Monday, December 27, 2010

History: Character Named Tropes

Ultimately, the Jonas Quinn debate is symbolic not only of the wiki's development in general major page action, but also of the first specific target- Character Named Tropes. As was mentioned in the previous post, given the earliest identified tropes, it's easy for new tropers to want to name their new discoveries after the shows they're familiar with, much as, we would assume, The Other Darrin and Brother Chuck were originally coined.

Here's the main problem with this reasoning- back then, there wasn't as much TV. It's no exaggeration to say that of the people who were TV aficiandos way back when, all of them were at least familiar with Bewitched and Happy Days. This is a universal statement that simply does not translate into today's media culture. Unless a person knows who Jonas Quinn is (and most people simply don't), it's just a random meaningless name. What's worse, given the way that different media fans are pigeonholded, it's easy to dismiss TV Tropes as being a site of geeks arbitrarily naming things after their favorite characters. Note that, especially back then, this assumption was actually fairly valid.

I'd like to claim that the early renamers were paragons of logic in a world of arbitrary fan associations, but what really did Character Named Tropes in was the fact that different geeks associated the same name with completely different figures. Many early renames got their momentum going by a simple argument- if the trope title is just "the X", how are we supposed to know which X? One such rename I worked on was The Kimberly. This was named after Kim Bauer from 24, but numerous other popular wiki shows had important characters named Kimberly, from Power Rangers to Final Destination. The fact that no one was sure which Kimberly the title was referring to was a strong factor in the trope ultimately being renamed to Damsel Scrappy.

On that note, other tropes, such as The Scrappy, were able to survive this early flurry of page action. In the specific case of Scrappy, the omni-presence helped. Thanks to the dreadful quality of cartoons in the Hanna-Barbera era of animation, nearly everyone under the age of forty had some idea about Scooby Doo, and consequently, his annoying nephew Scrappy. As no other other prominent characters to date are named Scrappy, and Scrappy himself has such a memetic Internet reputation for awfulness, the idea of the term "Scrappy" being equivalent to "character the audience hates" caught on fairly well.

Of course, characters like Scrappy are few and far between. They're products of a bygone era when media had much less variety and we consequently had more of a shared experience. Characters so well-known that the meaning of the trope can stand on the strength of that name alone do not number very high, and even most of those have multiple obvious character traits, any one of which could be what is meant by a title. Take The Fonz. Fonzie, another character from Happy Days, may be well-known to people at large, but he is known for several different things. This is quite unlike Chuck Cunningham, who is only known for his abrupt and unexplained departure from the show.

Some names were able to survive this skewering by transforming their names into abstract adjectives by simple association. The most well-known of these is Xanatos Gambit, which survived challenges mainly because people successfully guessed that the trope referred to some sort of elaborate plan- when you're talking about a word like "gambit", there's really only the complicated kind and the uncomplicated kind. It's a very simple rhetorical maneuver (I doubt the troper who originally named it realized how effective it was), but it worked and gave us an exception to the rule.

And then, the rule was officially established. During the very early periods of what would be called Trope Repair Shop an admin fiat was stated during a YKTTW proposal that it was forbidden to name tropes after characters- a sanity-inducing measure designed to keep debate to a minimum and allow tropers to work on different problems. What few characters existed that the title could work with were already on the wiki- the vast majority of new proposals featuring character names in the title were without merit and it was a waste of time to argue about them. Before the reasons against Character Named Tropes were explicitly enumerated on that page nearly every YKTTW proposal written by someone who really wanted to give one of their favorite characters a trope title slowed to an obnoxious crawl.

Eventually, like so much of the wiki, even the Character Named Tropes page was cut, because ultimately it was unnecessary. Now that the culture knows how not to propose tropes named after a character, there's really no need to keep a record of the argument. That fight ended, and tropes named after characters lost. As you may have guessed, however, by the time this fiat was declared, other broad wiki problems had been identified that could not be solved through a mere fiat.

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