Offensive content warning: This column contains references to a time known as “the past,” when attitudes about various matters were different. Counselors are available to discuss the existence of the past with the psychologically delicate.
Remember in the early Obama years when phrases like “trigger warning” and “safe space” first began popping up, in entirely unironic contexts, usually relating to the fear and trembling of Oberlin students? Those of us who called these concepts idiotic and infantile were told, “Hey, relax. It’s just a silly campus eccentricity. It’ll never catch on.” Then the students began to graduate. For a handy depiction of what happened to the culture next, check out that Dustin Hoffman movie about the Ebola outbreak.
I’m kidding. It’s a bad comparison because there wasn’t nearly as much tortured screaming in the movie as there is on Woke Twitter these days. But now that trigger warnings have swarmed out of the ranks of the hysterical rich kids at Marcuse U., they’re pretty much everywhere. The latest one is a real milestone: The solemn warning Disney+ has been slapped on 18 different episodes of The Muppet Show.
It’s now “offensive content,” didn’t you know this? “Negative depictions and/or mistreatment of people and cultures.” Disney, fanning itself and calling for a glass of water, requests a moment to “acknowledge . . . harmful impact, learn from it and spark conversation to create a more inclusive future together.” Johnny Cash once performed near a Confederate flag; Joan Baez once did a fake Indian accent. Sorry, I should have told you to position yourself by the nearest fainting couch before I told you. I hope you didn’t injure yourself when you collapsed in shock.
The inclusivity game sure has changed. At the time it aired, The Muppet Show (like its parent Sesame Street) was noted for making an effort to nudge young viewers away from thinking only in terms of white Americans, taking pains to include a wide variety of ethnic types in the zany fun. As Deadline suggests, “The Muppets [sic] was once celebrated for its depictions [of] Native American, Middle Eastern, and Asian people.” Today, if you portray any member of any of those groups, you’d better be sure nobody gets made fun of. How dare anyone be silly on a comedy show? In order to counteract the effects of noxious stereotypes, the Muppets clearly should have substituted different noxious stereotypes, the stereotypes progressives love about minorities being perpetual victims. Sam the Eagle could have been shown exploiting Asian Muppets as they built a railroad or something.
Still, the trigger-warning craze is a happy development. Remember Tipper Gore’s batty crusade against rap records? That fizzled to the size of a harrumphing little warning label: “Parental Advisory: Explicit Lyrics” that became omnipresent in the early 1990s. Sanitized records warned off all potential buyers with labels reading, “Edited Version.” It didn’t take long for the record industry to note that nobody was buying the CDs that had been cleaned up with verbal Wite-Out, so the sanitized versions disappeared from shelves. Meanwhile, the warning sticker became a badge of honor, Eminem offered a succinct rebuttal by crying out “F*** you, Tipper Gore!” on The Eminem Show, and pretty soon all rap records carried the sticker, which came to mean, “Warning: Rap is occurring on this rap record.”
Trigger warnings are the new Tipper warnings: so ubiquitous that they’re now officially meaningless. If you want your currency to retain its value, don’t keep running the printing presses. Disney+ has previously appended trigger warnings to such movies as Lady and the Tramp, Swiss Family Robinson, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book, Dumbo, and Peter Pan. Aladdin has a trigger warning, and that one’s from the Nineties.
True, if you adjust your Disney+ settings to set apart content for your children, the little ones won’t be able to access any program that has a warning label on it. But that effectively puts all of the “offensive content” programs into a forbidden closet of mystery for extra fascination value. I picture clever nine-year-olds hacking Dad’s password to gain access to the world of decadence that is The Swiss Family Robinson, studying the film to unlock the secrets of how to cause consternation among their class enemies: fun-hating poopy-headed grown-ups.
To help devalue the currency of the Bank of National Umbrage even more (and to have a good laugh), the next step is obvious: Viewers should flood Disney with complaints that the Swedish chef amounts to a hateful study in anti-Nordic minstrelsy, that hyper-feminine schemer Miss Piggy was clearly dreamed up by misogynists, and that Gonzo’s long nose indicates probable anti-Semitism. Put a trigger warning on everything, idiots, if it makes you guys happy. Trigger warnings attack a nonproblem with a meaningless blob of sensitivity signaling that in turn earns nothing but mockery from thinking people. That makes them instructive as paradigms of the progressive mentality. The kids may as well learn about this while they’re young enough to find Fozzie Bear unironically funny.