Genre theory

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The genre theory (from French genre for genre or style ) classifies typical features of narrative literary or cinematic works. The form of the narrative, its basic mood, its theme and its plot as well as historical or spatial references of the story serve explicitly as means of differentiation. The more general term of the genre takes precedence over the genres .

The term genre as a sub- term of the genre comes from literary studies . Starting in the USA, it has established itself in film studies since the 1970s , but is also used in musicology and game studies . Due to the different approaches, the term is multifaceted and only differs to a limited extent from other general terms such as genre, format or type of text .

Genre and genre

In his poetics, the philosopher Aristotle divided poetry into epic , lyric and drama and thus defined the first genres. In German, an understanding problem arises from the fact that the terms genre and genre are used equally, but have different meanings depending on the context. The genre tends to subdivide the “high” and the genre the “lower” art, similar to the distinction between the “lower” genre painting and the “high” history painting . In addition, the genre seems to denote larger groups of works than the genre.

The English genre is indeed the Germans genus translated and vice versa; However, depending on the context and author, the two terms can have divergent meanings. In film studies one usually speaks of genres and means thematically related film groups such as westerns or thrillers . In literary studies , on the other hand, genres are usually used when it comes to Bildungsroman or bourgeois tragedy . From this point of view, the genre is more of a fashion , while the genre appears as the execution of a theoretical program. Genre theory is not provided for the genres it describes, as poetics seeks to be for the genres.

It is quite common in German-speaking film studies to designate 'large' groups such as feature films or documentaries as a genre; In German studies, on the other hand, the expression genre is also used, mostly as a term for particularly strongly typed, commercially oriented literary genres outside or on the edge of the literary canon . The doctor's novel , for example, is typical genre literature, whereas the novel is called a genre.

Here too, this distinction is by no means made everywhere. It is perfectly permissible to call the detective novel a genre; To name the novel as a genre, however, is unusual. In English, genre has a similarly broad meaning as genre in German: Gothic novel , romance or poetry are "genres". The different language usage often leads to confusion. For English speakers, the assertion that nonfiction film is a genre is not a problem, but in the German-speaking context this statement usually leads to heated discussions because genre is usually understood here as a smaller unit.

Definition problems

If the characteristics of a genre are not defined by poetics, as is the case with the regular drama of French classical music, the problems of induction arise with each assignment : a film is assigned to the genre of westerns or horror films in comparison with other films . There is no given standard as a fixed reference value. However, how can one determine which genre a work belongs to when a genre is merely a canon of works that one has to determine more or less arbitrarily, since a complete description of all relevant characteristics cannot or can only be derived from the works themselves?

Janet Staiger explains that there are four ways of defining genres without giving preference to science, criticism, the public or the market: 1. Identifying an ideal model against which the other exponents of the genre are compared. (idealist method) 2. The attempt to infer similarities in terms of content. (empiricist method) 3. The simple definition of what should belong to a genre (a priori method) . 4. The study of social expectations that lead to genres (social convention method) . Tzvetan Todorov established in 1970 that historically grown and theoretically modeled genres are seldom identical and that the ideas of science therefore differ from the conventions of the market. Since then, science has increasingly dealt with the market structures from which genre terms have emerged, instead of insisting on their own classifications.

To make matters worse, each work deals with the genre traditions and introduces new elements, or omits or reinterprets old ones. Otherwise it would be too predictable and clichéd . Since the audience associates certain expectations with a genre, the work is stereotypical if it fulfills all of them and incomprehensible if they are all disappointed.

Example: The audience's expectation to see a western is built through films of this type. If two men face each other on the street, for example, there will be a shootout. If all of those expectations are met, the movie may be in line with the genre in every way, but for that reason may not be interesting enough. If too many of these expectations are disappointed, some of the audience can no longer orientate themselves.

Dependence on historical processes

When a new work inevitably has to introduce new elements, the definition of a genre changes over time. Genres are therefore subject to historical processes and always refer to existing works, new ones cannot be fully described. Social changes play an important role in these processes, since the consensus on a genre is ultimately a social consensus.

Example: For a long time, western films only showed Indians as primitive villains who attacked harmless settlers en masse and were driven out by the cavalry at the last moment (which is in part an allusion to the Cold War and the associated "red danger") , communism ). Films like Little Big Man or Dances with Wolf changed this image in a new social environment and gave the natives a new place.

Different parties thus contribute to the formation and further development of genres: on the one hand the producers and authors by attempting to calculate the audience's reactions to certain aesthetic patterns, on the other hand the audience itself, which has built up expectations, and last but not least the critics, who as Serve the engine of development and provide the analytical background.

Genre theory deals with all of these questions and has devised complex systems of explanation. Nevertheless, many questions remain unanswered, for example the relationship between author and genre.

See also


  • Barry Keith Grant (Ed.): Film genre: Theory and criticism. Scarecrow Press, Metuchen / London 1977, ISBN 0-8108-1059-X .
  • Gérard Genette: Introduction à l'architexte (1979), German: Introduction to the Architext . Translated by J.-P. Dubost, G. Febel, H.-Ch. Hobohm and U. Pfau. Verlag Jutta Legueil, Stuttgart 1990, ISBN 3-9802323-2-8 (on the classification of literary genres)
  • Marcus Stiglegger (Hrsg.): Handbuch Filmgenre. Springer Verlag, Wiesbaden 2018, ISBN 978-3-658-09631-1 . [1]

Individual evidence

  1. : ICONS: Articles Film Genres Genre Theory Feature Film Marcus Stiglegger Film Studies Film Theory Definition Introduction. Retrieved April 14, 2017 .
  2. Janet Staiger: Hybrid or Inbred: The Purity Hypothsis ans Hollywood Genre History, in: Barry Ketih Grant (ed.): Film Genre Reader IV, Univ. of Texas Press, Austin 2012, pp. 203-217.
  3. Peter Scheinpflug: Genre Theory. An introduction, Lit, Berlin 2014, p. 6ff. ISBN 978-3-643-12435-7