Genre is derived from the french word meaning ‘kind’ or ‘type’. Genre is the system through which different media forms and sub-forms can be ‘grouped’ into categories’ in which ‘each category or class’ is marked by a particular set of conventions, features and norms’. (Steve Neale, ‘Studying Genre’, in Glen Creeber (Ed), The Television Genre Book (London: BFI 2008) p3).
We require genre to navigate our way through a media marketplace saturated by choice and competition. Most media organisations use genre as a central marketing device. Most of our media experiences are framed by genre expectations; ‘I’ll watch that because I like a good horror film’.
Channel hopping is a rapid media selection based subconsciously upon genre classification. ‘Narrow-cast’ or ‘niche-marketed’ digital channels now direct our selections towards specific genres and their associated expectations: ITVBe, Syfy, Comedy Central, The Horror Channel, Alibi… etc.
Key Uses of Genre
As media consumers, we often like representations and stories that fit within familiar genres. Familiarity is reassuring.
Genre allows us to create a sense of order by placing media products into seemingly ‘neat’ compartments. We like order in life, however, this can be a danger for media scholars (not all media texts fit neatly into genre categories). Categorisation helps us select.
Genre texts offer us ways of understanding and interpreting the world around us. The mythic function of genre is incredibly important. Myth in an everyday context has connotations of something that is false or fabricated.However, myths are stories that we use to understand and to interpret the world around us. Myths are not necessarily true or false. They are merely reflections of our culture and how our culture chooses to interpret the world.
Genre based media texts are a key means through which cultural myths are constructed and circulated. Take the Hollywood Western genre for example, these constructed a public myth for American audiences about how their ancestors tamed the wilderness to build the foundations of modern America. Myths often serve the motivations of those who create them. Myths are often structured using binary oppositions: good vs evil, civilisation vs chaos. The western film has lots of parallels with the TV genre of Police Drama particularly in the way that it presents the hero as the figure who protects the boundaries between good and evil.