Watch out for The Rippers!

by Mike

Age guidance on children's books is in the news a lot at the moment after a suggestion in April by the Publishers Association to put a reading age on all children's books.

Philip Pullman and JK Rowling have both campaigned against the age stamps appearing on their novels. More than 700 writers have now put their names to a statement made by Philip Pullman on the site No to Age Banding.

"We are all agreed that the proposal to put an age-guidance figure on books for children is ill-conceived, damaging to the interests of young readers."

Flash back thirty years ago:

A boy chooses Gerald Durrell's A Family & Other Animals in his local WH Smith and heads off to the till with his pocket money. A young girl serves him.

"I'm sorry you can't buy this book."


"It's not an appropriate book for you."


His Mum steps in and explains the book is for children about Durrell as a child in Corfu.

So a case for age guidance? Or would the cover give you a clue? Did the shop assistant have a clue?

Flash forward thirty years from today to 2038:

An article in Wikipedia:

24th July 2038.
(From Classification to Book Rippers. A History.)

2009: Age Guidance labels applied to Children's Books.

2020: The age guidance for children's books spreads into the adult market. Books which have long escaped the rating systems given to films or the warning labels on music have to be rated U, PG, 12,15 or 18. Ratings have to be applied by law to the back cover of every book. Many authors complained at the time that they were increasingly put under pressure from their publishers to remove scenes of a sexual or violent nature that would increase the ratings and damage sales.

2025: Bookemas
To cut back their Carbon Footprint only a few issues of selected new books are produced. To help with the growing demand for paper instead of electronic books Cinema buildings, closed during the collapse of the film industry, are reopened where a copy of these new books are left on each seat. Books were available to read at set times. Ratings were amended to add a "R" to allow children at any age to read a book rated 15R and under in these new Bookemas, as long as an adult accompanied them.

2027: Warning labels have to be applied to the front of books with a government warning.

2030: An act backed by the Publishing Industry but fought by authors, was passed that stated that all books had to be rated 15 or below. Bookemas audiences grew as a result.

2038: The Rippers
Yesterday came the announcement of The Rippers by the Government Publishing Agency.

The Rippers will be a unit operating under government guidelines and funded by The Bookemas Association that will filter through every book held in public libraries.

Any book prior to the 2030 Act that has scenes that contravene the max ceiling of a 15 rating will be "modified." That is, pages that contain the offending prose will be ripped from the book. Government officials say, "This way we ensure the survival of classics that otherwise would have to be reprinted or lost to the public." A spokesman for the public libraries stated that this was a clear move to close them down to remove any competition to The Bookemas chains.

Come back now before your brain explodes!

Right, you okay? Well it's a strange, bizarre and slightly silly future I paint. But who knows where things lead to when left to develop over years? There's always a pressure between commerce and art. Let's hope we tread a healthy balance as we move into the future. And what's wrong with using book covers to signal to buyers what lies beneath? I mean My Family & Other Animals: Cute animal pictures? A clue there?

Picture of My Family & Other Animals age banded by a WH Smith shop assistant.


brian said...

very cool indeed, i love this article.

dfrucci said...

I am totally against this sort of censorship. Censorship will ruin everything I assure. The fact of being politically correct is a joke to this level. However, I think the WIkipedia Article may be a bit exaggerated. Great article.

Paul Burman said...

A thought-provoking hypothetical, Mike. It's always interesting and useful to speculate as to where policy and/or legislation might lead. It brings me round to the adage: 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.' As far as I'm aware, there is no epidemic of problems caused by children attempting to read inapporopriate material. If only there were!

kathleenmaher said...

Terrific post, Mike. It scared me for a second. What's inappropriate?
But Paul's right: if only kids were reading so much, so furiously that they figured out stuff ahead of time!
When my son was growing up--this is nonfiction, honest--I once caught him in the act of reading an advanced calculus book, which I had hidden away after college. He was six and I almost told him the subject was "inappropriate;" he should learn algebra first. Luckily, he'd already lost interest, and as far as anyone can tell, his glimpsing a few unorthodox equations inflicted no damage.

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

And yet it is interesting that film age banding is generally deemed helpful and appropriate. Or should that be lifted,and parents need to make sure they are informed on content? We wouldn't want our children to be sold an over 18 video off the shelf, so why a novel? Are Pullman, Rowling and co, not just authors who feel it would damage them as crossover writers and potential loss of readership if say adults had not bought HP, labeled as a 12? I love this look into the future - where is the line between censorship and guidance?

Mike French said...

Brian: Thanks :-)

Dfucci: I think I should submit the Wikipedia article to Wikipedia itself and get it up there! What do you think?

Paul: Wise words mate. I think Philip Pullman is making a case that the whole thing is being brought in to drive sales.

Kathleen: LOL - but strange you should "hide away" a book on Calculus! Is it because you are a literary type ashamed at being caught doing maths. (read math there kathleen my US chum.)

Book Blogger: Good point. Here's what Philip Pullman says:

Everything about a book is already rich with clues about the sort of reader it hopes to find – jacket design, typography, cover copy, prose style, illustrations. These are genuine connections with potential readers, because they appeal to individual preference. An age-guidance figure is a false one, because it implies that all children of that age are the same.

kathleenmaher said...

Not ashamed, just unwilling to let go of stuff I only half-understood. One of these days, I always thought, I'd open it up and discover math(s) was really a breeze. Or, I'd fathom it by its secret proximity. I did the same with foreign language primers until I was thirty when the brain's patterns are supposedly set.
I hid the calculus, and its ilk, because: where does one put her used school books? Not the coffee table.

Stella said...

Fun (and funny!) article, Mike. It does make you wonder why books can get away with so much more than movies. In a way, it's carrying on tradition - plays used to be heavily censored while novels were not.

kathleenmaher said...

Okay, I've tried to keep my tongue on this aspect: in the US, sex is censored as if it were terrible deviant behavior, while incredible violence gets a total pass. Admittedly, violence can appear unreal, rendered with cartoon sensibility. But spectacular explosions and mass murder, which don't show the resulting deaths, get rated for nursery-schoolers.
Further, an occasional vulgar expletive (words that in US RL few can avoid hearing daily) earn an automatic adult rating.