List-O-Rama: Bottom Five Unofficial Tropes

Everyone who's a pop culture nerd should at least know of TV Tropes by now, right?  How they've created a handy-dandy guide to different archetypes, stock plots, and storytelling devices that is both informative and entertaining?  As a would-be writer, sometimes reviewing it can help with a story point or character beat that you're having a hard time defining, or it can help you avoid a potentially awful turn.  But not every trope has a name.  In fact, several of my personal pet peeves go nameless when they occur a lot and really need to be called on the floor for how awful they are.  So here is my first Bottom Five, unofficial tropes that drive me absolutely nuts.

5. All Aliens Are Invaders: In every single movie or TV show built around aliens on right now, they are usually faceless, personality-free, unknowable destroyers & invaders.  Even when they try to give them a motive, it's usually no more than "they're taking our jobs stuff".  It bugs me because it is entirely too easy to let audiences turn the aliens into a substitute for whatever arbitrary category they might hate - foreigners & their eeeevil culture, any given race or culture that isn't yours, any opposing political faction, etc.  It's fine if this is your intent (see the original V series, with the aliens clearly lizard Nazis), but when it's so vague that anyone can use it to further their personal agenda (see the remake of V, where the aliens were everything-to-everyone paranoia fodder), it hurts the genre & subconsciously creates further division, allowing people to pat themselves on the back for their biases by using aliens as a proxy.
Worst Offender: Falling Skies.  Even the aliens that are there to help or the ones that used to be human are treated as potential threats because "they aren't us", even from the nominal heroes.  It's one of the two main things keeping me from watching this show; there are layers of paranoia & isolationism that I find almost as disturbing as the next example from it.
Best Subversion: Alien Nation.  It had the aliens treated as another race & culture among humanity, with "they aren't us" talk limited to the baddies.  It's sad I have to reach so far back for a positive example of "aliens as The Other" on TV, though.  Also, kids' shows tend to portray aliens as people in other forms.  So no alarming proxies here.

4. All Girls Need Forever Boyfriends: This one might be a magical-girl-genre-exclusive pet peeve.  I see this largely in Western-produced magical girl shows and in fan works, but there have been a couple anime series that follow this (I'm looking at you, Wedding Peach, although to be fair "happy couples finding each other" is a central plot point).  A romance can be just fine, but Forever Boyfriend Syndrome has (a) the first guy a magical girl meets be her one true love, (b) have him be a sort of counterpart to her & have no personality of his own (for example, geek girl gets paired with geek guy), and (c) have him have to help her constantly even though she usually has more raw power.  It's boring, it distracts from the main plot more often than not, it feels forced, and it often drags down both characters, keeping them from reaching their potential development.  Bonus points if it's one of those toxic "they fight constantly but they really care" couplings, because those are absolutely appalling on their own.
Worst Offender: Winx Club.  In fact, that was the show that made me realize what a plague Forever Boyfriend Syndrome really was.  It's the poster child for everything wrong with a Western-produced genre entry, really, and the overdependence on like-matched couples, condoning of stalking & arranged marriage, & overall bad-soap interactions within the couples just makes it all the more obnoxious.
Best Subversion: The Precure franchise.  Only one season had a major romance subplot, with three of their girls finding boyfriends, one staying happily single & it not being treated like a joke, and one falling in love with a teammate.  Also, it was exceedingly rare that their boyfriends would swoop in & save the day.  And unlike most examples, the relationships felt organic, no "geek goes with geek, jock goes with jock" type of pairings.  And other seasons have largely avoided it, except for the occasional teasing in Suite with the leads.

3. All Teenage Girls Are Sociopaths: There seems to be a general attitude that teenage girls are heartless, conniving, manipulative, and remorseless psychos concerned only with their social standing, at least according to sitcoms.  This hasn't been the case in my experience (in fact, the ones that do fit that description have had serious problems), but according to TV, this is the norm for teenage girls.  This is what you should expect if you're a parent, for your daughter to be an absolutely horrible human being.  Worse, this is what you should be, teenage girl at home, or at least that's how your friends are.  It's a creepy, noxious stereotype that wouldn't be played for laughs if it wasn't for the "all girls are like that" assumption loaded into it.  There are shows I've avoided entirely even though I like the talent involved (such as Suburgatory) because this looked to be a central plot conceit as opposed to cringe-inducingly insulting.
Worst Offender: Modern Family.  In fact, when they decided to have both of the Dunphy girls act like sociopaths because "teenagers, amirite?" was when I stopped watching.  Haley started the show as shallow & clueless but gradually grew into a potential serial killer; Alex started the show as a Lisa Simpson type (see Honorable Mentions) but has gradually morphed into Haley Mark II.  Meanwhile, the two boys are allowed to be quirky, interesting, and not at all dangerously insane.
Best Subversion: The Middle.  Sue Heck is literally the ONLY teenage girl character who isn't in this stereotype.  She's bright, peppy, optimistic almost to a fault, eccentric, and kind-hearted.  She's what I'd imagine Mabel Pines to be as she grew older.  I relate to her far more, since she still has a soul.

2. All Women Are Joyless Scolds: There is a trope called "Closer to Earth", which describes a tendency in comedy to portray a male comedian's wife/girlfriend as more sensible by having her be the straight man in the team.  That's fine, except a lot of sitcoms take this to the extreme.  She actively exists just to shame him, stop him, and be completely miserable.  The term originates with movie & TV critic Nathan Rabin, who gave the world "manic pixie dream girl" as well, and it perfectly sums up this character type.  She is joyless, she is The Unfunny taken to extremes, and her primary purpose in the story is to scold & scold & scold.  You can still show someone is sensible without making them completely unfunny - and thus completely unlikable.
Worst Offender: Too many sitcoms to name, although to be fair, this term originated with a common complaint in Rabin's reviews of older Simpsons episodes; he would frequently lament how Bart & Homer would get to enjoy crazy adventures, while Marge & Lisa stood around disapproving, and how this hurt the characters (at least Marge would move on from this).  One of the most cringe-inducing is in an ad for State Farm insurance, with an absolutely nasty shrew of a wife attacking her husband over a phone call.  Thanks to that ad, I skipped right over them when looking for auto insurance, and I know I'm not alone.
Best Subversion: Dang, this is hard.  I can think of two examples, all of them present day at least.  Virginia on Raising Hope does tend to be a "voice of reason" figure, but she's more than willing to do crazy stuff like make hyper-addictive chocolate to help her son (and later, her granddaughter) win a candy sale contest.  And Frankie on The Middle is as refreshing a change as her daughter; she does silly, irresponsible stuff like stay home sick to mourn her favorite contestant losing The Bachelor or try to spend money the family doesn't have to get a 3D TV for a single viewing, while her husband Mike is the sensible one, although his is by being super-droll instead of the usual just-plain-mean.

1. All Victims Are Made Better By Their Victimization: I wanted to call this "Rape Made Me Competent", but I was afraid that would be as offensive as the trope itself.  There is a tendency to show that a tough, smart, overall competent woman got so by being a rape survivor.  She will have no ill effects from this other than deciding to toughen up or improve herself.  It's completely horrifying, divorced from reality, and downright insulting to real-life survivors.  Hell, I even hear that as a plot point & I'm put off; once I heard "she has to solve the mystery of who raped her" is a key subplot in Veronica Mars, I wanted nothing to do with the show, since it sends a character who used to avoid this trope straight into that territory.  Not every competent heroine has to be a victim, and not every victim can just roll with such a horrible thing.  It's a heartless, dismissive approach to a completely inhuman, heinous act that is just beyond sickening.
Worst Offender: Falling fucking Skies.  The main heroine & right-hand to Noah Wylie is a woman who was kidnapped by a gang of prisoners and repeatedly assaulted by them.  Not only did this miraculously make her smarter & tougher & more cunning, but the guy who was the ringleader is another hero!  That more than anything put me off from the show, when your main "she's not an evil alien" female lead is only heroic because she was a victim, that's fucking horrifying.
Best Subversion: Sadly, I can't think of a single one.  Law & Order SVU used to be good about showing the varied psychological reactions that rape victims had to their ordeal, but I'm sure they've become just as glib & dismissive as their cousins on CBS by now.  It's really appalling when you look at it, but most people can't be bothered.

Honorable Mention - But Not Too Foreign/Ethnic: I made this one honorable because (a) it already exists and (b) I'm as guilty as the next white American writer of this as anyone professional.  I personally find it comes from a desire to offer more diversity and reflect the real world but being afraid of writing what you don't know & accidentally offending someone.  So you try to find some middle ground, since even if you research the hell out of another culture or worldview or country, it will never be as accurately described as it would by someone who has actual, personal experience.  It's "write what you know" taken to the point where it sort of shoots all of your good intentions in the foot.  Of course, given the recent debacle with the adorable Cheerios ad, maybe showing more interracial/international families would be a good thing, but it's still no replacement for actual reflecting-more-of-the-world-than-what-you've-read-on-Wikipedia diversity.
Honorable Mention - Soapbox Sadie: Again, largely honorable because it exists, it is no less obnoxious for it, and I would argue that it should be renamed "The Lisa Simpson" after the single most toxic example of the archetype.  Usually given to either the female love interest or the sole female recurring cast member as a way to show just how enlightened & sensitive she supposedly is, this is doubly irritating.  First, it ties into the "women are joyless scolds" stereotype, and second, it allows the creator to have a sounding board, which is distracting & annoying to me even if I agree with the overall point.  It's another irritating stereotype, and it gives people the sense that unless you're constantly shoving your views/concerns in the world's face in as showboat-y a way as possible, you somehow don't care about anything.  Not the case - some of us just aren't ridiculous, nor should we be.  Again, TV takes something bad, makes it worse, and tries to pretend it's the norm.

So that's it.  I'm sure other people have noticed these things and been as annoyed as me, but they aren't on TV Tropes.

Popular posts from this blog

Magical Girl Obsession: Hugtto You, Too - Precure Leak Reactions

Magical Girl Obsession: KiraKira Mew, Precure

Magical Girl Obsession: Magical Girl Comparison Project