Why "Trash" Fiction is Good for Us
Fanfiction. Romance. YA. These genres are frequently accused of being low-quality. So why is it that so many of us love to read them?
People love bad books. You hear it from literary critics all the time. But if people love them, doesn't that sort of make them good?
Book Quality is Subjective
What makes a bad book? Unfortunately, there is no consensus on what is or isn't quality. In the 50s, people rallied against the content of comic books and worried that depicting independent women like Wonder Woman would turn young female readers into lesbians. In the 70s, Lord of the Flies was banned in schools for its violence, dark themes, and sexual content. In the nineties, parents feared that the Harry Potter series promoted witchcraft and Satanism. And most recently, people have been up in arms over Fifty Shades of Grey. So are all of these books "trash"? Are any of them?
Unfortunately, there's just no measure of what a good quality book is. Is it just good grammar and spelling? Does it have to win an award? Are we judging based on sales? No matter how you look at it, books are an art form and art is subjective.
It's also worth noting that genres that interest women, young people, and queer people are often first up for being called trash. These books are typically written and read by people in those communities, who are already a target of prejudice.
Literary Critics and Publishers Are Being Challenged
German publisher Michael Krüger told an interviewer, "I only get nervous when people are constantly reading second-class books, when reviewers praise third-rate books, and when booksellers put bad books in their windows. Since book publishing became a mass-market business, the quality level is constantly sinking."
It's true that book publishing is more accessible. Does that mean that the quality level is going down?
Here's the thing... mass-market book publishing and self-publishing means that more voices are being heard than ever before. Publishing is a traditionally very white and very male industry, and until recently writers had to go through those gatekeepers to ever reach an audience. Now, they can reach their audience directly.
With fewer traditional publishing restrictions, book buyers are seeing more diverse authors and main characters that they can relate to. It's no wonder that consumers like these books.
Books are also less censored than ever before. Subversive themes of sex, violence, morality, race, sexuality, and gender are now getting published. Of course, many of these themes are considered the markers of trash fiction.
So, if we're getting more diverse books and people are buying more books than ever before, what's the problem?
Trash Fiction is Empowering
People who are comfortable with the status quo do not like when the rules are changed. Fanfiction came along and empowered gay teens to see a place for themselves in a traditionally heterosexual world. Bodice-rippers remind women that they can enjoy sex on their own terms. YA fiction gives young people agency in a world where they often have very little.
Trash fiction scares people—because it's not sanitized. Because it's empowering minorities. Because it refuses to fit in the box that the world wants to put it in.
You may like some of it, you may hate some of it, and that's fine.
But there is no high art or low art. There's just art.