I’m sure that we have all gradually moved through the ranks of content ratings when it comes to movies. Most of us started out with G movies, our movie times filled with sweet and innocent Disney fairytales. And then we moved on to PG movies, sometimes involving more action or maybe mildly crude humor (Ooooooh, they said the word “stupid”. SOMEONE CALL THE POLICE). And then we finally made it to the point where we could watch PG 13 movies. Oh yes. Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, here we come. And then for some of us, we’ve made it to the point where we watch the occasional R rated movie. Personally, I’m not allowed to see R rated movies, and I am not complaining about that. I know that a lot of teens aren’t a fan of the rating system, but I am so grateful for it because it ensures that I can pick up a movie and know that it will be clean enough for my liking. Unfortunately, that’s not how it is for books, which doesn’t make sense to me. Books should have content ratings just as movies and TV shows do. I am very careful with the books I read because the last thing I want to do is pick up a book that isn’t clean and will force me to skim a large portion of it or just flat out return it to the library. I peruse content rating sites like Common Sense Media, and I scour book reviews from other bloggers to learn about the content of a book. For the longest time, I even avoided the YA section of my library entirely because I knew that picking up an MG book was much safer, and there was less uncertainty in the process. However, even then, there are some books that slip right past my radar, and I hate it when that happens. If books had content ratings just like movies do, I wouldn’t have to worry so much over picking out books to read. Let’s look at why movies have content ratings. The main reason is that various forms of media can have a significant influence on people. Media is a part of our everyday lives, and by controlling the media that one takes in, a person can control how he/she is influenced by media. Movies are just one way people can be influenced by media. But you know what? Books can have a huge influence on people as well. I’ve heard people say that a book changed their lives many times, but I have never heard a person say that a movie changed their life. It seems to me that the intricate characters and the depth of thought in books can have an even larger impact on a person than a movie can. I know that’s how it works for me. And yet, books are the ones that lack the content ratings. I can’t follow the logic here. If books have just as much power, and possibly even more power, than movies to change the way a person looks at the world, than they should also be put out into bookstores and libraries with content ratings. I want to know what content is included in a book and to what extent, just like the information that movie content ratings provide. That way, I can find out how a book will affect me and make my reading decisions based off of that. I don’t need to fill my mind with mature content that hardly impacts a story. I know that there are many objections people can raise to this argument. One such objection is that the mature content often included in YA books is realistic. To that I say: Um, yeah. I go to a public high school. I’m not blind to what goes on. There are teens that do drugs, smoke, drink and go wild at parties that end up in a visit from the police, among other things. However, just because something is “realistic” doesn’t mean I want to read about it. I know many teens that don’t do that stuff, so how about portraying those teens as well? Also, the same argument could be transferred over to movies and TV shows. No matter how “realistic” the content is, movies and TV shows still have content ratings. Why shouldn’t books have them, too? Another objection is that putting content ratings on a book is a form of censorship. First of all, censorship is telling someone not to put certain content in books. I’m not trying to say that all mature content should be taken out of books because I can’t control what people write. What I am saying is that books should still come with ratings and warnings if applicable so that kids and their parents can find appropriate books. And that is not censorship. I get that some writers aren’t going to want those ratings on their books because writing is a form of art and they don’t want their art to be monitored. At the same time, movies are a form of art as well, and they are monitored, so books should be too. In short, I don’t understand why movies have content ratings but books don’t. I want to be able to pick out books with peace of mind because I know that I won’t come across unwanted mature content that will have absolutely no benefit to me, and I’m saddened that I can not do that. I feel like there is so much to be said about this topic, and I’ve only scratched the surface, so I want to know what you think! Should books have content ratings? Do you think it’s a form of censorship? Please do share your thoughts with me in the comments!
Update: Heather wrote a very well written and researched response to this post, so I highly encourage you to check it out!