Posted in Alexa Day, Reading
August 10, 2014

Is Forewarned Forearmed?

Halt! Do you have your flame-retardant underpants ready?
Halt! Do you have your flame-retardant underpants ready?

By Alexa Day

As a lawyer, I live with a certain amount of disillusionment toward the garden variety warning sign. To explain why, let’s take just a second to look at our hair dryers. If yours looks anything like mine, there’s a tag around the power cord. On one side, you’ll find a dire warning, in all caps with lots of exclamation points, that says not to remove the tag. On the other side, you’ll find a list of rather self-evident warnings. Among them is the admonition not to use the hair dryer while bathing.

Why do we need a warning not to use the hair dryer while bathing? Leaving aside the fact that it makes little logistical sense to use a hair dryer during a process that typically results in wet hair, do we need to be told that this sort of behavior is the short route to electrocution?

Maybe. But that’s not why we have a warning label there.

The truth is that the world is full of people who will blow dry their hair in a tub full of water. That’s always been the case, and it probably isn’t going to change. Those people are going to keep drying their hair in the bath, no matter what we tell them to do or not to do. The warning label isn’t for those people. It’s for people who want to use the dryer in the bath and then blame someone else, like the company that made your dryer, for the inevitable results. The warning protects the company in the resulting lawsuit; essentially, it says, “See? We told you not to do that.”

Now, I’m not going to argue that the warning labels I’ve seen on romance novels serve the same purpose. I will say that they’re not around because people actually need to be warned about the content of their books.

I don’t want to use anyone’s real warning labels here, and I don’t use them myself. But if I were going to make one up off the top of my head, it might sound like this:

Warning: This book contains one kick-ass bounty hunter, one fugitive alpha male, one very open-minded pleasure robot and lots of very, very hot pursuit! Make sure you’ve got your asbestos panties on!

Yeah, that bothers me for a couple of reasons, not counting the asbestos panties.

First of all, I know how sharp you all are. So I know that you already know that the book is hot. No doubt it has a hot cover. It’s hanging out on a website with a boatload of other hot books, or on a shelf with some other hot books. So I don’t think you need a warning to tell you that the book is hot.

Second, I know you all read the blurb as you made the decision to buy or not buy our example book. You probably had to read it to get to the warning. So I know that you already know about the bounty hunter and the fugitive and the pleasure robot. You already know, or at least strongly suspect, that things are going to get sexual with the three of them. You do not need to be told about that stuff again, either.

Finally, anything else that might go into the warning can only serve to give away parts of the book that I think you’d rather discover by yourselves. When are a bounty hunter and a fugitive going to find time for sex? How is our robot friend involved? There will be a threesome, won’t there?

That curiosity is the fuel that drives you to buy or pass, right? So isn’t it better not to have all the answers on this end?

I imagine some people started with the warnings because they were genuinely concerned that readers would be shocked by their content. I’m not sure we need to worry about that. Between the blurb, the cover, and the excerpts, shouldn’t readers should have a pretty good idea of what’s in the book?

And how easily shocked are readers these days anyway? I like to think we’re all down for anything, but are we?

It’s possible I’m a little (or a lot) jaded. Maybe there’s actually less to these warnings than meets my eye, and they’re just a little touch of fluff designed to whet the appetite in case all other measures fail to do so. If that’s so, then I guess I can look the other way.

As long as they don’t mention the asbestos panties. Just the thought of an undergarment made of asbestos is disturbing.

Warning: Following Lady Smut will lead you to all kinds of unpredictable, sexy fun! No asbestos panties required!

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  • Post authorC. Margery Kempe

    I had a bad review that was mostly good but she was shocked SHOCKED to have an f/f scene just happen in the book. I suppose the reviewer would have liked a big sticker WARNING CHICKS GETTING IT ON before she spent her hard earned money. Apparently all the other wild monkey sex shenanigans were okay, but not that. 9_9

    Reply to C. Margery Kempe
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I’m shaking my head out here. I mean, if I come across something that shocks me (I can’t imagine what that might be, but it’s a big, freaky world), I just skim on by it and keep rolling. I’m a big fan of wild monkey sex shenanigans. But I bet that reviewer did you a favor!

      As I write this, I’m remembering something that did actually shock me — I saw it in a movie — but one must stray quite a bit from the mainstream before one encounters something like that.

      Reply to Alexa Day
  • Post authorMadeline Iva

    I like these warnings. I like the way that they are aimed at a female audience — getting all female-friendly and assume that you may really be able to fly with some things, but want the choice not to go other places. We were talking just the other day about how it’s our choice to like f***ed up stuff if we want. I think this warning helps me with my choice.

    If you really want to step into the mud pit and wrestle though, take a look online about the whole debate around ‘trigger warnings’. I’ve seen those included too in books (Ahem JM Keep) that people who need trigger warnings probably shouldn’t touch with a fifty foot poll. But there it is.

    Reply to Madeline Iva
    • Post authorAlexa Day

      I’m on kind of the other end of the spectrum, I guess. I don’t think it’s female-friendly to presume that my delicate ladylike self might get all pursed up by the idea of anything other than hero-on-heroine missionary in the dark because I’m a girl and girls need their gloved hands held. I get that we should be able to decide how far we want to go, but that, to my mind, is what the blurb, the excerpt, and the cover (at least before Amazon started protecting us from shirtless people) are for. I had someone prequalify me for a drink I ordered once — “I don’t know … this drink is really spicy. Do you like really spicy drinks?” And then that SOB gave me a weak, pitiful drink. These warnings feel like that to me. I’d rather have someone presume I know what I’m doing. If I get in too deep (which is theoretically possible, I guess), then that’s on me.

      I don’t know about the whole trigger warning thing. I do see them on other people’s books, although I think at least some of those people are selling the shock, not actually warning people.

      Reply to Alexa Day

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