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The Lie of Genre

“It isn’t bad for a genre book.”

I loathe hearing that. I loathe the casual dismissal of quality based on the idea of genre, this bullshit superiority some people get over the trappings of a story rather than the story itself. And it’s always bullshit, because good stories stand the test of time and the critics that whip out this haughty and meaningless old gem are always forgotten.

You get this crap a lot in literary circles, this idea that your work somehow loses significance because of the trappings of story, like somehow story is made less because of the inclusion of some genre specific trope. Industrial Age critics dismiss fantasy and science-fiction and horror as genre, and smirk a little, and then go on to speak of the literary greats, like Tolkien and Wells and Stoker… who were into fantasy and science fiction and horror.

Pseudo-intellectuals looking for smug superiority without any thought as to why, they speak of the books that have had lasting influence in the past or that they expect will have lasting influence in the future. They avoid present popular fiction, avoid anything except the rarefied tales that don’t actually appeal to them but that they feel should.

It’s ludicrous. It’s annoying. It needs to stop.

I used to flit around from literary group to literary group, talking with people pretending to be struggling writers. They’d mark off a page or two and complain of writer’s block, then tear into other stories for the trappings and not the content. “Shakespeare would never have written that,” they say, sniffling their disdain at the idea of anything mythological or speculative, anything including a word they don’t understand.

So, let’s set the record straight. There’s over a million words in the English language and Shakespeare invented a good chunk of them. Things we take for granted today, words as simple as moonbeam, are inventions of our good buddy Bill. And his most famous works were all fantasy, involving faeries, witches, curses, and all manner of magic. Even his historical fiction is fiction, or did you really think that Richard III was a hunchback?

What I’m saying it that only time has given these idiots the acceptance of Shakespeare’s work, or Tolkien’s, or Well’s, or Stoker’s.  They were lambasted by the critics of their eras for writing low fiction, but theirs are the stories that have stood the test of time.

Genre elitism is bullshit. Content and context are everything, the merit of the story well told regardless of where it’s set or what the trappings of that setting are. You can definitely dismiss things because of those trappings, claiming that the trappings don’t appeal to you, but to dismiss the quality of a thing because of the wrapping is bullshit. Feel free to critique, to weigh in, to state your opinion – but at least have the decency to dismiss something for reasons other than the goddamn surface.

If you’re going to hate something you should be able to state why. History has given us plenty of examples to draw upon, as we shall see in the coming weeks…

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2 Responses to The Lie of Genre

  1. Denise Golden says:

    it’s the lens! don’t take it personal; a moment of energy spent on “hating” and pointing fingers is a moment wasted – don’t go there – life is too important to take seriously. Content and context will stand the test of time. Shakespeare, Chaucer, Donne, Solzhenitsyn didn’t fit a literary group or “book club”; the Impressionists were criticized, ridiculed…Galileo was shunned; those who critique artist works… literary, music, paintings, sculptures etc. are trying to find the framework to access the work – it’s in human nature to organize, categorize, classify… I’m not saying its right, or wrong; keep in mind, when something challenges a way of thinking people try to find a place to place it…and if the work doesn’t fit a known framework or sets a new benchmark, it gets backlash; if I were an artist that found myself up against backlash, I would smile… as hard as that might be… I would hold in my heart the knowing that I stirred the pot up enough to be recognized for putting something out there that caused controversy… what would be worse is not having anything said… silence is the killer. There is always a silver lining. Put the frustration into the next piece… passion fuels the fire of genius.

  2. Denise Golden says:

    P.S. Aaron, you have the passion… at that works magic with your genius. xo Aunt D

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