I am very open to graphic content in books, as I have mentioned in my post Graphic Content In Books: Can It Add Value? Because I do feel that a lot of times, it does add value and helps to deliver powerful messages when utilized properly. I will also admit that I have an unusually high tolerance for such material. I grew up on horror, and later became a fan of watching films and reading novels that challenged me even in the most uncomfortable of ways. But like any reader or viewer, I have triggers and limits. I believe we all do.
So what happens when we stumble upon those triggers unexpectedly?
An entirely otherwise ideal reading experience can come crashing down within the matter of a few mere sentences or one traumatic scene. Let’s face it, awareness is often a huge determining factor in how negatively or positively we are impacted by something challenging. While I am open to exploring topics that are outside of my comfort zone, like many other people, I prefer to do so at my choice.
Why does awareness matter so greatly?
Because preparation is key. As readers and individuals, we deserve the right to be informed. We dedicate varying amounts of our time to the act of reading for various reasons ranging from escapism to actively seeking out knowledge. Our choices should be made accordingly with the appropriate information to do so. Life hands us enough situations where we do not get to select our comfort levels or easily avoid triggers, but picking up the next book should maybe not be as risky?
I’m not talking censorship, I’m talking accessible content warning labels.
I firmly believe in freedom of speech and will advocate against censorship strongly. But doing so, I also understand that there comes a responsibility to use those liberties wisely. And educating yourself and being informed are the first steps. Multiple sources of media present ratings and warnings for viewers and listeners to make educated decisions (I am going to refrain from dates and specifics here as I feel most of us are very familiar with the MPAA, etc). Television and music carry rating systems and explicit content warnings, while video games also offer consumers the same. So why not books?
Possible dilemmas or challenges to including warning labels?
I have no doubt that there are many! I would hate to see audiences limited and do not feel that age restrictions should be placed on titles, but maybe there are some who would disagree. However, adding such labels will probably impact sales and marketing. Parents who are not reading the books children pick up, might suddenly find themselves second-guessing those purchases when they realize that there is graphic content included. And informed readers will likely pass on certain titles when given the choice to make an informed selection. This could lead to a loss of sales, although how significant would be hard to say.
Labels would also come at production cost. While maybe insignificant for larger publishing firms, would smaller publishers be able to maintain them? And does this responsibility ultimately lie with the publisher or the retailer?
Perhaps though, the biggest and most important hurdle would be determining what topics warrant such labels. There would need to be clearly established guidelines that spelled out the full encompassment of each warning/topic listed. This process alone would be no small undertaking.
And then we run into the issue of preexisting material. Are retailers responsible for labeling?
While I love the idea of including trigger warning with books, I am aware that is not something to likely happen overnight. But I do not see why this could not be part of our reading future. What are your thoughts on including labels to help consumers make informed selections?