I’m sure this subject has been brought up by people more in the know than myself, but I wonder what people think of books having a rating system similar to the MPAA or the ESBR systems.
Truth be told, I’m not sure how I feel about the idea. I don’t consider myself a prude in any way, shape or form. I was raised on horror movies (the gorier and boobier, the better) and have been a strong proponent of my right to exercise free speech (since my mom wouldn’t let me swear until I was 18; yeah, like that happened). Yet, I find myself constantly censoring myself depending on my audience. In conversations, I rarely swear unless I know the person well enough to know they won’t mind (unless a bee flies in my mouth while I’m talking; just try to censor me, then).
My writing is the same. For Ascension, I knew some of the subject matter would skew toward adult. Once I reached that decision, I decided to go all in. Swearing, a little bit of sex (nothing terribly graphic; just not my style) and, well, for those of you who’ve read it, Rosenthal. Yeah, I went there. Suffice to say, if Ascension was a movie, it’d be rated R. It could be edited down to PG-13, but as is, it wears its R rating proudly.
The Four-Year-Old Guardian would probably be PG, despite a few scenes of violence. The Only Human on the Block series in general would probably be PG-13, due to some disturbing stuff that happens later. Same with Unseen Things. I couldn’t see it as any less than PG-13 due to some of the scenes. Again, nothing terribly graphic, virtually no sex (none that’s shown, anyway) and very mild swear words, but I think thirteen would be the optimal starting age to understand some of the themes presented.
So, that’s all fine and good if my books were being made into movies or games (sigh…a guy can dream, right?), but how do authors advertise the contents of their books to their intended audience? Should they even have to?
I make it a habit to pick up whatever books are on the shelves whenever I’m at the grocery store. It’s partly from curiosity and partly as a confidence booster (“I could have written that!” I often tell myself, choosing to ignore the discrepancy between my perceived talent and the quality level of what I’ve produced so far.) Invariably, I open up to a sex scene or a bit of dialogue containing words you can’t hear on television (unless you tune into FX or a pay channel). And that’s without even looking for it.
None of this bothers me much, but what about when my daughter is less interested in Elmo’s infatuation with counting objects and turns her attention toward novels? As a parent, should I pre-screen everything she reads to make sure there isn’t anything inappropriate in there? What about people who *are* more sensitive to offensive materials? Shouldn’t they have a way of knowing what they’re getting themselves into without being exposed to said offensive material?
On the other hand, where do we draw the line? Some of the descriptors detailing why the rating is what it is borders on ridiculous (Rated PG-13 for scenes of space-themed drama and clown-induced terror). There’s also an ongoing debate revolving around the effectiveness of the ratings system. Many people (myself included) feel the current system places an emphasis on sexually explicit over violent material. We’re a society that loves our right to bear arms, as long as the rest of the body is covered. Of course, both violence and sex are a natural part of humanity, but how much of either do we want to expose our children (or even, ourselves) to?
And with ratings in place for movies and games, why are books the exception? Is it the perception book readers are more mature and able to handle more offensive material? Or perhaps it’s the notion books are art, but where does that leave movies and, yes, even video games? The gap is certainly closing, blurring the line between art and entertainment, but where do ratings fit into all of it?
I don’t have the answers, but for now, I think I’ll stick to adding my own descriptors in my blurbs. People can judge for themselves if they want to read Ascension, despite “Scenes involving sand going in places sand should never be” and “Violence perpetrated by objects meant for pleasure.”
Yeah, I just wrote that.