Created By: badassbookworm92 on October 27, 2012

Subtext Becomes Text

The subtext of a situation is suddenly made very obvious.

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This is when there's significant subtext to a situation (i.e., characters talking about one thing but really talking about something else) when suddenly something happens that makes it extremely obvious what the situation is actually about (i.e., a character in the previous example says something that can only apply to the thing that they're really talking about). Named after a quote from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Also, I feel like this might be a trope already, but I couldn't find it anywhere. Feel free to say so if that's the case.
Community Feedback Replies: 20
  • October 27, 2012
    Give examples.
  • October 27, 2012
    This seems similar (if not identical) to Euphemism Buster.
  • October 28, 2012
    If a subtext relationship becomes text, it's a Relationship Upgrade.
  • October 28, 2012
    Is this within the context of one conversation or throughout the theme of the work? E.g. Alice has a drinking problem. Bob never mentions this but acts awkward around her and gets really angry when she talks about her pet cat. In the last episode/chapter he flips out and reveals that her drinking is straining their relationship and her ability to take care of the pet. Bob's animosity was only previously alluded to.


  • October 28, 2012
    @Heart Of An Astronaut: Kind of like a Reason You Suck Speech ? Which can draw such subtexts out into the open.
  • October 28, 2012
    Or could something like this fit:

    From Everybody Loves Raymond, this dialog occurs between Ray Barone and his father:

    Ray: When you talk like that people could get offended.
    Frank: What in the hell you talking about?
    Ray: When you say Nancy. What are you implying exactly?
    Frank: That your name should be Nancy.
    Ray: And that's your word for gay?
    Frank: (pause) Very well.
    Ray: So you mean that as an insult.
    Frank: Yes, I believe I do.

    Which is like Euphemism Buster , but drawn out by questioning rather than just blurted.

  • October 28, 2012
    Inverted in a That Mitchell And Webb Look sketch, where a couple are shown having a minor bicker about the husband having an affair, which turns into a tearful, screaming row about the time he left the fridge door open.
  • November 1, 2012
    Ok, my bad for all the confusion. This is similar to Euphemism Buster, but not identical. Here's the example that gave the name, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Ted":

    Context: Buffy is angry that her divorced mother is dating someone, but for obvious reasons doesn't want to say anything. The guy her mom's dating, Ted, previously won over her friends by making really good food.
    Buffy: Vampires are creeps.
    Giles: Yes, that is why one slays them.
    Buffy: I mean, people are perfectly happy getting along and then vampires come and they run around and they kill people and they take over your whole house, they start making these stupid little mini-pizzas and everyone's like, "Oh, look! A mini-pizza!" but I'm telling you, I have...
    Giles: [interrupting] Buffy, I-I-I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming, uh, text.

    The point being, Buffy was expressing anger and resentment towards vampires, but was actually talking about her mom's boyfriend, which was made obvious when she referenced his mini-pizzas. In this example, it's Played For Laughs. Here is another example from another Whedon show, Dollhouse, where it is used extremely seriously (For those of you who haven't seen the final episode of Dollhouse, be warned that the following example contains spoilers):

    Context: The main character, Echo, has had UST going on with a guy named Paul for almost the entire series. In the final episode, he is shot and killed, and because the cast is still striving towards their objective, Echo has not shown any emotion yet regarding this event. Meanwhile, another character pairing, Priya and Victor, were former lovers but are separated because in Priya's eyes, Victor has done some morally reprehensible things, even if he says it was to protect her and their son. Echo confronts Priya about it:
    Echo: What the hell is wrong with you?
    Priya: It's this tech, its been eating at my life and-
    Echo: He's in love with you! Are you really that thick?! This isn't something that comes on a drive. They tried to pull it out of him, they wiped his mind for years, and he never stopped loving you. You wanna kill the tech? Kill it. Shut it down. Lock him out. Give him nothing. [Echo starts knocking things off of tables out of anger] You can string him along for years. You've got years together, and what did you do but waste it. [beginning to cry] Never tell him that you loved him? Never tell him that you're grateful for him? He's dead! [flips table] He's dead! He's just...dead. [sobbing uncontrollably] I never even told him...

    See, about the part where Echo says "Lock him out", all the statements begin to be true of both Priya/Victor and Paul/Echo. There's a subtext to the setting that's fairly easy to pick up on. However, that subtext disappears when Echo says "He's dead!", because Victor is still alive.
  • November 1, 2012
    I see what you're saying. I've definitely Seen It A Million Times but I can't think of any examples at the moment.

    I'd mention in the summary that it's related to Metaphorgotten and Sidetracked By The Analogy.
  • November 1, 2012
    Smither's attraction to Mr Burns. Stated word for word by the commentary in a second season episode.
  • November 1, 2012
    Another very-closely related trope: I Have This Friend
  • November 7, 2012
    Another example: In the recent Hunter x Hunter anime reboot (probably in the other versions, but I can't vouch for them), there's a subtext to the relationship between main character Gon and recurring antagonist Hisoka; that subtext is that for Hisoka, fighting Gon is one of his sexual fantasies (also, Gon is twelve and Hisoka is a fully grown adult man, so extra Squick). It's never stated outright, but fairly easy to pick up on. Until just before the Gon/Hisoka fight at Heaven's Arena, where Hisoka explicitly gets an erection thinking about the upcoming battle (well, as explicitly as you can get for a children's anime. He says something like "its making me hard" and there's a bulge in his pants accompanied by a "Schwing!" sound effect).
  • November 9, 2012
    I'd take out the phrase "suddenly something happens" from the description. I don't think it has to be sudden (it could be that the subtext gradually becomes "text"), and "something happens" implies the intervention of an external event, whereas you're just talking about the evolution of the conversation itself.
  • November 26, 2012
    I agree with Blue Ice Tea. I've actually been looking for this trope for a while. I would describe it as when two people are talking about one subject on one level (text), and at the same time talking about something else on another level (subtext). For me a good example is Serenity (technically not TV, but from a TV show). At the end of the movie there's an exchange between Mal and Zoe. The text is about the repair of the ship, but the subtext is about her accepting the death of her husband:

    Mal: Think she'll hold together?
    Zoe: She's tore up plenty, but she'll fly true.

    Another example comes at the end of the anime Black Butler.

    Text: At the end of their journey, Ciel honors his agreement to give Sebastian his soul.
    Subtext: Maybe a bit racier.

    Ciel: So, will it hurt?
    Sebastian: It will a bit. I'm sorry. I will endeavor to be gentle, though.
    Ciel: No! Be as brutal as you want.

  • November 27, 2012
    ^ We already have One Dialogue Two Conversations for that. --Wait, I think we'd better take that article to TRS sometime.

    I see this title/laconic and can only think of Subtext But Lampshaded. Not separately tropable, sorry.

  • November 27, 2012
    The difference is in this situation, both characters know exactly what the conversation is about, both on text and subtext levels. It's used so a character can express a deeply held feeling about a subject while pretending it's about something else. In One Dialogue Two Conversations, the characters believe they are both talking about the same thing, but are mistaken. It means that One Dialogue is used mainly in comedies, while this trope is used mainly in dramas.
  • November 27, 2012
    That's why I suggested that ODTC needs to be taken to TRS when we get the chance.
  • November 27, 2012
    Tom Ripley's sexual attraction to Dickie in The Talented Mister Ripley seems to have been like that. On the surface it seems as if he is he is simply jealous of Dickie and wants to live his life. However, some scenes, especially one where Dickie is taking a bath and Tom is looking at him, suggest that he's actually in love with him. Then, before killing him, Tom straight out admits it.
  • November 28, 2012
    • This is played with in Arrested Development. The subtext to Tobias' character is that he is gay, but doesn't know it and expresses this by making a lot of unintentional Freudian Slip double innuendos. Sometimes people will point out what he's just said, and how it might be construed (for example, when he sees his wife flirting with another man he says it's interesting that she'd go for someone "so close to my own type") and every time he denies that there's anything odd about the way they speak.
    • The main theme of the play An Inspector Calls is that people must treat each other with kindness, because the smallest actions we take can have terrible repercussions, especially for the wealthy and privileged. Members of the Birling family take different lengths of time to figure this out, and it only becomes text at the end of the play, just before the Mind Screw -y Wham Line

    Stratadrake: but the moment you Lampshade the subtext and admit that there's this unspoken issue, that's a plot development. A character might be facing an issue they tried to ignore for the first time, or might be confronting a loved one about their habits. In some cases the Subtext of a work is never acknowledged.
  • November 28, 2012
    I think I can agree that having two characters in a conversation that seems plain on one level but both characters know the subtext they're speaking of is a thing, but I'm not sure how to differentiate it from Subtext in general. The nature of Subtext is to imply things. Whether an in-universe character gets it or not isn't much of a difference.