Everything You Know

Ian Sansom

  • BuyHood by Alison Kinney
    Bloomsbury, 163 pp, £9.99, March 2016, ISBN 978 1 5013 0740 9

The 21st-century version of Aristotle’s Poetics – and for that matter of Cicero’s On the Orator, Robert McKee’s Story, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the entire works of Syd Field, and just about every other book ever written that pretends to reveal the ways fiction, drama or poetry ‘work’ – is tvtropes.org, the self-described ‘all-devouring pop-culture wiki’ which has done so much to contribute to our understanding of modern literary and artistic tropes, trends, devices, possibilities and all forms of story structure. TV Tropes helps to explicate, illustrate and popularise ideas such as ‘Jumping the Shark’, ‘Crapsack World’, ‘Scenery Gorn’ and ‘My God, What Have I Done?’ It began as a fan-fiction site devoted to Buffy the Vampire Slayer but now covers everything from advertising to games to theatre to literature, music and sport. The site has just two rules, which are pretty much the opposite of the rules for, say, peer-reviewed journal articles: ‘Nastiness and dickery will not be tolerated’ and ‘Fun will be had.’ TV Tropes defines a ‘Mind Screw’ as something that has departed ‘so extremely’ from any ‘attempt at regular old coherency, that the immediate response afterwards is “what the heck was that?!?!”’ Or, in the words of ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic, ‘Everything you know is wrong.’ The mind screw is one of the default tropes of cultural studies.

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