Genre is a French word that means sort or style. It is often used to classify different types of art. In this lesson, we will define genre, learn why it's important and look at how genres evolve over time.
You tell your friend that you're going to the movies. The first question that he or she may ask you is, 'what kind of movie is it?' You probably then respond that's it's a comedy, drama, horror, western or maybe even a musical. Just from your simple response, your friend will immediately know exactly what kind of experience you will have over the next couple of hours.
Genre is used to group various types of art. It provides a rule bound world in which there are a predictable range of features and expectations. So if I decide to go to a book store and buy a fantasy novel, my expectations are that the story will feature an imaginary place with fairy tale elements such as wizards and supernatural powers and magic. Imagine if I'm expecting a fantasy and instead I wind up reading a non-fiction story on the Vietnam War. My present expectations would obviously not be met and I'd most likely be extremely disappointed.
Types of Genres
Genre classification is used in all forms of art. There are different genres in music: rap, rock, country, metal, jazz. There are different genres in literature: suspense, mystery, epic, romance, non-fiction, poetry. In fact, everything from painting, to sculpture to television to radio can be placed into distinct genres.
The Importance of Genre
Why do we feel the need to group things into neat little categories? There is something that draws us as spectators, readers and art lovers to the familiar. For example, film spectators take great comfort in pretty much knowing where the story will take us. The good guys wear white and the bad guys wear black (the western). The guy will eventually get the girl after they have a big fight and he wins her back (romantic comedy). The underdog will exceed all expectations and beat his bigger and stronger opponent (sports drama). Humans are generally pattern seeking, in turn, our goal is to establish order out of chaos. We can't always have control in our everyday lives, so we seek control in our entertainment and art.
The Evolution of Genre
We evolve as people, society changes and entertainment changes. The most successful genres adapt to society and culture. For example, in the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood movie musicals were by far the most popular films. The story-world was typically a utopian-like society where hard work and perseverance always led to a happy ending. One of the most popular films to celebrate both the difficulty and triumph of show business was Busby Berkely's '42nd Street' (1933). At the end of the film, the Broadway show depicted in the movie is a smash success and all the character's hard work and sweat pays off with fantastic audience approval. Two of Berkeley's most popular film stars were Fred Astaire and Ginger Roberts. Their iconic film 'Top Hat' (1935) brought a screwball-comedy element into the musical genre. The film, of course, ends with the couple happily dancing off into the sunset together.
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