Genre and Form

In class last Thursday, we discussed genre and form from a few different angles. We agreed that these terms have to do with the way that works are grouped. There are different criteria by which grouping can occur. For example the medium of the work: literature, film, painting, etc. But there is not one way that these groupings work and they are often overlapping, like how both films and works of literature can be considered fiction or nonfiction. There are subgroupings within groupings that work in a hierarchical way, such as the genre of science fiction that could be placed within novels, which is itself in literature.

We talked about how genres can be used to classify “high” or “low” works of art in an unfair way. One of the most conspicuous examples of this is how genres such as detective novels or science fiction are put into distinct sections of bookstores and so thought of as less valuable than novels in the more generalized “fiction” genre. However, these unclassified novels also have genres, such as family melodrama. Novels that are placed in genre sections are stigmatized because they are considered to follow a formula and thus lack sophistication, but this is not necessarily a bad thing since practically every work is related to at least one genre and so follows certain patterns.

Continuing the point that following the conventions of a genre doesn’t necessarily mean that a work is good or bad, we discussed how we can critically judge works. For example, all romantic comedy films follow a certain formula, and “push buttons” in order to make us feel desired emotions. However, some are more successful than others. The successful romantic comedies are often ones that use many markers of the genre but use just enough new “twists” on the formula in order to keep it from feeling stale.

Working off of these discussion points, it seems to me that there are some key differences between genre and form. Form is more objective and involves bigger categories: either a play has three acts or it doesn’t. Genre seems to be fluid and involve subcategories of form. For example, is a certain play more tragic or comic? Good quality works often play with genre but never lack it completely. We like to be able to recognize the patterns of a work in order to have an idea of what is going on, but don’t want it to follow a formula so precisely that we can predict exactly what will happen next.

Leave a Reply