Tropes in SciFi

Tropes in SciFi

Posted on Oct 7th, 2008 by Marmalade : Gaia Explorer Marmalade
I’m watching the movie Stargate Atlantis: Rising.  Its decent.  The special effects are good and its fairly imaginative.  The acting is adequate… not awesome though.  The plot holds my attention if somewhat predictable.  I love SciFi, but this show is mostly typical for the genre.  In general, I’d say the Stargate series is not as good as the Star Trek series.

The reason I’m writing about this movie is because it reminds me of the tropes site.  A show like Stargate is filled with tropes.  For instance, the characters are largely stereotypes.  I don’t mean to say that this show is worse than most shows.  Actually, its an enjoyable show, but the stereotypes do annoy me.  I don’t empathize with the Stargate characters to the extent that I empathize with the characters in Star Trek: Next Generation.

Genre shows are often filled with cliche’s and predictable plots, but there are some very good genre shows.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a show that uses tropes but manages to bring new life to them.  And then there are shows like Dead Like Me which step outside of the typical tropes of a genre.

What I was wondering about is why people enjoy tropes, and furthermore why people enjoy tropes used in unoriginal ways.  Creating original stories and characters is challenging, but that can’t explain the vast amount of copycat shows.  I suspect that most people enjoy shows because it gives them an escape from their normal lives.  Life is mostly unpredictable and so people turn to shows with a desire for the predictable.

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Nicole : wakingdreamer

27 minutes later

Nicole said

I liked the first Stargate movie, but it is probably worse than the series in terms of stereotypes, eh? I liked it because it was so unreal 🙂

Marmalade : Gaia Explorer

about 7 hours later

Marmalade said

I’m very forgiving of SF in general whether written story, tv show or movie.  I love anything that is imaginative.  Stargate is definitely imaginative.  The Stargate series mostly creates a believable world, but it does demand a bit of suspension of disbelief.

I was considering what makes shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer stand out.  For one, Joss Whedon is a master in creating excellent tv shows.  The dialogue in Buffy is always top-notch and the story is rarely predictable (even though it has plenty of predictable tropes).  Another extemely important element is that the actors are quite talented.. way beyond anything seen in Stargate.  Is it that the script of Buffy attracted good actors or is it that Whedon knows how to pick good actors?  Do stereotypical scripts attract stereotypical actors?

However, it must be said that apparently Stargate was more popular than Buffy.  The original Stargate show is the longest continually run SF show ever… so, they must be doing something right.

I’ve noticed that I have different standards for different types of entertainment.  I’m less accepting of stereotypes in written stories and I’m less accepting of stereotypes in ‘realistic’ tv shows and movies.  I’m more accepting of this in genres such as SF because genres are by definition based on well-known tropes.  I’m even more accepting of stereotypes in kids shows and movies. 

Its very interesting how kids don’t mind stereotypes at all.  Most kids’ shows if anything go out of their way to be predictable and simple.  Partly, kids don’t mind them because a kid has had less exposure to stereotypes and so they won’t even notice the stereotypes until after they’ve grown up.  But also kids just enjoy stereotypes.  Its how cultural knowledged is transmitted, how kids learn about the world they’ve been born into.  Kids learn through repetition.  An example of this is the Teletubbies.  The show repeats itself a second time.  Its boring enough to send an adult into a coma, but it was an extremely popular show for little kids.

Maybe adults like predictable stories because stories put them into a child-like mindset.  They spend the whole day pretending to be an adult, and when they get home they want to forget their adult selves.  A predictable story is comforting.  The recongnition of stereotypes allows us to relax with the sense that we know what to expect.

Nicole : wakingdreamer

about 17 hours later

Nicole said

that’s very interesting, Ben. I hadn’t noticed before that I too have totally different standards for different genres at different times. Sometimes I really like the housecoat and fuzzy slippers comfort of a predictable story and sometimes I just feel bored and annoyed. Usually though I am very indulgent toward science fiction and fantasy as long as it is skilfully done.

Of course, there are some classics in really bad movies that are fun to watch 🙂 good ol’ Ed Wood and Plan 9, for example. Why do we love really bad movies, is it the fascination that makes people slow down for car accidents?