||Genre may be French (for â€˜typeâ€™, â€˜kindâ€™ or â€˜formâ€™) but the roots of its meaning go back to Plato, who drew distinctions between major forms of drama. However, in more recent times, genre has been used as a system of classification in art, literature and the media. For instance, science fiction films, womens\' magazines and television soap operas are examples of popular genres within the mass media.
As a means of understanding the media, genre analysis has some advantages and limitations, and this has been reflected in the variability of its use and popularity at different times. Genre analysis emphasizes the ways in which certain patterns, themes, structures and styles may be identified, despite differences in storyline or plot. In this way, we can understand genre as a kind of scaffolding which â€˜containsâ€™ and shapes individual variations. The key elements of a genre text, therefore, are repetition, recognition and familiarity. Given these factors, the part played by the audience or reader in recognizing and responding to generically identifiable texts is seen as crucial.
A major problem within genre analysis concerns the genesis of any genre and the problem of circularity. We can recognize a Western film by its landscape, the presence of guns and stetsons, and by such themes as the struggle between civilization and the wilderness, but how do we come by this classifying list in the first place? Could it be that this can only occur by watching a number of films that contain such elements and attaching the label later? Whatever their origins, genres are seen as capable of shifting and developing over time, sometimes by commenting on earlier examples. The evolution of a genre can produce cross-genres and other variations. These are often linked to changing social attitudes.
Much has been written on the ways in which Hollywood film genres developed within a specific cultural and commercial context (the studio system), which encouraged repetition on the basis of prior box-office success. Some critics have blamed the studio system for lack of artistic vision and experimentation, while others have pointed to the ways in which talented film-makers were able to develop a personal style within the constraints of the genre film.
Recently, structuralists and feminist theorists, among others, have focused on the way in which generically defined structures may operate to construct particular ideologies and values, and to encourage reassuring and conservative interpretations of a given text. BC
Further reading R. Allen, Channels of Discourse; , S. Neale, Genre.