Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Underused Tropes

Complaints about tropes in fiction usually consist of those so common as to become dull. Yeah, we've all seen the Reluctant Vampire, the Evil Twin, the Mary Sue, the Lost Heir to the Throne, etc. But what about the opposite? Elements of story-telling so little-seen (often with a reason, even if not a good one) that a successful use of them could not help but seem fresh?

Mind you, I'm reminded of the DVD commentary on the live action series The Tick. When that show started out, the executives gushed. "How original!" "This is ground-breaking!" "We've never seen anything like this before!" But then the ratings began to slide, and those same execs became repeating those comments, but instead of praise they intended criticism. "Seems too original." "Maybe this is too ground-breaking." "Problem is--no one's ever seen anything like this before..."

So taking all that follows with a grain of salt might be a good idea.

To start with, I'd love to see some exposure for the Eastern Orthodox Church. Actually, that name is something of a misnomer. There are about fifteen or so Orthodox Churches who share communion, but who are each headed by a Bishop considered equal to all other heads. Yet despite local differences of custom and language, those fifteen agree on all major issues of doctrine. To be baptized in one means you may take communion in any. Yet this, the second largest Christian denomination in the world, might as well not exist in terms of English language literature, television and film. Offhand, I can think of only three depictions of Christian Orthodoxy--all of them extremely minor (they are Bram Stoker's Dracula, one episode of BBC's Poirot, and an episode of the re-imagined Twilight Zone). None of these even vaguely hint at Orthodox beliefs, not coincidentally. And therein lies the real shame, because this (certainly one of the oldest of Christian churches) carries some fascinating insights. To give a single, brilliant example (which, to be fair, was an element in one major film I can think on) is the notion that God did not make Hell, but that Man did--when men reject God's love, into which they return after death, that rejection is what creates Hell. Damnation, in other words, is a direct result of who you are, not (necessarily) what you do.

Another trope methinks we see far too little of is the Ethical Corporate Executive. As I recall, there was one on The West Wing, and way back in my childhood there was a marvelous series called The Name of the Game, with the "hero" being the CEO of Howard Publications. Offhand, Lucius Fox of The Dark Knight is nearly the only recent example that comes to mind. In fact, this trope was probably over-used in the 1950s, and one can understand how much more easily it is to use this figure as a villain. But after a certain point, it becomes worse than sloppy story-telling, this can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the idea that working in business is unethical becomes commonplace, then the ethical are less and less drawn to business as a career. An oversimplification? Yes. But with more than a grain of truth behind it as well. My own bet is that the vast majority of corporate bigwigs are just these folks doing their jobs--with the same sorts of foibles, strengths, pains and joys as the rest of us. Not reflecting that seems like imaginative laziness. At best.

Next up is something rarely seen as anything other than the butt of a joke or as an indication of some character's inherent twisted-ness: Male submission. One can pretty easily find the trope of women who secretly (or not so secretly) long to be taken, to submit to someone stronger than themselves, at least in terms of erotic play. One can every now and then spot positive depictions, such as the movie The Secretary with Maggie Gyllanhall and James Spader (great film, not-so-incidentally). But even a casual visit into that subculture reveals how very many more males are looking to be slaves to ladies, than the other way round. Makes sense when you really think about it. Do you fantasize about being yourself? Or about being something you're not? Culturally, men have the upper hand in our civilization, so men are more likely to have dreams of submitting (I've been told by someone who ought to know that there are many more submissive males than there are dominant females to fulfill their desires). Yet this aspect of sexuality all around us remains hidden, or at least deliberately ignored.

Methinks I'll have more examples for a later post.

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