The Purpose of Genres

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Walter Jon Williams once said, “Genre labels are useful only insofar as they help you find an audience.” Everyone loves experiencing particular genres of music, literature, film and more. Genres describe as well as classify. It would be hard to imagine life without them, the works would just be works, and you wouldn’t know what to expect without experiencing it, as they are all grouped together into a random mess. Genres came into existence due to a clever evolutionary strategy, to help us to decide what to experience, and our need for a good sense of self.

Our brains are wired to experience the world as groups of similar things, rather than one by one. This is because we don’t require complete understandings of everything we meet, for example, a mechanic won’t need to know a different way of fixing every car. Since everyone is like this, we have separated literature, music, art and so on into genres.

With all the music, books, art, movies and more in the world, it would be very difficult to choose what to experience without genres, as you can tell a lot about a work by knowing its genre. Certain features are expected for works of a specific genre. For example, in a comedy, you would expect jokes, a funny storyline, and expect to laugh. So, if you experience a work you enjoy, you would look out for other works within the genre.

We can reinforce our sense of self by knowing specifically what we like or dislike, so we separate works into genres. So, instead of saying, “I enjoy reading books,” we reinforce our sense of self by saying, “I enjoy reading junior science-fiction books.” We would enjoy being part of a club, which loves a specific genre, more than we enjoy being part of a club which loves everything, as you have more in common with the club. Genres make us feel unique as well as part of a group.

Genres effectively organize and describe forms of art and culture. They exist for convenience as well as our own personal identity....
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