Recently I watched several TV shows on cable that had scenes that I found offensive. Several involved sex scenes that just seemed inappropriate for viewing unless you’re some kind of voyeuristic peeping-tom, also there were story lines involving extreme violence including mutilation of bodies—it was gory and offensive. These shows were supposedly entertainment and cost me money to watch—both aspects of that statement seem wrong.
Many shows on television have a rating of TV-M. I guess that stands for mature. I really question whether a mature person would watch some of these programs. Not sure who slaps that rating on TV shows but I believe it is not like the movies, where there are people who get paid to spend their days watching some really horrible movies to attach a rating.
Of course, I’m an author and have had a few people compare my works of fiction to trash because I used words they do not approve of. Are vulgar words the same as sex scenes or graphic violence. I don’t think so but maybe I’m wrong.
Why aren’t books rated the way movies are? Sounds like a good question doesn’t it? The answer is kind of silly–because there are too many books and it takes too long to read them.
Maybe a silly answer but it does make sense. There are thousands and thousands of books released every week compared to a small number of movies. Authors would have to pay fees to support the structure to allow for the army of book readers to read and rate each one. Starting to sound like a very bad idea. Movies take a couple of hours to watch– a book can take five times that or more to read. And of course the rating (just like movies) would be subjective.
I know there are people who have sites that rate books. These sites are looking for books that are family friendly–I guess that means no sex, no bad language and only good violence. Probably the bad language would have to be broken down into bad, very bad, super bad or something like that. Or maybe it would just be volume. Say a 70,000 word book can only have 100 bad words and still be okay for general reading–excluding kids.
There is a segment of the reading population that only wants books that have no “vulgar” language–none! A book rating might be nice for them but it is totally unnecessary. The vehicle for this information is the reader review. Somewhere around 5% of my reviews are about language–cuss words, vulgar words, dirty words, potty-mouth words; and these reviewers are not only passing along information but they also find time to scold me for such behavior.
I have written before about the context of my language choice. The gritty language is usually limited to the bad guys or the good guys under stress. There are exceptions–a couple of characters just had a tendency to use crude language in almost all situations. My other defense was that those “words” were not that frequent. But as I said before I don’t think the quantity is too important to the “bad word” people who are offended by any word that they consider bad whether it’s one or fifty.
For funnies I checked one of my books for offensive words. It happened to be Four Corners War which is the third Pacheco & Chino book and will be released in August. I chose that book because it is the one I’m working on and the manuscript was handy. I ran a word count and found a little over a two-hundred words that might be offensive. That is in a 70,000 word book—so less than a half of one percent of the words were gritty. I would guess that’s about average for my books–except for maybe the first one The Bootlegger’s Legacy–in that book most of the bad words were at the very beginning in the prologue where the gangsters are waiting to kill our hero and they are chatting–using a lot of vile words–after-all they are gangsters in a bar, what would you expect.
So what is the point? Where is this headed? We seem to live in a world without clear guidelines on what matters. Some things matter a great deal to some and none at all to others. We definitely don’t have a consensus on what is acceptable and what is not as it relates to entertainment. We have TV shows on cable that are violent beyond reason, where every other word is fuck where sex scenes are thrown in just as filler. Could I write my books without certain words? Sure. Will I? No. Why not? The why not is because it would change the book. The characters would be different—and I don’t want too!
Does that make me a hypocrite if I complain about sex and violence on TV but find crude words acceptable in writing. Maybe it does; but I think it means that I have defined my personal guideline and that is something we all can do. I have never resented the bad reviews related to the “bad” words, I always saw it for what it was—a message that if some words offend you –stay away. I agree.
I use words to tell a story and sometimes a good F-bomb is the best way to tell that story. And if someday someone decides to do a TV series of one of my books I will insist that they limit the violence and keep the sex behind bedroom doors. They would probably tell me to F-off.