Content ratings. Should books have them or shouldn’t they? (Tweet this)
I’m not talking about one-star or five-stars. I’m talking about G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 . . . content ratings and warnings on the back like every DVD has. Even music has the “explicit” warning. Video games and TV shows have ratings. It seems the standard for entertainment, yet in books, you pick up the most recent “NY Times Bestseller” that you’ve heard so many AMAZING things about . . . and find yourself in a steamy bedroom scene or a scene of violence with the “F” word every other sentence.
WHY IS THERE NO WARNING?
What do others say about this?
Why is the entertainment industry okay letting teenagers read rated R (and sometimes rated X) books, but they keep them out of the rated R movies? Frankly, I want the ratings for me. I want to be warned about what I’ll encounter in Gone Girl when I picked it up in ignorance.
A while back, I wrote a review for a young adult dystopian book called Ship Breaker. The story was intriguing and fantastic, but I mentioned in my review that there was a LOT of swearing. A ton of it, actually. A commenter then accused me of having zero tolerance.
But see … a movie that is PG-13 is only allowed two usages of the “F word.” Anything more than that and it has to be rated R. So Ship Breaker, if it had been a movie, it would be rated R just for the language.
What reader opinions are out there?
After I wrote this post, my friend Katie Grace pointed out a few other blog posts that tackled this topic. Ana believes there should be ratings because books have just as much power as movies to affect us. This post by Emily agrees with her. Meanwhile, Heather says there shouldn’t be content ratings on books. She not only digs into her reasoning, but she also gives some good history on ratings and the MPAA. This post by Aimee agrees with her. (I just want to point out that all these posts are done by young teen bloggers. Aren’t they brilliant?)
Are ratings required?
Ratings are not mandated by law. They are voluntary, but a lot of theaters won’t accept movies that are unrated. Why? Probably because their viewers want to know what the rating is. I know I do. Slapping a rating on something isn’t censoring it, it’s providing the viewer, gamer, reader, listener with information that might help them choose what will fit their tastes and tolerances.
My main problem with this lack of book ratings is inconsistency in the entertainment business. Books are a form of entertainment, and one of the only ones without ratings. (Tweet this) If I want to go watch a movie, I’ll hop on IMDB and check the rating. Ta-da. Decision made. If I want to read a book, then I have to scour the internet for a blogger who might have the same preferences as me who ends up sharing the violent parts. It takes a lot of searching, a lot of reading reviews. And by that point, I’ve probably run across some spoilers I didn’t want to know and the book is half-ruined by the time I buy it.
I’d much rather be able to flip it over and see a PG-13 for violence, nudity, and language. Ta-da. Decision made without spoilers. It’s that easy.
Or is it?
Arguments against ratings.
– Some people claim that books have the liberty to be more realistic in the writing, which may come out as raw and real to the reader. I agree. I hear the F word out in the everyday, but that doesn’t mean I want to find it in a book I’m reading. While some readers pick up a book to see another take on what’s “realistic” other readers might pick it up to escape that realism. They might want to enter a world that’s a little brighter, cleaner, and filled with more shalom than what they encounter in every day’s reality. A rating would give the reader the option to choose.
– Some people say that by rating a book we’re flirting with book banning. I don’t see it that way. It’s information, it’s not making it a rule that readers under 13 can’t pick up a book. We could simply get rid of the PG-13 part and just say, Contains some mature violence and language. I’m not suggesting that we start limiting what people are allowed to pick up and read. I’m suggesting the industry stay consistent with categorizing books into different maturity levels.
– Some are afraid that if books are rated, then that means bookstores and libraries would start to pick and choose what to carry based on rating. But bookstores aren’t ignorant to the content of books. Bookstores and libraries are a bit different because of the freedom of the press. Yes, it’s a business and bookstore owners are going to try to carry the books that sell the best.
Well guess what? They do that already. They are already picking and choosing because they have to. There’s not enough shelf space for everyone.
The author’s goal
Authors want to reach their intended readers. For me, that’s young adults and adults who like clean, but sometimes gritty Christian dystopian. I frequently tell parents, “I recommend my book for ages 15-and-up.” This helps readers know if the book might be for them. A parent isn’t going to give it to their 7-year-old (I hope.)
Ratings aren’t required, not on movies, not on books, but why wouldn’t an author want to help their readers find them?
“But what if my book is clean except for that one explosion of F-words?” It will find your readers. I don’t watch rated R movies, but I watched The King’s Speech and I still recommend it to people with the brief disclaimer that there’s one string of profanity. It’s now widely known and watched among families.
I want ratings, but they don’t exist. Now what?
Well, I plan to go through my Goodreads book reviews and add some ratings per my observations. But since I’m a practical person who knows that I can’t change the entire industry with a single blog post, I can point you to websites like Common Sense Media, Rated Reads, and Parental Book Reviews.
What do you think? Should books have ratings? (Tweet this) Why or why not?