Rant of the Week: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Folk, Country

Something has been bugging me for a long time. The marketers of popular media keep conflating unrelated things, thus corrupting them both. The two examples that I object to this week are the Science Fiction and Fantasy conflation and the Country/Folk conflation.

I read a lot. I’m on several recommended reading lists in my county library. They send me an email every week for each of those lists. I like good science fiction but there is no science fiction list, only a Science Fiction & Fantasy list. Every week it comes and every week it is 80-100% fantasy. The one I just reviewed was all about zombies, vampires, and dragons and time travel to an era of wizards and empires – every single book. To each his own they say, but to me that’s 13-year-old girl stuff. In any event, it has nothing to do with science. Science Fiction, real Sci-fi, does. It’s fiction, sure, but must be plausible scientifically, if not in the present, in the foreseeable future. There are different varieties of sci-fi, such as space operas and hard science, with differing degrees of plausibility, but that really has nothing to do with the fantasy stuff like what’s on the list. I wish they’d separate them so I can sign up for only what I want.

Then there’s the problem with folk music. Marketers now consider folk music a subgenre of country music. I like folk; I don’t like country music. They used to combine country and western. I like some western, but didn’t like country. I thought that was a stupid combination. Now it’s folk. This one makes a little more sense. Much folk music comes from Appalachia and what is now the deep south. Many folk singers, both black and white, have southern accents, people like Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt. That’s fine. But sometime in the 1970s or possibly a bit later, the publishers started adding southern accents and other country touches to the recordings of singers who don’t naturally have them, like Joan Baez. Maybe she hasn’t actually changed her accent, but just listen to the backup singers on The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Of course the theme of that one is southern, so it makes some sense, but her subsequent recordings sound much like the worst parts of pop country music, with electric guitars, pedal steel guitars, drums. Real folk music uses acoustic instruments. Pandora does have a separate channel for Folk that’s not Country, which is good, but in many places, like the library CD section, Folk and Country are in the same section. They aren’t the same.

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