MADtv is the latest show to jump on the making fun of millennials and their PC ways trend, and like many before them, it seems the writers over at the sketch comedy show failed to grasp what exactly it is they were mocking.
The unfunny sketch, which aired in early August on The CW’s rebooted MADtv series, features a group of New Hampshire University students hosting a talk show, “Safe Space,” where hosts Wolfgang and Pandora talk to two millennial panelists and inevitably get caught up trying to tiptoe around everyone’s “triggers.” As the sketch goes on, these triggers become more and more ridiculous — though the sketch really starts when Wolfgang says that the word “headline” is triggering because he fears a receding “hairline,” so, really, it can only go downhill from there.
More: Trigger warnings are important — and so are books on sensitive subjects
I’m not going to sit here and say the sketch is irrelevant. It’s no secret that there is a trend among millennials — roughly defined by The Atlantic as anybody under the age of 34 — to make efforts to include all narratives into common spaces and discussions. It’s seen, for example, on college campuses with the growing popularity of “safe spaces” and in the media with “trigger warnings.” Sometimes the demand for increasingly specific safe spaces or trigger warnings can be a bit ridiculous. An article in The Atlantic criticizing trigger warnings reported that students at Oberlin had campaigned for a trigger warning before the teaching of Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, which seems, at least to me, unnecessary. In the pursuit of creating a safe, inclusive space, sometimes these concepts are taken to an unhealthy and counterproductive extreme. And satirizing this trend can be funny. The only problem is that this MADtv sketch doesn’t actually mock a generation’s perceived over-sensitivity; it mocks the concept of trigger warnings.
MADtv seems to have misunderstood the original purpose of trigger warnings: to help protect the mental health of others. One might use a trigger warning before, for example, describing a violent encounter or sexual assault so as to warn others that they might be reminded of their own assaults. It’s a way of telling others that, if they fear being re-traumatized, they can and should leave. It’s not a way of expressing offense after the fact, and it’s not a case of being extremely politically correct — it’s a way some are trying to expand the awareness of mental health.
Millennials are arguably the generation with the most awareness of mental health. After all, we are the generation raised in an age where antidepressants and other mental health drugs are slowly becoming normalized. Mental health problems are seen as both chemical and psychological, creating an entirely new and more thorough way to look at people. The growing popularity of trigger warnings is, at least in part, a reflection of this societal shift. No matter how problematic some trigger warnings might be, it’s foolish to discount the intentions behind them.
Are trigger warnings always well used? No. Are there serious and reasonable criticisms of trigger warnings and safe spaces? Of course. Are they fair game to be mocked? Absolutely. Unfortunately, MADtv doesn’t seem to understand the very thing they are mocking. To accurately satirize something, you need to understand what it is. And, instead of using comedy to start a conversation, this sketch ended up using comedy to make fun of good intentions.
MADtv can make fun of whatever it wants to, however it wants to. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it. In conclusion: I call “trigger” on this sketch, MADtv, and I hope you do better next time.