At GCSE you learned that genre is a way of categorising a text through style and form. It is vital to be able to categorise texts in this way - both for production and analysis. Most students associate genre with film, and indeed this is where categories can be most easily identified. There are a particular set of theories associated with film genre and you can read more about them here.

A text is classified in a genre through the identification of key elements which occur in that text and in others of the same genre. These elements may be referred to as paradigms, and range from costume to music to plot points to font (depending on the medium). Audiences recognise these paradigms, and bring a set of expectations to their reading of the text accordingly: the criminal will be brought to justice at the end of the police thriller. These paradigms may be grouped into those relating to iconography (ie the main signs and symbols that you see/hear), structure (the way a text is put together and the shape it takes) and theme (the issues and ideas it deals with).

Genre is important for both the readers and creators of texts (ie the audience and the producers).

  • select texts on basis of genre, often because texts are arranged at retail outlets by genre (just pop along to HMV). Also, certain genres are considered appropriate to certain ages/genders in society, and choices are made accordingly eg teen movie, 'chick flicks'
  • have systems of expectations about the content and style of a text, according to its genre. This enables them to take particular pleasures in the text, those of repetition, and of predicted resolution. Pleasure may also be drawn from differences.
  • identify with repeated elements in generic texts and may shape their own identity in response (eg fans of a particular genre of music dress in a specific way - metalheads in their band t-shirts, for instance)
  • market texts according to genre because a niche audience has already been identified as taking pleasure in that type of text
  • standardise production practices according to genre conventions, thus cutting costs
  • subscribe to established conventions of versimilitude, thus reinforcing genre conventions, but also allowing creativity within a given format eg) it is an accepted convention in science fiction that spaceships make noises, which helps create excitement in battle scenes, but it is a scientific fact that no sound travels through the vacuum that is space.

Classification by genre is seen as both positive and negative by audiences, producers and theorists. On the one hand, rigorous conformity to established conventions while giving the audience what they want, can actually lead to stagnation and the eventual ossification of a genre as a "they're all the same" judgement is passed. This is what happened to the traditional Hollywood Western and Musical - once many profitable examples of these genres were pumped out by the studio each year, but the formats became stale through over-repetition and audiences lost interest. It is now only when a new Western or Musical that challenges the conventions and defies expectation (Brokeback Mountain or Moulin Rouge) comes along that non-niche audiences are willing to watch.

On the other hand, the genre of reality television has defied criticism that it is stale, contrived and predictable, and is now the basis of programming for entire networks. Although all possible variations of the same structure (contestants compete for a prize/live in the same house/go about a heightened version of their daily lives), iconography (surface realism and non-actors) and theme (aren't these people making idiots of themselves?) seem to have been run through in the space of a decade, it's still popular with audiences, who seem to enjoy the familiarity of the patterns presented onscreen.

Genre can provide structure and form which can allow a great deal of creativity and virtuosity, especially when a genuine reworking of generic conventions comes along (the Coen Brothers' reimagining of the Western in No Country For Old Men). Genre provides key elements for an audience to recognise, so that they may further appreciate the variation and originality surrounding the representation of those elements. When Scream was released in 1996, writer Kevin Williamson was praised for his fresh, ironic take on the conventional teenage slasher movie. He took the conventions (band of promiscuous teenagers picked off one by one by killer unknown) and turned them around, with the characters' self-awareness of their own predictability ("Oh, please don't kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!") used as a prime point of pleasure for the audience. However, by the time Scary Movie 4 was released in 2004, it was seen as "formulaic and predictable". Thus we can see that most genre paradigms form part of a fluid system - they are constantly changing and adapting according to audience tastes, individual entries into the genre and societal influences.

See also on this site: Film Genre

Further Reading

Studying The Media - Tim O'Sullivan, Brian Dutton & Philip Rayner (2nd Ed) pp61-7
The Media Student's Book - Gill Branston & Roy Stafford (2nd Ed) Ch 8 Genres pp105-117

Suggested Short Essay (500 words)

Which genre does --------- (title of film of your choice) belong to? Explain why

Things to consider

Use of Theory - how have you used the reading you have done to inform your thinking - have you incorporated concepts such as repetition and difference, systems of expectation, conventions, standardised practice, paradigms, intertextuality?

Vocabulary- Is your language appropriate? It should be formal, objective in tone, and not contain any slang. You should also be using as much specialist terminology as you can at this stage; use your glossary to help you.

Evidence - you need to prove that each one of your assertions is true by quoting evidence from your chosen text. You want to give as examples; short extracts of dialogue, individual events or actions, brief description of a particular shot, the way music is used to highlight a key moment, the artistic design of the mise en scene in one scene, a character's costume, the way a character uses props, etc etc. You may want to explain why these examples are typical of the genre by comparing them to another film.

Length - A 500 word limit requires that you be brief and to the point. Descriptions should be as precise as possibe, which means using the correct terminology and not rambling. You are not attempting to re-tell the story of the film, so narrative details should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Structure - You should be used to working with the Introduction-Main Body-Conclusion form of essay writing by now. In an essay this length, your introduction and conclusion will be very short.

Presentation - Essays should be presented as word-processed, in a 12 point font, and printed on one side of A4 paper. Please leave a double line space between paragraphs and margins of at least one inch on each side - we have to have room to write praise and criticism!