On Star Trek: Picard and Content Warnings

Jurati and the Borg Queen

So I have thoughts on Star Trek: Picard and content warnings and I’m going to try to do it without spoilers.

First off I will say that the story that people are upset about (which culminates in the episode “Hide and Seek,” touches me personally because it echoes what happened to my sister. I actually appreciated having Twitter spoil it for me on Friday so I could prepare before watching.

I have more thoughts on the representation, which I talk about in our Women at Warp episode reviewing Season 2. But for now, I just wanted to say that yes, I think “Hide and Seek” needed a content warning, and a referral to resources at the end.

One argument we often see against content warnings is that, well, everything has something that might be upsetting to someone. Every show feels like it has more sex and violence now they aren’t accountable to network censors in the same way as older Trek.

Most platforms already have warnings for things like nudity and violence, to assist parents managing their kids’ viewing. Think the Netflix warnings like “PG-13: Sex, Fear.” But those aren’t super helpful for adults managing their own responses to traumatic content.

IMO there are a few clear examples of themes that are often retraumatizing for audience members with personal experience: sexual assault, child abuse, intimate partner violence, suicide, animal abuse. Could also add police/state violence against BIPOC, which goes to episodes involving Rios earlier in Season 2.

There are important stories to tell on these topics, but when a show doesn’t have a warning or referral to resources for these kinds of things it raises questions about how seriously the writers took it. Did you put yourself in the shoes of the audience members who actually live(d) this?

I do feel like Trek has really grown in this regard – there is less of a sense that we’re doing this to be “edgy” and more of a sense of gravity to these situations. It just needs to go one step further in responsibility to the audience, not just the characters.

So you might be with me to this point but still thinking: “Ok, but I’m not upset by those themes and I don’t want a content warning off the top to spoil the episode. What about being able to tell a good story?”

I will note we got a great message from a WAW listener that basically said – “if the creators are using things like this as a plot twist, how seriously are they really taking it?” But I also think there’s a potential compromise that aligns with the way we view shows now, largely through streaming services. What if new, more specific content warnings were listed in the “more info” about an episode instead of a title card?

If you embedded it in the show data, people who know they have specific content triggers could look there before watching but it wouldn’t spoil the plot for those who aren’t affected. Lots of podcasts do this by putting content notes in their show notes – not just Women at Warp.

You’d still need referrals to resources ahead of the closing credits, and I’d suggest that episodes with particularly sensitive themes could get a warning off the top that prompts viewers to go to the show information in their streaming platform for more information.

I get there might be logistical and accessibility challenges to iron out but if we can get maturity ratings on everything for parents surely we can do this too.

So that’s where I’m at. I may not have captured all the major content warning types and there might be better ideas – I welcome constructive feedback, particularly from folks who need content warnings themselves for this kind of situation, or other themes.

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