Decolonize Your Genre Fiction

I talk a lot about how one of the jobs of fiction is to challenge us– introduce us to new cultures, ask big philosophical questions, comment on social problems, explore our weird, messy inner lives, and otherwise help us lean and grow. But we also need fiction that comforts and affirms and celebrates our experiences, or simply fiction that is fun. Often, those two– fiction that is synchronous with our experiences and fiction that is fun– have a strong overlap, simply because it’s easier to be fully immersed in a familiar world.

At the same time, stories which center people from marginalized groups– particularly folks who fall outside of the ‘white’ cultural ‘mainstream’ — get framed as niche. I also regularly run into the perception that such stories should be restricted to literary fiction or Oscar-bait movies, rather than mixing freely with genre fiction.

Now it’s important to note that when I say ‘white’ here, I don’t necessarily mean ‘European’ or ‘European-American’. Instead, I’m referring to a constructed colonialist identity with vaguely Anglo-American cultural norms which is presented as a ‘neutral’ or ‘default’ culture.  One of the things I enjoy about the show Grimm is that it addresses this head-on by presenting it’s European-American characters as having distinct and plot-relevant ethnic identities rather than being presented simply as ‘normal’.  As an immediate corollary, the Grimm universe is opened up to a variety of  supernatural creatures that are more interesting and varied than a ghost-vampire-werewolf rehash.

It’s worth considering what tropes in your preferred genre are products of assumptions about ‘default’ culture, and which are actually integral to the genre. It’s very easy to get trapped in the idea that common tropes– the urban fantasy detective, the Medieval pan-European high fantasy setting, the ‘will they won’t they’ romance– are genre requirements rather than useful and popular plot devices that run on a series of underlying assumptions about the creator and the audience.  Separating the defining features of the genre from cultural assumptions and conventions allows you to take a fresh look at possible stories to be told within it.  Whether or not you decide to use the genre’s most popular tropes afterwards, you’ll have gained some new perspective and ideas.

 

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