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TV Tropes and the rise of pseudo-intellectualism

“Maybe it’s time we all stop trying to outsmart the truth and let it have its day.” -Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises

At 1435 on Sunday, August 14 in 2011, the TV Tropes administration closed the vote that was to decide whether or not Troper Tales, an infamous component of TV Tropes, would be retained or moved off-site. The section had long attracted individuals with self-aggrandising tendencies, providing them a place to illustrate to the world how their lives supposedly satisified criteria set out by a particular trope. Their removal had a major impact on the site: the visitors and contributors who came solely for the Troper Tales found that their community had suddenly been taken down. Subsequently, some of these individuals left the site in protest, leaving behind little of their presence, while others challenged the administration concerning the Troper Tales and were subsequently banned for sabre-rattling. The week it took to reach this decision is known amongst a few as the One-Week War, after a similarly exhausting event in the Universal Century. The event had succeeded in dampening individual’s interests in Troper Tales across the internet even to this day, although it marked the beginning of the end for the original community at TV Tropes.

Background

Presently, TV Tropes is one of the largest aggregations of psuedo-intellectualists online: contrasting legitimate intellectuals and academics, psuedo-intellectuals aim to use academic methodologies for the intent of intimidating or commanding respect from other individuals about often-trivial topics (especially anime), rather than following academia for the sake of attaining new knowledge. In other words, such individuals seek nothing more than personal gain through their pretensions, striving for respect by deceiving others into believing that their opinions hold a greater weight than they actually do. This issue has plagued TV Tropes since the end of the One-Week War, although its origins extend a ways beyond the consequences that had arisen from the One-Week War.

The removal of the Troper Tales represented only the beginning point for the issues that would come to light regarding the TV Tropes community. The site had reached its apex in summer 2010, acting as a place where individuals could talk about a diverse range of matters in the company of largely well-read individuals. Discussions remained civil and productive for the most part, contrasting many other communities online, providing a more relaxed atmosphere. One of my friends, NinjaClown, was a part of this community during this era, and had introduced me to TV Tropes as a witty time killer that distinguished itself from other sites. I myself delved into the editing community and provided substantial contributions to the site, while NinjaClown participated in interesting discussions with other community members. However, by October 2010, the First Google Incident broke out after some of the materials at TV Tropes caused Google to withdraw advertisements from the site. The aforementioned materials had arisen as a consequence of the growing presence of unsafe materials considered by anime fans to be relevant to a work. The community had tolerated that under the hopes of maintaining an open community, but the prevalence of such materials eventually led to violations, resulting in Google’s decisions. Between October 27 and November 9, while I was busying myself with organic chemistry and data structures, TV Tropes’ administrator and moderator team worked around the clock to bring the site up to standard. They eventually succeeded: TV Tropes appeared to had survived a trying time, and it was around this time the administrators began implementing stricter controls on what content would be permissible with the site’s objectives in light of the questionable contributions some anime fans felt to be necessary. However, before even a month following this incident had elapsed, one of the most controversial decisions had been made: while there are currently no records of the event, somewhere during December 2010, the It Just Bugs Me (IJBM) subforum was removed after a closed-door discussion between the moderators and administrators. NinjaClown was a participant in the IJBM community, a close-knit group that conversed on a diverse range of materials. While the community was not perfect, and some controversial posts occasionally had arisen, the sense of community had been strong amongst the subforum’s participants. A group of individuals feeling particularly hostile towards IJBM eventually began a concerted operation: coordinating their efforts via IRC, they flagged hundreds of posts in the IJBM subforum indiscriminately, which in turn drew the moderators’ attention.

  • For readers short on time, this article can be summarised as discussing the events that lead TV Tropes to reach its present state, and that the current community’s faults and shortcomings are a direct consequence of incapable moderation staff and a community whose existence seems little more than validation of other’s opinions. These limitations in the current community therefore preclude any possibility of considering the site’s contents to hold any value.

After short-lived deliberations, the moderators decided that the effort to maintain “order” in IJBM was too costly and, without consulting the community, agreed to quietly shut it down. The move had fractured the community: many had viewed such an action as unilateral, and several well-known IJBM members, including NinjaClown, would spearhead the formation of It Just Bugs Me (IJBM), an off-shoot of the original TV Tropes community. The removal of IJBM from TV Tropes proper, followed by the removal of several other site components between January and April 2011, led some members to leave in protest, and resulting in other members being banned permanently. These moves were controversial, with some being beneficial (dissuading anime fans with perverse interests from returning), while others proved detrimental to the community (most notably, IJBM). While some members of IJBM continued to be active posters at TV Tropes, most of the former IJBM members found a new home at their off-shoot site, where they continued to enjoy discussions in relative peace. While this peace was occasionally interrupted by former TV Tropes members arriving and complaining about this and that, IJBM proved to have largely retained the sense of community from its past at the TV Tropes forums.

  • Individuals before NinjaClown and myself have experienced similar problems with TV Tropes. A private conversation with NinjaClown led to this post formulating: he wished to emphasise that this post exists because the world needs to know the truth about TV Tropes, even if it doesn’t deserve to. Thus, NinjaClown requested that this post was to be created to summarise our experiences.

The administration cited that the number of large deletions and removal of parts of the community were made in the name of making the site more family-friendly: these changes had given moderators the power to suppress discussion and remove elements from the site at will. While the administration and moderators can be seen as draconian, it is important to note that these changes had arisen from the uncivil conduct perpetrated by new members in the community. These new members are thus responsible for the directions TV Tropes have taken; by June 2011, new members with delusions of grandeur began contributing a substantial number of troper tales. These tales were beginning to reach the ears of other communities, resulting in ridicule and giving rise to the notion that the average troper was self-satisfied, complacent and thoroughly believing that their opinions and lives were somehow relevant. The increasing number of troper tales also pushed the wiki away from its original purpose. Despite the implementation of a new system, irrelevant troper tales kept on being submitted.

The One-Week War

Troper tales was originally a subsection of TV Tropes that permitted its contributors (tropers) to share and read personal anecdotes about how some trope descriptions fit in with their experiences. On paper, this was a fairly simple concept: people generally have interesting stories that they enjoy sharing, so troper tales could be thought of as TV Trope’s equivalent of swapping stories over a coffee. Indeed, some tropes can be applied and result in some interesting stories, but other tropes engender a unique set of problems. The troper tales were a source of contention within the TV Tropes community, compounded by other communities considering that side of the site to be on par with other infamous websites in terms of notoriety. The administration turned a deaf ear over to requests to remove particularly troubling stories from the section, citing that tropers had every right to talk about their lives. However, the increasing number of unbelievable, inappropriate entries in troper tales would lead numerous communities to brand the TV Tropes contributor as a troubled anime fan with superiority complexes. The associated negativity discouraged visitors from joining the community, and existing members of the TV Tropers community increasingly felt that the site’s reputation should not be dictated by one bad section.

  • The post itself has somewhere around 3620 words minus the figure captions and is a long read. I’ve interspersed some pictures here and there to liven the contents up without introducing too many as to disrupt the flow of the passage.

On the evening of August 7, 2011, the opening shots of the One-Week War (OWW) were fired. Members of the TV Tropes community created a poll to determine whether a majority of the community were interested in removing all of the troper tales in one stroke, and along with it, the egotistical and inappropriate entries that had long plagued TV Tropes. Countless other members of the community concurred with this branch of thought; a vote was started to determine whether or not troper tales should be removed. The vote began overwhelmingly in favour of removing troper tales, but parties interested in retaining them soon made their opinions heard. During the course of the OWW, the vote changed directions multiple times, during which tropers supporting both positions presented their outlooks on why their positions held weight over the other. Members of IJBM saw an opportunity to remove the problematic elements (and individuals) from TVTropes, returning to assist the voting efforts and discussions. Those supporting its removing cited that there were too many inappropriate, poorly written stories to moderate and manage, while those wishing to keep them maintained that they were all in good fun and removing them would defeat TV Tropes’ purpose. This brutal, time-consuming, week-long debate saw the participation of hundreds of contributors and a greater number of voters; those involved in the forum discussion spent countless hours tirelessly backing their positions. On August 14, 2011, after an utterly exhausting week of debate to convince other members that the removal was beneficial, the administration stepped in and determined that, in light of the results, troper tales would no longer be hosted on TV Tropes. Individuals who wished to continue discussing their lives were asked to direct their attention towards trope talk in the forums, where personal anecdotes would be permitted.

  • Letting the truth have its day means trying to illustrate that TV Tropes isn’t the great community it once was. It means pointing out that the present community consists largely of immature, illiterate individuals who lack essential communication skills and demand that their opinions be treated as fact, while blindly accepting the opinions of those around them. It means being careful about their opinions and not giving them more thought than is necessary.

The removal of troper tales had a profound effect on TV Tropes. Virtually all of the troper tales proponents realised that TV Tropes was no longer accepting of their content and left the site in protest. A handful of individuals remained, challenging the decision and asked the administration to overturn it: their discussions were locked and the individuals in question were banned. TV Tropes had succeeded in removing these individuals’ will to put themselves on a pedestal. Moreover, by banishing these individuals’ stories from the site, they had no more reason to visit TV Tropes and left for good. However, while other sites hosted archived troper tales, now that they were no longer present at TV Tropes, troper tales supporters suddenly found that their stories were simply not reaching any audience, defeating their purpose of posting them. The only means to obtain that audience is at another online community, but they are decidedly less friendly to their members boasting of their exploits in the ‘real world’, meaning that the concept of troper tales has more or less been extinguished from the internet. Despite being a week-long effort that exhausted all of its participants, the deletion of Troper Tales marked a promising direction for TV Tropes. By this point in time, all of the questionable elements in the site had largely been removed or suppressed, and the members who propagated these materials had left.

Fallout of the One-Week War and New Problems

The removal of Troper Tales would prove to be a Pyrrhic victory: while the original proponents of Troper Tales and their handiwork had been removed, the administration would nonetheless stand by their original claims that that tropers had every right to talk about their lives and as such, did not make any effort to halt future attempts to do so. Individuals were barred from doing so in the wiki, but the forums would become the new grounds for conversations driven by the self. TV Tropes had largely failed to direct conversations away from the self back to the fiction it so claimed to celebrate. Thus, tropers continued to talk about themselves and their supposed exploits, rather than the aspects of fiction they had encountered and their significance. The OWW had not achieved a victory at pushing emphasis towards fiction and its tropes, but before a year had passed, the community fractured even further in January 2012, after some individuals grew weary of TV Tropes’ moderation practises. Several well-known individuals left TV Tropes, and owing to how close some of the community had become, other individuals followed suit, knowing that discussions wouldn’t quite be the same. Additional individuals felt that the site was fragmenting and followed suit. This was compounded by a group of unknown origins: in April 2012, they reported content to Google, triggering the Second Google Incident. Official TV Tropes documentation claim that a single individual made the complaint, but as with the effort that led to IJBM’s removal, this was a concerted effort from a group; their simultaneous reports to Google would ultimately catch their attention, and Google responded. While their motivations are not known, it is possible that they felt their proposed changes to be representative of the community’s best interests and went ahead with it, not realising that their actions bore heavy consequences. Following their report to Google, Google immediately withdrew their advertisements, forcing the administration to remove the page in question, establish new content policies and renamed many pages to minimise their impact. In the fallout, additional bans were issued, and the already-unstable community disintigrated further.

TV Tropes Today

The TV Tropes community reached a new equilibrium after the Second Google Incident. By this point, a large majority of the original community NinjaClown was a part of had either been banned or silently left without looking back. By this point, new members that had arrived following the fallout from the Second Google Incident were now strongly established in the community. In other words, they were where NinjaClown and the others were back in 2009, beginning to establish a new community. These new members, however, lacked any of the self-awareness and maturity found in the previous community: they were unable to perceive anything beyond terms of black and white, being thoroughly convinced that TV Tropes exists solely for them to discuss their favourite works in whatever manner they pleased, having taken the informal guidelines to be a confirmation that they were allowed to eschew standards of written English (clearly, they’re not).

  • Neither NinjaClown or myself are bitter, sad, confused or hurt at the current state of events and circumstances that led us to leave. However, as I’ve mentioned previously, both NinjaClown and myself feel that this post is probably a good way to summarise our experiences and pass along an unbiased, clear account of what happened to TV Tropes.

Present-day members of the TV Tropes community lack any communication and reading skills: aside from misunderstanding even the simplest of phrases, members insist on following their own interpretations of the English language. The end result is nothing short of disappointing: forums once home to reasoned discussion now festers irrational, irrelevant ramblings about media that lack any meaningful rationale. As such, readers coming into the forum for the first time will find rambling content about some individual’s favourite series and scenes in their favourite series. Those patient enough to read through will find that these individuals praise their shows based on superficial, visceral factors without considering the other factors. TV Tropes presently no longer hosts the same interesting discussions it once did, and in fact, does not appear to have the capacity to even enforce its own policies regarding convention and etiquette. On the wiki side, while things have remained reasonably stable, the newcomers have taken to concerted vandalism efforts, damaging pages and putting up content that violates the content guidelines. Efforts to minimise their effects here are in force, so an average reader is not likely to run into substantial issues on the wiki.

  • I still browse the wiki presently (even if the frequency has dropped) and believe that the wiki is the only side of TV Tropes that should matter to unregistered viewers. While I’ve previously noted that members were either banned or left, there have been numerous cases of members being banned for opposing a decision, and their friends subsequently leaving to protest the ban. This trend recently occurred at IJBM: after moderator Clockwork Universe (formerly INUH) left to protest their perceived lack of enforcing the rules, several other members in solidity with him left, as well. Why some members follow others in leaving continues to remain an unexplained phenomenon.

Moreover, the new community members have begun taking everything to do with TV Tropes very seriously, treating everything as credible and valid without giving it a second thought. Perusing the discussions, it is quite clear that a vast majority of these new members have never left their computers and seen things as they are in the real world: their own perspectives on science, art, economics, politics and society contradict what has been said by experts in their aforementioned field. These members have a bizarre insistence on the equality of opinion, dismissing expertise and professionalism as elitism. In this apparently egalitarian environment, the community genuinely believes that their discussions are groundbreaking and important, despite lacking any qualifications to discuss more complex matters. The solution is not simple: telling these individuals that they are wrong, or else trying to argue with them will result in the moderators stepping in and suspending the individual for rocking the boat. Reports to the moderators about the offending content will fall on deaf ears, since TV Tropes’ mission is supposedly to celebrate fiction, even if it means allowing incorrect or even dangerous ideas to propagate.

Discussions

We now turn towards looking at how TV Tropes fell from being a respectable place for hosting media discussions to a site that could not even enforce its own rules. There is a reason that egotistical, narcissistic individuals now find TV Tropes to be their preferred community, and this reason begins at the very core of TV Tropes’ philosophy. TV Tropes’ mission statement is to collect tropes (elements of figurative convention and other devices used in works) into a single location, meaning the entire site can be abstracted as a large list-building and sorting exercise, drawing together elements that may share only the most remote of similarities. The original community had fully understood this, taking amusement in connecting works that only shared remote similarities purely for enjoyment. The combined displacement of the original community and their replacement by the new community members, however, has transmuted what was once a fun list-building community would into one that took tropes as serious elements in fiction.

  • The post was so-titled because a lot of the present-day members of the community believe that any fictional work can be reduced to its component tropes. This approach is absurd, counterproductive and thus, pseudo-intellectual, since the intrinsic meaning in a particular piece of fiction is such that the sum has greater value than the parts. In other words, a proper analysis cannot be focused on analysing the minutiae in a work, since many of the elements in said work will interact with one another to produce a specific meaning.

Whether it be due to inexperience or narcissism, newer members of TV Tropes find themselves constantly at odds with one another: moderators oftentimes settle their petty disputes by telling them to take it to the discussions, and it is here that things get interesting: because there is discussion about whether or not elements fit, contributors must “analyse” particulars to determine whether or not an event satisfies the definition outlined by a trope. These activities seem to have convinced the new members that what they are doing must have intellectual value, since they are investing time into defending their favourite works. However, the member’s defense of their actions are not performed with TV Tropes’ interests in mind: most contributors act with the intent of proving to their community their intellect and thus, attaining respect from other members. They also act to convince the community to antagonist those who do not agree with them. The current community believes that its actions have academic value and has thoroughly deluded itself into believing that all fictional works are composed necessarily of these tropes, which in turn raises the misconception that understanding the tropes in a work result in understanding the work itself.

  • Reflecting the time I spent on TV Tropes, I most enjoyed editing articles so they bore my personal touch when I finished, and I least enjoyed sparring with other contributors for correctness on articles. NinjaClown compares the problem with Gundam 00‘s Katharon trying to take on the A-Laws, although to make a difference, we’d need the equivalent of a CBNGN-003 Union Flag Celestial Being Version with GN Sword II Kai to make a difference (i.e. moderator powers). Of course, the fight against the other contributors is a zero-sum game in that we’ve nothing to gain by winning, making it pointless to invest in the time to actually do good.

The new community’s sense of self-perceived intellectualism (in actuality, pseudo-intellectualism), paired with the loss of the original community and the administration’s rush to make the site more family-friendly, has left TV Tropes as a place for the socially inept individuals seeking vindication of their beliefs and hobbies in an environment where criticism is neither present nor tolerated. The unique tenants of the site, paired with the administration’s new efforts to promote a confrontation-free environment, allows self-proclaimed critics to vocalise their opinions without criticism or feedback. Engrossed in their pseudo-intellectual pursuits, and without anyone to remind them that their approach was misguided, the TV Tropes community has decayed. Anything resembling intelligent discussion is absent now: individuals insistently believe that everything they have to say is important, and that by talking with other individuals, they are somehow contributing greatly to the field of media. Instead of meaningful discussion, there is a forced consensus and mindless agreement: contrary opinions are quickly suppressed by the moderators, removing any opportunity to present alternate viewpoints.

  • One important thing to note is that NinjaClown and I chose to leave TV Tropes of our own accord, not because we had to; this distinction makes all the difference in the world. My thesis statement, if you will, is below, just above the Closing Remarks heading. I may return at a later date to provide a rigorous discussion on tropes as a whole: I will note that the style may be a little more advanced in comparison to what I normally handle.

From the events that have transpired, a few points become apparent: TV Tropes has only ever been a project about categorising different aspects in media, and its main value lay within the community that created it. The responsibility in maintaining the community is a joint effort between the moderators and members. The initially open policies at TV Tropes led its members to get away with increasingly questionable materials, and by the time the administration stepped in to regulate materials following the First Google Incident, the community had already become divided in opinion. The fractures in the community led some members to become banned, and others simply left out of protest or for their own reasons. Future events resulted in further site policy changes and divided the community further: these change has done TV Tropes a very great disservice, discouraging the open discussion that made once TV Tropes a good place to hang out and talk about various matters. These changes did not happen overnight, instead, culminating as a result of the community’s own actions, leading the administration to push for a more family-friendly site. Of course, doing so encouraged the membership of youth with little experience in the real world and even less courtesy, driving the site further away from its original objective of maintaining an informal, breezy place to talk about media.

Closing Remarks

Ordinarily, passages here are entirely written by myself, but today, I have a guest writer who made substantial contributions to this passage’s contents. I am unfamiliar with a large majority of the TV Tropes forums, having spent most of my time challenging anime fans in the wiki. Thankfully, NinjaClown has stepped up to the plate and provided this article with an account of what has transpired, having seen much of the events in person. TV Tropes marks the first time the both of us had witnessed a site go from hosting honest discussion to acting as a place for the socially inept to find acceptance. While this was disappointing, this was inevitable given TV Tropes’ subjective nature; furthermore, this trend is not new. Online debates, the so-called “internet drama”, have long plagued larger sites like CBC and YouTube. The comments there are notorious for their poor quality and lack of value, bought on in part by a similar lack of moderation.

The changes that have occurred at TV Tropes appear to have followed from a similar policy in that, while the administration initially hoped to maintain an informal atmosphere, they also neglected to enforce the rules, allowing TV Tropes to appeal to less savoury individuals. The end result is what we presently see. These trends have been known for other former TV Tropes participants for quite some time, who have departed well before I drafted this post for similar reasons: the time is ideal for both NinjaClown and I to follow suit . Today, the sun is shining brightly now as it did two years ago: it is mid-day, and there aren’t many clouds in the sky. Two years have passed since TV Tropes’ administrator finally decided to close the polls to end the OWW, although it would mark the beginning of a new set of problems for both the administrator and the team of moderators. However, I’m not lending my considerable talents towards repairing vandalism and reporting individuals engaged in destructive behaviours: it’s a nice day out there, and I fancy a walk.