British actor Ralph Fiennes took issue with trigger warnings in theaters. He insisted audiences should be “disturbed” by what they see in front of them and told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, “I think we didn’t used to have trigger warnings. I mean, there are very disturbing scenes in Macbeth, terrible murders and things. But I think the impact of theater should be that you’re shocked and you should be disturbed.”
“I don’t think you should be prepared for these things, and when I was young, we never had trigger warnings for shows,” Fiennes added.
“Shakespeare’s plays are full of murders, full of horror. As a young student and lover of theater, I never experienced trigger warnings telling me: ‘By the way, in ‘King Lear,’ Gloucester’s going to have his eyes pulled out.’ It’s the shock, the unexpected, that’s what makes an actor, theater so exciting,” Fiennes concluded.
The use of trigger warnings has been controversial for years. In 2016, Vox reported that the use of trigger warnings in college material could “make professors less likely to teach sensitive material and render students too emotionally fragile to deal with the real world,” concerns that can certainly extend to both movies and stage productions.
But just because it wasn’t called a trigger warning when Fiennes was young doesn’t mean it didn’t exist. Writer and comedian Janel Comeau tweeted in response to the interview, “the Hays code was still in effect until Ralph Fiennes was six years old. he was twenty-seven years old when a gay kiss was shown for the first time on UK TV.”
the Hays code was still in effect until Ralph Fiennes was six years old. he was twenty-seven years old when a gay kiss was shown for the first time on UK TV. https://t.co/p49EVRPMRI
— Janel Comeau (@VeryBadLlama) February 11, 2024
The Hays Code was a self-imposed set of guidelines that were followed between 1934 and 1968. Among other things, the code dictated how “sexual persuasions” were shown on screen — and resulted in scenes that showed married couples sleeping in separate beds and few depictions of LGBTQ+ couples at all.
While the code only applied to motion pictures, it’s fair to point out that Fiennes grew up in an era where it existed instead of any kind of trigger warning at all (or served as an implicit trigger warning from the jump).
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