Genre Films and the Status Quo
Judith Hess Wright
Presentation by Chris Bannerman
Purpose of Presentation
To define genre films
To analyze there nature in society
To go into into their various characteristics
To understand their affects on the viewing public
Purpose of presentation (30 seconds)
Outline (30 seconds)
Define genre films and list their shared characteristics
Analysis of westerns (4 minutes)
Analysis of horror films (4 minutes)
Analysis of science fiction films (4 minutes)
Analysis of gangster films (4 minutes)
Summary (2 minute)
Review questions and comments (2 minutes)
What Are Genre Films
“Genre films have been defined as pure myth, as
well-made plays, and as psychodramas bearing
within themselves the working out of unconscious
anxieties inherent in the psychological makeup of
us all.” -Wright
What These Films Do to Viewers
They ease our fears caused by the social and
They attempt to install a mentality in which the
viewer is less likely to act in opposition to those
“They serve the interests of the ruling class by
assisting in the maintenance of the status quo.”
The Four Categories of Genre Films
3. Science fiction
4. Gangster films
The 3 Major Characteristics of
1. They never deal directly with present social and
2. They are either set in the non-present or in a
completely different social structure from our
3. The society in the film serves mostly as a
backdrop. It is simple and it doesn’t act as a
Westerns and “The Code”
Westerns attempt to show when and how violent
acts become morally right.
The solution to this conflict is found in “the code”,
a set of moral and social guidelines that, when
completely followed, allows a person to “live and
The code is constant throughout the diegesis of the
Examples of the Code
Final shootout’s between
opposing characters are
justified when they are guided
by the code. So are revenge
killings and executions.
Such actions are sanctioned, or
at least understood, by the
Both the hero and villain
embody the code and they
allow it to guide their every
What Does This Do to the Audience?
Viewers are impressed by the notion of a constant
moral and social code. It advocates that there is a
way to live a “guiltless existence” where all your
actions are justified.
However, viewers are not sure how a code adapted
for their own time would be characterized.
Unlike the characters in the western, in our lives
the code would not be the same on both a personal
and a social level.
Overall Message of the Western
Since we can not conceive of a personal code that
would adhere to our social (legal) code, it is best to
just adopt the social code.
Wright believes that “the western preaches
integration and assimilation and absolute
obedience to the laws of the land.”
The Horror Film: Science Vs. Tradition
“The horror film deals with the conflict between
rational or scientific and traditional ways of
The monsters within the film represent the evil in
Attempts to Destroy the Monster
The lower class fails simply because
they always have. They lack the
strength to defeat the monster.
An enlightened member of the upper
class fails because of his/her total
disregard for tradition.
The monster is eventually defeated
by a member of the upper class who
has adopted traditional methods.
The Message Here Is…
We should never let go of our traditional
Only the upper class can stop the evils of
Considering the time in which most of
these films were released, they encourage a
return to “older methods of coping.”
Science Fiction and Isolationism
The science fiction film tends to reflect America’s
cold war paranoia.
The alien invaders represent the Communist
members or sympathizers in the United States.
The aliens are powerful but they lack emotions.
The only response to these invaders is that of the
use of scientific means to annihilate them.
“’The Other’” Is Evil
The aliens, or “the other”, want to do
nothing but destroy us and our way of
Only the scientists, often connected
with the military, can recognize the
extent of the danger posed by aliens
and only they can discover means to
Effects on the Audience
“The other” will only do evil so we should destroy
“These films build on fears of the intrusive and the
overpowering and thereby promote isolationism.”
Science should only preserve our current way of
We should place our faith in our military and
intellectual superiors to protect us from the the
dangers presented by “the other.”
Don’t Climb the Ladder
“The world of the gangster is made up of a
Unlike in science fiction films, the characters in
the gangster film are not attempting to create a new
social structure. They are trying to rise within
Many of these films contain characters that attempt
to climb that pyramid and, in the end, fail to do so.
Essentially, their ambition leads to their downfall.
Gangsters and You
The fact that the gangster attempts
to use illegal means to advance in
his world is irrelevant.
“…all means are unlawful, every
attempt at success is an act of
aggression.” - Warshow
These films try to equate our own
desires for success with those of the
Effects on the Audience
These films show the dangers associated with
success. If we succeed in our social structure and
advance in our own hierarchy, we are vulnerable to
any one who may desire our post.
Since success is dangerous and hard to maintain, it
is easier to simply live your life as a failure on the
lower levels of the pyramid.
So the next time you go to a genre
film, ask yourself…
Is this film intended to only serve as escapism
from the problems of my life, or is there a deeper
What is this film telling me about how I should
live my life in society?
Am I being encouraged to not rebel against the
My Really Fun Review Questions
1. What are the three qualities that all genre films share? (I told
you it was important.)
2. “The code” in western films is the same both _______ and
_______. Ours are contradictory.
3. Only a member of the upper class who has accepted ______
______ can defeat the monster?
4. Alien invaders represented what in the late 40’s and 50’s?
5. Does the gangster film advocate that success is a good thing?
Now It’s Time For Your Really Fun