Would you class the Twilight saga novels as a 15, an 18, or a 12A (which is the certificate the film received)? What about The Hunger Games? 50 Shades of Grey? Children of Men?
Why do films, video games, and even music, receive, at the very least, a parental warning sticker on the jacket, while books can be extremely graphic with no mandated cover suggestions, warnings or guides?
Would you implement age restrictions on literature, or let people read what they want, at the age they want?
I believe that books should have ratings like films, games and so on. This is because the films and games are rated on content such as; nudity, cursing, violence and sex scenes. However, all manner of content can be found in books, such as; Fifty Shades of Grey, I Am Number Four series and Thirteen Reasons Why, all of which can be purchased, or loaned from a library, at any time by anyone (even little kids). If I ever have kids I will make sure they do not get hold of these books until I think they are ready. So why don’t we put ratings on books, in order to held parents, and protect young children?
Controversies about swearing and sex are nothing new. The language in classic books such as Tom Sawyer and Catcher in the Rye (both written about children but generally read by teenagers) still upsets some parents, many decades after those books were first printed.
But the issue never goes away. A recent study by Brigham Young University, USA, found a lot of swearing and sexual language in modern novels geared at teens
88% of the young adult books they reviewed included at least one swear word.
The implication was that those books were irresponsible, and that parents should be worried, which led to calls for a book rating system, similar to film ratings. So far this hasn’t happened, but writers and publishers of teen fiction are in a difficult position. With rumours rife that there may soon be a self-published YA erotica trend fuelled by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, you can see the dilemma.
I can’t help but think that there’s something to this rating system idea. If we could guarantee only readers over 14 could buy certain books, literature could become racier – and thus more realistic. Parents would feel they had more control. But then, where do you draw the line? Is the f-word for those 14 and above, or 15? What about kissing scenes? Do first-base kissing scenes get a different age rating from those that make it to second-base? Then there’s the issue of violence… It all gets very complicated very quickly.
According to the recent BBFC’s annual report, the 2012 film adaptation of The Woman in Black received around 120 objections to its 12A certificate. Meanwhile, the film adaptation of Twilight Breaking Dawn Part 1 received 16 complaints about the post-wedding bedroom scene. Despite the Twilight books clearly aimed at a teen audience upwards, the film got through with a 12A certificate after several cuts to this scene, and also to the birthing scene near the end. Having read the entire Twilight saga, I can confirm that there were a lot of reductions made to the cinematic portrayal to satisfy censors and get that coveted 12A rating.
The reason for this, unfortunately, is that film production companies are greedy, and a lower certificate can entice a larger paying audience to the cinema. The artistic cost being that the story gets somewhat downgraded.
Another recent example is The Hunger Games. Clearly a dark story and one that’s aimed at a mature teen audience – but which was again cut significantly to achieve a 12A rating.
If you are a bookseller, would you stop a 12-15 year old buying a copy of 50 Shades? If you did stop them, what would prevent them from just downloading a copy at home to their e-reader device?
As far as I know neither Kindle nor Kobo have a parental control setting to prevent children being able to download a e-book that contains adult content. Although these settings might be available in the future, this would presuppose that the books receive some kind of rating for the device to use as its benchmark about what can, and can’t, be downloaded.
To go back to film ratings for a moment, I understand that to see something on screen might, in some people, make them want to act it out (the film of A Clockwork Orange was banned for allegedly inspiring copycat violence). But when watching a film, there’s a divide between the viewer and the action being played out. With a book, this doesn’t exist – as the reader you have to imagine the events, put yourself at the heart of the action. In some cases, you’re the protagonist and “watch” yourself carrying out unspeakable acts. In my opinion, this could then become very damaging to children’s mental health or can change the perception on right and wrong.
It’s not the first time age ratings have been proposed for children’s books. Publisher Scholastic proposed just such a measure back in 2008, which was met with swift condemnation, rebellion, even a petition against the measure signed by some 800 authors; including J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, and Terry Pratchett.
Overall, I firmly believe that books should have the same ratings as other forms of media i.e. movies, games etc. Although by books not currently having rating does have advantages as it can be a good way for parents to explain sensitive topics like rape, divorce, and so on, to children by putting them a relatable and non-judgemental setting.
At the end of the day it comes down to the choice of the parent, and what they think is appropriate for their individual children. It also depends on the child, as one book may be suitable for for one child, but not another, as every child matures and learns differently.
I am not condoning the using rating as a form of censorship, but more of a guideline to parents pointing out what is actually contained within the pages and then it’s down to the parents to make the decision whether that particular books is suitable.