Are some genres "for kids"?

Into the thread about Joss Whedon, @Manwich dropped an accusation that genre fiction is for children. This led to some discussion that was an irrelevant hijack in that thread, but I thought it was worth discussing, so I created this separate thread.

So: Is genre fiction (in whatever medium—movies, books, etc.) in general, or some specific genres, “for kids”?

It seems like the obvious answer should be “No, that’s just elitist snobbery.” And yet I can’t help thinking there’s more to it than that.

Take superhero movies: while I can enjoy them on some level, in recent years whenever I’ve seen one, my reaction has been “I would have really enjoyed this when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve outgrown the genre.” And yes, that includes Deadpool.

In the other thread, @Kimstu already mentioned Tolkien’s essay On Fairy Stories (see in particular the section “Children” that begins on p. 16).

You are never too old to enjoy a good story.

I’ve been subjected to programming that is actually geared towards kids, I did not like it at all.

At its extreme, of course. You’ll have a hard time convincing me that a baby board book with an intended adult audience isn’t defying genre conventions (although they exist).

But science fiction, fantasy, and superhero stories have become so mainstream in the US that they comprise a significant chunk of our storytelling–and probably the majority of our mythical storytelling (outside of explicitly religious circles). While they were once more geared toward children, my impression is that these three genres are much wider than that today.

The genre’s he’s talking about do mostly aim to for an audience that includes non-adults. That doesn’t mean the genre is for children because it’s also for adults. The statement ‘genre fiction is for adults’ would be equally true using that illogic.

Superhero movies may appeal to children, but they are targeted at adults who grew up reading comic books. Comic books as a genre have mostly grown up with their audience. I’m not sure what it is about superhero movies that has mainstream appeal. Perhaps they have captured the zeitgeist of our time, believing we are on the side of good and anyone not standing for us is standing against us. That is an adult folly. It’s an adult fantasy. The idea that we can appeal to our better natures in order to overcome the villains of our lives is an adult fantasy. I say fantasy not to diminish it in any way. I myself write genre fiction. You can do a lot with genre fiction beyond merely entertain, but entertainment in itself is a worthy cause.

I saw a lovely bit about this awhile back. It argued that the central fantasy of superheroes wasn’t that people had amazing power; it was that people with lots of power used it unselfishly. Superman is fun because of his ability to fly, but he’s a hero because he’s not just amassing great wealth and fucking over the hoi polloi. It’s a genre all about serving community and helping the weak and downtrodden.

Obviously that’s not true for all superhero stuff, but it was definitely a cool perspective.

“Superman never made any money
Savin’ the world from Solomon Grundy”

All cultures have had hero tales and legends that involve fantasy and supernatural elements, from Gilgamesh to The Iliad and The Odyssey to Beowulf to the tales of King Arthur. Fantasy and supernatural elements don’t mean a story is for children. Superhero movies are just modern hero tales, even if the heroes get their powers from science or alien birth rather than the gods.

My feelings exactly. Paraphrasing Chuck Jones, Superman is who we wish to be, while Batman is who we’re afraid we are.* I think the dislike of Superman is due to people who know they could never match up.

*He was referring to Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, respectively.

Well, actually Superman was often somewhat of a fratboy dick and displayed a worrisome unquestioning embrace of the established powers that be, but yeah, I agree with your main point.

I say no.

Even with @Left_Hand_of_Dorkness’s baby board books, there exist adult versions. So, even if we consider them a genre, they are not inherently for children.

Genres are essentially defined by a group of conventions. The only way I think you get a genre just for children is to define one of the conventions as “must be for children.” However, if something has all the characteristics of a genre save one, it’s still considered part of that genre.

So the answer to the OP appears to be no, both in practice and conceptually. It doesn’t appear that there is any genre that can only be for children.

Though, if someone can think of an exception, that would be interesting to see why my logic is flawed.

Since the source of the quote in the OP is currently suspended for trolling, we probably shouldn’t take anything said completely seriously.

Still, he peels scabs off old wounds. The elitest detestation and mockery of genre fiction goes way back. Nothing brought high dudgeon to the literary establishment in the 19th century faster than the hundreds of millions of dime novels sold, followed by the rise of the pulp magazines. Science fiction especially was despised as fodder for illiterates, made worse because it appears to be a prose version of lurid Sunday comic strips, which were aimed at both kids and adults but considered fit only for kids to grow out of. When Edmund Wilson published his essay, “Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?” in 1945, it went viral. A look at the first paragraph, though, provides insight.

For years I have been hearing about detective stories. Almost everybody I know seems to read them, and they have long conversations about them in which I am un­able to take part. I am always being reminded that the most serious public figures of our time, from Woodrow Wilson to W. B. Yeats, have been addicts of this form of fiction. Now, except for a few stories by Chesterton, for which I did not much care, I have not read any detective stories since one of the earliest, if not the earliest, of the imitators of Sherlock Holmes—a writer named Jacques Futrelle, now dead, who invented a character called the Thinking Machine and published his first volume of sto­ries about him in 1907. Enchanted though I had been with Sherlock Holmes, I got bored with the Thinking Machine and dropped him, beginning to feel, at the age of twelve, that I was outgrowing that form of literature.

To sum the actual article. Prominent adults love stuff that he’s never read. He reads a handful of books and doesn’t fall instantly in love. Therefore it’s a dead end.

Genre is mostly for entertainment. Literature is mostly for higher values. That’s mostly true, and says nothing. Is entertainment strictly for kids and childish adults? What are these higher values and who gets to say that they’re higher? In today’s literary world, genre tropes and techniques abound. In today’s genre world, nuanced examinations of morality, identity, and society can easily be found. The extremes at either end are identifiably different, yet the gooey center doesn’t provide simple markers. (That’s why literary novels have “A Novel” on the cover for the elites who don’t want any of that icky genre stuff on their bedside tables.)

Everything else is money. Genre outsells literature by orders of magnitude. Of course the literary establishment hates that. Steve Hely wrote a bitter satire on the issue, How I Became a Famous Novelist. I hate to recommend it fully, because the protagonist starts as an asshole and gets worse the more famous he becomes, but the parodies of bestseller fiction are worth turning pages for. Those aren’t for children, yet no self-respecting adult would want to claim them.

Bestsellers are a separate genre, a middle ground of hackery populated by only a handful of the super-successful, yet considered to be the norm. That’s why this silly argument keeps raising its head.

I’m currently re-reading a lot of Jules Verne. Even before the comic strips, before movies, Verne had a reputation in the US and Britain as being “for children”, and his stuff was dismissed as prepubescent twaddle. It’s probably not coincidental that translators of Verne felt fully justified in cutting out huge chunks of his work, hugely rewriting it, and mistranslating a lot of the rst. If you buy one of those cheap omnibus editions of the Works of Jules Verne from the bargain racks at the bookstore, or have an audioedition, you almost certainly have one of these. The Louis Mercier/Mercier Lewis edition that I’ve seen in several editions of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and is the basis for the audiobook version I have. It cuts out 1/3 of the book and severely mangles the translation in the rest. Editions of From the Earth to the Moon suffered the same fate. a complete translation of The Mysterious Island into English didn’t appear until 20 years ago. And so on.

as walter James Miller (who annotated both 20,000 Leagues sand From the Earth to the Moon) pointed out, Verne wasn’t seen as children’s literature in France or in other European countries, and it’s probably not coincidental that the translations there weren’t as awful. The man actually did provide characterization, social insight, and a lot of technical detail (as Miller demonstrates, some accusations of Verne’s technical illiteracy stem from making judgements from one of the butchered translations). Nowadays, Verne isn’t dismissed as “for kids” for the most part.

The issue of whether genre fiction, whether science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, western, romance, or whatever is meant for mature readers has been with us ever since. Certainly they’re high-impact, often with unambiguous heroes and villains, and clearly identified often simple issues. This makes them easily grasped by the young, and thus easily accessible. They ended up adapted to other media, and that probably helped relegate them to the “kid’s ghetto”, but that doesn’t mean they belong there. And, has been argued plenty of times, there’s a spectrum of quality (however defined) for any of these. There are complex, ambiguous, and mature books in every genre.

My link in that thread to the similarly themed essay collection The Language of the Night by Ursula LeGuin didn’t show any actual content of the book, so here’s a Google Books preview of one of the relevant essays in it, “Why Are Americans Afraid of Dragons?”

So, is the verdict that genre fiction is not for people who take themselves too seriously, then?

If being an adult means never enjoying yourself, then I’ll always be a kid.

Genre novels usually have something in the title and/or the cover art to indicate what genre they belong to. Literary novels sometimes genuinely need that “A Novel” to inform the prospective reader what kind of book they are.

A well-worn quote (especially the last lines but I think it all has merit) but one I still find comfort in:

Critics who treat ‘adult’ as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adult themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence. And in childhood and adolescence they are, in moderation, healthy symptoms. Young things ought to want to grow. But to carry on into middle life or even into early manhood this concern about being adult is a mark of really arrested development. When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

-C.S. Lewis

As long as the author is Latin American, and we agree to use a properly literary term (“magical realism”), works in the fantasy genre can be adult. However, if it’s an American or British or French author, and they actually acknowledge the genre they’re writing in, well, then, clearly it’s children’s entertainment.

I started to try to dig that quote up, then decided not to bother because someone else would soon enough.

That’s kind of why “The Boys” is so compelling; it’s basically a more real-world superhero world, where the superheroes are for-profit, and not always so noble as in the comic books.

As to the OP’s contention, I think there’s a certain segment of the population that views anything with a fantastic aspect as “make believe” and “childish fantasies”, and apparently feels like anything but history or the here-and-now is not worthy of adult contemplation. It’s the same mentality IMO, that thinks that adults don’t play video games, for much the same reason.

I don’t think it’s elitist, but rather a very narrow conception of what being an adult is, and how adults should behave. I mean, I’ll admit that I find a lot of modern fandom (cosplay, collecting toys, etc…) as being more than a bit strange, but they can do them if they like. Not my place to pass judgment on them as being childish.