Delving into pop culture tropes.
Tropes and cliches are usually some of the first things brought up when people are discussing media. Is X trope subverted well, does Y drag the story down, does Z make it predictable? There are entire websites dedicated to tropes in entertainment (and I will admit, I’m very partial to mindlessly scrolling through the TVTropes subsections on films I’ve just watched), and the notion of something being tropey and cliche has been a recurring complaint in reviews of bad films or books.
Tropes aren’t a bad thing, per se. Most of them are created in hindsight as a means of condensing popular trends and patterns in popular media into the easily recognisable plot and characterisation points of the time. But coming off the back of the questionable tropes of the 2010s, subpar YA dystopian novels, twist villains, and the need for everything to become a cinematic universe being a few, it makes sense that the consuming public probably does have something to raise issue with.
It’s not just media, either. Even food has trends, with some of the more notable ones of the 2010s being Asian fusion, Instagram foods and milkshakes so over the top that they’re borderline undrinkable. Of course, these things can just be trends of a decade, coming and going repeatedly until the end of time (just be thankful we don’t live in the era of jelly salads or an unhealthy public obsession with cottage cheese) with the same likely applying to media as well. But in the latter’s case, it’s understandable to wonder if anything original or innovative can be made when the most successful products are so formulaic. And, at the risk of sounding like somebody who owns an A24 hat, it’s a somewhat viable concern. Not because media before was so much better and now it’s all about the money (spoiler alert; it was always about the money) – but because of monopolisation.
When Disney, the cartoon villain-esqe company that they are, owns such a large chunk of the entertainment industry that Family Guy and National Geographic are technically under the same banner, there’s a question to be had of how much is too much for one company to acquire in terms of assets. With a marketing machine as cutthroat and efficient as Disney’s, it makes sense that other, smaller companies would follow in those footsteps to try and get a crumb of that kind of success, thereby participating in the creation of tropes. See, for example, the aforementioned cinematic universes.
But it’s really not all doom and gloom. The looming threat of complete industry monopolisation aside, there’s plenty of good movies, books and shows, whether they feature tropes or not. For every Unfriended there’s usually a Hereditary, and no doubt in the future we’ll look back on the tropes of the 2010s as we do the shaky-cam horrors of the 2000s or the badass-quip-laden action movies of the 80s: broad trends that had their good and bad, some that have aged well and some that haven’t. Some pieces might choose to steer as far from the trends as possible, but even those that stay a bit closer to the popular lane can still be more than enjoyable.