Is national genre culture declining?

Posted: October 8, 2014 in reading
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Interzone magazine: the epitome of British genre culture

I read a column in issue 253 of Interzone that suggested we might be seeing a decline in distinctive national genre cultures. That with the international culture that comes in the age of the internet and global mass cultural industries, a certain amount of homogenisation is taking place. British science fiction and fantasy becomes more like American science fiction and fantasy becomes more like Japanese science fiction and fantasy becomes…

You get the idea.

I’m sure there’s an element of truth to this. Doctor Who has gone from something loved by Brits and the more diligent international nerds to a global phenomenon. New shows like The 100 or Gotham get around the world within weeks, and inspire works exploring similar ideas and themes. An e-book uploaded to Amazon becomes instantly and equally accessible around the globe, and the people we turn to in picking which book to read are bloggers and reviewers, often on completely different continents.

But I don’t think that means the total death of national differences. Conventions and other geographically located events mean that the hard core of geek culture in each region tends to talk with itself more than with the rest of the world, and then take those in-person conversations and relationships online. That builds communities of taste and interest that are geographically oriented, though no longer geographically bound. Brits are still more likely to be fans of Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf than anyone else is. I dare say there are books beloved by many Americans that the rest of us never see. But the geographical distinctions may start to become more about regions than nations, based on the area capable of supporting a local convention circuit.

Is geek culture becoming more international? Sure. Does that mean it’s becoming more homogenous? No, because that interconnected global mass allows the emergence of new popular genres and subgenres, things like steampunk and dieselpunk, as well as supporting independent creators. The scene is just as diverse, if not more so, but that diversity is more widely available.

We talk about declines as bad things. But for each thing that declines something new rises to take its place, and isn’t that a glorious thing?

  1. Heck, considering a lot of UF revolves around picking a city and building upon that city’s individual character in a fantastical way, I don’t see that much of a problem. The world is already more homogenized than we think; every nation has big cities and skyscrapers, even the small or impoverished or tumbledown.

    But every nation also has its own mythology, history, cultural DNA — and that won’t change just because other paradigms intrude. In fact, in looking for novelty, a lot of games and books and shows have been adapting and spreading little-known creatures and stories throughout the world, expanding our overall toolbox of fantastical things. The show ‘Grimm’ recently had an episode or two with an aswang (a Filipino ghoul), the market penetration of Japanese and Korean MMOs and shows and movies introduces western audiences to a whole host of critters, and heck — the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual was pulling from global sources decades ago.

    Mass culture and big publishers have tried to homogenize things even within a single culture. All that does is cause splinter groups to form — ones that are bored of the same old thing, ones inspired by strange new ideas. With a greater mixing of views, perhaps we’ll see even greater mutations.

    • Totally! And you’ve pinned down one of the things that makes me optimistic – that even attempts at homogenisation lead to people resisting and coming up with alternatives. We aren’t just passive receptors of global culture – we make and re-make it.

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