I make no secret of the fact that I’m a genre girl. I prefer genre stories (of almost any genre) over most literary fiction. Ditto for movies.
My point is I find genre stories easier to relate to. Does that make me stupid? Not according to my IQ scores or to my (as Melanie Marttila recently said) “thought-y” posts. Just because I enjoy genre stories more doesn’t mean I can’t read and enjoy literary stories as well. It’s simply a preference.
The Shell Game of Definitions
Yet there’s never an end to those who want to put down such-and-such movie for being dumb and unworthy of reviewer stars or such-and-such genre for being formulaic or unrealistic. Those same people all too often then put down those who read or watch such stories, as though if we enjoy genre stories, we can’t possibly be capable of appreciating more than one style.
Author Heidi Cullinan summed up my feelings on what makes great literature, and the same could be same of stories in general, no matter the medium:
“I consider literature to be anything that moves me deeply, makes me think, gets me coming back again and again because it is so rich and powerful it can change lives.”
Anyone who thinks genre stories are incapable of moving us, making us think, or changing our lives is being willfully blind. These are the people who call Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice literary fiction rather than romance so they can justify their respect. Ditto for calling Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 literary rather than science fiction.
Sure, not every genre story rises to that level of greatness, but neither does every literary fiction story. All literary fiction isn’t automatically genius, just as all genre fiction isn’t automatically stupid. It’s disingenuous to act like genre can’t reach that level simply because some erase the genre label from any stories that do succeed.
Why Is It So Easy to Dismiss Genre Stories?
One of the biggest tools that can make a story feel deeper and more meaningful is subtext, where we read between the lines and interpret based off what’s not said. News flash! Genre stories can use subtext too. In fact, they can use subtext just as well as literary stories.
However, because many of the naysayers have such low expectations of genre stories, they never go looking for the subtext. Therefore, they assume there isn’t any. But that assumption is far from true.
I’ve analyzed the subtext of The Amazing Spider-Man movie, and stories don’t get more genre than a comic-book movie. The recent movie Pacific Rim had mediocre dialogue—and beautiful, deep subtext.
Yet did the reviews comment on the subtext? No. The reviewers called the movie dumb. Who’s thinking superficially now? *grin*
If we’re never aware enough of the potential for layers or nuance in stories, we’re never going to find them. And maybe that’s part of the problem with dismissal of genre stories.
Subtext? In a Movie about Giant Robots and Monsters?
Pacific Rim is a homage to the original Godzilla and monster movies. Many of the subtextual cues are thus a mixture of European and Asian cultural touch-points.
In the opening scene, the characters are wearing white (the only time in the movie the hero wears head-to-toe white), which represents young and innocent in European cultures and can represent death in some Asian cultures. Those who have seen the movie know that both meanings of the color foreshadow events of that scene.
Others have commented on the significance of color for Mako’s character. The blue in her hair as an adult matches the blue of her jacket in the emotional flashback from her childhood, showing how she’s still carrying that memory with her, years later. The red shoe child-Mako holds to her chest figuratively evokes her heart. A heroic gold backlights child-Mako’s savior, providing additional understanding for the level of respect she has for him, etc.
The entire ending scene has religious undertones of the mecha-robot that directly represents the hero—complete with matching injuries—descending into hell. The hero rises (literally) to fight another day, reborn with a new connection to humanity.
And yes, the director of Pacific Rim is Guillermo del Toro, so these cues weren’t mere coincidence. He purposely designed this movie—which is so easy to dismiss as silly genre (“Giant robots versus Godzilla-monsters? *snort*”)—to have multiple layers and nuance.
Am I saying that this movie was an Oscar-worthy “best picture”? No. Then again, half the movies nominated for Best Picture some years aren’t worthy either. But how many reviewers (or normal movie viewers) bothered to notice those subtextual layers?
Is that lack of insight really a failing of genre stories? Or a failing of those who assume them dumb and refuse to look deeper?
The Formula Creates the Subtext
Every genre has a formula, yes. The mystery must be solved. The bad guy must be stopped. The couple must find their happy ending.
As I mentioned in my post about beat sheets, a formula is not a bad thing. The “must haves” for every genre can be checked off and still leave a story room for originality. The must-haves, in fact, form the basic subtext of the genre.
For example, romance novels—with their required happy ending—create the subtext that we deserve happiness despite our flaws and that we’re stronger together than alone. They posit that love is a powerful force, enabling people to overcome countless obstacles.
Most modern romances contain the subtext of celebrating people who are empowered, those who are willing to fight for what they want and take responsibility for creating their own happiness. Really, with all that, is it any wonder that I, a Pollyanna at heart, write romance? *smile*
Romances are the modern fairytale, and yet contrary to the many digs at the genre, they’re still realistic on a subtextual level. As historical romance author Tessa Dare pointed out, anyone who contends that relationships with respect, fidelity, and great sex are fantasy are, once again, being willfully blind. How sad life would be if believing in love meant we had no grip on reality.
As a romance author, I can assure those who would put down the entire genre (usually based on one example) that I don’t write with the purpose of “getting the reader off.” I embrace all the inherent subtext of the genre, and I enjoy adding additional subtext, often about my themes of the power of redemption, the ability of love to heal, the importance of sacrifice. And yes, I do all that on purpose.
If someone doesn’t pick up on all that subtext in romances, fine. They’ll still have an entertaining read. But it’s close-minded to assume there are no—and cannot be—layers or nuances within genre fiction, and it’s just plain ignorant (not to mention rude) to use that false assumption to ridicule genres and those who read them.
I’m proud to write genre stories. I have my preference and others will have their preferences. There doesn’t have to be a “better” or “more important” scale to those preferences. I haven’t put down literary fiction (or those who read it) in this post despite my preference, and all I’m asking is that people give each other the same courtesy. *smile*
Do you agree that genre fiction can be just as “smart” as literary fiction? Do you know people who assume genre stories are dumb? How do you define what makes a story “smart” or “good literature”? Have you found deeper meaning in genre stories? If you’ve seen Pacific Rim, what did you think of the movie?Pin It