The Trope of Calling Out Tropes

I’ve never shied away from expressing my distaste for some of the exaggerated language used by Polygon’s editorial staff, much as I admire their overall work. (Disclosure: My disagreements with them have resulted in me being banned from commenting on their site; make of that what you will.)

Here’s a peak example of how Polygon creates an attack-based narrative, taking a simple bit of reportage on angry fans from The 100 (spoilers will follow) and making a conclusion about how the show’s writers have inappropriately or lazily handled their characters:

Fans were also upset because Lexa’s death falls into the archaic trope of having one character in a gay or lesbian relationship killed off, never allowing for the same happy ending that a heterosexual couple would enjoy. The trope, sometimes known as “bury your gays,” has been around in fiction for quite some time.

This trope may be accurate. It may be worth writing about. But in the context of The 100, which currently has no happy relationships for any couple, it’s utter nonsense. This doesn’t discredit the frustration that fans rightfully may feel that a beloved character was killed off, but it’s inflammatory to assume that this is a mere trope. Watch enough genre dramas, and you’ll understand that the likelihood of any couple staying together without a messy breakup (at best) or a “horrible” death is unlikely, because stasis and happiness are antithetical to the massive plot twists and shakeups that are the meat-and-potatoes of shows like The 100. Lexa didn’t die because she was gay; this isn’t some sort of subconscious “warning” to viewers of what might happen to them. She died because she’s living on post-apocalyptic Earth, and that’s what happens.

The widespread saturation of the trope has created a media environment where gay couples who get to stay together without one or the other of them dying a horrible death are vanishingly rare.

I’d argue that it’s the opposite: that we’ve created a media environment where innocuous narrative devices and conventions are now picked apart for some sort of broader story, even when evidence of a smoking gun isn’t there. Just look at the exaggeration here: Lexa didn’t die a horrible death. She was accidentally shot by one of her most loyal supporters, a man unfamiliar with how to use a gun. If there’s any laziness here, it’s that this death echoes a famous one from the sixth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If anything, this episode should be irritating supporters of the NRA, since it suggests that gun use should be restricted solely to those who actually understand how to handle a weapon.

And yes, I mourn “the death of a prominent gay character” given the fact that there aren’t “many other characters like them” for audiences to turn to. That’s a problem. But an equally large problem would be the defensive trope of the Invincible Fan Favorite: a tipping point at which certain “unique” characters on a show can’t be killed off because diversity or representation is more important than grim reality. Would The Walking Dead have been a better show if it had killed Daryl in the first season, and not T-Dog? It sort of makes a show less interesting when you know which characters won’t be killed, and some of the most effective on-screen losses have come entirely out of left-field, when we felt most secure (Serenity).

It’s good that the fans are pushing to have more awareness for the LGBTQ community, but that shouldn’t come at the expense of The 100‘s narrative freedom, and I wish that Polygon’s reportage of this wasn’t so one-sided and lazy in assuming that this was nothing more than an insensitively executed trope.


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