Perhaps a group of most creative and plentiful tropes are the ones about imagination. All manner of works include at least one of the imagination sub-tropes for at least a short duration.
One of such is Mr. Imagination, a trope that signifies a person who has a large imagination and spends most of their time in their imagined word. They are often represented as a main character or a side character that is often too cheerful, pixie-ish, or out of this world and they may or may not have an imaginary friend. A piece of fiction in which they are included often consists of many imagination or dream sequences. The most notable character of this trope is, of course, Calvin in Calvin and Hobbes, who spends most of his time talking to his tiger toy, Hobbes, in their own imaginary world. Two more darker versions of this trope are the movies Fight Club and Shutter Island.
Mr. Imagination often wanders into another trope, Imagine Spot. This trope is designated by a very short sequence, no more than a few seconds long, where a person wanders into Imagination Land, commonly bookended by a Fade to White. Here, a person often imagines something improbable, usually based on a conversation they have with another person, or something they are reading or thinking about. What is interesting about this trope is that it is one of the most common tropes in advertising, so that it is considered both a comedy and advertisement trope. We often see this trope in the movie Amélie, where the main character with the same name lapses into Imagine Spot when she meets new people. This trope is also a central and often used one in the TV show Scrubs with J.D.
Our last trope for this year is tangentially related to imagination as it is its destroyer, aptly named Imagination Destroyer. This trope describes someone or something with the main goal of destroying or suppressing imagination on Earth. The reasons usually vary, from trying to establish order, envy, easier control; you name it, there is an excuse for it. We see that in The Neverending Story, where The Nothing, an ancient eldritch force, powered by apathy and cynicism, threatens to destroy Fantasia, thus eliminating humans’ ability to imagine.
I have been working through my To Watch list of movies and TV shows since I have unexpectedly found myself with a lot of free time on my hands. A large part of that list belongs to the Action genre and while watching, I found myself recognizing quite a lot of shared tropes.
The most amusing (and overplayed) for me is We Have the Keys. This trope occurs when an action hero, most commonly a macho man, either breaks down the door by kicking it or hotwires the car. Once the hero succeeds in this endeavor, the person accompanying them holds up a set of keys that would do the same job, but with much less hassle. This trope is present in a lot of action movies, most notably in Terminator 2 Judgment Day, 2 Fast 2 Furious (or in anything that centers around cars), The Matrix Reloaded, The Bourne Identity, and, interestingly enough, Doctor Who. This trope came to me while watching one of its most recent episodes Praxeus, where one of the characters was trying to break open the door to save his husband while Doctor’s companions showed up with skeleton keys.
Action Dress Rip is also quite amusing to see. In this trope a certified Action Girl finally gets to dress nicely, usually in a long dress. Unfortunately, the one time she gets to dress nicely, combat ensues. Because her movement is impeded by the dress, Action Girl proceeds to take a knife (or just uses her bare hands) to rip a slit to her hips for easier movement. Marvel and DC heroines, especially Jean Grey, Storm, Kate Bishop, Batgirl, Black Canary, and Lois Lane are usually the ones that do this trope. We also have Merida from Brave and princesses in the Shrek franchise ripping their dresses when action is required (Cinderella even sharpens her shoes).
One trope that personally annoys me the most is 1-Dimensional Thinking or in the words of one of my favorite YouTube channel Prometheus School, Running Away from Things. In this trope, you have a massive rolling object that is threatening to kill the protagonists so they have to run away from it. However, instead of running to the side of the object and thus getting away easily, they keep running forward while the deathly object is gaining on them, making the protagonists narrowly avoid death by moving into an alcove or diving to the side at the last moment. Sure, it is more dramatic that way, but so unnecessary. I really like to see this trope averted, like it was in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, when the Winter Soldier uses a Smart Mine to flip Nick Fury’s SUV and then pushes it towards Fury to kill him, but the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. merely takes a step to the side and avoids it.
Laws, Laws Everywhere
When a trope sneaks its way into popular culture, it has the potential to last for a very long time and multiply so much that it becomes a Law. With a capital L.
Perhaps the most famous of Laws is Murphy’s Law. In its original form, it states that "if something can be used or done a right way and a wrong way, and the wrong way will lead to catastrophe, it will be used or done the wrong way." You might perhaps know it under a much simpler maxim "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong."
This Law, interestingly enough was not started as an attempt at ironic humor, but as a serious warning to the engineers by Edward A. Murphy Jr. He said that a machine should not be devised so that it can be used incorrectly in the first place, which is an example of the Idiot-Proofing trope or real life's "defensive design." Unsurprisingly, Murphy was not happy to hear that his warning was often taken out of context and applied to non-engineering, so much so that he became an example of Murphy's Law himself.
However, because Murphy's Law has an actual basis in the Real World, the trope of "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong" is commonly referred to as Finagle's Law. This Law more or less owes it existence in media due to Rule of Drama, where things that do tend to go wrong, go wrong in the worst possible way. Finagle's Law is also one of the largest "parent tropes," where quite a number of tropes owe their existence to this Law, such as Butterfly of Doom, Domestic Appliance Disaster, Don’t Celebrate Just Yet, Failsafe Failure, Gone Horribly Wrong, Gone Horribly Right, Out of the Frying Pan, and Useless Superpowers to name a few.
My favorite Law, mostly because it is so absurd, is Chandler's Law, which partly states that "when in doubt, have a man come through the door." Usually that occurs during a great bout of violence or when the arriving character says something so absurd, enabling the protagonist can extricate themselves from a situation. This Law is mostly used by the creators who plotted themselves in a corner and need help getting the plot to move along.
One of the latest examples has been Aquaman, where at multiple points during the movie, emotional or important conversation is interrupted by an explosion. Doctor Who also heavily relies said Law, usually involving Daleks and The Doctor facing off against each other.
The first trope of this column and one of two this issue is Xenafication. I decided to write about this trope first because it had become quite prevalent in modern media, especially in the last decade or two.
Most of the time, especially in early media, the woman always got the role of ‘the Chick’ in a group. She was there to look pretty, be a possible love interest to the protagonist or someone to be rescued. So, women were more props than actual, fleshed-out characters. Xenafication occurs when a person is remaking, adapting or sequelizing an early work from the times that I have just described. They are not as forward-thinking or enlightened as modern time, so a pretty girl needs to become a good role model, someone who can stand up for herself and is (most of the time) pretty good at fighting. She becomes an Action Girl. The trope got its name from Xena: Warrior Princess, which, interestingly enough, is not an example of this trope, but rather the inspiration for it.
Nice example of it is Arwen in Lord of the Rings movies. She was included a lot more in the movies than the character was present in the book, supposedly to make the romance between Aragorn and Arwen more believable. Glorfindel’s rescue of Frodo in the books was given to Arwen and she was supposed to fight at Helm’s Deep as well, before that idea was scrapped. The actress was even called Liv Tyler, Warrior Princess, when the leaks about Arwen’s inclusion in the battle came to light.
Something similar happened with Pepper Potts in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Potts was rarely present in the comics, but her character got rebooted as an action girl in Iron Man movies, especially after she got infected with Extremis Virus and she defeats the main antagonist. In Avengers: Endgame, Potts fights alongside Tony Stark and other heroes against Thanos in her own Iron Man suit.
For the other trope this issue, we will look at my favorite of the bunch, the Unstoppable Mailman. Fiction often portrays the mail service as an unstoppable force that always arrives for the recipient, no matter the time of day or events happening around them. This trope not only portrays them as the unstoppable characters, but people who overcome impossible obstacles to find you anywhere you are.
Great example of this trope exists in Harry Potter universe in the form of owls and other flying creatures. A Wizarding letter delivered by an owl will find you anywhere in the world you might be, despite moving and not leaving a forwarding address or even if you are in hiding. If you need for the trope to be a person there is always Rubeus Hagrid. He delivered Harry Potter’s Hogwarts letter when the Dursleys moved to a shack in the middle of the North Sea with a powerful storm raging in the area. Hagrid hand-delivered the letter and Harry learned that he was actually a famous wizard.
My favorite example, however, is from the Good Omens book (and TV series). The nameless mailman, who is just an ordinary human interestingly enough, finds the four horsemen of Apocalpyse all around the world and delivers them their symbols or weapons of power. He goes so far for the job that he even steps in front of a truck to deliver a package to Death.
I hope you enjoyed this small presentation of tropes in media and I will see you in the next issue where I will present a few more.