The Death of Genre

Dorian Blue

In the modern age, it feels like everything has to be a hybrid, a crossover, or blend. This is true in music, literature, and film. But, it’s just an acknowledgement of the truth. The long-held idea of a literary canon is based on the opinions of the few, mostly white men. These spaces aren’t as exclusionary as they once were, though still have a long way to go. Across the board, the publishing industry is extremely white, with most counts putting the percent of white employees at 75-80%. While it used to be more overtly discriminatory, the publishing industry now likes to preach its inclusivity through virtue signaling statements. Though they may publish authors of color, in an article on LitHub, Tajja Isen points out that “with towering barricades around any port of entry, the book industry has always been complicit in marginalization.”

Ideas of genre and category always naturally change over time. While tragedy and comedy seem to persevere through the millenia, most other genres that are well-known today are more recent developments. Science fiction wasn’t a mainstay until the early 20th century. Even now, it still struggles to know its borders. Is the writing of Mary Shelley and Frank Herbert really comparable? The mystery genre has more of a lengthy history, but now has a specific formula that many readers are familiar with that now often toes the line or completely sinks into cliche.

Creatives always need to do something novel to make themselves stand out from the crowd. While everything is derivative in some way, as nothing is made in a vacuum, adding a new spin or take on something is what can bring in an audience. As always, capitalism has its own role in this. When a new book is being marketed, the author and publisher take pains to explain how interesting the book is. It’s their job, and their livelihood may rest on it. However, nine times out of ten, the supposed “reinvention” or “fresh look” being proposed is engineered to be palatable for the largest common denominator.

For example, a book that claims it’s a newer, more exciting romance is often the same old shit. It falls into the genre perfectly, but creates the illusion that it doesn’t for added prestige. Anyone who’s critical may not be fazed by it, but its target audience will eat it up. Awkward prose and unorganized narrative structure don’t matter if it taps into the right niche of TikTok. In play acting as new and revolutionary, trope-y books overshadow actually inventive novels.

There have been many books published that highlight issues of racism within the industry itself. This is a hallmark of any industry that profits off creative works. There are also many films that spotlight stories of discrimination in Hollywood, but the systems in place stay largely unchanged. “The absorption of dissent isn’t surprising; loosening the valve to release a little built-up tension is a time-honored tactic that lets the status quo carry on unchecked.” Isen uses this apt metaphor to describe how anything can be profitable. Even if thought-provoking, it can’t change the system all on its own.

Humans seek to categorize, but to what avail? I think that genre shouldn’t be done away with entirely, but should be recognized for what it is: a series of arbitrary constructs dictated by a few people who have little care or understanding for the real world and the complexity within it.