Especially as parents, many of us have expressed concern about what our children and grandchildren are exposed to at what ages. With respect to literature, one way that publishers and book reviewers describe a story is by labeling it as Young Adult (YA, adolescent), New Adult (NA, college-aged), or Adult based on the ages of the primary characters. This article is a critique of the strict application of that practice, and touches upon issues related to maturity rating based upon violent and sexual content. It has already been well established that popular YA novels are rife with profanity. http://www.slj.com/2012/05/research/ya-books-rife-with-profanity-study-finds/
Many adult readers remember the infamous line screamed by a thirteen year old in The Exorcist: “…Your mother sucks cocks in Hell….” — a line that’s hard to forget. The movie was rated age 16+ but tons of younger kids read the book and watched the movie. The adolescent insult in ET: “penis breath” is also unforgettable. Elliot was ten years old when he insulted his brother by revealing his awareness of oral sex, about which his mother didn’t blink an eye. This story was vigorously consumed by appreciative YA and younger audiences. I remember being personally shocked when I watched a cartoon X-Ray of a gerbil climbing within a gay teacher’s rectum on South Park as he had orgasms on TV. This show is highly popular among kids, as were some of the sexual puns and potty humor on the Beavis and Butthead show. Age of the primary characters may not always be descriptive of maturing rating, whether the content will take us too far outside of our comfort zones, or whether it is appropriate for children.
Another strategy for defining maturity ratings that has been applied relates to violent content. I’m not sure how it happened, but, ironically, some of the most violent content in the marketplace now appears to be within YA novels and video games for kids. One of the bloodiest scenes that I’ve ever read was in a book that I was assigned to review through a Goodreads program. It was a labeled to be YA vampire story but was filled with violence, teenage angst that bordered on soft pornography, and included substance abuse. I won’t mention its title because my review was a low rating, but that book caused me to drop out of the Goodreads program and vow to avoid reading YA novels without fully checking them out first. At age sixty-five, I guess that I’m just not mature enough to handle the violence in some young adult literature.
Now let’s get to the nasty — sexual content about which I feel comfortably numb. Much more so than violent content, parental guidance ratings appear to be related to sex. Of course, any person of any age who has access to the internet could watch hardcore porn given an interest. Still, laws that restrict access are a positive symbolism.
If one takes sexual content down a notch from eroticism, romance literature appears to be highly popular, including with teens. Personally, I love a good Nora Roberts story but I usually skip past the kissy/kissy scenes. This type of entertainment appears to especially target young adult and new adult audiences when genre is based on the ages of the primary characters, i.e., NA for college-aged kids.
I suppose that there could be negative impacts of exposing children to romance novels, but nobody seems concerned enough to study such a proposition, especially since most people experience their first romantic crush at age five or six. http://www.parents.com/kids/development/friends/how-to-handle-your-childs-first-crush/. Most people report falling in love for the first time at age fifteen or sixteen.http://www.bustle.com/articles/160133-this-is-when-most-people-fall-in-love-for-the-first-time
At the same time, many people draw a very heavy line between romantic love and sexual content of entertainment. Sexual content nevertheless persists, has invaded venues in some of the least likely places. For example, there may be more comedic sexual innuendos in a half-hour of the Family Feud TV show than within the entirely of most novels considered to have been written for an adult audience because of sexual content. Sitcoms like 2 Broke Girls and The Big Bang Theory, and crime dramas like Bones, are full of sexual content.
With respect to genre confusion, it appears to me that maturity rating could be applied by producers, editors and reviewers by weighing content and target audiences outside of simply the age of the characters or the violent and sexual content of the works. Some people will never be mature enough to “get” the satire of some stories, and some children are much more astute about their worlds than many parents want to believe. Personally, I’m going to try and ignore genre classification as I decide what entertainments to consume during the short period of time that humans are allotted. From now on, I vow to read reviews in their entirety. I would hate to miss something great because of a label.
Personally, I decided to implement a conservative interpretation of community standards with classification of my debut novel, Rarity from the Hollow. Although most of the profanity used by two characters in the story is mild colloquialism, and there are no actual sex scenes, the social commentary, satire, and political parody seem to fit mature readers. It also has much more literary content than found in most action driven YA stories. So, I call my novel a children’s story, for adults. It is available on Amazon if you would like to check it out. Your comments about the advantages and disadvantages of labeling a book as one for adults vs. young adults are welcome.
This post is contributed as Guest Post by Robert Eggleton.