Rethinking Everything You Thought You Knew About Genre

Apparently genre isn’t as simple as pop, R&B, country, and oldies. It’s not even close to being that simple. I think it might be the most complex topic I’ve had to wrap my mind around in a while.

After reading Dean’s Genre Theory, I understand why the first thing she said about genre was that it is messy and complex. That’s an understatement. Just when I think it’s starting to make sense, it contradicts itself. This piece almost sounded like a huge riddle to me; “(I) can arrange something that exists and produce something else”. What am I?

I understand why she decided it would be easier to tell what genres are not before going into what they are, because it seems like they can be just about anything depending on the context and the situation. Before I get into this, I want to say that there was more of this piece that confused me than there was that I understood.

Genre is not classification

Say whaaaa? You mean to tell me that everything I have every thought to be true about genre is wrong?

Genre is not form

Dean says that genres are more than forms. She associates genre with “familiar places we go to create intelligible communicative action with each other and the guideposts we use to explore the unfamiliar”. To me, this sounds very similar to my inquiry, stereotypes. We stereotype to “explore the unfamiliar”, so does that make stereotypes or stereotyping a genre?

Genre is not fixed

When I think about genres being “tied to social purposes and contexts”, it makes sense that they are not fixed. If no two situations are exactly the same, no two genres can be exactly the same.

So if genre is not classification, not fixed, and not form; what is it?

Genre is social

The social aspect of genre supports my idea that stereotyping may be a genre. They “arise from social interactions”, and are “shaped by social situations”. They create social roles for participants, and they allow users to choose among options to effectively accomplish their purpose. My group’s contribution is looking at how stereotypes change with society. In this piece, Dean says that genres “grow out of past genres, and develop new ones”. This is basically the definition of stereotyping.

Genre is cultural

Sir Edwin Tylor provided us with the first good definition of culture:

That complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society”. In my anthropology class, we have learned that culture is learned, shared, integrated, and dynamic. Since genre shares all of these characteristics, it only makes sense that genre is cultural.

Genre is historical

When I think about “historical” meaning that is has a history, there’s no doubt that genre fits in this category. It changes and evolves with society and the world around it.

Genre is situated

Genre is not situation, but it depends on situation. It “reflects a group’s beliefs and how it views the world”, so genre will vary from place to place. Dean compares it to “going to a place and taking on a character of that place.”

I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I started reading Genre Theory. Genre is so much more complicated and complex than I could have every imagined it to be. It’s everywhere and everything, but has no real definition. It will continue to evolve and change as long as people are evolving and changing, which will hopefully be for a long long time.