19 August 2010


The only trope I remember learning about in high school English was Christ figure symbolism, something that was apparently present in all serious fiction. In college, we seemed to spend large amounts of time pondering the identity of the author and determining that there was no such thing as truth.

The Internet, however, has proven to be much more fertile ground for analyzing popular culture with all of the behind the scenes sensibilities of a DVD extra clip, and the analysis of movies in contemporary music at Wikipedia are almost as scholarly as academic journal articles.

If someone had broken down all the cliches, literary conventions, and assumptions that go into writing for television, movies, graphic novels and genre fiction back then, and traced it to its classical sources with a healthy dose of sardonic wit, the way that the TV Tropes wiki does, I might have actually learned something there other than how many pages my friend's .22 caliber bullet could make it through David Copperfield from a distance of thirty yards.

For example, who knew that there are thirteen distinct kinds of love triangles? The wiki cites numerous examples of all thirteen types, and that's before even considering such exotic combinations as the Love Dodecahedron, the Imaginary Love Triangle (for all of those complex number fans out there), the Sibling Triangle, the Two Person Love Triangle (a surprisingly common and ancient trope, which has the convenient feature of being easy to resolve without hard feelings), and the various resolutions of these situations such as the Tenchi Solution (marry everybody!), a solution toyed with (but ultimately rejected) in the TV series Pushing Daisies to resolve a Love Triangle in that magical production. So much for the aphorism that all romances have the same plot. Maybe trashy romance novels and mathematical group theory do have something in common after all.

Honestly, one of the the really fascinating things about the Internet is how much life it has given through discussion boards and the like to popular culture criticism and analysis at a level far more sophisticated than you might expect. Despite the fact that millions of Americans are or were English majors, and there are tens of thousands of English professors out there, book sales for literary criticism are pathetic, and professional discussion of works of fiction that are any more involved than newspaper book reviews are hard to find. This is a pity, because there is a lot that can be said about good literature, whether it is a product of high culture, low culture, or something in between (the twilight zone found only on Showtime, HBO and in art house theaters). But, when the economic barriers to distributing that kind of analysis breaks down, the floodgates open, and there are apparently lots of people who understand this stuff with a mix of sincerity and intense meta-analysis I never knew existed.

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