Sometimes, while I’m wandering along the various fields of the literary world (I’m currently in one full of thistles, but that is beside the point), I stumble over a big, fat incongruity. This week, it’s an incongruity directly related to my own writing efforts:
WHY do people snicker if I tell them I’m writing an Urban Fantasy with elements of crime fiction, like mythical stories are sooo lowbrow, but still consider things like Le Morte D’Arthur and The Faerie Queen to be high brow, glorious literary productions? Why is a mystery novel “sure to make you rich” but not sure to bring you the literary acclaim that, say, a historical/memoir/women’s fiction “literary” novel will? Why do I feel embarrassed to admit that I’m a “genre” writer?
On a surface level, it’s all about money. Popular literature is “lowbrow” because it is easily accessible to all kinds of people. Readers do not have to have a master’s degree or a PhD to unerstand the underlying ideas and themes that shape the novel and make it significant. And, because popular literature is neither rare nor hard to “get” in either sense of the word, there are no obvious bragging rights (cultural capital–the ability to value yourself above other people because you are able to access and “understand” rare and highly valued art). In this light, one could claim that there are NO SOCIAL STATUS BENEFITS TO BE GAINED BY READING GENRE FICTION.
Of course, one would be wrong. But one could say such a thing, and be accurate to the social consesus on the subject.
Have you ever noticed that popular art can, and often does, become “classic”? Bugs Bunny, Abbot and Costello, Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, Shakespeare (oh yeah, he was a popular artist back in the day), and FilM Noir are all notable examples. Although popular art becomes high brow art as it becomes less and less accessible (as it ages and generations of people who don’t use the same cultural cues [things like slang, symbol]), thus tending to validate the monetary system of valuing art, that isn’t entirely why it turns into highbrow art.
If popular art can BECOME high brow art, then such art cannot be, for all intents and purposes, VOID of any social/cultural value, can it?
Okay. I will climb off my giant soapbox and go work on my lowbrow fiction now. Thankyouverymuch.