Understanding Genre Theory

André Basin pictured left, Rick Altman pictured right

After being given a sheet in class, this is what I took away about the meaning of genre study…

In it’s very most simple form, the meaning of genre is the ‘type’ of any given text. Programmes of the same genre will have similar traits and patterns. These might include certain camera angles, motifs and themes. For example, a soap opera is far more likely to end on a cliffhanger than a lifestyle TV show. When analysing a text, it is important to examine the codes and conventions that have been used. Audiences apply their previous knowledge before consuming a text.For example, magazines that are seen as ‘niche’ merely belong to one single genre due to their respective traits. Sometimes, texts can be known as what is called ‘hybrids’. Examples of this include romantic comedies or docusoap’s.

Textual codes give meaning to a text through their typical conventions. People may then choose to see a film due to its likelihood to contain certain conventions due to what is encoded in the trailer. If you can deduce what genre a text is, then you will soon be able to found out the codes and conventions soon afterwards and why they have been used.

Genre can often be a useful ‘hook’ to an audience. Nowadays, trailers will establish an enigma which the audience will want to see resolved, making them more likely to view the text in question. Therefore, genre identification will make certain types of programming (such as reality TV shows), more popular.

img_2319A genres predictability often provides comfort for an audience, so they know what they are expecting when they pick up a piece of media.

John Fiske described genre as “attempts to structure some order into the wide range of texts and meanings that circulate in our culture for the convenience of both producers and audiences.” Different cultural groups are likely to construct different genre expectations.

These cultural contexts change over time and is a dynamic concept. As this is a gradual change, many people may not notice it over time. However, the reflection upon society is evident. Society may become more accustomed to certain ideas or values which can create hybrid genres. Many people who are not familiar with certain genres, for example Bollywood, are still able to identify the typical conventions within that genre.

The idea of genre theory is generally considered to have developed since the 1950’s with the work of André Basin. He believed that genres made filmmaking more efficient to make (as they have predetermined plots points and characters) which can be used to market a film effectively.

Whereas Rick Altman argued that genres are defined in terms of media language (for example, wagons and guns in westerns). He calls this semantic elements, and the ideologies and narratives are known as syntactic. He believes these need to be kept separate from each other as a means of examining genre over


John Fiske


The main difference between genre and genre theory, is that the former simply refers to the type of film, but genre theory understands that genres can change and are constantly in flux, which may help make the production of a film easier.

The repertoire of elements is the understanding that films of a certain genre can use certain stylistic micro and macro features. A filmmaker may use these elements and combine them with another genre to form a hybrid. This demonstrates that genre is constantly changing as filmmakers use different conventions to form niche sub-genres. An example Amy include setting a noir film in the future (Blade Runner) to form the sub-genre Tech Noir.

Examples of typical conventions in the repertoire of events can include:

  • Chair obscure lighting
  • Dutch angles and inverted frames
  • Crime and violence
  • Bar, diagonals and frames within frames
  • Long tracking shots and deep focus
  • First person voice over narration
  • Water & reflections
  • Obscured scenes
  • Urban settings
  • Cynical world weary characters
  • Complex plot and analepsis
  • Femme Fatale
  • False accusations and betrayal
  • Moral codes
  • Eroticism and sexuality

Therefore, it is clear that the study of genre is far more complex than what it initially appears. This study has taught me that genre is something of which people analyse closely and the effects of it on society. Genre has not remained fixed and has adapted over the years.


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