Tina K. Russell

February 3, 2009

Learning the Tropes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:15 pm

What Do You Mean, It’s Not Didactic? – Television Tropes & Idioms
Right, so you’re looking through the library and come across a copy of Moby Dick. First published in 1851? Wow, if it’s still being published after more than 150 years, it must be good! You’ve heard a lot of good things about this novel, so you eagerly check it out and head home.

Later, you open it up and discover there’s a preface. Might as well read that to get an idea of the context it was written, and so maybe enjoy it even more. You start reading, and naturally the preface begins by summarizing the plot… wait, why are you annoyed? You weren’t planning on reading it for the story, were you? This isn’t just literature, it’s a work of True Art! In the minds of Really Clever Literary Critics, the true worth of a book, movie, or TV series is not in telling an engrossing story with interesting characters, but in allowing people to write long, complex, deep essays on the true meaning of the subject matter, whatever they think that may be. Once the critics have done this sort of analysis, they can objectively declare these works as True Art: it doesn’t matter how much you personally like or dislike these works so long as you understand the deeper meaning behind them. Only ignorant fools don’t understand. Such an attitude may be expressed in several ways:

You can even get away with Completely Missing The Point if you’re a Really Serious Critic who wants to reveal all sorts of Family Unfriendly Aesops inside a work, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual characters or plot. Goodness forbid that the author(s) wanted you to do so. How long will it be before high school/college students are forced to write long-winded essays about the philosophical and socio-religious undertones of Harry Potter? (Answer: Already happened.)

Note that having the plot given away becomes less and less of an issue the older the subject is. Most people who haven’t read, for example, Moby Dick will still be familiar with key plot points due to Popcultural Osmosis. See It Was His Sled.

See also True Art Is Angsty, True Art Is Incomprehensible.

Good God, this website is brilliant! It’s already sucked away hours of my life. It’s a complete listing of clichés that have appeared in (despite the site’s title) every fictional work, ever. All are named, identified, and catalogued. It feels like a certain consumer comeuppance. And, as such tropes are not necessarily bad (as the site eagerly points out), it’s like revealing that the emperor has no clothes—and hey, the emporer’s not that bad looking. He could be Mr. September on the Vainly Deceptive Heads of State swimsuit calendar. (I hope there’s a trope entry for what I just did, going too far on an allusion. You know, like instead of going out on a limb, you’ve staked out a tree for a week as part of an anti-logging public protest, only to find that the threatened tree you needed to protect is a couple meters over and already chopped down. It distracts from the text.)

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