Tuesday, May 17, 2016

[AVW006] Tropes – Clichés that Keep Getting Used

Previous: [AVW005] Flipping the Script (Men with Tits)

"Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations.” – TVTropes.com (retrieved 11/09/15)

We looked at the above definition briefly in the first post, but I want to revisit it. This definition is useful because it identifies two things that may not be immediately obvious about Tropes:

1). Tropes are consciously identified and chosen by writers.

2). Tropes are useful to writers because audiences already relate to them.
Writers do not intentionally create Tropes, but they do intentionally choose to use them. Tropes have value because they already exist - because audiences are familiar with them and won't have to think about them. The more universally comprehensible and appealing a Trope is, the more value it has for writers.

The distinction between Trope and Archetype is this: Tropes are consciously chosen for their palatability to mass audiences. Archetypes are timeless and emerge from the Subconscious in the minds of generation after generation of humans. Tropes are market-tested and just a bit cynical. Writers use Tropes either because "it's what people want" or because "it's what people understand."

In a sense, Tropes are rationalized Archetypes. The Kick-Ass Action Grrl has similarities with Kali and other blood-thirsty female deities of war and destruction. But the Grrl Power variant is an overtly rationalized version of the goddess of Destruction, not a picture from the subconscious.

Jung delineates something very similar to the process of writing through Tropes and the process of writing from Archetypes in describing the difference between "fantasy" and "active imagination":

"A fantasy is more or less your own invention, and remains on the surface of personal things and conscious expectations. But active imagination...means that the images have a life of their own and that the symbolic events develop according to their own logic – that is, of course, if your conscious reason does not interfere."
- The Symbolic Life
A Trope fulfills the conscious expectations of the author and audience – there shalt be a main character, and lo that main character shalt have a love interest. Some audiences expect their heroes to be brawny men of action and some expect their heroines to beat up brawny men of action. There is no evil in this, it simply proceeds from taste, fashion, and convention. It conforms to our conscious expectations.

Which is not to say that Tropes appear ex nihilo. These mass market images must come from somewhere before they are rationalized. My suspicion is that every entry on TVTropes.com can be traced back to some aspect of Jung's Archetypes or Campbell's Hero's Journey.

Nintendo (and the game industry in general) turned the Archetypal Anima into the Damsel Trope, making her rescue the goal of game after game after game. This is the rationalization of an Archetypal pattern, which is why it provided an effective hook in the days when game stories consisted of a few scant lines of text.

But to return to an earlier point, to claim that the Trope is the Archetype is to claim that the Hamburger is the Cow. The Archetype has a life of its own, and will not be any more repressed by cries of 'misogyny' any more than a Republican Senator's urges will be repressed in a public men's room. Men will want to rescue Princesses; not because women are property, but because their soul is a woman in need of freedom.

We can do better than "suppress the Anima" and we can do better than "increase the percentage of female protagonists." Next time, we'll set the groundwork for what that means.

[AVW007] Doing Better - What are We Doing?

No comments:

Post a Comment