Saturday, February 9, 2008

Checklists and Flowcharts: Another post about Genre

*Note: I hope I'm not covering ground that's already been covered. But I probably am. And you can be angry down in the comments.*

Okay so after reading iknight's recent post about genre, I wasn't going to post anything else on the subject. I mean largely Owen is standing on the moral high ground here. We shouldn't judge a series as lousy before we watch it. It really isn't right. I've argued it with moe and I've argued it with classics. Assumptions and half-truths aren't really the way to go when looking at any body of work.

But I also think it's inevitable and normal.

How we talk and think about Genre

Most of the time when we talk about genre it's in checklists. You take X show, it has Y plot traits, Z character traits and Q world traits. It might also have differences in tones and differences in voice, but all in all they're simple, denotative meanings. This is largely where its communication aspect comes up. The genre allows us to get a lot of information quickly. Now those words in and of themselves don't really carry any value judgment. For example: a sci-fi epic will most likely contain a spaceship, a young hero, a dark and sinister foe who's bent on destroying the galaxy, so on and so forth. If we can check enough of those off then it's most likely a sci-fi epic. Now a sub-genre might develop when we can check most of those things off the list, but it also incorporates other things from other lists (iknight's point about NGE comes to mind here.)

Now if that was just the case there wouldn't be any problem. No one disagrees that the use of genre as a descriptor is a useful tool. But iknight brings up a great point; words carry meaning beyond the words themselves. So the question becomes why is that? Well I'm going to drag out my psych minor again and throw out schemas. Okay, so if anyone's taken Intro to Personality they probably know what I mean here. If you haven't then here's a quick and dirty and probably horribly oversimplified way of looking at it. Essentially if you take a word or an action, like say sci-fi epic and apply anything that is related to your thoughts, feelings, experiences and those checklist definitions then you have the schema for a sci-fi epic. So not only do you have the checklist definition, but you also have the memories of watching Doctor Who growing up, or the first time you saw Star Blazers or Robotech, or the fact that your girlfriend dumped you when you were just about to pop in the last disk of Battlestar Gallactica, or the fact that your best friend told you that only geeks watched sci-fi stuff. So you have all of these associations with a phrase that don't necessarily have anything to do with the phrase, or could be hearsay, or really anything.

What's important to note here is that schema don't change easily. Once they're created new information that contradicts the schema will be ignored first. If the new information can't be ignored then it's more likely someone will make an exception rather than change their schema. If they have to make enough exceptions then their schema might change.

On why Shounen Romance gets a bad rap

So there are three questions here that have been brought up separately, but I think all are important questions. First and foremost was a question brought up in the comments on Owen's post, "Who's to blame, the genreist (the person who only watches one genre) or the labeler (the person who put the show into a category in the first place)?" And I have to say both and more. The thing is from the inception of the show it's designed to appeal to people who have positive associations towards shounen romance. Ironically, the problem could start from the inception of the piece. Once they pick a genre then their schema of how a shounen romance is put together kicks in, this includes what elements they like or don't like, and what they think their audience will appreciate. This is the first problem is that load of mediocre stuff is a direct result of playing it safe to the audience. Now if someone already has a negative connotation linked with shounen romance, harem show X is unlikely to change it. In fact, it'll only reinforce the schema.

Second, we don't live in a vacuum, we get opinions from friends, authority figures, bloggers and reviewers and based on our schema of them we either take their opinions into our schema or we dismiss them. And this is where a LOT of the bad associations with shounen romance comes from. When people think of the average shounen romance fan, they think big, sweaty otaku surrounded by body pillows. Is this unfair? Yes. But it's also persistent. I would argue a lot of the moe hate that's going around comes from this association. It also comes from the fact that people who love these show usually do talk about them in the highest terms, which according to Cameron's curmudgeon to hype formula would mean all of the curmudgeons out there would likely turn up their nose at said series. And the Internet is full of curmudgeons.

Third, it's the fault of the genreist. Who's making a decision on a show without actually seeing it. Now it's all well and good to say that you might not like a show because of its content. But I'm not on the side of saying it's a horrible show because it might feature content that you don't like.

The second question is does it deserve the bad rap it gets? And the answer is yes and no. The problem with a schema is that they don't come out of thin air. There has to be some information that came in at some point to set it up. The old saw about stereotypes comes to mind here. The first association that I get with shounen romance is harem. Why? Because there's a whole slew of harem shows out there. And in my mind, I've never heard of a harem show that sounded plausible. The second association I get, which is even more unfair, is from the words themselves – boy's romance. Now when I think of boy and romance, I think porn. (This is arguably where the bad connotation for moe is really coming from.) A lot of that is from a lack of cultural literacy, and if CCY's blog has taught me anything, it's taught me that there's more in the land of shounen romance than wish fulfillment. The third association I get from it is that creepy, sweaty otaku who's got the body pillows because for every five or so reasonably well-adjusted adults or teenagers who watch shounen romance (or anime in general) there's one scary guy.

Are these all fair? No. But are enough of them true often enough to reinforce the schema? Probably.

All of that leads to the third question, "How do you change it?" I think bateszi's got the right on this one. Fans of a particular genre aren't necessarily going to convince people who aren't fans to change their mind. But they are likely to convince fence sitters like myself to give them a shot. Perhaps I need to propose a corollary to Cameron's curmudgeon to hype formula. And that's to say, hype from a perceived neutral source actually weighs the formula the other direction. Well at least some of the time.

Also invectives never help a situation. I've never known an argument to be solved by yelling. Sometimes you have to accept that not everybody's going to love the stuff you love. Hey, I've accepted that I'm the only person in the world who likes GONZO stuff. Now that doesn't mean don't speak up about a series you like or don't like. But a civilized manner is always nice. And support shows you like that break the mediocre mold. Hell all the talk about ef got me to watch it and most likely buy it (if it comes out over here.)

And I think as iknight pointed out, it's a factor of time. After a certain point, shounen romance will become more than just harem in the minds of the out-group. But that's not going to happen overnight.

If at all.

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