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October 5, 2009 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life

Or, How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Learned to Love Tabbed Browsing
Uther Dean has 46 tabs open right now. None of them are this article.

The Japanese Call It Otaku

Everyone has their own little superpowers. The human race, at least in the western world, is very good at specialising. We can focus our minds incredibly well on extremely specific and usually mundane things. The Japanese call it Otaku. Americans call it being a fan boy. I call it awesome. Whether it’s your innate knowledge of the works of 90s British playwrights who are dead or dying, or simply that sense of wrongness that pervades your entire being when someone rearranges your peanut butter jars without telling you, everyone has one. It may be as mild as knowing how many episodes of My Mother the Car there are, or as extreme as memorising Hamlet in Klingon. I’m not here to boast but I’m pretty proud of my Otaku. I think it’s pretty darn tooting swell. See, my little superpower is procrastination.

I am so good at not doing anything that at points I have real trouble not not doing things. No matter how pressing a deadline is, I can distract myself from it. I hope you’re as impressed with me as I am. I know there will be doubters. Haters, even. People who think that being able to watch The West Wing as essays loom is not something to boast about.

“Oh, Uther,” they’ll smugly say.

“You equals foolish. Downwards this path of other things lies little more than sweat-soaked 4 am panic attacks with two-and-a-half thousand unwritten words screaming angrily in your face like a banshee or drunken flatmate.”

But they’re jealous. They envy my ability to waste time at almost a quantum level of existence. They are sick of being stuck in a vortex of productivity, a vacuum of all ticked-up to-do lists. But these people need not worry.

I feel their pain. I know how it feels. I am here to help.

You see, I have a solution. I have the answer. Now everyone can waste time with the same skill and élan as I. Gather around children and chums, readers and raiders, people and persons, I give you… started as a simple wiki cataloguing the storytelling tropes rife in our visual media, but very swiftly grew beyond that mild-mannered beginning. It quickly grew into a wide-ranging catalogue of the nature of storytelling in the modern world.

I know what you’re thinking right now. “Hey, Uther bro, what the shiz is all this trope biz? You be flinging word silk at my brain walls, and it, as sure as surly linesmen, ain’t sticking to me brain ganglia!”

Well, I don’t like your tone. You need to calm down. I’m getting to that. Okay? I’ll talk about it now. Are you happy? ARE YOU? Look, look at what you have done. I hope you take some satisfaction in how things have turned out buddy… I just… No… There’s nothing you can… DON’T YOU TOUCH ME. Nothing gives you that right… We can’t forget so we’re going to have to forgive. Let’s move on… let’s just move on, together.

Tropes are well… anything. itself very emphatically states that tropes are not clichés, but isn’t really that good at saying what they are. Their best attempt is to say that they “dip into the cauldron of story, whistle up a hearty spoonful and splosh it in front of you to devour to your heart’s content.” Which is, even for this at-best-florid-at-worst-outright unreadable writer, a bit rich.

Basically, a trope, well, the tropes you find on, is anything that recurs throughout our mediated storytelling. The plot twists, the characters, the moments, the images, the attitudes. Tropes are the leitmotifs of the modern world’s expanded universe. In their most basic form, they are all the tools in every writer’s kit, waiting to fill any gap, punctuate any moment.

The home page is indistinct and sparse enough to trick you into thinking that this is just another website. Just another little fan-work of top ten lists and inexplicable Pokémon. It is so much more than that.

Very soon, it begins. Like the galloping hooves of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, the end is nigh, soon all your time will be spent.

Quickly you will find yourself in a trope entry.

This page will describe a trope in television or comics or theatre or music, a reoccurring element of style or story. For instance—the character of the Cloudcuckoolander. You’ll recognise it. But this is the first time you’ll recognise that you recognise it. You’ll chuckle.

“Oh, right. Shit, there are a lot of cute little characters with their heads in the clouds and speak in charming non-sequiters. Heh. Cool.”

But then the bomb hits. You scroll and… Oh, Jesus…

Or you can’t read

Every trope has a list of examples of that trope in different media. And the severe majority of the sources of these examples have their own entries. In which lists of all tropes contained within that source are listed in links which distend, expand and extend the cycle even more.

If you don’t have 10 tabs open within a handful of minutes, you have no soul. Or are unsaveable from your oblivion of productivity. Or you can’t read.

Like an ever-growing spider web of useless information, it traps the metaphoric flea of your time. It will never escape—lest it be digested.

See, ‘Cloudcuckoolander’ leads you to open tabs on Father Ted, Blue Velvet and the tropes ‘Ax Crazy’, ‘Bored with Insanity’ and ‘The Cloudcuckoolander was Right’, but it doesn’t stop there. As soon as you read the entry on Father Ted, suddenly ‘Depth Deception’, ‘Dirty Old Man’ and ‘Butt Monkey’ have now joined the queue of tabs waiting to be read. You decide to start with ‘Butt Monkey’ and blam, hello tabs for Wall-E, The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Discworld. You become aware of the problem. You look at the mocking ellipses sitting in your tab log in your browser and you deny yourself opening any more links before you cut them down a little. Not before opening ‘Aristocrats are Evil’, ‘A Worldwide Punomenan’, ‘Painting the Fourth Wall’, an external link to a list of fan shout-outs in Terry Pratchett’s writing, ‘Kafka Komedy’, ‘Big Eater’ and ‘Writer on Board’, of course.

And thus it grows, like badly made ginger beer. Flooding the kitchen of your browser with sticky, thick, foamy distraction. What starts as simply a ten minute break becomes a massive three hour binge.

Like an alcoholic, alien abductee or forgetful watchmaker you begin to lose time. Half a day may pass and only feel like a few brief trope-tacular moments as the delicate origami of your life gives way to a list of examples of the unflinching walk away from an explosion (subverted in The Dark Night and Spooks).

So, there you have it. This is your solution.

No longer will you need to while away your hours doing actual work or contributing in any way to society. I have given you the gift of tropes. Unwrap it. Play with it gently.

Have fun. Don’t work.

Actually… wait wait wait…

What? Why?

Post-modernism happened, okay? Deal with it.

Why is so hypnotic? Why is it so easy to get lost in it? Why, in short, is it like heroin mixed with crack mixed with anime?

Personally, I blame post-modernism. Look. Post-modernism happened, okay? Deal with it. It’s not it’s ever hurt anyone.

Arguably, the greatest Confucian shift of the past hundred or so years is the amassing and growth of humanity’s ability and need to narrativise our lives. We are getting awfully good at ignoring the fact that existence does not occur in three acts. We do not get happy endings, no matter how hard we try. It is a cold hard truth about life that, at the end of the day, everything is basically just a largely random mishmash of events, the severe majority of which are largely out of your control.

As we consumed more and more media, we became more and more enchanted by the easy fixes and stricter fairnesses of fictional realities. We learned to love by way of romantic comedies, we know what a friend is because we know what Friends is.

Our cultural lexicon has expanded from the simple magpieing of ideas from our surroundings both literal and artistic over the past few decades into the direct and diabolic yearning to live the lives we fictionalise for ourselves.

We speak our own lives into existence and would never admit to it. is a guide to the lives we want to live. From it we can gain another list of achievements.

I want a ‘Sliding Scale Of Idealism Versus Cynicism’ in my life story. I want to be a ‘Chaotic Neutral’. I want a ‘BIG NO’. succeeds because it shows what we want in our lives. It is a catalogue of possible moments. From it we can plan the long epic story arcs of our lives, not the content of them but the tone. The inflection. teaches us how to live.

Also, it’s pretty funny.


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

Comments (18)

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  1. Matt says:

    xkcd is getting to be like the Simpsons. Imagine a situation, and there will be a xkcd strip/Simpsons episode of it

  2. TV Tropes Addict says:

    The thing you forgot to mention is the number of series you’ll end up involved in by looking up other series… which will then get you onto more Trope pages and thus more series, it is a cycle that never ends.

    I currently have 40 tabs open.

  3. Hugh says:

    @Matt: I wonder when xkcd will “jump the shark,” then…

  4. These are facts says:

    Hugh, this isn’t Twitter.

  5. Hugh says:

    Not that this is at all relevant, but the @[user] form of address actually began in comments sections of blogs — where do you think Twitter got the idea from?

  6. These are facts says:

    Is that a fact?

  7. snark says:

    Yes, These are facts.

  8. Mike says:

    I love this article, and it’s so true. I found it from a random TVTropes page, which I’ve already lost. I’ve managed to whittle my way down to just 8 tabs now, but at the time I opened this article, I think I was sitting at around 20 or more.

    For me, it began interfering with my work so much that I created a tool for killing links on a page, so I could read a Trope I needed info from while writing, without getting sidetracked. The tool is linked in my name here.

  9. Leigh says:

    I had never noticed the little box in my browser’s settings that set the max number of tabs to 50 until I ran into it from TVTropes. That site is scary! Unfortunately, I have a hard time selling the site to people effectively (“What is a trope?”). This article does the best job I’ve seen so far.

  10. Briana says:

    This whole article is so true, one day, my brother told me about it, so I figured I’d go; worst idea ever.

    Later that night, I literally had opened 60 whole tabs, some for shows I didn’t watch! And it was 1:00 when I finally closed the whole thing and went to bed.

    TV Tropes also lead me to this article, so yeah.

  11. Koala says:

    this is so true and funny and tvtropes lead me to this page too. At one moment I had so many tabs that the paging file on my computer was at 95% . So my computer was bleeping and i was trying to slim down my number of tabs, but they grew and grew and grew.

  12. Oliver May says:

    I’m already up to 10 tabs and I just logged on to check my email.

    I found tvtropes earlier this summer and it is more addictive than Civ.

    Sorry it got away from me (I started writing this 2 hour ago.)

    It is evil and should have a trope named after it.

    Oliver in beautiful Quebec City

  13. smackdown says:

    uther dean. is famous. on internet.

  14. InvaderRik says:

    TVtropes will not ruin your life.

    TVTropes PLUS Netflix will ruin your life.

  15. munch says:

    I got to this page through TV tropes. Ever since I pressed a link labeled “moral event horizon” I have spent (wasted?) hours upon hours on that firk ding blasted site. And I love it. I too have grown to love tabbed browsing thanks to TV tropes.

  16. munch says:

    okay….I have literally been on a wiki walk since I last posted here. I finally got to the last of my tabs and saw this page still open and realized its been a couple of hours.

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