Thursday, March 6, 2014

Rethinking Genres

I've said before that I like to use this blog as a way to organize my own thoughts and ideas. For some reason, I always tend to think better when I'm writing. What I'm getting at is that today's post is going to be one of those rambling ones where I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to say until I've said it.

Anyway, I think the genre "western" should be eliminated, why "animation" needs to be more clearly defined, and why "horror" needs to be divided into separate genres.

The problem that we have with genres now is that we think about them more in terms of the tropes and cliches associated with them than with what their intended effect is. Film, as with all of the arts, is a conversational medium, or, if you prefer, a reactionary one. Another way to say it is that any time you take in any kind of art, the creator either intended it to have a specific reaction in you or give you a specific kind of thought.

This is not that hard to imagine, is it? And I suppose I don't need to explain it much. A stand-up comedy act, of course, wants its audience to laugh. A survival horror video game wants its audience to feel scared. A romance novel wants the audience to mimic the feeling of being in love. Have you ever wondered why people have gone nuts over Twilight, specifically, over which male character they like the most? It's because the creator wanted her audience to feel the love that the protagonist feels. I'm suggesting that Twilight fans are literally in love with these characters, which, by the way, was what was intended.

This gets more complicated when genres get too wide, or get confused with being about tropes rather than emotions and effects. Let's take Shaun of the Dead, one of my favorite movies and apply a traditional understanding of genres to it: Well, it has zombies in it. Your average everyman gets thrown into a strange situation. There's a bunch of people trying to survive and they slowly get whittled down to two. Sounds like a horror movie, right? Well, the problem with this line of thinking is that, and this should be be obvious to anyone who's seen an Edgar Wright or Broken Lizard film, these elements are only there to prop up the comedy. The point, the intended effect, if you will, is to make you laugh.

But then we get into the fact that not all horror movies are intended to scare you. Take a like at Miike's Audition. There are some creepy things in there, but the intended effect on the audience is more to disturb than fright. Then you look at Raimi's Drag to Me to Hell, where the effect is to have the audience "jump" at the scares. Or how about something like The Human Centipede, where the intent is to disgust? You already know that most horror movies can be divided into "jump scares" and "creepy", like comparing Nightmare on Elm Street to Ringu.

"Western" is particularly bad at the "defined by its cliches" style of placing things into genres. Films in the western genre don't really separate much from other action-style films or even some kung-fu style movies. Let's assume for generalization's sake that the "point" of a western movie is to make the audience feel like a badass in the same vein as the main character. How is that different from 300?

Animated films are a huge problem when talking about genres, because really, the only thing they all have in common is that they're animated. Actually, we don't even differentiate between the way it's animated or the type of technology used. Then somehow How to Train Your Dragon is in the same category as Nightmare Before Christmas and Akira and Sleeping Beauty. If the genre is so wide to include such a varied amount of movies, why not just break that barrier down all the way and not divide between animated and live-action at all? Something like How to Train Your Dragon is way closer to Harry Potter than it is to Perfect Blue, but we put the animated movies in a separate category. Doesn't make any sense. Doesn't make any damn sense, and needs to change.
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