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August 05, 2014

Slapping the NC-17 Rating on Literature: Should We Rate Books?

50 shades Fans of the Anastasia Steele - Christian Grey ‘love story’ (if it can be called that) were swooning all across the world lately when the much-anticipated “Fifty Shades of Grey” trailer hit the internet. Based on E.L. James'  Fifty Shades of Grey series, the book and film are known for their sensual and...uh…erotic themes. The film, which is due to be released in 2015, will reportedly hit the theatres with two styles: the ‘tamer’ R-rated version for 17+ fans, and a grittier version which holds truer to the sexual nature of the book and will be slapped with the NC-17 rating generally reserved for films featuring rape or drug scenes. And in most countries where these films will be released, movie-goers will have to provide an ID to prove that they are indeed old enough to sit through “Fifty Shades of Grey.” 50 shades 2 But, at the end of the day, it won’t much matter if that 16-year-old, or 14-year-old can’t legally get into the theatres to see the movie. Why? Because they can simply pick the book up off of any bookstore shelf and read it for themselves. Which begs the question: should there also be ratings on books? By no means is this a new debate, in fact, readers have been asking the same question for years now. Some argue that a rating similar to the G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17 ratings commonly used in the movie industry would prevent unpleasant surprises; namely you wouldn’t find yourself blindsided by a rape scene if the book featured an R or NC-17 rating or a warning label. A lot of parents also view a rating system as an easier way to gage what their children are reading or seeing. After all, it’s difficult for a busy parent to read every book prior to approving and passing it on to their children. And if you really think about it, even television shows feature ratings beforehand in order to give a forewarning of adult content. So why not books? 50 shades 3 The main deterrent when selling books with ratings is, of course, money. When it comes to a top seller like Fifty Shades of Grey, booksellers don’t want to market it in a way that would restrict sales (although, considering E.L. James earned $95M last year alone, it seems unlikely that a warning label could really affect sales all that much). And yet, some bookstores have stated they would feel uncomfortable selling erotic novels to, say, 13-year-olds. Note, however, that they would only feel uncomfortable, they wouldn’t actually refuse to do so. Doesn’t money run the world, folks? Secondly, many people think that there’s a distinct difference between seeing a scene played out visually on a screen as opposed to what your imagination conjures up while you’re reading a book. But, while it is true that a story can at times become more ‘real’ by being acted out, never underestimate the power of a vivid imagination. There are plenty of readers who say they wish they could ‘unread’ something and even I have made myself sick on several occasions with doses of particularly intense rhetoric. 50 shades 4 Polls have shown that over 60% of people asked state that book ratings are a good idea. But there still remains the staunch minority who look at ratings as censorship, or as unnecessary for readers. And so the debate rages on. At the end of the day, however, providing ratings is only a means of providing more information about the book you’re about to invest time and money in. Doesn’t every reader have the right to know what they’re getting into? As author Jami Gold so eloquently wrote: “Ratings aren’t about taking away choices.  Ratings aren’t about forcing books to stop pushing boundaries.  Ratings are about giving people enough information to help them make smarter choices, the choice that’s right for them.” (Be sure to check out Gold’s interesting blog article on whether or not books should have a rating system.) So what do you, the reader, think? Would ratings on books be detrimental or helpful to those seeking out new works to read? Will it help parents to better manage their children’s reading choices? Should children’s reading choices be curbed and managed? Share your thoughts! :D   *Photo credits: