The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Tag: 18 to life

Should Television Have Trigger Warnings?

So, I’ve  been catching up on The Walking Dead  recently (specifically,  to write satirical scripts for this awesome site, which are crazy-fun  to write  and hopefully slightly entertaining to everyone else, please check it out). And I was watching the second-to-most recent episode yesterday,  when a certain scene made me cock  my head a little. Without spoiling anything, a character who has suffered a recent loss feels numb, and pushes a lit cigarette into their hand in reasonably graphic detail. My first reaction – after a series of “URGH-WHA-EEUGH-SHHHUU” – was to pause the video and go and play with my cat for a few minutes. Why? Because I found it a little bit triggering. I’ve written about my continuing struggle with self-harm on this blog and, while this scene didn’t actually cause me to do anything untoward, it did make a small bit of my brain to go “hey, we haven’t done that for a while, maybe we should-” until I could shut it up by making my kitten chase after the string on my pocketwatch. And it got me thinking: should TV come with a trigger warning?

I’m filling this post with pictures of adorable kittens to counteract any potentially upsetting material! Look at this wee fucker!

Firstly, what the hell is a trigger warning? Basically, it’s a bit of netiquette that’s arisen for use in online articles, blog posts, and various other outlets to let potential viewers know that what they’re going to see or read might cause them to relive some painful or difficult emotions (the most common are for rape, sexual abuse, depression, suicide, and other mental health problems). In a lot of ways, it makes perfect sense: my Mum doesn’t like really violent films (unless Scorcese directed them), so showing her The Texas Chainsaw Massacre without first telling her that there’s loads of graphic violence in it would probably make her pretty upset (by which I mean, furious). Unfortunately, until there’s a trigger warning for Ben Affleck movies, my needs go unmet, but surely there’s no harm in flagging up topics that some people might not want to think about or be reminded of?

But there are a lot of people who think that trigger warnings actually patronise those who might be upset by the content their watching. And I can see that side too: I’d be really annoyed if someone told me that I shouldn’t watch something because I might find it triggering, because no-one except me has any idea what I find triggering (Christ, the most triggered I’ve ever been was watching an episode of Glee that depicted someone preparing for a suicide attempt, and not their cover of MCR like you might imagine). But I’ve discouraged close friends from watching certain films and TV shows because they reflect things that I know they would rather not be reminded of. There’s a very thin line between dictating what someone can and can’t cope with, and suggesting that certain people avoid certain films, movies, books, or articles because they might put them in a seriously upsetting place that they have no control over.

I just Googled “kittens cute as fuck” and this little charmer came up. Look at his tiny little face! Look at it!

So, where do TV shows fit into all of this? How do you warn people, in this age where spoilers are the ultimate crime, that there might be triggering material in this episode? As most shows that depict graphic rape, self-harm, or in-depth explorations of mental health are aimed at adults, some people argue that those who don’t want to risk getting triggered should either suck it up or avoid these shows altogether. And I can see why: we’re all grown-ups here, and if that means I have to sit in the bathroom and cry for twenty minutes before I carry on with this immensely upsetting episode of American Horror Story, that’s my choice. Nobody is holding me at gunpoint and making me watch this stuff, and, if I find it upsetting, I can always check out and watch something lighter. Watching adult TV means dealing with adult themes, and if those themes- like rape and suicide- are dealt with in a mature, honest, and emotionally resonant way, then I think there would be something a bit wrong with me if I wasn’t a bit discomforted by it.

LOOK AT THIS ONE’S GRUMPY LITTLE FACE I WANT IT I WANT IT SO MUCH

But I think the problem arises from shows which sneak up behind you and spring something potentially disturbing, like The Walking Dead. That might sound ridiculous considering the constant light drizzle of blood spatters and emotional character deaths, but these are things I’ve come to expect from the show having watched it for five seasons (despite a suicide attempt in season two, which-and I hate to admit this- had no affect on me at all because I had no emotional attachment to the character and her motivations so differed from anything I had experienced). I didn’t expect to see a pretty graphic depiction of self-harm thrown at me out of nowhere, committed by a character I like very much and whose reasoning I could relate to, and it triggered me.

So, should television have trigger warnings? It’s a tough question, because there’s a danger of every Hannibal episode starting with a disclaimer that states “DON’T. JUST DON’T”, or otherwise coddling audiences in a way that removes any trust in their own abilities to handle disturbing things in an adult way. But I think that yeah, from time to time, shows that are showing potentially distressing material that’s outwith what they’d normally broadcast could do worse than to give their audiences a chance to prepare themselves and make a decision that they’re comfortable with.

Wonderful; I’ll take a thousand please.

Oh, and this post should probably have come with a trigger warning.

Doctor Who: Tiny Alien Regulates Destruction of Insubstantial Scribbles

I’d like to draw your attention to this. A dear friend of mine and long-time reader of my Fifty Shades of Grey recaps (so she politely claims in my presence, anyway) is currently fundraising for a trip to Ecuador where she’ll teach English to kids, and you should give her all your money because she’s excellent and because if you don’t I’ll think worse of you. But seriously, it’s a trip to give a all-round top-notch human female a chance to do real good, and any donations would be amazing. ‘Kay? ‘Kay.On with the review!

This week’s Doctor Who, Flatline, was a very solid episode. I’ve been saying for weeks now that this Doctor and Clara just don’t match up, and splitting them up- as they did here, with the Doctor trapped inside a miniature Tardis and Clara assuming his role as the roving, innovating saviour of the day- gave the episode a brisk, fun energy that’s been missing in Clara’s storylines of late. A huge shout out to Jenna Coleman in this episode, too, who did a trememdous job reminding us why she’s one of the finest assistants to ever grace the show’s writer’s room. Here, she took on the role of the Doctor- Matt Smith’s Doctor, specifically- which allowed her some great interactions with a very solid supporting cast.

Once again, the monsters this week- two-dimensional creatures who sucked unsuspecting victims into walls and floors and suchlike- were good, but basically irrelevant. Den of Geek pointed out in their review that the monsters for this series are increasingly becoming a framing device for the thematic elements of the show, often with great effect- Listen- but this often strips them of any real menace. I couldn’t help the nagging feeling that these creatures might have been all the more chilling in the hands of a different writer, a different showrunner, and a different director. Were they competent? Yes. But they weren’t scary, and they should have been.

Flatline was big on cool special effects- a moment where a train was absorbed into a wall, leaving nothing but the careful outline behind, was excellent- and fun sight gags, like the Doctor’s full-size hand reaching out of a miniature Tardis to give Clara some deus ex machina device to save the day. Aside from being terrifically short on Danny Pink (next week’s episode, which I am insanely pumped for, seems to feature him heavily), it was a strong entry into a patchy series.

There’s something I have to admit, though. For the first time ever, I’m not excited about watching Doctor Who. I watch these episodes because I’m waiting for something to draw me back in, to excite me enough that I find myself hunched over iPlayer waiting for the next episode to come on. Listen almost did it, but was followed by a bunch of episodes that were competent but not compelling. For me, at least, this isn’t must-see television. This is television that’s static. It’s stuck in this endless loop of cleverness and cool themes that were brought up years ago and still fail to be resolved; cleverness is a brilliant thing in a TV show, but it has to be backed up by the substance to warrant it.  Compare Moffat’s masterpiece Blink-which had a strong emotional throughline as well as a fiendishly clever plot- to this series. Nothing has roared through the screen in a trail-blazing mass of unforgettable television; everything is a whimper, not a bang. And this saddens me, because I feel like I’ve grown out of Doctor Who, maybe for good. Of course there will always be a place in my heart for the time-travelling madman, but these episodes aren’t rollicking or exciting or moving or stunning me the same way they used to. Frankly, there’s much better things to be watching at the moment (Vikings and American Horror Story, off the top of my head), and that’s bad when your show has such an original idea with seemingly endless plot possibilities. Is it salvageble? Probably, but it’s going to take big changes to make it so.

I’m far too sad to have Moffat yet. Someone get me a drink.

18 To Death

Don’t ask me how. Don’t ask me why. I’m even a little hazy on the when. But at six this evening I woke up with an intimate knowledge of a show made up entirely of bad qualities: Canadian teen sitcom 18 To Life.

You probably haven’t seen or heard of it; this isn’t because it’s some niche, underground hit that’s just waiting to make it into the big time, it’s because it’s so shit that the entire earth has made a collective blind spot and crammed the whole putrid affair into it in a box marked “Never open again, ever, not even for a joke”.

The plot revolves around Tom and Jessie, a teenage couple who’ve grown up together and get married just out of high school on a dare. Aside from a premise so contrived as to act as prime evidence that nothing new ever happens on TV, you’d think it’s main audience would be hard-right anti-sex nuts furiously not masturbating to the chastity and promotion of marital bliss. But the show strikes an uneasy balance between indescribably awkward innuendo and crashingly unsubtle social tension between her bleeding-heart liberal hippy parents and his fascist units. It’s like The Good Life meets oh God just kill me.

The situation isn’t helped by the humiliating lack of chemistry between the newlyweds. Because teenagers like nothing more than some totally hot sex within the legal boundaries of marriage (that is, after all, how Skins found it’s success), they’re constantly forced to assume the position and rut as if a demented David Attenborough were  jabbing them with a cattle prod offscreen. The adult cast also constantly bent over the nearest freestanding surface to engage in ever-more kinky sex- as the shows ratings lapsed and the, presumably by this point demented, producer decided the decaying sex lives of two middle-aged couples would hit the spot. It’s embarrassing for all involved; though all the actors are sufficiently attractive, they and indeed every other element of the show find themselves overshadowed by the magnificent arse of the woman who plays Jessie’s mother. Seriously. It should have it’s own spin-off; I’d watch.

The frustrating thing is the insistence that the marriage is legitimate; they got married ON A DARE. The last thing I did on a dare was try and fit a whole packet of Pan Drops in my mouth at once. Although it took me a fair few minutes to dislodge a particularly stubborn sweet from my gullet, a lifelong commitment it was not. Aside from the fact they are a terrible, mismatched couple who live in their parent’s attic, they seem to spend a good forty percent of the show throwing strops over their parents totally legitimate attempts to intervene.

The performances of the adult cast are patchy at best though essentially irrelevant due to the aforementioned rear end.  Though the writing has flashes of being kind of amusing and smart, it’s completely undermined by the complete lethargic apathy of everything else. Boxes are ticked, audience demographics are fed and the whole thing is as passionless as Jessie and Tom having a blank-faced quickie over the breakfast table. Long live television.