The concept of Genre

After looking at genre in the lecture and later – in my seminar group, I am now even more aware of the conventions and uses of genres in media production. Both media producers and media consumers deal with the concept of genre, whether consciously or subconsciously:

  • The audience uses genre to easily characterise and decide whether a particular media text is worth reading – do they feel like watching an action film, or a romantic comedy, or sci-fi – when the text can be clearly put into a certain genre group, it’s easier to predict what to expect from it.
  • The media production and distribution bodies use genre to predict the audience’s reaction to a media text, not only emotional, but also in terms of consumption and the financial side of the process. It is easier to target advertising and to predict the revenue from a media text when it is following genre conventions, because the whole distribution and consumption process can be predicted to a great extent, which makes an investment in media production ‘safe’.


Genre also has to do with narrative and structure – there are hundreds of films in certain genres that follow the same basic story. One of the trailers we were recently shown for example – the one for ‘Shrek’ – can be used as a foundation for a lot of similar films. If you ignore the film and only focus on the narration in this trailer, you would only hear:

(Dreamworks) invites you to a land of fairy tales where an unlikely hero rescues a fairy princess from a nasty villain with the help of his trusty companion. This year one name spells action. One name spells adventure. One name spells romance…

This narration can be used for most of the film trailers within this genre. It is quite possible that they actually do it – it can save time and money for production, and it is relevant – so it’s usually appropriate to use it.

Another example where genre conventions are strictly followed are Apple’s ads. They always follow the same basic rules, same structure, content and message for the audience. When the iPad was introduced, its ad message became famous for being so generic:

A magical and revolutionary product at an unbelievable price.
(http://www.apple.com/ipad/)

Some people were even kidding it comes down to ‘a product at a price’ – then you add one or two adjectives to each noun and voila – you have a slogan. Indeed, there are slogan generators online where you just type in the name of a product or service and it generates a message. And because they are following some basic conventions for writing slogans, most of the results are actually usable.

A simple example is Sloganizer – let’s try with Coventry University:

Coventry University lifestyle
Coventry University. We build smiles.
When you say Coventry University you’ve said it all.
Be part of Coventry University.
Discover the world of Coventry University.
Next stop, Coventry University.
Stay cool with Coventry University.
… đŸ™‚

When working in my seminar group, I noticed how easy it was for us to characterise a genre – even if we haven’t seen too many media objects from a genre, we still have a very clear idea what is typical for it. What is more, it’s enough to have seen one object in order to understand most of the genre’s conventions. So we can conclude most popular films follow very strictly the genre conventions.

In his article ‘The Long Tail’ Chris Anderson gives an interesting example for using genre – when the website MP3.com was introduced, it aimed to provide an alternative platform for non-commercial music artists to find audience. But because people couldn’t find a familiar track within a genre they knew and felt comfortable with, they couldn’t start exploring the website for new tracks – which turns out to be one of the reasons this idea for MP3.com didn’t succeed. When it comes to exploring music, Anderson argues, people prefer to start with something they know they like (which is usually a popular, ‘hit’ track, and not an underground act), and then probably click on a similar artist to make sure it is something new, but within the genre and expectations; it is predictable, therefore safe.

When I think about genre objects I currently consume, I can speak about cartoon series such as ‘Family Guy’ and ‘The Simpsons’. After the lecture and our group task about Genre, I was watching a ‘Family Guy’ episode when I suddenly found myself not following the actual story, but rather trying to guess what genre conventions are applied to it. This particular episode featured the girl in the family running away with her boyfriend to marry and live in a hippie heaven, while the parents were trying everything to stop the wedding. They even announced an award for the person that stops them. They didn’t want her daughter to marry a ‘hippie’ kid, drop off school and abandon the life they had prepared for her – and it didn’t matter for them what the daughter wants. In the end, it turned out the hippie boyfriend was trying to get the money and leave the girl, and it was explicitly pointed out in the episode how unacceptable it was.

Another example I can give is the MyFonts newsletter I am reading – it is a website about typography, which also sells fonts, and every month there is an interview with a font designer. The last issue featured a designer from the US. It was an interview about her life and career progression, and the structure of the interview followed the typical conventions – a bit about the person’s background, the school they went to, an example of success in school, then a successful job. There were a lot of hyperlinks to fonts and illustrations she had made – so the reader can get to know her work better, as well as to consider buying something she made; of course, most links were leading to the MyFonts font sales section where she is one of the featured designers. Because this was an interview about her as a professional, there was a lot about how she works, what she loves in her work, etc. The interview was well made, it had some interesting questions and answers – but basically, it was good because it followed the conventions and was predictable and therefore pleasing for the reader.

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