What is a trope? I’d never heard the word before, so I hit the Google machine and found out that:
“A trope is a figure of speech in which words are used in a way which changes their meaning. The use of tropes is common in a wide range of forms including fiction, film, and poetry.”
Examples of tropes are metaphors, irony, and synecdoche (which I learned about as a result of the film, Synecdoche, NY). More broadly in fiction and in popular culture, a trope can be a reference, plot device, or other shorthand way of getting across information that can reasonably expected to be familiar to the audience. In-jokes could be considered a kind of a trope that is familiar to only a portion of the audience and will fly by others (for example, using the names of real people – such as other authors, friends or family – in a novel). Stock characters – the nerd, the cheerleader, the feminist, the soccer mom – also a kind of trope, signaling their place in the plot in a way that everybody gets.
Exploring the word “trope” led me to another website… to further explore the role of tropes in plotting and references in popular culture such as television, a la TV Tropes. This web site is a wiki, very informal in culture, where a tremendous array of pop culture geeks can post or add info. As a result, the site is both mesmerizing and maddening. There’s tons of people commenting apparently mindlessly on concept that are completely uninteresting to me, and having to wade through that … Augh!
On the other hand, you can get completely sucked in. Alternately amused and irritated by the right-wingers such as Glenn Beck who compare Obama to Hitler (no, no, it’s more Marx! Hitler was a fascist, not a socialist!), you can visit TV tropes to get a lengthy but assuredly incomplete rundown of a reference to Hitler being used as short hand for evil. This page has tons of examples.
While poking around, I decided to enter “Seinfeld” into the search engine. There are so many Seinfeld-isms that have entered everyday language. Man hands. Close talker. They’re real, and they’re spectacular. Master of your domain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Double dipping. Festivus. (And these are just the ones that come off the top of my head!) Use any of these in every day life, and you’re making a reference that you expect your listener to get. (Embarrassing when they don’t? Only for them.)
The Seinfeld page is packed and if you go digging around, you’ll only get yourself in deeper. The next thing you know, it’s time for bed.