I have, for better or worse, aligned myself with what is sometimes referred to as “slipstream” fiction. I don’t particularly like the term—it sounds kind of New Age-y, and brings to mind airbrushed silver dolphins leaping over a cloyingly pink moon—but it gets the point across: fiction which does not adhere to one specific set of rules. Genre-bending, in other words.
There are risks to this. By using genre elements in the first place, I forfeit my credibility to a vast swath of readers who see realist fiction as the only legitimate literary mode. Further, by blending different genres together—sci-fi and noir, say, or sci-fi and western, or sci-fi and, well, anything really—I lose a potential readership of genre purists, folks who would have no beef with a crime story, say, but who nonetheless don’t want their whodunit marred by sentient, saw-toothed microbium. Or whatever.
So it’s risky. But seriously, it’s not, like, really risky. It’s not like someone’s going to throw me into an isolation chamber until I renounce such interbreeding of conventions and agree to let the cowboy shoot his villain and saunter off into the sunset. That’s because, fortunately for me, the genres I’m interested in mixing don’t happen to be horror and porn. And also because I don’t make films.
Janet Romano and Rob Zicari, the folks behind a porn production company called Extreme Associates, are not so fortunate. And as a result, after having created a few films that blend these two distinct and perfectly legal genres, they are currently each serving a 46-month prison sentence.
This article at Reason.com talks about their plight, and though the author seems more interested in the comparisons to the Polanski debacle and talking about censorship generally, it was the following passage that really stood out to me:
Unfortunately, Romano and Zicari had the audacity to mix genres of entertainment that, while permissible on their own, are apparently not allowed to be combined. And thus they managed to achieve what not even John Waters ever accomplished: They were sent to prison for having bad taste.
Whether or not you approve of porn generally, or even think that within its otherwise legal practice there should be limits set by some standard of decency, surely you might understand my fascination with the fact in this case the crime, the real forbidden fruit, was a matter of mixing genre, of blending fictional modes that people expect—and, I suppose, prefer—to remain separate.
Because in writing, explicit sex coupled with gratuitous violence would not expose the author to any potential criminal accusations. At least not the U.S., or central Europe. In fact, if authors like Jonathan Littell are any indication, it might even win you accolades.
While I’m happy, in a way, that despite how many genres I mix together, the worst that can happen is I’ll just be writing for an audience of me (well, I suppose I could write something even I’d hate to read…), I can’t help but wish, sometimes, that there was more at stake. I certainly don’t envy Rushdie for having to hide out after publishing Satanic Verses, or Pamuk having to leave Turkey for talking about the massacre of Armenians. But, well… I kind of do, as sick as that sounds.
Do you ever wish you could write something that could really cause disruption? Something that could put you behind bars? Something, at any rate, that wouldn’t just be either ignored or consumed greedily by a readership totally numbed to any and every potentially disruptive thought or image you could hope to conjure? And, finally, does living in a society that in most cases ignores or, worse, co-opts (instead of violently suppressing) your every deviant, mutinous word undermine the potential power and authority of art?