What is Genre?Definitions:• “A type or category of media text” (G Burton, 2000)• “patterns/forms/styles/structures which transcend individual films and which supervise both their construction by the film-maker and their reading by an audience” (T Ryall)• A formula• A “toolbox” or blueprint for producers of media texts
Where Do Film Genres Come From?• F il m• As the public appetite for film grew, film companies neededg to be able to mass produce films – quickly and efficiently.e n r• Genre was the ideal vehicle to achieve this as it acted as a e “recipe” for a film, once the genre was known. s e v• Genre originally became important because of the economic o forces at work within the film industry – make popular films l as cheaply and as quickly as possible! v e d a
How Do We Recognise a Genre?• Each genre has its own codes and conventions – it has its own “repertoire of elements” – that audiences use to identify the genre.• These elements that give a genre its distinctive shape can be broken down into the following sub-headings: • Typical characters • Typical settings/ locations/ mise-en-scene (time and place) • Typical iconography (props/ costume) • Typical media language • Associated stars and directors • Typical plots and narrative sequences • Typical ideologies and themes
• The “repertoire of elements” acts as a pool of possibilities – a film in a certain genre does not have to use every single element to be classed as belonging to that genre – it simply needs to use enough to be recognised as being a horror film or a sci-fi. Members of a genre need to share a passing family resemblance, they do not need to be clones of each other!• Any film, thus, takes a kind of “pick and mix” approach to genre• It is the presence of these genre markers that allow us to identify and label a film for what it is
Task 1: Spot the Genre…You will now look at some stills/posters from a range offilms. You will need to identify the film’s main genre andlist the different elements that have helped you to do so.
Hybrids and Sub-Genres• Many films and other media products nowadays do not just stick to one particular genre. Most will mix together several different genres to create a hybrid.• For example, The Hunger Games (2012) combines elements of science fiction, action-adventure, romance, thriller and rites of passage genres to create a generic hybrid.• Hybrids appeal as they allowHunger Games Trailer a film- maker to
• Note that some genres have become so large and varied that they contain a number of sub- genres.• A sub-genre is a distinctive group of films within a genre.• They share some features in common with other films within the parent genre but they tend to use a similar but much more limited repertoire of elements than the parent genre permits
• For example, gothic horror is a distinctive sub-genre of the horror genre• Films within this sub-genre all tend to display a strong resemblance to each other and stick to a limited range of: horror characters (vampires/ draculas/ innocent female victims/ a hunter), storylines (monster threatens victim and has to be tracked down and stopped) settings (castles, gothic mansions, set in the past)• The horror genre has a much wider range of elements but the sub-genre tends to stick to a more specialised selection.
Task 2: Genre in Captain America1.Captain America is a typical generichybrid – what genres are evident in thefilm?2.Take each genre in turn and identifywhich of the repertoire of elements/codes and conventions are used and helpus to identify the genre/ sub-genre. Usethe list of different elements to helpdevelop a full list for each genre. Find avisual way to display your answers here.3. How easy is it to identify the genres? Why do you think this is important?4. Explain why you think this Hollywood film has opted for a hybrid and why you think it has opted for this particular mix of genres.
Task 3: Getting More Theoretical•Read the hand-out entitled ‘How DoWe Identify Genre?’ and ensure thatyou get the distinction betweensemantic and syntactic approaches togenre.•What do you think – which featuresdo you think help us identify genreaccurately – semantic or syntacticones? Give reasons for your responseand write your ideas in the box at theend of the hand-out.•Apply these approaches to CaptainAmerica – which has been mostsignificant in helping you identifygenre?
How Do Genres Work?• “Genres are created through repetition and recognition leading to anticipation and expectation.” (G Burton, 2000)• Through repetition over the years, we come to associate certain features with certain genres. The genre becomes codified.• Repetition makes us familiar with a genre and allows audiences to recognise and identify a genre.• Eventually it only takes a few clues to allow us to work out a film’s genre.• Genres, therefore, work precisely because they are so predictable.
Task 4: I Predict….•Look at the next two slidesand identify the key genrefirst of all.•Then try and predict whatyou think will happen in thefilm, based on how thesegenres usually work and whatthe codes and conventionsseem to be hinting at.
Task 5: Predicting Captain America…•Look at the poster for Captain America on the nextslide and see if you can identify how the poster signalsgenre and how this can help build anticipation for therest of the film•Does the poster enable you to make fairly accuratepredictions about what will happen using ideas aboutgenre?•How do you think it helps a film that audiences canimmediately identify the genre and predict with a highdegree of accuracy what will happen?
Why Are Genres Useful?Task 6: Uses of Genre (Audiences/Producers)•See if you can list reasons why genre is a usefulconcept for the audience of a film like Captain America– how do audiences use genre?•Then see if you identify how genre is a useful tool forfilm producers. You may want to consider how it couldhelp at the pre-production, production and post-production stages of film-making.
Genre is useful for an audience because:• It helps us select a film with a high degree of it being satisfactory – we tend to stick to what we like!• It sets up expectations of what we will see – this gives us a reason to view a film – to see if it meets our expectations or not• If these expectations are met, we feel clever and satisfied; if they are thwarted/ denied, we may enjoy the surprise. Thus, whether a film lives up to its genre expectations or pulls fast one is central to our viewing pleasure.• Genre also helps audiences to interpret and understand what they see in a film – it helps us follow what is happening and makes us feel comfortable with what we are viewing.• Genre also helps us evaluate what we see – we measure its success in terms of how it relates to the genre template
Genre is useful to producers because:•In the pre-production phase it allows decisions to be made about what films to greenlight – often films are selected on the basis of what films are currently doing well, in an attempt to cash in on their popularity. This is known as “the circle of pleasure and profit” (G Burton, 2000)•It is also useful in raising finance for a new film – investors like genres that are likely to make money.
• In the production phase, genre is useful because it provides a framework to flesh out the film – once the genre is known, you know what sort of story you will have, what sort of characters etc.• It can help with the casting, as certain actors are linked to certain genres and will give the film credibility• It may help assemble the best personnel/ crew for making the film. Often certain technical personnel gain expertise within a certain genre – if they are re-used on a film, it can make the creation of the film more efficient.
• In the post-production phase, genre is helpful in terms of marketing a film – you know where to place your publicity materials and have a ready made audience for your film.• It can also help film critics to review a film, as it gives them a standard to compare the film to.
Why Are Genres Useful? A Summary• Genres are highly useful to audiences and producers• Their main function is to minimise risk all round• For the audience, they minimise the risk of dissatisfaction• For the producer, they minimise the risk of financial failure
Task 7: Uses of Genre (Short Essay Style Question)Why has genre been useful for the producers and audiencesof Captain America?(This task is really a recap task but gives you the opportunityto write a short essay style question)
Why arent genres boring?1.Genres arent boring because…• Essentially we are creatures of habit – we know what we like and tend to stick with it• We feel comfortable with the familiar• So, ironically, the repetitive element in a film is one of its attractions rather than one of its turn-offs!• However, if a film is too formulaic, too “samey” in its approach to genre, it often fails or is criticised, so, to succeed, a film can’t just copy every other film in the genre. Too much repetition can be a bad thing!
Task 8: What’s The Same?•What other films would fans of CaptainAmerica like?•What are the repeated features that thissuggests they enjoy and actively seek outin a film?Here are a few trailers for similar films tohelp you identify common features:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atCfTRMyjGUhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g8evyE9TuYkhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eOrNdBpGMv8
2.Genres aren’t boring because…• Most examples of a genre don’t just make a carbon copy of a previous film. Most films combine the: •“familiar and the unexpected” (G Burton, 2000) •“same but different” (Nick Lacy)• Alongside familiar elements, we find something new, something different and this is enough to make us enjoy the film. This adds a bit of novelty for the viewer but not too much. It also makes it less risky for the producer. Limited variation allows for a form of safe experimentation.• Genres are, thus, fluid and not static – they are elastic constructs!
Task 9: What’s New?Think about Captain America and its use of thecomic book superhero sub-genre of action-adventure:1.You have identified the features the film shares incommon with other similar films in the previous task.2.Identify anything that it is added that is new to thegenre/ that makes the film unique.3.How does the presence of both these elements (the‘familiar and the unexpected’) help make the genre asuccess with its fans?
Task 9: What’s New?4. Can you identify how any of the other superhero films you identified in the previous task offer the viewers something different? Your teacher will show you a few clips to help!http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=m4Utoe76Qv4http://www.youtube.com/watch? v=rZQQgvhn4jghttp://www.youtube.com/watch? v=O5mxBaXHcFwhttp://www.youtube.com/watch? v=1hPpG4s3-O4
• Note that the “something” new can be a small alteration or addition to the basic formula or it can be a larger scale merger with another genre – the creation of a new hybrid.• Over time, these small changes, if accepted, can alter the core “repertoire of elements”. What is accepted as part of a genre becomes part of an ongoing negotiation between the producer and the audience. A producer will add a new detail and, if the box office and reviews are good, the new item is likely to be repeated and eventually become an accepted part of the genre’s elements.• Genre becomes “an area of agreement between filmmaker and audience” (John Kitses)
3.Genres arent boring because…• They evolve over time – they are not static but fluid – they alter and adapt to reflect the zeitgeist. Thus, genres are always updating themselves to feel relevant. This helps them continue to engage their audiences. This is vital for genres that have been around for a long time – it stops them becoming stale and boring, especially for fans who have watched the same type of film for years.
Task 10: One Genre, Different Eras…You are going to watch some clips from superhero films fromdifferent eras to see how the genre has evolved.•How has the genre changed over time to reflect changes in:ofilm technologyosocial and political contexts (who we fighting against? What kind offear is highlighted?)ogender rolesohow America has been represented • Why do you think the genre has changed/ adapted to the era?
Genre Cycles•Not all genres remain universally popular – eventually• For example, the war film, the western and the musical were all enormously popular in the 40s and 50s but later dropped from our screens. There have been signs, however, recently, that such films are beginning to emerge again – any examples? Any ideas why?
•Theorists have identified a “life cycle” for a genre: INTRODUCTION ESTABLISHMENT EXPERIMENTATION PARODY / SPOOF DECLINETask 11: Genre Cycles and Superhero FilmsHow do you think this model applies to the superhero filmgenre? When do you think the current phase began?Which stage do you think the genre is currently at?
Genre as Myth • Genres can also appeal because they are like myths • Myths are stories a society creates to preserve key truths and ideas that are important enough to be communicated to future generations. They encode the stories we want to hear – the ones that make us feel good. In an age before print, stories were a good way to pass on these ideas in an enjoyable form. Films today can be seen to fulfil the same job – to encode and pass on messages that a society’s members need to know. • The Ancient Greeks told a lot of myths. Listen now to a version of the Icarus myth and see if you can work out what message it encodes.
• In Media Studies we have learnt to call these mythic messages by another name – ideologies!• Often different genres enact specific myths or ideologies over and over again.Task 12: What’s the Message…You will watch a few clips from films and need to identify whatideologies or myths they enact. Pretty Woman: Ending Terminator 2: Opening Scene
• Often these messages are dominant ideologies (ones that most people subscribe to) and they, therefore, often confirm to us what we already believe or want to believe. These ideologies often function to reassure us and make us feel safe – they act a little like a comfort blanket.• This may explain why certain genres become popular at certain times – because they meet a nation’s emotional needs at a certain time. It may also explain why we tend to have favourite genres – ones that respond to particular concerns and insecurities that we have as individuals.• The film “Bruce Almighty”, a comedy, did better than all expectations when it was released in 2003 – it cost $81 million to make and took over $484 million at the box office. Can you think of any contextual reasons that may have accounted for its surprise success?
• Some would argue that these myths that films offer us simplify life and make it seem less threatening: “Genre films work through important cultural myths and fears by repetition, innovation and resolution.” “At an ideological level – genres offer comforting reassurance and the closing down of the complexities of life” (G Burton, 2000)
Task 13: The Mythological Messages of SuperheroFilms•Captain America is a superhero film.•What sort of ideologies or myths do these films create fortheir audiences? Think about a range of superhero films tohelp get the overall ideologies here.•The current cycle really started with Spiderman released in2002. Since then we have seen a veritable slew of superherofilms: Daredevil (2003), X-Men (2003/5/9), The Hulk (2003), Hellboy (2004), Elektra (2005), Batman (2005/8), Fantastic Four (2005/7), Superman (2006), Ghostrider (2007), Ironman (2008/10), The Incredible Hulk (2008), Thor (2011), The Green Lantern (2011), The Avengers (2012)
•Can you think why the mythical reassurance films like theseoffer their viewers may have contributed to their box officesuccess and the fact hat so many have become franchises?(Think what event occurred in 2001 that might link to thisspate of films)•Note that genres often reflect and interact with the zeitgeist(spirit of the times) – which of Maslow’s hierarchy of needsare being met through consumption of superhero films?
Genre and Postmodernism POSTMODERNISM refers to a complex body of ideas about culture and cultural artefacts like films. Whistle While You Work Enchanted: Happy Working Song
Genre and Postmodernism Task 13: Postmodernism and Genre •Read the sheet ‘Postmodernism and Genre’ •Are there any examples of a postmodern use of genre in Captain America? •If so, what does this offer the audience?
Genre: A Useful Tool or Not?• Genre is often an important way of describing a text – Wikipedia and IMDB often start by noting what genre(s) a film belongs to. A film is often marketed by a trailer being shown before films of similar genres. A film is often reviewed by being compared to its genre template – it can offer a fresh new twist or it can be slammed for being too derivative…• Genre is so widespread that we tend to assume that it must be a useful and helpful tool to describe media texts. There are, indeed, many reasons to suggest that this is so but there are also some reasons that make a case for genre being an unhelpful way to view a film.
Task 14: Usefulness of Genre as a Theoretical Construct• Draw up reasons that show that genre is a useful concept and see if you can find any reasons to support Richard Coe’s claim about the ‘tyranny of genre’.• Read the sheet ‘How Useful Is Genre?’ and add any ideas to your list from the previous task to get a good overview about the advantages and limitations of using genre to talk about a film.• Reflection Point: do you find analysing Captain America in terms of genre helpful or not? Once you pigeon-hole it as mainly action-adventure does this constrain how you interpret or respond to the film?
Final Note:•Note that we have considered genre solely in relation to filmhere.•Of course, genre can be applied to lots of different mediatexts – TV, newspapers, music, magazines…..The genresmay be different but the ideas will remain the same•For your research for MS4, you may choose to study genreand may need to apply these ideas to other media than film!