Community Spotlight is an ongoing editorial series by Singapore Community Radio to feature the creative minds behind some of our shows.
It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed listening to an episode of Genre Equality.
The long-running podcast, helmed by Hidzir Junaini and Isa Foong, requires the duo to cover a vast terrain of content — a gargantuan feat in itself that demands plenty of focus and an unwavering critical lens.
The sprawling list of titles that accompany an episode each month is enough to crowd any watch queue, but their discussions guide you along with ample contextual knowledge and criticism to help nudge your way towards curating your next binge session.
The show began life as an outlet for their freewheeling pop culture conversations spent in private. Genre Equality has since become a space passionately advocating for the merits of genre fiction, and for the shows worth your attention amidst algorithm-powered recommendations.
“I’ve always felt that genre storytelling got a bad rep among the film, television and literature critics I knew,” Hidzir says.
Genre fiction — which include sci-fi, fantasy, adventure, horror and more — has remained a popular realm within literature, film and TV. But Genre Equality argues that the artistic strengths of such works can be as “valid and intelligent” as the usual award contenders.
In recent times, the duo have lovingly dissected recent works such as The Boys — the increasingly-popular superhero web series — Disney’s live-action adaptation of Mulan, and the genre-blending adventurousness of Lovecraft County.
Their critical lens have since extended to a second show, titled BEHOLD!, where the works discussed don’t fit the usual Genre Equality mould.
Here, the duo speak on their love for genre fiction, their daily routines spent on reviewing shows, life in quarantine, and the one under-the-radar TV show you must catch.
How did Genre Equality start?
Hidzir: Most of the time when we hung out, we’d naturally spend hours and hours just talking about pop culture — debating the movies and TV shows we watched, discussing the books and comics we read.
So, around three years ago, I figured why not just put a mic in front of us while we did it? We’re obviously grateful for the listeners we’ve picked up since, but we mostly did it because we thought it’d be fun.
I had already started a podcast about pro wrestling at the time called Hard Hidz, and was doing one about music at Bandwagon [with SGCR editor Daniel Peters], so I already had a bit of know-how on the technical side of it.
Genre Equality felt like a logical next step into my amateur podcasting foray.
Isa: It pretty much happened as Hidzir described. For me, it was a ‘sure, why not’ situation. I have always been interested in podcasts, so it felt like a fun way to get started on it.
For most of us, your podcast name was what drew us in — and it’s reflective of the wide range of shows you both talk about. How do you decide what to cover?
Hidzir: Well, in storytelling terms “genre” actually refers to fiction with sci-fi, fantasy and horror elements. And I’ve always felt that genre storytelling got a bad rep among the film, television and literature critics I knew. It was typically disregarded as dumb, low-brow entertainment.
I strongly disagree with that assessment, so our flagship show started out by trying to talk about the artistic merits of genre — explaining why this kind of fiction is just as valid and intelligent as more “serious” stories like Oscar contenders or Booker Prize winners. Hence, the name Genre Equality.
Being a monthly show, every episode we look back on the crop of genre fiction released over the previous month. Naturally, not everything that comes from that world is great, and we’re pretty proud of how candid and nuanced our reviews are.
The idea is not to fanboy over superheroes and spaceships. And we don’t want to be like The Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy either — angry, nitpicky condescending nerds. We just want to apply a clear critical lens to genre fiction to explore the pros and cons, strengths and failures of such stories.
How do you avoid content fatigue?
Hidzir: My job as an entertainment journalist really helps with this. I already spend most of my days watching films and shows to review them, so carrying my thoughts over into podcast form is easy.
Of course, I do get fatigued from consuming so much content, so it’s important not to strain ourselves by doing too many podcasts. Genre Equality is monthly and our spin-off BEHOLD! is biweekly, which gives plenty of room to balance our lives with other things.
Isa: I certainly do not need to cover anywhere near as much content as Hidzir does, so for me avoiding fatigue is more about balancing what I have to watch and what I want to watch.
Most times, those two are the same thing, which helps greatly — though that’s not always the case. There’s just so much good stuff out there to watch, so I try to make sure that I’m not just watching stuff that’s within the scope of the two podcasts.
How much time in your daily routine is set aside for watching and reviewing shows?
Hidzir: I watch a lot more than Isa so I normally set aside six hours a day to watch stuff. The rest of my day, I spend writing about the stuff I watched (or talking about it on podcasts).
But I always make sure to set aside a couple of hours a day to hang out with friends, or read a book, or get some exercise, just so I don’t get burnt out.
Isa: I probably spend an average of two hours a day to watch and review stuff.
That being said, my actual consumption patterns aren’t as regular as that — I much prefer being able to binge one thing over a day or two, and maybe have another day to mull over it and make notes, before moving on to the next thing.
Did quarantine offer you more time to binge watch shows?
Hidzir: Oh, it definitely did! Like everyone else, my social life came to a crawl. A huge part of my life pre-pandemic was nightlife, and COVID-19 meant no more all-night raves at techno clubs and stuff like that.
I guess I still hang out in small groups in the evenings, but my free nights gave me more time to catch up on the shows and films I previously didn’t have space for.
Isa: Yes, absolutely. Before quarantine, I had already accumulated a substantial list of shows and films to catch up on, so having more time on my hands during that period really allowed me to whittle away at that (although the list is still pretty long).
BEHOLD! allows you both to step back and talk about shows in a more retrospective manner.
Do you feel this approach — relooking at certain franchises and titles you’re already familiar — allowed you to understand/appreciate some of your favourites differently?
Hidzir: BEHOLD! actually started because we have so many interests outside the realm of sci-fi, fantasy and horror.
We couldn’t discuss a Safdie Brothers film, or series like Fleabag and The Wire, or a musical like Hamilton on Genre Equality, so we decided to spin-off.
Our main topic for each episode is typically something both of us have seen and would like to revisit in greater depth. But the rest of the show consists of us recommending things that the other hasn’t seen, read or listened to.
This way, we get the contrasting perspectives of a long-time fan and a newcomer.
As for discussing titles in a retroactive manner, it definitely gives BEHOLD! a very different flavour from our reviews on Genre Equality which are more immediate. The benefit of time and hindsight has allowed my understanding or feelings on certain ideas, themes and storytelling styles to evolve.
Revisiting these titles, I’ll usually pick up on many things I was too young to process at the time. Sometimes I’ll even change my opinion on certain things because my palette has changed. Our discussions on BEHOLD! are definitely more thoughtful because we have the room to consider our favourites with more context.
Isa: A great deal of our (pre-podcast) conversations about shows consisted of either gushing about things we’ve already watched, or recommending new things to each other.
I think that BEHOLD! felt like a way to continue those conversations, outside of the constraints of the Genre Equality format.
Personally, being able to revisit shows in this way has been incredibly eye-opening. You start to realise how much of your understanding and appreciation of your favorites hinge upon the context in which it was first viewed, and your perspective at the time.
Since both context and perspective expand and change over time, it’s been a refreshing experience looking at these shows with a new lens.
If you were to boil down to one under-the-radar TV show for people to watch, what would it be and why?
Hidzir: I absolutely adore an Italian series called My Brilliant Friend on HBO.
It’s adapted from Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, and it’s a gorgeous immersion into the lives of two impoverished young girls growing up in 1950s Naples. [It’s such] a visually sumptuous and emotionally subtle coming-of-age story with exceptional depth and richly drawn characters.
That’s the elevator pitch, but you can also listen to more long-winded praise on this episode of BEHOLD!.
Isa: I feel beholden (ahem) as the self-proclaimed anime guy to recommend an anime, and I shall do just that.
Mushishi is one of my all-time favorites. It’s set in an imaginary time in Japan’s history where humans coexist with these supernatural, primal life forms called Mushi.
We follow the journey of Ginko, a Mushi Master who travels around to research these creatures and resolve the inevitable conflicts that arise from humankind coming into contact with Mushi. Mushishi is a masterclass in the art of storytelling, that while tonally whimsical and visually beautiful, is at the same time a potent allegory of humankind’s often fraught relationship with nature.
Whether or not one considers themselves “into” anime, Mushishi is one of those titles I feel will dispel any preconceptions or what anime can be or should be. You can hear us gush about it at length on this episode of BEHOLD!.
You can catch the next episodes of Genre Equality and BEHOLD! on Singapore Community Radio, which are scheduled to air November 10, 3pm and November 13, 5pm respectively.
Follow Genre Equality on Facebook.