Triggernometry Redux: The “Trigger Warning” as Speech Act


An addendum to my earlier post on “trigger warnings,” inspired by a very late night discussion on Facebook:


The “trigger warning” can be viewed as a speech act. Considered as such, the act it performs is indirectly declarative; it (pro)claims for oneself and/or others the identity of “victim.” Because in the United States, in particular, the identity of “victim” is culturally enshrined, the deployment of the “trigger warning” is in essence an assertion of “moral superiority.” (It functions much like “not having privilege,” as described in Gawker’s playful online series “The Privilege Tournament”).

The (paradoxically privileged) status of “victim” confers upon its owner(s) the (unquestioned and unquestionable, because “sacred”) right to exert control over narratives (including the speech of other people, especially “non-victims”)—–a right understood as unimpeachable owing to the (pro)claimed, privileged status of “victim” and the authority this status bestows.

This is what George Will meant when he stated that victimhood is a privileged status, and this is just about the only thing he got right in his op-ed. He didn’t mean (or say) it was a privilege to be raped. He said that the status of “victim” comes with certain privileges. And this is what he meant. His greatest taboo, of course, was in exposing the culture of victimhood as one of power and in pointing out that the position of “victim”—-at least in contemporary U.S. society—-is one of power.

In other words, Will’s “transgression” consists of naming the power that the label “victim” intends to occlude, and upon whose occlusion the maintenance of that power depends. In exposing both the underlying mechanisms of power at play and their occlusion, Will’s op-ed threatens to subvert the authority of “victimhood.” It is primarily for this reason that he is currently being skewered online, although no one skewering him is openly admitting that this is the reason—-for doing so would force his critics to even more clearly detail the power structures underpinning the culture of “victimhood.”

[***DRAFT: WEDNESDAY, JUNE 11th, 2014. 17:44 EDT***]

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