The Dreadnoughts and the Plunder of Genre

The West Coast band The Dreadnoughts presents itself as an alternative to the Celtic turn that modern punk has taken. Drawing inspiration from the nautical past, they still sound a bit like Flogging Molly, the Irish-American Celtic punk band that started the Celtic direction in punk.

Genres in general confuse me, though I have heard it said that as a concept they were a byproduct of the advent of the periodical press in the nineteenth-century. It didn’t make sense to carve things up in that way before, and it was financial suicide not to afterwords, when an increasingly broad segment of the population became literate and demanded texts that spoke directly to their myriad and divergent tastes. Edgar Allen Poe was aware of this trend, and commented on it in his attempts to found his own magazine.

Whenever the discreet concept of genre came from, probably first in literature and then spreading out to other forms of media throughout the nineteenth-century, it has become a sort of self-referencing tool for the formation and shaping of various social groups. The British investigative journalist and spiritualist W.T. Stead (1849-1912) tried to use the power of the periodical press to create a number of different communities surrounding social issues and the occult, to some notable effect.

Yet what is a genre, really? An aesthetic? A lifestyle? A philosophy? Merely a consumer demographic? It seems broader than say, an architectural style, but never broad enough to characterize all of the activities of of any given adherent to a genre. Some genres, say mystery, tend to be fairly contained to a kind of literature, or film, and yet others, like punk, goth, or steampunk, embrace how a person dresses, what they read, what kinds of atmospheres and architecture they prefer.

After all of these considerations I have to wonder how useful it really is as a way of categorizing peoples outlooks. Certainly, it is a product of marketing, but what a strange and varied product that it has been able to insinuate itself into the way we view the world. Historians and scholars have yet to fully appreciate how fundamental the shift away from say, creed or religion or class, to that of genre has been on the way the western world understands its own social groups. From one of faith or labour, to one of leisure, or consumption.

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