The Shadow Ninja Literati of TV Tropes

hisuiconWhile walking to work one day I had an unusual revelation about the true insidious nature of TV Tropes.  TV Tropes bills itself as a site where anyone can write about common facets of fiction that are used by writers in a fun manner. They bill the site encouraging casual language and discussion. That is merely their cover story. The site is nothing more than a candy coated factory for the subversive deconstruction and categorization of pop culture media with an agenda of guerrilla academic tactics  hidden by a populist facade.

hisuiconOK. That was just me being silly. What I did realize is that TV Tropes is sort of the Mirror universe version of traditional academic analysis and discussion of media. TV Tropes goes out of its way to make the site inviting, informal, and democratic in contrast to and atmosphere you would find in academia. TV Tropes much like Wikipedia as a site that anyone can use and contribute to. It is monitored and supported by the community with the concept that democratic policing instead of policing by experts.  Snark and humor are highly valued as much (if not more than) critical content.  While references to classic sources are used it is pop cultural selections that are mostly high prized.  All of these things are antithetical to a scholarly paradigm.

hisuiconAt the same time you will see that both TV Tropes and academia use many of the same tools to analyze media. TV Tropes is based on the idea of using the English major’s greatest friend, deconstruction to break down a wide variety of media into small chunks and then classify and catalog all the similarities between the various titles into a database. When we use terms like deconstruction and databases of classifications we sound stuffy and academic but when we use terms like Deadpan Snarker and Xanatos Gambit we sound casual and fun. This might be an obvious revelation but it led me to some interesting thoughts.

hisuiconI have seen many people on the Internet complain that they don’t care for the stuffy and rigid analysis of anime and other pop culture topics especially after talking about Mechademia. On the other side of the fence academia is infamous for looking down on casual crowdsourcing experiments on analysis as well. While individuals are more than happy to enjoy both styles of analysis traditionally neither camp is a fan of the other. While these two styles are very different how much do they share in common? How much would they benefit from the borrowing from the other one’s methodology?  The goals of both school of thought are very similar. They both wish to gain a greater understanding of works they have passion for.

6 thoughts on “The Shadow Ninja Literati of TV Tropes

  1. IKnight says:

    From what I’ve seen of it, academic work isn’t always about passion. People publish to advance their careers, and to grind various axes which may or may not have anything to do with what they’re (meant to be) writing about. TVT is clearly more passionate than academia, as you can tell from the long and incoherent paragraphs about (to take one example) the possible use of archetypes from Gundam in the creation of Code Geass’s characters.

    Which points to another difference between the two: academic writing is almost always obsessed with argument, while the pages that you find on TVT are obsessed with collection. The pleasure of the former is in seeing the thread of a thesis organised, while part of the dilettantish pleasure of the latter is in the way items are organised only by alphabetical order or the order in which they were added to the page!

    I also suspect that the ‘deconstruction’ used by English students is a bit different to the ‘deconstruction’ of a story into its constituent tropes, but I’m not qualified to comment on deconstruction: during my English degree, I carefully avoided having anything to do with it.

    • reversethieves says:

      I think there are some very passionate academic out there but like any other job some people love what they do and most people are in it to punch a time card and get paid. I am sure both side of that I am talking about have their people with petty agendas and sad sack spoil sports. You just (usually) see less of them in fan run projects. They are very different approaches to analysis. It was just an odd revelation to me that they have ANYTHING in common!

      From what little I know the deconstruction you see used in TV Tropes is a far more versatile and complex tool in the hands of a skilled academic. On the other hand it can also be a crazy tool used to somehow convince you that Hamlet is somehow a critique of Marxist gender roles even though Karl Marx was born centuries after the death of Shakespeare or some such nonsense. My friend Andrew Famiglietti put it best, “Deconstruction is the nuclear weapon of the English major.”

      – Hisui

  2. Lawrence Eng says:

    You pose some excellent questions. As a (currently unaffiliated) academic and someone who produces and enjoys fan writing (of the non-fiction variety), I definitely see value in both approaches. If someone who wants to write about pop culture asked me what path to take (academia, journalism, fandom), one of the first questions I’d ask is “Who do you want to read your work? Academics? Mainstream audiences? Fans like yourself? All of the above?”

    Regarding what the two schools of thought (academia and amateur crowdsourcing) can learn from each other:

    Academic projects might benefit from:
    a) greater collaboration and faster sharing of research findings
    b) a stronger emphasis on using clear language so non-experts can make use of the work

    Amateur crowdsourcing projects might benefit from:
    a) a stronger emphasis on recognizing the contributions of individual authors, and the accountability that comes from non-anonymous authorship
    b) deeper analysis in general, and links to related work by third parties

    When it comes to writing on anime, I think academic and crowdsourced projects have plenty of forward momentum.
    What we need more of, in my opinion, is “original research” (beyond reviews) by individual fans who are passionate, engaged, and willing to dig deeply about the shows, creators, genres, and even characters they care about. Some of this has been taken up by anime bloggers (like RT–I love your “otaku diaries” series), but I feel like Wikipedia and other crowdsourced projects have sucked the life out of good, old-fashioned (but valuable, imo), fan sites.

    • reversethieves says:

      Well said. That is a great list of what both parties could gain from taking a little bit from the approach of the other. Neither of them should give up who they are but neither of them should not realize that there is something to be gained from taking some lesson from the other camp as well.

      Like I said to IKnight I was just shocked that when I looked at it from a distance I realized they had anything in common with each other. It might have been obvious to others but it started me down some interesting paths in my thinking.

      Also I too feel that blogs have taken up the mantle of the fallen legacy of the fan site. I think the best think about blogs is they have a flexibility that a fan site would not necessarily have. A blog can talk about one show ad nauseum or skip from topic to topic every day as the mood of the author and/or fandom changes.

      – Hisui

    • reversethieves says:

      Well said. I think Academia (and TV Tropes to a lesser degree) can also change the way you think about things, help promote critical thinking, and maybe even occasionally open new creative avenues.

      And be an amusing time killer as well.

      – Hisui

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