Disclaimer: I am not a parent. I do not pretend to know good parenting. For all we know, I may be a terrible parent when I finally pop those babies. But not being a parent does not mean I can't have an opinion. Also, I am legally an adult, so whether or not a ratings system is put in place does not really affect me. I can buy porn and cigarettes. It's not like I'm trying to sneak into the library restricted section at Hogwarts.
Let's be honest. Rating systems don't work. They're too subjective. One person's R is another person's PG-13 is another person's NC-17. Knowing where we live, the second a parent gets offended by a "wrongly labeled rating," he/she is going to freak out and sue. Come on, people, this is America where someone can win a lawsuit over too-hot coffee. It's like the universal solution to life. Got problems? File a lawsuit! Nobody will ever agree to one rating system. There are those psycho over-protective parents, and the ones who practically let their kids smoke weed at the age of 3. They will never come to a consensus.
Historically, rating has commonly been used for discriminatory purposes. For example, popular YA author Maureen Johnson wrote the "controversial" novel The Bermudez Triangle in 2005. It portrayed a homosexual relationship in a positive way. No graphic sex, nothing. Yet some mothers saw fit to petition libraries to essentially give it an "adult" rating. They wanted the book out of the YA section. Why? Do people only become homosexual once they turn eighteen? Is it like the magical age of the disappearing closet door? So we expect gay teenagers to struggle through their adolescence without any fictional examples of their normalcy? The message those mothers are sending to other people's children is you're dirty, and your lifestyle is not appropriate. And they want to foist their opinion of correctness onto the general public.
Beyond that, there are still parents who believe in shielding young children from sex, drugs, and other un-childlike things. Okay, I get it. But here's my problem. Parents seem to hold this notion that they can keep this kind of stuff from kids. Not to scare the bejeezus out of you, but you can't. In junior high, at the tender age of eleven, I found used condoms in the hallways, saw drawings of genitals on bathroom walls, bomb threats, nudity, all kinds of profanity, and drug deals right under my nose. No, I did not attend school in innercity Chicago. I lived in a small, relatively conservative town, surrounded by cornfields, home of State Farm, upper middle-class people, and poster child for good morals and Americanness. There's TV, news articles, textbooks, video games, people. Do you plan on locking your kid in your basement until they're 18? Home-schooling? Go for it. But one day, you're going to have to let them go.
I see this problem all the time. Parents who don't know how to let their kids learn on their own. There are masses of college students all around me who can't function without their parents. They can't make their own decisions; they're crippled by fear of mistakes. Hell, if you left them alone, I think they would starve to death. I think the scarier thing, scarier even than having a nine-year-old accidentally read the word "sex," is having an eighteen-year-old enter the world with no clue as to how vulgar things can be and no idea as to how to deal with it. It's the sheltered kids who are going out and getting alchol poisoning, because they are finally "free." They can't deal with freedom. They overdose on it. Do you want your kid to be that kid?
I was probably eight when I read my first graphic romance novel. My aunt left it in our house by mistake, and I was curious. It was one of this 1980's rapey ones where the hero rapes the heroine until she loves him. I read an excellent novel, When Dad Killed Mom by Julius Lester when I was in sixth grade. It's exactly what it sounds like. A father (probably mildly sociopathic) kills his wife, and the two kids learn how to cope with a dead mother and a father going to court for murder.
I think people have this misconception that humanity is unsalvageably stupid. Reading a book by an atheist will not make you a devil-worshiper, listening to a speech by our crazy socialist black president (sarcasm) will not transform you into Joseph Stalin, and seeing a picture of a naked person will not make you move to a nudist colony. I've had socialist teachers (they're both brilliant). Doesn't make me one. I've had pregnant teenage friends. I'm not pregnant. So I read a rapey romance novel. I barely understood what was going on when I did. I couldn't even grasp the concept of sex. And it has not made me think rape is okay. When I read Julius Lester's book, it did not make me want to be a murderer, or think homocide is okay, or consider getting a nipple-piercing (as the daughter does).
If you are disturbed by a book, here's the greatest thing: you can close it and never lay eyes on it again. You run across some profanity? Stop reading. Sex scene? Skip it. It's a pretty awesome concept. :-)
So you're a time challenged parent. Do you really feel the need to check every single book your kid lays hands on? Do you know how many books I read as a child? If I had to wait for my parents to pre-read everything, I would have a lot less reading experience. Are you going to scour their school for everything you deem inappropriate? Scrub the graffiti off every bathroom you walk into? Pre-screen every single movie, presume they're not lying to you about what movie they're going to see? Read their history textbooks for "graphic images" of whipped slaves and starving children? Interview all of their friends? Interrogate all of their teachers?
Tell me. Are you going to do those things? Do you think a rating system is going to solve your problem if you are so paranoid that you think one inappropriate novel is going to psychologically ruin your baby, turn him into a delinquent?
I say no to a rating system on books.
PS: You can always use review sites and/or Amazon, and the rest of us won't have to put up with a rating system. The Internet, guys. It's a wondrous thing.
Please share your opinion, either in the comments, or in a blog post (link me up, so I can read it!). I love dissenting views.
(Although, I'll be honest. If you're hell-bent on rating systems, I won't have changed your mind. As someone who is a political enthusiast and did grassroots canvassing, I've found that people are notoriously stubborn. When was the last time you convinced someone that your party was right and theirs was wrong? Yeah, didn't think so. Bi-partisanship sounds like a great deal. I've come to the conclusion that it's a load of crap both parties feed the public, as if we can hope for some kind of compromise.)