Friday, June 19, 2015

What's in a genre?

I remember one time when I was a kid hearing a family member talk about how dumb superheroes were because they were "so fake". I found this to be pretty perplexing. No, it's not because I was somehow under the impression that superheroes were realistic. It was odd because it was safe to say that they weren't even trying to be realistic. That's kind of the point of fantasy (superheroes being a subgenre of that) isn't it? To get away from reality? Right?

Doubly confounding was that this particular family member was also a fan of comics. Of course, comics don't all feature superheroes. In fact, there are some out there that actually are pretty realistic as they deal with real-life issues and/or historical events. However, this person was a fan of some of the old comic strips like Flash Gordon, Tarzan, and Prince Valiant. Umm...those are somehow more realistic than superheroes? Sure, none of them have superpowers, but the fantasy world of Flash is one that couldn't possibly exist. A baby raised by apes would be a dead baby. As for Valiant, yeah it takes place in historical times, but if you played a drinking game where you took a shot every time you came across an anachronism, they'd be pumping your stomach before you finished the first volume of collected strips.

If you want realism, that's fine. Fantasy isn't for everyone. But to disparage one type as being "fake" and then go for another? I don't understand that at all.

I was reminded of this little exchange when I read what director William Friedkin had to say about the current crop of superhero movies. “Films used to be rooted in gravity, They were about real people doing real things. Today, cinema in America is all about Batman, Superman, Iron Man, Avengers, the Hunger Games: all kinds of stuff that I have no interest in seeing at all.”

Pretty much an average day for me.
If you haven't heard of Friedkin, then maybe you've heard of his most famous movie which was the epitome of "real people doing real things". It goes by the name The Exorcist. You know, that movie where the devil possesses a little girl and makes her head spin around. The kind of stuff you deal with every day.

His statement is preposterous for a few reasons, the most obvious one being that his most famous film hardly matches the description of the sort of thing he prefers. Also, while there are certainly more superhero movies out now than a couple of decades ago, there are other movies out there that have nothing to do with them. All you have to do is pay attention and you'll find them.

This also gets me to thinking that I'm not sure if it's even accurate to lump all superhero movies into one genre. After all, isn't part of the fun of The Avengers that you get to see a bunch of different genres smashed together? I mean, is Captain America: The Winter Soldier really the same genre as Thor: The Dark World? The first one has more in common with spy thrillers and the second is more pure fantasy. And let's not get started on Guardians of the Galaxy. Is that even a superhero movie at all? Do these all get lumped together just because they all debuted in comic books? Isn't that kinda like lumping Fight Club and To Kill a Mockingbird into the same category because they both originated in novels?

Rooted in gravity
The thing is, the whole genre of "superheroes" is really a combination of pre-existing genres, and some of them emphasize different elements than others. The Dark Knight only shares a guy in a mask as the common factor with Green Lantern. (Never mind the quality of the latter film; that's not the point.)

I just happen to love superheroes. I generally think that they work best in comic books, but with the advancements in special effects in the past couple of decades, they have successfully crossed over into motion pictures. I can understand it if somebody doesn't care for them, although I can't personally think of an entire genre that I completely write off (if we're to accept them as actually being a genre). Generally speaking, I don't like "chick flicks" but I thought that Bridesmaids was a hoot, and I'd be willing to give others a chance if they looked like they had good stories and dialogue.

But whatever, if you don't like superheroes, then they're easy to avoid. I just find myself not understanding some of the criticism. Why not just say that you don't find them appealing without having to make it seem like they're somehow a lower form of expression? You can tell an effective story in any genre.

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