Thursday, August 4, 2011

Enjoyment Modifiers: Genre

Welcome to the first of what I hope will be many posts on my Enjoyment Modifiers schema.  To start us off, I thought I'd tackle the broadest category of modifiers:  Genre.  After all, even people who don't put a lot of critical thought into their entertainment choices tend to use genres as de facto Enjoyment Modifiers, selecting and avoiding media by virtue of its status as a work of Science Fiction, Romance, Drama, etc.  In other words, a good jumping off point for the series.

To start off, what exactly constitutes a genre?  Well, the dictionary definition is "A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content."  In other words, a genre is a label given to works that share commonalities in their plots, themes, settings, etc.  For my purposes, I have separated out what I think of as the Major Genres: those categories which are joined together more by broad themes than by specific plots.  The more narrowly defined categories fall into my idea of Sub-Genres.  There are lots of lists of what people consider the Major Genres, but here is my own personal list.

  • Action/Adventure
  • Comedy
  • Crime
  • Drama
  • Fantasy
  • Historical
  • Horror
  • Musical
  • Mystery
  • Romance
  • Science Fiction
  • Superheroes
  • Thriller
  • Western
I went back and forth on whether to include Superheroes in the above or relegate it to a Sub-Genre, but my pal Josh made an argument on his blog yesterday about them actually being a Supercategory unto themselves, much like Drama and Comedy are sometimes considered, so they made the cut. 

Along those line, one of the difficulties with having such broad designations is that many works will actually be a mixture of two or more of the above; Back to the Future merges Science Fiction and  Comedy, Sweeny Todd is a Musical that is also part Horror and Drama, True Blood is Fantasy, Horror, Romance, Drama, and Comedy all rolled into one.  Often one aspect outshines the others in some way and thus becomes the accepted Genre label, but others have the different threads entangled so much that it's difficult to separate one out from another.

While the major genres can be a useful shorthand for explaining likes/dislikes, in practice the individual works underneath the umbrella often have such a wide range of other factors that it makes their efficacy as modifiers minimal.  For example, while I could say "I like Comedies", in reality there are numerous sub-genres that have varying degrees of negative mods (Slapstick, Farce, Cringe) that outweigh my general love of humor significantly.  Similarly, while I might say "I don't like Romance," there are several works with romantic undertones which I thoroughly enjoy, and in reality it's not so much the larger genre I abhor, as it is certain plot elements which tend to crop up (Misunderstandings, Assumptions) and leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Practically speaking, for me there are only a few Genres which serve as true Enjoyment Modifiers, and even then their use varies depending on medium and overall quality of the work.  My next few posts will be examining these Genres in a bit more detail, starting with one of the more striking ones:  Horror.

So, which of the Major Genres attract and repel you? Please answer below!


  1. So how do you deal with genres when they are more about a design aesthetic than they are a cohesive set of themes and tropes?

    For instance, one reason that True Blood is so hard to pin down is because I've often heard it should be described as Southern Gothic (or sometimes White Trash Gothic) because every other choice stems from that. The comedy is SG comedy, the drama is SG drama, etc.

  2. Hmmm . . . well, I can't deny that design aesthetic can have a large effect on the enjoyment, but I don't know that I would agree that Southern Gothic is built solely on design.

    Yes, it is usually defined by place as much as anything, but technically the term describes fiction that uses that place mixed with elements of the grotesque or macabre to explore moral and societal issues. Now, we can debate on whether True Blood truly does that, or just carries some of the trappings of Southern Gothic, but since Gothic fiction itself was largely a mash-up of Horror and Romance in the beginning, I'd say the designation still fits.

    Of course, we can also debate whether the literal definition of Gothic (Southern or not) actually applies to everything that's been branded thus, or if those design elements have trumped themes in most people's eyes . . . and this is the most thought that I've applied to Gothic fiction in ages.