2 Oct 2015


3aI hold my hands up, I'm a bit of a prude when it comes to books that are overly sexually explicit AND I abhor too much swearing/crude language, even more so when its sexual, BUT that of course doesn't mean that I'd see any book banned ... not now, not ever, not for any reason. 

Just like my thoughts on TV programmes which, broadly speaking, is ' if you don't like it/find it offensive, switch it over/off', likewise if a book is proving too racy, is full of language/violence you find inappropriate, you always have the option to not read it. 

What then of the labelling of books?

The slippery slope towards banning OR just a way of notifying readers of what they can expect?

Hmm, not something I'd ever thought about if I'm being honest. That is until I won a copy of The Seed Collectors (if you haven't already done so you can read my review here) by Scarlett Thomas on GoodReads.

Not a lot to help me clarify my thoughts on the internet. An initial search led me to this 2009 article which told of parents campaigning to have a library label books that they deemed necessary of labelling.

Alas not particularly helpful as (1) the article dealt with the labelling of books aimed at a teen market (arguably a whole other matter) and (2) Though I could be mistaken in this I came away with the distinct feeling that far from being satisfied with the labelling of these books this group (Citizens Against Pornography) would cheerfully see the books in question banned altogether.

'Relentless crude sexual language', the fact the 'without exception the male characters are all extremely aggressive in their sexuality', the '(to me) odd sexual fetishes - Ah, a case in point, TO ME they were odd, that's not to say the next reader wouldn't find them perfectly 'normal' but most of all the women seemingly 'obsessed by their 'rape fantasies.''

Do I think this book or indeed any with similar content should be labelled? Do you know my first thoughts were yes, after all forewarned is forearmed, right? But on thinking about it  ... 

Who decides what constitutes crude sexual language, what is offensive and what isn't? And at what point is the line drawn when something is deemed so offensive that a cautionary label is deemed necessary? Is it your average reader (if there is such a thing) or is it the individual determined to be offended at the merest hint of physical contact between consenting adults in a loving relationship?

Soooo, back to my original question .... labelling books - the slippery slope to banning them?

I'm beginning to think that it could well be. What thinks you?


Kelly said...

Hmmmm. Like you, at first thought this might sound like a good idea, but I'm not sure it would really work. For one thing, there's always "context" to language and situations and that can have a great bearing on whether something is okay or not. Plus, it's totally subjective.

So, I guess I'd have to vote no on labeling. A person should be able to read reviews or pick up and thumb through a book to make their own decision. Worst case, they can put the book down. As for kids/teens... it's like anything else in life. Keep open the lines of communication and stay aware/involved in what they're reading/watching/doing. Ultimately, you can't protect them from everything, nor should you.

Nadine Feldman said...

I have mixed feelings about this. Movies and TV shows are labeled, which I find helpful. At the same time, this can be a slippery slope...and who gets to determine what gets a label?

So much of a story's worth depends on the context in which the sex, drugs, violence, etc., occur. There's gratuitous violence, but there's also violence that shows us a piece of ourselves, that doesn't glorify the act but makes us think. It's impossible to label those two types of violence in a story the same way...so how do we get it right? I don't know the answer to that.

Funny thing is, I'd like labels for things that don't fit into the sex, violence, or drugs. I'd like to know if an animal dies in the story (I always end up sobbing hysterically). I'd also like to know if the book is overtly Christian...I don't mind if a character is Christian, I just don't like feeling preached to. Yet I doubt I would ever see those labels on books! So, ultimately, I think we're back to this: if you don't like it, set it aside. We can write reviews about what bothered us, and others can make their decision whether or not to purchase.

Gina said...

I see your point but I'm not certain I wholeheartedly agree. Labels of inanimate objects (again, TO ME) serve as a guide to what's inside. I don't take them as "gospel truth" because as you said, perception is in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn't do away with them entirely. I think of it this way, would you want an advanced middle grade reader picking up FIFTY SHADES because they assumed from the title it was about grey scales?

Trac~ said...

I actually agree with you on this. Lately it seems like everyone gets so offended over the stupidest of things and it's just plain ridiculous! Blah... I am one of those who have to have my nails done at least once a month or they break and split in two and hurt, so I'd rather spend the money and get them done as I don't do a good job of it myself. LOL Have a great weekend. :)

Melissa (Books and Things) said...

No to labeling. What might be offensive and put me off of a book as a label might actually have value and be seen in a different light due to context. Say it is rape but it is actually a book about it being bad and how it leads to problems later in life. The label would still be rape but is put in a different context. So no to labels and yes to reviews. :)

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Tracy,

My thoughts tend to follow on along the same lines as those of Kelly.

Like writing a review, book labelling can be very devisive and subjective, as what constitutes a banned book, is really just a matter of personal taste and opinion.

Perhaps an age rating system, similar to that found on films, would be an indicator for the reader, although at the end of the day, the reader always has the option to simply race through the offensive pages of the book, or if they see the cautionary warning or rating, simply to walk away and leave the book on the shelf.

Personally, I only like to read such explicit language, when it is written in context with the storyline and I don't tend to buy or accept much in the way of sexually explicit material.

I guess that I am therefore not on the side of banning books simply to appease the sensibilities of the few, when they should be able to exercise discretion and not buy something they know they probably aren't going to enjoy or find offensive!

An interesting and thought provoking post, thanks for sharing :)


Suko said...

Interesting post (and comments), Tracy! I'm not sure how we can eradicate gratuitous crudeness in books--it is not fair to label or censor or ban books. What can be done to warn others, though? I do think that book bloggers help others by writing and posting honest reviews.

Unknown said...

I am with you, just because it is not something I would read, does not mean the voice should be silenced. I think people get too offended too easily these days.

Brian Joseph said...

This really is tricky.

I think that an important question is who is doing the labeling. If it is a private book publisher who is using their own resources to print and distribute the book, then I think that they have the right to do it.

When it comes to government institutions such as schools or libraries, then I tend to say no.

Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer said...

I don't like to see things labeled..look at goodreads for example..some mainstream romance is labeled as erotic, adult as new adult etc.

Charlie (The Worm Hole) said...

There is a fine line between sexual content and swearing that fits the book and characters and is okay, and content and swearing that's there for the hell of it or to shock. I agree with you. If you (general) don't like it, stop watching/reading and discuss it all you want because it's a valid opinion, but don't stop others giving it a go. We've all got different views and interests.

The problem with labels, to me, is the where do we stop part. An approach akin to the one the music industry uses, the explicit content warning, might work, but then you've also got to factor in spoilers as well as the fact that sometimes a theme is best left untold because it needs to be subtle to be powerful and so on.

I think we have to decide for ourselves and leave others to decide for themselves. (Obviously that becomes problematic when we're talking about parents and children.) I think if anything it should be what's offensive to the average reader but then what exactly is an 'average reader' when we've all got different backgrounds and views? Labelling would certainly see many books having less readers.