Genre: Same Old, Same Old?

To recap on the work I did on genre last year, ‘Genre’ translates from French as ‘type’ or ‘kind’. It is a way of classifying media output into different categories. Audiences gain satisfaction from viewing the familiar/expected (for example, the gangster genre has proven popular with mainstream audiences since the 1920s), producers avoid risk by producing genres that have been successful (production companies such as Warner Brothers became well-known for gangster films) and from the use of genre critics are able to establish ‘hierarchies of value’. It enables us to understand most texts based on previoius cultural knowledge; it is rare that we misrecognise genres, normally we recognise them instantaneously.

Taking the gangster genre as an example, Warner Brothers saw this as a safe choice to work with: the plots are easy to understand and have the ability to reach a mainstream audience, there is often a large amount of violence and fast-paced action (which audiences thrive off), usually characters which individual viewers may relate to or wish they had the daredevil personality of, the expectation of well-known stars such as James Cagney, ‘concrete jungle’ settings where there is always confrontation and competition over power…

In today’s lecture we had a look at this advertisement:

This is an advert for Yeo Valley yoghurt. From a tacit viewing it is obvious that the video is funny, well produced and looks similar to the format of a music video and other adverts. Analysing this further we can begin to critically break down the text and start to raise questions about what it means, rather than just expressing an emotional response.

The yoghurt company would have commisioned an advertising agency to come up with the creative idea and they, in turn, would have appointed a production company to produce it. The director of this text is Julien Lutz – also known as Little X – a Canadian music video director who has previously produced high-budget, visually distinctive popular music videos for artists such as R. Kelly, Kanye West and Usher. Bellow is an example of a music video directed by Little X. The similarities between this video and the Yeo Valley advertisement are noticeable. This is ‘Temperature’ by Sean Paul:

Looking again at the Yeo Valley commercial we can see that it contains certain characteristics seen in adverts as well as other types of texts, primarily the layout of a popular culture, R&B music video. In both the above texts, there is a male singer (or rapper) who uses hand gestures to express his emotions and to time himself to the rhythm (or beat). Both texts open with a sort of soft harmony in the background – somewhat similar to an equilibrium before the main tune hits in.

This yoghurt commercial is a parody of a popular culture music video. It is intended to be comical and it achieves that by use of the audiences pre-knowledge of R&B music videos. The director has used intertextuality to create humour; the use of farmers in the countryside replacing rappers in an urban setting provides the complete opposite of what the audience would expect, and this is common in parodies. Audiences love the expected and the unexpected, nothing unrecognisable and in the middle; it satisfies their needs.

There are differences of course, such as the woman rapping in the commercial who has a posh accent, clearly from a high-class background and is heavily clothed. Another parody of R&B culture. This is a juxtaposition to the women shown in Sean Paul’s video – who do not speak, just dance and are barely clothed – portrayed as objects of desire for the ‘male gaze’ (Laura Mulvi). The first text enables the audience to (re)introduce intertextuality and hybridity: key features of contemporary media. I began to think, is the video an authentic advert or an inauthentic rap video? I believe it is both. Being a parody it is able to mimic conventions from both genres and blend them together to create a hybrid text.

In Genre (1985), Steve Neale argues that genres are not only characterised by sameness and repetition, but also difference. Sameness based on what Branston (2006:51) terms a ‘repertoire of elements’ (audio-visual elements, narratives, characters and ideological relations) but difference in the sense that all genres rely on slight differences within them to make each text stand out. This relates back to the arguments of, for example, the Frankfurt School – a group of Jewish Marxist writers, writing in the middle of the 20th century – and their notion of the culture industry (culture produced as part of a factory process: mechanical, interchangeable, any colour you like as long as it is black).

In media texts signs are organised by codes into sequences which, through repetition, become established as generically correct. If parody itself is seen as a genre, then it would be fair to say that genre has the ability to adapt and surprise an audience, yet still entertain and gain their approval.

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