In this series we explore various, popular tropes found in media. This is done by tapping that nifty “random trope” button at tvtropes.org, reading the base material of three results, and throwing our thoughts at the wall to see what sticks.
As we do.
So I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ve played the game “Hot Potato,” because if you haven’t I’m sorry, your childhood probably lacked some fundamental aspect of, well, being a child. This trope is like a cognitive game of Hot Potato, except the person who catches the potato forgets to get rid of it. A character who has “caught the idiot ball” is a character who, while normally functioning with a respectable level of intelligence, is experiencing a momentary lap in judgment or decision-making ability. They aren’t idiots on an intrinsic level, they’re just having a bad day. Maybe they forgot to drink their coffee or something.
This trope is not exclusive to any particular genre, but seems to be utilized rather well in comedy and horror. Comedy is a low-hanging fruit in this example, because stupid is usually funny. If people are making low-caliber, uninspired decisions, the plot tends to write itself around those decisions. Miscommunication creates character drama, slapstick humor goes awry to the point of minor bodily harm, and we see windows into how serious characters might act in otherwise unusual predicaments for them. Horror, on the other hand, has the advantage of blaming idiocy and bad decisions (like WHY ARE YOU GOING IN THE DARK ALONE, YOU IMBECILE) on fear, anxiety, and all of the other primal things that make our hearts go bump in the night. Bad decisions, such as separating from the group, serve to ramp up the tension and give the audience a sense of immersion because “that’s not what I would have done.”
This trope does suffer from abuse in more serious stories, though. Monologues, for example. Everybody and their mother knows how dangerous monologues can be for an antagonist. The assassin infiltrated the defense grid of the protagonist’s home, took out all the guards, and did it all without being detected? NICE. But then they’ll put the gun to the protag’s head and do…anything besides the obvious course of planting a round in their skull, as they’d planned. Very competent. Until it mattered. They held the Idiot Ball.
Manga and anime love this trope. Off the top of my head, I can think of five anime characters who all wear bandages around their skull, either as an aesthetic, to hide their identity, or because they actually need it on a medicinal level (the latter is almost never the case). Without looking at the examples on tvtropes, you’ve got Dosu, Danzo, and that one random Chunin proctor all from Naruto, Shishio of Rurouni Kenshin, and Eto from Tokyo Ghoul. This trope likely shows up in many video games, too, but I wouldn’t expect it to be all that common in anything Western, even animation.
There’s not much to discuss on the matter of this trope. I myself have written a story where a character had bandages over half their body (including part of the face), and I’ve illustrated a character who wore them across their arm. This trope is relatively popular, and my guess is because it makes for memorable characters in any given cast. Even within each individual narrative, most of the characters around the subject will be jarred or at least make mention of how strange it is for somebody to wear bandages over their faces. From a drawing perspective, bandages make for a gritty, easy clothing piece, what with the overlapping lines and lack of needing to adhere to a tight framework.
They just…look cool, okay? And they’re almost always accompanied by belts. Double the fun.
“Blind and the Beast”
This trope is almost required to walk hand-in-hand with some sort of arc about finding inner beauty. The premise is simple: one character is blind, another is physically abominable. Usually they are both feeling isolated because of their respective “defects,” but manage to find acceptance in one another, because the blindness eliminates the ability to judge the physically ugly by appearance, allowing them to see the heart within. This leads to a deep friendship, and frequently romance. If that wasn’t obvious by the name’s similarity to Beauty and the Beast.
I’d like to note the looseness of this trope. The individual aspects of each character don’t need to hold to any strict guidelines, like similar age or anything of such nature. It could be a little girl falling in love with a robot. Or an old man and a witch. There’s a wide berth for combinations.
Also, the “Beast” end of the relationship tends to keep their secret under wraps at the beginning of things, either out of habit, or some knee-jerk fear that despite the other being blind (if they’re even aware the other is blind), they think they’ll be rejected. Hey, if you go your entire life being called a freak or a monster, it makes sense to assume the discrimination runs deeper than the surface. But usually the blind character learns the truth, and to the relief of the monster and the audience, continues to accept the Beast for who they are on the inside.