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What is Genre?

GENRE is the sorting or categorisation of media (or other) texts according to their style or content.

This trailer is for the BBC's Luther. We know quickly it is a crime drama because of CONTENT: it is about catching criminals. It has crime scenes and guns and police stations and all the ICONS we associate with the genre.That's not enough by itself though; many shows have crime in them and aren't cop dramas. The STYLE - lonely cop, dramatic music, urban setting, low-key lighting and dull palette  and so on also tell us that this is a cop show. These things, which tend to be similar across examples of a genre, are called CONVENTIONS.

Why is it important?

GENRE is an important concept for producers and audiences of media texts. Fans of cop shows will quickly be able to identify Luther for what it is and make an informed decision on whether or not to watch it. Audiences bring FOREKNOWLEDGE to texts; very quickly, they will usually be able to anticipate the kinds of plots and characters and enigmas that the text will deliver. This makes it recognisable and pleasurable. (Remember, most audience members are mainstreamers; they will respond positively to things that are familiar to them. Genre conventions can help us do this.)

The challenge is often to work within the conventions whilst being somewhat original; if we just follow the conventions, we can be very FORMULAIC, which is generally not a good thing. But for us as media producers, genre can give us a very useful template to start with as well as a helpful head-start in connecting with an audience. In this poster for example, the conventions associated with the chick flick are obvious; young female protagonist and young male antagonist, bright palette, sans-serif font, direct address with mock-serious expression. There are other conventions, of course, but this is enough to tell the audience what is coming. Nobody is expecting a horror film.

How do we talk about it?

Next, you might want to discuss SUBGENRE. Look again at Luther up there at the top of the page. We know it's a crime drama - but, more specifically, it's a cop drama, and more specifically again it's a police procedural (a crime drama told from the police officer's point of view.) That's the SUBGENRE. Likewise, the posters on the left are both for horror films, but they are very different, because the conventions for the subgenres of, respectively, zombie movies and supernatural horror films are very different indeed.

Start with BUSCOMBE'S THEORY OF ICONOGRAPHY. It's very simple. (Which means it's rarely enough by itself, but it's a good place to start.)

It's about iconography, so we're looking at the objects on the screens. Buscombe says there are certain objects associated with different genres - basically, change the objects and you can change the genre.

There are four places to look for icons; location, characters, tools (objects that are used) and miscellaneous (everything else!)

So, a horror story might be set in an old house, with  teenagers and demons, using knives to attack each other. Change the house to a spaceship, the teens and demons to astronauts and aliens, and the knives to laser guns, and the same plot is now science fiction.

Finally, you need to be aware of HYBRIDITY. For various reasons, producers often want to employ more than one set of genre conventions, or to borrow from a range of genres. This might attract more than one audience or it might just be a creative decision that they have decided upon. Luther is a cop drama - a police procedural, to be more accurate, but it also contains elements of the psychological drama. (The general darkness, the implication of terrible, twisted crimes, the focus on the detective's intellect versus that of the criminal and so on.) This, then is a HYBRID (a mix) of several genres. Look at the posters on the left - which genres are being mixed? Can you list the conventions of the respective genres?

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