Hot or Not: A Genre Thing

I know that this week, everyone is pumped about Star Wars. And believe me, I am too. I just won’t be seeing it until after Christmas. I don’t want to wait in line… So, instead of The FORCE, I’ve been wondering about what makes things cheap? I don’t mean the cost of a particular item. Instead, I’m thinking of things with bad reputations. Popular Literature. The Penny Dreadful. Carnations. Romance Literature. Each of these, including the flower, are or have been viewed at some point in time as cheap and thus, undesirable.

What first got me thinking about this is the carnation. At work, I sit near an administrative assistant who will every so often be tasked with ordering a bouquet of flowers to be sent to a funeral or celebratory event for a person affiliated with the organization for which we both work. Each time she orders flowers, she always emphasizes NO carnations (not rudely, mind you. It just sticks out in the sounds around our cube farm.) I mean a carnation is no tulip or exotic orchid, but it’s not an ugly flower. Is it? So how did carnations get such a bad reputation?

Doing a little research, I didn’t really come up with anything. I did come across one wedding blogger who talked about flowers and the reputation of carnations for being cheap and undesirable. But, she concludes by discussing ways to make carnations look sophisticated and chic.

This, in turn, made me think about literature. Why are some types of writing viewed as cheap or not as distinguished as others? This is a repeated pattern throughout the history of fiction. Like the carnation, there is no real reason for some literature to be considered beneath others. And yet, it happens. Romance novels are a great example. The romance story is not considered to be on par with literary fiction. But how can you draw a comparison?

Frankly, I find it strange that people try to juxtapose the two. Their goals are completely different. Romance novels are an escape, a chance to read a great love story with maybe a little steam to boot, if that’s your gig. Literary fiction is about character development and sophisticated language. Perhaps it is more challenging to read. But I think someone picks up a piece of literary fiction for different reasons than they pick up a romance.

The novel was not a very popular mechanism at first. But then, it caught on. The Penny Dreadful was practically abhorred, but the remnants of it has flooded our society today.

Humans love to categorize things. That’s a given. We have an entire system for every species on the planet! And when we find one that doesn’t fit, we wedge it in some how, either by changing our system or bending the rules a teensy bit.

Just like the hidden demigods who determine what’s “hot or not” in fashion, makeup, hair…and everything else, literature has been classified beyond genre into what is acceptable and what is not despite the fracturing of post-post modernism (another category) and the emphasis on the individual. It seems we have two ideas at war with one another: people striving for individuality and others, who don’t want to give up control, offering critiques of others for their preferences. For example, I know writers who use pseudonyms because they are concerned about backlash from friends or family for what they write. Crazy, right? I’m not saying I blame them for being afraid of the backlash, but come on!? Where’s the support? Why should those writers feel ashamed of what they create? Art is art. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that.

What other objects, styles or genres do you hear about and why or why aren’t they acceptable?

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