Sunday, November 23, 2003

Language shifts

David Sucher asks the question "What is genre fiction", and finds further down in his non-permalinked comments that the dictionary definition does not really fit the way in which the word is used nowadays. My thoughts are that in terms of current usage I would define "genre fiction" as fiction designed at a specific audience demographically, and not a widely diverse general audience. Certainly that is the way Hollywood uses the term. Hollywood uses the word for horror, teen comedies, "urban" films (which is code for films aimed at black audiences), certain types of thriller, certain types of animated film (ie those aimed specifically at children rather than those aimed at general audiences - so that "Finding Nemo" is not genre fiction but "The Powerfpuff Girls" is), certain types of fantasy film (By this definition "Underword" is a genre film, whereas "The Lord of the Rings" isn't) and similar.

Interestingly, what Hollywood thinks of as science fiction is (post Star Wars in 1977 at least) not "genre" but mainstream, as it is aimed at general audiences. Whereas written science fiction is very much a genre market, as only certain types of people read it.

In terms of books, I think you might say that "genre fiction" is anything that is filed in a separate section in a bookshop from the standard "fiction" section. In terms of film, it is anything with a budget under about $25 million. (If Hollywood spends more than that it needs to find a general audience in order to make its money back, so "genre films" are generally not made for more than that).

Some would say that as you quote it above, "genre" is a polite word for "ghetto". Certainly it is a term that self-important literary critics (and a certain type of self-important) reader use to snear at types of writing they don't like.

It's interesting to compare the usage of this word with "dialect", actually. Linguists will define a dialect as any specific varient of a language, so that standard American English is a dialect, and so is Glaswegian Scots, and that high German is a dialect, as is Swiss German. (None of these "dialects" can be defined all that specifically, either, as dialects tend to have further sub-varients and blend into one another and lines between them are hard to impossible to draw). However, the word "dialect" as used is often more applied to marginal and non-standard versions of the language than to standard versions.

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