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Tropes: Don’t Touch It, You Idiot!

Photo by Waldemar Brandt.

I decided to talk about some tropes in books, comics, shows, and movies. I’ll start with my favorite one: don’t touch it, you idiot. Tropes are storytelling shortcuts that describe situations in speed time. Theoretically, the audience pics them up quickly. Don’t mistake tropes with cliches or stereotypes. Tropes don’t need to be old, in fact, new tropes appear over time. They’re handy, and not all of them are bad.

So, what’s don’t touch it, you idiot? It’s an easy trope based on some idiot touching something that will cause damnation for eternity. It’s not like Stark touching Thor’s muscles, it’s more like someone touching an object they shouldn’t and getting cursed, or making a building come apart, or putting in motion cosmic events for doomsday.

The audience knows that the character in trouble is an idiot. While the audience knows what will happen if you touch the forbidden object, the hero in the story doesn’t. Sometimes they act that way because there’s a curse on them, like Disney’s Aurora. But many other times, they’re just oblivious or just idiots. Indiana Jones ends up running in front of a giant stone ball, for example.

You can find this formula in fantasy stories. In Crimson Spell, Vald ends up holding a cursed sword to save his lands. No one else thinks about it because of the curse. Whoever touches the sword becomes evil. And there he goes and touches it.

The cursed objects that characters aren’t supposed to touch are called MacGuffins, McGuffins or maguffins. These objects drive the plot, but there’s nothing else to them than that. It can be a shiny relic, a sword, a spindle, an apple, or whatever else the writers had in mind.

For these objects to have power, they need genre blind characters. These are characters who seem to know nothing about life. Even if all the other characters tell them not to touch the object, they go there and touch it. And then things happen. Vald is one of them. Despite everyone in the Kingdom telling him not to touch the cursed sword, he takes it. And he becomes an insatiable demon by night. He’s so innocent that he can’t even fathom the consequences, while the readers and all the rest of characters know by heart.

After the idiot has touched the object, there might be other characters that will tell him so. Dude, you shouldn’t have touched that. Or, dude, it’s your fault that we’re in this mess.

This trope is quite old. Pandora opened a box she wasn’t supposed to open. All Hell will break loose wasn’t scary enough for her. But she’s not alone in messing things up. In Guardians of the Galaxy, the maid of the Collector ends up touching one Infinity Stone, and she blows up. In Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2, Rocket Racoon gives a bomb to Groot to destroy Ego and shows him a button. Despite telling him not to touch it because it will activate a five-minute timer that will blow everything up, Groot goes and pushes the button!

In Lord of the Rings, Pippin touches an armor in Moria, and they’re all in trouble. No one was supposed to touch anything! In Once Upon a Time, Regina agrees to teach Emma how to do magic. She leads Emma to her vault and warns her not to touch anything. Then, Emma picks the first thing she sees. Before anything happens, Regina takes the object from her and warns her again.

So, media isn’t short of idiots who go around touching maguffins. Sometimes they’re cute, other times they get everyone in deep trouble, and many times the trope is necessary for the film, comic or show to exist at all.



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