Can We Talk about This?

Alicia Juskewycz
Sociology Prof

“Professor, have you heard of the idea of trauma porn?”

“Yes. Why?”

“I don’t mean to be offensive or anything, it’s just an idea I heard someone talking about and it seems like maybe it would relate to all the stuff we talk about in this class.”

“Sure; we have a lot of conversations about challenging topics. What have you heard about the idea?”

“Well…I think it’s, like, when people are entertained by people’s problems? And that makes people who have had challenging experiences feel like even though they are discussing those issues, they don’t really belong?”

“That’s right. When people use that phrase, they’re trying to get us to think more about how we engage with social inequalities. If we look at an issue mainly for entertainment or to feel sorry for people, it creates a situation where people who have had those experiences feel they don’t belong or make sense, according to normative expectations about our social experiences.”

“Yeah, so I started thinking about this when we watched the video about people’s experiences with domestic violence. I mean, I don’t think the video was trauma porn – it was very true to my experiences growing up in an abusive home, and the details were educational for the students who hadn’t thought much about it before. But I’ve always avoided talking about it. See, a lot of times people will seem like they care, but they are basically making it clear they can’t imagine the situation at all. But the other day, a bunch of us talked about personal experiences and it became more of a real conversation. And it made me think: after this long, how have I never had a discussion about something so important in my life where I didn’t just feel excluded and weird? And then that made me think differently about how I’ve approached some other conversations we’ve had about topics I haven’t given much thought to. How do we talk about the hard stuff in a way that takes it seriously yet doesn’t marginalize people who have had tough experiences?”

“Good question. I think jumping in with questions like this one with each other can go a long way. For example, your classmates probably will remember this conversation in the future. Thanks for bringing it up!”