Genre Fiction – Popular Through Time

Avengers, heroes


Thoughty Thursday sailed right by me this week! Normally, Thursday is the day each week when y’all get to be privy to whatever’s kicking around inside my brain.

So, what’s been on my mind this week?

Heroes. We’re in an era where people are hungry for heroes.

If you look at the blockbuster hits over the last year or so, it’s been the movies and books that take us outside ourselves and let us admire heroic characters.

Avengers, Hunger Games and Men In Black 3 are in the Top 5. If you look at the Top 100 movies of 2012 in terms of box office receipts, you’ll see the trend everywhere. People want to lose themselves in the stories of larger-than-life heroes.

Besides the movies above, our current popular culture is genre fiction.

People are reading genre fiction because it’s light. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t big themes in there, but people want to be taken outside themselves and their own life.

50 Shades of Grey isn’t the best written book in the world, but (in my opinion) it’s had major popularity because it depicts a different reality than people are living, (a reality which isn’t all that hot in many cases).

Kristen Lamb did a great post awhile back about Why Traditional Marketing Doesn’t Sell Books where she talks about “the fat part of the bell curve” and how THOSE are the readers we want to interest.” That part of the bell curve are made up of the people who don’t normally do much reading, but who jump on board when a book gets “buzz.”

Case in point: I work with an office full of accountants who, by their own admission don’t read much. My mouth dropped open when one of them said she was lucky to read 4 books a year! (Holy Cowbell, I do that in a week!)

Every single one of them is reading, or has read, 50 Shades of Grey. And they’re all hiding it from each other! It’s cracking me up. They tell me because they know I’m a writer, but no one is copping to it in the lunch room.

The Gift of Genre Fiction and Indie Authors

People are losing jobs and homes and God knows what else in the current economic cliemate. Being able to get a ton of fiction in the $3.99 or less category is not only feeding existing book addictions, it’s creating new ones where they didn’t previously exist.

(Thank you, Authors, who are providing readers with a lot of options!!)

Getting Back to the Movies… Another time America experienced such a huge surge in genre music and books was in the 1930’s, specificially the movies and music of the Great Depression.

Movies of the Depression era were cheesy and uplifting – and definitely NOT depressing. People had enough of that in their real lives. Beset by deep anxieties and insecurities, many Americans in the 1930s hungered for heroes.

Popular culture offered many heroes in fiction:

  • Superheroes like Superman and Batman, appeared in the new comic books of the ’30s
  • Tough, hard-boiled detectives in the fiction of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler
  • Radio heroes like “The Lone Ranger” or “The Shadow.”

On the other hand, here’s some of the most popular movies in the 1930’s:

Dracula (1931) – Based on the novel by Bram Stoker, this film helped launch American audiences’ love of horror films. Dracula proved to be a huge box office sensation. Within 48 hours of its opening at New York’s Roxy Theatre, it had sold 50,000 tickets. Later in 1931, Universal would release Frankenstein to even greater acclaim.

Note: In the 1930’s, Universal produced The Mummy (1932), The Invisible Man (1933), and Bride of Frankenstein (1935).

Frankenstein (1931) – The movie starts with this “friendly warning”:

We are about to unfold the story of Frankenstein, a man of science who sought to create a man after his own image without reckoning upon God. It is one of the strangest tales ever told. It deals with the two great mysteries of creation – life and death. I think it will thrill you. It may shock you. It might even – horrify you. So if any of you feel that you do not care to subject your nerves to such a strain, now’s your chance to – uh, well, we warned you.

King Kong (1933) -Originally released during the Great Depression, King Kong was re-released in 1938, 1942, 1946, 1952 and 1956 to great box office success. Due to stricter “decency rules” in Hollywood, each premier was censored further, with several scenes being trimmed or cut altogether.

These scenes were:

  • A Brontosaurus eating crewmen in the water, chasing one up a tree and eating him.
  • Kong undressing Ann Darrow and sniffing his fingers.
  • Kong biting and stepping on natives when he attacks the village
  • Kong biting a reporter in New York.
  • Kong mistaking a sleeping woman for Ann and dropping her to her death after realizing his mistake.

Pennies from Heaven (1936) – A musical comedy film starring Bing Crosby and featuring Louis Armstrong in a supporting role. Though it wasn’t the first time a black performer was given billing in a major Hollywood release, special billing was given to Armstrong at the  insistence of Bing Crosby, who also insisted on Armstrong being hired for the movie.

Snow White And The Seven Drawfs (1937) – Considered by many as “a big mistake for Walt Disney to make,” this movie became very popular, not only for young children, but also, surprisingly, for adults. It was America’s first feature animated film.

Gone With The Wind (1939) – From the book written by Margaret Mitchell during the Great Depression. The storyline is about a southern belle who must learn to toughen up and live life to its fullest during the Civil War.

The Wizard Of Oz (1939) – This movie was an immense success during the Great Depression, though it lost the Best Picture Oscar to Gone With The Wind. It was originally made to capitalize on the success achieved by Disney with Snow White.

Do you agree with me, or am I completely off base? What do you look for in a movie? Have you watched all the “Classics” or do you stay contemporary? Enquiring minds LOVE to know these things here at More Cowbell!!


About Jenny Hansen

Avid seeker of "more"...More words, more creativity, More Cowbell! An extrovert who's terribly fond of silliness. Founding blogger at Writers In The Storm ( Write on!
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25 Responses to Genre Fiction – Popular Through Time

  1. Hey Jenny, I don’t know why I didn’t realize that Gone With The Wind and Wizard Oz were made in the 30’s. Talk about movies that stand the test of time. I have to watch Gone with the Wind every time it comes on. Even if it is 12:00 am and it just started, which TBS and TCM are known to do. (Kiss my night goodbye) I love old movies. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, is my all time favorite.
    Funny story about 50 Shades. I let the media hype influence me. I am not proud of it. I looked it up on Amazon and downloaded the sample. When I opened my Kindle later that day, I started reading and was really getting into it. This is so well written and so clever and what an amazing world he created. Now, I can see your confusion. I had downloaded Shade of Grey by Jasper Fforde. Brilliant book, btw. I went back and downloaded 50 Shades. No matter how interesting or controversial a book is (I do like controversy), if it’s not well written, I won’t go past the first few pages. I just couldn’t do it. Great stuff as usually Jenny. Happy you are feeling better.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      That is hilarious, Sydney (about the Jaster Fforde book). One of the gals at work gave it to me and I looked at the first page (where the heroine is looking at herself in the mirror) and thought, “Oh, kill me.”

      But, most of the people who are “secretly” reading it in my office DON’T CARE. They like the story. They feel transported. And they’re recommending it to all their friends. The series is in Target for crying out loud!

      p.s. I love Cat on a Hot Tin Roof too!


  2. Great parallel to our time and the 30s. I agree with you that difficult times make people want lighter entertainment, or at least a different setting as a separating layer from difficult issues. Genre fiction has always been my first choice to read. I read for escapism but I also love books with deep themes that move me. Gone With The Wind is one of the classics I can re-read time and a time again.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I love genre fiction. And, I remember reading Gone With The Wind in college, just because. I got to the end, flipped the book over and started again. It’s amazing.


  3. I look for similar attributes in films and books—compelling character-driven plot, great pacing and at least one psychopath. lol Kidding on that last bit, sort of. 😉 This post hit my heart square in the middle. Thrillers have been around for just about….forever, though it got its name super recently. There’s lots of crossover nowadays in genre, and that’s perfectly cool by me. Also cool that agents, publishers and book stores can better sell stories, thanks to genre classifications. (And hey, aren’t ALL books literary? Just sayin.’) Back to movies. I LOVE ‘EM. Great post!


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      Yeah, I don’t get that whole “literary” genre. Try to pick one, I say. But hey, what do I know? I’m just a happy little memoir/women’s fiction writer…


  4. ellenmgregg says:

    “Pennies From Heaven” is one of Bing Crosby’s films I haven’t yet seen. I’m going to look for it.

    I have noticed a change in my viewing and reading, both of which lean heavily toward escapism now. Love the parallels, even though the reasons behind them are sad and frustrating.


  5. John Holton says:

    I don’t see that many current movies. My favorites are the ones on Turner Classic Movies, especially the ones from the Fifties and Sixties and the ones that were likely “B” movies back in the day. We wait for the movies we can’t live without seeing until the come to On Demand, and even then not very often. When we do, it’s movies based on books we’ve read. Most recently, it was “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”; we had seen the Swedish version and wondered how it compared (quite well, actually). I’m waiting for “The Hunger Games” to see if it is as good as the book was.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I’m dying to see the Hunger Games movie. I just loved the books so I can’t wait to see what they did with them. Plus, I read all the reviews and they were primarily quite positive.


  6. I am totally one of those gals who loves a book or a movie that I’m left filled with hope and inspiration. HEA endings where the hero defeats evil and wins love and all that jazz…oh yes…total sucker but I’m ok with that.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      LOVE the happy ending! I’ve had friends bitch that Dean Koontz writes horror but finds a way to do a happy ending. I say BRAVO to Dean. Happy endings are what it’s about. 🙂


  7. What a fascinating post Jenny! The movies and books I enjoy the most are definitely for the escapism but I’d never looked at it in the broader sense. I think you’re right on the money, difficult times warrant lighter entertainment, or at least a filter.


  8. Like Natalie, I totally need my Happily Ever After and I think when times are turbulent, so do most other people. That feeling of Hope at the end, that even though things might’ve sucked for a bit, it’s going to be okay. Always leaves me feeling good about myself and the world around me.


  9. tomwisk says:

    If I see The Wizard of Oz one more time my brain will explode. Granted it’s a classic but a Thanksgiving marathon?


  10. Emma says:

    Everyone’s reading Fifty Shades these days. A couple of weeks ago one of friends whispered shyly to me that she’s reading it and I had to laugh. Whatever about the quality of writing, at least that book is allowing women the freedom to talk about enjoying erotica.


    • Jenny Hansen says:

      I agree, Emma. I never care what people read as long as they KEEP READING. I think a lot of writers have disparaged the book because it’s got so many rookie mistakes, but the readers really don’t care if it’s a great story. To me, it’s all about the story – The end. 🙂


  11. I definitely look for the adventure movies and love the heroes. I think I tend to write that type of story as well.


  12. Julie Glover says:

    If I remember correctly, 1939 was a banner year for movies. (That’s odd, given the state of the Europe at the time.) I believe that Mr. Smith Goes to Washington with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role was made that year as well. Talk about a hero we can relate to!

    I ask one of two things from a main character in a book or movie: (1) I can relate to you and/or (2) I can root for you. (Both is even better.) Heroes certainly fit #2. But I prefer them not to be too heroic because (#1) I want to be able to relate.

    From a book or movie, I want it to make me think, entertain me, or help me escape (by presenting a different world). My favorite movies fit this bill: Ordinary People (think), When Harry Met Sally (entertain), Raiders of the Lost Ark (escape), etc.

    Interesting info, Jenny. Your post made me think and entertained me. And More Cowbell is always a great place to escape!


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