Content warnings to the max: Princeton drama jumps the shark

November 21, 2022 • 9:15 am

Adamandi, a musical, was first performed at Princeton University on November 11, and continued until 8 days later. A description from the website:

A new horror musical in the genre of dark academia with book and lyrics by Mel Hornyak and Elliot Valentine Lee and music by Lee. The story focuses on three queer students of color at an elite college going to horrific lengths to prove their worth for a coveted graduation honor. The show features a score with baroque pop and dark cabaret influences. Performance on 11/18 features open captions. No tickets required.

And a photo by Larry Levanti:

But the humorous (and telling) part of this musical is the mammoth list of content warnings that accompanies it. You can see them all at the link below (click on screenshot), and I’ll reproduce most of them


Detailed Content Warnings

These content warnings are provided so that you can still consume the show if you want to avoid one or more of the content warnings. ‘Cues’ are visual changes onstage that you can use as a signal that a certain content warning will come up imminently. A ‘discussion’ is characters talking about the topic, while a ‘depiction’ involves an abstract staging of a character experiencing the topic (note that Adamandi does not feature any practical blood effects or gore). However, many of the content warnings are incorporated throughout the show, so please consider your overall comfort with murder, student death, Catholic guilt, and discussions of self-harm when deciding whether to see Adamandi.

Loud Noises

Loud noises (books dropped from a height/shouting) occur in scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Exercise

Self-harm through exercise is discussed in Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose and his friends surround Vincent), and Me, Myself and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time), and depicted abstractly in the scene transitions after Where Can I Run (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the stage), A Little More In Love (Act I, cue: Quincy leaves the stage), and Quincy and Vincent’s discussion of Vincent’s project (Act I, cue: Quincy proposes they team up).

Self-harm through Burning

Self-harm through burning is discussed during the scene where Portia and Quincy are on the stage left balcony (Act II), the scene after Quincy and Vincent talk to the Administration (Act II), and On The Other Side of Failure (Act II, cue: Quincy enters holding a broom). It is depicted abstractly during Litany of the Martyrs (Act II, cue: Saint Lawrence says “One life, one death, one hell’), and I Hate and I Love (Act II, cue: Quincy lights candles on the balcony).

Internalized Homophobia

Internalized homophobia is discussed in the scene where Ambrose and Vincent talk in the gym (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear, and depicted in the scene before I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Beatrix and Portia finish their interview.)

Body/Corpse Mutilation

Body/corpse mutilation is discussed in Oh, Ms. Reporter (Act II, cue: Vincent sits down in a chair at the lip of the stage) and implicitly depicted in the final scene of Act II (cue: the pyre is wheeled in)


Murder is discussed in the scene between Beatrix and Vincent in the newsroom (Act I, cue: Beatrix unlocks the file cabinet) as well as throughout Act II, and depicted abstractly at the end of Act I (cue: The ensemble sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’), and the end of Act II (cue: Quincy sings ‘I Hate and I Love’ for the second time)


Suicide is briefly discussed in Word to the Wise (Act I, cue: Quincy and Vincent are pushed towards the lip of the stage), discussed in Perfect at School (Act I, cue: Quincy stands from the interview table), Read All About It (cue: start of Act II), the scene after Student Body (Act II, cue: Vincent enters Quincy’s room with Ambrose), Where Can I Run (Reprise) (Act II, cue: Quincy holds out their hands to Vincent), and the scene that takes place on the Pyre (Act II, cue: the pyre is wheeled in).

Gender Dysphoria and Internalized Transphobia

Gender dysphoria and internalized transphobia is discussed in the scene after Sound Body, Sound Mind (Act I, cue: Ambrose leaves the Marmorei in the gym), throughout I Love You, I Swear (Act I, cue: Ambrose speaks to his girlfriend offstage), and Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Quincy sings ‘Me, Myself, and I’ the first time).

I had to include this one:

. . . . Catholic Guilt

Catholic guilt is discussed in the scene after A Little More In Love (Act I), Me, Myself, and I (Act I, cue: Vincent leaves the newsroom), and throughout Act II.

What’s the issue with “Catholic guilt”?

There’s also a “note from the writers” at the bottom about heeding the warnings above, and how to leave the theater if you can’t take it any more.

Note that, as far as I can tell, not one of these items is actually depicted in the play; they’re all simply discussed.  If mere discussion of something like “murder” or “internalized homophobia” is enough to send you running from the play, or not going at all, then you shouldn’t be reading the news or browsing online. Or even getting out of bed. And life doesn’t give you trigger warnings when there are “loud noises”.

The data seem to show, at any rate, that if you have a phobia about something like these issues, the best way to overcome it not to avoid it forever but is to expose yourself to it (preferably with advice from a therapist). For you never know when something like murder or suicide will crop up in conversation or on the news. But this obtains for things you can actually see or experience, like videos of murder or mutilation—not simply discussion of such issues. The evening news imparts you a warning like this when something gruesome is shown: “Note: some of the following video might be disturbing,” which seems appropriate. But it doesn’t do that when simply reporting on murder or violence.

Are any of these trigger warnings necessary? I’d say that if these things were actually shown, a short description on the website might be appropriate; something like this: “Note, this play includes discussion of elements like murder, suicide, gender dysphoria, and Catholic guilt.” But a long list like the one above, describing exactly where the discussions are, vividly underlines the fragility of the students and the helicopter-playwright nature of artistry these days.

Readers might amuse themselves by imagining the trigger warnings that accompany plays like “Hamlet”, or books like Madame Bovary, Anna Karenina, or Crime and Punishment. And what in the world do you do with paintings? After all, they’re right there before you, and if they have a trigger warning next to them, well, it’s already too late.

Here’s a video: TRIGGER WARNING: CATHOLIC GUILT TO THE MAX. (I love this song: one of Billy Joel’s best. It was issued in 1977.)

h/t: cesar

46 thoughts on “Content warnings to the max: Princeton drama jumps the shark

  1. I suppose one could always attend a performance with noise-canceling headphones, blackout sleep mask, weighted blanket, pacifier, and a teddy bear.

  2. This sounds like sharp satire – as in, they deliberately wrote the warnings to evoke laughter… so one wonders what is actually in the performance that did not require warnings.

    1. This sounds like sharp satire…

      That’s the thought that struck me when I saw the first item on the list: ‘Loud Noises’. I don’t know if the whole thing was intended to be funny, but funny it is to me. ‘Catholic Guilt’ reminded me of Scorsese.

      1. One wonders if there are certain identity stereotypes who get some sort of unpleasant horror movie treatment, and then the directors and producers say “hey, there’s no trigger warning for that because that stereotypical identity is bad and evil anyway in real life.” as a way to sharply counter the woke ideology-religion.

    2. I don’t think it’s satire because the lists are too boring. It reads like a Index at the back of a book (Catholic Guilt: 19; 35 – 42; 79 Cats on internet: 2, 17, 80-138.) College satire is usually pretty ham-fisted and not known for being subtle.

  3. With this level of fragility, one wonders what such people would/will do if they ever come face to face with and have to counter ACTUAL fascism/nazism/totalitarianism, or simply any kind crisis that requires personal action.

    And, yes, “Only the Good Die Young” is one of Billy Joel’s best songs…the modern equivalent of Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”.

  4. Mmmm, I am still stuck on the idea that the plays authors apparently believe that today’s universities are not safe spaces for minorities, and not institutions that cater to their sensibilities. Reminds me of the elite students at Yale berating Chelsea Clinton for making them feel unsafe.

  5. Don’t the trigger warnings themselves mention the “harmful” topics of suicide, murder, etc. and so require trigger warnings of their own?

        1. “Big triggers have little triggers
          Upon their backs to (trigger warning : sexual activity) ride
          And (trigger warning : sizeism) little triggers have (trigger warning : recursive sizeism) smaller triggers,
          And so (trigger warning : Latin, mathematical concepts, possibility of induced mania) ad infinitum.”
          Well, it’s longer than Swift, therefore (trigger warning : sizeism) better.

    1. I’m pretty sure the trigger warning would be something the effect of: “WARNING! Viewing this film (or play) is a hate crime! Non-Southeast Asian actor portrayal! Colonialism! White Saviorism! and Cultural Appropriation!”

      1. TRIGGER WARNING for my comment:

        The following is a weird comment, for this thread, I realized later – it’s just an indelible message, and I remembered it – but it’s a downer – I didn’t want to spoil the humor of “hoop skirts”! Not meant as a moralistic thing! Anyway, here it is :

        Brynner made a famous ad against smoking, that aired “a few days” after his death. He said :

        “Now that I’m gone, I tell you: Don’t smoke. Whatever you do, just don’t smoke. If I could take back that smoking, we wouldn’t be talking about any cancer. I’m convinced of that.”

        … not as exciting as warnings about colonialism.

        Here’s the ad (an error : birth year is actually 1920) :

  6. Hidden Brain has a good podcast on the benefit of anxiety, in which they also discuss how trigger warnings actually heighten one’s anxiety. There was a study that measured the subject’s anxieties when content was shown with and without trigger warnings. When trigger warnings were present, anxieties measured higher in subjects then in those without trigger warnings.

    1. The Contagion Theory of Trigger Warnings: “other people found this really, really disturbing — lots of them just like you, sensitive, and finding this really, really disturbing — so think hard about whether you, too, might find this real, real disturbing.”

  7. Even if they don’t mention “harmful” subjects, a trigger warning per se might provoke anxiety—therefore, we need trigger warnings when mentioning trigger warnings.

    Seriously, I found Jon Haidt’s fine talk at the Stanford conference perhaps exaggerated in regard to the psychiatric fragility of contemporary students. Still, responsibility for the mania for trigger warning lies with those who dreamed them up—not with the fainting invalids they are supposed to protect, whose existence might be more rhetorical than real. I suggest (contra Haidt) that the therapeutic approach to literature might not be a response to any real need, but just another woke gimmick.

  8. I also like “Only the Good Die Young,” but shouldn’t the song really be “The good only die young?” Bad people can get hit by a bus when they are young. He is really singing about what happens to good people, but that does not prevent bad people from dying young too.
    That has always bothered me whenever I hear the song for some reason.

    1. Well, this has been bothering me a lot since you’ve pointed it out. I’ve found that the phrase is not Billy Joel’s invention but an English proverb which echos an ancient Greek phrase. Maybe Billy Joel took it from there, and meant it metaphorically: people who never have any fun have stopped living when they are still young; only playful wild folks really live.

      But I hate analyzing songs, sometimes they are like abstract paintings that have no literal meaning. It is easy to spoil them by thinking too much. They weren’t meant for that side of our brains. MacArthur Park, Horse with No Name, lots of Beatles songs, etc have stupid lyrics but still are wonderful in some weird dimension.

      This song has wonderful playful lyrics, though. By the way, I always thought “Virginia” was a name chosen to allude to a virgin, but it turns out he is referring to an actual person, an early crush of his, Virginia Callahan.

  9. Amazons Rings of Power:

    “This TV series may invoke feelings of intense boredom and such indifference to the fates of the characters that you might think you’ve lost your humanity.”

    1. So, when the Final Directors Cut DVD collection (74 discs, with bloopers and outtakes) comes out, I should ignore it then?

    1. I think Mr. Joel’s line about Catholic girls starting much too late concerns premarital sex.

      There were a lotta Catholic girls in my neighborhood growing up, and, yeah, some of ’em got a late start. But once they hit their stride, they caught up quick.

      When I was a college boy, there was also a certain syndrome associated with freshman girls who’d graduated from Catholic high schools. With the newfound freedom of getting away from their parents’ home for the first time and out from under the nuns’ thumb, they’d go a bit wild, some of ’em.

        1. Ironically most people today would want a real trigger warning for that today just for the album cover. What am I saying, that wouldn’t need a trigger warning, it would go straight to cancellation.

  10. Catholic guilt, Jewish guilt…come to think of it, for many years the Justices on the SCOTUS used to be either Catholic (Gorsuch was raised Catholic, though he now professes Anglicanism) or Jewish until KBJ, a Protestant, was seated.

    1. Yeah, KBJ is the first full-blown Proddy on SCOTUS since John Paul Stevens retired in 2010. For most of the Court’s existence, there were nothing but. Generally, wall-to-wall WASPs.

      Then, for much of the 20th century, there was a “Catholic seat” and a “Jewish seat” on the SCOTUS bench, one of each.

  11. Well, I knew that Princeton welcomed precocious students, but I didn’t realise that they were letting five-year-olds in. Who else could infantile warnings like that be aimed at?

    1. But are they precocial? This behavior sounds more like altriciality to me. They’re acting like they’re still “wet behind the ears”, as the old saying goes.

  12. “These content warnings are provided so that you can still consume the show . . . .”

    ” . . . consume the show . . . .”

    Well, that’s a new one on me. I gather that the show is “content,” and therefore to be “consumed.” “Content” has moved beyond online to live flesh-and-blood performance (“consumption”?). I’ll remember that when I ask my dear wife if she would like to go “consume” a movie or stage play/musical.

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