Pulp Friction YKTTW Discussion

Pulp Friction
The Narm Charm of seeing serious content meet the over-the-top tropes of sci-fi, fantasy, comics etc.
(permanent link) added: 2011-10-18 06:08:46 sponsor: LaplacesKyton (last reply: 2011-11-13 05:42:19)

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A hardened police chief discusses a sociopathic crime boss- with a guy wearing a bright red leotard. A knight laments the mortality and brutality of war despite having seven phoenix downs in his inventory. In a futuristic Cold War allegory, a starship captain tries to negotiate a truce before total war breaks out with the Rubber-Forehead Aliens.

Pulp Friction is a special kind of Narm Charm that happens when serious attempts at quality writing meet a genre or medium with a commercial/pulp reputation. When deep, complex subject matter meets the over-the-top and often escapist tropes of a genre like fantasy, sci-fi, video games or superhero comics, there can be some dissonance between the two- or friction, if you will.

Unlike most Narm, though, Pulp Friction is frequently the specific result of good writing. A writer can seem narmy just by trying to tell a substantial story in a genre/medium that people consider part of the Sci Fi Ghetto. It's worth noting that almost every literary medium has gone through a phase like this, novels, stage and cinema included.

Thankfully, skilled writers can often minimize this effect and make the final result seem like Narm Charm- the quirky, endearing growing pains of a genre with great potential. Some tasteful Lampshade Hanging can also help.

There are two main kinds of Pulp Friction:

I) Conventional. Sometimes, Pulp Friction is just the result of popular perceptions or social conventions. To some people, the idea of using comic books, high fantasy or their respective tropes for serious storytelling is Narm-worthy in and of itself, though it will no longer seem that way as the medium/genre in question starts being taken seriously.

II) Inherent. Sometimes, though, you can't escape it. The early tropes of pulp genres tend to be commercial, driven by escapism and spectacle rather than content, so even just using them to tackle serious subject matter can seem silly. Even in the hands of a great writer, an edgy film-noir story about a man wearing bright red tights will be Narm, though a skilled hand could probably turn it into Narm Charm.

Established settings with long histories are especially prone to Pulp Friction, since writers can't always tweak to suit their themes without interfering with the canon. It's hard for a character to talk about the harrowing emptiness of a potentially godless universe if another writer had them chatting it up with Thor a few issues back.

Keep in mind that Pulp Friction- especially type I- is a Subjective Trope, since it's dependent on the flexibility of the Willing Suspension of Disbelief of the individual audience member.


  • Watchmen induced quite a bit of Pulp Friction when it first came out. It still probably does, but the idea of a serious superhero story is somewhat more palatable to people these days.

Live-Action TV
  • Star Trek: The Original Series. The portion of the description above talking about Cold War allegories and Rubber-Forehead Aliens is pretty much referring to this.
  • The original Land of the Lost Saturday morning show was a Sid and Marty Krofft production with rubber costumes, cheap sets and cheesy special effects. And yet if you look beyond the production values, it's clear that someone was trying to take the show seriously- episodes were aired based on scripts by respected science fiction writers such as Larry Niven. Fans of the original have been hoping for years that it could be reimagined into a serious science-fiction television series.

  • Theater was considered a lowest-common-denominator medium early on in Shakespeare's career, so Pulp Friction is fairly conspicuous in his works. Stage theater is respected enough now for Type I Friction to be absent, but Type II examples are still somewhat conspicuous. Some examples:
    • Characters sometimes announce their own deaths in ways that would be considered campy in any modern work of fiction. ("O! I am slain!" etc.)
    • The shameless use of Anachronism Stew and Aerith and Bob.
    • Shakespeare is arguably the trope codifier for Chewing the Scenery.

Western Animation
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