I’ve been knee-deep in the moving process again, this time to live closer to work and escape my hour-long commute. Sadly, I’ve realized that my books take up the majority of my packing boxes, so since I’ve run out of room on my bookcase anyway, I decided to purge part of my collection to make the moving process easier.
Which is how I found myself donating over 70 books to my local library. Most of them were Japanese manga series which I knew I wouldn’t read again, but I also sacrificed some young adult fiction as well. When I carried in all my bags, one distinct thing that I pointed out to the librarians was that the manga I brought in was “rated PG-13.”
I told them that because I knew the graphic novels had themes of sexuality. Two series by author Ken Akamatsu, Love Hina and A.I. Love You, are full of innuendos and gratuitous panty shots (for which is the author’s claim to fame). They’re hilarious stories about geeky guys trying to find love, but more often than not, falling into embarrassing situations.
Interestingly, manga do come with ratings: Everyone or All Ages (E or A), Youth, 10+ (Y), Teens, 13+ (T), Older Teens, 16+ (OT), and Mature, 18+ (M). The particularly mature manga, such as yaoi and yuri, which are genres of homosexual erotica, also frequently remain plastic-wrapped in bookstores to prevent minors from perusing their pages.
But what about every other book written? We have a vague idea of which audience is most suitable for a story, but no defined standards as seen in manga, film, and video games? I wonder…why is that?
You already know that I’m not a fan of artistic censorship, which I blogged about in my post about whether YA fiction was too “adult.” The Huffington Post also discussed this issue in May, comparing the differences between books and movies.
One point HuffPo made was that according to the Hays Code of 1930, movies are catered to the masses rather than niche audiences, so stricter guidelines need to be in place. Pretty patronizing to treat moviegoers like ignoramuses, but also disheartening that books are not considered popular enough for people to care about their psychological effects.
I have mixed feelings on giving books ratings. On one hand, it’s just another way for society to subjectively decide what is morally appropriate for children. Ratings often do not take educational value into consideration.
Using movies as examples, Schindler’s List and Saw are both rated “R,” but the former is one of the greatest adaptations of the Holocaust, a historical event which cannot be accurately depicted without graphic violence, and the latter is yet another ‘gore porn’ horror flick. Same rating, vastly different values of artistic merit. Ratings would tar every book with the same brush, and I would hate for Lord of the Flies or Invisible Man to be lumped in with the likes of Fifty Shades of Grey just because of some mature themes.
On the other hand, perhaps book ratings would save many stories from being banned outright. Place them into a separate section in libraries so that helicopter parents can’t dictate what classifies as forbidden. However, the question remains of who has the right to make these distinctions–not to mention the time and money it would take to implement and enforce ratings.
Weighing the arguments, I feel that ratings for all media are arbitrary and although I can see their intent, parents ultimately decide what is appropriate for their children. If we relinquish too much creative control, then we also give up individual freedoms. I’m not saying that it would snowball into an Orwellian state, but it’s vital not to lose personal autonomy.
I could ramble on about this topic all night, but I’d much rather hear what you all think! Are book ratings a good idea? Why or why not?