‘Trigger warnings’ get ridiculous in the trend to meet politically correct cultural standards

Jan 8, 2024 | 2 comments

By Kyle Smith

Say, kids, did you know “Blazing Saddles” is “an overt and audacious spoof on classic Westerns”? Well, now you do, thanks to the trigger warning that has just been slapped on the movie by HBO Max, which hired University of Chicago professor Jacqueline Stewart to set things up for anyone who might be clicking on the Mel Brooks comedy thinking they’re in for Swedish drama about the lingonberry harvest.

Stewart informs us that the movie features “racist language and attitudes” but “Those attitudes are espoused by characters who are explicitly portrayed here as narrow-minded, ignorant bigots. The film’s real and much more enlightened perspective is represented by the two main characters.”

You don’t say. Stewart’s intro should be called “Blazing Obviousness” since everyone already knew all of that, and always has, for the 49 years the movie has been in release. Next week, HBO Max will be gravely informing us that the “Springtime for Hitler” musical in Brooks’ “The Producers” should not be construed as a celebration of the Third Reich, and that the song-and-dance number about the Spanish Inquisition in Brooks’ “History of the World, Part I” is not meant to glorify the practice of disemboweling non-Christians.

Blazing Saddles is a spoof that shouldn’t be taken literally, we are told.

A few years ago, conservatives who pointed out worrying or silly campus adventures in speech modification and idea policing were told, “Relax, it’s just college kids. Why do you care?” Less than a decade later, Andrew Sullivan was able to write a column titled, “We all live on campus now,” and everyone knew he was exactly right.

Ridiculous, unnecessary trigger warnings are getting plastered all over everything, Realtors are afraid to use the term “master bedroom.” But HBO Max seems to think we all live in kindergarten. What kind of melonhead doesn’t realize the purpose of the slurs in “Blazing Saddles” is to make the racists look bad? We don’t need this explained to us, unless we just arrived on this planet from a faraway star system or attended Oberlin.

When director Mel Brooks brought in a hot young black comic named Richard Pryor to help punch up the script, Pryor vigorously added in more uses of the N-word to make the movie sharper as well as funnier. Pryor may be more responsible than any other person for neutralizing the slur’s power to wound. We’d probably all be better off if the word were restored to its place in the 1970s, when it was largely robbed of its mystical properties. Now that it’s unsayable, it’s become scary again.

There’s a reason no comic ever starts his set by saying, “The following remarks are jokes and I will sometimes say things facetiously.” Nobody wants to have the comedy parameters laid out in advance, especially by a humor-challenged professor. HBO Max, which earlier this summer appended a similar trigger warning to “Gone with the Wind,” is not telling its subscribers anything they don’t already know, but it is giving them some useful thumb exercise as they all cringe and activate the skip function.

Kyle Smith is an American critic, columnist and novelist. He is currently the film critic for The Wall Street Journal and the theater critic for The New Criterion.


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