying for a long time that 1984 is here. I started worrying when televisions started showing up everywhere. When the “political correctness” movement started, I argued that we were trading pretty words for actual caring. I still think so. It doesn’t matter what you call a person if you truly care. If you don’t care, but use the “proper” words, you can hide behind the PC curtain like the Wizard of OZ–which probably wouldn’t be published today.

    Keep making us think! Keep stirring the water. In fact we all need to. As writers, it’s our obligation to tell the truth.

  73. Profoundly important message today, thank you Kristen! Dare I say you are the cautionary canary in the coal mine…and I hope folks are listening. Most of my childhood was spent under a restrictive regime that dictated what we read, heard and saw (or said). The decisions were often capricious, and frequently blunt and intrusive. But, at very least there was a clearly designated authority, with a proscribed appeal process. If one objected to a work being censored, one at least had the option of making an edit, or bleep. But with PC/EC there is no single, defined authority. It is an amorphous idealogy, that cannot be held accountable, despite the corrosive potential of its faceless dictates. This then…the unaccountable vagueness, is more frightening than officious government sanctioned censorship…at least from my personal experience.

    1. Beautifully stated.

  74. I worry that some of these kids being raised to think that you get rewarded just for being there, not by your actions, cannot handle the inevitable disappointments that come with real life. I fear that may be what triggers some of these people who have meltdowns and hurt others, or themselves, because they simply do not know how to cope with it. Failing at the small things, and learning to carry on, prepares you for the bigger things in adult life. Very timely message!

  75. The one that worries me most about children is the reward for good which you can only get by being bad. The neighborhood bus driver has a child with behavioral problems on her bus. She must keep a record. For a good week, he gets a reward. It’s basic behavioral mod, EXCEPT all the other children on the bus see this and know about it. One of them said to her “We are good all the time. Where is our prize?” We are not so much modifying this child’s behavior as teaching an entire bus that if you are bad, then someone will pay extra special attention to you and you’ll get a prize for doing what you should without that reward. Great way to raise kids. Wonderful message.

    The prize should be being allowed to ride the bus with other children or being allowed to go with the group to do something he really wants to do not a special prize for behaving as all the other kids do. Restrict then reward by returning what others normally enjoy.

  76. Sadly, I agree. Scientists have found out that those playground equipment we made safe now has kids afraid to be challenge, to strive for something more. As part of the generation that worried about abuse (I never felt abused from my parents) and now, we must not let children know there are bad things. Its not that hard to talk with your kid and discuss why we don’t; do bad things. I never let my son play the violent video games under 17 but his friends’ parents did because it might stain their sensibilities. Anyway, our world today is the way we are making it.

  77. There is nothing I can add but I want you to know I think your post was excellent and I have the same concerns you do. Thanks.

    • authorpamelabeason on May 27, 2014 at 6:52 pm
    • Reply

    Amen, Sister! I worry about the future of our country if we’re not preparing the generations for the very real conflicts they will encounter. My own books would probably be banned by some religious groups for criticizing the teaching of creationism and also by the NRA for even suggesting that some gun owners might occasionally be irresponsible.

  78. ebooks are ephemeral. That’s why DRM is evil. Even without DRM, the ebooks rely upon technology. I have a self-hosted blog. What happens to it when I pass on and the hosting bill no longer gets paid? What happens to your ebooks when your reader dies and the vendor you bought it from went out of business? The realities of technology are hard enough.

    Personally I’ve always been skeptical of the whole “self esteem” movement of the last 20 years or so. To me, the real concern should be self-respect, which is something you can’t get from someone else, you can only get it from yourself. So yeah, I’m with you on the pushback against honors programs. WTF?

    On the other hand I think all the hand-wringing about trigger warnings is overblown. I find the arguments against them, and the gloom and doom predictions that this is somehow Orwellian. You know what’s Orwellian? Michael Kinsley’s NYT article claiming that the government should have final say on what’s published, and violators should go to prison.

    Trigger warnings are a social reaction. All it takes is a review of #yesallwomen to find reasons for them. It’s a simple courtesy, and not called for in all circumstances. How they are applied, to what, by whom, for whom, well, that’s yet to sort out. I suspect probably not much will come of it. (Does a violent crime victim still suffering from PTSD need a trigger warning on the cover of the hardboiled murder mystery? Probably not. But would it be appreciated at the top of an article in a publication that does not generally present graphic material? Maybe so.) It’s not much different from a newscast warning viewers that the upcoming report has graphic scenes.

    How people use them is another matter, and they don’t need trigger warnings anyway. Books are already banned from schools. The use of trigger warnings could actually protect these books from outright banning, just as labeling music as “explicit” has protected what sure seemed at the time to be a fast-track to more outright censorship.

    I can imagine trigger warnings being used in marketing, just like the medical warnings the erection medication companies use in their ads. There will always be an audience. And those who really don’t need to relive their trauma despite your artistic “need” to impose it, thank you, can simply avoid it. They wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway. Right? This is the market at work, prudes and all.

    But what about longevity of our work? I have floppy disks with old scripts, stories, documents written in WordPress, Wordstar, MultiMate and arcane programs I don’t even remember the names for. Those are gone, for all intents and purposes. As are old movies that were archived on silver nitrite, old pulp novels printed on paper so acidic they’re nothing but dust today, old photographs that have leeched all color, old home videos shot on SVHS (huh?) and Hi-8 (what?), even old documents whose ink has faded simply from exposure to indirect daylight. Lost without malice, just lost to time and indifference and unwillingness (or inability) to bear the costs required for proper archiving. To me, these seem to be the real threats to our culture.

    As are notions that the first amendment is too quaint for these modern times and the authors of some ideas need to be re-educated. Or worse.

    • Lanette Kauten on May 27, 2014 at 6:58 pm
    • Reply

    Here are my warning labels:

    Lesbian sex
    Religion– There are (gasp!) Christians in my novel.
    Drug use
    Sedition against communism
    Mention of child molestation
    Mention of physical torture
    Crazy, alien-believing Texan

  79. I agree entirely. Even avoiding the slippery slope argument of this spreading beyond college campuses, I can see too many ways in which this could be abused in the classroom. I’ve seen it enough in my own university days, students who completely miss the point of a book because of its uncomfortable nature. I’d hate to see books like ‘Night’ or ‘A Clockwork Orange’ phased out of classrooms because some students don’t want to challenge their comfort zones at all to see the world in a different way.

    I know that this new movement is designed to protect students with PTSD, but I feel in those extremely special cases, the onus should be on the individual with the condition to research the subject matter of the required reading and bring up any concerns with the professor. I find this analogous with individuals who have sever peanut allergies. They can’t expect every restaurant they go to to have nut warnings, or even nut alternative dishes–but it is their responsibility to inquire if peanuts are used.

    On that note, what actually constitutes a trigger? How explicit does the subject matter have to be before it psychologically damages someone? Who decides this?

  80. I’m feeling sad about this, because I know people for whom things like trigger warnings make the difference in being able to achieve their education goals. People who are doing their very best to find healing after pretty horrific events, but still have a ways to go.

    True, life doesn’t hand out trigger warnings, but if we have the opportunity to help people make informed decisions, I do not see a problem with that. Kind of like warning labels on food products for people who are trying to avoid gluten, dairy, nuts, or whatever. Requiring a teacher/professor to change course curricula…that feels creepy to me. But (and I’m playing devil’s advocate in my own head here), to carry the food analogy further, is this much different than offering different menu items?

    My concern comes from the fact that we (as a society) tend to treat psychological disabilities like PTSD as not being as real or valid as other health concerns. There was a lot of resistance to adding wheelchair ramps, accessible parking, etc. Making any kind of accommodation means a change. But, that change could be an opportunity to make use of all humanity’s resources. Trigger warnings in a learning environment could actually help people who know they have areas where they know they need to take care have access to a wider field of learning.

    The automatic trophy issue can get a little weird. Where it works beautifully is when each participant is acknowledged for their specific contribution. I think that does encourage people (especially young ones) to look for the areas they shine (or want to shine) and work on those.

    1. My beef wasn’t so much with the warning, it was the notion that a student could opt out and find something “less distressing.” If someone has PTSD THAT badly, I don’t think college is a good place to be. And it is a slippery slope. What IS PTSD? If one student doesn’t want to read a book about misogyny can other students refuse to read books that highlight homosexuals or feminism or are from a perspective of someone of a different race or religion? If I am Muslim, can I earn a degree in Literature only reading works by Muslim authors?

      1. I can see that. Sounds like we’re thinking in parallel.

  81. There was one book I read in college that disturbed me so much that I had a mental breakdown and threw the book across the room. It had a scene that was so disgusting and horrifying to me that I could barely handle it. Later on, I was exposed to via my Critical Theory class all of the ways in which people challenged the status quo from various lenses: feminism, queer theory, post-colonialism, Marxism, deconstruction, etc. It seems to me like “empathetical correctness” can easily turn into “I am a white person and I feel uncomfortable with reading this book that points out how horrible a system of whiteness has treated people of color, so I can just skip reading it now” or any other similar example. At the same time, I think it’s important to understand that “triggers” are much more than just feeling uncomfortable. People who experience them are legitimately thrown back into whatever traumatic situation happened and that’s an issue of mental health. It’s impossible to prescribe a one-fits-all solution, but perhaps one way to reach a working compromise is to just let students know which pages/sections/chapters/etc. contain whatever content and just leave it open to the student whether or not they want to read it. Class discussion can cover what happened in the scene without delving into the actual details. Or better yet, teachers can provide classroom space to actually discuss WHY these things are disturbing and how students feel about what they read. But again, this wouldn’t work for every book and it’s nearly impossible to account for everything that could cause an intense mental reaction. Still, it doesn’t hurt to try and maybe one solution lies in HOW such books/content are taught in the classroom.

    I mean, I can definitely say that, thanks in part to my college education, I have been disturbed into compassion with a desire to do what I can to dismantle systematic impression. Actions include amending and expanding my vocabulary, discussing issues with others, various activities with my church, and making a conscious effort to write more diverse characters (representation is a huge issue–you may have seen the #WeNeedDiverseBooks Twitter campaign a few weeks ago).

    What’s the line between NOT perpetuating the thoughts/mindsets that oppressed various groups in the past (and still do today) and also NOT erasing history? Because much of U.S. history is especially sugarcoated in schools, it makes it harder to actually confront the evils of the past and think about how you may benefit or hurt from them today. Literature can compel people to think about these things and it would be a shame if “empathetical correctness” became the new way of silencing marginalized voices because their works make people feel uncomfortable.

  82. Years ago, one of my children was among a few in the class who did not receive an invitation to another child’s party. I asked the teacher why the invitations weren’t given out in private. She said, and I could not disagree, ‘Children have to learn about disappointment. It’s better they learn it here first.’

    This is one of the most important blog post I’ve seen in a long time. The perpetuation of mediocrity will destroy us as a nation and culture much sooner than over-population and GM foods. Thank you for stepping up to shake us up.

  83. This article immediately brought back memories of reading Flowers for Algernon in grade school. That book wrecked me for a while, but it also changed me for the better. I can still remember the feeling of being stripped down and changed by Charlie’s cyclical transformation.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot since all this “trigger warning” rubbish started and I’m genuinely disheartened by the movement. We need to ensure our children a realistic view of the world, including the inevitable heartbreaks and tragedy. This isn’t to say we should bombard them with images of death and stories of the Holocaust, but we need to equip them with a realistic perspective as well as the hope to make the best of the world.

    You don’t have the right to not be offended – I can’t remember where I read that, but it rings true.

    1. That book wrecked me, too. Beautiful and tragic and amazing.

    2. When I was in junior high, Lloyd Alexander’s Westmark trilogy completely devastated me. Most of the characters I loved were dead at the end. I had already written to him quite a few times before, so I wrote to him and complained. 🙂 he wrote back, explaining that war was a horrible, tragic thing, and many good people were killed. But, at the end, there was hope. I wish I had the letter with me right now to quote it exactly, but that is pretty close to what it said. That one letter taught me volumes on writing. And reading.

  84. Thank you for this. I was going through and editing my manuscript based on a critique which said that one of my characters was “too icky.” The character happens to be Zeus. My thought was that if people reading the book didn’t comprehend that Zeus makes passes at relatives (married to his sister, has a daughter with another sister, has kids with various granddaughters in Greek mythology), then they can read a different book. But she convinced me to tone him down. I am going to go back and change it back to the way I had it. Zeus is Zeus. It’s mythology. It’s not a kids book.

    I will say, though, that I have stopped reading books when I hit rape scenes. That is more of a PTSD thing than a EC thing, though. But I have definitely worked through other issues by reading books. And writing.

    • James on May 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm
    • Reply

    This is a very disturbing trend. I believe we need to reward greater achievement to spur the greatest efforts.

    I have been deeply affected by certain books, but as you said, none have a greater effect than the realities of real life and death. Fictional portrayals of tough situations actually serve as a form of preparation and catharsis.

    Thank you for your very well written post.

  85. I am rarely offended by anything or anyone but I am terrified by the trend to assign ‘special status’ to some groups while denying the same protection to others. While some of us are not allowed to offend ‘Special Status Groups’, others of us are not allowed to be offended.

    This is an fundamental inequality of which we have always been warned by philosophers such as Voltaire: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” And is clearly established as a civil right in the U.S. Constitution’s first 10 amendments, especially the Bill of Rights’ First Amendment, and yet, increasingly, this Amendment is being eroded so that it applies only to specified ‘Special’ groups.

    We are in grave danger of being silenced to the point that we are afraid to speak out about anything for fear of being labeled intolerant or bigoted, among other erroneous epithets. This can only result in even further division and eventual backlash. Political correctness began its insidious erosion of intellectual freedom in the US in the 1960s. If we are not free to write and express our thoughts and opinions, we are already imprisoned.

    As to the ‘special’ aspects of honors evenings, how are we to compete in this exceptionally competitive world if we constantly coddle our children, so as not to make them feel bad? I have to ask if this is not an attempt to destroy them with kindness? My favorite advice to my children was “Life is hard and then you die” – they have all grown up to be decent, productive, happy and loving young men.

    Thank you for this post, Kristen, I have written about freedom of speech on my blog as well:

  86. Bravo! You nailed it! Keep it up girl. Keep getting this out to the public because they need to hear it. Proud sis 😉

  87. Reblogged this on Menimèse Creare and commented:
    We Are Not Alone

  88. Really enjoyed the article. Thanks for saying it like it is. I’m working on a manuscript with a very “politically incorrect” protagonist. I think she’s very true to life, but I also think she’ll be a hard sell. She does conform in the end, but maybe not in time to save my manuscript from a slush pile. Oh well. We can’t all be perfect.

  89. Wasn’t it “Nineteen-Eighty-Four” that Amazon deleted off people’s e-readers because of some copyright quibble? The irony… Harder for someone to get away with removing my paperback copy from the shelves – and, mercifully, still illegal!

    And while there are negative aspects to competition (the urge to do down the other guy, for a start) I think it’s very destructive to teach children that effort and results are unrelated. The last thing young Westerners need is another reason to be apathetic!

  90. My son won several trophies for nothing (by the way, I’ve never won one for anything!). When he finally won a trophy for the fastest pinewood derby car (after 4 years) he REALLY appreciated it! Now I see in the craft store PRE-CUT pinewood derby bodies! Wrecks the whole spirit of the race!

  91. Kids need to learn three things:

    1. The world doesn’t revolve around them.
    2. Life ain’t fair.
    3. Life goes on.

    This current obsession with political correctness and empathetic correctness is trying to shield them from these three simple truths, and it’s bullshit. We’re going to end up with a generation of people that believes the exact opposite, and it will be the end of civilization as we know it.

    1. My mom had a saying. “Fair is a weather condition” 😉 . I also like to use “When the mind is stupid, the body suffers.”

  92. The legacy media are hand-in-glove with the No Fault Worlders.

  93. I’m amazed this kind of deftness still gets any traction. I thought it had gone out of vogue years ago. Excellent post.



    • Kathy Azevedo on May 28, 2014 at 3:00 am
    • Reply

    Years ago, I went to a movie. There was a little boy about four years old sitting nearby, asking his father “What’s that, Daddy?” Someone had been shot and his intestines were sticking out. We were watching the movie Catch 22. I was very upset. My mother would not allow me to watch scary movies, because she had not been restricted from this as a child, and she used to have terrible nightmares afterwards from scary movies. I am so glad that I waited until adulthood to see such things, and even now, I limit my viewing of frightening and violent to those movies which have a truly redeeming feature, rather than just being a display of violence and gore.
    Hollywood has always preferred to go beyond sensible limits in a number of ways. It reminds me of ancient Rome and the coliseum. I have read that blood can still be squeezed from the sand there to this day. Of course, such blatant violence encourages all levels of the culture to be more violent. This would include boxing and other violent sports. Are we much improved over the ancient Romans ?
    It also teaches us that compassion and concern for the rights of others is a dead issue. I am all for a culture of emotional maturity, good judgment, and good taste. I tend to be against censorship, but I am glad that they now put parental advisories about appropriate age ranges for a movie. Am I too restrictive to suggest that we do the same thing with all our other media, including books? What about when Gacy was caught and all of the news on TV showed his cruelty at all hours, where even toddlers could see it, whether their parents wanted this or not?
    I am one course shy of a double major in Cultural Anthropology. We learned that there are two kinds of cultures, Patriarchal (or Apollonian) and Matriarchal (or Dionysian.) Patriarchal cultures are violent, cruel, competitive and lacking compassion. They are pyramidal, with a chief, king , or priest at the top, who is all-powerful, and whose very word is law.
    Matriarchal cultures are caring, loving, compassionate, sharing, generous, and non-violent, but there is not much incentive for achievement of any sort. They are led by a group of elders, usually grandmothers and other females. I would feel very safe in such a culture, although, if too much emphasis were placed on conformity, I could possibly feel stifled in some way.
    In high school, our band teacher was angry. Our school funded all uniforms and other equipment for sports, especially football, but they did not have a budget for band uniforms. We had to wear black sweatpants and red sweatshirts. Not a pretty sight. Today, many schools no longer include music classes. But sports are money.
    Let’s think about this. Sports are all about competition. Sports can get violent when the competitiveness gets out of hand. Music is all about harmony, working together to create something beautiful, which is spiritually uplifting (admittedly, some music is not uplifting.) We put our money where we place our values. Just what are we teaching our children?
    Years ago, a little neighbor boy went to a religious school. He was taught that it is very important to fight back- to be violent when someone has done something mean to a child. I asked him, “Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of Christianity?” The kid liked what I said and went around quoting it to his parents and school staff.
    So, could it be that certain kinds of competitiveness need to be considered age-appropriate? Maybe “rainbows, unicorns, and my little ponies” are best for small children, in the interest of correcting the extreme violence of our culture. Perhaps, instead of focusing on the issue of gun control, we ought to be studying the causes and effects of violence.
    I was taught that the important , overriding concept here is balance. We need to have enough emphasis on patriarchal values to encourage achievement and cultural uplift, including technology, when used appropriately.
    I keep in mind that Michio Kaku said that the Internet was originally created for military use. Most technology is first designated for military or violent use in our culture. This imbalance has created complex moral issues which we try to solve with our cerebral cortex (the part of the brain that is digital- right or wrong, black or white,) rather than using our neocortex (the more advanced part of the brain that can be used to analyzes things in a more detailed breakdown. I have noticed that our use of computers has been detrimental to the culture. When you want to talk to a company about a gripe or issue, you don’t reach a human being; instead you get an answering machine, or a computer which usually gives you 2 choices (digital?) and only occasionally one or two more. Complex issues cannot be solved by checking boxes. Years ago, I could talk to a real person, describe a complex issue, and get it solved on the same day by mutual agreement. Now we have to deal with the tyranny of digital computers, which only delays problem solving, and teaches us to oversimplify.
    I can only conclude that our national competitiveness is very extreme. I was taught to compete with myself, to try to improve my personal best daily. This really doesn’t include other people. Prizes and awards foster not only competitiveness, which can be demonstrated to be ruthless, unfair bullying in the academic, scientific, and medical establishment, and encourage bullying, which we have recently discovered is a national albatross. Recognition for one’s achievements is helpful, but narrowing it down to a “best-ever” award smacks of a patriarchal power system. Ca you see my point?
    Can you guess what kids of issues I am addressing in my YA fiction?

    1. I agree with this but I feel that the strongest leaders are actually Omega Leaders. They are competitive, fierce and tough when need be and compassionate, merciful, encouraging when required. I think schools need a balance. We are removing recess and PE and eliminating music and the arts leaving children with no outlets for energy or creativity. When these natural human gifts are stymied they turn to aggression and self-loathing.

      When I was a kid, I played clarinet and took ballet, but also was one of the few girls who studied martial arts. I would literally slip out of ballet tights and trade them for a gi. Martial arts is very competitive. Not everyone gets a black belt. That is earned through hard work and discipline. But any dojo worth its salt treats discipline, mercy and self-control. Who would value a black belt if everyone got one?

      And music is HIGHLY competitive. I was in band for YEARS. There was a LOT of competition regarding who would be “first chair.” Those in the first five seats had little to do with the lesser musicians. One of the reasons I let go of playing was I had a single mother. Though I was one of the top clarinetists in the state, we couldn’t afford the $120 for me to go to band camp over the summer. So instead of being on the field, I had to sit on a blanket and watch. It had nothing to do with my skill and all to do with a socioeconomic dividing line.

      Thus this notion that music is a happy place with no competition is not exactly accurate. We lived and died by the chair test and were up against rich kids who could afford private tutors. We had to practice longer and harder and learn to guide our own training when others had parents who hired pros to work with them in the afternoons.

      We keep looking at guns and weapons and video games as a cause for extreme violence in our culture but when I was in school, the notion of a school shooting was laughable. In fact, Julie Brown had a comedic song called “The Homecoming Queen’s Got a Gun.” The notion of someone shooting up a school was THAT laughable in the 80s. But, we lived in a culture where kids had outlets to play, compete, fail, learn to deal with disappointment. We didn’t have a culture that fostered sociopathy and narcissism and that people were naturally entitled to what they hadn’t earned.

      I’ve never been a fan of sports, namely because I wasn’t terribly good at them and didn’t like them. But, sports (done properly) teaches kids to work together as a team. To win or fail as a team. Instead of focusing on the individual, sports is supposed to teach kids to work together, to bond and to leave grudges on the field. Sports are excellent for life training.

      I recall my brother being one of “those dads” and fuming that my nephew spent so much time on the bench when the coach’s kid got most of the game time, even though he was far less talented. I told my brother that instead of being angry, look at this as a life lesson in humility and patience. In life, sometimes the untalented bozo gets the promotion instead of you. Nepotism and favoritism are part of life. Work hard and trust your time will come. Be a good servant.

      Agression is necessary for success. Might be unpopular to say, but it’s true. The reason? Healthy aggression is AMBITION. Prizes and awards recognize those who have done the hard work. All of us writers want to put NYTBSA in front of our names. We work harder and longer and read more and study more to EARN this title. This was one of the reasons I was resistant to self-publishing at first. To say one was a “published author” meant something. Sales had little to do with it. Now? We can ALL publish, but ranking and sales figures are the new litmus test.

      As far as a “good Christian” walking away from someone being bullied? Jesus was known for stepping up to bullies. He stepped in between aggressors and a woman being stoned. He turned over tables and chased the money changers. By this “pacifist” standard, I’m a bad Christian. Three times I’ve jumped in the middle of big men beating on girlfriends. I’ve been in martial arts and and off since I was five. It is my obligation to step in and stop someone being abused. Now, as a Christian and a martial artist, I am not permitted to just pummel said bully into a red stain (as much as that might be tempting) but walking away from the suffering? NO WAY.

      And our national competitiveness is NOT extreme. Check out Asian culture where suicide is RAMPANT. Bad grades are legitimate grounds for suicide so as not to dishonor the family. Russia? Kids train for the Olympics practically in the womb. Russian kids field strip AK-47s as part of school curriculum. India? Better become a doctor or an equivalent PhD. Compared to the rest of the world? We’re soft, undisciplined and whiny and that’s why Russia, Asia and India are the new economic powerhouses while we decline.

        • Kathy Azevedo on May 28, 2014 at 8:39 am
        • Reply

        You misunderstood my mention about the kid in the Christian school.
        My daughter and the other kids went to the local public school. Children in the public school weren’t being encouraged to be fighters. It was a very safe neighborhood, and teachers were always present and handled any potential problems easily. It was a truly nonviolent environment. At the Christian school, however, the kids were being encouraged to escalate everything, to make it the biggest problem possible, thus creating ever more opportunities to fight. It was unnatural.
        Believe me, I know my New Testament forwards and backwards.
        I never saw Jesus as a wimp. But, He did say, “Turn the other cheek.”
        It is a moral issue to what extent we chose to implement what Christ taught, but my feeling is that it is a good idea to choose our fights. There are many thoughts this covers. When possible, walk away from the fight. Outsmart your enemy. De-escalate when possible. Is this issue important enough for me to put a lot of time and energy into? What if I am the kid who has been labeled the bully? What if I am the stronger or the older kid? Talk things out. Learn to negotiate. Smooth ruffled feelings when necessary. Is the other kid having a bad day? Is there an adult to refer the situation to? And so forth.

        1. That I agree with and WTH? Not very Christian to teach to escalate violence.

  94. The comment about book burning being obsolete because now books can just be deleted is a frightening thought. Wonderful post. Thank you.

  95. There has been so much love and discussion on this blog that I feel I will no doubt be repeating others sentiments; I just wanted to say that I’ve always felt that books, writing, literature are descriptions of life. Whether the authors experiences, emotions, deductions made from witnessing life…all of it. I agree that children (which for me means under 16…maybe 18) should be in some ways protected from media- films and books, to a certain extent. I don’t think many people would advocate a 9 year old reading 1984 or even a Handmaidens Tale, as they offer extreme, cultural views which aren’t perhaps relevant to a 9year olds mind. However, in mainstream there are books like Harry Potter which I strongly think any 9 year old should read. Even though, these books contain neglect, death, bullying…and attempted murder! A 9 year old may go through some sort of bullying they may even suffer a death in their family. What better way to help them cope with such events than to read a loved character also facing these problems and overcoming them? But by this token HP would have trigger warnings and may be avoided.

    Anyway, I’m rambling. What ever happened to common sense? Fair enough some literature is more upfront about their triggers than others…The Rape of Lucrese for instance. But if you know you have certain things you really want to avoid discussing due to a past experience, then by all means look out for them and avoid them if that is what you specifically want. But for others in the same position they may wish to seek out literature featuring that experience to Help them deal with it.

    As a society what gives anyone the right to make that decision for people?

    Amazing, love this piece. Thank you for getting everyone talking about it!

    1. I love all the comments and read every one of them. I had the same thoughts about HP, so funny you should mention that. And at 9, I was reading Tolkien. LOADS of trigger warnings there, LOL. And what about Charlotte’s Web or Watership Down? Old Yeller, Where the Red Fern Grows, Little House on the Prairie. How many works in children’s literature could make EC crosshairs? It is DANGEROUS. Sometimes the best way of working through trauma is literature. I can think of no better cure for “PTSD.” And PTSD is overused and takes away from those legitimately suffering. If a kid—oh, wait ADULT—is THAT damaged? College NOT a good environment, with or without “offensive” literature.

      1. So true, the Hobbit was the first “adult” book I remember reading…in Year 4 so….8-9years old. But that’s the thing, at College/University, you aren’t a child, you are an adult. If the government deems you old enough to drink, smoke, get married, own a gun, go to war, then why not also to go to University and read all the emotionally hard books possible? *sigh*

  96. Reblogged this on auburnlangley and commented:
    This is such a scary thought, the slippery slope society is potentially on….we’ve certainly got some interesting years ahead of us!

  97. I manage a team of Gen Y tax accountants and they all seem genuinely shocked that they don’t get a payrise at year end just for coming to work. How long before they refuse to do the work for client’s who have business models that don’t fit in with their world view.? Butcher’s will have to find a new accountant because we don’t agree with eating animals. Etc etc. How does this thinking prepare children for real life?

    Having recently read about Amazon and Hachettes current battle I can see exactly where you are coming from. We have issues over here in Australia with lots of markets where we only have one or two players taking advantage of their position. As an author I don’t want to have to sacrifice myself on the altar of big business and write the things they are comfortable with, can make money from, rather than the things I want people to read.

    Great post, Kristen.

  98. Nobody makes any money off of teaching kids to be brave and face their anxieties/fears. There are, however, people making money off of getting kids to medicate away those fears. Greed is a powerful, world-changing force. So is courage, if we let it be–it’s just a lot harder to dig up is all. Thanks for this post. I can’t hate it.

    1. AMEN to that.

  99. I’m clearly feeling more optimistic than usual, but I think a large enough section of the populace will seek out the kind of literature that asks questions and makes one uncomfortable. Why else would Hunger Games or Stieg Larssen’s trilogy have become such bestsellers?

    And if digital only caters to the sheep, then the thinking readers will seek out their stories in other ways. Maybe that’s the future of print: to provide reading material for those who want to think?

    As for what the ‘dumbing down’ of education means for the future of colleges and tertiary education… let’s just hope they’re digging their own graves and making themselves obsolete as thinkers will turn elsewhere for an education. A whole new revolution in education awaits!

  100. PS: One of the base causes for the failure of communism was an entire society that lacked motivation to work. Why be a doctor and work long shifts elbow deep in gore to save lives when you earned the same as a street sweeper?

    And so the giving out of awards based on protecting feelings rather than on merit creates a generation of idle, unmotivated workers. It seldom lasts more than a generation or two before the system collapses.

  101. Reblogged this on Eats Drinks and Thinks and commented:
    An interesting blog post by Kristen Lamb. I personally think being overly politically correct is building walls where there would be none and creating more problems and this…well… and see how you feel about it but I am with Kristen.

  102. reblogged on EatsDrinksandThinks and commented. I am with you…no foil hat needed.

  103. A few thoughts (your posts usually provoke a lot of thoughts 🙂 ).

    Triggers are real, and have nothing to do with making people uncomfortable or sad, or offending people’s prejudices (and they’re not always connected to PTSD, a diagnosis which is thrown around all too casually these days). I experienced 9/11 from across the street, for example, and after that there were things which would have a sudden effect on my mood. For example, seeing the footage of the planes crashing into the towers — so I made the effort not to see it (it wasn’t going to tell me anything I didn’t already know, after all). Other than on the day itself, I’ve only seen that footage once, in the movie Bowling for Columbine (and I knew it was coming). Avoiding it was nobody else’s responsibility than mine — I didn’t need any warning labels. (I do see the value of professors having a word with their classes, by the way, but I have confidence that professors and students can work that out on their own).

    Oh, and anybody who is surprised by what Amazon is doing these days doesn’t understand business. Companies can sacrifice profits to gain market share, but why do they want that market share? Not to sit around feeling popular — it’s so that they can turn around and leverage that market share to gain profits. (I will admit that I am rather disappointed that they are apparently also using that leverage to quash a book which is critical of their business practices. That’s a different question.)

    Warnings for my writing? Smoking, gay people, death by violence, child abuse (implied). Non-linear storytelling and experimental writing. Occasional outbursts of French. Nothing too serious. 🙂

    My parents were librarians, and I was raised to believe that all books, no matter how possibly objectionable or offensive, should be available to all adults. (I do think it’s sensible to moderate what children are exposed to, but, as with the professors and students, I’m confident that parents and children can work that out on their own).

    • Lexicalbob on May 28, 2014 at 6:39 am
    • Reply

    I could not agree more about the totally misguided drift away from healthy competition in schools, particularly in the UK, where the unfortunate truth is that most educationalists are extremely left-leaning and inclined to support the PC agenda. However, when I look at the US, what I find worrying is the external imposition of EC/PC in certain parts of your wonderful country. I am talking about the banning of teaching evolution or the prescription of teaching Intelligent Design alongside Darwinism as though it had an equivalent scientific and intellectual basis. Most Europeans may laugh smugly at this naïveté but I worry about the affects of such tides in American society on the whole world. That is because it is an example, a worrying example, of the way such clearly dotty interest groups are able to influence the behaviour of those leading the most powerful nation on earth.

  104. Thanks for this post, Kristen. I just published a novel with Booktrope that features a main character with a serious eating disorder (Leaving the Beach) and had a lot of doubts about how many details about the ED to include. One agent I spoke with a number of years ago told me to be as explicit as possible, as that would make the book more interesting. But as a former bulimic, I didn’t want to give instructions to other people about binging and purging, etc. In the end, I took out most of the “instructional” graphic details, but left in some that were disturbing but not “instructional.”

    I think it was a responsible choice, but also know that twenty years ago, I wouldn’t have given responsibility a second thought. I was always taught that writers of novels have the freedom to write from the heart and if what they say upsets or disturbs people, that’s their problem. For example, I’ve read plenty of books and seen plenty of movies that describe or show people using drugs like heroin that could be considered instructional, but the author/director included those details to make the book/movie more authentic, and I never thought that was wrong.

    Perhaps it’s a fine line? I don’t know. But your post has given me a lot to think about, so again, thank you for it.

  105. I’ve been aware of this idea for some time, but never once thought about how it would affect writing and books. Thank you for opening my eyes to the possibilities of a very strange future. I’ve always been one for believing (people usually laugh at me) that we’re headed toward all those dystopian novels we always teach as warnings: Brave New World, 1984, Asimov’s novels, etc. Technology and fear are going to take us to a strange place and we won’t even notice it.

    That being said I don’t think that the written word will ever be completely censored. Maybe (in a LONG time) people will try, but books will always push boundaries and authors will always write about the things they believe are important.

    I’m writing a novel right now that’s very close to my heart and a bit of an offshoot of the idea of EC. It centers around what happens when the fear of nature/getting hurt and spending less time outside could lead us. Still in the planning stages, but I’m excited about the possibilities of it.

    Thanks for sharing, and thank you for making me think. I (like most people I believe) am drawn to writings that make me ponder tough ideas.

  106. Reblogged this on Line, word, letter.

  107. Warning readers that a book may make them upset is offensive to the people who suffer real-life difficulties. People should consider themselves lucky that they only READ about rape, genocide, incest, slavery, political oppression, racism, etc.and don’t experience it. I read books that make me squirm because I feel its necessary to at least for a moment step inside the life of some who suffers – it’s the least I can do, since I’m so privileged here in comfy middle class New York. Negative feelings are a part of life – trying our best to avoid them is a first-world problem. I can’t even believe this is a thing!! Reblogged. Great post! 🙂

  108. Amen Kristen, Amen.

  109. Trigger warnings have been around for a really really long time for example on rape and sexual abuse survivor forums, and in such places they are used not for anything that could invoke an emotional reaction, but for things that could cause a flashback for those suffering with PTSD. Most people who have been raped will experience flashbacks at some point. Some people will experience flashbacks so severe that they become unaware of where they actually are. These can be triggered by things such as detailed rape scenes in fiction. Considering the high number of people who have experienced rape or sexual abuse, should we not give them fair warning of a difficult scene in our education system where they don’t have the same choice over what to read as when reading for pleasure? I think we should, and also for other PTSD triggering scenes that aren’t rape and sexual abuse related (rape and sexual abuse is the only one I have experience dealing with). Should we take these books off the curriculum? No as they help raise awareness in those not directly affected. Should we have warnings on things that might cause emotional upset, but not as bad as triggering flashbacks? No there is a clear difference between difficult topics being discussed and talked about and flashback-triggering detailed description. Our students need to feel uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean those who have experienced trauma first hand shouldn’t have fair warning if they have to read something particularly triggering so they can plan to read it before in a safe place, and at a good time ie not just before an exam. I see and understand your opinion on this and just want to give my own opinion as something to think about.

    1. Yes, but that is still a slippery slope. Today we are protecting rape victims, but what formal entity determines PTSD? Should a student (like my two friends) who came to the US for political asylum be allowed to skip the mandatory history and government classes because they have PTSD from living in a police state? What about a kid who was beat up by a Mexican kid when he was ten? Should he be able to avoid any texts involving Latinos since that triggers being punched? Should we warn him Latinos are in the book? Oh, wait, that’s un-PC and racist.

      And hopefully I’ve elucidated the conundrum this creates. Virtually every student is handed a syllabus Day One of what will be covered. If they are “that traumatized” they have a responsibility. They can get on google and look up the material to be covered when they aren’t on Instagram where misogyny and “triggering events” are far more likely but don’t come with a test and a term paper at the end. If it’s too much? Change classes or discuss with a professor ahead of time. It isn’t the world’s responsibility to coddle adults.

      I have VIOLENT food allergies. I know I eat out at my own risk. If I want to avoid ever being poisoned, I cook at home. Others can make an effort to offer me options, but ultimately I am accountable and responsible. These aren’t children, they’re adults. And what scares me is this nonsense rarely stays contained in ways it was intended. We begin by trying to shelter a handful of abuse victims and then suddenly everyone is offended and suing because they were made uncomfortable.

      In the US we have an English Common Law system, which relies on precedent. The second we allow one female student to opt out of a book because it is a “trigger warning” is the second we have to allow Mormons or Muslims or Fundamentalist Christians the same rights or that is discrimination…and then we splinter even further as a people. The POINT of literature is to help us see a different perspective, to humanize others, to make us bond under a common banner of humanity and triumph over evil and betterment through suffering.

      1. I think the most important thing about a trigger warning is that it is a warning. It warns you about what you are about to read. It should be read anyway, but for me personally, warning has made a difference to whether I have been able to control my flashbacks. I think the best thing is to get psychiatrists involved in the discussion to create guidelines on what requires a warning- but it should be just that, a warning, not a reason to opt out.

  110. Ms. Lamb;
    It seems to me you have been pretty fearless in your risk taking all along. I’m actually in awe of your ability to shake it off and stay in the fight. Writers, as you point out so well, have always been the fly in the ointment, or the annoying buzzing around the head of the status quo. Now, when we all have to work so hard to find any receptive ears for our words in the noise overloaded culture we live in, it seems like we should all be risking as much as we can. Even while most larger publishers are narrowing down the list of projects they are willing to acquire, our words should still remain our own, from our own inspiration and perspective, and not simply the filler for additional products to take to market.

    1. I try, LOL. I fretted all yesterday morning whether or not to write this post, but I was so ANGRY. We won’t baby our babies. We send them to Kindergarden cubicles and load them with homework and make them sit still all day. Oh, but when you hit 18, we treat you like an INFANT. Baby the babies and let the young adults GROW UP.

  111. Can you feel it? I’m biting my tongue so hard it’s bleeding. What I want to say would be bleeped in 100 different languages.

    I agree with you 10,000 percent!!!

    People need allow the rest of us to eat raw cookie dough, run with scissors, wear white shoes after Labor Day. GET OVER YOURSELVES PEOPLE!! We should be responsible for ourselves. We grow as individuals by experiencing new and uncomfortable things. It’s called building character. Something in short supply these days. You cannot have character without having experienced adversity.

    Losing with something at stake, builds character. Learning to win with grace builds it even more. We are destroying future generations by limiting and/or “protecting” them.

  112. It is a brave, new world indeed. My mom is a librarian who taught me at home. She made me read and write. Write and read. I’ll forever be grateful for how she pushed me to succeed. I’m just not impressed by what these grade school and high school kids are reading now. There’s classic literature and so many good books available in spades, but somehow someone missed the memo. Now, if we could take a time out from labeling everything and making sure no one’s offended, and instead throw ourselves into thoroughly teaching the five paragraph essay, that’s something I could get behind.

  113. Reblogged this on Eldy Dawn and commented:
    What a great article about our culture and how powerful our choices are! It’s aimed at writers, but anyone could get something from this. Read it!

  114. I had goosebumps while reading this post. And it felt great! That to me is the entire point of literature. To make us feel! Because there is already so much in life leaving us brutally numb. There is plenty of indifference to go around, do we really need more?! Being emphatically correct is ridiculous. Competition is the essence of moving forward in life. There should be a limit to the whole ‘feeling good/comfortable’ culture! Sheesh!!! Please excuse my exasperation. Its just that back home, literature and education is rather restricted and there are a lot of IFs and Buts involved. So I imagined that moving to Canada would enable my children to fully explore their minds and hearts, especially with regards to the educational scenario. I know its not as bad now, but we are headed there right? This revelation just kind of shook me.

  115. I would bet 99.99 percent of students would NOT be in favor of being afforded a warning label on what they were about to read. What an insult to their intelligence this EC movement suggests! Of the few students who would welcome a warning label, well, they need more than a warning label. They need ear muffs and blinders if they are ever to be truly safe from the real world. Thanks for the heads up on this issue – “educators” with too much time on their hands trying to manipulate students, rather than inform and prepare them.

    • sao on May 28, 2014 at 10:43 am
    • Reply

    I think there’s a difference between a trigger warning and censureship. In schools, a trigger warning can help students prepare to read what they’ve been assigned.

    I also think there’s a place for participation to be rewarded and a place for winning. I think it’s important that schools have a wide range of activities and celebrate wins in all of them, not just athletics. My son who is not athletic recently did Knowledge Bowl and his team came in first out of 16 team from 9 countries after a a knuckle-biter final round. last rout of 16 teams from 9 countries. Finally, he won something after years of being expected to clap when the soccer/tennis/basketball/baseball/swim team won. It was a real ego boost. And the school did celebrate it, so he came home to 15 minutes of fame at the school.

    My high school had a winning math team, but all the pep rallies and encouragement to “support the team” were only about sports. The football team making the semi-finals got far more support from the school administration than the math team making it to nationals. (Note, the ‘finals’ were didn’t even include half of the school football teams in the county, not to mention the state).

  116. Insightful post and I couldn’t agree with you more. It all goes back to free speech. Nearly for as long as this country has existed there are those who have worked diligently to stamp out free speech. After all, why should the great unwashed have an opinion when our ‘leaders’ are so much more equipped to decide what is right and wrong?

    In my opinion the Internet is the last bastion of free speech in the modern world. Sure, there is a lot of crap and bs on the Internet but a lot of truth gets through too. So far, we’ve managed to protect it but there are those that have their eye on reining it in and controlling it. That gives me chills.

    I think writers have to be braver now than ever before. While we still can. While we still can impact others and deliver our message. And if we have memorize books and pass them along that way, then I guess Ray Bradbury would be proud.

    Writer Chick

  117. Some of the best writing “triggers” visceral reactions. That is what makes it thought provoking. I recently finished reading The Vessel of Kali by Richard Milner. Milner hosts a writers’ group I attend. His first novel is extremely offensive and full of triggers. That’s what makes it so great. He takes a cultural dichotomy and pushes it to the most extreme, making us question our values and assumptions. Freedom of speech, freedom of thought, are necessary. We must face our metaphorical demons, not hide from them. Injustice and abuse exist and must be confronted, not hidden from view for fear of triggering an adverse psychological reaction. Perhaps we must be more skilled at dealing with and understanding emotional reactions, not avoiding them. Emotional and psychological “literacy” is what we need for healing and empowerment. Not avoidance.

    As for the pursuit of excellence, yes it is ridiculous to give everyone the same trophy. We are created uniquely, with unique gifts. We must cultivate those gifts — as individuals, as parents, as teachers, and as mentors — and reward those who do so. Certainly those children without athletic gifts or skills can be rewarded in another area of their lives. Now, I live in Mission Viejo, Orange County, CA, where children are pressured to pursue excellence and perfection in every area of their lives. So, we have the opposite problem. In fact, I have to remind myself to give my son some slack.

      • Kathy on June 3, 2014 at 6:59 pm
      • Reply

      Words can make you drool.
      These words are often used on restaurant menus.
      Pavlov for humans.

  118. Kristen, please may I reblog “wicked” on my blog: If so, how would you prefer i do it? Back in 1976 I was visited by South Africa’s security branch, and threatened with 90 days detention (without due process) for marketing a Bob Marley album. The notion of censorship-be it overt by a heavy-handed regime or covert by blind ideology-is of great personal concern for me.

    1. Use anything you need ((HUGS)).

  119. This is a great post

  120. Reblogged this on Lenora's Culture Center and Foray into History.

    • felinewyvern on May 28, 2014 at 1:49 pm
    • Reply

    I am not a writer, I am a reader and this scares the bejeezus out of me. I am the person I am today because of all those books I read that made me think, cry, laugh, traumatized me and generally made me try to be a better person.

  121. Great post Kristen. I’ve been reading about “Trigger Warnings” in schools for the past few weeks now, and I’m just as concerned about this style of censorship as you are. This graduation season also highlighted the shameful actions of universities when they reneged on inviting “controversial” speakers at their commencement ceremonies.

  122. PS: Regarding coddling kids in school, some years ago the NY State Board of Education made some headlines among certain news agencies and websites. They were attempting to ban “dangerous sports,” like dodge ball. However, they slipped too far down that slippery slope when whiffle ball was placed the verboten list. They backed off just before the WTH? Wave crested to tsunami proportions.

    • dukeinsurance on May 28, 2014 at 6:19 pm
    • Reply

    Kristen has written about issues that are so critical to writers and citizens that I hope all readers will have an opportunity to read this and think about what she has said. This is great idea in showing thoughts whats really the value to be a writer.

    1. Thanks ((HUGS))

      1. Hmmm. Duke’s comment was almost word for word the introduction to my reblog of this post yesterday on Everwriting – happy to be quoted, even without the credit. What you’ve said here is crucially important and every writer/parent/citizen should read it.

        1. Well, then thank YOU. And thank you for the reblog. This is such an important issue.

  123. I read this and the first thing I thought was the schools putting on warning labels must be doing it out of some sort of fear of being sued (because that’s pretty much the origin of all ridiculous warning labels in this country) but honestly, what would people argue as the basis for suit? And if this just reflects the thoughts in this country on how we should see people, isn’t our over sensitivity just exacerbating the problem by trying to ignore it?

  124. I’ve been saying this since Girl With the Dragon Tattoo came out and I was verbally attacked and called every name in the book (by a group of abuse survivors) for saying that trigger warnings for movies and books were a subtle form of censorship. Never mind that I’ve been abused. They called me the B word, the C word and told me to go away and write my “books about rape.” The trigger warning issue has gotten to the point of an online support group where no one ever gets better, they just talk about how bad they feel. I don’t write books about rape, I write books about vampires, but there are some disturbing scenes. I would rather not get published than have a “Trigger Warning!” sticker on my book. I have triggers. I won’t list them all here because it would take too long. I used to avoid the world. Then I started writing and wrote through my triggers. People need to get some help instead of expecting the world to change to suit them. I have walked into an ER and gotten help when I felt like I was having a breakdown. I will never accept this trigger warning culture. It’s like tearing pages out of a book and burning them.

    1. I have PCOS and as such am more at risk of having a miscarriage and might never have a child.
      Obviously any form of abortion, miscarriage or child-ache is a trigger for me, even though I’m 19.
      But I would not be without those triggers and I often seek out those stories. I need to explore this trigger and how I feel about these topics.
      How can we make up our opinion – and following that; LAWS – if we don’t explore the topic?
      This is exactly the reason why philosophs spent so much time drinking wine and DEBATING in ancient Greece and Rome.
      Their whole idea was that only intelligent, informed people should rule.
      To me it seems it’s become the opposite.
      We make laws based on stupidity instead of information.
      In the end we’re all criminals because, honestly, there are too many laws to read them all.

      1. One of my major triggers is the fact that I never had children and had to have a hysterectomy at 32 because I had severe fibroids. I religiously avoided anything related to babies and childbirth for years. Eventually I realized I couldn’t live the rest of my life that way. I would have had to never leave the house and I would have missed out on being involved when a friend or relative was having a baby. That’s a hard one to move past because pretty much the rest of the world revolves around babies and children and I never forget about it, but I can function now in the world.

        1. Which is one of the reasons I write about all the problems I and so many of my friends have faced in the effort to live as fully alive as possible. Writing about these painful events has always lessened their power to hurt me. Being unable to have children was a real possibility for me and deeply wounded some of my friends. For them, I wrote about what we all went through to have children and how we felt about facing childlessness. Writing about that was important to me and done in tribute to the women who suffered through so many years of hope and disappointment.

        2. Exactly! It’s a half life if you turn your eye to it. You just have to find a way to move beyond it 🙂

        3. Lol, ok, so “just” might not be the right word XD

    2. “I write books about vampires, but there are some disturbing scenes. I would rather not get published than have a “Trigger Warning!” sticker on my book.”

      That would be the ultimate lunacy — trigger warnings for types of attacks that don’t really happen.

      “Then I started writing and wrote through my triggers. People need to get some help instead of expecting the world to change to suit them.”

      This is sort of what I did, too. Writers have a great advantage in this — the ability to work things through in fiction. I’ve never published, or even finished, the novel which dealt (in metaphorical terms) with 9/11 — but I think writing it helped.

      1. Well, there’s violence and assaults and one of the survivors likens being attacked by a vampire to being raped. I don’t write the sparkly variety of vampires.

  125. Thought provoking article. I find the older I get, the less books i read. Not as much time nowadays.

  126. Reblogged this on Brainfluff and commented:
    This reblog breaks a couple of my self imposed guidelines. Kristen is something of a force, so her blogs are already widely available and I generally don’t write or reblog loooong anything. But I thought this was such a thought-provoking, pertinent article, I wanted to include it.

    • Lisa Chaplin on May 29, 2014 at 5:37 am
    • Reply

    You raise very thought-provoking points here, and I agree with much of it.

    However, I was a parent that complained about certain required reading…I object privately to my son about fifteen year old boys reading that it was acceptable, even heroic behavior to sleep with your sister-in-law when your wife and newborn child is upstairs. But I called the school to object to those same boys (one of whom was my son) reading the next book, in which a 60 year old man seduced his 14 year old ward without consequence. And finally I strongly objected to a third book where my son had to read about a man having bestiality fantasies. And these books were all required reading in ONE semester.

    I’m not a prude. I have read all your abovementioned books and still remember them. My son read To Kill a Mockingbird at 14 years old and adored it, and learned something profound. He still quotes Animal Farm. And he’s read a few Shakespeares. But what benefit is there in reading about pedophilia and bestiality? To that kind of reading (and this was a Baccalaureate school) – I don’t care if it’s high literature, or another culture, I cann’t in any way believe it benefits children to read about it, or think such abuse is acceptable. I read the first two books to know why my son came to me distressed, so I’m not making blanket statements. To the school’s credit, when they understood why I was so distressed, they took the bestiality book off the curriculum and replaced it with Shakespeare, and my son was allowed to write an essay about the “literature” with pedophilia, with a clear message that he found the book and its hero’s behavior unacceptable.

    Is that where censorship begins? As an author myself, I’d hate my book/s to be banned. But I do believe there should be a line drawn, and not in the sand.

    1. Lisa, when it comes to kids I have no issue with this. The problem as I see it is that this is popping up in universities. We are talking about ADULTS, not kids. College is supposed to transition youth into what it means to be part of the real world, which can be ugly, unfair, and frightening. If we allow this sheltering in college, when do they grow up? We just hand them a cap and gown and toss them into the real world that doesn’t cater to their sensitivities?

      1. It reminds me of a guide I met in New York. As he gave us a recap of the brutal story of rebellion in the US he stopped and laughed.
        “Today when the young people get outraged they cry out it’s wrong, go to social media, make a tweet and then continue sipping their coffee.”

    2. What’s the point to reading about it?
      About the same point as to that documentary that came out a few years ago discussing the actuality of incest. how brothers and sisters who grew up separately have a tendency to become sexually attracted to each other once they meet.
      This is a real issue.
      It shouldn’t be held down.
      And we should see all sides.
      The importance of fiction is to show things in a certain light – to relay a message.
      The man who seduces his ward? Yeah, pedophilia, yugh and all that – we hate that guy right?
      But boundless hate is not healthy.
      For your exact reasons Der Untergang was protested.
      It showed Hitler from a too humane perspective.
      But that’s what teaches us empathy. That’s what teaches us to handle different people in different situations.
      Even, and ESPECIALLY, if we don’t like the subject.
      In the end you have the choice of whether or not to agree with the book.

      • KAthy on June 5, 2014 at 4:21 am
      • Reply

      Amen. I agree with you very much.
      Also, in response to those who favor exposing those who already have PTSD to writings about the triggering issue, I can only say that I disagree vehemently.
      I used to have PTSD, and I can tell you that when one is very upset, one cannot even think. The biochemicals coursing through one’s system make it hard to even function in the world.
      That an experience can cause PTSD is in itself a built-in warning that such an experience is so painful as to be dehumanizing. Do we really want an epidemic of PTSD?
      I fear that those who choose to write about such topics that trigger PTSD are inadvertently desensitizing those who have not had the experience against those who have, and causing them to lose empathy for the victims.
      The cure for me? EMC2, the AIM program, which was created by Dr. Stephen Lewis, author of Sanctuary, a system that cured me between the second and fourth weeks that I was in the program.

  127. Reblogged this on Love's Last Refuge and commented:
    This is an issue we can’t afford to dismiss.

  128. I’d like to know the titles of the books regarding the sister-in-law affair, the 60 year old pedophile and the book that mentioned bestiality so I can judge them for myself. This must have been one heck of an advanced high school honors program. “Some Shakespeares.” God forbid the schools teach Greek mythology….

    1. HAHAHA XD Come on, the kids watch Game of Thrones – they can handle a bit of incest.

  129. I agree. If we’re not uncomfortable how will we ever be moved into action. We’re raising a generation of ostriches who would rather bury their head in the sand than pay attention to the ills of the world.

  130. I’ll never forget when my oldest child told me they wouldn’t be reading Huckleberry Finn in school because it uses the “N” word. Are you freaking kidding me? Whatever happened to “those who refuse to study history are doomed to repeat it”? My response was to sit my children down, read the book with them, and discuss how far we’ve come as a society, along with how far we still need to go.
    All my books need warning labels. My first: a woman alone on a farm has to work her butt off to survive. My second: it’s a war, people die, atrocities happen. My current WIP: racism sucks, bullying sucks (I actually started working on it in response to what my dearest friend’s daughter was dealing with at school, since she’s a member of the Pima Tribe).
    The truth about hardship/competition/pain is that it shows more about our characters inner journey than fluffy bunnies and blue skies ever will. The same is true for all of us. I encourage competition in my children, all the while reminding them that the most important person to overcome is the person they were yesterday.

    1. My story needs a warning because it presents BOTH upper and lower class as PEOPLE. Lol.
      I like the way you handled that situation. There’s hope as long as there are parents like yourself.

  131. Reblogged this on Bethanie Hardie and commented:
    A very pressing & poignant article by Kristen Lamb. I dread to think what would happen to the literature that I love & even some of my own work.

  132. The sad thing is that randomly throwing paint at a canvas I aesthetically more pleasing than if I randomly put dots on it instead. If art was about beauty maybe that would be a problem.
    We could get computers to randomly create “art”.

    But the best art is ugly.
    The best art makes us cry and squirm and put the book down or look away because we have to THINK.

    You want your books with a warning label?
    Well how about LIFE comes with a warning label?

    This is bullshit. Oh, warning, CURSE WORD!
    Fuck that.

    Freedom of speech is pointless if the freedom of hearing isn’t also allowed.

  133. Just found a link to this post. I fully agree with you. I do believe there are people out there who have had traumatic experiences, but as stated in a comment above, there are countless things that serve as triggers. I have no problem with allowing students know that there may be something disturbing in a lecture or course material, but I agree that they should not be completely sheltered from it. No opting out for something less disturbing, something that probably won’t provoke thought and perhaps action. As almost everyone has said: Life doesn’t come with warning labels. We all need to know that there are ugly, violent, horrible things out there. Prepared? Yes. Protected from? No. The world we live in is not all unicorns and rainbows. And it serves no one’s good to let anyone pretend it is.

    • Misa on May 29, 2014 at 12:37 pm
    • Reply

    Great post — thanks! I agree about Amazon. I held off buying e-books for a very long time because of their actions with 1984. And specialness — it’s like Buddy said in the movie The Incredibles … something about “when everyone’s super, then no one will be.”

    Question, if I may, and could we do this via email? You mention that your college experiences propelled you to the Middle East (good for you!) and you wore hijab. I’m writing a character who’s forced to wear a burka (and hasn’t before). Could you share your experiences, such as what was clumsy/difficult and how being so anonymous affected your social interactions? Thanks!