The Cool Factor
Everyone wants to be cool.
You can deny it, but I won’t believe you.
What I would believe is that your idea of cool and my idea of cool quite possibly differ in some, or many, ways. Why? That oh-so-aggravating little word, stereotypes. A word that sums up specifically what kind of cool we want to be: jock, nerd, preppie, goth, loner… You get the drift.
Why am I thinking about this? Am I experiencing terrible flashbacks of my high schools days? No. I loved my experience.
Rather, what occurred to me this morning as I was working my way through a growing list of social media accounts, is that these stereotypes exist for books, too. Genres are, in my opinion, stereotypes.
I decided to spend a little time researching this idea and began by looking into the concept of the stereotype. Some of the articles and blog posts I’ve found are a little shocking. Brace yourself.
Source: The New York TimesThe Times ran an article Monday suggesting that what America will need in the future are more “cool nerds.” A playful tweak of the nerd stereotype, to be sure, in an effort to alter it. The people described in the piece were ones with hybrid careers, combining computing with other fields from medicine to Hollywood.
Source: Psychology TodaySociologists and social psychologists, convinced (and politically predisposed to believe) that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “beauty is only skin-deep,” dismiss this widespread perception as “bias,” stereotype,” or “halo effect,” with the implicit assumption that the perception is not accurate and has no factual basis. It is a stereotype that beautiful people are more intelligent. But, as I explain in an earlier post, virtually all stereotypes are empirically true; if they were not true, they would not be stereotypes in the first place. And it turns out that this one is no exception. People believe beautiful people are more intelligent, because they in fact are.
Source: Science BlogsWhen Jim and Nora talk about the social groups in their school, they matter-of-factly categorize almost every fellow student into stereotyped pigeonholes. There are the nerds, the rockers, the cools, the goths, and of course, the jocks.The assumption, naturally, is that none of these groups intersect. Jocks are dumb, nerds are smart, and cools could be smart if they cared about grades. But what of this "dumb jock" stereotype? Does it actually pan out in real life?
A stereotype is a popular belief about specific types of individuals. The concepts of "stereotype" and "prejudice" are often confused with many other different meanings. Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups based on some prior assumptions.
Stereotypes can hurt, especially when we find ourselves on the sticky end of the label. But navigating social waters is a part of life, a necessary part, like breathing, and will present as many challenges as every other aspect of the human experience.
And just as many rewards.
On those occasions when I find I am being labeled, I pause and take a careful look at those doing the labeling. (I am working hard to keep the word “fools” from ending up in this paragraph. How am I doing?)
The irony is that labelers and finger-pointers are not identifying me, they are identifying themselves. This is far more useful. I already know who I am, even if they don’t.
Indeed, I feel a twinge of sadness for them, since I know they’ve just put negatives out in the universe, and those negative are going to find a way back to them, to their unsuspecting worlds.
Mine surely did.
At some point or other in our lives, we all suffer under the weight of our past mistakes. If we’re blessed, the journey is swift and, throughout it, we are buoyed by those who love us unconditionally.
Okay, back to how stereotypes and genres are synonyms…
An interesting theme I am seeing in the author interview series on my blog is that many self-published and indie published writers are finding it difficult to place themselves in one genre.
Author Interview: Michael R. Hicks“…I started out in what could best be described as science fiction with a heavy dose of high fantasy and a bit of romance mixed in, or maybe it's futuristic romance with sci-fi/fantasy elements. That's the kicker: it's a bit hard to stick in a particular category.”
Author Interview: Heidi Hall"Overall, I would classify my genre as romance. But I like to bend the rules and mix it with humor, suspense, thriller, mystery, etc."
Author Interview: Blake Northcott"My book ‘Vs. Reality’ is a comic book-inspired action-type story, so I guess you’d call it sci-fi/fantasy. I don’t really know how to classify it sometimes!"
Author Interview: Carlyle Lasbuschagne"I have a mix of genres I touch on in this series. For the most part it is fiction. I have combined elements of sci-fi, YA paranormal romance, fantasy (magic) and dystophian."
Author Interview: Collette Scott"I write a mixture of women’s fiction/romance."
Author Interview: Stacy Eaton"My current genre sits right on the line of Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy."
Author Interview: Jerri Hines"Whispers of a Legend saga is an epic fantasy series under the new genre of New Adult."
Author Interview: LJ DeLeon'I combine three genres—action adventure, paranormal and urban fantasy romance. Given the blending of genres these days, I’m not sure what is paranormal versus urban fantasy anymore."
Spice Girl (blog post)"Developing an interesting personality, whether in a human or in a book, is a bit like planting a garden or cooking with spice. Hints of "this" and splashes of "that" enhance the core qualities and frame the experience, heightening the enjoyment as one travels across the pages in pursuit of a satisfying end."
Here, in the land of the publishing entrepreneurs, writers are collectively breaking down stereotypes, and collectively reassigning what—and who—is cool.
Breaking down old stereotypes, old genres, requires guts. Rebuilding them requires leadership. Fortunately, we have many leaders here in this emerging market; inclusive leaders who act on ideas and share resources with an understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats.
Here, it takes a lot more work to be cool than it does in a place where meanness sits at the pinnacle of social desirability; here, cool is defined as courteous, honest, supportive, generous, and responsive; here, cool is collaborative, reasonable, and unifying.
Do I want to be cool? You bet.
It’s no wonder that, each day, so many new people are “moving” into this community of writers.
As history would have it, naturally, this new community is by no means the first to tear down and rebuild those stereotypes known as genres.
Whitman wrote a novel and published fiction in some of the country's best journals; his stories appeared next to those of Hawthorne and Poe. Most are surprised to realize how he experimented throughout his life with mixing poetry and prose, sometimes on the same page, testing the boundaries of genre and performing typographical experiments that forced readers to engage the printed page in ways they were not accustomed to, precisely by slipping across the bounds of genre.Source: The Walt Whitman Archive
For the sake of evolution, let us not be the last, either.