The dance between the medium and the genre is an intricate and interlocking one. Aristotle states that representations can differ in three ways: object, manner and means (Mitchell, 13). The means of literature is language. Words are the materials, but the manner of using these words can be different-poetry, short story, essay, etc. The subtle difference between means and manner is the distinction between medium and genre (14). The choice of a medium calls for another choice to be made as well: what form, or genre, to use.
When I refer to media, or a medium, I am referring to a process using specific techniques and materials through which communication occurs. For example, painting is a medium; so is film, print, etc. I am less interested in the political ramifications associated with media in terms of a mass form of communication than in the structure and process of communicating through a medium, whether it is a book, film or performance. There is a subtle, and often blurred, distinction between media and mediums that should be made here. The term media is more abstract and refers to variety of mediums as a whole. The term mediums is more concrete and is used to discuss two or more particular mediums a part from each other. So in a media studies department, the multiple mediums of film, text and theater can be discussed specifically, while the value of multimedia can be debated as well. This is a multimedia study that has several mediums in it.
Another way I discuss media throughout this study is by using the terms cross media and transmedia. These are two distinct terms, but they have similar connotations. Transmedia is a term coined by Henry Jenkins to describe how stories can be told across media in such a way as to take advantage of what each medium does best (”Transmedia Storytelling”). Cross media is a form of transmedia that explicitly incorporates interactivity in order to position the audience in the middle of the experience (Bjork). In other words, both refer to narratives that occur across multiple mediums, but cross media specifically places the audience into the narrative. And both hint at the possibility of ubiquitous entertainment and narrative experiences across media, time and space.
So, mediums matter. As McLuhan has said, “the medium is the message” and has a vital part in the meaning of a story related through it (Understanding Media, 7). David Miles looks at how a medium has the shape in the meaning of a story when he examines how a new medium borrows heavily on older, more established mediums in his article, “The CD-ROM Novel Myst and McLuhan’s Fourth Law of Media: Myst and Its ‘Retrievals.’” According to Miles, the hypermedia of the CD-ROM leans on aspects of film, stage and the novel (4). Even so, Walter Benjamin notes how a new medium can tell a story like never before. In, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Benjamin notes that the introduction of a new medium, specifically film, has the potential to change the world because it allows us to see things that we have not been able to see before (226).
Working within a medium necessitates some type of form with which one shapes the message to be communicated and thus genre is involved. Genre is a type or category of composition within a medium. So, the medium of discursive text is filled with genres: poetry, short story, fiction, non-fiction, novels, essays, etc. And painting has still lifes, landscapes, portraits, etc. Film has documentaries, dramas, action-adventure, comedies, etc. In dealing with media, one also has to deal with the genres of the media. Genres have certain conventions that set up expectations for the audience. And it should be noted that genres can cut across mediums. For example, we can talk about the genre of fantasy (with expectations of magic and mysticism) as it applies to film, fiction and painting.
All of this may seem fairly obvious, but I find it important to discuss genre and media because the two are so closely linked. When examining a medium in and of itself, it helps to note the genres of that medium and to know that looking at a certain genre with a medium will color the exploration of that medium. So by looking at the medium of texts and only citing poetic examples, the textual medium’s expressive capabilities are not being fully explored. Also, when examining a new medium, it helps to look at the genre employed. Both medium and genre matter. To conduct this study, I need to be aware of the intertwining differences of the old and new forms of them.