Monday, January 3, 2011

Jason Mittel - "A Cultural Approach to Genre Theory"

Mittell, Jason. 2001. "A Cultural Approach to Television Genre Theory". Cinema Journal. 40, no. 3: 3-24

Television genres are not identifiable merely by comparing different texts, because audience and industry both shape the identity of genres over time. Therefore, "We need to look beyond the text as the locus for genre and instead locate genres within the complex interrelations among texts, industries, audiences, and historical contexts." (7) Mittel essentially wants to historicize and contectulize genre.

Five Principals of Cultural Genre Analysis
  1. Genre analyses should account for the particular attributes of the medium. - TV is different from film
  2. Genre studies should negotiate between specificity and generality. - Either look at specific elements within genres OR use a case study to branch out into the complexities of a genre.
  3. Genre histories should be written using discursive genealogies - Emphasize breadth over depth in describing a genre.
  4. Genres should be understood in cultural practice - Examine the cultural discourses before looking at the texts.
  5. Genres should be situated within larger systems of cultural hierarchies and power
Example: Michael Jackson's Beat It, Billie Jean, and Thriller Videos
Mittel charts MTV's decision to play MJ's videos on what was then a channel that played almost exclusively white white, straight, male musicians. MTV bowed to pressure from fans, CBS Records, BET's competition, high-profile protests, and the economic clout of MJ.

Beat It and Thriller are particularly noteworthy because of the way they stretch the music video genre; Mittel notes MTV initially cited Beat It's non-musical intro as evidence that it was not a music video.


  1. Sports activities are an integral component of a country. For some nations, the most popular sport is soccer, for other individuals, rugby, basketball, cricket, or hockey. Any nation with a sport that is simple to form pickup game titles offers a golden possibility for foreigners. What video video game is played, the way it is played, and the attitudes of the game fans all shed light on a country's underlying beliefs and attitudes.

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  2. The next traditional approach is questions of interpretation, which is probably the most common in media studies. This approach “raises questions of interpretation by exploring the textual meaning of genres and situating them with larger social contexts.”

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  3. What is the relationship between a theoretical program and the particular ideas that emerge from it?

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  4. Indeed, one of the things by which I’ve always been amused is the similarities of academic lineage and citational practices and fan writing. Which doesn’t make them the same, as Matt correctly notes, but the work-in-progress idea where every new scholarship or fan text adds on to an imaginary/virtual collection of texts is not unlike one another.

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