Eric’s Writing Blog

The writing blog of Eric Rosenfield

Mainstream, Medium and Genre

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The definition of “mainstream” changes from medium to medium. For example, in film “mainstream” refers to popular hollywood fare, and is dominated by genres like science fiction-fantasy-action/adventure (“tentpole” blockbusters), romance, comedy and so on. In comic books, mainstream refers to superheroes, and the strangeness of this one, odd little genre having so dominated an entire medium has been commented on in many quarters. In prose fiction, mainstream refers to literary fiction. Indeed, no other medium I can think of is so preoccupied with the status of “literary”-ness than prose fiction (though there have been some attempts in other media– for example, the critics who try to separate “film” from “movies”). This has, of course, everything to do with prose fiction’s particular history and audience, but it doesn’t make the attempt to separate “literature” from not-“literature” any less pernicious, causing, as it does, great work in “genre” fiction to often be sidelined by both large portions of the reading public and the academy (and thus often future generations as well as the present ones). The notion that the particular set of conventions that we call “literary” is somehow inherently better than those we call “genre” is absurd on the face of it, but it is so intricately wrapped up in signifiers of class and social status that we have trouble making out the absurdity. In fact, the very act of reading itself is a signifier of class and social status, and many people come to reading fiction for pleasure, often at an early age (when most of their peers are only reading what’s assigned to them), specifically because they want to see themselves as more refined and sophisticated than other people–in other words, of a higher status. I will be the first to admit that I am as guilty of this as anyone else, and one can see it in the derrogations of genre–a lashing out and defensiveness borne of my own guilt in enjoying the stuff–that made up many of the posts in the early years of this blog. I can’t think of any other whole medium so wound up in ideas of status.


Written by ericrosenfield

August 10, 2010 at 11:18 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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