Friday, October 7, 2011

Does "Genre" Even Exist Anymore?

In the grand scheme of things, it's probably just a little thing, but this time of year, it is a thing that gets pushed in my face repeatedly and thus works its way under my skin. At some point in the last ten or fifteen years, the genre of "horror" has been completely lumped in with science fiction. I don't get it. I don't get it, and furthermore, I don't like it.

I think that's because in the last five or six years I have come to realize that I don't really care for what passes for horror these days. This coming from a girl whose all-time favorite author is Stephen King. (He's still doing it right.) But horror movies these days? None of them appeal to me at all. (Because they are crap, and derivative, uncreative, and very rarely scary in a good way.) Suspense, I can get behind. Supernatural mythology, sure. Horror, not so much. I can't even remember the last time I voluntarily went to see a "scary" movie and actually enjoyed it.

And that's fine, really. Normally I don't have to give it much thought. But this time of year? With Halloween rolling in? Gah. I can't escape it. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate the occasional made-for-TV-B-movie that is so terrible it's good. The kind of stuff that Mystery Science Theater 3000 would love to tear apart. But this time of year, we are flooded with "horror" movies, in the theaters (which means I end up having to sit through commercials for them when I watch the shows I want to watch) as well as on television.

But it's also there on my science fiction sites. Somewhere, somewhen, some marketer somewhere decided that the people who like horror and the people who like science fiction are clearly the same people, so why not just push all of the horror stuff on the science fiction audiences? Because really, it's all the same stuff, right? Grr. I am putting that marketer on my list of people to go back and slap once my time machine is built.

Now, I can fully admit that the same assumption exists with science fiction and fantasy. Outside of those fan pools (and also a little bit inside), very few people see any distinction between the two. This really doesn't bother me at all, and I am sure it is because I actually enjoy both of those genres.

Obviously, there is a lot of overlap going on. There are lots of horror stories in which the element of horror is caused by a science fictional (or fantastical) element. There are also lots of science fiction (and fantasy) stories that are scary, downright horrific even. But to assume that any two (or all three) of those genres is the same thing because there is overlap is to do all of those genres a disservice.

But maybe I am on the losing side of this argument. These days it seems like the lines are blurring between all kinds of genres. Romance and historical fiction and fantasy and horror and science fiction and mysteries, and so on. Clearly people who enjoy any one of those may enjoy another. Science fiction, for example, has spawned oodles of of subsets over the last century: alternate histories, distopian, post apocalyptic, steampunk, and so on. Elements of all of these kinds of stories are slipping their way into the mainstream (thankfully, since specialized channels seem to be struggling to stay both viable and true to their fan base*). People who would never consider themselves fans of science fiction loved Lost. People who would never consider themselves into fantasy totally devoured Harry Potter. Writers considered "mainstream" are coming out of the genre "closet" and slipping genre themes into their work, or outright changing camps.

As it stands right now, it seems to me that the only reason "genre" still exists is so that people who want to sell us things have a nice pre-packaged way to describe what they are trying to make us buy. But I don't know how much longer they are going to be able to keep that up. It won't be too long before the stories will  completely stop fitting in those neat little descriptions. Maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe it's time to just start calling it all "fiction" and leaving it up to the reader to check out the book jacket or listen to word of mouth to make up her own decision on whether or not it is worth her time. Just a thought.

I still wish people would stop trying to shove that crappy "horror" stuff down my throat though.

Peace out, folks. Enjoy the weekend.

*That's right Syfy, I'm looking at you.

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