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5.2 Genre bending (Advanced)

The purpose of this suite of ‘Get Your Hand Off It’ advertisements is to convey the seriousness of using a mobile phone while driving.

It is a warning, a caution and we recognise it as such through its content and its conventions. Yet it sounds very different from traditional warnings.

Here is a traditional one from the Bible:

Ezekiel 33 New International Version (NIV)
'When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not heed the warning and the sword comes and takes their life, their blood will be on their own head. Since they heard the sound of the trumpet but did not heed the warning, their blood will be on their own head. If they had heeded the warning, they would have saved themselves. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes someone’s life, that person’s life will be taken because of their sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for their blood.'

This is the preface to Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn:

'NOTICE
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
BY ORDER OF THE AUTHOR
per
G.G., CHIEF OF ORDNANCE'

- Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huck Finn

The first is very serious and the second is humorous. Yet they share the same conventions. Complete the table in student worksheet 5.2.1 Genre: Conventions (Advanced) providing the evidence for each of the conventions.

The critic Rob Pope says about identifying a genre:

'The main thing is that there should be some basic similarity of form and function… [of texts in a genre]…notwithstanding all the differences there inevitably are between one item and another.'

- The English Studies Book, (1998), Routledge. London and New York,  page199

On the student worksheet, write a paragraph explaining:

  • why similar themes and shared conventions are not sufficient to ensure that texts are of the same genre, and
  • how a rhetorical purpose is the critical element of genre.

Hybrids and rhetorical function

Every text has a rhetorical function, that is that ‘it is structured in such a way to achieve certain pragmatic effects’’.

- Frow, John (2005) Genre, Routledge London and New York, page 9.

John Frow, a theorist, expresses this idea more simply when he writes that genre ‘gets a certain work done’ (p.14).

The ‘Get Your Hand Off It’ suite of advertisements plays with various musical genres, using parody for persuasive purposes, making the advertisements hybrid forms of each genre.

How effective is this approach in achieving the purpose of preventing people from using mobile phones illegally while driving?

Organise your ideas by completing the Venn diagram in the student worksheet 5.2.2 Hybrids and rhetorical function (Advanced). Explain:

  • the work that genre ‘gets done’ in these advertisements
  • how genre in the video medium focuses the message
  • how genre diffuses the message by inviting associations.

Share your findings with the class.

Considering the concept

‘Any named instance of a genre always turns out to be in some sense ‘mixed’ hybrid or ‘impure’; at the very least it can always be categorized in a variety of ways.’

- Pope, ibid. p.200

‘Generic structure both enables and restricts meaning, and is the basic condition for meaning to take place.’

- Frow, ibid. p.10

‘…texts are not simply classified on the basis of their features, but on the basis of rules for reading that are shared by members of a community.’

- Moon, Brian, (1999) Literary Terms: A Practical Glossary, Chalkface Press, WA, page 58

Study these three quotations and discuss in a group:

  • what they mean in themselves
  • to what extent they are illustrated by the suite of ‘Get Your Hand Off It’ advertisements
  • how they apply to any other chosen text, fiction or non-fiction, that you have read.

Class discussion

Why would an advertiser choose to use hybrid genres when purer forms are more direct in conveying a clear message?

Last update: 24th October 2018