Ban This! 2011: The Useful Useless Rating Systems


Tweet of the Day: Queen of Everything : Essay


I heard whispers about establishing a rating system for book, especially Middle-Grade and YA. Not like agents and editors don’t work hard to make sure to maintain the boundaries of these books, but….

Rating systems (except for the MPAA but they have their own history of censorship) that goes something like this:

  1. Horrible Event Happens (horrible being a very squishy word mind you).
  2. Parents, Teachers, and POLITICIANS start shouting about the evils of a specific medium.
  3. Hearings are held (hearings are always held, even if no one watches C-SPAN).
  4. The (given) Industry panics.
  5. Said Industry hastily cobbles up a rating system nobody understands to appease the angry (yet oddly uncaring) public.
  6. Rating system is put into effect.
  7. Everybody forgets why the ratings system was put into place and nobody bothers to explain how it is supposed to work.
  8. Artist fume under the strain of said useful (for the industry) yet useless (for the artist) system.
  9. Somebody figures out how to exploit the system to titillate and boost sales.
  10. X amount of Years pass and either system is forgotten or it becomes crystallized without anyone doing anything about it.
  11. Horrible Event happens…rinse and repeat.

Eleven bullet points that pretty much cover everything that it wrong with media self-regulation. Almost everything. But look the word count on this post is only 227 words so I’m not done yet.

Ideally rating systems inform the consumer of the content of the material they are considering buying. Under the rubric of informed choice the consumer can then decide if the product is the right one for them and their family. It should also allow the content creator to create at their leisure without worry about censorship or interference.

Again…if only….

The reality is a bit different.  One of three things happen:

  1. Outright censorship: A work is rated out of distribution. When was the last time you saw a NC-17 (or for that matter a R) rated movie? What happened to all those games that made millions in the U.S. but never made it to the Australian or UK markets? They got rated out of existence instead of allowing the work to come to the market and have the audience make up their own damn minds about it.
  2. Back Door Advertising: Common in multi-media franchises. The flagship product is rated one way (say PG-13 for a movie or MA for a TV show) but the tie-ins don’t reflect that. Game, toys, comic books and the like hook the underage consumer and fly under their parents radar.
  3. The Snaking Line in the Sand: Were in producers of media content “push” the line when it comes to content just far enough to elicit a modicum of outrage with gratuitous and useless titillation that have nothing to do with the story.

So we end up with a confusing array of rating systems that do not translate across media platforms and are so ill defined as to be next to useless.

So no ratings system for books. As of yet.

I can only cross my fingers and wait for the next “Horrible Event.”


2 comments on “Ban This! 2011: The Useful Useless Rating Systems

  1. Strangely, when I read number one, the “nude” horcrux scene in Harry Potter came to my mind, because I get it,but at the same time, it seemed not called for, too.


    • If you mean the movie, I get why it was disturbing, which I think what the producers were shooting for, even though nothing was you know, shown. But should that scene in a book justify a rating system? And how would you rate it?

      Just curious.


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