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R I C K

A LT M A N

T H E O R Y

The man behind the theory

I D E O L O G Y

B E H I N D

T H E

T H E O R Y

IDEOLOGICAL OVERVIEW

This theory suggests that genre is constructed through two different


elements: Semantic and syntactic elements. Without these aspects the
genre would be lost amongst the narrative structure and the demographic
would find it difficult to identify the generic conventions that represent the
genre as an entire.
Depending on the documentary, whether or not semantic or syntactic
elements were utilised, in order to illustrate the genre, audiences to an
extent may find it easier to identify with these elements.
Rick argues that if we only use one of these elements to establish the genre,
disillusion could potentially occur. For instance: if only one aspect of these
elements were incorporated then the target audience might classify Saw
and Scary Movie 2 as the same typology of the horror genre. Although, if
were taking into account the themes / emotions involved, it becomes clear
that Scary Movie 2 is more comical and light-hearted when taking it out of
the context of the horror genre. In this case, the combination between a
comedic side and the horror aspect translates into a hybrid genre.

S E M A N T I C

E L E M E N T S

SEMANTIC ASPECTS

These are visual genre signifiers that can be identified easily by the
demographic. This is regarding with conventions of particular genres
that communicate to the audience, such as: characters, props, sound,
locations, camera movements and other conventional genre signifiers.
These are also known as generic conventions located within specific
media texts.

S Y N T A C T I C

E L E M E N T S

S Y N TAC T I C A S P E C T S

These aspects are indeed signifiers of a genre but aren't visually or


easily recognised. Typically they are themes or moods that create
the atmosphere, such as : anger, sadness, regret, love etc. In order to
communicate these syntactic elements to the primary audience the
directors utilise various camera and editing techniques and through
the use of mis-en-scene and sound as well. To create a mood for the
atmosphere the director could implement editing transitions, for
instance: fades, cross dissolves etc.
These aspects concern the relationship between these elements and
the structure of the narrative within the genre.

E X A M P L A

E L E M E N T S

EXAMPLES OF ELEMENTS

In terms of semantic elements, one typical example an


audience would expect to see in a western type genre
would be the following:

Fire arms

Horses

Cowboy hats

Dessert areas or wilderness

In some cases and in some documentaries, some of these


semantic and syntactic elements are easier to identify than
others. The reason behind this could be done to the fact that
directors wish to create enigma codes within the narrative in
In relation to syntactic elements, another conventional
example that an active audience would demand to view in a
romantic comedy type genre would potentially be one
major aspect:

order to keep the audience engaged and always asking


questions in their heads.

The potential lovers initially not liking each other


Multiple meetings and problems (which translate into
enigma codes) that form the foundation of their
successful partnership in the near future.

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