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Out of the Ghetto

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"[The critics] will not have a pigeon-hole neatly labeled for it."
Father Robert Murray, one of J. R. R. Tolkien's mentors, on The Lord of the Rings

Ah, the ghettos of fiction. We're all familiar with them: cartoons are for kids (and comic books are for slightly older kids), SpecFic is for nerds, romance novels (and soaps) are for single women and housewives, rap is for gangstas, classical music is for snobs, new media, especially video games, are for unproductive deviants, printed works are for people with one foot in the grave, etc.


In short, the medium, and to a lesser extent the genre, define the target audience. Entire classes of works are "pigeonholed" into "target" demographics, and woe unto any fan who happens to fall one day, dollar, chromosome, or lateral inch outside of these appointed bounds. Some works surrender and even embrace these holes, falling into unoriginality and Flanderization, so long as the money keeps rolling in. Then, you get something which blows away the conventional notions. A work that dares to challenge a genre's or medium's natural order, or even, dare we say it, threatens to expand its demographic! (Even if it's to retain viewers it already had.) If it changes perceptions of the genre as a whole, then it could even be a Genre Turning Point.

Often a work that breaks out of the ghetto (and its fans) will attract its own hatedom due to outsiders rigidly holding the ghetto lines while upholding their personal "definitions" of "True Art"; along with the genre's/medium's "normal" target audience saying that the work makes their (ghetto-compliant/sustaining) favorites "look bad" and/or employing No True Scotsman. In the case of a deviation to a long-running franchise, They Changed It, Now It Sucks! often comes into play.


Remember ghettos are created by society, convention, advertisers and critics and have no bearing on how artists actually work. Artists actually draw influences from a wide variety of references and don't see their work in the way categories are created. Thanks to changes in society, evolving trends and growing sophistication (and vice versa) of audiences, this is very much a Cyclical Trope and subject to Popularity Polynomial. Contrast It's Popular, Now It Sucks!, wherein a work/creator who previously challenged established conventions accepts them to grow its fanbase or pocketbook.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • The 1988 film adaptation of AKIRA is arguably THE production that freed anime from the ghetto, if only for its Gorn and Nightmare Fuel. Its story is also held in high regard, with many ranking it as one of the greatest science fiction/animated films of all time, showing that anime isn't just cheesy kiddie fare.
  • Animation is just for kids, right? Let me introduce you to Neon Genesis Evangelion. Shocked as you might be, we haven't even reached seinen territory yet.
  • For the first several years of the 21st century, anime was stereotyped as cutesy-looking, formulaically-animated material with outrageous premises; meanwhile, anime fans became stereotyped as Occidental Otaku who vehemently believe in Japanese superiority, drawing massive amounts of mockery on the internet. Then came 2014. JoJo's Bizarre Adventure drew swarths of newfound positive attention in America for its over-the-top presentation and memetic nature, while One-Punch Man became an overnight sensation when it premiered in 2015, with its unique visual style and engagingly comical storytelling. At this point, the hatedom towards anime has become far less prominent, to the point of the standard cries of "weeaboo" all but vanishing, and the uniqueness of Jojo and OPM have led many to declare them as the saviors of anime.
  • Animation can't be art, huh? Watch a couple of Mamoru Oshii, Hayao Miyazaki, or Satoshi Kon films and try saying that with a straight face.

     Asian Animation 
  • For a long time it was assumed that the only east Asian country that could make cartoons of high quality was Japan, with all others being in need of a foreign script to make something good. Then the South Korean adult horror/drama animated film The King Of Pigs came along in 2011 and a lot of animation enthusiasts declared that this was one of the best animated films that ever came out.

    Card Games 
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! Before that, trading card game players were either fantasy geeks or 10-year-olds. Yu-Gi-Oh fans attracted their own hatedom for being stereotyped as 10-year-olds, but it's still quite disturbing to see a trading card game where your soul is at stake.

    Comic Books 
  • Newspaper strips and funnies were always widely respected but it's generally agreed that George Herriman's Krazy Kat which was both a popular success and a favorite of the likes of Pablo Picasso and defended by art critics and William Randolph Hearst himself, raised the profile of comics to fine art.
  • Carl Barks is an example of an artist working on licensed Disney characters, jobs-for-hire and yet creating amazing stories that were popular and influential on the likes of Osamu Tezuka, Robert Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Steven Spielberg works which are written for children and yet entertain adults of all generations. The Disney Ducks Comic Universe revolved around Scrooge McDuck (created by Barks, not by Walt Disney) has had the kind of crossover success and influence that is really rare for comics artists, or people working in what would later be called Expanded Universe.
  • Superhero comics were popular among kids and teenagers of The '40s and The '50s but it was Marvel Comics that really raised the genre to have a crossover appeal with the counter-culture, college educated teenagers mostly as a result of Genre-Busting stories by merging superhero adventure with aspects of romance, coming-of-age, science-fiction and horror.
  • Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (with partial assist from The Killing Joke) was this for Batman. Before Miller, Batman was remembered for the campy 60s TV show and his comics was in a period of weak sales. Miller's revision of Batman was actually the crest of an ongoing wavenote  but his story, as Miller is fond of saying, "Gave Batman his balls back" and paved the way for the Tim Burton films, the DCAU, the Christopher Nolan films and the Batman: Arkham Series.
  • Alan Moore's Watchmen is the only graphic novel to be featured in Time Magazine's 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. It was seen as the work that raised the medium to the sophisticated storytelling used in novels and movies but at the same time using methods only possible with comics, and likewise using pulp superheroes and science-fiction tropes that used to be seen as the Narm Charm of superhero comics to tell a meaningful story about the human condition.
  • Neil Gaiman's The Sandman is a case of one ghetto crossing into another. Namely it was a comic book that merged elements from superhero stories, horror comics (EC Comics) and with a dollop of Will Eisner's The Spirit to tell a modern fantasy story that was as popular and influential as the works of Terry Pratchett, Lewis Carroll, and J. R. R. Tolkien. It caused quite a fuss when one of its issues won a World Fantasy Award, and the rules were changed to bar graphic novels. Gaiman's book also attracted attention from literary readers such as Norman Mailer, Samuel R. Delany and others.
  • Art Spiegelman's Maus also demonstrated that comics could tackle subjects like The Holocaust and earn the same kind of respect and attention as Anne Frank's diary and Schindler's List.
    Film (animation) 
  • Fritz the Cat broke quite a few ghettos surrounding animation.One was the belief that only Disney could make feature length animated films, and second was that animation was for kids.
    Film (live action) 

  • The Birth of a Nation brought cinema out of the ghetto of carnivals and side-show attractions and cement it as a mass-medium greater than theatre, music hall and the circus, leading to a rush of investment in new productions by people seeking to make money in the movie business, and indirectly inventing Hollywood. Of course, its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan is indefensible, but as critic Dave Kehr noted, it was where movies as an art and a business truly began.
  • The Wizard of Oz is a fantasy film and a musical, yet is one of the most beloved classics from The Golden Age of Hollywood. "Over The Rainbow" is an iconic song and Margaret Hamilton's Wicked Witch of the West is an instantly recognisable villain.
  • The Western as a result of Popularity Polynomial, Society Marches On keeps being updated and ebbing and flowing in popularity:
    • Stagecoach was the first western to attract the seriousness, critical attention and commercial appeal. It was nominated for Best Picture but for a long time, it was the yardstick by which all westerns were measured against, including John Ford's later Westerns.
    • George Stevens' Shane, as well as High Noon, became the second yardstick for westerns as a serious genre. Both movies tried to create a more psychological approach to the genre which attracted it a broader audience than the usual B-Movie westerns.
    • The '90s produced Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven and Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves, both of which were 2 of 3 Westerns to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. They are also seen as Genre Killers, especially Unforgiven. Westerns were produced afterwards but practically no movie has had the critical and commercial success those films enjoyed.
  • Orson Welles' Citizen Kane is seen as the movie that brought cinema to the level accorded to theatre, literature and painting. It was a movie with a form, subject and theme that inspired more film-makers and artistic movements than any other, and it was heavily debated by intellectuals across all fields.
  • Stanley Kubrick made 2001: A Space Odyssey specifically to break out of the science-fiction ghetto and introduce concepts and ideas from modernist literature and philosophy. He was disappointed in science-fiction movies made before his film and approached it in the aim to raise its profile with a more realistic and enigmatic approach to familiar tropes: space travel, artificial intelligence and alien life forms. Kubrick's eschewal of science-fiction World Building (space jargon, technology, alien species) was part of the reason why it had the cross-demographic success it did.
  • Horror movies used to be seen as lowbrow and pulp entertainment, opposed to family values and of dubious merit. Yet some movies escaped the ghetto:
    • Alfred Hitchcock was a Pigeon Holed Director who was usually associated with an elegant type of thriller featuring high production values and A-list stars. He was fascinated by William Castle's cheap horror productions, which were held in even lower esteem, and was curious to see if he could make a movie of that kind and raise it out of its ghetto. Hitchcock made Psycho cheaply with little known actors and created perhaps the most commercially successful horror movie ever made, one of cinema's most iconic villains and launched the slasher genre, and also scored one of the few Best Director nominations he ever received.
    • Supernatural horror was seen as being dated but during the New Hollywood era, movies like Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist managed to attract mainstream success, and would feature respectable critically acclaimed A-list actors rather than B-movie stars. It achieved this via blending regular horror with religious themes and sexual imagery.
    • Carrie is a horror movie that has a lot of blood and gratuitous nudity. It's also held up as a classic and got two Oscar nominations in the acting categories.
    • The Silence of the Lambs had copious amounts of blood, gore and disturbing sexual themes and profanity, and likewise having British Thespian Anthony Hopkins in the role of an urbane villain (the usual Money, Dear Boy for such actors, cf, Alec Guinness and Obi Wan Kenobi). Yet, despite a February release and lack of fanfare, it not only won Best Picture but also netted Best Director, Best Actor (for Hopkins playing a Serial Killer, a role far away from the usual Oscar Bait), and Best Actress.
    • Scream (1996) is credited for pulling the slasher subgenre out of its rut, films at that point known for being very formulaic and attracting few viewers outside of horror aficionados. Scream played on many of the genre's cliches, made the killer's identity a mystery rather than defaulting to a stock escaped mental patient, incorporated humor, cast bankable actors, and was generally enjoyable for a mass audience and pulled in many more demographics, becoming the first slasher film to break $100 million.
    • 2017 gave us two big examples:
      • Get Out, a horror thriller by Jordan Peele about a black man visits his white girlfriend's family for the weekend and discovers a sinister conspiracy, was able to earn over $250 million worldwide at the box office on a budget of barely $5 million. It also earned top critical notices for its social commentary on Positive Discrimination, cultural appropriation, its endless foreshadowing and - unsurprisingly given who it's written by - its humor. It also became one of the few horror films to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and even netted Peele an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
      • It (2017), an adaptation of one of Stephen King's famous stories about an Eldritch Abomination taking the form of a Monster Clown eating children and a small band of children who fight against the beast, was able to smash box office records in September thanks to a lot of hype, not much in the way of competition and excellent reviews calling the film one of the best adaptations of King's works ever. On top of that, it beat the records previously held by the aforementioned Exorcist by going on to become the highest grossing horror film ever.
  • Until The Godfather, gangster pictures and crime movies were seen as disposable genre movies, and famous stars who started their careers in popular gangster films such as Humphrey Bogart and James Cagney won critical acclaim, in their day and age, for their non-genre performancesnote . Yet after Coppola's film, an instant-classic and commercial powerhouse, gangster movies and crime dramas was raised in profile and esteem, and Marlon Brando and Robert De Niro won Oscars for playing the same character Vito Corleone. The film's multiple oscars also led many producers to give gangster movies higher budgets and production values than previously associated. Along with The Departed by Martin Scorsese, Coppola's Godfather movies are the only crime movies to ever win Best Picture, and the only franchise to boast two Best Picture oscars.
  • Star Wars is rather cyclical. In the late 1970s and 1980s, it was cool, then nobody remembered it. In the mid-1990s, Shadows of the Empire and the Dark Forces Saga introduced the world to the Expanded Universe. Then came cries of They Changed It, Now It Sucks! for the Special Edition and the prequels. On the other hand, the romantic subplot attracted a significant female fandom. And the Mandalorians have attracted a significant following in the military. Of course, Star Wars fans make fun of their own Fan Dumb.
  • Star Trek has Narm, Green Skinned Space Babes, an Anvilicious group of morally superior heroes, and a Mary Suetopia. The fanfic coined the term Mary Sue. The spinoffs use physics terms but have no idea what they mean, if they mean anything. Of course, it's going to attract a lot of hate. Then came Star Trek (2009).
  • Once, if you likef gay romance, then you were either gay or a hormonal Yaoi Fangirl. And then came Brokeback Mountain.
  • Although the Turn of the Millennium saw superhero movies becoming more consistently popular and well-received by critics, they were still generally seen as escapist fantasies that primarily appealed to comic book fans and younger demographics. Then came The Dark Knight, which offered a psychologically complex world and cast, and Heath Ledger portraying The Joker with such depth and menace that he managed to become the first person to win an acting Oscar for a role in a superhero movie.
    • And then in 2019 Black Panther became the first superhero film to receive an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road attracted critical acclaim unlike any action blockbuster in the last few decades by going completely against the mold. Its strict adherence to Show, Don't Tell storytelling, simplicity and use of Practical Effects set it apart from the others and gained it legions of admirers among both mainstream moviegoers and arthouse critics alike, and its feminist themes saw a huge Periphery Demographic grow around it, with many women finding it a highly refreshing turn from the usual cliches found in other action movies. This eventually led to unprecedented attention during awards season, including the Oscars, which gave it six awardsnote  and nominations for Best Picture and Director.
  • Lord of the Rings is based on a High Fantasy novel that, while respected, would still fall into the ghetto. By the time the movies came out, they were worldwide successes - achieving unanimous praise among audiences and critics alike. Put it this way; before they came along, big budget fantasy epics just weren't done. After their success (though Harry Potter deserves some of the credit too) - The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, Game of Thrones - and a whole crop of others. Likewise other remakes of Disney properties such as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Maleficent directly follow the style.
  • Teen dystopia literature is looked down upon (just read the attitudes towards Divergent and The Maze Runner). However The Hunger Games is out of the ghetto, the movies doing incredibly well with critics and audiences. They turned Jennifer Lawrence into a superstar in Hollywood and definitely helped usher in more films with Action Girl protagonists.
  • Titanic (1997) is a big budget romantic epic that was one of the highest grossing movies of all time - and is the first film in history to win Best Film at both the Oscars and the MTV Movie Awards. The It's Popular, Now It Sucks! backlash came on pretty quickly, but the Popularity Polynomial has ensured that it's out of the ghetto.
  • The Martian is a sci-fi story that grossed well over $600 million worldwide and appeared in many critics 'Best of 2015' lists. It was nominated outside the technical awards that sci-fi usually falls into at the Oscars - getting nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay.
  • Mean Girls is a teen movie about a Girl Posse in high school, with plenty of pink on the advertising. It's considered a 'girls movie' but that doesn't stop it from being one of the most popular movies of the 2000s - and the Memetic Mutation turning it into one of the most quotable movies ever.
  • Pan's Labyrinth is a Dark Fantasy movie with Fairy Tale Motifs. When it was shown at the Cannes Film Festival it received a twenty-two minute standing ovation and now has a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Some of the movie's fans have tried to rationalise the fantasy elements as being all in Ofelia's imagination but Word of God says the magic is real.

  • Don Quixote raised chivalric poetry and other heroic stories (regarded as the junk stories of Renaissance Europe) into high art, of course it did this by parodying and making fun of those legends but Cervantes did it with total familiarity with the genre and its tropes and in the process introduced readers outside the genre to the chivalric stories, via "Weird Al" Effect.
  • If you like romance, you're a desperate housewife. Then came Twilight. Of course, Twilight has its own Squick, especially Breaking Dawn. Yeah, it went right back to the ghetto.
  • Who would want to be seen reading a fantasy novel in public? Grow up, you hopeless nerd. Harry Potter and Discworld don't seem to count, even before they were republished with sombre covers to hide your shame. Before that there was Gormenghast and The Elric Saga.
  • In Victorian Britain, the reading public and their predecessors didn't really make the same genre-groupings that we do today, so by virtue of never having been ghettoized to begin with, the following works remain "respectable" despite inspiring later genre fiction:
  • Fifty Shades of Grey is one of the first openly erotic novels to break into the mainstream and to be marketed as upmarket populist literature, occupying the top shelves of high street bookshops.

    Live Action TV 
  • Star Trek: Voyager tried to do this. It ended up with Magical Native Americans, a serious case of Ship Tease that ended with Chakotay choosing another girl out of the blue, and using physics terms whose meaning the writers either didn't know or made up as they went along.
    • It's predecessor Star Trek: The Next Generation, was a much more successful example, earning a considerable amount of acclaim from fans and critics alike during it's run, and is still fondly remembered.
  • True Blood has successfully become the most popular thing on HBO, and has almost unanimous critical praise.
  • Game of Thrones is a fantasy series and yet is one of the most popular shows outside of the ghetto and like its literary inspiration shattered the Tolkien-esque vision of fantasy in favor of Alternate Universe medieval history.

  • Richard Wagner's idea of Gesamtkunstwerk was an attempt to close the ghettoes of Opera and Classical Music, high and low art, popular song and high culture. His productions were the blockbusters of his days.
  • No one's quite sure when rock and roll became mainstream and respectable, but everyone agree that The Beatles have something to do with it.
  • White rappers attract only suburban wannabe gangsters...except Eminem.
  • George Gershwin was obsessed with making American music respectable and had an inferiority complex towards classical music. Even if Ravel and Stravinsky for example, absolutely loved Gershwin's music and kept telling him to be "a first-rate Gershwin" rather than a "second-rate Ravel/Stravinsky". Gershwin was obsessed with creating an authentic American opera, and this led to Porgy and Bess. Thanks to Society Marches On, where Jazz has become High Art as has the American Musical to some extent, a lot of Gershwin's attempts at respectability have dated poorly compared to his authentic work as a popular composer.
  • Bob Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone" was a raucous blaze through the ghetto of Folk and Country Music into Rock music.
  • Any time a performer from a somewhat niche genre (country, jazz, classical) is nominated for - or wins - one of the Big Four Grammys (Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist). Take Herbie Hancock's 2008 Album of the Year win for River: The Joni Letters.

    New Media 

  • Unsuccessful attempt: Political talk radio is a right-wing medium, right? Certainly Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Glenn Beck would have you think so. Meet...pretty much all of Air America. Which failed to compete with Rush and co. and shut down.
    • Incidentally, Limbaugh himself is an (successful) example, taking political-commentary-based radio out of the droning doldrums and into the controversial and popular format it is today.note  Granted, the revocation of The Fairness Doctrine made it possible, but there still had to be a leader for everyone to follow.

    Video Games 
  • Video games are an interesting case, since there are so many ghettoes. First, the "games are for kids" ghetto. Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat broke out of that.
  • RPGs were for D&D fans and anime nerds, until Final Fantasy VII came out, as Animesque as it was.
  • Video games were for men and boys, until virtual pets and, a year later, Pokémon. Naturally, Pokémon attracted its own hatedom.
    • Pokémon also fit for popularizing the RPG with children.
  • Likewise with The Sims, which has also been cited as a major influence in getting women into gaming.
  • Building on the above two, the development of "casual games" and the Rhythm Game genre, along with the ability to purchase games on cell phones and iPods, made gaming a co-ed activity.
  • Batman: Arkham Series did this for superhero games and licensed games as a whole. After its release, its respectful approach to the source material but innovative gameplay and level design became the gold standard for all licenses, inspiring Middle Of Earth Shadow Of Mordor and other games in different genres. The tradition movie tie-in also declined in popularity and the idea of a licensed character separate from movie and literary source material has become the norm.
  • GoldenEye (1997) and Halo: Combat Evolved broke the FPS out of the domain of the PC enthusiast to the point that it became the biggest genre in console gaming.
  • Grand Theft Auto III via notoriety of its subject matter, its innovative sandbox design and subversive content brought more mainstream awareness for gaming as a whole than any other release, and created a market for games for an adult audience. Later releases such as Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V got mainstream success and critical notices in the leading newspapers that only movies and music albums ever got.
  • World of Warcraft brought the MMORPG into the cultural mainstream.
  • The Wii series of games as well as Nintendo's other Touch Generations games saw the demographic for gaming broaden outside the 18-34 demographic (though it had long existed in younger demographics as well).
  • During the mid-late 2000s, the Platform Game had gone from the biggest genre of the gaming industry to a much smaller role. You could try your luck with a 3D Platformer, but there was no way that you could not sell a normal 2D Platformer as a full retail title...then New Super Mario Bros. happened. Arguably the Trope Codifier for Revisiting the Roots, as it was the first 2D Mario game in over a decade, it quickly became one of the best-selling videogames of all time on top of receiving critical praise across the board. New Super Mario Bros. also sparked a line of sequels; the first of which repeated the same success on consoles (the original NSMB was released on the Nintendo DS handheld) and helped really kick off the idea of other platforming franchises going back-to-(side-scroller)-basics.
  • Mobile Phone Games in the West were usually stereotyped as being cheap, easy, cashgrabs (if they're licenced), and heavily Pay To Win thanks to many of them using a gacha format. Fire Emblem Heroes, being an RPG more in line with mainstream Fire Emblem games, doesn't seem to have that stigma attached to it, and remains one of the West's most played games.

    Western Animation 


Example of: