Could Rating Systems Come Our Way?
Bestselling Alamy children's author GP Taylor recently decided to take a new direction with his fiction. He originally wanted to offer the content young readers craved. If you can remember back when you were in school, you might remember how many books you couldn't find in the library. It probably seemed like every week the school boards decided what was "inappropriate" for young audiences.
To solve this problem, many groups in England - one of which contains Taylor -propose an age certificate system for literature to ensure the profane, obscene, and violent stay out of the hands of younger readers. But is this really the best solution? Could a rating system, much like that of movies, TV, and video games really help determine what is appropriate for some readers and not for others?
Are Books on the Same Level as Video Games?
In order to see how an age certificate program might affect literature, it's important to realize what the rating system for video games has done. Although games rated MA cannot be sold to minors, it's without question that children still get their hands on them.
More importantly, it's worth considering how video games affect younger consumers. A game like Mario is rated for all ages and hasn't proven to lead children towards block-smashing or taking psychedelic mushrooms. Nor has any report shown a child hopping down manholes to save a princess from a fire-breathing dinosaur.
However, there's been a great battle between those who believe a game like Grand Theft Auto can lead to crime and violent acts and those who believe it cannot. Most studies suggest there is little to no connection between violent video games and real-life acts of violence, but one Indiana University study suggests there is a definite psychological affect.
During the IU study, results showed those who played violent video games developed a lesser sense of emotional depth and activity, attentiveness, and inhibition of impulses. In short, it might be possible that violent video games could lead to more violent behavior in the sense of losing control. We might be tempted to act out in anger rather than spending time to analyze a situation.
But could the same research show a connection between violent books and their readers? There aren't many conclusive studies regarding violent books and actual violence. The problem with rating books based on violence is that a book like Huckleberry Finn or 1984 could be considered too violent for minors, although both are an important staple in literary education at the junior- and high school levels.
In addition to violence, age certificates would also restrict books based on other criteria, including profanity, language, and sex.
There's No Sex In Your Violence
Mark Twain always wrote life as he saw it with a satirical touch. Although we might consider him one of the literary masters, Twain has sparked controversy many moons after his run as an author. After the great censorship debate, many were wondered if more classics would be censored.
The things is, all the books play an important part to education and literacy. Literacy is not about forcing children to read what we consider appropriate. They teach about human interaction, social contexts, and history. Imagine a censored history book.
While I'll concur that vampire porn and other contemporary releases are perhaps too profane and provocative for some audiences, I think it's important to base any sort of rating system on content rather than matters such as vulgarity. If we take books out of the hands of young readers solely based on how many times the word "fuck" appears, then we may be dramatically limiting the intellectual growth of students. Down These Means Streets is a fantastic and important read, but there is no way it would make the certification for its intended audiences.
If You're Gonna Do It, Do It Right
What it comes down to is this:
After England starts something, the United States always follows suit. We cannot simply restrict books based on foul language, sexual depictions, or violence. We need to grade on substance and relevancy. While all these guidelines would be subjective at best, there needs to be a little wiggle room for books that are important towards the intellectual growth of children - stories that teach development, historical relevance, social commentary, empathy, sympathy, etc.
Besides, we should be happy young adults are reading in the first place. What the problem truly seems to be is too many writers are just scribbling down violent nonsense they think young adults will like. If writers and parents are worried about the content their children are getting their hands on, then they can control what comes through. If parents read smut, children might think it's OK to read smut. Parents: stop reading smut like Number of Hues of Color. Writers: Stop following trends. Write something with meaning. It can even be within a genre!
That's my take on the situation. Now I look for yours.
DO YOU THINK WE SHOULD HAVE AGE RESTRICTIONS ON BOOKS, AND IF SO, WHAT SHOULD MAKE UP THE GUIDELINES?
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