Lazy Luddite Log

29.9.12

Genres

I have been both watching and reading about old movies lately and this has gotten me pondering the topic of genres. Walk into a video store and you will find several different sections. If you are like me however you will have more genres in your own personal schema than the shop utilizes. It is some of the shop-negected genre names I will discuss in this post.

If I were to make a map of 'movie-space' I would very likely define it by drawing borders separating that space into a dozen or more movie genres. However I am well aware that another person may draw the borders differently. Arguments start that way. If I were discussing music then I could get rather tetchy but luckily I am more relaxed on the topic of movies. Mind you that music comment does remind me of a phenomenon I do want to touch on - something I think of as "genre-drift".

A genre emerges once it can be regarded as having a number of distinct characteristics. Then over the decades it changes. Often its defining characteristics become more pronounced - it gets "harder" or "faster" or "deeper". It sometimes can even become a bit of a caricature of its original form. Sometimes the newer form will be given a newer name but sometimes the reverse can happen. The original genre name travels with the latest and most extreme incarnation of the genre while the original music itself is re-tagged with some more general label. I wonder whether this happens with movies too.

Horror

In the past I was involved in discussions of what the difference is between horror and thriller genres. At the time I suggested that horror has a supernatural element - Freddie Kreuger is a murdering ghost. Friends quickly named movies lacking anything supernatural that were definitely horror rather than thriller - think Saw. I needed a new definition - one involving (say) a level of bloodiness. But over time the use of blood and gore in horror (indeed in many other genres) has grown and some of the oldest horror movies never show blood but are still deemed horror. Even to this day we still call Nosferatu horror (this classic has been spared the problem of genre-drift it seems).

What do I do now? How can I draw a line in the sand between horror and thriller (or indeed between thriller and suspense or between suspense and mystery)? Possibly the name itself is instructional - horror will horrify while thrillers only thrill. Whatever generates the desired effect will fit the bill. But then would each of us shelve the DVDs differently? Yes I suppose so. Or I may just stay away from those shelves because most of these movies scare me too much!

Adventure

I have sometimes wished there were more sections in that video store. I may be in the mood for adventure and then have to sift the entire action section for what I want because I feel that adventure is a distinct thing. If anything it is a fusion of genres rather than a sub-genre of action. But if I were challenged to describe this genre what would I say? I may just be lazy and name some key adventure movies starting with Indiana Jones. But I should try and do better than that so here I go:

Adventure has many action scenes. It also has historical elements - even if it has a contemporary setting it will have historical events or persons or objects as important to the plot. It will have an element of discovery or exploration or exploitation of the exotic. Morally it will tend to depict characters as definitely good or evil (except sometimes one can masquerade as the other). Does that do the trick? Is adventure a blend of action and historical and mystery? I think I have done okay but maybe there is more to it than that - they tend to also have supernatural themes.

Sword And Sorcery

Something that consistently has the supernatural in it is fantasy. Within that genre there is a distinct sub-genre with the name 'sword and sorcery'. The name is deceptive because it refers to a smaller list of movies than simply all the fantasy movies depicting both armed combat and spell-casting. The Beast Master is included while The Lord Of The Rings is most definitely excluded. So what does define sword and sorcery? I am tempted to say it is "trashy fantasy" with its tendency to focus on violent combat and semi-nudity thereby serving the baser desires of viewers.

There may be more to it than that however. For one thing it uses settings that allow it to justify the scantily-clad characters (of both genders) and all the hack-and-slash. These settings are analogues of the ancient world (rather than the medieval settings that inspire much fantasy fiction). Such settings allow themes of the contrast between civilization and barbarism to be explored. Those movies that do this tend to expose civilization as corrupt while celebrating the rugged independence and integrity of barbaric protagonists. I suspect this is one thing that makes me wary of the sub-genre. I personally think much good comes from the life of the Polis. Still every so often all you want is something trashy and you can put on the ideological filters and enjoy the ride. Yes Conan "steel is stronger than flesh" - whatever you say dude!

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There are plenty of other genres and sub-gengres and crossed-genres that can be argued and defined and re-defined. I have just chosen a handful that I have been exploring lately. I am interested in what others have to say on such matters.

Cross-posted here.

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20.9.12

Monastalgia

I exit the Bookshop Co-Op, having purchased some correction tape for my electronic typewriter (I have essays due this week). I walk past the cork-and-hessian FOME noticeboard, glancing at it for any updates, then pass through the doorway of the West End Caf and take a seat in its south-western corner. My friends are there and some of them are arguing over a topic that is familiar to me. I decide I have time to get a chocolate ice-cream cola spider from the ice cream bar in the West End Caf, a weekly luxury with my current cash flow. I return and the argument is still on...

A new participant in the group is concerned by either the presence on Campus of a Women's Room or the absence of a Men's Room. Normally I would patiently describe the societal phenomena that justify having a safe space for women on Campus but today I'm in a frivolous mood, so my only contribution is to say that there
is a safe space for men, made even safer because we have used our masculine wiles and disguised it as the video games room. My frivolity may arise from the fact that I had my first proper kiss in the Biology Garden yesterday...

That anecdote is fictitious but very much based on the kind of experiences I had at Monash University in the 90s. Somebody (a current Monash Uni undergraduate) recently discovered I had been in and around Clayton Campus for a long time and quizzed me on "how Monash has changed" over the last two decades. One thing I should do more of is turn the subject matter of face-to-face conversations into blogging. So here I will do just that. In some ways it is difficult for me as I have been in regular contact with Clayton Campus since I graduated. Those who are gone for a long time and then come back notice the changes more starkly. I have to think back over the many tiny changes and try to discern the overall themes of change.

Environment And Architecture

The biggest change to Campus geography is the replacing over time of sports fields with car parks. The fact that there are still huge swathes of sporting ground says how big Clayton Campus is. The most recent and visibly striking change is the power-armour that the Ming Wing is now adorned with. I'm expecting it to transform any day now. However there have been many other changes big and small. It seems that every 12 months the pathway round a pond moves or the carpet in the Campus Centre changes. I was once told there is some sort of annual capital works budget that must be spent lest it be slashed next time round.

I can sometimes look at something and try and superimpose over it what I remember. I did this recently inside the Campus Centre. The thing was once a bunch of right angles. Then it got extended with the addition of many wedges to its floor plan. One could once sit in the area now dubbed Airport Lounge and look out windows onto the Forum. Does anyone even call that lawn the Forum anymore?

Comforts

I do approve of Airport Lounge and the provision on Campus of comfy seating. This was once a luxury one could only access if one belonged to a particular group on Campus such as Postgraduate Students Association or the regulars of the Wholefoods scene. Now anyone can find an armchair or couch on which to have a snack.

Snacks? They have gotten better. I cannot say for sure if this is because standards in Australia of takeaway food have improved overall or if it is specifically because of the entry into Campus of an array of private catering operators. This is one instance in which I think some private enterprise on Campus has been a welcome thing. In a lot of other cases I am suspicious however of such changes. A public institution like Monash pretending to be a multinational corporation has produced lots of problems.

Academia

We once had a lunch hour - most undergraduates of whatever course could come together at the same time of day between classes. I get the impression this is now a thing of the past. I can only imagine it has had an impact on those student groups that had weekly lunchtime meetings. Plenty of other changes have happened to the academic life of Monash and I am only aware of the biggest. One is that there are now fewer departments and more inter-disciplinary centres. In some ways I think that cross-diciplinary thinking is very worthwhile but I am also suspicious of this change.

I reckon that behind this shift is the desire to 'rationalize' (aka cut costs). Alongside this trend there seems to have also been a shift from pure to applied research. And, getting back to student culture, a shift from department-focused clubs with an interest in subject matter to faculty-based clubs with an interest in corporate networking and getting pissed at huge anonymous shindigs.

Student Culture

I feel as if a lot of services that facilitated an active on-campus life have been lost. Possibly new things are developing to replace them that I am overlooking. I suppose that the new Internet connection desks that look like something from Star Trek foster a kind of student culture but there are fewer face-to-face forms of activity.

I was disturbed recently to discover that the Short Course Centre has run its last ceramics unit. I was lamenting this fact to a friend who works on Campus and was a student there in the 1980s and she remembered a similar feeling of loss at the closing of a room full of weaving looms. And this puts it into some kind of context. I never missed the looms I never knew existed. Will it matter in future that nobody can play on a pottery wheel?

Political Activism

A theme seems to be that every successive generation thinks that a degree of richness has been lost from Campus life. I remember my VCE Politics teacher aghast after her visit to an Open Day to discover that the biggest group on Campus were the Chocaholics. For her this reflected a trivialization of a setting that had in her student days in the 1970s been a virulent seedbed of political debate and activity. But then I got there to discover it was a virulent seedbed of political debate and activity. Everything is relative right?

We had Student General Meetings (SGMs) - do they happen anymore? They were the ultimate decision-making body of the Student Association (other than referenda) and it was there that I discovered that the mass meeting model of democracy is very much "rule by the most engaging orator". We had lots of debates between different student groups - usually the Debaters versus "Group X" but sometimes other more interesting and truly invested rivals faced off. And then-as-now there were Student Elections. There are two big changes in Student Elections that I have observed.

One happened while I was still a student (1991-1995) and it was a shift towards the use of content-free names for student election tickets. One ticket in particular with the name Spectrum had huge success on a platform that they were "apolitical". They totally trounced the then-dominent Labor Students. Naturally I was suspicious of the "we are just students" mantra of Spectrum. Some investigation showed them to be an alliance of students who truly were interested in "everyday student issues" with some involvement and direction by non-party political moral-conservatives. They are long-gone now but the legacy of every bloody political group using a stupid name that says nothing of who they are seems entrenched to this day.

The other happened (if memory serves) once I had graduated and was just visiting Campus a lot round the turn of the century. For one fleeting electoral term the radicals who congregate in Wholefoods had a very successful election win and they made good use of that short hold on power to reform the way student elections were run. Now all paper utilized in elections had to be provided by the Student Association (and have its own watermark). This reduced paper usage and redressed this issue that some tickets were richer than others. They also limited other things like some of the ridiculous gimmicks (like bouncy balls with your ticket logo on them) that had become a part of getting students to even notice there were elections let alone vote in what is a voluntary ballot. I understand that these rules still hold and that is a good thing.

I did a lot of observing campus politics. My only direct involvement (other than as a voter) was that as a graduate I helped the Monash Democrats (the third and last incarnation of that group) to operate and that in my own student days I stood as a candidate for the Korner-based joke ticket Cannibalism Legalize Now! Some of the student politicians had huge issues comprehending why anyone would want to compete with them just for fun. Even just confounding them was a fun thing to do.

* * * * *

There are many other things I recall from my long association with Monash Uni Clayton Campus. It is difficult to choose a best memory but I will venture two.

One was of a few of us staying on Campus overnight in the FOME tent rather than packing away our stall every day. The only other groups on Campus that did that were some very drunk Liberal Students and some surprisingly sober Mullers And Packers in their distinctive teepee tent.

The other was walking across that sky bridge that connects Administration with the Robert Blackwood Hall. MonUCS was putting on a concert and the room they put us in while we were off-stage was the fricking University Council Chamber hidden away in Administration - every fixture in there was nice.

There is something exciting about forbidden opulence but I must admit that of these two recollections it is the slumming it in a tent and getting a nasty brunch at the Small Caf the next morning that I am more attached to.

Cross-posted here.

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