What Tropes Can Teach Us

Gammas have taken over so much of popculture that their world view is strongly affecting our tropes.

A few years ago, I watched the anime series Death Note. Cataline Recommends with Enthusiasm, by the way. It is brilliantly written and meticulously crafted. It keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the last episode. If you are given to binging, then avoid this one until you have a lot of time on your hands.

Anyway, I really liked it. So when Netflix announced that they were streaming an Americanized version of it, I was cautiously interested. It turns out my caution was well merited.

Within five seconds of seeing Light Turner, I knew that they had blown the character completely.

They couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. Light Yagami, fits the Japanese trope of the “Top Student.” The Top Student is revered by his classmates for his intelligence. As the guy with the highest test scores is extremely high in status in Japanese high schools. He is also quite competent at athletics. Socially adept and physically attractive.

This is the Japanese version of Light Yagami.

And here is the horrible, Americanized version.

He is introduced writing cheat sheets for athletes. He is socially inept. Sexually undesirable. Physically weak and low in social status. An offbeat outsider. He is however, high in intelligence. In short, he’s a “nerd.” That’s his trope.

Whereas the highest status students in Light Turner’s school are quickly defined as being athletic, sexually desirable and quite stupid. And rewarded far beyond their merits simply on the basis of their good looks. In short, the “Popular Kids.”

Oh yes, and the Popular Kids are always bullying the Nerds. That is also a defining trait of the Popular Kid trope.

This is how you know that Gamma Males have been writing our tropes for a while. Because this is the Gamma viewpoint of high school.

And it’s all wrong.

Gammas are indeed bullied in high school and so far as the Gamma is concerned the guy bullying him. The guy who has all the power over him is at the top of the heap.

Except this is never the case.

The good looking quarterback invariably gets good grades because stupid boys can’t be quarterbacks. It’s a job where you juggling a hundred things in your head all at once, on the fly while you are physically exhausted and usually in pain. He had his college picked out by the time he was a sophomore. He is at the top of the social ladder and likely will be elected homecoming king.

In summary, the good looking quarterback fits the Japanese trope of Top Student to a tee.

And Gamma Males are invisible to them. The American Top Student doesn’t care about Gammas. He is unquestionably an Alpha male and those guys don’t bully. An Alpha’s biggest defining trait is protecting the health and cohesion of his group.

There is such a massive social divide between the two that the Gamma Male, in all likelihood, doesn’t know who the most popular boy in school actually is.

You see, to the Gamma Male, the most popular kid in school has to be his bully because that is the guy who is the biggest thing in his mind the whole time he is at school.

In truth, the Gamma’s bully, assuming he’s on the football team at all, is a lineman, not the quarterback. The bully is in the lower middle of high school status. He doesn’t have the hottest cheerleader, his girlfriend is the slut who couldn’t get picked for the pom-squad. He’s not too cool about the fact that he’s putting up with his own high school bullshit and a Gamma makes for a handy and safe target for his frustration because he knows they won’t fight back. He’s making sure that Gammas stay beneath him because he can’t afford to risk going any lower himself.

Yet, so far as Gammas are concerned, this loser is the most popular kid in school. Because he can’t imagine it being anyone else.

Since this image is now our cultural trope for the popular kid, in fact, our only one, you know who had to have come up with it.

If you want a more thorough evisceration Deathnote, here’s E;R’s

6 thoughts on “What Tropes Can Teach Us

  1. I was a gamma nerd in school, and I got bullied some. It was warranted. I’m totally against the anti-bullying crap.

    Bullies are like a societal immune system. I see now that the idea wasn’t to attack smart people like the secret kings like to believe, it was to force atypical boys to show standard male responses to threat or push them out to the fringes where they wouldn’t negatively affect the group. They determine if you’re a liability or an asset in a dangerous situation.

    Making Light a nerd totally misses they point, as you said. Light is a psychopath, with all the attendant dark triad traits which often tend toward social success. He’s like a one-man globalist elite, imposing his will on the world because he has the power to do it and he sees himself as superior.

    I think the anime ending may be the most satisfying villain defeat I’ve ever seen. I hope the real Light Yagamis of the world experience something like it.


  2. A great anime that shows the difference between the picked on trope in Japan and America is the excellent series Mob Psycho 100. At first glance it looks like Gamma wish fulfillment 101. A socially awkward nobody who is awkward because he is secretly the most powerful Psychic around that can beat any creature or other psychic. Mob’s awkwardness is because of his secret king powers could blow everyone away if his emotions get out of control.

    However, once you delve into the story there is a difference between the Japanese secret king and the american gamma. Mob works hard to fit into the normal roles of High School without using his powers to be special. A poor athelete, he joins the Body Improvement club to try to better himself in this department, and all the jocks are portrayed as helpful and sincere…who honestly admire Mob as he does his best to get better at physical activities. Mob doesn’t wallow in his otherness…He sees that his social awkwardness is a problem rather than something that makes him special and better than common masses.

    It’s pretty damn superversive and it warms my heart that my nephew who showed it to me looks at it as a great hero tale. I think that America is getting tired of the Gammas. Everyday folk are starting to see the horror of the date-rape in Revenge of the Nerds and the absolute assholishness of Daniel LaRusso from the Karate Kid.


    1. Just watched Mob Psycho 100, and it was great. It was wonderful how Mob doesn’t see himself as superior because he can do one thing better than everyone else, he instead tries to learn to be good at normal stuff the way everyone else is.

      That’s a great role model for smart nerds. Basically all the villains are special boys who think being good at one thing makes them superior, and the show clearly shows how all the posturing and obsessing over how the thing you’re good at makes you superior is wrong.

      I love how Mob is better than they are at the thing they define themselves by, but his attitude is “being good at this isn’t a big deal, lots of people are good at things.” That’s a good lesson for all the smart gammas — there’s always someone smarter than you, and you’re as far below them as most people are below you. And also, other people are good at things too, being good at something isn’t very special.

      Mob is like the gamma wish fulfillment character trying to be a normal person instead, it’s really unique and inspiring.


  3. As soon as I saw the director and script writer, I was reminded of what Mike of RLM said during their Rogue One commentary: “It’s like a heartless nerd who’s never felt human emotion made this movie.” Most big-budget movies make me think of that line now, especially the genre pictures, and when you see the creators, they’re almost always of a type. They all have that soft, smirking look that tells you they’re convinced the only reason they weren’t the homecoming king was that they were too smart. And some of them probably were smart, but if they were less popular than they wished to be, that wasn’t the reason. The reason was the softness and the smirking.

    I would just insert the word “normal” into Mike’s quote, as in “normal human emotion.” These guys are full of emotions, but they’re all wrong and off-putting (at least in men), so they don’t understand how normal people work at all. That’s reflected in their characters and stories.


  4. I always found the bullies to be more gammas picking on other gammas or deltas. The bullies on the football team tended to be second string backs or defensive line and usually kept their bullying confined to the team or the managers. If you weren’t in those circles you weren’t even worth noticing.

    The quarterbacks tended to be great guys. I mean life was great for them so they had no reason not to be nice to everyone else.

    linemen were mainly deltas and bravos ,and were content to date cute chunky chicks with big titties.

    I was a third string linemen and most of the flack I got was from people without even the discipline to be on the team.


  5. I went to school on the cusp where nerds became the social norm – in eighth grade I was ostracized; by tenth I was basically Folks – but it was in middle school that the most popular kids were also the bullies. Because here “popular” actually meant “Council of Eight in Menzoberranzan.” High school? FAR too large and subcultured for a straight hierarchy like that.

    Anyway, writers don’t seem to have noticed that nowadays, A/V nerds are beloved and the most effective bullying tactic is running to teacher with tales of bullying. An American Light would have better luck as a college sophomore.

    Liked by 1 person

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