Can It Be Okay To Be Irritated By Something Neil Gaiman Did?

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Yesterday, author Kameron Hurley wrote about why she thought Neil Gaiman was unwise to name his short story collection “Trigger Warning.” Predictably, commentstorms ensued.
Now, before we proceed any further, let me be honest: I am largely agnostic on the “trigger warning” debate. I consider a trigger warning to be in the same class as spoiler warnings: nothing I would compel a stranger to do, but “not having them” is a perfectly valid reason to unfriend someone.  If there’s a low-cost way to avoid fucking up someone’s day by accident, then I think it’s nice for you to do so – even if there’s some legitimate debate in psychological circles over whether trigger warnings are actually conducive to long-term healing.
As such, I don’t have a strong opinion on whether Neil was right or wrong to name his book “Trigger Warning.”
Yet the point I’m making here is not whether “trigger warnings” are good or bad: as stated, I don’t have strong opinions on the topic, and I will remind you that it’s a perfectly legitimate choice to not have a strong stance on something you feel you don’t have enough personal experience to say.
My point is that a lot of the comments boiled down to “How dare a nobody like Kameron Hurley challenge the great Neil Gaiman?  She’s clearly out for the publicity.  She wants to ride Neil Gaiman’s name to stardom!  What an attention whore!”
And I thought, why is it so damned hard to believe that someone might be honestly offended by what Neil Gaiman did?
This construct of “You must be seeking out offense!” is one that I find baffling. I’ve written hundreds of essays, and not once have I ever sat down and said, “Hrm, what titan of the industry can I topple today?  Let me go scrutinize Neil Gaiman’s decisions to find something to generate mock-outrage about.  No, that’s too nice; nobody will care about that; that bad decision doesn’t have enough market share – ah ha!  The name of his book!  I’ll challenge that!”
No.  You know what happens?  A big author does something we hear about, and our first reaction is a flinch.  That squirmy moment of Oh, I don’t know about that.  And then, if this splinter sticks in our eye for long enough, we write about why it bothers us.
There’s no quest for fame: we are simply trying to explain why having this splinter in our goddamned eye hurts.
Mind you, I feel bad for Neil, because he is a titan, and every decision he makes influences millions of people, so he’s far more likely to accidentally jab a splinter into some schmuck’s eye without even meaning to.  His every off-hand comment gets broadcast far and wide, and that has to be a constant pressure upon Neil – who is a legitimately nice man.  If Jill Nobody had decided to call her short story collection “Trigger Warning,” then Kameron wouldn’t have written about it – because she wouldn’t have heard about it, and even if it did come to her attention, then it would be by someone whose unwise decisions didn’t make much of an impact.  So Neil winds up having some ridiculously tiny decisions dissected in the public eye – in some cases for not saying anything when people think he should have.
But it’s possible to legitimately disagree with Neil.  It’s even possible to disagree with Neil politely, as Kameron herself notes.  Neil does not have to be a demon for us to say, quietly, “Er, I don’t think that was your best decision.”
Yet I’ve gotten some flashes of that ugly behavior in other comments.  I write about polyamory a lot, and my writings are very popular with some subsets of the alt-sex crowds.  And some people have read an essay of mine and went, “Here’s why what Ferrett said will hurt your loved ones and destroy your relationship!”
I’ve caught some so-called “fans” of mine interrogating these dissenter’s rationale: Hey, why are you trying to tear down Ferrett, huh?  Aren’t you just trying to stir up trouble?  Ferrett’s such a good man, why are you trying to do to him?
And the proper answer is, This isn’t about me.  It’s about what I said, and whether what I said was justified.  My detractors aren’t not trying to vilify me, they’re not trying to crawl on my shoulders to try to capture this sad quasi-fame I possess – they are questioning a decision I made, and that questioning is entirely legitimate.
As noted, I don’t have a strong take on whether Neil Gaiman should have named his book “Trigger Warning.” Should the comments here degenerate into a civil war on The Legitimacy Of Trigger Warnings and Whether Neil Has Hurt Rape Victims, then I will start pulling the ban-trigger.  You can have that discussion over at Kameron’s column. Or go write your own rebuttal-rebuttal essay.
But what I am saying is that Kameron can write about something unwise she feels that Neil did, and do it without an underlying urge to raise her own visibility.
She’s writing about Neil Gaiman because she thinks that Neil made a poor choice.  That doesn’t make her right; it doesn’t make her wrong.  It makes her one more person with a strong opinion, and she has every right to express that opinion, just as Neil has every right to name his damn book what he wants.
He just has to live with someone disagreeing with him, is all.  Same as Kameron Hurley.

1 Comment

  1. Chelsea
    Feb 20, 2015

    Good essay. I am also sort of on the fence about trigger warnings, as I am not triggered by things most people are, and the very few things that do trigger me are rarely given a warning, since most people don’t think of them as triggers, so I’ve learned to deal with them unexpectedly popping up and freaking me out.
    I admire Neil as a writer, I enjoy most of his works, but I definitely don’t agree with all of his personal choices. And that’s okay, because it’s entirely possible to disagree with someone and still think they’re a worthwhile person. 🙂

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