Fandom and genre don’t always coincide. You might be addicted to a lot of stories, characters or even just the aesthetics of countless disparate works.
The genre isn’t a barrier. It might be what makes us take the first step – the so called point of entry – but at a certain moment our passion for a fandom transcends any label and even leads us to experiment different types of content (genres) and format (video games, TV series, cinema, novels, comics…).
Fan engagement is built on psychological mechanisms that concern the realm of imagination on the one hand, and the emotional processes on the other.1 Being part of a fan community means that you’ve passed the threshold. You already feel connected enough to the material in a way that gives you sense of nearly ownership over that work. You might pluck your favorite character from its Dramatic Novel surroundings and drop into a Steampunk universe.
And that’s when it happens: when you start interacting directly with the content you will most probably tweak the genre. Using that flexibility gives you the total freedom you creatively need to develop and maintain your relationship with the characters, certain narrative moments or a whole universe.
As Henry Jenkins has so clearly contrasted, the fan culture has gone from a stage where it was deeply marginalized to an age where fan participation is not only accepted and encouraged, as it is “increasingly central to the production decisions shaping the current media landscape”2.
However, being part of a fandom doesn’t always just mean that you have a whole new world to explore, a parallel universe to escape to. You can become addicted to writing or reading fanfiction, to creating or watching fanvids or even listening or playing some very specific music genres (Wrock, anyone?).
If you allow yourself to get involved, to engage with the different components on a systematic basis, it can become an integral part of your life, sometimes with strange consequences.
Have you thought about the emotional baggage you suddenly attach to you?
We’ll talk about that on the next installment of these series.
1) JENKINS, Henry and SHRESHTOVA, Sangita: “Up, Up and Away! The Power and Potential of Fan Activism”, http://henryjenkins.org/2012/07/fandom_is_built_on_psychologic.html
2) JENKINS, Henry “When Fandom Goes Mainstream…” http://henryjenkins.org/2006/11/when_fandom_goes_mainstream.html
Westerns take me to ghost towns, dry unforgiving deserts, cowboys and, of course, those straw rolls blowing through the middle of the empty cinema canvas. Cinema! I only encountered westerns on movies. From “The Great Train Robbery” to “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly”, my imaginary turns to fishy taverns and their dubious customers, just lolling around waiting for the best gunslinger in town to give a show – and maybe die in the process so that one of them can take his place.
But this world of outlaws and dusty misfits has been in the literary realm long before it reached the silver screen. Beginning with James Fenimore Cooper’s series of novels, it spread with the dime novels, based sometimes on real life characters, of the likes of Buffalo Bill or Billy the Kid. The Pulp Magazines and later the comics also helped immortalize the genre.
However, while the first stories have the cowboy, the sheriff, the indian, nowadays the genre has mutated. Mixed up with different genres, you get the most interesting set ups and characters.
Fantasy brings sorcerers and dragons into the outskirts of the cities.
Horror carries curses, zombies and unknown perils.
Steampunk takes the industrial clogged world to these deserts. Intricate machinery thrives, characters with mechanical limbs abound and guns are more powerful and unpredictable than any real western pal put his hands on.
Sci-fi adds some futuristic touches: cyborgs, spaceships, aliens and time-travel – which on its own conveys a ‘Verse full of opportunities to explore.
And yes, westerns are still on tv series and movies (even games), but in literature it has gained another chance of imposing itself as a sub-genre and get noticed by more avid readers. You can argue that it isn’t really “western literature” anymore, because it has an assortment of elements that its early writers would never approve.
Or would they?
Let’s not get too caught up on the labels, shall we? Let’s face these mixes as we would with…”fusion cusine”. Yes: embrace genre-bending or “fusion literature”, and just enjoy the new flavors authors keep on creating
Fantasy isn’t just castles, dragons, and wizards anymore.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you stumble upon a Fantasy book? Most people think of elements of folklore and mythology like castles, dragons, kings and queens, ghosts, wizards, and curses. Am I close?
Fantasy is a broad label—one that’s moved away from the stereotypical wizards-castles-dragons model of the past. Today, Fantasy encompasses many other genres and subgenres, including horror, sci-fi and everything in between. If there’s a fiction I.P. that doesn’t easily fit into the Historical, Romance, Thriller or Horror genres, you can be sure to find it in the Fantasy section. Some bookstores have expanded their Fantasy sections to include subcategories like Supernatural Fantasy or Historical Fantasy — neither of which have Fantasy’s hallmark mythology/folklore streak. Maybe it’s not a hallmark anymore.
Fantasy has become extremely popular as it has grown to encompass different kinds of fiction. Fans enjoy it because it gives them the opportunity to explore beyond the realm of reality. Fantasy fiction shows us the unreal and the real—things that don’t exist in our world as well as common, everyday things embellished by a setting that allows them to grow into something more.
I embrace the broad new definition of Fantasy. Perhaps I’ve been exposed to too much genre-bending fiction. I prefer not to put books into restrictive, premade boxes anyway. For me, Fantasy isn’t necessarily attached to myths or ancient folklore. I define it as any fiction that has something special or otherworldly.
When I pick up a Fantasy book, I know what to expect before I even read anything about it. I know that it will feature something out of the ordinary, even if it is set in my own time and space. I expect a change, for something more to happen — something that transcends the everyday. This is fantasy’s true hallmark: That shift away from normal that transforms the reading experience—and let’s be honest, the immersion in a book’s universe — into an experience full of discovery and wonder.
At some point, we’ve all been asked to determine whether a piece of literature is fiction or nonfiction. We are asked to distinguish poetry from narrative, plays from novels, stories from essays. We look for cues in the content and format to determine genre.
But genre has increasingly become more than a way to describe content and format. It defines the whole narrative structure: Science Fiction, Romance, Thriller, Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery. Each genre a tight little package, the contents of which are often extremely predictable.
I’m not here to proclaim against genre, though. I just want to give it a tiny little nudge.
The two big literary genres are fiction and nonfiction, right? But let’s stick with fiction, as that’s what we do (and mostly read) here at Outland Entertainment. And that’s a lot. You can lose yourself between labels and all their sub-genres and crossovers: Supernatural Romance, Sci-Fi Thriller, Young Adult Fantasy—the list goes on.
But do we really need genres? Do we want labels to shape our reading choices?
Sure, even unconsciously you’ll be filing your next book away neatly on top of all the similar ones you’ve read, giving its genre away. Nevertheless, do these labels actually work their prejudice into our reading choices?
Genre labels can prevent us from reading great books. Think about it. Do you ignore your preconceptions and proudly strut into the Children’s department to get that latest Young Adult Fantasy book you’ve been dying to read? If so: congratulations! I have to confess that I always feel a bit queasy when entering an area full of glittery shiny books and cute stuffed animals. Yes, it’s all in my head. But so is the inexistent niece or sister I immediately conjure up in order to justify my presence as I shuffle through the “15 & up” section at light speed.
These posts will explore of the preconceptions attached to the genres we publish inside the Speculative Fiction scope. I hope to hear your thoughts on these matters and get suggestions on what genres or topics to tackle in our Genre Discussion. After all, blog posts are brief nonfiction essays that are meant to…
Okay, okay…I’ll shut up now.