Collins Language

Blogs from the Collins Language team in Glasgow, UK.

Friday, 27 February 2009

February 2009

February's Friday the 13th has been and gone, but it coincided with a new arrival in the long-running series of Friday the 13th films, which are characterised by gory onscreen murders and crushingly predictable release dates. This latest instalment, however, flagged up a subtle shift in language (or, at least, marketing speak). No longer are cinematic series sustained by mere sequels; they are now dynamically re-energised by reboots, presumably in order to chime semantically with the marketeer-envisioned computing/gaming mindset of a younger audience. Perhaps this is not unreasonable, as they usually feature a younger cast. More dubiously, remakes are now reimaginings, implying that the auteur theory was considered when producing not only expensive blockbusters, but also less ambitious exploitation films.

The exploitation genre has intriguing etymological origins. Its main synonym is grindhouse, a term that dates as far back as the 1920s, and was so called after the more shabby cinemas dedicated to low-budget fare, featuring explicit content that the more upmarket venues could not offer. Exploitation cinema reached its peak in the 1970s, and while there may be little of interest to lexicography within, say, the 86 minutes of Shriek of the Mutilated (1974), the etymologies of the assorted subgenres (microgenres, even) covered by exploitation are worth investigating. Both splatter and slasher films have more guessable origins, but others are 'loan' words from foreign languages. These include mondo (meaning world, after the documentary Mondo Cane, which kickstarted a series of explicit documentaries — or shockumentaries, if you will — on tribal customs) and giallo (meaning yellow, from the yellow covers of the pulp crime novels providing inspiration, and often source material, for the films) from Italian. Meanwhile, Japanese provides chanbara (literally sword fighting, a less critically respected subset of jidaigeki, the period drama).

While some believe (mistakenly) that the word exploitation refers to advantage being taken of cast members, it actually has more to do with financial returns than oppression. As legendary exploitation producer Roger Corman would tell you, such films are purely commercial exercises, exploiting both their explicit content and a specific target audience. The most obvious example is Blaxploitation, aimed at African American audiences of the 1970s. Variants of the genre are easily identified by the use of the suffix -ploitation, and the Corpus throws up such examples as sexploitation (no imaginative leap required) or Mexploitation (a regional variant from Mexico). Rhyme is not a requirement, however, as shown by Ozploitation (from Down Under) or carsploitation (involving cars – you get the idea). More pertinently, the suffix -ploitation has escaped the grindhouse ghetto and is now used to describe any entertainment subgenre with a readily identifiable target audience. So, teensploitation has become established enough to spawn the even-more-youthful tweensploitation. The -ploitation suffix is now as associated with material tailored to an obvious demographic as is the suffix -gate with political scandal.

Perhaps dictionaries have cornered the lexploitation market?

Duncan Black - Editor


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