Tropes 101, part 1

On the TVTropes subreddit today, someone asked a question, the gist of which was "If you could teach Tropes as a college course, what would your class be like?" And this question seems like loads of fun, so I'm going to answer.

The highest-scoring post currently on the thread breaks it up into a 14-week class, so I'm going to copy that format.  (I can't remember how long my classes are at school.)  I'm also going to borrow a class structure my English Composition 2 teacher used, and require an essay from each of my students, every week, in which they will come up with a question about the subject matter we've discussed and try to answer it.  They will be graded on the quality of their questions, and their answers, and the degree to which their analytic skills improve during the semester.

Now, I'm not a Lit major, so I'm not deeply embedded in the correct use of terminology, but I'm sure that TVTropes's approach to media analysis must fit into some or another theory of analysis.  If it fits neatly, week 1 and 2 are about that.  If not, weeks 1 and 2 are a discussion of where it fits, and students will be expected to choose a position about that and defend it.  (They are free to fluidly change their position as suits their later papers.)

Prominently included in this first two-week period will be the first trope we'll introduce from the website:  Deconstruction.  TVTropes's use of the word deconstruction is intimately related to, but not the same as, philosophical and literary deconstruction.  I also think that, though it's a hard concept, it will be an excellent way to get everyone in the class to a place where they can really internalize the idea of tropes, and the role they play in art.

After that, let's take it easy with the real, mechanical itemization of every element of a narrative and talk about how tropes say things about broader cultural trends.  This will be more familiar territory for college students, hopefully, and if it isn't, then it's damn well something I want people to come away from TVTropes understanding.

  • Week 3: Using tropes to identify problems in media.  Women in Refrigerators, Black Dude Dies First, The Bechdel Test.  Class materials: Anita Sarkeesian's Tropes vs. Women videos.
  • Week 4: Wait, back up.  So tropes are inherently racist/classist/homophobic/patriarchal/sexist/transphobic/etc?  Well, no.  Tropes are Tools.  This week we'll discuss how you can't determine the quality of a show by the quality of its tropes, without losing sight of the fact that art needs to be held accountable not just for itself but for its role in a larger cultural narrative.

This will lead up to an entry into the meat of TVTropes, the specific manifestations of concepts that add up -- not entirely, but significantly -- to art.  We'll jump into a few fun examples that will hopefully be pretty universally recognized:

  • Week 5: Checkov's Gun.  Introduction to Playing with it, too -- this is a great one for variations, because they've all got names, most of them plays on this one.
  • Week 6: The Manic Pixie Dream Girl, covering characters as tropes and practice deconstruction all in one go.

And approaching the halfway point,

  • Week 7: Midterm!  Assigned at the start of the semester and taking place over the time available, students will give presentations on the tropes in their own favorite media.

[...]So, this is a lot of fun, but I'm running out of time tonight to spend blogging and I'd really like to put some more thought into this.  Also, I'm at over 600 of my 500 daily words.  So I'm going to come back to this tomorrow, and pick up after the midterm and outline the class through the final.  Comments are welcome.