Trigger Warnings | Rant

I’ve been annoyed by YouTube lately, which annoys me in itself, because why should I really care about a platform predominately filled with creators making content for an audience younger than one I’d be genuinely interested in reaching? And I think the reason is twofold. 1) I am pissed off with myself that I make this shitty vanilla content because that’s the safe expected thing to do, and 2) because I see other people falling into the same trap.

The other day I became irrationally irritated by a Twitter conversation I wasn’t involved in. I saw TomSka tweeting with reference to a Tumblr post expressing disappointment with him for making a suicide joke in a video. I completely empathised with Tom’s point – to put a trigger warning on the video would ruin the comedic punches. He then sent a series of tweets trying to find a workaround for this problem in future videos, and some of the replies were infuriating.

And I’m wondering if it’s the platform. Or the audience.

Tom has built an audience of kids/teens because that’s the prime demo his content appeals to. If Tom had only ever made adult content, would he still be suffering backlash from that joke? Would he have grown a different audience? Would he have an audience who expect, enjoy, and respect comedians who don’t find anything off limits, other than the approach?

I am someone who believes comedy can and should be about anything, providing the joke is targeting the right element, e.g. don’t make a rape joke about the victim, and if you’re going to make a rape joke make sure the message is clever enough that it doesn’t come off as a cheap vehicle for laughs.

None of my favourite comedians work with trigger warnings, and what’s more I doubt their audience has ever even considered asking them to. Imagine Doug Stanhope opening a set with trigger warnings; it would take him fifteen minutes to reel off every taboo subject he covers in that hour alone.

So I’m wondering, should Tom just start making whatever content he wants and let the right audience find him? One that doesn’t stifle him or pressure him into making ‘safe’ comedy?

Whilst I don’t understand what it is like to be triggered, I’m not against trigger warnings. I completely understand that someone who has suffered trauma could be upset by an unexpected reminder or callous discussion. That said, I do think that people take trigger warnings too far, and the line is far too grey and subjective for me to even begin to make an argument for where it should be. It’s impossible for any one person to say, and no one person should get to decide.

However, if there are creators who don’t want to be held accountable to an audience who need to know the time stamps of the jump scares in a Five Nights at Freddy’s video, then they should simply start making content that those people won’t watch. They need to ask themselves what is more valuable: a large, broad audience, or an audience that enjoys the kind of content they find fulfilling to make? I am sure there are people who don’t watch (for example) Tom’s content because they find it too tame, but would probably love the stuff he would make if he didn’t feel any responsibility to the vocal minority of his current audience.

Don’t flirt with making it a safe space. If people know it is not safe they will stay away, giving you both freedom.

(That said maybe Tom would make exactly the same stuff in the same way, I am only using him as an example as of his prominent, recent Twitter discussion. I don’t know Tom. I am not speaking for Tom)

Recently, I was also frustrated by the #WeStandWithZoe shenanigans, for so many, many reasons. I saw many people using the hashtag as an excuse to tweet sexualised selfies. Obviously some people were casual and legit. But I saw a whole group of people, who usually tweet pictures of themselves every day, frothing at the excuse to tweet a panty pic. Zoe had a small portion of hip showing, but these narcissists were showing the whole thing, trying to look as sexy as possible, completely missing the point. Want to drive home that The Sun were being absurd with their remarks? Tweet ironically with too many clothes on, don’t turn it into something arguably sexual. Don’t turn it into something so sexual you then have to backtrack and ask that girls under the age of 18 don’t follow your example. I saw a bunch of SJW types eagerly tweeting pics, so wrapped up in this opportunity to finally reveal some body, that they ignored the fact they were encouraging their huge YOUNG teen followings into tweeting softcore underage porn. But where’s the uproar about this? About these poor-intentioned idiots actually causing a sleazy trend?

Not to mention all the fucking free advertising they gave The Sun… Jesus Christ. Congratulations on playing right into their hands, guys.

And this frustrates me because Tom is held accountable for making a joke personal enough to him that he feels ownership of it. That he feels he has the right to make.

I was talking to a friend as these two incidents were going on, both of us refraining from pointlessly throwing more public noise into the mix, about how we feel we can’t make jokes about our own depression, suicidal thoughts/attempts, or self harm, even though it is part of our lives, just because it will upset someone online and we don’t want to have to deal with that shit. We joke about it ALL THE TIME in real life. It’s part of who we are. But we’re censored online. We’re censored from making jokes about the shit we’ve experienced and continue to experience. Censored from being ourselves. Meanwhile, the same people who signal boost TRIGGER WARNINGS at every opportunity are encouraging an online tag for paedo bait.

Intent matters.

I am not doing what I wish Tom (and everyone in the same position) would do. I am not just making the content I want to make and seeing where the pieces fall. And I am a hypocrite for that.

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8 thoughts on “Trigger Warnings | Rant

  1. I would be interested to see what you’d make thinking less about the demographic you have or, want. Who is your audience? I’m a 26 year old male and I find what you produce to be interesting. I didn’t think your videos were overly vanilla. But perhaps I’m not as adventurous as I thought.

    I made a joke about self arm to someone I was chatting to on tinder. That was the longest pause between messages I’ve ever experienced. It went over well but, gosh I was worried. I think you need to err on the side of making what you want. And being who you want to be. And letting your audience find you. Otherwise your art truely becomes a job. If you need to rebrand (ulgy word) then you do. Like any amount of child stars or young bands do when they get older…

    Sigh. I wish I was more coherent. I could talk in circles about this. Why did I bring up that tinder story, to brag.

    You and Zach Little are the only vloging channels I watch anymore.

    This sure was a comment.
    Regards,
    Timothy

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    1. Thanks for this, Timothy!
      I don’t really know who my audience is, and I think I also use age as a far too generic indicator. I’m stereotyping a bit, but I think the outrage culture I’m referring to exists a lot less prevalently in people 25+…
      As far as my content goes, I think I have probably just made a few videos where I have been overtly aware of potential backlash. And I’m probably really saying ‘I wish I could make jokes without people taking it seriously.’ It definitely extends to twitter, etc. I remember Hank Green saying ‘It’s crazy!’ and people chastising him for it. It’s Hank! And crazy is a word applied to things such as paving, it wasn’t a subtle mental illness dig. It’s just so frustrating – and then I watch RoosterTeeth and Geoff is saying whatever the hell he wants (throwing the big R around) and NO ONE is commenting on it because he has always done it and he has the right audience.
      I think, like I said in the latest video, part of me has been just saying fuck it, make the most idiotic content possible, but make it knowingly, and you guys get it. You get that that’s part of it. I think that I’m lucky in that I no longer care about numbers or likes. Jesus even typing out the word ‘likes’ is embarrassing. If everyone hated a video I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, which is something that only came with age/time – and luckily I was fully formed when I started so I don’t have any teen videos to hide. But I know that there are a few people who wish they could escape the ‘kids TV’ style content… Yet it’s what works so they have to make it.
      I’m also just so bored by everyone making videos about how to ‘survive’ school, uni, homework, sex, moving away from home… it’s all for younger audiences.
      Did the Tinder connection work out?
      Zach is amazing. One of my absolute favourites, and that even his audience doesn’t watch his videos as much any more is a joke that speaks volumes about the YT demographics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Jesus Christ I need edit my posts. Sorry for making you read that mess. I used to work as a typesetter. I now don’t work as a typesetter.

    Part of me doesn’t understand that as the creators of youtube got older, why didn’t the content change as much? I am roughly the same age as many popular youtubers ­–I feel depressed by this statement for some reason– so why didn’t their stuff age with me? I now feel a bit lost when I look around on the platform for something to grip onto. There just doesn’t seem to be anything for a mid twenties, white, mostly heterosexual, mostly male, university educated, lower-working-middle-class type. Who’s making media for me?

    Music was(is?) my preferred method of self expression. I used to ask my mates, ‘If you made music that meant a lot to you, and you discovered most of your fans were teens, or people you didn’t expect or connect with, would you still make the music, or would you change to gain an audience you wanted?’ I guess my question is a somewhat twisted version of whats going on with some youtubers. You also don’t get to choose your audience. Daniel Kitson had a bit about getting popular and having ‘dickheads’ now liking him.

    I ask, if your friend was at a job they didn’t like, any job, working at the supermarket or anything, what would your advice be? And would that advice be any different to offering a professional youtuber a way to navigate away from a job they weren’t satisfied in? It’s easy to stay in a job you dislike when money is coming in on the regular. Especially if its adjacent or close to something you’d like to be doing. I’ve been there. You just have to want to change paths. I’m sure it’s a hell of a lot harder to do when your self employed, and maybe even have underlings. But if you hate yourself, you gotta change or lean into the oblivion that is the working world and use your income to make you less sad.

    I’m very much projecting because I quit my well paying job to go back to university.

    We made a date for the art gallery.

    Oh, I also watch the vlogbrothers, they’re just so bloody ingrained in youtube I see them as wall paper. I missed the crazy controversy, which I’m glad about.

    I don’t know what the intent of this comment was. Did I address any relevant points?

    I guess you make the jokes you want to make. Just be ready say ‘sorry’ or, ‘fuck you’ at the appropriate times.

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  3. I would definitely have fallen into the group of people taking an ecstatic part in outrage culture about a year ago. I’m a 19 year old female and so I definitely fall into the right demographic for it as well, but my self-righteous anger I learned on tumblr always grated with my love of stand-up comedy and “dark” humour. I constantly found myself in double standards between gasping in shock at questionable jokes people made on twitter and then watching and laughing at Geoff (like you said) and the Rooster Teeth Podcast.
    Eventually I got sick of reading posts on tumblr like “I can’t believe people still support [celebrity X] when they [insert possibly questionable joke here or unintended slip-up] they’re a terrible person”. It always seemed like such an overreaction considering how many questionable or straight up awful things I’ve said. I kind of had to rethink my position on all of it.
    I also went to see my favourite stand-up set I’ve seen yet – Daniel Sloss’ show ‘Dark’ – which was, as the name suggests, pretty fucking dark. There was some easy humour in there but the best parts, the funniest parts, were when he was joking about the death of his best friend’s dad or the death of his disabled sister. It was brilliant and sad and hilarious and he led you through all the jokes so carefully that no one felt bad about laughing and he never made the jokes at the victim’s expense. I couldn’t find that the greatest show I’ve ever seen and then yell at someone else for mentioning suicide in a comedy sketch could I? I’d be an arsehole.
    You are definitely right that finding the right audience is what the creator needs to free themselves to make the jokes and comments they want to make and Rooster Teeth is the perfect example of that, but I also think you might be underestimating the number of people willing to make the shift with you to whatever type of content it is that you really want to make, although I think you’re right and that it’s inevitable that not everyone would enjoy the change.
    But I enjoy what you make anyway and I’d love to see what you’d do when you did what you really want to.
    I also want to shamelessly chime in with yourself and Timothy and say I found Zach Little a couple months ago and I love him.

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    1. I think, with regards to your comment about boycotting celebrities after they say something, there always needs to be context. There needs to be history. It shouldn’t be possible for someone to be publicly denounced for a joke considered ‘off’ if they didn’t have ill intent.
      It’s interesting to hear about that conflict, though. I’ve never been part of outrage culture, unless it’s someone who is legitimately an asshole. I’m not a fan of Dapper Laughs. But then would I be if he didn’t say misogynist shit? Probably not.
      I’ll have to check out that Daniel Sloss set – I’ve seen his stuff before and never really paid much attention, but that sounds like an interesting listen.
      Thanks for your comment (and kind words) and ALWAYS good to see another Zach fan. I could listen to him talk for hours.

      Like

  4. I think part of why people might have been overreacting because Tom (don’t know him) didn’t put a trigger warning on his content, is because they didn’t expect him to make that sort of content. With certain people you know how they tick and that they have a good bit of sarcasm or dark humour in their content, and if those people joke about suicide or whatever, you’d laugh at it and think, same.

    But if that’s not someone’s style usually, you don’t expect it, and maybe people watch his stuff with the intention to distract themselves from harmful thoughts and see it as sort of a safe place? I don’t know, that’s just one of the explanations I can think of that would make sense to me.

    In reality though, if you’ve been through trauma, if you have triggers, anything can trigger you. Some days you feel like you’re fine and things seem okay and you’re not triggered easily, and some days everything is a trigger, every sound and smell and touch. Also triggers are very individual to each person, and honestly, I’ve yet to see someone go off because the word “suicide” is mentioned. It’s all very much contextual.

    What I wanted to say with this is that people, or especially you, shouldn’t censor themselves too much. I personally don’t think it helps anyone; if anything, it’s always helped me when people were open about things, and I’ll usually laugh at jokes about suicide or self harm (when appropriate, of course), even though I’ve been personally affected those things as well.

    I don’t actually know what your viewer demographic is, I’m 26, but I think there are lots of people my age who’d love to watch more content for my age group/demographic/whatever. There’s such depth in your videos, and sometimes I think to myself, wow, she could have really stayed on that topic, that was interesting.

    I guess the most important thing is, do what you like and what makes you happy. (Like writing another book!)

    Love, C.

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  5. Heartbreaking to see how social media gives people this fantastic means of intercultural exchange and at the same time bombards them with frightening reactions from death threats to shit storms. Like a bittersweet drug with outrageous side effects.
    I wish you all the best with how you define your own YouTube!
    Also, keep in mind that standing your ground and swimming against the current – being dominant when needed – is something that makes a person a trustworthy, respectful person.

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  6. Let’s be honest, the audience for that sketch of Tom’s probably isn’t his normal audience because it had Dan Howell in it, and his audience is 10-20 yr old girls. Personally I think Tom did the right thing simply because if he had have ignored it it could possibly have snowballed due to the mob mentality of that particular fandom. I feel bad for him because he’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, which I guess if someone’s wanting likes and views they have to sacrifice certain aspects of creative control, which you said.
    This is definitely an important topic (trigger warnings), and the broader issue of trying to control people creatively, I would like it if people who did have younger audiences would talk about this stuff more, try to educate them a bit, because it’s not until we get older that we stop seeing everything in such a black or white way. But then like you said, if they can’t be bothered to educate it does make sense to try to gather an audience that doesn’t mind more challenging content.
    It’s funny to me because when I was 11 and 12 I was watching really subversive comedy, but then the internet wasn’t even a thing at that time, so my views as a pre-teen and teen weren’t shaped and defined by other people as much. Kind of a sad thing really when you think of all the awesome things these girls could be enjoying but they put limits on themselves and each other.

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