Genre is a subset of media. In the same way communication can be broken down into different mediums, each individual medium can be broken down into different genres within that medium.
Definition and History The concept of genre hasn't been discussed too heavily in the context of WAM. However, I believe it to be the more specific types of media within a given medium. We've discussed at length what each different medium affords you, and in doing so, have touched on a number of different genres in each medium. While documentaries and blockbuster movies are both within the medium of video, they are two completely different things. As are paintings and info-graphics, paintings and cartoons, and songs and spoken word poetry. Each of these pairs belong to the same medium, and can be discussed within the broad definition of sound or visual, but each afford the author or artist different things.
Genre itself, like the culture and society that defines it and vice versa, is subject to change throughout history. It began with Plato's division of literature into three categories that are still used today: drama, prose, and poetry with the latter have further subdivisions. According to Ralph Cohen's essay on History and Genre, genre has been "defined in terms of meter, inner form, intrinsic form, radical of presentation, single traits, family traits, institutions, conventions, contracts," all of which were considered as empirical historical groupings. When a genre is transformed, it reveals the social changes in audiences' interpretation of literature.
French philosopher and social theorist Michel Foucault argued that applying genre to subjects like literature or philosophy is useless since there's no longer any agreement upon such distinctions compared to when they were first formulated. Another French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, argued that genre is both necessary and unnecessary, that no generic trait completely confines something to a specific genre.
Francis Cairns points out that genres were used during the days of oral communication to help listeners distinguish about the story the poet was reciting. When literary communication came to replace oral, genre had to undergo a change as well. Much to the agreement of Derrida, no one genre can describe an entire text, so there must be a hierarchy of genres to coexist in order to complement the work, defining them by their interrelation and differentiation from one another.
Within the medium of sound:
Song: Song separates itself from other forms of sound by using melodies and sung as opposed to spoken lyrics. These unique characteristics make it an important genre within sound.
Spoken Word: Spoken word can be thought of as a stripped down version of song. Lyrics are still the source of information/message but they are spoken not sung. This genre can manifest itself in a few different ways. While it is common place for there to be no audio but the speaker, some artists choose to include subtle or minimalistic backing music or rhythms.
Sound Effects: Sound effects are the absence of lyrics and in some cases melody. Our “sounds from home” project is a great example of this genre. A message is conveyed via sound, but this time not with the use of words. A collection of noises recognized by the listener creates a story or provides a message.
Within the medium of visuals:
Paintings: Paintings are one of the most popular visual genres. John Berger's Ways of Seeing delve deep into all that can be interpreted and understood from paintings. This pieces are incredibly influential within the visual medium and could easily be divided into even more specific sub-genres. The meaning behind these pieces is open to far more interpretation than other visual genres. Paintings are an expression by the artist and can mean different things to different viewers in different locations.
Cartoon: Cartoons are a more relaxed less-realistic version of paintings. These pieces can be hand drawn or computer drawn. Often used to convey a story in scene be scene form, this genre is a powerful one as discussed by McCloud in Understanding Comics. Stripping away the unnecessary detail of a character allows the artist to convey a stronger version of expressions and emotions on a characters face. This genre also includes single panel cartoons that make a statement or comment on a specific subject like political cartoons.
Info-graphic: Info-graphics are designed with information in mind. They are a visual diagram and often contain cartoons or paintings, but their purpose is to inform. Often utilizing charts, graphs, or diagrams, these pictures are analytical where other visual genres are creative and artistic.
Within the medium of video:
Documentary: A documentary can be thought of as the video version of an info-graphic. It's goal is to inform. Unlike a movie which creates a story with fictional characters, a documentary is non-fiction and factual. Often used to raise awareness or inform the viewer about an issue or problem, this genre is a powerful way to deliver a lot of information in an engaging way.
Movie (narrative): As stated above movies are fictitious stories used to entertain and inform the viewer. As all narratives do, movies follow a story arch that can be mapped out including elements of climax and resolution. The goal of a movie can vary from film to film. While some are simply to entertain and provide escapism for the viewer (see Die Hard) others are intended to make a comment on a true event or situation.
Animation: This genre is rather broad and could actually include the previous two within it. Movies are to paintings as animation is to comics. The same benefits an artist gains be using the medium of cartoon can be achieved through animation. This illustrates a sort of venn diagram nature within the video medium. Documentaries and movies are mutually exclusive, but animation and other forms of video production can be used on either.
Further Reading Edit
Chandler, Daniel (1997): 'An Introduction to Genre Theory'. This articles gives an overview of the idea of genre theory in regards to various forms of media such as literature and film. This articles gives some basic terminologies such as narrative, themes, setting, and characterization that can be used to interpret different genres.
Mittell, Jason. (2001): "A Cultural Approach to Television Genre Theory". Cinema Journal Vol. 40, p.3-24. This articles exmaines genre theory in regards to the medium of television. Television genres are explored through the examination of the industry, audience, and contemporary cultural theory on genre.
Kaminsky, Stuart M. (1974). American Film Genres: Approaches to a Critical Theory of Popular Film. This book examines different genres in popular films and gives an indication of how genre and genre theory can be applied to popular films by using twelve case studies.
Altman, Rick. (Spring, 1984). "A Semantic/ Syntactic Approach to Film Genre". Cinema Journal. Vol. 32, No. 3, pp 6-18. This articles examines the necessity for genre theory in Hollywood films and how to apply genre theory to study popular films.
Troyan, F. J. (2014). Leveraging Genre Theory: A Genre-Based Interactive Model for the Era of the Common Core State Standards. Foreign Language Annals, 47(1), 5-24. This articles examines the future of genre theory in high schools with the Common Core State Standards. The author argues that genre theory will allow teachers to help students comprehend a variety of different texts better.