Have you ever seen a review of a movie or television show that basically brushes it off due to it being a certain genre or because it includes certain tropes? What is a trope you may ask? Well, if you look at dictionary.com they have the main definition being “a word, phrase, or image used in a new and different way in order to create an artistic effect.”
That doesn’t sound too bad right? The issue with this is that another definition is “a common or overused theme or device” or in other words a cliché. Now a trope doesn’t have to be a cliche, as seems to be the standpoint of the website tvtropes.com. As they say that, “On the whole, tropes are not clichés.” The definition seems a bit like it could go either way.
So how about we give an example? Hitting random on tvtropes.com sent me to “Never Grew Up” it’s basically about the characters in popular media that never age on the outside, and potentially even the inside. A prime example of this trope is Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Now on that page are other TV shows, movies, etc that use this particular type of character.
Now, when tropes are used in the manner that tvtropes.com uses them, or at least wants people to use them, I don’t have too much of a problem with the idea of tropes. They can be fun to explore and see what tropes are in the movies, TV shows, books, or video games that you’ve experienced. At the same time though, I’ve seen a number of people use tropes interchangeably with clichés and presenting it as a negative thing which is used to dismiss whatever they’re talking about. This usage frustrates me a bit.
I feel that when we start paring down media to tropes, clichés, and stereotypes that we begin to lose stories as a whole. That they are dismissed not by the story they tell, but more by the tropes they use. It’s the outward labels and character archetypes they use that defines worth and not the actual story and characters.
Now I don’t think that everyone has to like every single genre or trope out there. I also know that all works are not created equal. Some are more cliché riddled than others or fail in creating a memorable world or story no matter what clichés they use or don’t use. However, I get a bit tired of people dismissing anything based on a genre, a certain type of character, or another trope.
I mean ultimately one could say this doesn’t matter too much because it is just about movies or television shows, but I guess part of my frustration in all this is that all too often it seems to be how we treat other people too. We either try to find a particular label to slap on ourselves or others are all too ready to slap one on us. We look for the “tropes” evident in that person and make all kinds of assumptions while missing the person underneath.
In both I feel that we reduce complicated matters down to easily understood labels and categories, but miss the wider story. We may think we have the story all figured out, but may miss other things or simply make ourselves unable to enjoy the story. We may label others based on a few of their opinions, but completely miss out on who they are, what they’re about, and why they think the way they do.
Tropes, clichés, stereotypes, and labels exist. There is little to be done about that. They can be used in fun, informative, and interesting ways. We can also tend to conflate these labels and clichés, in some cases, to such a point that we begin to identify works or people by that and that alone. It is at this point that I think we are trading in what’s really important for what is easily managed and categorized, but incomplete.
So feel free to use tropes and clichés, but remember that there may be more to the stories we’re reading, watching, or playing than the tropes. Feel free to use labels for yourself and for others, but remember that we are all more than the labels, and that we could be labeled in many different ways that fail to encapsulate who we are entirely. We never know when we’ll miss out on an engaging story or an great person if we just look at the parts we think easy to categorize and pass them by.
What do you think? Do you think we use tropes and clichés too much when engaging media? Do you think we use labels too much with others? Let me know what you think in the comments.