‘Genre study is nothing more than placing a film or group of films against a checklist of elements.’ How far do you agree with this statement?
Genre means ‘type’ and the aim of genre is to classify or organise large numbers of media texts into smaller groups. All Genres have a repertoire of elements that are specific to said genre and films that feature all these elements are categorised as being of that genre. These elements are called the conventions of the genre and are made up of elements such as: themes, settings, characters, story and plot, narrative structure, mood, props etc. There are people who say that these elements make the study of genre the categorisation of media texts and that they are fixed and traditional. There are also some people who disagree with this view and who say that genre is more than just groups of media texts that conform to set conventions, but rather that they are constantly evolving and are a reflection of changes and the issue in society.
There are a number of people who theorise that the first argument of genre study is the truth, people such as Warren Buckland and David Duff making statements that support these views. Warren Buckland said “‘To study a film as a genre involves treating it, not as a unique entity, but as a member of a general category, as a certain type of film. The aim…is therefore to classify, or organise, a large number of films into a small number of groups’. His view is very clearly that media texts are not capable of being their own “unique entity” but that they all fall into categories of film that have been established by previous media texts. The use of the word “organise” supports the view that genre study is nothing more than the placement of media texts up against a checklist and to the systematically assort them into genres. In the case of films the checklist is made up of conventions to which a text must conform to in order to be classified as being of a genre. As mentioned before these conventions can be: themes, settings, characters, story and plot, narrative structure, mood, props etc. And in addition to these macro and micro features the use of cinematography can also be studied in order to organise films into categories. This point is supported by David Duff, who said Genre is “a reoccurring type or category of text, as defined by structural and thematic criteria”. To better understand what Duff and Buckland are trying to get across one could examine a specific genre in closer detail and in this case, I’ll examine the Film Noir genre. With Film Noir, there are very specific themes that include: Crime, corruption, sexual obsession, greed, money, power, deceit, manipulation, fate, murder/death, betrayal. So according to Buckland and Duff a film that wants to be considered as being of the Film Noir genre it must feature most if not all of the themes listed above and that the film cannot express any secret ideologies or societal fears as no text can be considered a ‘unique entity’.
The other side of the argument is that media text such as films are able to be a reflection on society and that films can be of a genre whilst being a unique entity. People like David Buckingham argue that Genre study is not as traditional as Buckland and Duff claim it to be, and that it is constantly evolving in time with societal changes. He claims “Genre is not…simply ‘given’ by the culture: rather, it is in a constant process of negotiation and change”. Given the fact I used the film noir genre as the example for the other side of this argument I believe that it would be most effective to use Neo-noir as an example for this side of the argument. Neo-Noir films are considered to be modern day equivalents of the classic post-war noir films. With noir no longer restricted to black & white film and techniques, film makers began to adapt to the new technology. One of the main developments between the classic noir films and the neo-noir genre is the changes of Hays Code in American Cinema, which meant that more graphic violence and sexual scenes were now allowed to be shown on the big screen. This development of the neo-noir genre supports Buckingham’s view as the genre was able to develop as a result of the change in society as they became more open to violence and the exploration of graphic imagery and ideologies.
Another aspect of the modern film industry that supports the view that genre study is more than just organising texts into groups is the expansion in popularity of hybrid genres. Hybrids genres are texts that conform to the conventions of multiple genres meaning they can be organised into multiples genres. “The same text can belong to different genres in different countries or times” – John Hartley. Hybrid texts are the embodiment of the argument that texts and genres can be different and unique and ergo the study of genre is not only the placing of films against a checklist but can also be an exploration of different ideologies. This view is supported by Steve Neale who says, “Genres are instances of repetition and difference…difference is absolutely essential to the economy of genre: mere repetitions would not attract an audience”.
In my opinion, the study of genres is more than just ‘placing a film or group of films against a checklist of elements.’ The reason behind my view are hybrid genres as the fact that they can conform to multiple genres means that Buckland’s view that “To study a film as a genre involves treating it, not as a unique entity, but as a member of a general category, as a certain type of film. The aim…is therefore to classify, or organise, a large number of films into a small number of groups” is not true as the text is a unique entity as other texts will not conform to the same multiple genres, rather conform to multiple genres that are different.