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Into The Hive Mind: What You Never Knew You Never Knew

Christine Bancroft |
December 11, 2012 | 10:25 p.m. PST


To some fans, an education is almost as important as the fandom itself. Fandoms may be hobbies, but the words "education" and "pastime" are not mutually exclusive. This week, we'll take a look at some fandom resources to quench your thirst for knowledge.

TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life

On TV Tropes, the term "lampshade" means "to bring to light" or "to call attention to".
On TV Tropes, the term "lampshade" means "to bring to light" or "to call attention to".
In every literature class since the beginning of time, students have been asked to identify motifs within stories, overarching themes that connect stories to one another, patterns that seem common to genres and archetypes that appear in everything from Calvin and Hobbes to the Star Wars franchise. 

You probably hated it then, but what about now? That dry, dull material you wrote countless essays on, slaved for hours late into the night—well, there's a site for that. And it's called tvtropes.org, and it's a beautiful, terrible place. 

Like Wikipedia, TV Tropes is a contributory encyclopedia, but for writers and fans of fiction. 

The site describes itself as "a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction" and it prizes itself on being an informal collection of tropes ("devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members' minds and expectations"). This collection is both illuminating and analytic; celebrating fiction and all its memetic conventions for what it is. 

But enough about that. What can it do for you, the fan? 

TV Tropes has a page on very nearly every television show in the Western world. Each page has multiple categories within it for describing the appearance of tropes. 

You know the character who always seems to get the short end of the stick for no apparent reason? The one the writers just love bashing on? That character is called the Woobie

Trope namers Betty and Veronica from the "Archie" comics.
Trope namers Betty and Veronica from the "Archie" comics.

You know how in love triangles, there always seems to be the "good girl/guy next door" and the sexy, edgy "bad boy" or the unattainable "hot girl"? That's a trope. It's called the "Betty and Veronica", after the Archie comics. 

You know how in seemingly every discussion or argument, someone will reference Hitler or the Nazis? That’s called Godwin’s Law, and it happens all the time in both fiction and reality.

This wiki is a cornucopia of pop culture references, but it's also a black hole of time-sucking capabilities. Each trope has its own page, and as you wander through the site, maybe on the page of your favorite film, you'll start clicking. And clicking. And clicking. And then, suddenly and somehow, your computer is shutting down because 91 tabs open is just one too many, and you'll start picking apart everything you ever read or watch because these tropes are everywhere. 

It's not a bad thing to be more knowledgeable. Tropes are not limited to whatever your favorite show is; there's a page for everything. While studying for a test on a piece of classical literature, check out its page on TV Tropes, because more often than not, there's some in-depth analysis there that will help you at least get a better idea of the archetypes present. Because each trope description page has all of the trope’s different appearances linked below the definition, finding examples is easy (so easy, in fact, that 91 tabs ends up not being so unheard of). 

Be warned, though: just as it’s not a good idea to cite Wikipedia for research papers, TV Tropes is informal and user-created. It’s not cited and it’s not backed with any sort of formal analysis. It’s more of a tool to aid understanding, not to use as a reference. 

Even if you’re not looking at a literary piece, check out the Real Life pages for tropes and see examples from history. Also, writers and actors often have their own pages detailing their personalities, their works and the characters they often portray. 

If you want to discuss or further analyze a trope, there are forums abound for the more argumentative tropers. 

And yes, TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Life is, in fact, a trope. 

There’s A Wikia For That

 two pThe Wikia logo looks likeeople reaching out to each other. Just realized that. Neat.
two pThe Wikia logo looks likeeople reaching out to each other. Just realized that. Neat.
If you want to search for character bios, episode guides and more, the best place to go is a Wikia page rather than a Wikipedia. Each major fandom, at the very least, has a Wikia community that focuses specifically on the information about every aspect of the subject. 

Wikia pages are formatted very similarly to Wikipedia pages, with one major difference: rather than a single page with subcategory for a show, for example, each show has an entire encyclopedia dedicated to it. The pages and subcategories detail specific aspects of it. 

Wikias are not for only fandoms, but sports, recipes, lifestyle and other communities are open for the taking. Video games are popular, as well, featuring character studies, walkthroughs, game guides detailed world studies that bring to light small features that are often glanced over. 

With so many contributors, almost everything is there, it truly is a celebration of the so-called "finer" points of life. If Wikipedia considers itself to be an encyclopedia, then Wikia is a magnifying glass that focuses on every small detail and bares it open for anyone to find and enjoy. After that, Wikipedia just seems superficial.

There are over 250,000 communities and over 20 million pages, something for everyone. And in the unlikely event you can't find a Wikia for whatever you're passionate about, then you can start your own. Ask for submissions, for pictures, for information. There's going to be someone else who has the same questions as you and they can help out. 

What are you waiting for? Why wait? If your answer is, "I can't, I have finals!", then you're wrong and also you are probably a much more focused and productive person than I am. 

So teach yourself. After all, we live in the Age of Information. You never know what you might find. Just wait until you start analyzing everything, looking for tropes, or start lurking on Wikia forums waiting for something mind-boggling to appear. 

Next week, let's take a look at the "Lord of the Rings" fandom (sometimes called "Ringers"), in honor of "The Hobbit", precious.

You can contact columnist Christine Bancroft here or find her on Twitter here



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