Not Everyone Is Slave to the Television
In the essay One Genre to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them, Stephen Hunt laments the fact that mainstream media only brings attention to lit fic rather than genre fiction. And compounded on that avoidance, there is an active disdain for the lowbrow stuff.
As a reader, I have mixed feelings about this. Sure, the critics and the media should be more fair when they’re reviewing books. There’s good writing in both lit fic and genre. And crap in both. The labels “lit fic” and “genre” are not synonymous with quality or trash. But then again, the critics and media are self-appointed gatekeepers to literature and no matter how much they try to bill themselves as impartial, they are biased. And everyone knows it.
(One could argue that genre books are commercial fiction. Because everyone’s buying them, they don’t need any more exposure than they already have. But I think this notion is erroneous. A lit fic book can also be commercial. And not all genre books are commercial. For every Harry Potter, there are hundreds of other fantasy books that sink into obscurity.)
Then again, there’s the internet. Maybe it’s a generation gap or a mindset gap. I don’t think anyone can underestimate the power of word of mouth. After all, wouldn’t you trust a friend who knows you than some pompous talking head on TV? And recently, there’s a proliferation of blogger reviewers who read everything and anything. And I don’t find them any more or less convincing than a critic at a big time newspaper. Just because one has a degree in literature doesn’t guarantee that you know anything about taste or quality.
So my question is this: if a book television program were to seriously debate the merits of genre novels, will it really do anything more than turn an obscure book into a commercial book Oprah-style? Maybe it would get the casual reader a little more excited about reading. But for more independent readers, they’re just going to continue indulging in their same habits–to read whatever they feel like reading, not what someone else tells them to read, genre or no.