It is a source of constant frustration for me that the music world has such a dysfunctional relationship to genre. Genre is easily the most superficial and least-useful frame to use when thinking about music, but genre divisions are so entrenched and taken so much for granted that lots of otherwise intelligent and sophisticated listeners have internalized a whole constellation of completely stupid beliefs about music and genre. Especially about genres that are outside of their usual comfort zone.
I often find myself looking at the film world with envy, where people who get all hung up about genre are rightly regarded as morons. (Or, to be charitable: people with a very limited and superficial appreciation of film.) Which makes the American Film Institute's recent list of Top 10 movies classified by genre incredibly annoying and regressive.
Ironically, the Fresh Air broadcast "saluting" the new AFI list actually features a full-throated assault on the practice of trying to wedge films into little genre-boxes. The segment (click the "listen now" link) opens with a 1997 conversation between Roger Ebert and Martin Scorsese, in which Roger delivers a righteous smackdown to genre essentialists:
EBERT: Frequently people will -- they know I'm a movie critic -- they will discuss the subject matter as if that is what the film is about. "Oh, it's a film about boxing..."
SCORSESE: Yeah, I know.
EBERT: Or, "Oh, it's a film about gangsters" or...
SCORSESE: Right, right.
EBERT: A film is not about its subject. It's about how it's about its subject.
SCORSESE: Right, in fact when...
EBERT: The subject is neutral. People don't understand that. Whenever anybody makes a statement, "I don't like to go to movies about..." and then fill in the blank... my response is, "Anyone who makes that statement is an idiot."
SCORSESE: No, it's true. It's true, it's true.
EBERT: "I don't want to go to bad films about cowboys..."
EBERT: "I don't want to go to bad films about boxers..."
SCORSESE: I know.
EBERT: "I would like to see a good film about a boxer" might be a more intelligent statement.
(What follows is an unbelievably great and fascinating technical discussion of how Marty filmed those spectacular inside-the-ring shots in Raging Bull, so make sure you go listen to the whole thing.)
Of course, in the music world, you not only have people -- powerful, influential, respected individuals -- who not only never listen outside of their own preferred genre or genres... on top of that, they sincerely believe that anything outside of that isn't even art. And yeah, okay, that view is now slowly fading -- but it might fade a little faster if we had more strong oppositional voices ruthlessly mocking the genre-fundamentalists for the idiots they are.