Trope-a-Dope

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I think most readers of TVtropes forget to read this helpful bit on the front page:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means "stereotyped and trite." In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them.

Even if everything was cataloged into tight neatly boxes(as those smug aliens presumed), it's the way those boxes fit and are made to fit with each other, that turns the stories so great.

To clarify "tropes are not bad:" tropes are CONCEPTS. Nothing more and nothing less -- concepts that recur in fiction. And there's one thing a lot of people forget about TV Tropes: the works that have examples of the most tropes are also, by and large, the wiki's favorites. Doctor Who, Buffy, Order of the Stick, Evangelion, Discworld, Negima, Warhammer 40,000, Gurren Lagann, Dr. Horrible, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Super Robot Wars. Chock-full of tropes, and tropers eat them up not in spite of that, but because of it.

Wow. A Caustic Critic talking about how Tropes will Ruin Your Life. I've never heard this one before.

/irony

Shay Guy:
To clarify "tropes are not bad:" tropes are CONCEPTS. Nothing more and nothing less -- concepts that recur in fiction. And there's one thing a lot of people forget about TV Tropes: the works that have examples of the most tropes are also, by and large, the wiki's favorites. Doctor Who, Buffy, Order of the Stick, Evangelion, Discworld, Negima, Warhammer 40,000, Gurren Lagann, Dr. Horrible, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Super Robot Wars. Chock-full of tropes, and tropers eat them up not in spite of that, but because of it.

You forgot Haruhi, goddess of tropes herself.

Thank you once again, Moviebob. Your line of thinking has coincided with my argument since the beginning of all of this whining about Avatar's non-originality, and even before the film was made. To be cliché regarding clichés: there is nothing new under the sun. To say that something is unoriginal is a completely irrelevant criticism - there is nothing original in the first place.

Why? That's easily explained. We have six billion people alive today, and about one hundred and six billion people who have lived on the Earth and died before us, with all of their stories to add to our own ones. In the face of odds that steep, to pretend that any story we write - even if it's in a made up language - is in any way "original" is the height of arrogance, so the only "originality" we perceive is 100% subjective.

This situation provides each of us, and ultimately humanity itself, with three major choices.

One, we follow the path of the aliens in your story. We split everything into broad, classified clichés, and everything becomes dust. We understand the trope, therefore the story has no meaning to us. We gain nothing "new" from it because we've "seen it before". As a result, the banality of the endless information sea eventually overrides our sense of enjoyment in said information, while our addiction to it continues to grow.

Two, we follow the path of the young man. We individualise everything, we understand meaning on the most subjective level, therefore enjoying our own experiences while decrying others', concluding on our superiority over beings potentially more objective and intelligent than ourselves. The result; a ceaseless wave of love for certain stories or genres that is so individual that we rarely have anything to relate to others about, or else polarise into groups so strongly defined by interest that they seem like new cultures... eventually leading to deeper conflicts and the destruction, once again, of enjoyment. This is something that has already happened on a small scale with the culture of the "fan", which has lead to conflicts like the console wars. These conflicts may seem small now, but if you multiply that subjectivity across the whole human race, imagine the consequences. "Harmful" would be an understatement.

The third option, a middle option of sorts, makes more sense to me. Why not classify the tropes and understand them objectively? But why not, in response to the tendency towards jadedness, nurture a sense of enjoyment when it comes to the commonality and archetypal nature of storytelling? The best of both worlds is easily achievable here - all it takes is to believe in meaning regardless of its commonality. After all, to be useful, meaning doesn't require originality - meaning is in meaning. Even if a hundred thousand people have walked our exact path previously, that doesn't make our own personal experience and variations in that path worthless. That doesn't make our own self-discovery meaningless. We see the dust, the base similarity of all stories, and we remember that though it is common, it is made from the stars of knowledge and wisdom. Enjoyment is thus maintained, and the addiction to information does not destroy the spice of life.

The aliens assume that for something to be meaningful, it must be interesting to them. The failure of logic there is obvious. The mistake in the young man's approach is less clear, but nevertheless present; he fails to realise the entertainment value of his story is degraded (for the aliens) by its commonality, even though that story retains meaning and useful conclusions about teenage love. Boredom and meaning are entirely different and separate concepts, and sadly neither alien nor human in this story understands the difference. Luckily, they need not connect at all times, if we dare to suspend belief. That is a challenge that the Information Age has presented to us, so I hope that we learn the lesson.

Once again, MovieBob, you really made me think. The story at the beginning really made me sad, too.

Once upon a time, there were beings who wanted to have seen it all. And to prove that they could, everything they came across - no matter how lovely it may have been - they would cut into pieces tinier and tinier, until they could safely say that 'everything' was just the same old bits of dust. And for a time, this would make them feel superior. Secure."

"Until the day that they would realize, with unfolding horror, the toll of their quest: That in seeking only the 'original' they had forgone the power to perceive all else. That they would never again be able to recognize 'beautiful,' 'moving' or even 'frightening'... unable to truly see anything but for the dust it was made of. That having 'seen everything before' means you never really see anything again.

Darkowl:

Once upon a time, there were beings who wanted to have seen it all. And to prove that they could, everything they came across - no matter how lovely it may have been - they would cut into pieces tinier and tinier, until they could safely say that 'everything' was just the same old bits of dust. And for a time, this would make them feel superior. Secure."

"Until the day that they would realize, with unfolding horror, the toll of their quest: That in seeking only the 'original' they had forgone the power to perceive all else. That they would never again be able to recognize 'beautiful,' 'moving' or even 'frightening'... unable to truly see anything but for the dust it was made of. That having 'seen everything before' means you never really see anything again.

Darkowl:

Darkowl:

Once upon a time, there were beings who wanted to have seen it all. And to prove that they could, everything they came across - no matter how lovely it may have been - they would cut into pieces tinier and tinier, until they could safely say that 'everything' was just the same old bits of dust. And for a time, this would make them feel superior. Secure."

"Until the day that they would realize, with unfolding horror, the toll of their quest: That in seeking only the 'original' they had forgone the power to perceive all else. That they would never again be able to recognize 'beautiful,' 'moving' or even 'frightening'... unable to truly see anything but for the dust it was made of. That having 'seen everything before' means you never really see anything again.

Darkowl:

Darkowl:

Darkowl:

Darkowl:

Once upon a time, there were beings who wanted to have seen it all. And to prove that they could, everything they came across - no matter how lovely it may have been - they would cut into pieces tinier and tinier, until they could safely say that 'everything' was just the same old bits of dust. And for a time, this would make them feel superior. Secure."

"Until the day that they would realize, with unfolding horror, the toll of their quest: That in seeking only the 'original' they had forgone the power to perceive all else. That they would never again be able to recognize 'beautiful,' 'moving' or even 'frightening'... unable to truly see anything but for the dust it was made of. That having 'seen everything before' means you never really see anything again.

lokidr:
Haven't you heard that TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life?

But then there's also Tropes are not bad, which showed me that TV Tropes need not ruin your life.

Hey Bob, can I have your kids?

NewClassic:
I have the strange feeling that, by linking TVTropes in your article repeatedly, the sheer number of folks who probably lost the last several paragraphs of the article, much less those who would comment, are now lost in a self-fueling romp through the ever-loved TV-Wiki.

As far as the sentiment goes, it's hard to imagine a world that isn't as competitive as this one. It means that Everyone has to be faster, stronger, better, and more knowledgeable than everyone else. It's made casual games of Trivial Pursuit become taunt-filled evenings of challenges and bets. It's given any game online scoreboards, everything a clear winner or loser. Sports become less about sports, and end up becoming important in sportsmanship. So is it any surprise that "I know more than you." has become a national pastime with something that would otherwise just be about entertainment.

So, to be brief, I think this all boils down to Que sera, sera.

That's only for boys. Girls are always the losers on the gender playing field, and that's not only a stigma, but a bonafide trope.

Oh dear jeebus, the amount of time I've spent on TV tropes recently...

I find myself worrying about following this road sometimes, and I constantly have to remind myself what is good in movies, TV, video games, etc. lest I become too jaded. Yes, apparently there is such a thing.

A similar phenomenon occurs in other things as well-for example "being rebellious" becomes a marketed trend...and if you can't see the fallacy in that you need eye surgery. Extending cultures to pretenders who sort of grasp the basic concepts, but miss the spirit. Criticism should be about improving quality by explaining what's enjoyable and what isn't. Not making yourself seem smart when really you're just pretentious.

Oh, and I almost feel like scolding moviebob for putting a link to TV tropes in this article. You've doomed them all to countless hours of wiki-surfing, only to later wonder where the hell the last 3 days went! How could you!? Sending anyone that link is an unspeakable act of cruelty...(which is why I do it all the time)...on a related note, my favorite TV tropes page- http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Uncyclopedia ...which links to the Uncyclopedia page on TV tropes, which links back, also links to the wikipedia page on TV tropes, which links to the TV tropes page...that whole juncture just exploded my brain the first time I saw it. Not to mention that both the TVtropes and the uncyclopedia page are spot on.

Frankly, i'm amused by people who can say "i've seen it all before" just because they read TV Tropes Wiki. They are so foolish. Tropes are not cliches, and what ultimately matters is assembly and delivery anyway. I could pick any work described there, and rearrange elements so that it becomes completely different. Then i could create a masterpiece of literature or a godawful B-movie out of that script.

The most important thing Moviebob noted though, is that broad strokes may be similar - but subtle details is what creates true uniqueness. Warhammer 40.000 and Supreme Commander are both about pan-galactic war dragging on for millenia, but can you say they're exactly similar to each other? Not with a straight face.

There are still a few original stories floating around. Parts of them will be broken down, without doubt, but those parts that are original still stand out. Of course, we could always collapse the whole set by setting a trope for those that check tropes, in a manner of moebius-style tautology, and catch the whole pompous lot of them into a net. It would be like one of those "How to keep an idiot busy" shirts, keeping them locked in a circle of tropes until they fade from existence.

I say that's a point for Chipman!
If all movies decided that it's all been done before, they'd simply become parodies of themselves without being able to express any actual thought. Sometimes, we need movies to take themselves seriously, even if it does mean they'll be mercilessly lampooned by people with no ideas of their own. For my part, I'm glad some directors are still willing to take the risk.
On the other hand, Avatar made $77 million over its opening weekend, so maybe it's not as risky as it looks...

You make a perfectly good point; your rebuttal of the whole "lulz been there saw that" attitude is astute - and there you go and spoil it all by saying something like "Avatar really is original!".

No. It's not. You're really playing devil's advocate, here. I've rarely felt more embarrassed in my movie-going career. The originality lies in the details, you say. Well, I'll give you that. The ecosytem is well done, the USB braids are cool, it's visually stunning, aaaaaaaand that's it. The rest is cliche valley. Yes, cliche - forget the trope stuff.

These narrative elements hardly qualifies as "trope". They're just cliches; sad, boring, mind-numbingly overused cliches.

"Most profitable film of all times!" will be the obligatory response. Yes, I know that. And I'm depressed!

In short: good piece, but I had to get this out of my chest ;)

PS: for some reason, the accents look all weird in the live preview... I therefore apologize for the accentless "cliche".

Fantastic article, Bob. I will definitely use that story about the boy and the aliens at some point, that was a brilliant fable about this matter.

Altorin:
I've totally heard all of this before. I mean, aren't you just rehashing what many others have said Bob? I mean I could count the number of times I've seen someone stand up on a soapbox and scream "YOU'RE NOT ORIGINAL FOR DISLIKING THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE UNORIGINAL" then I'd be an old man by the time i was through

Honestly, I thought you were above this sort of redundant bullcrap Bob. I had faith in you. I held your hand when your dog died. I weeped with you when your dad got in that horrible car accident just after realizing that in fact going to your baseball game WAS more important then going to his board meeting. I laughed and cheered your name when you won that game, even though all of the odds were against you - the other players were just so huge, and skilled, and your team was a scrappy band of rapscallions, with just a single Ringer and you, LEADING THE PACK!

For shame.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. Strange.

Also, if you're not being sarcastic, then you misunderstood him. He wasn't saying you're not original if you dislike things. He's saying you're an asshole, and, more importantly, are depriving yourself of large opportunities at enjoying media.

EDIT: I'm using "you" in the general sense there, not the specific. I'm not trying to insult anyone.

The word trope itself is slightly unpleasant to me and I don't like how the site seems to be informing a lot of people's language and world view. It's like, the internet is raising a generation of comic book guys and maybe someone right now is looking up comic book guy on TVTropes right now to find out exactly where my argument falls down or has resonance. Don't do it.

Sure, things don't need to be entirely original to be good or great. I'm a fan of Arthurian mythos and that stuff crops up all the time in everything. That's fine.

What's not fine (to me) is going into a movie because you've had a really stressful week and want to relax and being treated to a 2 1/2 hour lecture about things you have no control over. So I didn't like Avatar. Oh well.

I agree to some extend, but you can hardly blame people for discussing the reasons they didn't like a movie that is now one of the most successful movies ever made. A lot of the discussion about Avatar assumes that the only reason people didn't like it was due to it being unoriginal. This is not true. It has many original details, I just thought all of those details were silly, stupid, or just plain insipid. I don't like the techniques it used in an attempt to manipulate my opinion. It was fine for a spectacle, but it just didn't appeal to me. I don't like spectacle without substance.

Out of curiosity Bob, why do you feel the need to defend Avatar every other week? Long after most of 'the internet' has stopped discussing it, here you come to write an article that you know will illicit the exact kind of responses you're railing against. Is it just to laugh from behind your computer and say 'gotcha!' at people who disagree with you?

Insightful.

props to mr. Chipman for this excellent article. However, I do think that some things are overused, and you don't have to be jaded or someone who likes to think he is.

AcacianLeaves:

Out of curiosity Bob, why do you feel the need to defend Avatar every other week? Long after most of 'the internet' has stopped discussing it, here you come to write an article that you know will illicit the exact kind of responses you're railing against. Is it just to laugh from behind your computer and say 'gotcha!' at people who disagree with you?

I don't want to troll you, but do you have examples? He defended it in his review of it, in his review of Shuttah Island, and this article. That's three.

In the space of like two weeks. I'm not saying you are wrong, but please clarify here.

piscian:
Didn't you just go on this huge tirade about how Legion was crap because it had similarities to The Prophecy. I'm sorry man you just get more and more hypocritical with each review.

I might not have put it as harshly, but he has a point.

Hm. While these are valid observations and cause some interesting thoughts, I dunno if I agree with the scope. The 'jaded' fucktards who denigrate anything that does not meet their nebulous standards are really just edge-cases; thing is, they are more noticable because they are usually the loudest and the most obnoxious. I honestly think if it was as rampant a condition as Bob implies here, James Cameron wouldn't have so much money as to be able to build himself a 14000 square foot mansion constructed completely of bricks of 100 dollar bills.

I personally don't tolerate people like that: as I said, they're fucktards who seem to be determined to be unhappy and 'forever longing'. Usually not barrels of fun to hang out with.

The bit about there is nothing original also deeply saddens me. I would like to think that there are still stories yet to be told and songs yet to be sung, but I can understand where a person could think that is not the case. However, instead of a lack of inspiration, I'd chalk it up to commercialization- the capitalist system rewards low-risk investments with guaranteed returns over high-risk, all or nothing gambles, and this attitude bleeds over into our art and culture as well as our economics. Better to rehash a subject that is known to resonate with audiences than to attempt something avant garde. (I mean, shit, the fact that we have a phrase to describe exactly things that are experimental, different, and risk-taking should tell you something right there.)

other than that-- wow, Krull. Man that was a stinker of a movie. Saw it in the theaters, even.

Hexenwolf:

Altorin:
I've totally heard all of this before. I mean, aren't you just rehashing what many others have said Bob? I mean I could count the number of times I've seen someone stand up on a soapbox and scream "YOU'RE NOT ORIGINAL FOR DISLIKING THINGS BECAUSE THEY ARE UNORIGINAL" then I'd be an old man by the time i was through

Honestly, I thought you were above this sort of redundant bullcrap Bob. I had faith in you. I held your hand when your dog died. I weeped with you when your dad got in that horrible car accident just after realizing that in fact going to your baseball game WAS more important then going to his board meeting. I laughed and cheered your name when you won that game, even though all of the odds were against you - the other players were just so huge, and skilled, and your team was a scrappy band of rapscallions, with just a single Ringer and you, LEADING THE PACK!

For shame.

I can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not. Strange.

Also, if you're not being sarcastic, then you misunderstood him. He wasn't saying you're not original if you dislike things. He's saying you're an asshole, and, more importantly, are depriving yourself of large opportunities at enjoying media.

EDIT: I'm using "you" in the general sense there, not the specific. I'm not trying to insult anyone.

seriously? you couldn't tell I was being sarcastic? even when I mentioned his dog dying? Or described every kid's sports movie that plagued cinemas after Mighty Ducks made it big? It's ok though, at least you didn't come off like some mouth breathing fanboy, so I salute you.

sooperman:

AcacianLeaves:

Out of curiosity Bob, why do you feel the need to defend Avatar every other week? Long after most of 'the internet' has stopped discussing it, here you come to write an article that you know will illicit the exact kind of responses you're railing against. Is it just to laugh from behind your computer and say 'gotcha!' at people who disagree with you?

I don't want to troll you, but do you have examples? He defended it in his review of it, in his review of Shuttah Island, and this article. That's three.

In the space of like two weeks. I'm not saying you are wrong, but please clarify here.

He also defended it in his Oscar Nominations video, the article Blue (Skin) State, the article Going Negative, and a few other mentions in various articles and videos. So that's 6 times that he's directly defended the movie since about the time it released. This article in particular strikes me as odd given that all the heat surrounding Avatar has died down and people have finally shut up about it.

AcacianLeaves:
Out of curiosity Bob, why do you feel the need to defend Avatar every other week?

There are, approximately, THREE "newsworthy" current-events stories in mainstream film journalism: "Avatar" being a huge phenomenon possibly rewriting the rules of blockbuster movies and movie releasing (i.e. EVERY DAMN MOVIE is being made for 3D now,) The Oscars which this year is dominated by the Avatar/Hurt Locker rivalry, and "what's gonna happen to Roman Polanski?" That last one I've previously sworn-off covering until something new happens, so... there ya go ;)

AcacianLeaves:

sooperman:

AcacianLeaves:

Out of curiosity Bob, why do you feel the need to defend Avatar every other week? Long after most of 'the internet' has stopped discussing it, here you come to write an article that you know will illicit the exact kind of responses you're railing against. Is it just to laugh from behind your computer and say 'gotcha!' at people who disagree with you?

I don't want to troll you, but do you have examples? He defended it in his review of it, in his review of Shuttah Island, and this article. That's three.

In the space of like two weeks. I'm not saying you are wrong, but please clarify here.

He also defended it in his Oscar Nominations video, the article Blue (Skin) State, the article Going Negative, and a few other mentions in various articles and videos. So that's 6 times that he's directly defended the movie since about the time it released. This article in particular strikes me as odd given that all the heat surrounding Avatar has died down and people have finally shut up about it.

All excellent examples, thank you for the clarification. Bob does seem to be fanning the flames, as you pointed out. And personally I think he is trying to establish a mindset about the franchise; Cameron has two more moives planned for Pandora.

His arguments are valid, though. This article plus Blue (Skin) State present a legitimate opinion from someone with experience in the field. And from what I gather, Bob enjoyed Avatar and just likes to discuss it.

Can someone sum up the article for me? I dont have the time right now to read it all

Oh, my god. There's so much wrong with this article. Like, I don't want to get all "internet troll hyperbole" about it, but there is really a lot wrong with what's been established here, both in the article itself and in the comments.

First of all: It hasn't ALL been "done before". Humanity has not wrung out every single possible story option within the last 20 years. Creativity has not "died out", or stopped existing. The fact that Avatar rips off like five different movies is not an "inevitable result of human behavior" - it's lazy. The Na'vi are a transparent, 2d race of super-perfect Idolized Aborigines with cat-faces and ear spacers. That's not "inevitable". That's "James Cameron had a message to get across, and the message was: Natives are great". The fact that the military was comically evil and corrupt wasn't a result of "well, we've used up every other story possibility", it was a thin and eye-rolling way to make them the bad guys.

Imagine if it had been reversed. Imagine if the natives - you know, the hot, blue-skinned cat people that people jerk off over - had actually been the BAD GUYS, and the gung-ho marines had been the GOOD GUYS? Name me one movie like that. Imagine if the plot had been the same, but instead of being an idolized, super-sexy race of near-humans who love nature, the aliens had been a bunch of disgusting, fish-faced, fanged-maw freaks that the human protagonist falls in love with anyways. Imagine if the movie had been the same, except instead of the marines being comically, Snidely Whiplash evil, they'd been reasonably attempting to negotiate with the Na'vi and the bloodshed was a result of a misunderstanding instead of a need to make them an analogue to White People In Colonial Times.

None of these would sell well, of course. Avatar was a lengthy, drawn-out way to sell tickets with fancy CGI and manipulative design. But they would have been original, and different, and not ten thousand "white man goes out to commune with native race, turns out to be chosen one and falls in love with their princess" movies. Hell, it might have even challenged the genre or something, and I mean that never goes well with James Cameron. It's not like he made a movie that basically codified space marines in modern perception, nor did he make a movie where an evil robot assassin was turned into a sympathetic father figure. No, all that James Cameron has ever been good for, or will ever do, is "standard action schlock with no inventiveness or deviation". And what else should we expect? It's All Been Done Before.

Excellent article, Moviebob, and you get massive bonus points for mentioning TV Tropes. I'd also like to add that tropes are not bad (a page used to be titled that) and a work can be great because it's troperiffic, though really I'm regurgitating what your article was somewhat about.


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