The Taste of Gore: A Philosophical Review of Hardcore Henry (2016)

The glorious gore in The Fly

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Tonight, something inside me changed.

Those of you who’ve read my fiction know that I often employ gore in my stories. Characters are regularly decapitated, eaten, or thrown off buildings. And my upcoming novel, Defragmenting Daniel: The Organ Scrubber, is a gore fest. I’ve never seen a problem with treating my characters this way. A movie I saw tonight, however, has made me think twice.

Tonight, I watched Hardcore Henry.

Hardcore Henry is an adrenaline-fueled bloodbath about a soldier who’s brought back to life with a mash of human and cybernetic parts. But before Henry has a chance to enjoy his new life, an evil scientist hunts Henry down to obtain his technology. The movie is an unrelenting catalog of the ways Henry annihilates the mercenaries pursuing him. [For the record, there are no spoilers in this review, so it won’t diminish your experience if you intend to watch the movie].

To get a disturbingly visceral sense of the gore in Hardcore Henry, watch the movie’s opening credits:

Yup. Hectic. I found myself cringing in my seat. And the rest of the film is no softer. As I was watched on, I got to thinking: is showing this level of gore tasteful?

There are two popular views on gore in films and literature. Some feel that it’s awful, unnecessary, boring, and (at it’s worst) immoral garbage – call these the Conservatives. On the other hand, Gore Lovers feel quite the opposite – it’s fun, often witty, and entertaining.

While I watched Hardcore Henry, I vacillated quite uncomfortably between these two positions. I’m not sure this was the intention of the director – I have a feeling Ilya Naishuller belongs firmly to the Gore Lovers group. And I thought I did too. But while I watched knives pierce throats in slow motion, with every serration of the blade captured in high definition as it shreds the flesh of its victim, something didn’t sit quite right with me.

By the time I’d arrived home, I was in fierce debate with Mrs. Werbeloff about the Philosophy of Gore. And I’ll dive into that debate with you in a moment. But first, tell me your view:

I’m going to take a look at arguments for both the Conservative and Gore Loving and positions, and argue you that neither position is defensible. But what is particularly troubling is that I don’t think the Sometimes position works either.

One of the most obvious arguments offered by Conservatives is that the use of gore in fiction disrespects, or degrades, the human body. “How can you enjoy watching this?” they ask. Living, breathing persons inhabit human bodies. Each is a distinct individual with feelings, a family, and a history all their own. Slashing their bodies for entertainment is infantile, unnecessary, and perhaps, immoral. It shows no respect for the individual’s dignity, and indeed, for the dignity of human bodies in general.

Chaos in Kill Bill (2003)

This argument, however, is problematic. For one, we think that degrading or ignoring the needs of human bodies is, at least some of the time, a good thing. Almost all religions include traditions that consciously subvert the needs of the body in favor of the mind, or soul. Buddhist monks renounce pleasures of the flesh to achieve enlightenment. Historically, Catholics used self-flagellation as a tool for purification of the soul. And Jews fast on Yom Kippur to atone for their sins.

In addition, it seems like some movies and films use gore in a way that’s bizarrely aesthetically pleasing. In some of the best films made – The Fly, Re-Animator, and Kill Bill – you can’t help but gawp with equal parts admiration and horror at just how much blood is used, and how (for want of a better word) beautiful the result is. In Kill Bill I, over 41 people die, and 450 gallons of blood were spilled in Kill Bill volumes I and II. And it’s glorious. The bloodbath is delicious, and incredibly satisfying to watch. But most importantly, by the end of the film you can’t help but feel that the human body has taken on new meaning.

In at least some gore movies, the body becomes a temple. A place of worship for something chilling. Something awesome.

Alright, so the argument from the dignity of the body won’t cut it. But the Conservative has a second argument up her sleeve. Some Conservatives argue that gory films glorify some of the worst kinds of trauma. I was once driving on the highway, and watched the car in front of me clip the back wheel of a garbage truck. Three men sitting on the back were flung off the top of the vehicle as it flipped twice. One of the men landed underneath the truck. One landed beside my car. Before I could do anything he’d bled to death in front of me, his blood boiling on the tar.

A decade later, I still feel a chill pass through me when I drive past that spot. Is it right, is it good art, is it necessary, to use the fragility of the body for entertainment purposes, given the seriousness of the trauma associated with violent bodily harm? People died in that crash. And many others have witnessed far worse acts of bodily gore in real life than I have. When they watch a gory movie, they may be triggered into remembering the ghastliness of those events. It seems that filmmakers and writers who produce gory entertainment are glorifying what for some is a vicious trauma.

The mischievous body-less head in Re-Animator (1985)

The mischievous body-less head in Re-Animator (1985)

This argument has gained traction recently in liberal arts college campuses in the US and the UK. Books and films that might be found disturbing to victims (or survivors) of trauma are either removed from the syllabi, or included as optional reads with ‘trigger warnings’ inserted. “If you’ve been a victim of x trauma, you might find this difficult to read.”

The problem, however, with trigger warnings is that their inclusion shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibility of persons for their emotions. My emotions occur inside me, and so, my emotions are my responsibility. (This is not to say that I have complete control over my emotions – Mrs. Werbeloff will attest to the fact that I’m often at the mercy of my feelings).

Taking the position that fiction producers should create trigger warnings to protect my emotions implies that others are responsible for my emotions. And this seems fundamentally mistaken to me.

Sure, others can influence my emotions, and in some cases can force me to feel certain feelings. A victim of brainwashing or rape might be forced to feel a certain way, but this is only because in these situations the victim is unable to remove herself from the influence of the perpetrator. In these limited cases, the perpetrator does seem responsible for the emotions felt by the victim. But in the case of a film or book, the viewer or reader is able to stop watching or reading at any time. The reader isn’t victim to the book. Indeed, the reader needn’t have picked up the book to begin with. There is no coercion on the part of the director or writer.

I’ve argued that the arguments for the Conservative position are unconvincing. Does that mean that we have a green light for including as much gore as we like in films and books? Are the Gore Lovers correct?

From the disturbing opening credits to Hardcore Henry (2016)

No, I don’t think so. And here’s why.

Think for a moment about gory snuff films (snuff films are recordings of actual murders of actual people). My intuition is that enjoying these sorts of films is deeply problematic. It would be difficult to construct an argument for the value of these sorts of movies, except maybe to solve a crime. But so far as entertainment goes, I think you’ll agree that snuff films are bad morally and aesthetically.

So where does this leave us? Well, it seems like the only position we can take now is that including gore in fiction is tasteful sometimes, but not always. This position, however, raises a difficult question:

How do we know exactly when gore is appropriate? The gore in The Fly, Re-Animator, and Kill Bill seems tasteful to me. But others might disagree. What principle can we provide for when gore is appropriate, and when it isn’t?

This requires lots more discussion, and I don’t have space to do that here. But this is one possibility: we might think that gore is tasteful when it’s used by writers or directors as a means to a greater end. Gore in Schindler’s List, for example, is used to highlight the atrocities of the Nazi regime. On this position, using gore purely for gore’s sake is tasteless. But tasteful, provided it serves a greater purpose.

The problem with this position is that it’s overly restrictive. Almost no gory movies today use gore in such a serious way. Only movies intent on social commentary would be able to include gore and be deemed tasteful. But must every movie include social commentary? Watch the phenomenal Bridge Scene from Deadpool. Do you think that’s in bad taste? I don’t. But it involves gore for gore’s sake.

So, where do we stand now? The Conservative position is too strong. The Gore Lovers position is too weak to exclude snuff films. And the Sometimes position is vague. Maybe there is no fact of the matter about what is tasteful? Maybe taste, after all, is purely in the mouth of the consumer.

What are your thoughts? Tell me in the comments section below what your favorite/least favorite gory films are. And do you think gore can be tasteful?

 

About the Author

Human. Male. From an obscure planet in the Milky Way Galaxy. Sci-fi novelist with a PhD in philosophy. Likes chocolates, Labradors, and zombies (not necessarily in that order). Werbeloff spends his days constructing thought experiments, while trying to muster enough guilt to go to the gym.

He’s written the best-selling short story anthology, Obsidian Worlds, and two novels, Hedon and The Solace Pill. His books will make your brain hurt. And you’ll come back for more.

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  • Michael Ferguson

    I LOVE gore movies. Kill Bill, The Fly, Inglorious Bastards and many more but there is such a thing as too much. While I did enjoy Hardcore Henry there were times when I felt uncomfortable with the level of gore. It was too much and not executed intelligently.

  • Sam Oberg

    I’m not a fan of gory films, I used to watch them when I was younger. The Fly was enjoyable. And Schindler’s List is a very powerful film. Deadpool looks amusing, it’s too over the top to be like real people getting hurt. I don’t think gore is tasteful, but it can be used to move you or amuse you. The trailer for Hardcore Henry looks like gore for gore’s sake, there isn’t an emotional reason for it.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Out of interest, Sam, do you enjoy gore in books?

      • Sam Oberg

        The gore needs to be there for a good reason, not just for the sake of gore. At least in a book, you have to imagine it. In a film, I just start thinking how fragile bodies are.

  • bladesuk1

    ah, the viewpoint of the absolutist… ‘one of these must be right, so which is it?’
    how about all of them and none of them at the same time? how about ‘it depends’? it might be fine for you and i to enjoy kill bill’s violence for it’s beauty or style, but not for someone else to enjoy it because they get some sort of sexual gratification from it. there’s usually a line somewhere as to the reason they’re enjoying it that rings the too-far bell.
    i’ve always been in two minds, myself – when done well, gore can be hilarious (evil dead, deadpool), traumatic (game of thrones, the fly) or just plain beautiful (kill bill). when done badly or to no purpose or it’s just ‘body horror’ (e.g. hostel, human centipede) then i have no interest in it whatsoever, and just ignore the movie. someone else enjoys it, that’s fine, but i’m not interested.
    for me, it depends on whether it fits, and whether it’s appropriate, or whether it’s just wallowing in the gore for the sake of it. for me, rob zombie is particularly guilty of the latter in his movies – incoherent splatter does not make an entertaining movie for me.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Agreed – I do assume what you call absolutism (what I call objectivism) in this post. I assume that there’s a fact of the matter whether a movie’s gore is tasteful, and that fact doesn’t depend on how people feel about it. And, absolutely, you could deny that objectivism – I come to a similar position at the end of the article.

      BUT, there is a problem with that denial of objectivism. The problem is that if you truly take that denial all the way, then you have to say that snuff films are just as entertaining as Kill Bill or The Fly. You have to say that there’s nothing inherently tasteless about watching actual footage of someone’s head slowly being sawed off by terrorists.

      I don’t think you want to go that far, because there are hints of objectivism in your examples. You write that: “it might be fine for you and i to enjoy kill bill’s violence for it’s beauty or style, but not for someone else to enjoy it because they get some sort of sexual gratification from it. there’s usually a line somewhere as to the reason they’re enjoying it that rings the too-far bell.” In other words, you’re saying that there’s *objectively* a problem with someone getting off on watching the violence in Kill Bill.

      So you’re not really denying objectivism – you’re just suggesting a different objectivist account to the ‘Conservative’ or ‘Gore Loving’ positions. You’re saying that whether a movie’s gore is tasteful depends on certain factors – and that is what I called the ‘Sometimes’ position.

      • bladesuk1

        the problem is that if objectivism doesn’t work all the time, and relativism doesn’t work all the time, you’re left with situational ethics. for me, most of the time when people say ‘that’s not right’ they mean ‘i’m not comfortable with it’. when lots of people agree, it becomes a sort of unspoken societal rule, and anyone seen to refuse to comply with it becomes shunned by that society. i suspect that’s part of why nietszche lost it a bit with the whole ubermensch thing.
        for me, i don’t think even my discomfort for someone getting off on torture porn does go so far as proclaiming an absolute, although you’re right – i should have made that much clearer.
        what i’m suggesting is that my own standards let me draw a line *for me*, but that my standards are not those of other people and don’t necessarily apply to other people. i’m also suggesting that my own viewpoint will alter – with company, with context, with alcohol, etc. i don’t think you can draw a fixed line in the sand because the tides will only change and make a mockery of that line.
        i have friends who love black metal, for example, but that doesn’t appeal to me in the slightest, either. beauty is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and there’s never been an objective definition for beauty that everyone can agree on.
        you make the point of snuff films – but faked versions of on-screen death and torture are fine. jackie chan keeps outtakes involving serious injury at the end of his movies. they depict the same thing at the end of the day – the pain of another person. hell, i remember watching 8mm years ago, and feeling incredibly uncomfortable – but it’s one hell of a movie. equally, many people watched the death of dictators like saddam hussein – and probably felt good about that, too. was that wrong? no, not really.
        i kind of think you know what you’re happy with and what you’re not happy with. it’s castenada’s path with heart – you can’t write it down, and it’s not absolute. but you make a decision that feels right to you. when you’re saying ‘that’s wrong’ all you’re really saying is ‘i don’t like that.’ no more, no less.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          I think it’s important to distinguish between moral objectivism/relativism and aesthetic objectivism/relativism. Moral objectivism would be the view that what’s right and wrong are objective facts. Aesthetic objectivism is the view that certain aesthetic claims are objectively true. Claims like, x movie uses gore tastefully.

          In your argument, you switch between moral relativism and aesthetic relativism frequently, I think because you’re using moral relativism to support aesthetic relativism. So, you’re effectively arguing that if moral relativism is true, then so is aesthetic relativism. And moral relativism is true, so aesthetic relativism is true. But it’s possible for moral relativism to be true, while aesthetic relativism is false. E.g. it could be true that whether it’s wrong to watch the death of Saddam Hussein depends on the viewer, but that it’s objectively distasteful to watch the footage.

          One way of thinking about this is that morality is a very strong value – to say that x is immoral is a strong normative claim. But to say that x is tasteless, is a much less damning claim.

          I’m guessing that you’re a relativist about *all* values?

          One last objection to your argument. I think there are lots of important dissimilarities between the snuff films and (a) watching the death of Hussein, (b) watching realistic snuff fiction, and (c) Jackie Chan scenes. Sure, they all share one common attribute: people are depicted as being seriously harmed. But there are lots of other features that would make them disproportionately tasteless.

          (a) Hussein committed war crimes (I’ll assume this is true for sake of argument), so watching him die carries the feeling of justice, making it more tasteful I guess. (b) Watching realistic snuff fiction is still watching fiction. And knowing this makes it immediately more tasteful. (c) Jackie Chan hurt himself willingly. The victims in snuff films have pain/torture inflicted on them unwillingly.

          All these considerations could be used to support your relativist position – in all cases they explain why individual viewers *think* they are more/less tasteful than other forms of fiction. But they could equally be used by the objectivist to provide criteria for tastefulness (on the ‘Sometimes’ position). The point is, these cases don’t support relativism over objectivism.

  • Wordwizard

    You seem to have a fundamental misconception about the reason for trigger warnings. They are there to give people who are super-sensitive because of trauma a heads-up so that they are not sandbagged. That way, they can make their own decision on whether or not to subject themselves to the trigger. They are therefore able to control their emotions, even though the trauma might compromise their ability to do so, taken unawares. Or, people who find gore tasteless, even though they aren’t traumatized, can decide to give it a pass if they don’t like it. They have been warned, and can suit themselves.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      My point in the article is that there is no sandbagging when watching a film or reading a novel. The reader is capable of leaving the experience at any time. No films or books that I know of include gore without a buildup to that gore. The viewer/reader is aware of the sort of content that is coming, and is able to leave the experience at any time.

      • Wordwizard

        The trigger warning lets the reader be aware of what’s coming, so they can leave BEFORE having to deal with it. I don’t think you understand emotionally what a person who is triggered goes through. It may not seem like sandbagging TO YOU, but you haven’t got that particular emotional problem to cope with. Why should someone have to buy the book before the build-up moves them to leave, any way? Let people know in advance. Simple. Clear labeling, so the consumer can make an informed decision—and you avoid unhappy customers.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          There are plenty of cues in movies that let the reader know what’s coming before it comes. But even if there weren’t, it’s the responsibility of the reader to feel what she feels, not the responsibility of the writer.

          Wordwizard, why do you assume I don’t have a particular emotional problem? I may just choose to deal with it differently from people who insist on trigger warnings. If you read my writing, you’ll probably deduce that I’ve experienced some of the experiences that trauma victims hold up as reasons for trigger warnings.

          This isn’t a simple problem at all. By placing trigger warnings on a piece of fiction, much is lost. For one, it aligns the author with a particular political movement that she may not want to be aligned with. Second, it reduces the quality of liberal arts syllabi. Third, as I wrote in the article, it involves a fundamental misunderstanding of the responsibility of the reader/viewer to monitor her emotions.

  • Lizlizzie2

    I don’t like blood and guts and violence just for the sake of it all. I am ok when its purpose is to move a story forward. Gratuitous use just takes aways from the story for me. Deadpool scene just seems silly. Schindler’s list used it for the purpose of making the holocaust more real to the viewer, to make that emotional connection. Watching Kill Bill or Saw movies just doesn’t make an emotional connection for me. My philosophy is less about is gore ok and at what level is it ok and more about is there a reasonable purpose for portraying it and how graphic does it need to be in order to make its point and make the emotional connection to the viewer. I feel the same way about sex in movies or books. I prefer titillation and sensuality to graphic portrayals of sex acts.

    Since tasteful is an aesthetic judgment, and I have always perceived aesthetics as being emotional rather than intellectual, I don’t think there can be anything but an individualized response. Add them up and I suspect a majority answer would be sometimes.I wonder if the answer to what level of gore is tasteful may depend on how sensitized people are to it. I wonder if this is one of those areas where age groups would really affect a survey. I am amazed at what is permitted on TV now compared to the 60s. (Gene Roddenberry couldn’t show a belly button in the original Star Trek which is why he put 2 on a woman in one of his pilots in the 70s.).

    Despite the above, yes, I have read Jason’s short stories. One part of my brain was saying gross while I was reading Dinner with Flexi; the other part admired the craftsmanship of the words. I remember years ago reading the book about the Andes plane crash survivors eating the dead to survive. It wasn’t graphic, but it said enough to make me feel the horror of making that decision and doing so and I wanted to vomit just thinking about it.

  • Marty Brastow

    I didn’t make it through the Hardcore Henry opening credits. And I don’t watch certain episodes of “Criminal Minds”, even without gore.
    I support everybody’s first amendment rights to as much gore as they choose, as long as no humans were harmed in the production of the gore.
    But personally, I prefer my gore to be a bit unrealistic, or a bit cartoonish. Just enough so my brain and my heart and my stomach don’t get upset, because my brain keeps telling me “It’s all right. It’s fake.” Deadpool was perfect for my gore levels.
    Even though “Criminal Minds” isn’t as much about gore, some of the stories are too real for me to choose to watch them. I’d rather read a book.
    Gore in books doesn’t bother me because I don’t automatically visualize it. I like worlds that are consistent, and if that means the zombies eat people in various ways, so be it.
    Why do zombies in movies all have grotesquely long and disgusting fingernails? Yes, fingernails “grow” after death, but only because the flesh recedes.
    And jumping topics, trigger warnings drive me nuts. Triggers are ultimately personal, and if you’re taking an English class in college that has required reading, you shouldn’t be allowed to skip a book because it might trigger your emotions. That’s the whole POINT of writing a book.
    If a book triggers your emotions and it makes you feel uncomfortable, deal with it. That’s supposed to be part of what college is all about. Use student health to find a counselor if you need one, but don’t dodge the emotional issues. It’ll catch up with you later.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Your point about visual vs literary gore is interesting – @samoberg:disqus made a similar point. It could be that featuring gore is primarily a visual experience, so movies are far more explicit than books – since books require extra imagination on the part of the reader to create the visuals.

      ‘Criminal Minds’ is one of my favorite series, but there have been times when I’ve balked a little at the gore. It’s part of the selling-point of the series, I guess. They’re trying to distinguish themselves from other procedurals partly through the gruesome depictions of violence.

      Agreed regarding trigger warnings.

  • gecko

    I agree with most of this article, but frankly, I find your view on trigger warnings worrisome. Their point is to give someone who experienced trauma a means of protecting themselves. This doesn’t have anything to do with not taking responsibility for your own emotions. It’s about allowing someone to choose to avoid relieving some of the worst moments of their life. Not because they simply dislike the emotions they invoke, but because it might give them panic attacks or trigger PTSD, nightmares, and so on. The insistence that trigger warnings “ruin fiction” or the experience thereof places the wish of the author as to how someone engages with their work over the real pain of trauma survivors, and that really doesn’t sit right with me.

    • Jason Werbeloff

      Gecko, these are good points. I accept that trigger warnings may reduce the likelihood of the reader/viewer experiencing a panic attack. But there’s still an important question to answer.

      Would you agree that although there are benefits to trigger warnings, there are losses as well? These would include censorship of certain works of fiction in college education, as well as ruining plot points for all readers/viewers, including those who do not want trigger warnings. If you agree that there are losses associated with trigger warnings, as well as gains, then we need to decide whether the gains outweigh the losses. My suggestion in this article is that they do not. But I’m open to hearing why you think the gains associated with trigger warnings outweigh their losses?

      • gecko

        I do agree that they might take the suprise out of certain elements in genre fiction especially, and that they might recude suspense in some cases.
        But see, apart from considering the severity of the reaction in indiviual readers/viewers/whathaveyou due to their triggers, what I find most problematic about the “take responsibilty for your emotions” argument against triggers is that experiencing the the traumatic event that caused the trigger will not have been the victim’s choice in the overwhelming majority of cases either. If someone then goes ahead and says they just have to deal with the triggered reaction or avoid the situation altogether, isn’t that punishing the victim? That may be less significant if it comes to just skipping out on a piece of fiction they’d consumed for entertainment, but someone else referenced reading lists in college. So what, that leaves victims with the option of either risiking blind triggers and the resulting, possibly severe emotional reaction, or skipping on that element of their education altogether/risking bad grades? Also how can you expect someone to perform well in an academic environment when they’re triggered, possibly to the point of flashbacks and physical symptoms associated to the trigger? Trigger warnings aren’t policial. They’re simply about compassion and protecting victims from further harm or disadvantages aring from a situation they did not chose to get into in the first place, imo.

        • Jason Werbeloff

          Agreed – there are good reasons not to punish victims for being victims. But there are also good reasons not to include trigger warnings. @MCBrastow:disqus, what are your thoughts about Gecko’s view on college education?

          I’d like to raise an analogous case in which you might have different intuitions. Suppose Joe experiences severe disgust when he sees expressions of affection among gay men. Thankfully, people like Joe aren’t that common. But in the past, there were plenty of people like Joe. And they argued that when they saw gay men express affection, they experienced disgust so uncomfortable, they’d feel nauseous, enraged, personally affronted, threatened, distressed, etc. These emotional responses formed one of the traditional arguments used for excluding gay people from appearing on television and films in the past.

          But today, we think that if Joe experiences these feelings of disgust, no matter how uncomfortable or unpleasant they are, these feelings are his responsibility. We shouldn’t exclude gay people from appearing in films just because of people like Joe, and we need not warn Joe that the films include gay content. And this holds no matter how many Joes there are – even if the majority of people had Joe’s feelings. I think protecting trauma victims from panic attacks works the same way.

          Now, I understand that there is a very important disanalogy between the two cases. Joe is a bigot. The trauma victim is a victim, and not a bigot. So you could argue that Joe is responsible for his feelings, while the trauma victim is not. But I don’t think there is such a clear distinction between the two cases. Because we can imagine that Joe has tried very hard to overcome his feelings about this. Suppose that he believes strongly in gay rights, but he just can’t overcome the intense feeling of disgust he feels around gay men. He is then a victim to this feeling, because he doesn’t choose it – in fact, he doesn’t want to feel it. But he feels the disgust anyway. Should we give Joe a trigger warning about there being gay content in a film or book? I don’t think we should.

          • gecko

            I’m not sure I like you chosing bigoted reactions to homosexuality as an analogy, but since we’re on analogies, let me pick one myself.
            I would equate Joe, in this case, with someone with an allergy vs. someone with physical trauma from an injury that limits their movement. I have hay fever, and it can get pretty intense. I like flowers and trees. I think they’re pretty. But if I go out in the spring/summer without proper meds, and even then, I might have an allergic reaction that makes me feel ill. I still would not expect to cut down all flowers everywhere, or limit other people’s access to them. I did not chose to be allergic, but it is my problem to deal with. I would not demand that, for example, a college campus would avoid planting flowers or trees just so I don’t have an allergy attack.
            On the other hand, someone who got stabbed in the spine, for example, and now needs crutches to move around, or maybe even a wheelchair? I fully support society’s duty to make things easier for them. Help them access areas that might not otherwise be accessible for them, because of their injury, and aid them in conquering the hurddles presented by their injuiry that their uninjured, able-bodied peers do not have. And yes; give them a warning if the area they enter might be hard to navigate, and supply them with the tools to conquer it without risking further injury.

            • Jason Werbeloff

              This is an excellent analogy – allergies vs disabilities. Question: suppose Joe’s disgust toward gay people is extreme. So extreme, that he has panic attacks. Wouldn’t he then fit into the ‘disability’ class? But still, we don’t think we should provide him with trigger warnings?

              • gecko

                Well, for one thing, if Joe has that visceral reaction to gay people I would begin to wonder whether bigotry and learned disgust are all that’s at play here. But, that’s a sidebar, I guess.
                In this case I would ask to consider the other end of the equation; the people affected by regulating that content. In Joe’s case, trigger warnings on homosexuality would insinuate that being gay is something worthy, and in need of, a warning. It could affect the media representation of people who simply love someone of the same gender. That’s all they’re doing “wrong”. They did not chose it, and it’s a big part of their lives and identities, and saying it needs a message that says, watch out, gay within, is insulting and invalidating. Being gay is natural and normal and nothing anyone should consider morally reprehensive. So, trigger warnings for homosexuality to protect people like Joe? Would hurt a lot of people.
                But if you’re (general you, not you, Jason, specifically) writing fiction that involves violence and gore, or create any other content involving such themes, you’re already aware that they’re controversial (and if someone isn’t, I’d argue they shouldn’t be producing controversial content in the first place). To say it is controversial is not an insult, nor does it invalidate you or your rights. You’re not even prohibited from producing such content if you’re required to give a warning. All that does is limit the way your work of fiction is viewed/consumed and take some control of that out of your hands. You can still produce it. You can still publish and distribute it. And maybe some people are a little less surprised or shocked (in the good way) when they read or view it than they otherwise might’ve been. So, in my opinion, trigger warnings for rape/abuse/violence? Would protect a lot of people, and wouldn’t actually hurt anyone.

                • Jason Werbeloff

                  If I understand correctly, you’re pointing out that the moral and social value of homosexuality and gore are different. You’re arguing that homosexuality isn’t (i) wrong or (ii) controversial, but gore is more controversial, and perhaps wrong under certain circumstances.

                  I don’t think the (ii) controversy of content should play a role in whether or not it’s issued a trigger warning. On that view, we should warn transphobic viewers/readers (of which there are many), that there is trans content to a film/book. But this doesn’t make sense to me. And if controversy were a determining issue, then again, homosexuality in the past would have warranted a trigger warning.

                  So I think you would need to use (i) morality, or wrongness, as your distinguishing difference between gore and homosexuality. I agree that homosexuality isn’t wrong. But we would need lots more discussion to determine whether depicting gore in films/books is morally wrong. That’s a whole new topic!

                  Finally, there is one more problem. Your argument has moved away from people’s (traumatic) feelings about certain issues, to whether their feelings are justified. That’s shaky ground for someone who is trying to defend trigger warnings, because the stimulus, or actual triggers, of panic attacks are often harmless in themselves. Watching a movie is harmless in itself (although the panic attack one experiences as a result can be very serious). But the proponents of trigger warnings often point out that it doesn’t matter what the stimulus is – what matters is that the stimulus triggers a very distressing emotional response in the viewer/reader. We issue trigger warnings for films not because the films themselves are dangerous, but because someone who has prior traumatic experiences may be triggered when they watch the film, and that triggered memory is dangerous.

                  In other words, the position that one should include trigger warnings, is only strong if one doesn’t require the stimulus itself to be wrong/dangerous. If someone experiences a crippling fear of open spaces, we still should have compassion for them, regardless of whether or not open spaces are dangerous. The danger/wrongness of the stimulus isn’t what’s important – it’s the trauma the victim experiences when she encounters the stimulus.

                  But then if it’s the feeling that counts, rather than the stimulus, then there isn’t a relevant difference between Joe and a trauma victim, since both experience a panic attack (although from different stimuli).

                  Gecko, I do want to say though, that I’ve enjoyed this discussion. And that although I’m adopting the opposing position to yours, I do understand the merits of your stance on this. As someone who has suffered from panic attacks and PTSD in the past, I do understand how crippling they are. And I don’t think this is a simple or clear issue. There’s lots of room for argument and discussion here.

                  • gecko

                    Okay, I might have expressed myself badly there. I do not think that depicting gore is controversial. I do, however, assume we can agree that the things that are depicted in gore — causing another human being bodily harm — are controversial in themselves, and infinitely more so than homosexuality or transexualtiy. So I meant to reference the thing that’s shown, not showing the thing as such, if that’s any clearer, and I was referencing a rather narrow category of triggers. This article is about gore and violence shown on screen, and I was coming from the angle that these are the trigger warnings we’re talking about. (Not that less common triggers or phobias aren’t valid, or worthy of discussion. I myself have triggers that would be hard to pin down and condense into something easily warned for, but it is easier to pin down a warning for on screen rape or abuse than it would be for less common and not as obvious triggers, but they do the make the topic even more complicated, and may require different argumentation.) I also did not mean to bring any sort of moral highground into this. I myself have written some pretty fucked up shit by any measure and I will go to the mat to argue about the right to produce such content. But I also don’t wish to cause anyone else pain and distress while they consume said content.
                    I’m not trying a to press a point we likely won’t agree on; I just wanted to make my viewpoint clearer. A broader discussion about broader trigger warnings would require a different approach. Trigger warnings aren’t, and cannot ever be, a catch all. But I don’t think that argument should prevent us from giving them for these clear-cut topics (as in, triggers based on trauma that stems from one person causing another person bodily harm; I’d say triggers based on trauma that stems from a crime being commited, but we all know homosexuality is also still illegal in some parts of the world, and until a few decades ago martial rape was not illegal, for example, so that’s probably not a good definition either). So yes, I did enjoy this discussion as well, and I agree it is neither clear nor simple.

                    • Jason Werbeloff

                      I didn’t know you were a writer? Do you write fiction?

                      I think when I write about controversial topics (rape occurs in almost all of my books), I’m trying to wake up readers (who typically don’t want trigger warnings), rather than affirm victims of the trauma who would already agree with my position. Probably the best example is ‘Dinner with Flexi’ – https://www.amazon.com/Dinner-Flexi-Bite-Sized-Cyberpunk-Satire-ebook/dp/B00XWBP78O. So for purely selfish reasons, including trigger warnings undermines my project. I do see, though, that trauma victims could be harmed by my work.

                    • gecko

                      Hobby writer. I have been regularly writing for roughly 10 years and have written a number of short stories that sits in the low hundreds, but I’m not published, nor am I aiming to be anytime soon.
                      And hmm. I think I can relate to that approach on an intellectual level, so to say. And I do understand wanting to cause that oomph effect in the reader. However, when I write controversial topics, for me it’s more about addressing and processing trauma. So I may fall into the category that aligns with victims, rather than wanting to poke people who would not otherwise engage with the topic. Maybe that’s the source for some of our differences in opinion.

                    • Jason Werbeloff

                      Wow. That’s a lot of writing.

                      Yes, I think our goals are different. There’s been a growing movement in addressing rape culture to aim at perpetrators (potential or past), rather than helping potential victims avoid or actual victims process the experience. I think both approaches are useful – I’m participating in the former.

                    • gecko

                      Ahh. I can see how warning the reader ahead of time might be counter-productive from that point of view, and I can see the potential merits of making that camp of readers uncomfortable, too; that wake up call doesn’t work if those readers know it’s coming, I guess, is where you’re coming from? Complicated topic indeed, in regards to warnings. Are you reading Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Bitch Planet, by any chance? I think that might kinda fall into a similar corner. I’d have to look up how she handles trigger warnings, hm.

                    • Jason Werbeloff

                      Yup – that’s it. If you pre-warn readers that this is a piece about rape, for example, then the highly conservative sort probably won’t even pick it up. But because I present it in such a controversially gory way, they tend to take in the story. E.g. Dinner with Flexi is about a world where women are removed from society, farmed for their meat and mammary sauce, and then eaten. It’s so extreme that someone who’s tired of hearing traditional feminist rape narratives probably won’t recognize it as belonging to that category. But the message gets across, I hope.

                      Thank you for the heads up regarding Bitch Planet. Very interested to take a look.