Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Success of the Trope

If you are like me--and why wouldn't you want to be me?--there may have been some times in your past when you got sucked down into that rabbit hold known as the Wikipedia. You start off looking up something completely legitimate like what the Volstead Act is and two hours later you are reading a list of all of the cultural references of the Simpsons found in the Lockerbie bombing.

There is a certain value in that; I'm sure there is some sort of sociological craving innate in human nature to find interconnectedness in things, things that usually involve reading a history of Savage Garden. And, like it or not, randomly reading things on what amounts to a reasonable accurate, if a bit unfocused, encyclopedia isn't exactly the worst thing to be doing. You learn things. Random things that may have no context or meaning, but it's better than obliterating brain cells with beer while watching Matt Cassel stink up the field for four hours on a Sunday night.

Anyway, for those who haven't found out about it, and prefer that your random learnings are more pop-culture laden, you can take a trip over to TV Tropes. This is a web site dedicated to identifying the random tropes in pop culture (and, increasingly, real life). Tropes, of course, are situations that viewers (or society in general) easily recognize and can immediately relate to. While it's not the equivalent of a cliche--cliches are, by definition, unoriginal, while a trope doesn't necessarily have to be--they are very close in meaning. For example, the trope Not What It Looks Like appears repeatedly in Three's Company, and it exactly how it sounds: Janet/Jack/Chrissy get into some sort of shenanigans dripping with innuendo, but then when the innocent activity is revealed it's, well, not what it looked like.

[For the record, even though it's called "TV Tropes," it's actually about all pop culture, including books, movies, even non-popular culture like history and careers.]

There are all kinds of tropes, most with descriptive and straightforward names (Starving Student, Jerk With A Heart Of Gold, All Girls Want Bad Boys), while some are silly but otherwise to the point (Timmy in a Well (when a character can't speak for some reason (usually choking) and others have to decipher what they are trying to say), Chekhov's Gag (a reference to Chekhov's Gun, when some joke is made, then unexpectedly comes back later in the episode), His Name Really Is Barkeep (when a character happens to have a name that matches their profession), Aliens in Cardiff (when strange things happen in out-of-the-way places to rationalize away plot points)).

This sounds, well, rather mundane...but just wait until you actually start looking at your favorite TV shows. Most come with examples. And there are a lot of examples. Suddenly, you'll start clicking on all the different tropes associated with a show, which will lead you to other shows with the same tropes, which will lead you to tropes of that show, and so on...

Of course, it's not perfect. Some of the tropes just seem a little to broadly defined, and then the site goes out of its way to re-define it so that it isn't so broad. And some of the trope titles are a little too obscure, which makes some paragraphs practically incoherent. (Of course, once you start clicking--and you will--everything starts to make sense). Some of the tropes are too clever by half. And there is probably an disproportionate (and unhealthy) focus on anime; thankfully, it's indexed so you can usually skip right through it.

Still, it's odd how many small, obscure facts I've learned--and, strangely, new things I've learned--hopping around from link to link. If you happen to have a spare eight hours today, I suggest giving it a try.

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