On Creativity – Tropes and why we love them

A ‘trope’ is a recurrent literary theme, motif, or structure of a plot when it comes to writing novels and stories. Most tropes are presented by authors again and again, in differing formats and story-lines, and yet, though readers generally recognize them and sometimes even preempt certain happenings and resolutions, they still continue to prefer the same type of story-line and continue to read and enjoy such books and stories again and again.

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Most tropes are over-used, and yet, they still sell. Why? I must admit that I myself find that I tend to gravitate towards reading familiar tropes, especially when I’m in a certain mood where I need a nice comfortable reliable story… and yet… is writing a novel and basing it on this much-recycled outline acceptable? I mean – where is creativity?? And what about originality?

Take for example the Rags to Riches trope – here the main character is usually a young unknown person who, through some circumstance or other, ends up becoming rich and famous. Some well-known examples include Cinderella, Pretty Woman and Slum Dog Millionaire.

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Another well-known trope is the Love Triangle – this one actually needs no explanation does it? Everyone enjoys a good love story, but throw in some unrequited love, a couple of misunderstandings, a pinch of jealousy and heartache, and there it is, the usual popular T.V drama series cocktail!

A third trope, which never gets old, is what I call the Ugly Duckling story-line. Think about My Fair Lady, The Princess Diaries, Miss Congeniality or The Devil wears Prada, and you have it. Basically this kind of story also usually ends up becoming a ‘moral lesson’ = Unkept girl has a make-over and transforms into a beauty, then realizes that looks are not everything… but she still looks pretty now anyways.

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Want another one? How about the Unknown Hero who saves the World trope? I guess I don’t even need to give examples for this one… *cough*Spiderman*cough*Superman*cough*Marvelingeneral*

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And what about all those post-apocalyptic dystopian teen-movies which seem to add up all of the above?! The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, Divergent, The Giver… ugh! I read the books before there was even a hint of any movie, and I realized early on that they were all the same, and yet I still gobbled them up! Why!?

I guess we all love the familiar, we all dream of becoming rich, popular heroes and that never changes.

Yet, artists, BEWARE. Writing/creating something familiar while portraying it in an entirely new and creative manner is one thing, re-writing the same thing over and over and over again, is another. ‘Familiar’ is a tricky word, since it is most often dangerously close to ‘mediocre’, not to mention ‘boring’. 

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Male Genitals – A Fashion Statement?

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Men have always been fond and rather proud of their ‘family jewels’. Let’s face it however (just between us girls), having genitals which literally dangle in the way of certain physical pursuits like running, bending, horse-riding, and during medieval times, sword-fighting, is not really practical, not to mention comfortable. This is why, mostly during the Renaissance, society saw the rise of that most prominent and masculine of apparels – the codpiece.

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A codpiece is a pouch or covering flap of material which was attached to and covered the genital or scrotum areas. It was generally worn by males as early as during the Greek classical era, however it is during the  15th and 16th centuries that codpieces reached their ‘peak’, in that the fashion was to further pad and emphasize the importance of a man’s codpiece (talk about advertising the size of one’s ‘assets’), rather than concealing them for modesty’s sake. This trend most probably began with the shortening of men’s doublets (hip-length fitted jacket-like garments worn in Europe by men over their shirts). When hemlines rose and hoses (thin tight-fitting tights or breeches) became longer and open at the front, this resulted in under-dressed genitals, which further stressed the importance of the codpiece as a triangular piece of fabric covering the gap.

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Codpieces were generally made of linen and either stitched or held closed with laces or buttons. Victoria Miller, a researcher and student at Cambridge University who is studying the history of the codpiece as part of her PhD, related to The Guardian newspaper that the codpiece first ‘came into fashion as something really modest, a triangular piece of fabric. In the first couple of decades of the 16th century it started to be stuffed. Then it got to epic proportions, some more phallic, some more testicular or ovoid in shape… Men always agonised about their masculinity – and especially the question of size’.

So basically, the codpiece was the male rendition of a stuffed push-up bra.

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Those concerned with public morals started to be worried about the issue. In 1555 a Bishop in Frankfurt became notorious for publishing a pamphlet criticizing the codpiece in that he berated the fact that ‘young fellows have their cod-pieces in front puffed out by the flames and rags of Hell so that the Devil can sit and look out in all directions, causing scandal and creating a bad example’, bemoaning the ‘poor, giddy, innocent girls [who] are seduced and enticed’ (quoted from: http://www.fashionintime.org/history-mens-undergarments-part-1/). Interesting description!

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During the time of Queen Elizabeth (1533 – 1603) the codpiece started to become smaller and smaller, until fashions totally changed and its use was abandoned.

Or were they?

What about those contemporary artists and singers who, as a fashion statement, have chosen to strut around in leather or even gem-encrusted codpieces on stage? It is well known that during the glam-rock era of the 70s and 80s notorious personages like Jethro Tull, Rob Halford (of the band Judas Priest), Axl Rose (Guns N’ Roses) and even David Bowie (check out his 80s movie ‘The Labyrinth’) sported prominent codpieces.

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Have you watched any periodical dramas on T.V recently? How about ‘The Borgias’, ‘The Tudors’, or ‘Wolf Hall’? What about all those BBC historical adaptations? Noticed anything popping out of those skinny tight-fitting tights and leather pants?

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How about the colourful costumes of all our favourite comic-book heroes? Superman, Batman, Robin – now those are some famous guys who REALLY put the spotlight on their prominent masculinity, don’t they?

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What do you think, should codpieces come back into mainstream fashion?

—- A version of this article was published on Eve online magazine here – http://www.eve.com.mt/2015/07/23/male-genitals-a-fashion-statement/