Genre is a French word for 'type' or category. Genres have certain distinctive main features. These features have come to be well understood and recognized through being repeated over a period of time.
Genres have a certain amount of predictability and repeated elements, which make them distinctive and which help to define them. All genres have a portfolio of key elements from which they are composed. Not all examples of a genre will have all the elements all the time. It is these elements which make up the formula or a repetition of elements of a given genre.
Repetoire or repetition of elements
Plots and stock situations
All genres have recognisable protagonists or lead characters. These may be heroes and/or villains. Sometimes these lead males and females are so predictable that they have the same qualities across a number of genres.
Male characters are portrayed as courageous and they are good looking, and likely to rescue a lady in distress at some point. These male protagonists are usually loners, with some form of fallibility or weakness.
Spiderman is deeply in love with Mary Jane.
Exercise: Name 2 male leads with weaknesses.
The lead female is also usually very good looking and plays second fiddle to the male hero.
Although there are exceptions to this case – Ripley in the Aliens trilogy is a strong female character.
In other genres such as quiz shows, news programmes and garden programmes also have a kind of protagonist who isn’t much different from one show to another.
Another part of the formula of genre, includes recognisable though minor characters. These are called stock characters.
In science fiction texts the stock characters are the scientist, aliens, robots.
In news programmes the on the spot reporter, academics who are specialists in their field, eye witnesses, weather man/woman would be considered stock characters.
Exercise: Can you name the stock characters from any other media text. For example horror films, soaps, sit-coms, reality TV programmes.
Plots and Stock Situations
The storylines or parts of them are also predictable and recognisable. However complicated the stories are in soaps, there is bound to be a scene in which someone turns up from the past and has some form of confrontation.
In horror films there is the presence of the stock situation of the monster killing someone or a shootout in a western.
This element is crucial to genre because, it is the aspect of genre we immediately recognise and lock into. The main types of icon are
Iconography: Those particular signs that we associate with particular genres.
Props : Props such as guns can instantly tell us about the genre of the film. A Colt 45 will inform the audience it is a western, a laser or ray gun that it is a science fiction film. Props also stand for the main ideas and themes of the genre. For example Big Ben in news programmes stands for authority and integrity.
Name other props that are associated with specific genres.
2. Costumes : Specific costumes can be associated with specific genres. For example: astronaut suits – Science Fiction, sombrero – westerns, expensive suits – gangster, bright colourful colours on TV – children’s programmes, suits – News programmes.
3. Settings: These elements are typical, distinctive and recognisable for a given genre. Their importance varies from text to text. The settings of quiz shows such as Weakest Link and Question of Sport are very distinctive.
4. The themes or ideas which run through and come out of the stories are very much part of genres. Themes also tie in with the value messages that the genre is projecting. For example, all genre narratives say something about conflict between good and evil. But the theme of the fear of technology is central to Science Fiction films, not other genres. Fear of the unknown is central to horror.
5 . Stars : Some stars or celebrities become associated with specific genres. Arnold Schwarzenegger is associated with action films, John Wayne with westerns, Bruce Lee/ Jackie Chan martial arts, Hugh Grant with romantic comedies.
6. Sounds: Some sounds are instantly associated with specific genres. A creaking door with horror, a sound of a space ship with science fiction.
Repetition and Difference: Most media texts have a pattern of repetition and difference. They have identifiable similarities, but also contain new elements or similar elements used in new ways.
Hybridity/Hybrid: The fusion or combination of different genre styles