As often happens in this wonderfully interconnected world, a blog post has prompted some wonderful savvy responses. This time, it happened here in ShadowLand.
I posted about my surprise and frustration that my 15 year old was able to check out a movie from the library that was either originally rated NC-17 and then defined as unrated, or was the alternative version, rated R. Until I actually put it in the DVD player and watch it, I can't tell which version we have in the house, because it didn't come with the full box.
"As a librarian, here's what I think their policy probably is: it's up to you, as the parent, to be aware of what your children are reading and watching. This is the policy behind NOT banning books. It's not up to them to decide what is suitable for your child. And I know you're going to say "But movies have ratings!" But it's a slippery slope and if the library isn't already on that slope by policing movies, they won't find themselves being shoved into policing books. What if an R or NC-17-rated movie is based on a book? Should access to the book be controlled, too? Where do you draw that line? By not having a line at all, that parent who doesn't want their child reading The Great Gatsby isn't going to be restricting your child, too. (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/banned/frequentlychallenged/challengedclassics)."
That gets me thinking along several lines:
First off, I agree with her, generally.
If we let the library decide who can check out what, we're inviting them to censor our reading. I don't want anyone else deciding what I can read, or even what my kids can read. I don't want them deciding what we can watch, either.
On the other hand, I figure if a library follows the same policy as the theaters do, using the ratings that are out there, they won't go wrong. If the ratings rules mean that a 16 year old can't get in to see a film, period, then the library is reasonable in saying she can't check the film out. Mom (or frankly anyone over 17) can always check it out and let her watch it, of course. (The fact that they now call it NC-17 (in part because it can be assigned for violence, drugs, or exceedingly aberrant behaviors in addition to sex or even pornographic scenes) and not X is irrelevant here). Ditto, if the ratings rules say you need a parent or guardian to take you in, the library can say she needs a parent or guardian to approve her rental of that movie. Heck, the library policy could state that teens have to have a parent or guardian sign a release to clear them to check out R rated movies.
It takes a village to raise a child. That's because parents cannot be by their children's side all the time. And just like parents can't always there when the kid tries to get into the movies, parents can't always be there when the tween or teen goes to the library. (Heck, around here, one of the middle schools is right across the street from the library; the kids go over to the library after school all the time). A parent can always come later and say "yes, it's okay, she can see that," and then check out a movie. But a parent can't always be there to say, "whoa, no.... not yet" before it's too late. The theaters deal with this by assuming it's not okay to let a person under 17 see an R rated unless the parents, guardians, or other presumably responsible adult escorts them.
As I said, I don't want someone else deciding what we can read. I'd rather my girls wound up reading pornographic literature before I thought it was a good idea than have someone else deprive them of the chance to read something because they'd put it on a banned books list. I mean seriously, have you looked at the banned books lists lately? China banned Alice in Wonderland! There was a time when Chaucer's Canterbury Tales were banned. Are You There God It's Me Margaret, which has it's place on the Top 100 Children's Books list, has been "challenged" in various places in the U.S.
On the other hand, There's something a bit different about movies. Not that I want anyone banning movies, or limiting them generally. But I do agree that there are some films that kids aren't old enough to see. There's something different about visuals. It's one thing to READ that a stoned out woman is paying for her cocaine by performing a rather, shall we say "non-standard" sex act -- even to read exactly what she did. (There is such a scene described in the synopsis fo the film that inspired my previous post - even reading the synopsis made me uncomfortable). If you're reading something, and you have no experience to back it up, you're not likely to be ABLE to really visualize it. It's even harder to give it not only sight but sound. If you're watching.... it's right there in your face, with sound. It's vivid and real in a way that books rarely are. (Could potentially be traumatizing to some -- especially someone two, three, four years under the age indicated by the ratings.) It's really hard to unsee something.
I don't see that restricting access to a movie has to mean restricting access to a corresponding book. Screenwriters are prone to changing books slightly (or a lot -- I've seen movies "inspired by" books that shared little more with the original book than the title and some character names). What might have been a scene that wasn't played out in full in the book might become one that is very detailed in the film. An assault scene can be written many ways -- in a book it might be simply presented, or referred to in memories - the character remembers a man's hand on her mouth. In a movie, you see it, vividly, clearly; you see the hairs on the backs of his hands, the dirt under his fingernails, the way his fingers distort the flesh of her cheeks.... Almost no one describes such things in the detail that you can get from 5 seconds of film. (Of course, the screen writer can also choose to omit a brutal scene too).
And so, I don't automatically equate a film with the book upon which it's based. Reading the book might be no big deal, or it might be less appropriate than the film. But if the impact is going to be a strong one, I'd rather my kids have the book in hand than watch the NC-17 film.
It IS a slippery slope. And I would not want any library to take it upon themselves to make the decisions about who gets to check out what movies. But there is a system in place to determine how old a person ought to be before they can see certain movies. And the library has a system in place that ties a child patron's age to his or her library card number. It makes sense to let them work together. That system, working in tandem, would help parents know which things they need to weigh in on. (In this case, had I been alerted (either by my daughter whining that the library wouldn't let her check something out, or by the library sending an automatic email that a child was attempting to check out an R rated (or NC-17 rated) film), I would not have discovered the issue at 11:30 p.m. on a night before I had to be up early.
Now, ultimately, I don't intend to let the librarians decide whether my child can watch any given movie, or read any given book. I do not even intend to let the ratings people make the ultimate decision on that. I still think it's the parent's job to get in there and figure things out one child at a time. I still read books I see my kids reading (even if I don't catch them before my daughters read them, I do read them, and if I think it's appropriate, I discuss them). I still make my own judgements about films too.
I don't want the library to do my job. I'm saying that where a system is in place to protect kids from things that they're not ready for, it should be used. Kind of like we expect the shopkeepers to decline to sell them cigarettes and/or alcohol until they're old enough. Just as I can choose to let my children smoke or drink in my own home (which I don't )... I can choose to let my children see movies with violent or degrading sex scenes. Either way, the parent should be doing the choosing. When the stores say no, the parent can choose. When the theater says no, the parent can choose. When the library doesn't say no, the parent may not be able to choose before it's too late.
I haven't decided whether to suck it up and watch a film that I've been told is beautifully made, but very depressing, or to join my child in watching it, but either way, I'm not banning her from watching it. (I have told her she can't watch it with her friends without her friends' parents telling me it's okay for them to see -- I'm not making that decision for any other parents or their kids). I've learned enough about the film from people I know who have seen it (doing my research a different way), that I think it won't scar her for life. But I'm glad I had an opportunity to find out enough about this movie to make an informed decision before she watched it. Had she started watching it one half hour later, I'd not have had that chance.