The organisations BBFC and the NICAM, among others, watch movies and award an age rating to each of them in order to protect viewers from unsuitable and harmful content. It gives the audience an indication of what to expect.
I have accepted these colourful warnings as much as I’ve come to accept the counting of calories and allergy warnings on food packages. They give me the heads up what I’m about to eat, and it is up to me to act upon them. Film ratings receive just as much attention, only when I’m in doubt do I pay attention to them. And that only happens when I find the film description too ambiguous and the genre ranks on my can-go-either-way list.
It was the article Trigger Warnings that made me consider this whole rating issue. In short, it comes down to awarding trigger warnings to basically all kinds of information that might have a negative effect on the receiver. The example used is about a book that inspired its reader to behave like the character.
Films have inspired people to act accordingly, certain books (either with or without the capital B) have influenced the readers. But somehow it never occurred to me that novels might be considered harmful, offensive or suggestive.
There are of course genres that inform readers what kind of book they are about to read, or not, in case it’s not their cup of tea. However, readers aren’t warned about the content. There are no colourful signs on the cover to warn the unaware reader about the shocking use of language – like in Kelman’s How late it was, how late – nor are they warned about the use of drugs, like in Welsh’s Trainspotting.
Are books in need of a rating system? Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary. But, in case it’s decided otherwise, I hereby offer my services to read books and rate them accordingly. I don’t mind making a living out of that at all.