Triggers, Anyone?

~~Sonia James, posted on June 19, 2021.


"I refuse to be triggered again!" I bellowed in the days after our Discussions on the Amazon Prime program Them. My mother gave a sympathetic smile. She knew the triggers would hit hard.


Memories flooded involving my relocation from New York City to Panama City FL. We were the only black non-military family in our block. Our neighborhood understood military families. However, we were the novelty because we didn't have to live so close to the Air Force base. Strike two: We were also from the Big City and assumed to be “uppity”. Strike three: My grandmother never lost her Jamaican accent 30+ years after her immigration.


A neighbor called her sheriff deputy son about the "ganja" growing in our backyard. "You know them Jamaicans and City Folk are addicted to that stuff," we heard her on the phone to her son. (Yes, the houses were that close.) When her son arrived, we (her son and my family) found her sitting on our hot patio concrete next to the offending plant. Did I mention that she had a 8-foot privacy fence around her yard? Which means she had to watch us (and the plant) through the window of her spare bedroom. The offending plant -- okra. My grandmother wanted fresh vegetables whenever possible and grew her own in 5-gallon buckets. The neighbor never apologized but her son did.


Them reminded me why I don't do horror movies and television series. The vivid colors stay in my head. They bring nightmares and buried memories. Things I don't want to remember or see again. Their images stay in my head constantly, making sleep impossible. However, there were few instances when I was younger that I successfully avoided triggers. So naturally, I tried to trigger those memories.


Case in point, The movie Ben. I am a huge Michael Jackson fan. When I was younger, I was a fanatic. Ben opened when I was 5. I demanded that my mother take me to see the "Michael Jackson movie". She tried, to no avail, to explain that it was a horror movie and that Michael Jackson wouldn't make an appearance. She knew even back then that her daughter should never watch horror. She'd comfort that small child (and even now the middle-aged adult) after every nightmare that followed a particular gory or saturated scene.


Nevertheless she gave in. She took her 5-year-old child to that movie. She begged her friend who owned the theater to let us in. She said I sat quietly in my seat, eagerly waiting for Michael Jackson.


According to IMDB, 'Michael Jackson's theme "Ben's Song" played during the final scene and end credits.' This would mean I sat through approximately 1.5 hours of Ben's attacks and mayhem -- longer if it was a double feature with Willard.


Yet I remember none of it. I remember a white boy holding a rat (but not what the boy looked like) and Michael Jackson singing. That's it, nothing more. I've seen stills from the movie but none have activated memories of seeing it on the big screen. And this was before the multiplex subdivisions so it would've been on a REALLY BIG screen.


Believe me, I've tried again, especially after watching Them. There's nothing there. I never transferred the memories of seeing the movie to my long-term memory storage. I still only recall hanging out with my mom; a boy and his pet rat; and Michael Jackson crooning.


Will I watch Ben again as an adult? No. I will keep the memories as they are.


My plan from here on out if I have to watch a program with known triggers -- I will use the analytical skills I developed during my major studies of media production. I will watch for shot compositions and dialogue tricks used to manipulate the audience.


Will I be successful? Not sure it's been 30 years since I've had to use those skills. You'll know when I speak during the Discussions broadcast on Juneteenth. We're chatting about the film White Dog. Yup, more possible triggers. Wish me luck!









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