At face value, genre doesn’t seem to be a very tricky concept at all.
From the French word for “type”, we all know that genre simply refers to a type of text.
The adjective form of genre is “generic,” a word that has come to have its own meaning. We have come to use “generic” to mean “no- name” or lacking a brand. But this generic beer can help us understand genre, too. This can will contain a carbonated beverage made from fermented hops and grain that should deliver a mild buzz. At least we expect it to. If the product above is flat, fruity, or milky, it will disappoint us. It would fail to satisfy our generic expectations.
Think about the floor plan of a Blockbuster, with shelves arranged into categories like Comedy, Sci-Fi, Horror, and Action. Movies are commonly categorized into genres.
Audiences use genre to decide what kind of movie to see.
What about funny horror movies, like Drag Me to Hell or Fright Night? What about historical dramatic romances, like Titanic? Where do you shelve those? But sometimes simple genre distinctions don’t prove very useful.
Genre is a contract of sorts between composer and reader. We can feel cheated if the text does not fulfill our generic expectations, just as we would be angered at finding that our can of generic beer actually contained a strawberry milkshake.
The 1996 film From Dusk Till Dawn is an example of a film that commits a kind of breach of the generic contract. One critic called it "an ugly, unpleasant criminals-on-the-lam film that midway turns into a boring and completely repellent vampire 'comedy.' If it's not one of the worst films of 1996 it will have been one miserable year." It’s interesting to note, however, that in recent years, the movie has developed cult status. Perhaps as audiences become more sophisticated, we have become more accepting of violations of the genre contract.
Groupings Groupings contribute to our associations and expectations of genre. Movies, for instance, can be grouped by period or country (American films of the 1930s), by director or star or producer (Woody Allen movies, John Waters films), by technical process (Pixar films, 3D), by series (the 007 movies), by style (cinema verite), by structure (narrative), by budget (indie cinema, blockbusters), by venue ('drive-in movies'), by purpose (home movies, propaganda films), by audience ('teenpix'), by subject or theme (war movies, underdog movies). All of these groupings carry a set of expectations and associations—in other words, groupings can function as genres.
Think of a text like “The Meatrix.” http://youtu.be/hChq5drjQl4
A viral video? A cartoon? A short documentary? Propaganda? A parody of The Matrix? Yes. So, what genre is The Meatrix?
The Meatrix is a viral video because of how it was disseminated and its popularity. According to its website, “When The Meatrix launched in November 2003, the viral film broke new ground in online grassroots advocacy, creating a unique vehicle by which to educate, entertain and motivate people to create change. The Meatrix movies, now a series, have been translated into more than 30 languages and are one of the most successful online advocacy campaigns ever – with well over 15 million viewers worldwide.”The Meatrix
What do we expect a viral video to be like? Brief? Funny? Shocking? Bizarre? Amateurish or highly stylized?
We know it’s an animated cartoon, because we see immediately that the images are hand-drawn, or are meant to appear hand-drawn. How do we expect cartoons to “behave”? Where do our expectations come from? What happens when cartoons DON’T behave the way we expect?
Why would the creators of The Meatrix want to use flash or cartoonish animation to spread their message of sustainable agriculture? Think about other texts that share similar purposes to The Meatrix.
The most well-known anti-cruelty activism campaign is probably P.E.T.A. Though they share a common purpose, a PETA short video, “Chew on This” employs very different strategies. View the video below.
Free Range Studios seems to deliberately avoid PETA’s infamous shock-and-disgust tactics. Instead of guilt, The Meatrix uses comedy and parody to appeal to its audience. What audience is targeted? Does Free Range studios expect you to compare their text to PETA’s? Has PETA invented its own genre of activism?
There could be as many ways of categorizing texts as there are critics or readers.
The important thing to remember about genre is that it is fluid. Genre depends on the rhetorical situation—the context, the purpose, the audience’s expectations, and the strategies the author/creator employs. Genre, in a way, sets up the parameters of the relationship between the creator of the text and the reader.
author’s purpose audience’s expectations genregenre The author’s intentions work with and against the knowledge and attitudes that the audience brings to the text.
Audiences recognize genres by their adherence to conventions and tropes—recurring rhetorical devices, such as the ones satirized in this video …Enjoy! Trailer for Every Oscar-Winning Movie Ever