Arts column: Are ratings making us act our age?

HERE’S an idea for Sir Alan Sugar’s new batch of wannabe Apprentices – fake ID for the over-30s. The perfect pick-me-up for those not buying the positive repackaging of crow’s feet as attractive smile lines.

They’d be just like the ones that enterprising boy from sixth form used to knock out on his dad’s Amstrad CPC and dot matrix printer, except that they’d take a few years off the holder’s age instead of adding them on.

That’s surely got to be at least as good a business proposal as emergency nail files. For starters the target market is vast – the majority of people on the planet are over-30, even if many of them aren’t admitting to it.

At what point in life do we go from feeling pretty chuffed that our auntie bought us a “happy eighth birthday” card when we were actually only seven to trying to subtly cover the date of birth on our passports when confronted by an attractive customs officer? As kids we are desperate to be thought of as older, when we’re teenagers we want to pass as 18, but from anything approaching 30 we’re expected to slap on the peptide mix radiance booster age-defying serum and subtract a few years for every real one that passes.

Yet, unless you’re worried about a loudly ticking biological clock or celebrating the approach of retirement, the actual figure becomes fairly irrelevant once you’re legally old enough to do all the things that seemed infinitely exciting at the age of 15 but mostly tends to involve paying for things.

Age is actually far more significant to children than it is to us, mainly because it can stop them doing things.

Or put them off doing things, which was the concern of several high profile authors back in 2008 when some publishers introduced age bandings for their books.

Philip Pullman led the revolt, backed up by Michael Rosen (then Children’s Laureate), Jacqueline Wilson, Michael Morpurgo and Terry Pratchett.

“When I write a book I don’t have an age group in mind,” he said at the time, voicing concerns that labelled books with a particular age group could reinforce a struggling reader’s sense of failure.

What nine-year-old wants to be seen reading a book with “age seven” printed on it?

Publishers and booksellers argued that parents need help when selecting something for their children to read and age guidance would provide another clue, along with the cover illustration and size of print.

Such guidance has also been creeping in elsewhere in the arts, particularly in the theatre where suggested ages are often given for family shows as well as warnings of strong language or sexual content for those aimed at adults.

The programme for Liverpool’s Write Now festival of one-act plays, which took place earlier this month, contained age ratings based on film classifications, for each production.

Organiser Ian Moore says that as well as help members of the audience decide which shows to watch, this was to protect Write Now from complaints about unsuitable content. In our health and safety obsessed world – is this something we’ll start to see more of?

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