Book Ratings and Censorship

I grew up in the nineties and my parents restricted what movies I could watch. However I was always more of a reader than a watcher, and not once did my paarents question me about the books I bought or read. I had free reign over my reading material which could have been subject to a whole lot more violence and romance than the movies I had to wait to see until I was older.

With the intense nature of The Hunger Games trilogy and all the bloodshed, many people have questioned the YA genre it has been placed in. Especially now that the movie has been released. There were some rather offending images left out of the movie that are present in the book. In order to appease the MPAA to get a PG-13 rating in the US they resorted to shaky camera action and only split second shots of deaths. In my mind this lessened the effect and importance of the deaths, as well as making it difficult to see what was actually going on anyways. I also hear that several seconds more were cut from the UK version of the film to get a more YA friendly rating.

Which begs the question : if we’re so focused on regulating movies to protect our youths ‘innocence ‘ then why isn’t there a formal rating system for books, which are often times more descriptive and mature than movies?

Perhaps there’s the assumption that if they’re reading then they’ll be more mature and able to handle it. Or that every parent will pre-read the books before their kids in order to monitor the material, which some do for many books. Or maybe they even assume if the material is too mature then the reader will simply put the book down. Who knows?

I personally don’t think there should be such a rating system for books, however I was raised making my own literary choices as no one else in my family actually read. My parents didn’t restrict it but they brought me up with certain standard in my everyday life that not only did they trust my maturity, but I did as well. But, as stated before, my movie selection was almost always restricted. Then again the ratings were a bit more lax then as to what was allowed in a PG rated movie(several swear words and smoking from what I recall).

So where exactly is the line drawn in the ratings game? It seems that movies are often more harshly judged but I can’t imagine why. Especially when I was reading books with war, violence, death, and swearing well before I could watch it on a screen. (I don’t know about you, but I was required to read Where the Red Fern Grows in middle school and all I can remember is a distinct visual of a mauled dog with guts hanging out of it. Again, required reading for me as a 10 year old.)

So I ask you all, perhaps especially with children, should there be an MPAA style of ratings for books as well? At the age of 21 I’m still carded for buying rated R movies from the store. Should I also be carded for buying books with enough graphic material to be an R rated movie? Please share your thoughts!


About Aly Hughes
Unprofessional, unedited, unpublished. Aly is out to make a name for herself by blogging, twittering, facebooking, and general internet-ing. Be warned: She may not know what she's talking about.

23 Responses to Book Ratings and Censorship

  1. st00ge says:

    Hmm I never thought about that. I was pretty sheltered but my parents never payed much mind to what books I read. I think they were happy I was reading so much. They filtered any questionable comic books though. There were certain series I could never bring into the house.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      Do you think they filtered comic books because of the images? It seems that visually stimuli, such as comics or movies, are always frowned upon more so than books where you imagine the scenes.

      I was definitely sheltered growing up as well. Although that seems to be the reason my parents trusted my decision with books. My brothers and I were so ingrained with morality and common sense, that they correctly guessed I could handle whatever books threw at me. And if I found it too distasteful, I would just pick something else up.

  2. Samir says:

    Thought provoking… I’d say that books up to and including the reader age of 13 should have an age recommendation (for those parents that are concerned). I’ve not read the Hunger Games and I don’t intend to, but when I hear it’s YA and it’s about kids killing kids then I begin to worry. There is much too much violence in movies and television as it is, and worse yet is the violence in action computer games, all of which kids are exposed to and grow up with. Whether we like it or not, this does affect the subconscious developing mind and may take a wrong turn at some point in life. People start to identify with violence as a norm and acceptable behavior. Just think, another 20 years and all the kids below 15 of today will think violence to be quite a normal and natural occurrence – and they might have kids of their own. It’s a scary but likely scenario.

    Then again, violence has always been present and the best that parents can do is raise their children well with good manners and schools should educate them well enough to be aware of their actions and the consequences. Besides, restricting kids form reading something will only want to make them want it (and probably acquire it) all the more.

    Great post!

    • Aly Hughes says:

      You’re definitely right, restricted access to things, much like overall banning of books, will only make people pursue it more. But I do think it’s a good idea for recommendation ratings on books, usually for teens. Especially because I feel like the lines are so blurred these days. The Hunger Games are very brutal, and I feel like it would have been a better book if it had actually been written for more of an adult audience. The themes and psychological factors that play throughout the book are very heavy, but some younger people might not get those and just read it for the story. In which case, it isn’t so much the killings/fighting that is really bad, but it’s the detail with it. It’s one thing, in a movie, to show a guy getting shot then just falling over, but it’s another thing entirely to show a close-up detailed view of someone being beheaded. I think the younger audience can handle the themes of death/murder, but when it’s so descriptive, and as a reader you develop very specific mental images, that’s when I feel like there needs to be a warning of some sort.

      And this can be applied across the board, The Hunger Games just happen to be a handy, popular example. I agree with you 100% about parents being responsible for raising their children with common sense and awareness.

      Thank you for such a thoughtful comment! 🙂

  3. For me a book can bring out a stronger emotional response then a movie does. Books have had that effect on me more then movies ever have done. So I think that gives the reader a stronger connection to the story that they are reading. For a movie to do that then there has to be a great actor, a great director, a great editor, and its someone elses eyes you are seeing it all through. With a book it is us, the readers, who picture the story.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      You’re right, and a lot of that is our ability to imagine it for ourselves instead of being fed images. With books there’s just so much more room for character and overall plot development, that it really shows when we invest our time into reading. Do you think perhaps movies are more restricted because we don’t get as emotionally invested, so they fear we will become desensitized by it? Whereas we are sometimes overly sensitized to books, making sure we always respond/feel something towards a topic.

      • I do think that we dont get emotionally invested in most films. There is so much rubbish that is considered great when it comes to movies that truly finding a film with that emotional heart tug is rare. I think its often the detail in a book that gives us the bond with a character and an understanding of the plot.

  4. Anonymous says:

    My parents were both librarians, and I was raised with the idea that books should not be restricted. Parents should try to keep inappropriate books from their kids and the kids should figure out ways to get the inappropriate books anyway. As it has alwaya been.

    And when things are labeled and restricted (and once there are labels there will be pressure to fit a certain label — many movie contracts specify the rating that the movie has to get) it will most likely be based on the particular prejudices of the raters. I’m not the first to point out that it’s easier (even for a young person) to see a movie where a man kills another man than a movie where a man kisses another man.

    Based on eveything I’ve read, a causal relationship between violent movies/games, etc. and violent actions has never been proved. Connections, in some cases, yes, but that doesn’t prove that one caused the other. I have a friend who has an excellent blog on this subject (and related topics like branding people “Goth” and “Satanist” with little or no evidence). I’ll have to get on a computer to post a link, so I’ll put it in as a reply to.this.

      • Aly Hughes says:

        Thanks for the link!

        Violent video games/movies are always an interesting topic. I think they can negatively influence people, but in order to do so there are underlying factors such as upbringing, personal experiences, and perhaps imbalances that all trigger violent responses. Perhaps what they see just gives them an idea of what to do, but the aggression comes from another place entirely.

        And you’re right about prejudiced ratings. A hot topic for rating controversy lately has been for the documentary ‘Bully’ that received an ‘R’ rating. I haven’t seen it, or read reviews of it yet to see if it deserved that rating or not, but it has been heavily challenged by people.

        I agree that parents should do their best to at least hold off more mature books. I know a family I used to babysit for, the mother read her young children the Harry Potter series, but she took it very slowly so that the kids could grow up to the more mature and darker themes in the later books. They still got to experience the series, but in a more controlled way so they weren’t rushing headlong into the bloodbath of the seventh novel.

        I just find it interesting how most people crack down on their kids over movies and those ratings, yet they hardly ever seem to monitor books.

  5. The thought of “books” and “censorship” brings out pretty much of a knee-jerk reaction with me, not only NO but HELL NO! If parents are worried about what their kids are reading, then they should ask and/or supervise trips to the bookstore or library.

    • Anonymous says:

      Agree completely. (Where’s the Like button? 🙂 ).
      I was just thinking: what do Ulysses. Lolita, and Naked Lunch have in common? Two things, really. They’re three of the greatest novels of the twentieth century, and all three were banned.

    • Aly Hughes says:

      haha, well I definitely agree with you! And I do think that parents should pay more attention to what kids are reading, ESPECIALLY if the parents heavily restrict what the kids watch. I think books don’t get ratings and such because 1) People who love to read would never want to do that, 2) People who don’t read, in general don’t care about books anyways. Movies are much more universal, and are judged so.

  6. Good question….. I was always allowed to watch what i wanted (although if any sex scenes came on TV my parents changed the channel *snigger*) and read what i wanted. Ive taken the same attitude with my own kids.

    Im hoping i havent done any permanent damage to them…i guess i’ll see if they end up in therapy lol…so far they seem fairly well balanced 😉


    • Aly Hughes says:

      haha! Up until my junior year of high school we only had 5 basic channels, so I never watched much TV, especially when I was younger. As far as movies go, I wasn’t really allowed to watch Pg-13 until I was 13, and at that point they just kind of stopped caring about monitoring if I watched rated R movies as well. Although I have a suspicion that this is because I’m the youngest child, and at 13, my eldest brother was 18, so with me they were a bit more lax than with my brothers. Probably why I was really sheltered in my younger days, but had complete freedom during my teenage years. I think I was lucky growing up because there was such a mutual trust and respect between my parents, brothers, and I, that after a point they trusted us to handle and regulate ourselves. And we turned out okay! 😉

  7. Ava Alexus says:

    You make an interesting point regarding the censorship of certain films. I’ve always assumed it’s so that it can appeal to the widest audience (meaning money). I think often with books, many parents don’t read what their children read, I know mine certainly didn’t. While action films were not a problem, we didn’t watch overly gory films and sex scenes, well yes we were to cover our eyes… *chuckle*

    I think individuals can make their own decisions in what they subject themselves to; however, I do believe parents owe it to themselves and their children to try to be aware of what their children are reading and try and attempt set guidelines or at least educate them to make those choices, even though it may not always be possible.

  8. In a perfect world, parents would have the time to read (or at least skim through) what their kids read, and make a personal decision. Since we don’t live in that perfect world, I think a rating system would assist the parents, but only as additional information. I could not support censorship, or stores refusing to sell a book to a minor.

  9. I remember belonging to the Science Fiction Book Club a long time ago. They didn’t rate so much, but they did add warnings that noted explicit language, sex, violence, or adult situations. It allowed parents to select for kids. It also allowed 23-year-old Bill to select for books that contained sex, violence, and adult situations.

    I’m not sure I’d want to go deeper than that. To me, the shaky camera in the movie made it unwatchable. They also completely removed the fact that Katniss spent a lot of time naked with her dressers, being treated (benevolently) like a piece of meat.

    I would not want to see the day we allow censors to influence books in order to gain an audience. Hollywood long ago took control of parental responsibility. Most good parents I know screen or even pre-read YA fiction. I like that model better.

  10. Angelo says:

    Reblogged this on Worlds with Words and commented:
    Are pictures worth a thousand blood-stained words?

  11. Angelo says:

    Outstanding post. This could be the subject of a thesis. I’ve reblogged it. 🙂

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