I will be discussing trigger warnings in a general sense but to set the scene, first I will be discussing a few personal stories concerning media consumption that are very violent and disturbing.
TRIGGER WARNINGS - domestic violence, stabbing, mutilation, incest, murder and a pretty vivid description of a movie scene featuring violence against women
All of these are mostly just mentioned but I will go into detail about a specific scene of a A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story. I will not be linking the movie/scene because I will not be held responsible for your downfall; if you want to see it, you - like me - will have to go search for it on your own. God speed
When I was a kid, I lived in a trailer in the middle of nowhere with my mom and my little sister. The Lifetime channel was a BIG thing in our house; my mom seemed to always have it on our living room. For anyone who doesn’t know, Lifetime is/was a cable television network/channel that was known - especially in the 90’s - for showing films based on true stories that most of the time centered around domestic violence and crimes against women and children. I watched the film adaptation of Ann Rule’s Small Sacrifices (1989) - the story of Diane Downs and how she brutally murdered most of her children in cold blood - on Lifetime at some point in my childhood. I am pretty sure I first saw the film adaptation of Flowers in the Attic (1987) on Lifetime too and if you’ve read the books, you know that was a gothic horror nightmare of incest and insanity. These are just the ones I happen to remember the titles of. There was another film where I vividly remember watching as a man attacked his estranged wife in the street, slicing her face with a razor blade so she would be ugly and therefore, couldn’t divorce him. Then there was the one that inspired me to write this in the first place, the film I now know to be titled A Cry for Help: The Tracey Thurman Story. ::deep breath:: Let’s get into it.
A Cry for Help was a 1989 direct to TV film about Tracey Thurman and her domestic violence case involving her husband, Buck and the police force that did nothing to help her. Long story short, Buck was abusive so Tracey filed for divorce, left him, got a restraining order against him and over the course of the movie, called the police multiple times as Buck kept violating the restraining order. The tension builds and ultimately depicts one of the most graphic scenes of violence I’ve seen and this was just ON THE TELEVISION. Literally, anyone could just turn it on and watch it.
Anyway, I was one of the people who saw it and I couldn’t have been older than 9; I’m not sure if I sat through the entire 96 minutes but one scene in particular was seared into my memory. It was one of the most visceral things I have ever seen and some things you just can’t unsee.
I’ve mentioned this movie to several people over the years but all I could do was vaguely describe it because I never knew the name of the movie. Imagine my surprise when just this morning, I was scrolling on TikTok and the lead actress’s face was there on my FYP looking back at me through the grainy lens of the film I couldn’t fully remember but have never been able to forget.
Actress Nancy McKeon as Tracey Thurman, a face that my mind has unintentionally barely remembered for 20+ years
Here’s where I go into detail, so prepare yourselves…
My body instantly reacted but I thought to myself “no way. there is no freaking way that this movie - this incredibly horrific niche low budget made for tv movie from 1989 with no major names on it - has come back to find me. So against my better judgement… I clicked on the account and they had clips of the entire movie, from start to finish. But I didn’t need to watch the whole thing because I already knew what I was looking for: the vicious scene where Buck stabs and brutalizes Tracey in their driveway. The entire scene is heinous but the one piece that is permanently lodged in my mind was Tracey, on the ground, broken and bleeding and Buck jumping up and bringing his foot down onto Tracey’s skull. I was literally in elementary school and this was just on in my living room. Casual.
OK THE WORST IS OVER
Anyway - I was instantly nauseous, my whole body tensed. Luckily Tiktok can’t even show the scene in full or the video would get removed so I didn’t actually see that part but I saw enough. Enough to make myself feel sick, enough for my body to remember seeing it for the first time 20+ years ago. That is how I learned the title and after having a lot of big feelings about it, I decided I needed to talk about it and get it out of my body.
That is how we got here. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe trigger warnings could have saved or shielded me from seeing this - again, this movie was just on in the middle of the day in our living room - but trigger warnings in general and what they do for people when it comes to consuming media are helping to shape a safer place. People who claim that “the god dang liberals are out here pandering to and creating soft people who can’t handle life” are the people who popped into my head when I decided to re-traumatize myself at 9:30 am on a Saturday.
I am not for censorship either, so don’t go thinking that. I think media in all its forms should exist as the artist intended. I’m fully aware that in the time before trigger warnings - and even now honestly - that most of the responsibility lies with the parents/caregivers who are directly involved in deciding the kinds of things their kids should and shouldn’t see. Trigger warnings are a tool to help protect people who need protecting, to warn people before they decide to engage and to give them the tools to make an informed decision for themselves as to how to proceed. Although, you could be like me and just dive right in anyway and end up ruining your own day. We are the ones who can’t be saved, even from ourselves.
I don’t know, I see and engage in so much discourse on these types of things that I felt the call to share this with y’all today. I think looking out for each other and being more mindful about the way we discuss media is something that can only serve to make things more enjoyable for people - especially when it comes to books.
Last year, I went in blind and read a taboo book that I quickly found out was not for me. The story was an incest romance between a father and teenage daughter; no thanks. All things considered, it wasn’t terribly written so I was set to rate it 2 stars and call it a day. At the end of the book, however, the author included a note to the reader requesting that we not share some of the themes and triggers of the book because it could hinder others’ enjoyment of this “beautiful love story.” This was when I realized where I stood on the argument of trigger warnings.
There are people who believe that trigger warnings can ruin a book. While I understand what they mean, it is actually pretty easy to not seek this information out if you are not a person who requires a warning. Just don’t look up the trigger warnings then; the trigger warnings aren’t for you, they are for people who may need to be warned before diving headfirst into something that could ruin their day. It’s giving very much straight people against gay marriage thing. If you don’t like gay marriage then don’t get gay married. It is very simple.
Then there are people like this author who ask you to be a willing participant in her scheme, lying by omission to trick readers into a book they may not be prepared to or even want to read. Authorial intent and character were then called into question. I know dark romance/taboo romance isn’t for everyone and that is fine, but to request that your readers withhold this information from potential future readers is at best irresponsible and at worst intentionally harmful.
I have amassed an audience on Tiktok over the last year that I never anticipated having and as a result, I feel like the very least I can do is be mindful of the fact that I can’t know all 30,000 of you. I can’t know what everyone has gone through, seen, experienced but I can share trigger warnings for those who need/want them. If you don’t need them, that’s great! My list of bothersome triggers is relatively short too so I get it but I also know that you never know what someone’s eyes may have seen 20+ years ago on a made for tv movie.
You can expect to get trigger warnings from me. 99% of the time because no one’s perfect!