Two articles were all over Facebook yesterday and they seem really connected to me. One is Junot Díaz’s Salon interview that (despite a sensationalized title) has some excellent things to say about literary genre. The other is a clever essay on Generation Y that overgeneralizes, but does address some real problems before offering three obvious conclusions.
This all reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend, a prof at a major state university who bemoaned his students’ lack of interest in good music.
“Man, when I was their age, that was who I was. I defined myself by liking Rush, and D&D, and the movie Repo Man.”
I’ve said much the same thing. Just switch the references. “The Replacements, college radio, Buckaroo Banzai.” [Gen-Xers, play along at home, inserting “The Misfits, Anne Rice, Rocky Horror Picture Show” or “Springsteen, WWF, Top Gun” or whatever fits you.]
All this self-definition is really just a synonym for “stereotype,” which is a synonym for what “genre” often is for literature. This is what I am. This is what I’m not. This is what I like. This is what I don’t.
But, people under 30 foil such notions. Here’s what I’ve noticed from teaching SF at the university-level and working in fandom:
A. Gen Y folks are more likely to see movies, music, and books as just movies, music, and books. It’s entertainment to them, not some defining, soul-revealing element related to your value as a person.
B. Gen Y folks are less interested in genre categories, subcultures, and niche markets than previous groups. Even the hipsters are pretty omnivorous.*
C. (Genre corollary) Gen Y folks are much more likely to use “sci-fi” to describe the genre, and they seem genuinely confused when gray-haired fans are angered by this perceived slight.
D. Gen Y folks usually have their priorities straight. They can think about art, genres, and entertainment with complexity. But they’ll never think it’s as important as, say, knowing where your food comes from or how your garbage is disposed, or making sure everyone has clean water and jobs that pay a decent wage.
Genre-wise, I see connections to Elizabeth Bear’s now-famous comments about SF fandom on Tor.com. (It’s comment #3, scroll down.) There’s been a conversation about this for a while, with Díaz and the Gen Y blog just recent developments.
*Although they quickly bail on art that becomes to “popular,” the same way beatniks, hippies, indie rockers, etc. did before them. I don’t hear them say “sell out” or “too commercial” as often as those earlier groups, though.
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Postscript: A pretty good response to the Gen Y article came out later that day.