my genre is better than your genre

There's been a very interesting discussion over on Kristan Hoffman's blog. It started as a discussion of "chick lit," but then it also got into genres in general.

As I said over there:

I’ve been thinking about this more now that I’m critiquing a YA [young adult] novel for a friend. I don’t read YA, and some of the plot developments seem rather trite to me, but that’s the genre (and the book is very well written, so it’s easy to read).

But it occurred to me that other people’s genre conventions can always be off-putting. If there was suddenly a murder, in an impossible situation, with limited suspects, I’d be right at home, but a lot of other people would think, "What a bunch of cliches!" But those are my genre conventions, and I have some idea how many different things you can do within them.

"Chick lit" is, I’m sure, the same way.

I think I realized this first when I was seeing The Cramps open for the Ramones at CBGBs. During the Cramps' set (which I loved) all the Ramones fans were standing back by the bar grousing that all the Cramps songs sounded alike. Which is, of course, what the rest of the world always said about the Ramones.

I had a friend once who laughed at the idea that there was such a thing as a "southern accent" (a view often held by northerners). She demonstrated, in quick succession, about a half dozen accents from different areas of the South. Each was indeed very obviously different from the others. And it was Truman Capote who pointed out that in some areas of the South the men have a different accent than the women.

When you're outside something, you can dismiss it as being monolithic and uninteresting. When you get inside it, though, when you really study it, then you usually find that there's a lot more to it.

You can do almost anything with a mystery story. Inherent Vice is a mystery story. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a mystery story. In fact, both are actually far more conventional in their observance of genre conventions than you'd expect. I talked more about this here and here. As a writer, Raymond Chandler had very little in common with Agatha Christie, though both of them wrote novels with dead bodies and detectives.

When I saw Let the Right One In, I was pretty sick of vampires. But I'd never seen a vampire movie like that one before.

You get the idea.

All of that being said, though, The main point is still the one Kristan started her post with. I think the term "chick lit" (and its cinematic equivalent "chick flick") says it all.

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