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August 17 2010

Has "Genre" Become A Bad Word on Television? The "genre" label is getting a much wider berth than ever before, as science-fiction itself continues to expand. But where are the lines drawn? Quotes from Summer Glau denying "The Cape" is genre.

I'm all for getting away from genre labels or, more accurately, I'm all for not letting them define or control what a show is, but the arguments here seem pretty silly, in my opinion.

"There is nothing supernatural or futuristic about it," Glau recently told Airlock Alpha and Media Blvd. "It is set in the present-day city, and no one has any special powers. It's just magic. Vince Faraday (David Lyons) learns magic."

I'm not sure about the 'magic' part. Is it metaphorical, or does this character actually have magic powers? Because that is both a "special power" and "supernatural." And to say that it's set in a present-day city seems to imply that's it's an ordinary city which, based on what I remember from the trailer I saw a while back, isn't near true. It was a very stylized city, and definitely had a "sci-fi"-ish vibe; It certainly felt more like sci-fi than present-day, if you had to apply one of those labels. The whole tone of the "this is not sci-fi" message seems very defensive, and they don't really say what the show is, only mentioning what it isn't.


The show is completely different from "Firefly" and "Sarah Connor" because it's not futuristic and not set in space, Glau said.

This is just close-minded. To say that Firefly is what it is because it's "set in space," or that Sarah Connor is what it is because it's "futuristic" does neither show justice. It's not about the setting, not entirely at least. It's about the feeling, the atmosphere. A show could be neither set in space nor futuristic, and still draw comparisons to either Firefly or Sarah Connor, or even both. It's not all about the genre.

That's the part of the whole 'genre' thing I really can't get behind. Genre doesn't define a show, it simply gives you a general idea, or a starting base to work off of. Often the best shows and movies are the ones the bend what it means to be Genre X, combining new bits with the classic meaning of the genre to achieve something new. For example, in many ways Firefly isn't even sci-fi, in the traditional sense...and it's set largely in space.

All in all I can't really agree with the motivation behind the "it's totally not genre" thing, and the entire message feels hollow. As I mentioned above, it doesn't say anything about what the shows in question are, but merely tells us what they claim not to be.

That said, I'm still excited for The Cape, as what I've seen so far looked quite interesting and unique. I'll catch at least a few episodes of No Ordinary Family as well, although that looks like it could go either way at the moment.
I think by magic she means illusions. Like David Copperfield or GOB.
Yeah - I'm pretty sure she's referring to "performance magic".

They also left out a pretty significant genre distinction: fantasy. The Cape is a fantasy crime-drama (ala Batman: The Animated Series) while No Ordinary Family is a superhero fantasy. They may end up borrowing an occasional scifi-esque "genre" element or two, but so do shows like CSI.
I've always found the use of the word "genre" as only denoting some sort of sci-fi/fantasy thing confusing. I think the first time I ran across it being used in this way was by Joss. I guess that's just how the language changes and evolves, but I still think of it as a word that basically means: a category of fiction based on some sort of stylistic criteria. That means a genre could be mystery, detective fiction, romance, et. al. as well. The American Heritage Dictionary doesn't seem to confine it to fiction either but applies it to music too.
Well they ain't Shakespear either, just so we're clear on that.
Eh... I dunno. I disagree with her. "Batman", in -- if nothing else -- it's most successful form, is about a guy with no powers other than "performance magic" fighting crime in an ordinary city. I think it's fair to compare ninja-disappearing-type stuff to stage magic for this purpose. So either the Christopher Nolan "Batman" films aren't genre or "The Cape" is.
They're arguably not genre in the sense we mean here (i.e. they're of A genre but it doesn't really have to be SF&F - 'Batman Begins' is a kind of urban horror movie and 'The Dark Knight' is a crime drama).

(i'd say any Batman project is going to be categorised in part based on the "baggage" though and the DC universe is most definitely "genre", it's just that the Nolan films don't feature 99.9% of the DC universe)

That means a genre could be mystery, detective fiction, romance, et. al. as well. The American Heritage Dictionary doesn't seem to confine it to fiction either but applies it to music too.

Yeah, the meaning of 'genre' in this sense is starting to become more specific which feels atypical to me, without actually counting it seems like when words drift in meaning they tend to become broader rather than more specific ? In the context it's often used though (despite it being most often specifically applied to SF&F) it actually could mean more the idea of genre itself rather than any specific one (i.e. when people say "genre" you can broaden out their comments to mean "any type of TV/film the conventions of which are widely known and fairly strictly adhered to").

Re: the article itself, Summer's never had any problems "owning" her sci-fi performances and I doubt she's suddenly decided she does now, she's describing it as she sees it. If there're no superpowers and nothing futuristic then why categorise it as "genre" (i.e. SF&F) ? It might just as easily be a police procedural wherein the lead character happens to use tricks and wear a costume which, to me, isn't enough - being based on a comic-book or having a "comic-book feel" (whatever that means) isn't enough since a) comics are a medium, not a genre and relatedly b) they can be about anything, tell stories of any kind (being stylised doesn't make it "genre" either, lots of shows are stylised without being SF&F-ish).

I'm also suspicious of paragraphs like
The show is completely different from "Firefly" and "Sarah Connor" because it's not futuristic and not set in space, Glau said.

If she said that then why isn't it in quotes ? And if she didn't actually say that specifically then what specifically did she say ? Or is that paragraph a preamble/rewording of the following one
"I don't feel like I'm doing the same thing over and over again," she said. "This character I am playing is so different from anything I've done before."

in which case, she didn't say that at all (the first paragraph talks about the shows she's been on, the second talks about the character she's playing). Maureen Ryan sometimes provides transcripts of her interviews linked from the edited version and personally I think that's a great idea that i'd love to see become a widespread practice. Context is everything in these things and quotes can, with the clearest of consciences and best of intentions, be used to shape an article in lots of different ways.
What I want to know is: when did "genre" became synonymous with "sci-fi"? Or horror, or fantasy, or whatever? A genre is a type or category of entertainment. When did people start using it as a term to describe one specific genre?
If BreathesStory's right, just after Joss told us to ;).

(that usage is no more than 10 years old i'd say but I don't have a citation)
Related to usage BTW, I notice the article talks about genre "getting a much wider berth" (apparently as in expanding) and the link blurb repeats it without comment - is that standard usage in the US ? Over here things don't really "get" a wide berth but when you give something a wide berth it means you're avoiding it, keeping your distance i.e. pretty much the opposite meaning to its apparent use here (unless i'm just misunderstanding the article's intent ? Does it actually mean "people are avoiding the 'genre' label more and more even as science-fiction itself continues to expand ?").
Re "wider berth": IMO the writer was confused about his metaphors. (Brains do that and writing buddies and editors are saviors.) I understand "to give something a wide berth" to mean the same thing as you do in the UK. I have never heard it used as he did. Maybe... there was a typo and he meant to write "wider girth"? ~_^ I'm thinking of something along the lines of "The Blob" where it consumes and incorporates everything in it's path. "Genre" elements do seem to be permeating more and more mainstream programming.

Re Genre: It just occurred to me that in painting, a "genre painting" is specifically a painting depicting everyday life--for whatever that's worth.
Fwiw I was tempted to post a link to this article when it first came out but decided not to based on its severe need of a re-write...

ETA: I say as I endlessly re-write my one sentence comment...

[ edited by brinderwalt on 2010-08-18 02:29 ]
In that case, don't hate me but 'rewrite' isn't hyphenated ;).

I have never heard it used as he did.

Ah fair enough, wondered if it'd just changed in crossing the pond. I remember finding out that 'built like a brick-house' - more often 'brick shit-house' in the UK - as used in the US is applied to well proportioned, good looking women (someone on here applied it to Gina Torres) whereas over here it means almost the opposite in that it's a large, strong [almost always] male you'd apply it to (though there's still the implication of "well proportioned"). Rugby players are built like brick shit-houses, women almost never are (at the time I joked that i'm not sure about women rugby players) and it wouldn't usually be a compliment if used of a woman. When the usage is that different it's interesting IMO.

Seems like this is just a goof though.

[ edited by Saje on 2010-08-18 07:23 ]
In that case, don't hate me but 'rewrite' isn't hyphenated ;).

Too late - it's a lost cause.
True, I should've said "... don't hate me more" ;).
I think the writer used "berth" instead of "niche;" equivalent to a politician who "mis-spoke."

Built like a brick etcetera I first heard from my dad a couple years before it became common in the US and he was using it to refer to a muscular male (probably Doc Savage :-)) so he probably picked it up in Britain during the "European Campaign."
True, I should've said "... don't hate me more" ;).

No, no - not too late for you, saje - too late for the sentence! :)

If I based my liking of people on how perfectly we seem to agree on everything I'd have very few friends and a very boring life (both of which are most definitely not true.)
Heh, pretty much assumed that's what you meant brinderwalt (was just playing above ;). Though I did momentarily wonder if i'd said done/something offensive (sometimes it's hard to keep track ;).

('momentarily' is another one BTW - seems to mean "in a moment" in the US whereas it's "for a moment" over here. Separated by a common language indeed)

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