Warnings (2009 post by zvi)

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Title: Warnings
Creator: zvi
Date(s): June 22, 2009
Medium: online
Fandom: none
Topic: warnings
External Links: Warnings (2009 post)
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Warnings is a post by zvi. It was one of the most widely discussed and controversial posts made during Trigger Warning Debate (2009), and had 382 comments before commenting was frozen.

The post's author asks that fans read Apology for AbilityFail; zvi; Apology for AbilityFail (archive link), Archived version before reading the main post.

Excerpt from the Post

If you know that you have a continuing mental issue where reading a particular sort of subject matter is dangerous to your mental health, why would you make that sort of assumption? Bandom Big Bang (the comm where the most recent story was promoted to the world) does not have a warnings requirement. Individual author's pages or journals don't have warning requirements. There are, however, comms and archives and even a few newsletters which do have warning requirements, where you can know, because the rules require it, that if no warning is present there is nothing to warn for.

I don't quite see how this is different than if one is, say, allergic to citrus. If you buy a pre-packaged cake in the store, you have a reasonable expectation of being able to read the ingredients label and see that it does or does not contain a citrus ingredient. This is because, in the United States at least, commercial food products are required to list their ingredients by law. Of course, there are many food companies which don't wish to reveal their secret recipes, so they may just say natural ingredients instead of getting specific, and you, as a person with a citrus allergy, would know to stay clear because natural ingredients might be anything at all.

But if you're at a bake sale, and there's a delicious looking confection called boom cake, which doesn't have a description or a list of ingredients next to it, wouldn't you, as someone with a citrus allergy, ask the person doing the selling, "What's in a boom cake?" You might even go so far as to say, "I'm allergic to citrus, is why I'm asking." And if the person doing the selling didn't know, or if you didn't feel comfortable asking the person doing the selling because you're afraid they might mislead you through ignorance or malice, wouldn't you ask your unallergic friend who had bought boom cake if she thought it had citrus? Or, perhaps, buy the red velvet cake instead, since you know that red velvet cakes are chocolate and not citrus.

Even if you believe that it is the ethical obligation of authors to provide warnings for some limited range of extremely common triggers, you know that there are large swathes of fandom who disagree with you on this point. Why are you acting as if everyone has already agreed with your position, when acting in that way puts you in danger? If the fiction doesn't have a warning line, check to see if you're in a venue which requires warnings. And if you are not (and the fiction does not also have a rating like G or PG), approach the fic as if a "choose not to warn" label has been applied. Because not having a warning is not the same as not containing something for which a warning might be useful for some readers.

The other issue that concerns me with that exchange is warning creep. Noncon and dubcon are pretty common requests, and, as people have pointed out, a real issue for some people because of their lives outside of fandom.

Incest is an odd one to me, because pairing labels are so ubiquitous in fandom. Generally speaking, readers know a source well enough to recognize if one of the listed pairings is incestuous. But, okay, let's suppose that you're writing a Snarry story which includes co-incidental happy and consensual Fred/George, but you don't list the Fred/George as a pairing because that's not the point of the story, and you don't call it dubious consent because Fred and George are happily twined around each other like puppies, I suppose someone might freak out at surprise incest and want to be warned.

Character death is also a common request, but it's nothing like universal. It is one that I am opposed to as a warning label. It's a spoiler and it's not a generic trigger, it's one of those weird artifacts of fan culture that I wish people would cut the fuck out, where people don't want to read something they might not like and don't want to invest any time in figuring out whether or not they would like it beforehand.

But cheating, people? Cheating? Not only are we back in the "you want to be warned about something you won't enjoy" territory, as with death, cheating is no longer a common warning request. I mean, I could just run in circles where warning for cheating is too, too passe. (Really, I could, as I run in circles where a lot of people don't do warnings at all.) But about the time (somewhere between, oh, five and ten years ago) the warnings debate shifted from "If you were nice, you would warn," to "Your non-con is triggering me," cheating got dropped from the list of common warnings when we had warning debates. (It seems to me, although I am not definite on this point, that warning for cheating was much more common when fanfiction was mostly exchanged through [costly] zines.)

But, I think most worrying of all is the et cetera they slip on the end there. What the heck is contained in that et cetera? How does anyone learn what's contained in the et cetera? Who controls the et cetera list? How do you prove that your particular issue has entered the et cetera phase? Can things for which many readers would like a warning but authors don't want to admit their stories include be added to the et cetera list, like racism, misogyny, or poor grammar and spelling?

The thing about this is, I am perfectly okay with people needing warnings to decide whether or not to read a story. And I am okay with them deciding that if they don't get a warning, then they won't read a story. I don't understand why they insist that all stories have warnings. If there is no warning on the story, then you do not have information on whether or not something triggering is in the story. Why is that hard to grasp?

Comments to the Post at the Post

Read them here: page 1, page 2; archive link page 1, archive link page 2