Let’s Talk Bookish – Problematic Tropes

Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by Rukky @ Eternity Books & Dani @ Literary Lion, where they discuss certain topics, share their opinions, and spread the love by visiting each others’ posts.


Prompts:  There are many problematic tropes out there. The entire genre of horror is notoriously full of ableism, romance choke-full of sexism, and fantasy dripping in racial stereotypes. What are the boundaries for their usage? Is it OK to use problematic tropes if you repurpose them to be otherwise? Can they be “reclaimed” in the way some people reclaim offensive terms?

Happy February everyone! The first LTB of the month has arrived and it’s certainly an interesting topic! Luckily, I don’t think I walk into them too too much, not reading romance and horror (nor romantic horror) on a regular basis. Still, I do have some opinions on the matter.

There are indeed many problematic tropes out there. I suppose the main question is how much influence do such tropes have over our general population and vulnerable population? Arguably a lot, since I feel that books really did have the biggest impression on me as a child. Like the media, even as an adult, there’s a level of absorption of public perspective that just cannot be avoided.

I struggle with just saying that these things should be flat-out prohibited. I’m not convinced that these notorious tropes are really that bad in and of themselves. The problem seems to lie in cases where they become glorified or become something that we want to replicate and attain. I’m actually not really sure what makes a trope particularly popular and subsequently notorious (and possibly overused). But I imagine if we were to take all these kinds of tropes and ideas with a grain of salt, it wouldn’t be so huge.

I think I have said this before in a post somewhere, but some authors really do use these popular tropes in the best ways. But most often by driving it in a direction that is healthier. Using the trope to play with our expectations and then directing it somewhere clever and novel is some of the best ways I have noticed authors recently using these kinds of tropes. I particularly enjoy when authors can use your subconscious expectations to create new heights of suspense or to dramatically shift your perception of something. That being said, even slight changes of these tropes to something more appropriate could be steps in the right direction.

Reclaiming is definitely difficult. I’m not sure it’s particularly effective either except for PR, maybe. Once these things are out there, it is way too difficult to bring it back. For this I may have to rely more on editors and publishers to really decide what is or isn’t appropriate and to use their discretion. Sometimes things that push the envelope further and further might be unnecessary. Personally, I’d like to see more healthy tropes represented, to show that that is also “cool.”

Overall, I think it’s really the way we portray things and put them on a pedestal that can be damaging to our youth or vulnerable populations. The tropes themselves usually aren’t too big of an issue in and of themselves. I’m not really sure how or whether this should be addressed as a systemic issue but I personally like seeing them repurposed.

What do you all think? Let me know in the comments below!

6 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Bookish – Problematic Tropes”

  1. I definitely agree with what you’re saying! Especially what you said about authors using these tropes and driving them in a direction that’s healthier. I think that’s the best and perhaps only way they should be used! Great post!! x

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I do agree with you. I think unknowing ignorance can sometimes be behind these tropes. Authors write from imagination but also from experience – if they haven’t experienced racism, sexism, ableism (to name but a few) perhaps they simply do not realise they are perpetuating a problem.

    Then there is the old chestnut of YMMV – the prompt mentions sexism in romance but there exists a huge market for books containing dominant alpha males whose word is law. Would we accept it in real life? Not at all, but we understand the difference between fantasy and reality.
    After all, books are not an instruction manual for how to live your life but instead are entertainment in the same way as movies, TV programmes, video games etc are. How much do we worry about “tropes” in those?

    Liked by 2 people

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