There are a lot of tropes that get repeated in movies and books (I might be stating a tautology – things that are repeated in movies are perhaps tropes). Repetition in story is inevitable – that isn’t what I’m writing about today. Indeed, I enjoy many of the tropes, and most serve as important story tools. That being said, the philosophical messages that are behind some of these tropes can be somewhat questionable. Lets look at some examples! (Disclaimer: all trope names were made up by me.)
The Unappreciated Visionary Trope
“Just because you haven’t seen something, doesn’t mean its not there.” – Epic
An important convention of literature is that a lot of it is about the bizarre. This leads to such characters as eccentric scientists, doomsday prophets, and conspiracy theorists often actually being visionaries who can see what the rest of us cannot. Its easy to see why these characters are important to many stories – they often act as guides and teachers, helping the protagonist (and the readers) understand what is going on. I get the title quote from the movie “Epic”, in which the protagonists eccentric father tries to convince her that there are little tree men that protect the forest. The philosophical problem with the trope is that it seems to push the idea that we should be less skeptical. The eccentric characters become visionaries, and are often ridiculed by the ‘blind’ greater mass of society – and this is presented as a kind of failure. I doubt that many of the storytellers would actually say that they advocate buying into conspiracy theories willy-nilly, but it does seem to be an idea that is pushed by this trope to some degree.
Science ignores Magic Trope
“Wouldn’t ‘its magic’ be an easier explanation?’ – The Dresden Files
In fantasy one common trope is that scientists have trouble believing in magic. I can understand why this trope exists – scientists don’t believe in magic. However, the reason that scientists for the most part don’t believe in magic is because, well, it doesn’t exist (or at least there is very little reason to think that it does). Though it is true that it would probably overturn most scientists world view if they saw magic being preformed, if magic existed it would be a part of the natural world. I think it would be a scientists inclination to try to figure out how what they are seeing fits.
Tougher then the Boys Trope
“Who proved wrong all who scoffed that a young maiden could be one of the fiercest warriors?” “I did.” “True, but I supported you”. – Thor
Something that I feel I see frequently in film and television is the woman warrior who is tougher then the boys. The woman often will show a demeanor more often associated with men, often in contrast with a man acting more like a woman. Think Transformers III, where that guy shrieks ‘like a girl’ when he’s attacked by the sexy girl robot, while being rescued by his girlfriend. Or, in Thor, Thor is trying to get all of his friends to support him by reviewing how he’s helped them in the past. The woman sticks out from the other warriors because she rejects that she needed his aid. To some degree I feel this trope is used as a cheap laugh tactic. The behavior is often not systemic throughout the piece, but is instead a one off joke. To criticize it further though, usually there is ‘one’ tough woman in the team of boys. It to some extent removes the female characters humanity – she is not a person, she’s ‘the tough chick.’
Tomboy’s Rule Trope
Another fantasy trope related to woman is that main female protagonists are often tomboys (whether the main character or the main characters love interest). That is to say, they pursue stereotypically masculine pursuits. Often this tomboy female is one of very few female protagonists in the story (think Lord of the Rings, Thor, Avengers, etc.) A big part of this is probably because violence and war is such a core element of today’s storytelling (especially in movies), and such an environment strongly favors male stereotypes. The problem that I have with this trope is that it makes it so that the female character is ‘relevant’ only because she does what the guys do (and is often interesting to the male characters because of this). In other words it seems to suggest that ‘excellency’ is mainly found in stereotypically masculine pursuits, while belittling traits that are stereotypically feminine. This may to some degree be because many stereotypically ‘feminine traits’ (subservience, gentleness, etc), do not contribute much to a character actually having agency, but I feel there must be some middle ground.
Don’t play God!
If anyone in a movie or book ever says ‘humans should not play god’, they seem to be inevitably in the right of things. The main characters actions seem to inevitably lead to pain and suffering of grate magnitude. Most of these tropes I can muster some sympathy for, but this one just seems really cliche to me. The philosophical problem with it is its the kind of argument used against stem cell research and other (usually not well thought out) anti-scientific thought patterns.
The Good-Guy Wins Trope
This trope is in almost every story ever. I’m not sure if it is one that can be gotten rid of, its so integrated with the human mindset that we don’t usually like the story if it doesn’t follow this pattern. Is so integral that it can be hard to tell sometimes whether the trope is ‘the good guy wins’ or ‘whoever wins must have been the good guy’. Take parables, take Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, take almost any story ever. Bad things are strongly correlated with bad actions, and victory is strongly tethered to moral superiority. Imagine if I told a story about two characters with conflicting ideologies, one of whom comes out on top. Almost certainly most people reading the story would think I was advocating the winners ideology over the losers. However, it is this kind of thinking that also leads to things like victim blaming and other flawed reasoning. Its nice to read stories where good guys win, but I think its important to remember that winning doesn’t make someone the good guy.
Thank you for reading, let me know what you think.