The concept of “genre” generally points to the question of how to understand a text in relation to others, and this framework is a legacy of traditional approaches in literature found within the humanities, from the Aristotelian distinction between tragedy and comedy to the classic “universal archetypes” described by Northrop Frye. In what ways is a text (a novel, a film, a tv program…) similar or different to others around it? Why does that matter? What is the value in separating texts from each other? The answers to these questions play an important role in helping understand many aspects of the production, distribution and reception of various kinds of media texts. In this special issue of Comunicazioni Sociali we turn our attention to questions of genre the study of television. In this issue we undertake an appreciation of tv genres as further insight into the study of media in an age not only of digital transformation but of proliferation and abundance, what John Ellis has called “the era of plenty”. The theory – and the history – of the genres constitute the essential framework for any analysis of the television medium. Television studies has based its approach to the question of genres on the well-cultivated terrain of film studies. A genre can be interpreted starting from specific textual conventions that come into their own as much in the context of production as in that of consumption. Hence, attention needs to be drawn to both the text and the context, especially to those practices (production, distribution, promotion, publicity, consumption, fandom, etc.) that define the genres’ otherwise fluid and changeable boundaries in discursive terms. Therefore, when we consider TV genres in the age of abundance, first of all we have to account for the complexity of the ways in which contemporary television communicates, and its articulated production/distribution/consumption chain. Through specific case histories, different methodological approaches and various theoretical frames, the present issue of Comunicazioni Sociali shows quite clearly that in understanding contemporary TV textual complexity, technological (and institutional) change and audience practices the concept of genre is still usefuland able to open interesting research perspectives.
Con il concetto di “genere” focalizziamo la nostra attenzione sulla relazione fra un testo e altri testi, a partire, per esempio, dalla tradizionale distinzione aristotelica fra “tragedia” e “commedia” o dall’idea degli “archetipi universali” elaborata da Northrop Frye. In che senso un testo mediale (un racconto, un film, un programma televisivo…) è simile o diverso rispetto ad altri testi? Perché questa somiglianza o questa differenza sono importanti? Che senso ha elaborare delle “categorie” - come quelle dei “generi” - che raccolgono al loro interno testi affini? E in cosa consiste, precisamente, questa affinità? Rispondere a queste domande significa affrontare una serie di snodi centrali nelle produzione, nella distribuzione e nel consumo di prodotti mediali. Questo numero monografico di Comunicazioni Sociali è dedicato al tema dei generi nel medium televisivo. La televisione contemporanea ha attraversato, nell’ultimo decennio, un periodo di grandi trasformazioni che l’hanno traghettata verso quella che John Ellis ha definito “età dell’ abbondanza”. Il tentativo di questo numero monografico consiste nello sviluppare degli strumenti per comprendere l’evoluzione e la rilevanza dei “generi” nell’epoca della digitalizzazione, della convergenza e, appunto, dell’abbondanza. Quando dunque riflettiamo sui generi televisivi nell’età dell’abbondanza dobbiamo in primo luogo considerare la crescente complessità del mezzo, dei suoi meccanismi comunicativi, della sua filiera. Attraverso specifici casi d’analisi, approcci metodologici variegati e differenti framework teorici il numero prova ad affrontare – lungo il filo rosso dell’evoluzione contemporanea dei generi – la complessità dei prodotti televisivi che circola a livello nazionale e globale, il cambiamento tecnologico e istituzionale, le nuove modalità di consumo, cercando di aprire nuove ed utili strade di ricerca.
Introduction. TV Genres in the Age of Abundance: Textual Complexity, Technological Change, Audience Practices
For students and scholars in communication and media studies, the word “genre” is a great conversation starter. The concept generally points to the question of how to understand a text in relation to others, and this framework is a legacy of traditional approaches in literature found within the humanities, from the Aristotelian distinction between tragedy and comedy to the classic “universal archetypes” described by Northrop Frye. In what ways is a text (a novel, a film, a tv program…) similar or different to others around it? Why does that matter? What is the value in separating texts from each other? The answers to these questions play an important role in helping understand many aspects of the production, distribution and reception of various kinds of media texts.
The Age of Sound: TV Series Sound and Narrative Complexity
Sound is an increasingly rich and complex dimension of contemporary television. It has had a leading role since the late eighties, when legendary high-fidelity sound conquered the television world. The emancipation of TV sound started in the musical sphere (when MTV arrived in 1981); too often, however, it is limited to the field of music. What gradually changed, in fact, were the characteristics of TV sound and the TV experience itself. The abundance of sonic phenomena, not just musical ones, compels us to consider the television set not only as a source of idle chatter and background noise but also as a sonic presence and a relevant sound experience. Although, in some areas, TV sound is still a strong element of recognition that is often useful to substantiate genre identity (as in the quiz show), elsewhere sound mounts a strong challenge to the television genre and narration. This essay, therefore, informed by significant cases, spotlights the main issues raised by the complex interaction between genre and sound in contemporary TV series; the focus here is on the pop song’s role in contemporary TV drama. First, sound’s ambiguous role in defining and injecting variety into the genre (from The Sopranos to CSI) emerges; second, the recurring presence of song imposes its form on TV series’ syntax and conditions their narrative configuration, transcending the genre and the text (from Grey’s Anatomy to The Walking Dead). This essay does not claim to offer an exhaustive treatment of the problematic field of sound in TV series; instead, it seeks to shed light on the role of song. It is not simply a stylistic choice (with the spread of an “MTV aesthetic”). Rather, it creates many short narrative forms within the episode and the TV series – halfway between standalone video clips and musical numbers gravitating around the text – that dialogue with the whole narration in a challenging and deeply complex way.
“With 22 Episodes a Year”: Searching for Quality in US Network Television: the Cases of The Good Wife, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Jane the Virgin
The notion of “quality television” has been endlessly revised over the last three decades. Given the medium’s technological, institutional, economic and aesthetic evolution, various scholars have probed and explored its forms of quality, focusing especially on the US scenario, a notable forerunner and leader in the development and international distribution of TV shows. Applied to the American industry, this ever-evolving definition has some recurrent features that make it a sort of “super-genre”, a label for TV series that share some elements of “prestige”. Concentrating on the US scenario, where nowadays “quality” mainly tends to be a label for cable series, this paper aims to identify those prestige features and to answer the question: is there such a thing as quality network television in a cable-dominated market? After establishing a theoretical framework by tracing how the notion of quality television has evolved, the article focuses on three contemporary case studies: CBS’s The Good Wife, The CW’s Jane the Virgin and Fox’s Brooklyn Nine-Nine. We see how these three series share some aesthetic and narrative tropes that exploit broadcast television’s weaknesses and restrictions to appeal to a certain upscale audience, resulting in critical acclaim and awards. In conclusion, we argue that several characteristics of quality cable television can be applied to a wave of network television productions that, although based on the standard formats of broadcast storytelling, are critically comparable to more acclaimed shows, ultimately fitting into the prestige series super-genre.
The Genre between Television and Cinema: For an Aesthetics of Serialization
In a 1982 essay entitled “The Fact of Television”, the American philosopher Stanley Cavell revisits the topic of genres and notes the difference between the concepts of “genre-as-cycle” and “genre-as-medium”. He uses the former to refer to television series, in which individual episodes are instances of an ensemble of characters and settings, while the latter applies both to films (as members of the genre) and to a myth that must be inherited and interpreted from time to time. Cavell associates such a cycle with the process of “serialization”. This aesthetic prototype genre represents a sort of embryonic phase of Jason Mittell’s “Complex TV” genre. In both cases, the format and the processes of seriality are the basis for constructing the concept of genre in relation to the specificity of the television medium. The theoretical richness of Cavell’s approach can still therefore be exploited to classify certain aspects of the television phenomenon, especially as regards genres and narration, in what has been termed the “Age of Abundance”.
American Television and the Explosion of the Superhero Genre
The 2000s saw an explosion of comic-book movies, driven by the success of X-Men (Singer, 2000) and Spider-Man (Raimi, 2002). Aided by the huge success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe ‒ many of these films are huge hits that cross multiple demographic lines ‒ the Hollywood film industry has taken something culturally niche and made it mainstream. Because of a contemporary inclination towards corporate synergy, media franchising, and serialization or sequelization, media conglomerates have increasingly sought to create synergies between comic books and their film and television divisions. The television business has started trying to capitalize on the perceived new golden age of comic-book properties, endeavouring to match the triumphs that these films have had and to take advantage of the success of models of transmedia storytelling and intertextuality. The expectation was that these new comic-book shows with their familiar heroes and/or brand names would quickly find a mass audience in a fragmented audience landscape where almost no new series manage to do so. In television, however, these comic-book shows are still very much a niche business. This essay analyses the shows that have emerged from this new explosion of superhero adaptations on different American television networks, seeking to understand the various forces that contribute to making this such a culturally relevant time to exploit superhero and comic-book properties. These forces are corporate synergy, media franchising, a transmedia storytelling model, the superhero genre’s box office popularity, the Marvel Cinematic Universe shared universe model, and a growing serialization of entertainment culture. This study also deals with the emergence of new generic categories ‒ such as comic-book or superhero movies and television shows ‒ and engages with research on the superhero genre within comics studies, which is now increasingly connected to film and Television Studies. The focus will be on both Marvel and DC properties. The CW has risen as a network adept at creating successful (albeit niche) shows adapted from DC characters. The network has created its own Arrow-verse, with the television series Arrow and The Flash. ABC, part of the Disney stable (as is Marvel Entertainment), is home to all Marvel television endeavours, from Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. to Marvel’s Agent Carter.
Transmedia Formats and the Evolution of the Talent Show: Programmes, Genres, Successes
Through an analysis of selected programmes within the talent show genre, this article explores how television programmes incorporate transmedia elements. It argues that a delicate balance exists between the “classic” format programme and its multimedia extensions. Adjustments and modifications are made on a case-by-case basis. The article argues that any transmedia format is successful only if the main television content is equally strong. Even if the transmedia development is becoming increasingly important, it must always serve in conjunction with the main television content.
Criticizing the Series: Television Criticism as a Genre between Cinephilia and Fan Culture
A recent French publication called Le sériephile has proposed a neologism to reflect the idea of critical practices of cinephilia moving into what the English-speaking world, too, can call “TV-philia”. In the last fifteen years, changes in TV seriality have crossed paths both with the explosion of the Internet fan culture and with the horizontal spread of analytical skills (such as those provided by the recent proliferation of university courses on television, seriality and media narratives). In fact, TV series have also become a breeding ground for testing what is happening within the sphere of more traditional criticism, normally devoted to movies only: the increasing closeness of institutional criticism and blog criticism, the democratization of critical discourse, a massive sharing of basic analytical categories, and a certain devotion to one’s own object of criticism. This article presents two analyses. The first and more theoretical explores analogies and differences between categories of cinephilia and TV-philia, by trying to understand whether the latter’s critical dimension may be considered a fully fledged and distinctive cultural practice. The second uses case studies to test some forms of cross-media critical analysis on TV series, using overlapping elements of TV criticism, such as publishing genre and fan culture, as examples.
“Sur le web, je regarde des vidéos, des séries et des émissions”: catégorisation et sélection des contenus de divertissement visionnés en ligne par les jeunes de 12 à 25 ans
More and more adolescents and young adults watch entertainment (movies, television series, web series, and videos) on the Internet. This trend seems linked to the growth in available content, to the profound changes taking place within the cultural industries, and to the rapid development of mobile devices. The transformation of the audio-visual landscape is causing formats, genres and categories traditionally associated with conventional television content to evolve. This empirical study’s purpose, then, is to understand how youth audiences (teenagers and young adults) experience these new online viewing practices and how they categorize and describe them. What content are they watching on the Internet for entertainment purposes? How much time do they spend watching audio-visual entertainment content online? How do they label the online content that they watch? What place does classic television viewing still hold? And lastly, do these processes vary by age and gender? Our analysis was based on an exploratory qualitative design. We held 10 focus groups with young Quebecois people aged 12 to 25 (28 girls/women and 33 boys/men) from diverse cultural and social backgrounds. Our findings indicate that the Internet is becoming the primary viewing source for entertainment, especially among young adults. We found that the time spent online varies according to gender and age. Furthermore, adolescents and young adults watch a wide-ranging pool of online audiovisual content, with different things at different times of day, as the participants naturally create personal viewing schedules. Adolescents distinguish between two key forms of online entertainment content: long formats chiefly comprising original television content (reality shows, dramas, sitcoms and films) and shorter formats more suited to original web productions and accessed usually via YouTube or Facebook. Most of the young people questioned feel no need to categorise the content they watch online beyond liking or disliking it. We found, however, that some young people, especially young adults, systematize content into multiple diverse categories based on classic fiction classifications, context of viewing (where and with whom), enjoyment levels (moderate or intense) and attributes relating to the websites used to access it or the YouTube channels’ names.
The Netflix Phenomenon: How New Providers are reinventing Television Promotion
Netflix and all the similar digital-television providers, such as Amazon and Hulu, represent a new era in serial television, not only for their new production style, unconventional plots, or peculiar distribution technique but also and especially for their new method of promotion. Indeed, their new releasing strategy has turned the traditional use of advertising upside down, basing it mainly on the Internet and social media. As Jason Mittell has suggested, television genres exist as “cultural categories” created through discourse, but today’s television genres have expanded thanks above all to the above new platforms. Moreover, even though all the communication approaches are built on common ground, each of them is also tailor-made for the specific series that it is promoting. For all these reasons, this particular use of advertising can be considered a possible new kind of genre. Although recent, the literature concerning primarily Netflix and to a lesser degree all the other digital providers is already quite extensive. Indeed, much has been said about the distribution of original TV series, but the strategies used to promote the products and keep the audience’s expectations alive have found less space in the scholarly papers. This article analyses the strategies that new players use to build a strong brand identity both for their shows and for the platform itself. It then considers all the characteristic aspects of launching and nurturing a series on digital platforms, which are inherently more reliant on the Internet and social media to build interest and engagement. This analysis also hints at the marked differences between online providers and both network and cable television, giving a strong set of examples taken from the most interesting shows.
Pan-Arabism through Television: Arab TV Series between National Identities and Transnational Media
In her 2007 book, Naomi Sakr wrote that the most effective feature of the Arab media system was the common language shared among all the Arab countries. This aspect, although realized and valued by different political and media institutions at the dawn of radio and television, led to a transnational media landscape transcending national boundaries. It also favoured the birth and development of a regional market – like those in the United States and Latin America – that could create a “pan-Arab space”. Since the beginning of the 2000s, Arab television has followed the construction of “pan-Arabism” combining the burgeoning free-market approach and the development of entertainment programmes and formats specifically relevant to that part of the world. In this process, we can observe the emergence of a particular type of fiction, called musalsalat, i.e. soap operas and series airing for a single 30-day period, mirroring the duration of Ramadan. Unlike other genres, such as reality shows or game shows influenced by Western programmes (and often adapted from Western formats), musalsalat can be considered a specific format devised and produced for a particular socio-cultural context. This article outlines the genre’s historical features, focusing on its typical landmarks and its distinctive formats, themes and connections with national and transnational identities. It falls into two parts. First, I seek to place Arab fiction in the context of the explosion of commercial media that weakened traditional state-owned media models. Then, I point out the main themes that characterized TV series – such as secularism, sex and terrorism – and their relationship with political and religious power, focusing on three cases: Egypt, Syria and Turkey.
‘Fluid Spectator-Tourists’: Innovative Televisual Technologies,
Global Audiences and the 2015 Cricket World Cup
By continuously integrating the latest new-media advances while still predominantly relying on older broadcast models, contemporary mediated sport affords an interesting paradox. That is, while most well-known sports provide “digitized” processes, platforms and applications, these technologies primarily complement the televised coverage. Thus, despite assumptions of a decline in broadcast media, the televisual representation of sport often remains paramount in terms of viewership, circulation (or its online replication) and broadcasting rights. This is especially true for “mega” sporting events that generate widespread interest and often attract large, diverse audiences to their live global telecasts outside of normal viewing hours. My article considers these contemporary trends through a specific examination of the 2015 Cricket World Cup (CWC) and its global televised representations. As a televised sport, cricket continually integrates emerging technologies and tools to aesthetically revamp its re-presentation to attract and retain large international audiences. Cricket’s specific televised technological innovations and refinements blur the lines of information, entertainment and commodification, while allowing a traditional broadcast-media form to be re-presented in non-traditional ways. That is, cameras and other technologies often operate in fluid and highly mobile ways by floating above, encroaching upon, mapping over, or being embedded within the field of play. In combination, such technological perspectives provide an intensified visual navigation of the cricket-scape and position viewers as fluid spectator-tourists. Cameras and, by implication, viewers are increasingly allowed to enter the field of play and navigate nimbly among the spaces and competitors of live sport. Furthermore, there is a stylistic orientation towards extraneous exploration, as the agile cameras (e.g. Steadicams, Segways, Spidercams and drones) fluidly roam and float across the cricket-scape and its surrounds, often dipping into and out of the on-field action. In what is presented as a global “mega-event”, these contrasting technologies and multiple perspectives provide affective layers for broader viewer engagement, aesthetically rendering the CWC as a televised sports “spectacular” for both casual and engaged viewers of live TV broadcasts.
Vestire la scena: il sarto Lorenzo Gabbuggiani e lo spettacolo mediceo tra Sei e Settecento
An unpublished and hitherto unknown Florentine source – four registers from the workshop of Lorenzo Gabbuggiani, a costume-maker, written between 1688 and 1731 – contains plenty of very useful information on the city of Florence’s artistic life. It also reveals a cross-section of the creativity and handicrafts that were vital to the history of drama and of artistic craftsmanship. An analysis of these rare documents unveils the hard, challenging work of a Florentine costume shop, where the workers created every kind of costume, altered and re-used them for many different performances, and sewed costumes for performances of the “drammi per musica”. The latter were the fashion of the moment, held either at the now lost private theatre in the Villa di Pratolino or at the theatre of the Villa di Poggio a Caiano, or to be staged at the grand “stanza” in Via della Pergola for the academicians’ delight. Drawing on the voluminous daily records of the ledgers of Gabbuggiani’s workshop, the study unearths new information on the female and male singers, most of them completely unknown today, who were employed in the Medicean court. It also analyses other aspects of producing a performance, e.g. how long was spent in rehearsal. Gabbuggiani’s ledgers also offer important insights into the fabrics, their most used colours, and thus the fashions of the time, as created and spread by Gabbuggiani’s workshop. This was how the elite built up their own public image and importance, and the performances were the most important windows. Indeed, the costumes worn on the stage were used by courtiers to enact a process of mutual emulation and conditioning, where the stage and the symbolic and representative pretences very often mixed.
Il simbolico nel pornografico. Apocalisse perversa del soggetto
This essay focuses on the phenomenon of pornography as it makes its presence felt in the World Wide Web society. In recent years, this topic has been analysed and considered in many ways by sociology, philosophy, media and cultural studies. Its importance in the context of contemporary society cannot be denied; pornography has significantly contributed to a change of mentality, and it has caused major changes in the way we approach the problems of affectivity and sexuality in both individual and social life.
I consider the subject here essentially from an anthropological viewpoint. In order to transcend the dichotomy between “porn censors” and “enthusiastic fans”, which characterized the first season of studies on the topic, this article takes the same direction as modern porn studies, inaugurated by such scholars as W. Kendrick and L. Williams. I base my essay on the theory proposed by the Italian philosopher Silvano Petrosino. In particular, I analyse his conception of human experience, an original insight founded on a constant dialogue with J. Lacan, E. Lévinas, J. Derrida, and M. Heidegger. Using the anthropological structure that he describes, I highlight one of the most important concepts of his theoretical construction: the category termed “perversion”. The experience of perversion is described as the inadequate and partial response that a human being can realize, when trying to reconcile the inputs involved in their relationship with the reality of their desire for happiness and anthropological fulfilment. Employing the concepts of both experience and perversion as hermeneutical keys, this essay analyses some phenomena linked to pornography, such as the “gang bang”. My question is: which regions of the universal anthropological imaginary operate when someone consumes pornography? What kind of experience does a person have through this practice, which is so widespread in contemporary society? I use the study to present a new way of considering the phenomenon of pornography, as a partial and incomplete attempt at anthropological realization.
Divi di pixel, divi di cartone. Prospettive di sviluppo delle forme del videoclip italiano (2005-2015)
Over the last ten years, record labels have invested much less in music videos, even in a mainstream environment; instead, they have focused increasingly on live performances, a source of income that they consider safer and immediate. Nevertheless, to consider music video as a form of expression in decline, purely because of its close connection to the recession in the music industry, would be an oversimplification. In fact, this medium’s potential has been renewed on one hand by new digital technologies, which both cut production costs and open up new experimental possibilities, and on the other by the rise of video-sharing platforms and social media, which have introduced customisable playlists and opened up the market to amateurs. Italy has not yet fully explored the real potential of these new web devices, mainly because the dwindling incomes in the local music market have not incentivized record companies to invest in new types of sales promotion. However, especially in an independent environment, straitened circumstances have not prevented the development of original forms of expression; on the contrary, they have often stimulated them, exploiting the recent technological changes and the increased software accessibility to offset the lack of economic resources. By combining media studies and cinema studies, this article seeks to redefine the reference frame in which these kinds of issue should be set, demonstrating how music video studies cannot disregard technological and economic constraints. Without claiming either to be exhaustive or to predict this medium’s future, this analysis focuses on some of the most significant style tendencies to emerge in Italian music videos during the last ten years and connects these tendencies to their production context.
The concept of “genre” generally points to the question of how to understand a text in relation to others, and this framework is a legacy of traditional approaches in literature found within the humanities, from the Aristotelian distinction between tragedy and comedy to the classic “universal archetypes” described by Northrop Frye. In what ways is a text (a novel, a film, a tv program…) similar or different to others around it? Why does that matter? What is the value in separating texts from each other? The answers to these questions play an important role in helping understand many aspects of the production, distribution and reception of various kinds of media texts. This special issue of Comunicazioni Sociali, edited by Massimo Scaglioni and Ira Wagman, gives attention to questions of genre the study of television.