I was listening to a theater review on the radio this weekend, and it made my brain feel squishy. It was kind of a reminder of everything I hate about review culture: for every enthusiastic or experienced voice out there willing to talk about the subject, there are two who want to use the subject as a launching point to tell the reader how awesome they are and how they would have done things. The ratio varies a bit from subject to subject, and a lot of what allows this is that the standards for how to talk about things like shows and books are fuzzy at best. There’s a certain amount of academic practice related to analysis and deconstruction, but even that’s hit or miss. It’s a mix of useful insights and self-referential hoo-haw, and good luck telling which is which.
And it is with all that in mind that I realize I am all the more amazed by today’s cool thing in the internet, TVTropes.org.
If you’re familiar with the site, then you know it’s horrible power. It may be one of the most interesting things to read on the entire Internet, and once you start on it, you often find yourself 2 hours later with 20 tabs open as you go through the stuff. But if you’re not familiar with it, then you may both thank and hate me for opening this particular door.
See, TVtropes is the best analysis of television in the world, at least through a certain lens. It’s a wiki of, well, television tropes – elements and ideas that come up often enough to be recognizable. In addition to entries on these ideas like “The Eigen Plot”, “Applied Phlebotinum” or “Authority Equals Asskicking” they include extensive cross-references to where the idea appears (or is subverted) in TV, movies, anime, manga, comics, roleplaying games and very nearly anywhere else anyone can think of. I know it sounds dry when described, but the proof is in the reading. Just go poke around a bit. You'll see.
I love this site on a few levels. First, it’s just tremendously fun to flip through, and that should not be underestimated. Second, it’s an example of crowdsourcing that actually works – a lot of wikis on other topics end up much less interesting for an array of issues, but while TVTropes has its warts, the whole is magnificent. Lastly, I love it in an academic sense – the site represents a level of thought and analysis of the topic that I have yet to see an equal of, and I have bugger all idea how that fits in the standard hierarchy of knowledge.
Awesomely disruptive change is, well, awesome.