Tuesday 15 July 2014

Genre Theory

There are many theories about what genre is and how it affects us as an audience. Alongside the theories are the theorists, some that we have studied are Rick Altman, Jason Mittell and McQuail’s Uses and Gratifications. These all give us a deeper understanding of the various meanings and conventions of a genre in soap operas.
Genre is a type of narrative or item that ties together the aspects of a piece of media, whether film or TV, and labels it in a certain category. This label is identified by the audience member to what is expected of the content, for example, if a film is labelled as a horror, it is expected to denounce death and gore, creating stereotypes.

Genre theorists touch upon what genres are identified as, other by audience or content, and how we are able to find genre in not only film but also Soap Operas.

Barry Keith Grant;
Barry Keith Grant was the theorist behind the creation of sub-genres. He believed that sub-genres gave a more specific categorisation to particular audience members using recognisable characteristics. This identification with a familiar is what labels the media with a particular genre theme, for example a Soap Opera is a genre of media, however, the likes of Emmerdale involve the sub-genres or horror, romance and comedy, using different narrative structures and characters to present these ideas. In Emmerdale, the sub-genre of comedy is pronounced through different characters, such as Sam and David, who are labelled as "dopey" and "clumsy", fulfilling a character profile of a bungler.
This idea of sub-genres gives the audience an idea behind what content is involved in the Soap Opera, as well as the characters and narratives, therefore deciding on whether they would find it entertaining or not.

Soap Opera
Romance, Comedy, Crime, Horror, Mystery, Thriller
Coronation Street
Romance, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, “paranormal”
Romance, Comedy, Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Romance, Comedy, Crime, Horror, Mystery, Thriller, “Paranormal”

As you can see, there are various sub-genres, however most of these are present in various Soap Operas, although the theme of "paranormal" elements has only been seen in Hollyoaks and Coronation Street, with Vera reappearing to take Jack to "heaven" as well as Carmel being visited by her murdered husband telling her to move on with her life. 


One theorist named Buckingham believes that our identity as an audience changes overtime. He studied the interactions of young children and people with electronic media, a device which he believes has sped up the retaining of identity for younger audiences by revealing to them from a young age all negative events which have occurred, such as in Soap Operas when they link to current affairs, for example, ‘EastEnders’ portraying mass murderous villains, like Lucas, and affairs, like the one between Kat and Derek. He argues that as we grow older our understanding of identity becomes more complex, in comparison to the limited identity of children knowing the differentiation between male and female, which contemporarily can be blurred, to us as the older viewer. This is linked to the younger audience of Soap Operas who would most likely interact with the function of personal identity; for example, if someone in ‘Hollyoaks’ (target audience 16-24), were to be stereotyped as a certain characteristic, such as Newt, who dressed in all black with dark make up on, signifying that he was an emo, may present to young audience members other identities other than male and female.
Linking back to this male and female identity, as we become older we understand that there are stereotypes between men and women, which can also be taught to the younger audience who may be unaware, such as the new character in ‘Hollyoaks’, Blessing, who has just been revealed as a male rather than her portrayed female persona.

McQuail touches upon the Uses and Gratifications Theory, which studies the understanding to why people look specifically for media that satisfies their specific needs, such as for escapism or personal identitfication. Although other theories, such as Altman, focus towards the effect of the media on the audience, the Uses and Gratifications theory is focused on how people use the media for their own personal gain.
McQuail gives the examples that people use the media for;

Seeking information
  • Finding out about relevant events in the immediate surroundings, society and the world
  • Seeking advice on practical matters or opinion and choices
  • Satisfying curiosity and general interest
  • Learning and self-education
  • Gaining a sense of security through gain of knowledge

Personal Identity
  • Finding reinforcement for personal values
  • Finding models of behaviour
  • Identitfy with others (for example, their role models)
  • Gaining insight in to their own personality and characteristics

Social Interaction
  • Gaining insight in to circumstances of others
  • Identifying with others and gaining a sense of belonging
  • Finding a basis for conversation and social interaction
  • Having a substitute for real-life companionship
  • Connecting with family and friends
  • Escapism
  • Relaxation
  • Cultural enjoyment
  • Emotional release
This theory by McQuail is related to the functions of Soap Operas and why people watch them, either for entertainment value or for social interaction. For example, EastEnders' story line focusing around Johnny and how his mother was cold towards him after finding out he is gay, lead to some maybe relating to the story if they have been rejected by their families due to their sexual orientation, however it does not affect everyone, therefore representing the uses and gratifications theory to the fact that viewers watch media for different reasons, especially to Soap Operas.

Neale believes that stories in Soap Operas and other media forms focus on the repetition element in order to obtain their audiences and attract a larger amount. For example, a conventional narrative that i popular for a Soap Opera is an affair. Affairs usually occur in soaps, however, by involving different characters, narratives and plot twists it engages the audience, rather than keeping it the same characters and becoming unattractive to the audience.
This happened in the past, for example, Cindy had an affair with Reese when they were both getting married to Tony and Jacqui. However, during a huge disastrous crash at Cindy's wedding, Reese died, although has recently been reincarnated and having an affair with Cindy again, who is now seeing Dirk. Although this includes the same characters in the narrative, there is a plot twist, involving the fact that Cindy has become mentally ill due to the poor health of her baby which is still living in hospital months after birth. As of this, her imagination has conjured up Reese, with her believing she is having an affair when she is not. This creates suspense, and for those that are aware of the story line with Reese it restimulates the story and produces familiarity.
Neale focuses on this repetition and difference and how he believes that, by focusing stories that are often shown, it is those focused around the repeated that include different and unusual narratives that drives audience pleasure; "there would be no pleasure without difference" [1980]. He believes that functions of genre is to guarantee meanings and pleasures, as well as creating a comparison of familiarity and difference within the media piece, such as a typical relationship involving two characters from Hollyoaks, Dennis and new girl Blessing, being changed in to a unique story line by being the first trans gender character in a Soap after Hayley Cropper from Coronation Street. This contrast between the two types of narratives creates audience pleasure as it puts a twist on something well known that is expected.

Rick Altman

Altman’s theory is that the genre helps depict what is to become of the leading film or programme e.g. romance would have a couple fall in love, horror would almost certainly present a horrible death.  He thought that they had particular characteristics that audiences could familiarize with and expect or judge what is to happen before even watching the piece. They develop an understanding that certain expectations can be fulfilled. To link this to soap operas is quite simple; the soap opera genre consists of many sub-genres like drama, romance and murder mystery. When audiences anticipate what is to happen in the soap, they are predicting things like ‘who will marry who? Could it be her that killed him?’ And as this carries through, they are being an active audience member which is what most producers like as it gives them the sense that the audience is intrigued by the piece and is constantly interpreting the stories being presented. The changes through the years of soaps have been very distinct. For example, the growing number of sub-genres like horror or comedy has really made their ‘stamp’ in the programmes. For example, compared to when it first aired, EastEnders has vastly growing number of murders and suspicions of the killer. This has brought the horror genre prominently into the soap which was not so clear at the start of the programme. The use of sun genre links me to my next theorist.

Jason Mittell

Mittell believed that it was better to emphasize a breadth rather than depth knowledge and use of genre. He also believed that the media and producers saw genre as a money making tool and he wished that they would see a relationship between them and the audience allowing a more natural piece to be formed. He was very much against specificity of genres and focused on generality so that they could be used and swapped into different sub-genres.  For example, Dallas shows a generalization of the soap genre; however they do focus mainly on drama but branch further out from that stimulus. They take the drama genre and include different genres like a romantic drama where a relationship is being taunted, much like J.R and Sue Ellen where there relationship went through a rollercoaster of problems, from affairs to secrets being kept and stealing each other’s money. It explored many genres without isolation or strictly sticking to its only connotations. Successfully in some soap operas, Mittell wanted to historicize and contextualize genre.


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