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Should Books Have A Rating?

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Taking a look at the row of romance novels on the shelves of the local retail store, one might confuse them with the X-Rated aisle of the now long gone video stores. With images of naked or nearly naked men and women, in very intimate embraces followed by blatantly sexual titles. Even though there is a genre of erotic novels available to the public outside the family retailers, the lines between erotic and romance have been blurred. Most recently with a very blue book series called Shades of Grey, which created a new sub-genre called Mommy-Porn.
So, the question is, should we allow material that would be regulated in the visual and audio media go unchecked in places with general public access, or do we have the government step in and enforce another regulatory system that pushes back our first amendment right? It’s not a simple call. On one hand, people who want to protect children from being exposed to adult material and want to preserve family values would have a legitimate argument for a type of regulation. On the other hand, every time we put limits on free speech, we open the door for those who want to regulate opinion and thought.
We’ve seen this before. In the early days of movies the U.S. Government threatened to step in and regulate (i.e. Censor) films as there were people who were producing films with nudity and questionable images as early as the silent film days. To avoid government interference the industry set up its own rules and regulations to police itself, which was followed by the film rating system. It was still a form of censorship, but as the industry controlled itself, it was better able to adjust to changes in the times. In the 80’s Steven Spielberg purposed the rating of PG-13 so that his film could avoid the R rating without having to cut the movie down to fit the PG standards.
TV, Music and Video Games all followed suit with rating systems to limit government censorship and still appease their target demographics. Books, which had dealt with the issues of censorship as far back as the first written words, have avoided the requirements of industry regulation up to now. The reason is that schools, libraries and book stores had divided out the appropriate and inappropriate and separated everything in a way that limited objections from most. Yet the world of books has changed. With the internet, everyone has access to everything. With talk in congress of finding ways to regulate the internet, books will be next. They won’t just be listed in categories like Romance, Fantasy and Sci-fi, but will most likely have sub heading of standards ratings. That will be followed by requirements of proof of age and location before making a purchase of adult style books.
So, what will happen first? Will the government step in and make the rules or with the industry self regulate? The clock is ticking. For the industry to take action first, it will require not only the big name publishers and distributors to come to a working agreement, but also the organization of all the independent publishers and authors. A co-op of writers, printers and sellers will need to be created to create an unified voice that will not just be heard, but more importantly, not be silenced.