August 13, 2006
Literary vs. Genre, Explained Using Pie
I like pie.
This is not to say that all key lime pie is good. In fact, the great majority of key lime pie is made from cheap artificial ingredients. More often than not, it'll be colored radioactive green. This is a real pet peeve of mine. Do people think key lime pie is supposed to be radioactive green? Do the manufacturers of the pie just not care either way? Oh, well. Even if 90% of the key lime pie out there is crap, that means 10% is still scrumptious... you just need to know where to find it.
Naturally, there are many people out there who don't like key lime pie. "I only like strawberry pie," they say. Or, "I like all kinds of pie, but key lime pie, not so much." Or, "You know, I don't really like pie at all." Maybe they've never had key lime pie. Or maybe they tried key lime pie and hated it -- probably because they ordered the radioactive green crap that you get at Denny's. Maybe they don't know that there's good key lime pie out there. But that's okay! You can't run around forcing people to try key lime pie. Key lime pie is delicious, but obviously it's not for everybody.
Although most people have a live-and-let live attitude when it comes to pie, there are some notable exceptions. The most interesting case is blueberry pie. Certain fans of blueberry pie have decided that not only is their personal favorite the only pie worth eating -- that's not so unusual -- but they've gone so far as to rename their favorite pie as "goodberry pie". Notice how clever this is. The intrinsic superiority of goodberry pie is, shall we say, baked in to the name itself.
This branding effort has proved remarkably successful. Many pastry chefs and restaurants proudly proclaim that they only make goodberry pie -- and is there any other kind of pie, really? The idea that everything other than goodberry pie isn't worth eating has spawned an entire industry. Eminent university professors who teach Pie Analysis and Pie Creation, critics at the New York Times Pie Review and the London Review of Pie, they all treat goodberry pie as the only "serious" pie.
And this makes fans of goodberry pie perfectly happy. After all, part of the appeal of being a goodberry pie fan is being able to think of yourself as a goodberry pie fan: someone who is sophisticated enough to know that goodberry pie is the only pie worthy of mention. If you press a goodberry pie fan, they might sheepishly admit to eating key lime pie or strawberry pie, but only as a "guilty pleasure". If you are a serious pie consumer, you are supposed to stick monogamously to goodberry pie and not pollute your palate with other, naughty kinds of pie. Goodberry pie is a harsh mistress.
All this chest-thumping over goodberry pie would be harmless, except that the goodberry marketing campaign has confused a lot of well-intentioned fans of other kinds of pie. After all, the word "good" is right there in the name of the pie! If key lime pie were any good, wouldn't it be called "good lime pie" or something? Some fans and creators of key lime pie have absorbed this marketing message to such an alarming degree that they have developed a full-blown inferiority complex. "Most key lime pie is gross and nasty and radioactive green," they say, correctly. "So how can we make 'Goodberry Key Lime Pie'?"
But this is asking the wrong question! The right question is, "How can we make better key lime pie?" You can't blame people for forgetting that like all other pies, 90% of goodberry pie is just awful -- after all, the goodberry marketing industry exists to obscure this very point. But rather than bemoaning the fact that key lime pie is not goodberry pie, it would be better to spend our time examining the universal qualities that make all pies delicious. Fresh ingredients! Love and care! A thin, flaky crust! The very best goodberry pies have plenty to teach us, but the end goal is not to smush goodberry pie and key lime pie together: it's to produce the very best key lime pie we can.
I like pie.
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