Genre & Generic Conventions

Genre is important for both the readers and creators of texts (i.e. the audience and the producers)


  • select texts on basis of genre, often because texts are arranged at retail outlets by genre (just pop along to HMV). Also, certain genres are considered appropriate to certain ages/genders in society, and choices are made accordingly eg teen movie, ‘chick flicks’
  • have systems of expectations about the content and style of a text, according to its genre. This enables them to take particular pleasures in the text, those of repetition, and of predicted resolution. Pleasure may also be drawn from differences.
  • identify with repeated elements in generic texts and may shape their own identity in response (eg fans of a particular genre of music dress in a specific way – metalheads in their band t-shirts, for instance)
  • market texts according to genre because a niche audience has already been identified as taking pleasure in that type of text
  • standardise production practices according to genre conventions, thus cutting costs
  • subscribe to established conventions of versimilitude, thus reinforcing genre conventions, but also allowing creativity within a given format eg) it is an accepted convention in science fiction that spaceships make noises, which helps create excitement in battle scenes, but it is a scientific fact that no sound travels through the vacuum that is space.


Classification by genre is seen as both positive and negative by audiences, producers and theorists

On the one hand, rigorous conformity to established conventions while giving the audience what they want, can actually lead to stagnation and the eventual ossification of a genre as a “they’re all the same” judgement is passed. This is what happened to the traditional Hollywood Western and Musical – once many profitable examples of these genres were pumped out by the studio each year, but the formats became stale through over-repetition and audiences lost interest. It is now only when a new Western or Musical that challenges the conventions and defies expectation (Brokeback Mountain or Moulin Rouge) comes along that non-niche audiences are willing to watch.

On the other hand, the genre of reality television has defied criticism that it is stale, contrived and predictable, and is now the basis of programming for entire networks. Although all possible variations of the same structure (contestants compete for a prize/live in the same house/go about a heightened version of their daily lives), iconography (surface realism and non-actors) and theme (aren’t these people making idiots of themselves?) seem to have been run through in the space of a decade, it’s still popular with audiences, who seem to enjoy the familiarity of the patterns presented onscreen.


Genre can provide structure and form which can allow a great deal of creativity and virtuosity

This is especially true when a genuine reworking of generic conventions comes along (the Coen Brothers’ reimagining of the Western in No Country For Old Men). Genre provides key elements for an audience to recognise, so that they may further appreciate the variation and originality surrounding the representation of those elements. When Scream was released in 1996, writer Kevin Williamson was praised for his fresh, ironic take on the conventional teenage slasher movie. He took the conventions (band of promiscuous teenagers picked off one by one by killer unknown) and turned them around, with the characters’ self-awareness of their own predictability (“Oh, please don’t kill me, Mr. Ghostface, I wanna be in the sequel!”) used as a prime point of pleasure for the audience. However, by the time Scary Movie 4 was released in 2004, it was seen as “formulaic and predictable”. Thus we can see that most genre paradigms form part of a fluid system – they are constantly changing and adapting according to audience tastes, individual entries into the genre and societal influences.

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