by Soyini A. Hamit
The academic journal Mass Communication and Society published an article in their May 18, 2012 issue about the frequent use of profanities in Young Adult (YA) books. One of the authors, Dr. Sarah Coyne, assistant professor at Brigham Young University, believes that a rating system should be in place so that parents will know what books are appropriate for their child’s age. The Huffington Post takes a closer look at whether such a system is necessary.
In his analysis, Books Editor Andrew Losowsky notes that a ratings system for YA books may not seem far-fetched because a similar system is used to rate movies. He see a difference, though, because:
…our brain processes visuals in a more direct manner than through the mediation of written language. Though their comparative impact has yet to be closely studied, there does seem to be a significant difference how they are processed and understood. (Not that this is the MPAA’s argument for movie ratings.)
Losowsky also notes that printed material directed towards children has previously come under attack, most notably in 1954, when the comic book industry adopted the Comics Code to regulate content. He points out the similarities between the Comics Code, and the complaints that some have about YA books:
“Respect for parents, the moral code, and for honorable behavior shall be fostered. A sympathetic understanding of the problems of love is not a license for moral distortion,”
and for that matter,
“Although slang and colloquialisms are acceptable, excessive use should be discouraged and wherever possible good grammar shall be employed.”
Losowsky concludes that the Comics Code led to mainstream compliance and the growth of underground comics as a venue for free expression. Given that history, he questions the efficacy of a ratings system for YA books:
With the benefit of hindsight, the introduction of such codes and regulations look like little more than thinly veiled paternalism and self-censorship, stirred up through melodrama and hyperbole to satisfy prudish religious figures and conservative politicians.
In an internet age, not to mention a country in which the first amendment is so highly prized, it seems doubtful that a new restrictive code either should or could ever be applied to books of any kind.
You can find Losowsky’s complete analysis here.
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Soyini A. Hamit is a comic fan and writer masquerading as a laboratory technologist. You can follow her fascination with language and music at Word Sounds Have Power.