Is Forewarned Forearmed?
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!