Years ago in Omni, of all places, they ran a cartoon that showed a husband and wife at the dinner table. The husband was about to shovel a spoonful of something into his mouth, but was fixing the wife with a baleful look. The wife's response: "Oh, go on and eat it. Does everything you eat have to have a name?"
I sometimes think that way when people talk about such-and-such a genre of writing, especially now that we're seeing these secondary and tertiary hybrids of genre, like romantic horror (which apparently sells like hotcakes, much to the chagrin of many people who write either horror or romance). Truth is, people need the labels to figure out what they're about to get themselves into when they plonk down their $13.95 and crack the spine.
It's frustrating, especially when you've trained yourself to think about approach each story on its own merits. As a friend of mine put it about Hajime no Ippo, "It's not a 'boxing story'; it's about a guy who happens to be a boxer." Or, more recently: The Wrestler isn't about wrestling per se, but about this guy who happens to be a wrestler. And so on. The character is what's meant to come front and center, but most people are used to being sold on a story through its bigger, more obvious trappings.
It's the rare genre story that people pick up on because of its own merits. Star Wars made fantasy (not SF) into blockbuster box-office. Unforgiven broke through to an audience that might otherwise never have gone to see a "Western". What's rare for the movies is even rarer for books: with the possible exception of Watchmen there really hasn't been a graphic novel that's enjoyed broad crossover success; and for SF and fantasy there's maybe Lord of the Rings and little else.
The easy interpretation is what amounts to an elitist one, I think: we, the Elect who Get It, the Fans, are of a higher order of imagination and perceptivity than all those Great Unwashed who fall asleep in front of their TVs to The O'Reilly Factor. The truth of it is a bit more complicated: the reason so few such things break through or cross over is because the vast majority of anything in any genre never goes much further than its target audience. The whole argument about genres being ghettoes is misleading, because anything mediocre is its own ghetto, first and foremost.
That still leaves me with a question: What's the best way to get people to go outside their comfort zone and experience something they would never normally opt for? I don't think there's any systematic way to do that, any more than you could get retirees to go bungee-jumping. It takes as much a maverick approach to propagandizing in favor of such as thing as it does a maverick approach to creating it. The whole way that these things are brought to the attention of people, the whole way they're discussed, needs to undergo some kind of grand mutation of form — although what it'll look like, I haven't the faintest. Yet.
Over the weekend I spent time with my inlaws, who are not exactly cultural gourmands, and my father-in-law responded to a TV commercial for a current movie: "The more the critics like something, the less I want to see it, and vice versa." Somehow I don't think using reverse psychology will work in his case.
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