Friday, 16 May 2014

MS4 - 'A' Grade Exam Response: Text, Industry & Audience

A1. To what extent are your chosen texts typical of their genre? 

The three texts that I have chosen, from the television industry are the well received mainstream BBC science fiction programme, ‘Doctor Who’, the not as well received sci fi series ‘Firefly’ and the recent BBC crime series ‘Luther’. Whilst two of the texts are completely different to the other in terms of genre, they all have one certain thing in common, in the ways that they are typical of the genre, in both conforming and subverting visual conventions.

BBC’s mainstream hit, Doctor Who, conforms to many of the conventions associated with the science fiction genre. When an audience tunes into this programme, they immediately, if not soon realise that they are watching a science fiction programme. The main theme of Doctor Who, forming a recurring plot line, is the central character of the Doctor, a protagonist, and his ability to travel through time and space. This concept, whilst not particularly original, works strongly within this television format, allowing endless plot lines to be conceived from the initial idea. The concept of space travel, which Doctor Who uses so well, is strongly associated with the science fiction genre, so much so that it is hard to imagine one without the other. Again the idea of time travel, with its links to HG Wells, is also a strong convention of science fiction, something that Doctor Who utilises, the Doctor and his human companion travelling to the past and future, using the aid of the Doctors time machine, another strong recognisable convention of the science fiction genre.

It is in these ways that Doctor Who can be seen as typical of its genre along with the stereotypes of having a white male to play the Doctor, the hero of the plot. The series also makes use of exotic, colourful outer space locations, a trait one usually associates with this genre, as well as the series of alien creatures such as the daleks, cybermen and slifheen. Whilst these monsters would surely look out of place within most other genres, within science fiction, they fit perfectly.

Finally, Doctor Who is typical of the science fiction genre because of its use of plot and technology. Within each episode, usually a 45 minute slot (occasionally a two part 90 minute episode) the series conforms to a pattern that most science fiction stories do. Which a disruption is caused the hero arrives, and resolves the problem, bringing peace, mirroring that of Todrov’s theory. Technology, whilst sometimes a bit old; (pieces of the Tardis console being formed with a typewriter and bicycle pump) are usually integrated within each episode, sliding electronic doors, motion scanners, even the Doctor’s trusted sonic screwdriver, playing a part within most plot lines and whilst this is sometimes subverted, episode set in the past using little of no technology at all, the concept of high tech gadgets is still lodged in audiences minds, because they remember that they are of course watching science fiction.

Joss Wheden’s sci fi drama, ‘Firefly’ failed to grab the attentions of the mainstream audience and was eventually dropped by Fox network. However this piece of sci fi similarly to Doctor Who, uses the same sorts of conventions what make it typical to the science fiction genre, whilst interestingly, also subverting many too.

 The way in which Firefly is a typical science fiction programme is to do with its setting. The stories action takes place upon a firefly spaceship, called Serenity. This ship flies through space with its crew, captained by protagonist, white male hero Malcolm Reynolds, as they search for work as smugglers. The very concept of the setting the programme aboard a space ship connotes to the audience that this is a science fiction programme. However, Firefly is keen to take many of these science fiction conventions and alter them, even to subvert them. Weaponry is used throughout the series linking to the series other genre, the western. Old age western guns are present, although slightly altered; these Wild West weapons now shoot lasers instead of bullets, through the aid of the sound departments clever sci fi sound effects. Most characters within this universe speak with a slight southern American accept, again, connoting to the audience a hint of the western genre.

Whilst Firefly’s action is predominately set aboard a space ship, Joss Wheden subverts the expectations slightly. Most would assume, when watching the science fiction genre, that such spaceships would be new, pristine and shiny. Wheden subverts this by crafting a spaceship cobbled together from pieces of junk and scrap metal, giving the series a more earthy gritty realism needed to mirror some of the more harrowing story lines. Whilst planets are shown, similarly to that in Doctor Who, they differ enormously; the planets within the Firefly universe are neither colourful nor exciting, usually made from dusty streets and scrap yard looking areas. Gone too are monsters and alien creatures, the stories instead favouring to focus on character progression rather than sci fi spectacle. In this respect, Firefly subverts conventions by letting the science fiction aspect take a back seat, never letting the setting govern the story line.

BBC’s police drama, ‘Luther’ is a strongly typical of the police drama series. Set around the life of police detective John Luther, the series follows many of the conventions used within this genre, reminiscent of similar texts such as ‘Cracker’ and ‘Silent Witness’. Firstly, the series adheres to the crime series genre by using the familiar narrative of the police force catching the criminal. Throughout the series, new criminals are introduced only to be brought down by Luther and his team, creating peace, equilibrium, again taking Todrov’s theory into account. Interestingly Propp's idea of the hero character, here clearly defined as John Luther himself, is portrayed by black actor Idris Elba, subverting the stereotype that the hero must be a white male. However, the hero soon begins to display stereotypes and conventions visual to the television crime series, as we discover that John Luther is a troubled man, has anger issues and recently split up with his wife. This trait, the troubled cop, is heavily used throughout the series, drawing similarities to other crime dramas, such as Cracker, where the hero Fitz, played by Robbie Coltrane, has problems with alcohol and gambling.

The good cop, bad cop stereotype is played upon in the form of good policeman Justin Rifoley, playing off Luther’s bad cop temper. Most characters speak with working class accents, DCI Rose Telser utilising a slightly dodgy cockney twang, which is a convention of most crime dramas, adding a gritty, realistic tone shying away from unnatural Received Pronunciation. Finally, the series lead setting, the police station, connotes to the audience that they are watching a police drama and not a romantic comedy, providing sufficient realism whilst enabling the writers to fill in any holes simply by pointing to a chart in the meeting room.

In conclusion, these three texts are typical of their genres, strongly conforming to the conventions laid down by series within the same genre that have come before them, adhering to character, setting and iconography traits, and whilst in places this is occasionally subverted, on the whole, it remains similar.

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