, the Future of the Humanities

Lampshade_logo_blue Via Bill Benzon over at The Valve, Andrew Goldstone in Arcade:

What is (henceforth TVT)? TVT is an amazing wiki devoted to the “tropes” of television, film, fiction, and, potentially, everything. The organizing idea of the site is the trope, very loosely defined as any convention or pattern to be found in and around these cultural objects; or, as the wiki's own Trope entry puts it, “It can be a plot trick, a setup, a narrative structure, a character type, a linguistic idiom… It's like porn; you know it when you see it.” The wry tone, by the way, is a regular feature of the site. As a wiki, the site can be edited by any interested party wanting to add to the huge number of encyclopedia-like entries devoted to tropes, though one feels that a core group of “tropers” superintend the process. A typical trope is something like A Hero Is Born, for the common method of beginning a story with the hero's birth; on the page devoted to the trope, we find a whimsical definition and an annotated list of examples.

One of the major sources of the site's appeal comes from these examples: they are wildly heterogenous, a record of the interests of whichever “troper” happened to add to the page for a particular trope. A Hero Is Born lists, among its examples, Bambi, the protagonist of Fallout 3, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Allegro, and Tristram Shandy (with the comment “begins with the hero's conception.”) More typical of the site would be the examples in Setting Update, which includes four different anime updatings of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms (including one “as a Lolicon parody”), a list of film versions of Shakespeare plays, and such literary entries as: “Reginald Hill's Pictures of Perfection is Pride and Prejudice Oop North IN THE 1990s! AS A GAY ROMANCE!”

I include the links in that last to show another essential feature of TVT: many TV programs, films and books have their own master pages, with whimsical summaries and lists of every trope on the site of which they furnish an example (for Pride and Prejudice, the wiki notes such tropes as Affably Evil [Wickham], Beta Couple [Jane and Mr. Bingley], Poor Communication Kills, and so on). This means it is possible to discover some book, film, or TV program listed among the examples for a trope, follow the link to the book, film, or TV program page, discover another trope, look at its list of examples, and follow further links, following the winds of convention and invention across a sea of culture. This is a completely mesmerizing process–or so, I hope, some readers of this post will discover!

(Oop North, by the way, refers to stereotyped ideas of the North of England. A certain number of British and Anglophile participants in the site delight in making their own cultural conventions intelligible to the presumably mostly American audience of the website. A pretty exhibition of the global potential in any wiki of this kind.)

The Moral of the Story

If you are still with me, you must be wondering why I have spent so long in an Arcade blog post describing a website devoted to a strange sort of obsessive television fandom. I want to propose that TV Tropes actually has a lot to tell us about modes of work in the humanities in the present moment–and the news is, unusually for me, more good than bad.