In the past year, I have arguably wasted a lot of my precious time (that could have been spent dancing and socializing in lively, youthful parties or, alternatively, researching and discussing intellectual legal matters) on things that are generally perceived as being utterly pointless – if not completely juvenile – by most people my age and older.
To summarize – I read a few too many story books, I discovered crazy strange fan fiction, and I watched way, way too much anime.
The funny thing is, I can’t bring myself to believe that I wasted all of that time –the time that so many claim is forever lost, down the drain of persistent procrastination. I had quite a lot of fun on all of my many simulated adventures and I learnt a lot about several useless things. I absorbed multiple stories and explored numerous avenues of flamboyant creativity. I had a great time.
And fun does not warrant regret.
Incidentally, I also became accustomed to all the strange elements that hazily, clumsily, frustratingly separate fiction from reality. I have always been one of those sad, gullible geeks that fall for fantastical explanations far too willingly, instinctively weighing how exciting and creative a prospect is far above how pragmatic it is in real life circumstances.
Fun fact: I switched from 11th grade science in a month.
My flawed judgement and illogical decision-making are results of that misleading, deceptive border that divides the real from the unreal. If you tell me Atlantis exists, I will convince myself to believe it, even if the evidence is shady at best. Why you ask? Because I know too many stories where reluctance to believe was the root of all conflict, and because I like to hope for the mythical and the otherworldly. I am a product of everything I’ve read, watched and experienced. As a result, I am pretty damn easy to fool.
But even a fool learns to recognize patterns over time.
Which brings me to the point of this blog- TROPES. For those you who don’t know what they are, consider them popular plot devices. Frameworks along which stories pan out. Gimmicks and tricks that a writer employs to lure in crowds.
The art of identifying tropes deeply intrigues me.
When you trope, you learn the psychology behind fiction. You understand the algorithms of creating good and evil and everything in between and you know when you are being played. You appreciate patterns, you embrace ridiculous concepts and you capitalize on imagination. You learn the ways of the fictional worlds.
I have a lot of favorites.
One of the many popular tropes that I’ve come across in my recent fantastical endeavors is what I like to call “The Sakura Haircut”. If any of you have embarked on the emotional hell of a journey that Naruto is, you know what I am talking about.
The meek, helpless heroine with no apparent skills or distinguished personality traits cuts off her long beautiful hair with a fierce slash of a sword and emerges strong, independent and decidedly badass. She becomes worthy of being acknowledged by her one true love and, after a deep monologue or two, goes ahead to take the enemy head on, armed with her strength of character and a bunch of awed comrades.
Haircuts are quite the craze in fiction. Real women are known to do something drastic to their hair after a bad breakup or a bad job, but they are scarcely seen reclaiming thrones and defeating villainous adversaries in battles unto death. Unrealistic, clichéd and pointlessly dramatic, you might say.
But that’s not the point. Forget the setting and the bright character constructs, and focus on the sentiment behind the haircut. It’s worth noting how it stays essentially the same, fiction or reality:
A deep, almost desperate longing for change.
The message always remains constant – that contexts may change, but fierce female protagonists will continue to kick ass in their own versions of reality. If it takes a haircut for them to get their game on, then so be it. Bring out the scissors and the fussy hairstylists. Or, alternatively, a sharp majestic sword that stands for your father’s warrior legacy. Whichever works better.
So you see, much as I hate being deceived by crazy exaggerations, I also love the sliver of reality in what these bizarre tropes symbolize. There is a deep seated emotion that pulsates through the veins of every hackneyed concept. Understand that.
The creativity of an artist cannot be accurately mapped, but nothing prevents us from examining the formulas. There are countless fictional worlds with sleek, fearless or socially awkward, Average-Joe heroes and megalomaniac villains, all advocating the same old, deeply comforting belief that evil always perishes.
You might object but clichés sell, my friend. They tell you exactly what you’d like to hear- and their credibility as dependable tricks is evident because they have been used with success for years before you even came into the picture. This is what earns them the title of a cliché in the first place. Humans need a few delusions to take on the world with confidence. How can you ever believe in never giving up if your favourite character loses the ridiculously overpowered battle in the end? Why would you dream up a romance if the ordinary hero doesn’t end up with the enigma of a heroine he fatefully encounters? What would chill you to the bone if the terrible villain refuses to be creepy?
Cut the writers some slack, man.
Sure, you will get bored of all these repetitive ideas eventually and crave more from the story than just a feeling, but you will still secretly watch cheesy romantic comedies after a long day of work. You need your classic, feel-good tropes once in a while.
However, no one can deny that things constantly change. Now subverted clichés sell more in this modern world of hipster glasses and compulsive cringing. We crave new in the face of the old. We roll eyes at happy endings and we seek edgy novelty in our stories. We want to rise above the classics and so we strive for greatness.
But here is the thing. As fiction ages with the spastic swings of perpetually erratic fan preferences, so do tropes. They don’t die out. They evolve, turn in on themselves and breed new clichés.
So sometimes the bad guy saves the day, the hero reveals dark chinks in his personality and the damsel chooses to love the dragon over the prince. New tropes are born. Stories twist and turn and evolve and recycle into beautiful things over and over again, while still remaining oddly similar at the core of all things.
Nothing excites me more. The thrill of the unknown from the roots of the only too well known.
This is why I stay loyal to fiction. No matter what all the “mature” readers from the fancy bookstores say, I strongly believe that you can never get bored of the unreal, even when you know the tricks. New ones are always right around the corner. Waiting to be thrown at you by a mad writer who dares to venture beyond the obviously pleasing. Slowly merging into the mainstream of growing ideas and increasing acceptance. Sneaking their way into your preferences and hoping, with a thousand fingers crossed, to amuse you.
They are for you, you see. Embrace them.