Tropes and Television at the Brisbane Writers Festival, 2016

Tropes are broad literary motifs and symbols, but they can also refer to ongoing and recognisable cliches and patterns that readers and other audiences can pick up on and,  possibly, glean an idea of where a story is going, or how a character arc might resolve.

Trope patterns might explicitly outline what to expect in a story. A man in a dark coat obscured in shadow means mystery and danger. The colour red invoked passion, particularly when it’s the colour of a long, evening gown. These two examples are the Trenchcoat brigade or Lady in Red respectively.

Some Tropes don’t describe specific character design, but instead build narrative, or form a coherent and believable world. When subverted, the surprise can be enough to make a story or character resonate in pop-culture.

A generation growing up with television programs is one of the reasons why tropes and television are important to look into.

The event coordinators at the Brisbane Writers Festival in 2016 are aware of this significant change in culture as a younger generation comes of age.

On Sunday, September 11 2016, the festival scheduled held a discussion as a part of their program; Everything I Know, I Learned From Television.

Master of Ceremonies Sophie Overett asked the three speakers to name examples of several pop-culture tropes.

Here’s what Alexei Sayle (Actor in Indiana Jones and the last crusade, author of Barcelona Plates), Caroline Kepnes (Author of Hidden Bodies and You), and Mark Fennel (SBS program The Feed, author of Planet According to the Movies) had to say on each point.

Going by numbers, Caroline is one, Mark two, and Alexei number three:

  • Evil is Sexy
    1. Dylan McKay from Beverly Hills: 90210
    2. Heather Locklear’s entire career
    3. Lord Petyr Baelish from A Game of Thrones
  • Forgotten Accent
    1. Ewan McGregor in any film not set in Scotland
    2. Any non-Bostonian attempting a Boston accent
  • The Unwitting Instigator of Doom
    1. Homer Jay Simpson of The Simpsons (The panel agreed unanimously)
  • Shouldn’t We Be In School  Right Now?
    1. The Cast of 7th Heaven
    2. The Cast of Buffy The Vampire Slayer
    3. The Cast of Twilight
  • Hands-Off Parenting
    1. Roseanne from the Sitcom of the same name (another complete agreement across the panel)
  • No Fourth Wall
    1. Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City
    2. The voices and animation of Family Guy
    3. Ferris Bueller from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
    4. Honourable mention – Snowy the Dog from The Adventures of Tin Tin.
  • A Very Special Episode
    1. Episodes of Saved by the Bell.

Have the panel missed any more good examples? Do you agree with the choices? What tropes are in some of these shows? Let me know what you think in the comments.

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