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The Hitchhiker's Guide to Humanity
December 26, 2010 11:00 AM   Subscribe

Everybody knows TVTropes is the best and most time-killing-est way to learn about the clichés and archetypes that permeate modern media. But dear reader, there is so much more. Enter Useful Notes. Originally created as a place for tropers to pool factual information as a writing aid, the subsite has quietly grown into a small wiki of its own -- a compendium of crowdsourced wisdom on a staggering array of topics, all written in the site's signature brand of lighthearted snark. Though it reads like an irreverent and informal Wikipedia, its articles act as genuinely useful primers to complex and obscure topics alike, all in service of the project's five goals: "To debunk common media stereotypes; to help you understand some media better; to educate, inform and sometimes entertain; to promote peace and understanding (maybe); and... to facilitate world domination." Sounds about right. Click inside for bountiful highlights... if you dare.

[note: not all articles are hosted in the /UsefulNotes/ subfolder, but all grew out of the original page and are indexed there. If you find any material that's messy, weak, or inaccurate, remember: it's a wiki!]

Main UsefulNotes Index

A small sampling from the major categories:

Geography: (including detailed subcategories for most major nations)
The Americas - Europe - Asia - Africa - Oceania - Major World Cities
Excerpts from an example subcategory:
The United States: "The general feeling among Americans about these parties is that one of them is evil, and the other is incompetent. Which is which depends on whom you ask. "
Main Index - American Political System - U.S. Presidents - U.S. States - U.S. Military - Legal System - Educational System - Newspapers - Holidays - Weights and Measures - Accents

Other major national pages:
Canada - Mexico - Brazil - United Kingdom - Germany - France - Spain - Italy - Russia - South Africa - India - China - Japan - Indonesia - Australia
Media:
Mainstream Media - Video Games - Subcultures - Irony - Heavy Metal - History of Hollywood - History of Animation - The 50 Greatest Cartoons

History:
Classical Mythology - Trojan War - Pre-Columbian Civilizations - Economics - American Revolution - Russian Revolution - Cold War - Arab-Israeli Conflict - World War II - 1950s - 1990s

Famous People:
William Shakespeare - The 47 Ronin - Marie Antoinette - Mark Twain - Theodore Roosevelt - Adolf Hitler - Albert Einstein - Joseph Stalin - Barack Obama

Military:
Militaries by Nation - Nuclear Weapons - Naval Warfare - Military Aviation - Modern Battlefield Weapons - The Laws of War

Religion:
Christianity - Islam - Buddhism - Hinduism - Judaism - Atheism - Gnosticism

Sports:
Football - Baseball - Basketball - Soccer

(And that's just scratching the surface...)
posted by Rhaomi (43 comments total) 142 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this . . . I think.

The thing I hate about loving TV Tropes is that it is so helpful for a fiction writer, and yet realizing how delightfully unoriginal you're being saps the motivation something fierce. TV Tropes makes me feel like it's almost not worth writing anything ever.
posted by Countess Elena at 11:21 AM on December 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


Countess Elena, you clearly forget that Tropes are not Bad

I need to go back to that page every so often when I'm trying to remember that using tropes effectively to write a story is just like using flour and sugar effectively to bake cookies.
posted by sarastro at 11:24 AM on December 26, 2010 [18 favorites]


Just what I need: a part of TV Tropes where, once I finally manage to pull myself out of an hour-long fugue of trivia consumption and link-hoppery premised on an ill-considered click on something only tangentially related to what I was originally reading, I can sigh with relief and look around and realize I'm still at TV Tropes.
posted by cortex at 11:35 AM on December 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


[Warning: TV Tropes]
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:53 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I predict more of this sort of thing as Wikipedia becomes, well, less wiki-like.
posted by Artw at 11:56 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not clicking any of those links because the last time I entered TVtropes (last weekend I think) I wasted the entire day. I'm not exaggerating, I spent at least 5 hours reading links. And what's worse is that it wasn't the first time that it happened.

So yeah, not clicking.
posted by Memo at 11:57 AM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yes, this is dangerous. I love the editorial voice though: it's closer to the Hitchhiker's Guide than Wikipedia is.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:02 PM on December 26, 2010 [6 favorites]


This is some amazing material. The 50 greatest cartoons (with links to many) is hours of fun in itself. I also recommend 'The Fifties" under the HISTORY heading. Not the usual garbage. Detailed and neatly arranged sociological info. What a great find. Well, there goes the rest of my Sunday...
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 12:17 PM on December 26, 2010


Damn you!
posted by New England Cultist at 12:37 PM on December 26, 2010


TV Tropes makes me feel like it's almost not worth writing anything ever.

I'm sorry you feel this way. I wish that creative writing course all began by having write translations and adaptations. It would be awesome if writers would spend ten years doing this, as a sort of apprenticeship, so they'd totally get over this weird idea that writing was about "being original" and that "being original" means coming up with a plot that no one has ever thought of before.

I wonder when people first started thinking of the writer's job that way. My guess is it started after classical-education stopped. People breastfed on Homer, Chaucer, the Arabian Nights and the Decameron don't suffer illusions that they could come up with new plots.

I doubt classicists got upset about it. More likely, they though, "Wow! What a cool bunch of tools to carry around in my utility belt!"
posted by grumblebee at 12:38 PM on December 26, 2010 [24 favorites]


I don't let it stop me, grumblebee, at least not in general, though I do try to climb out on limbs more than I would otherwise. Sarastro is correct.
posted by Countess Elena at 12:40 PM on December 26, 2010


Well, the one on the UK just ate up a chunk of time. But I always did want to know what the pantomime thing was all about.
posted by emjaybee at 12:41 PM on December 26, 2010


TV Tropes = [Wikipedia:Plot Summary] + [Wikipedia:In Popular Culture]
posted by stbalbach at 12:47 PM on December 26, 2010


"We are not Wikipedia. We're a buttload more informal. "

MetaFilter: A buttload more informal.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:58 PM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Don't like being meanie etc but when I turned to one or two of the few things I know much about I found the presented materials a sort of crib sheet or cliff's notes...pointed but missing a good deal in depth. Can be fun admittedly since skimming through encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc always fun and informative when you find stuff you know little about or care to know more about or have not much background in.But that then is positive addiction so no step program needed.
posted by Postroad at 1:01 PM on December 26, 2010


TV Tropes you say? During a blizzard you say?


I say.
posted by The Whelk at 1:02 PM on December 26, 2010 [12 favorites]


So okay like an hour after reading useful notes on the Trojan War, I somehow found my way over to their Saved By The Bell page, and what is this

There's also the one about Jessie being a man. Whether Slater is aware of this is kept vague, but the general consensus seems to be that he'd not mind one bit.

There's a theory that Jessie's secretly a man? I... I would like to hear more about this.
posted by Greg Nog at 1:06 PM on December 26, 2010


If it were not for tvtropes I would never have known that I had a character commit an Apocalypse How Class X-2.
posted by localroger at 1:18 PM on December 26, 2010


Wait.... this was posted at 2? I could have sworn that it just popped up 5 minutes ago...

Hey....where'd all that snow come from? Holy crap, it's 4:30???
posted by schmod at 1:28 PM on December 26, 2010


I wonder when people first started thinking of the writer's job that way.

My sense is that it's a Romantic / post-Romantic precious snowflake thing. Modernist writing is obviously obsessed with classical stuff but its technique is synthetic rather than mimetic. Before Wordsworth and his pals came along most writing, or most of what we still read, follows Sidney's model, more or less.
posted by tigrefacile at 1:33 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Yes, this is dangerous. I love the editorial voice though: it's closer to the Hitchhiker's Guide than Wikipedia is.
Solon and Thanks


That's because it's slightly cheaper and has the words "DON'T PANIC" on the cover.
posted by randomkeystrike at 1:43 PM on December 26, 2010 [10 favorites]


In large, friendly letters.
posted by hippybear at 1:55 PM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I've always wondered what friendly letters look like.
posted by grumblebee at 2:18 PM on December 26, 2010


Comic Sans, of course.
posted by Malor at 2:19 PM on December 26, 2010 [7 favorites]




Oh dear ...
posted by ZeusHumms at 2:47 PM on December 26, 2010


I beg to demur over this entry, regarding the "blue and orange" (colour washing) trend in film:

Battlestar Galactica: scenes on lifeless planets tend to be very washed out. But the scenes on Kobol had implausibly vivid green foliage.

It's not implausibly green; I live close to where those scenes were shot, in Port Coquitlam, BC and that's just what it looks like here.

Carry on.
posted by jokeefe at 3:00 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


I liked how the algae planet had all kinds of weeds and grass on it.
posted by Artw at 3:09 PM on December 26, 2010


Just had a glance at the UK page... immediately opened about 2 dozen tabs... well I guess I don't really need to sleep tonight...
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:39 PM on December 26, 2010


Oh jesus. Must! Restrain! Clicking finger! Hrrrrrgnnn
posted by Mizu at 4:30 PM on December 26, 2010


the site's signature brand of lighthearted snark.

Hey, wait minute. That's not their brand!
posted by spitbull at 5:21 PM on December 26, 2010


I am pleased to discover that the UK was once in possession of a chicken powered nuclear land mine
posted by I_pity_the_fool at 5:25 PM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Whoa where did the last 5 hours go....
posted by Joe Chip at 6:01 PM on December 26, 2010


Tsk. The chicken wasn't supposed to power it, just sort of keep it company. Honestly, do people not already know this stuff? Am I just weird?
posted by Artw at 6:05 PM on December 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


Oh, my. You guys were not kidding. I just lost two hours... good thing I'm stuck in a hotel room in China and not having to actually, you know, do anything. I could spend all day on the "outrun the fireball" thread and associated links entry alone. It doesn't hurt that it opens with one of my favorite Futurama quotes:

"Calculon, a fight scene has broken out at the special effects warehouse. Come quickly before a fiery explosion chases someone down a hallway."

Thanks, Rhaomi... I think.
posted by the_royal_we at 6:46 PM on December 26, 2010


TVTropes has long been one of my very favorite websites, and every now and then I uncover a new section (like WMG) that deepens my appreciation. Thanks for this!
posted by danb at 7:12 PM on December 26, 2010


The alternate universe Hamms Bear is going to stay up and read the Fringe article. I'm going to bed.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 12:20 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh, crap. I better get to work.
posted by The Hamms Bear at 6:42 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love tvtropes. Also, this is why I love the show community. Abed is pretty much tvtropes with a body.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 9:01 AM on December 27, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's interesting that TV Tropes has become so huge and unwieldy it needs a fact page. I personally think that some time ago TV Tropes passed the point of usability and is now just about how many video game and anime series references one can fit to a given trope.

TV Tropes used to be useful, both in describing some of the "Cheats" that writers used, and in pointing out the cliched, racist and sexist elements in TV shows. However I'm seeing it more and more used as a substitute for actually describing what's going on in a given piece of fiction. Believe it or not there is a difference between Madmen and Supernatural, even if they share some tropes. Which I know they do, because ALL shows share tropes. That's where I and other writers have become depressed in reading the page- knowing that our work won't actually be judged for what it has to say or the quality of our writing, but merely based on what tropes people can glom onto. It's description as a substitute for criticism.

Not only has the situation become like that joke where prisoners simply say the numbers of jokes, TV Tropes is rapidly becoming prescriptive, not descriptive. I've actually heard writers say "Well, I'm doing a story about subject X, so according to TV Tropes, I need to have Tropes A, B, and G-R in it. Hell, I can practically do my writing by numbers now." It's like an author listening too much to what fans want to see- the end result is Piers Anthony.
posted by happyroach at 10:01 AM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


Damn it. TV Tropes and its associated sites are like getting chloroformed; when I finally come to, I have no idea how much time has passed and often struggle to remember what I was doing before I got drugged.
posted by quin at 3:29 PM on December 27, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's description as a substitute for criticism.

It's not a critical site. It's a descriptive one.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 3:38 PM on December 27, 2010


I've actually heard writers say "Well, I'm doing a story about subject X, so according to TV Tropes, I need to have Tropes A, B, and G-R in it. Hell, I can practically do my writing by numbers now."
posted by happyroach


I don't really think TV Tropes can be blamed for this.
posted by haveanicesummer at 12:11 PM on December 28, 2010


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