I am actually gearing up for a blog post about Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes VS Women project – what I dislike about the series itself and what I dislike about the reception of it. But the very first thing I dislike about this whole debate is the word “trope”. So many people actually have no clue what the term means, but use it anyway. You get people who wisely suggest that the best way to avoid negative portrayals of women in media is “to stop using tropes”. Ingenious. It’s absolutely true: If we just stop telling stories altogether, it logically follows that we will never tell an offensive story ever again.
TVTropes has this mantra that everyone repeats without truly believing: there are no good or bad tropes. All tropes are neutral and depend on their larger context for real meaning. This is a nice thought but nobody actually thinks this. It’s obvious that some tropes are considered automatically good, elevating a story to a clever, or feminist, or intellectual, or inclusive, ground-breaking masterpiece! Other tropes are seen as bad and using them in your story makes the entire story dumb, evil, stupid, harmful, horrible.
TVTropes uses a list format with very short, simplified explanations – at most. There is little context given to show how these tropes fit together and what story they create in their union. That’s why TVTropes bores me so quickly. I may have a few favourite character types and plot devices, but my true enjoyment comes from seeing how they are integrated into a larger narrative, not just from the mere knowledge that they exist in some way. Additionally, many TVTropes contributors/editors are biased and use the website to promote their favourite show or pairing or character. Sometimes, this means trying to find flimsy connections to popular, “good” tropes. Or omitting or downplaying “bad” tropes. Very often, it feels like no one really knows what a specific “trope”, as defined by the website, actually describes. You get examples that really don’t fit, and after a while, you aren’t sure anymore what the (often confusingly named) trope originally meant.
By the way, I find the trope name “Strangers On A Train Plot Murder” confusing as hell. It sounds like it describes “a murder like the plot of Strangers on a Train“. Which leads to the absurd phenomenon where Strangers On A Train itself “is not a straight example” because the plot of the movie does not actually correspond to Bruno’s envisioned murder plot, since Guy is much too law-abiding to just agree with the plan and carry it out smoothly. Which is the whole damn point of the movie. It’s what the movie’s plot is. I’m not sure if a lot of people actually know that, as I’ve seen plot descriptions that suggest otherwise … Anyway, why not call the trope “Strangers on a Train murder plot“? It would obviously refer to the “murder plot” from “Strangers On A Train”. That’d be clear in meaning and would not necessitate an awkward disclaimer that the “trope namer” is not a “straight” example of the trope.
Duh, there is nothing straight about Strangers On A Train anyway.
Speaking of Strangers On A Train, my biggest issue with the film’s TVTropes page concerns labelling Bruno a “Sissy Villain“. As in characterized by femininity, a lack of masculinity. It takes – and deserves – a long-ish post of its own to explain how infuriatingly reductive it is to say Bruno isn’t masculine. As opposed to who? Guy? Hmmm … I don’t think this describes their dynamic very well at all. If Guy was a “manly man” and Bruno was a “sissy”, Guy would punch Bruno in the face five minutes into the film and that’d be the end of it. My opinion is that the film is about masculinity and that it is actually Guy who lacks it and who needs to “man up” to survive.
So before writing about Tropes VS Women, I shall have to write about gender roles in Strangers on a Train. Why do I always get distracted from one topic to another?