GENRE BASICS

GENRE is a system of classification whereby media types (or literary types, or whatever) are organised into groups according to shared characteristics.

What genre does this film belong to?

Unforgiven

How do you know?

BUSCOMBE'S THEORY is a useful starting point when discussing genre. It states that one genre is differentiated from anothe by the ICONS associated with it; that is, the physical objects or symbols which we can see on the screen (or in the poster, in this case.) He also identified four areas to look for these icons:

  • LOCATION

  • APPEARANCE (CLOTHING, HAIR, TATTOOS...)

  • TOOLS (GUNS, CARS, MACHINES, COMPUTERS...)

  • MISCELLANEOUS (ANYTHING ELSE!)

Can you apply Buscombe's theory to the poster above?


What genre does this film belong to?

ALien Poster


Both of the films above tell the story of an intruder into a community (a town / spaceship) which kills some locals (cowboys / astronauts) but is then killed by the hero / heroine (the gunslinger / surviving astronaut.) Buscombe would suggest that, apart from the icons, they are very similar in terms of story, narrative and even style.


However, there are other things - CONVENTIONS, or factors which we tend to associate with certain genres - which differentiate them. We might expect certain things from a sci-fi film, for example; certain character types, certain events to occur, genders to be represented in particular ways, certain camera shots, locations, types of music to appear. A CONVENTIONAL text - which most texts, certainly those produced by and for the mainstream, are - will follow many of the conventions. An UNCONVENTIONAL text will break or subvert many of the rules.

Genre nowadays can appear somewhat old-fashioned, especially when compared to older texts such as those films produced during the studio system era in Hollywood. Many texts are HYBRIDS - that is, they borrow from several genres. Take Scream as an example - horror, slasher, teen movie or comedy?



Many consumers of the Media are, whether they know it or not, deeply knowledgeable about genre. That is, we know what to expect when we establish that a text is adhering to the conventions of a genre. As such, we can then PLAY with the genre and break some of the rules or mix ('mash') genres together to make certain points or for other effects. For example, this video takes footage from The Shining (one of the scariest movies ever!) and changes it utterly through some re-editing and adding a new soundtrack.



Another example of mashing genres together for effect can be seen here: what genres are being subverted? And why?



LEVELS OF CLASSIFICATION

Sometimes it can be useful to realise that there are different ways of thinking about how to divide narratives into groups. Take this film as an example:

Twilight

It belongs to several different groups, depending on how specific we want to be. It is a ROMANCE (mode), a FANTSY (matrix genre), a HORROR (genre) and a VAMPIRE MOVIE (sub-genre.) specific we want to be.

There are (traditionally) 5 MODES which narratives can fit in:

MYTH
ROMANCE
TRAGEDY
COMEDY
IRONIC

Within these modes are a number of MATRIX (or PARENT) genres - for example, the 'crime' genre is far too big to be a very useful concept on its own, so we divide it further into GENRES - the crime matrix might divide into the psychothriller, the heist, the comedy caper, the gangster movie and so on.

Genres themselves can be divided into SUBGENRES - so, the horror movie (part of the FANTASY matrix or the ROMANCE mode) might be further divided into the vampire movie, the slasher, the teen horror, the ghost story and so on.

Obviously, there is a lot of fluidity (aka confusion) between these categories - generally speaking, the more specific you can be, the better!

AND FINALLY...


Once you've mastered the concept of genre, you might realise that it can be quite a limited idea; time to start thinking about AUTEUR THEORY.

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