When it comes to hunger, people often desire particular types of food. For example, suppose a person finds she has a craving for something sweet. Conveniently, the aisles of her local grocery store are organized so that she can find her sweets. It is, of course, easy to imagine her disappointment if she buys a box promising a “crispy chocolate taste sensation” and instead gets a “mushy broccoli taste sensation”. When it comes to aesthetic appetite, people often desire a particular type of aesthetic experience. For example, imagine someone gets a craving for horror. Conveniently, the aisles of her local book store and video shop are organized so she can find works of horror. It is, of course, easy to imagine her disappointment if she buys a book whose jacket speaks of “ mind-blasting cosmic horror” but actually delivers an insipid romance set in Dayton, Ohio.
The point of this is to illustrate and argue that genre distinctions matter because they make it significantly easier for people to satisfy their aesthetic desires.
Last, but perhaps most importantly, genre classifications are needed so that it is possible to assess and criticize works fairly. While a developed argument for this is beyond the scope of this work, it seems reasonable to hold that art, like competitive sports, is a purposeful activity. It also seems reasonable that works of art, like athletic performances, can be assessed on how well they fulfill their intended purpose. Naturally, a fair assessment of a performance requires knowing the nature of the intended purpose. For example, during one track and field competition a paper plate blew into the area where the javelin throw was taking place. The plate landed in such a way as to appear to be a target and this confused a bystander. After one extremely long throw, the bystander commented that the throw was terrible, since the javelin landed no where near the plate. Of course, he had gotten it all wrong. Once it was explained that the javelin was thrown for distance, not accuracy, he realized why what he had thought was a terrible throw had been an excellent through after all. The same is true of the arts. For example, it would be an obvious mistake to claim that The Haunting [i]is a poor film because it does not cause the reader to laugh. This is because The Haunting is not intended to be a comedy. Hence, its failure to be a comedy is not a mark against it.
Thus, genre classifications are important because without them it would be difficult, if not impossible, to fairly and justly criticize and assess works, including cases in which the creator of a work is assessing his work in progress.
[i] The original film, not the remake. The remake was much more a horrible work than a work of horror.