Genre fiction is any story created to explicitly appeal to fans of existing stories. It often refers to sci-fi, fantasy, noir, and westerns, but also includes novels about novelists struggling to write novels. Literature designates quality, while genre describes technique, and the two do not have to be contrasted, as proven by works of literary genre such as John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Genre is defined by its reliance on tropes or themes that lie outside the story, and so it must obey rules, and expects the audience to be familiar with other stories from the genre. A superhero story must contain a superhero, and a space epic assumes space travel makes sense. This is why genre has difficulty becoming literature, and terrible genre always feels like a pedant checking off boxes: looming prophecy, evil empire, lovable rogue. Genre is the storytelling technique of the managerial class because its rule-abiding nature resembles a bureaucracy, and part of the reason members of this professional class seem increasingly out of touch is because they tell genre stories which expect the audience to accept recycled tropes.
The professional class tells a variety of genre stories about their jobs: TED Talker, “entrepreneur,” “innovator,” “doing well by doing good.” One of the most popular today is corporate feminism. This familiar story is about a young woman who lands a prestigious job in Manhattan, where she guns for the corner office while also fulfilling her trendy Sex and the City dreams. Her day-in, day-out life is blessed by the mothers and grandmothers who fought for equality—with the ghost of Susan B. Anthony lingering Mufasa-like over America’s cubicles. Yet, like other corporate genre stories, girl-boss feminism is a celebration of bureaucratic life, including its hierarchy. Isn’t that weird?
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