Visiting Tropes #2 (Syndromes & Curses)

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.

 

“Occam’s Razor”

Occam’s Razor is a phrase for which I’ve read the definition at least five separate times and can never remember what it means. Hopefully writing this piece will break that pattern and actually cement the phrase into the wet blob of grey meat between my ears.

Basically Occam’s Razor is believing a theory based on the fewest number of “stretches” or leaps in reason or logic.  It is an anti-conspiratorial guideline (not a rule) which condemns the need for grandiose assumptions.

“When you hear hoof beats, think horses, not unicorns.”

Tvtropes.org has a nifty ladder of concepts to help us understand this on a step-by-step level:

There have been theories that ancient aliens built the Egyptian Pyramids instead of humans. For this to be true, we’d need the following givens:

  1. aliens exist
  2. they are intelligent
  3. they exist contemporaneously with humans
  4. they develop interstellar/intergalactic travel
  5. they know how to find us
  6. they can build pyramids
  7. they would not leave any evidence of their existence
  8. they would waste time building pyramids

The more normal theory only requires that:

  1. humans exist
  2. humans can build pyramids
  3. humans would waste time building pyramids.

 

…and we don’t even need to ask if humans would waste time building pyramids. We have proven time and again that we will go to much greater lengths to sacrifice our most precious resource to the gods of futility and vanity.

The most infamous example of abandoning Occam’s Razor I have in my arsenal is the reveal of Obito as the man in the mask in Naruto. There was soooooo much material absent from this reveal, yet the majority of the fans suspected this development, while the minority of us who actually cared to do research knew it couldn’t be him.  The majority were dropping so many “but maybe if”s and it was maddening.

Not as maddening as them actually being right in the end, but still.

 

“Golden Egg Syndrome”

Plot twist! This isn’t actually a trope, but rather a concept related to storytelling and cognition.

I first heard this on the Writing Excuses podcast (check dat crap out, yo. It’s da shiz) and it resonated with me because I was guilty of it.  Have you ever developed a story idea in your head?  Did you become really emotionally and mentally attached to that story?  When time came to write/draw/whatever something other than your story, could you do it?

The Golden Egg Syndrome is what happens when we’ve spent so much time and energy incubating our perfect creative product that we end up being unable to create anything else. You are either intimidated by the prospect of starting from the beginning again, your new creations end up being the Golden Egg with new skin, or you think whatever else you make won’t be as good by comparison.

I managed to break this eventually (thank you fan-fiction, for being close-to, but not entirely worthless), but I have at least one friend who is currently in the throes of this problem.  He’s so far along in his ‘mind-story’ which has been developing for over fifteen years that he wouldn’t even know where to start writing it.  But he doesn’t want to reboot it, or do anything else, so he resigns himself to squeezing out every ounce from a plot and world which should have concluded long ago.

People who’ve never experienced Golden Egg Syndrome might think this is ludicrous, and it is, but it’s also very real and much harder to break than you’d suspect.

 

“So Beautiful, It’s a Curse”

This one’s probably self-explanatory, but lucky for you we get to delve a little bit into nuance.

At its core, this trope orbits the perception of other characters and the feelings it places upon them.  If you have a supermodel walk onto a scene (whether casually or with purpose), it’s likely to inspire some level of jealousy in those nearby.  If not jealousy, then maybe intimidation, suspicion, or other negative emotions.  Because of this, the supermodel becomes open to multiple different avenues of maltreatment, such as being noticed only for their stellar good-looks and not for their character, abilities, or values.

Now, if that sounds absurd, guess what, that’s another part of the maltreatment. After a certain threshold is reached, your feelings become less important because look at you, you’re gorgeous. You can’t be suffering that badly.  And you know it’s true, because you’ve probably heard somebody say it before.  And if you haven’t, then as they say, it might be you.  Beauty can be a blessing, sure, in the right conditions.  Outside of those conditions it’s grounds for dismissal in any serious matter and makes you a lightning rod for disdain.

But wait, there’s more! This trope really has a lot going on, so we’re just going to gatling-gun some points, here.

People cursed by beauty run into the (expected) probably of easily being victimized in the cheap ‘rape as drama’ narrative, and can be further influenced by the culture around the medium.  They also get kidnapped a lot.  Cough, Princess Peach, cough.

Have you ever thought pretty people were, by default, mean people? Of course not, because you’re all decent human beings. But for those of us who don’t shine everywhere we go, there is an occasional gut response to staggering beauty which makes us assume the person is fundamentally unlikable.  This, as you can imagine, makes it difficult to form meaningful friendships.

And then to wrap it up, let’s draw a quote from one of my favorite websites on the internet: Cracked.com.  The following passage is from their article: “5 Things You Think Will Make You Happy (But Won’t)” (I recommend you read the whole thing, bee-tee-dubs):

“…attractive people have the same self-esteem problems the ugly people do. Like money, attractiveness is relative and if you’re hotter than your friends, at that stage you start comparing yourself to people in the media. You know, like the magazine covers we mentioned before, the ones that that have had the living shit Photoshopped out of them.
It gets worse: You know how when the hot girl at the bar tells an unfunny joke, all the guys laugh anyway? Or when the office stud makes a mistake, the female boss laughs it off? Attractive people live in a world where most feedback they get is bullshit. The compliments mean nothing — they’ve learned that’s just the sound people make when they walk by. That’s why studies show they tend to dismiss the genuine compliments they get in other areas (their work, personality, sense of humor, creativity) because it gets lumped in with the same counterfeit flattery they’ve been getting their whole lives.”

Visiting Tropes #1 (“Hey, Bandages Are Cool”)

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.

 

“Idiot Ball”

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.

 

“Bandaged Face”

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.