(I don’t know if it’s better or worse to make a joke about this, so I’ll just say: Jack Halberstam’s writing in both of these posts is terrible, and Jack Halberstam’s use of internet memes is terrible. Jack Halberstam, crying eagle. Terrible writing! Terrible! It makes me angry.)
Jack Halberstam posted a follow-up to his original piece on trigger warnings, and it included a graphic of a sign with WARNING: HUMOR AHEAD under a picture of Groucho glasses and Jack himself complaining,
The responses to my recent Bully Bloggers piece “You’re Triggering Me: The Neo-Liberal Rhetoric of Harm, Danger and Trauma” have pretty much polarized people (at least those who have responded publicly) into camps that break along that kind of division – people who hear humor and irony in the piece and are in favor of “ironic appropriations,” and people who think that the humor is just fancy dressing for odious and hurtful dismissals of real experiences of harm and pain. Obviously the wide range of responses to the post suggests the virality of the topic in the first place and perhaps justifies my attempts to make an intervention. And obviously I wrote a polemic so I cannot claim now to be surprised when the polemic polarizes!
But I was surprised by some mis-readings and dismayed by some of the more vicious responses, and I was very sorry, in particular, that some of my characterizations smacked of a dismissal of disability rights claims or discourse.
Exactly, you can’t claim to be surprised. A professional writer who studies meaning can’t describe their written work as having a will of its own. You can’t be dismayed by what your writing has somehow managed to say – it’s not something that can shock you. Of course sarcastic references to being triggered will be read as snarky dismissal of trigger warnings. That’s what they are. You weren’t kidding about the dismissal part.
(“You just didn’t get the joke,” is never very constructive – and usually, as here, it’s dishonest. But in this case, the jokes weren’t very funny. Your attempts at humor didn’t fail because they were too subtle or whimsical for your audience. They failed because they’re not that good.)
I apologized for going off on a friend’s Facebook wall about this same post, because Facebook is not necessarily for spleen. He responded that he did not think I was ranting – he saw my complaint as engagement, and said that he had been gratified by the wide range of response to the post on his page and elsewhere. Him I like.
It is internet tired at this point to say, “Can we not?” or, “Can we just stop with the…?” but it is annoying to be told that provoking you turns out to have been a good thing because it creates dialogue and engagement, i.e. a bunch of angry responses to an insulting approach. “Well, you took the time to fire up tumblr and tell me I was a bag of dicks with poor research and reading comprehension skills, so clearly this topic deserves more attention! You’re welcome!”
You can’t justify baiting people by pointing out that they have been baited successfully. And you can’t conflate baiting with discussion because your interlocutors will have to defend their own position either way. It’s deeply unfair to force someone to be the better person and then take credit for their maturity and insight. You haven’t inspired them. My friend didn’t help me by effectively putting me on notice about my sincere anger – our discussion wasn’t enhanced by my oblique, diplomatic references to homophobia and abuse.
And you can’t stage an intervention in an ongoing debate between people you neither know nor claim to respect, especially if you say you can’t trust yourself to express your own opinion, Jack.