If you asked me to name my favorite genre of media, I'd say sci-fi, but that's not the real answer, just like pop is not really my favorite genre of music. Just like JRPGs aren't actually my favorite flavor of video game. Just like my fave art medium isn't printmaking. Though I name those as winners, everything I like is intangible.
In truth, there's a genre with no name, and not only do I chase it like running frenetic into an endless burning sunset, but my art seeks it doggedly as well. But how can you search for and create something without knowing what it is, let alone being able to define it? It's a very hard task indeed, but I think we've cracked the case.
This morning, my husband and I sat conversing about everything and not being normal, which is usual in our household. He played his guitar while I waxed sentimental about Control—a paranormal action game inspired by the SCP Foundation—and something happened. "I don't even like this conspiratorial weewoo crap, don't give a shit about lore, and couldn't care less about game mechanics. Why do I love this game?"
We both didn't have an answer, but he felt it too. There was something special about Control, but it wasn't the art-factor. Plenty of art doesn't hit with either of us, and we had no idea why. Until we started digging. Together, we pulled at a chunk of media that we both recognize as belonging to the same family, but couldn't place why. Not even a little bit.
House of Hollow by Krystal Sutherland (a fantasy YA novel) could not be more different than Meet Us by the Roaring Sea by Akil Kumarasamy (a 2nd person POV slipstream novel), yet they're sisters. Futureman (a ridiculous comedy) doesn't live next to Mr. Robot (experimental anarchist tv show), and yet it does. Caroline Polachek (art-hause meta-pop) is nothing like Sisters of Mercy (80s goth badassery), but they attend brunch together. Control and The Witcher 3? Besties for no reason. It doesn't make sense!
At first, my husband raised passion, but we both knew that wasn't it. Everything has passion, or else the people making it wouldn't have bothered. Was it Art then? No, because there's many a cultural object others would consider Art that don't hit. Neon Demon is one of them, while Only God Forgives and Drive both knock this ephemeral something out of the park. Was it a flavor? A texture? Culture? An intention? A vision? Not any of those, but somehow all of those. How frustrating.
Then my husband landed on an unassuming little word: Character. Something in my chest fluttered. Already knowing the word (obviously), I took to Google for a definition anyways. Finally, all became clear.
1. the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
There it was. Black and white, clear as crystal, my intangible North Star and every type of media I search for. It was the reason I could love so many different types of art, but my standards were impossible to clear, let alone explain. It was why book recommendations in the actual genre I write rarely hit. It was why it takes me 40+ minutes to find something to watch! Every single time!
It was why nearly all my musical efforts were crap, and when they weren't, I had no idea why. It was why I scribbled like a madman, and wrote like dying. It was why becoming a half approachable nothing for the past 2.5 years in the hopes of being accepted by publishing psychically hurt. I was flattening a part of myself. A part of myself that matters more than anything.
It was Character that I loved, chased, felt and ripped my metaphorical guts out for. Mental, moral qualities distinctive to an individual. But it's not just mental or moral. Character is when the form and function specific to a person, event, space, time, or piece of media cannot be anything other than itself.
Character is even why there are plenty of villains—even monsters—that possess an attractive, specific Something that creates fandoms. And it's not style, writing, or plot, either. It's all of that, but something more.
It's Character: the sum of all parts hitting in unison to stamp into culture a thing that is, always was, and will always be itself no matter where it is or how it evolves. Character is an organic, immovable, human exactness.
Character is why some musicians exude ear-throttling hit after hit for decades, while some fade when their star grows too bright. When they're divorced from culture and lose their character (vision, authenticity) to fame, the genre that made them special...dissolves.
Character is why we're so attracted to decades like the 80s. It was itself regardless of where it was, all over the world, lightning through a synthesizer fueled by queer culture, the zeitgeist of novel tech leaps, and a global soundscape. Anything that feels 80s, is.
Character is why AI Art repulses actual artists and draws in the pretenders of culture. Character is the feeling at a concert, standing next to people unlike yourself, who for a single moment share a unified feeling of being known. You brushed against a core trait of peers through the proxy of music. Without speaking. Character.
Let it be known that I'm aware that genre is defined as a category of media composition based on style, form and subject matter. Technically, Character wouldn't be a genre, right? Unless Character was the nucleus that all great media and art circles, regardless of style. Unless Character was a core value.
Then Character would be the periodic Element of human creativity. And if something that crucial doesn't deserve credit for being the forever-genre, then I don't know what does. Science fiction, fantasy, noir, romance. Those are trade-dress. Artifice. They're style and style is nothing without Character.
Now you know. This is your call to break off and find art, media, games, music, and television shows with Character. Make your own, if you have that drive, and keep chasing the immovable element wherever you go. It's the only thing that really matters, anyways.