Genre: Control or Chaos

July 17, 2020

This episode of Westworld had me at its title, “Genre.” I have been thinking about genre as part of my academic work since my dissertation, which became my first book, on contemporary (post-1980) neodomestic fiction, and most recently in my work on the contemporary (post-1970) American adrenaline narrative. So, as I sought a moment of escape from home and work via immersion in the alternate reality of a popular television series, my work and entertainment worlds—as so often happens in the humanities—collided.

While the shift from thinking about the American home to extreme sports to a futuristic world may initially strike one as nonsequiturs, our current social distancing reality highlights the distinct and blurred lines between such genres. Our lives are shaped by shifting and competing narratives about home, risk, and our control or lack of control of the future. We engage narrative—via family stories, the news, fiction—to make sense of the chaos. Yet, as the episode from Westworld demonstrates, knowledge may also produce panic, if not pandemonium. Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival claims, “We think we believe what we know, but we only truly believe what we feel” (64). This is the power and danger of narrative.