Sometimes a work comes along that reveals just how strange a genre trope is simply by playing it completely straight in a wildly bizarre context. Twister is a perennial fixture on Australian TV for some reason, and it’s famous for the protagonists being rock ‘n’ roll underdogs who, unlike their rival, refuse to sell out and take money from The Man to fund their research, despite the fact that most weather researchers don’t generally care about artistic integrity. It raises a lot of metafictional questions – why do we need our heroes to be underdogs? Isn’t it hypocritical for a ninety-two million dollar production to portray corporate funding as a bad thing? Why does a story about people who chase tornadoes need an antagonist at all? I don’t know precisely why everyone made the choices they did (though the fact that Michael Crichton and Joss Whedon were involved in what sounds like a really messy writing process is a big clue), but it sounds like the crew were knocking off beats on a checklist, not realising or caring how weird it looked in this particular context. We complain about the MCU formula, but let’s face it, it’s just the latest formula in a long line of mathematical filmmaking.
It also makes me think of Bull. It’s a post-Sorkin procedural that fetishises hypercompetence and presents its protagonists as infallibly correct, with every episode being a matter of proving to the freak of the week that knowing a bunch of obscure trivia makes you all-powerful, but it applies that model of television to the obscure field of juror selection. There’s a long history of cop shows that act as propaganda for the police force (this is literally the origin of Dragnet, the granddaddy of cop shows), and however vile you find that idea, it’s a fairly logical thought process – we want the public to trust us, and to believe we’re always right, both morally and literally, so we make a TV show portraying us that way (bonus: it’s a good recruitment video). And it makes sense that the same idea spread out to lawyers and doctors and occasionally firefighters. These shows are like big neon signs saying “don’t worry, there are very smart, unimpeachably good people keeping things running for you behind the scenes, trust the system, stay comfortable”. Applying that kind of thinking to juror selection, something I guarantee none of you were even thinking about until you read this article, ends up acting as reductio ad absurdum to the whole thing. This is an exercise in vanity.
What are some media you’ve seen that applied genre expectations to the wrong thing?