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TV Tropes definition vs. original/common definition?: Mac Guffin get usage counts

In another thread, Happy Mask Man pointed out this paragraph in the current description:

"The term is commonly misused as an item or artifact everyone is fighting over. While this is often the typical (even the most common) use of it, it is not the defining type ... although Alfred Hitchcock, the man who defined the term, indeed used it in that sense."

This implies that the "no narrative purpose" portion of the definition is entirely the invention of TV Tropes, and not part of either Hitchcock's original coining nor the current widely accepted definition. Yet we're saying we're right and they're wrong, based on a definition that we made up.

So what's the real story here? Is the "no narrative purpose" thing our exclusive invention? If so, should we really be saying that everyone else is wrong just because we say so? Whatever the case, that part needs some tweaking (but obviously, I didn't want to until I made sure what was really going on). My suggestions:

"This term was defined by Hitchcock as mostly "an item or artifact everyone is fighting over, " which is how it's understood in the larger world. But since using it that way here would bring it into People Sitting On Chairs territory, the definition here is how it's generally used throughout TV Tropes."

Or else, at least clarify "misused"...

"The term is commonly misused in this wiki as an item or artifact everyone is fighting over. While this is often the typical (even the most common) use of it, and Alfred Hitchcock, the man who defined the term, indeed used it in that sense, it is not the defining type as we've chosen to define it on TV Tropes."

I just clipped the paragraph. It was wrong.

Beautiful case of raising a bogus argument to counter-argue. Wiki Schizophrenia symptom.

edited 11th Oct '10 6:15:35 PM by FastEddie

Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty
 3 Dragon Quest Z, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:16:14 PM from Somewhere in California
The Other Troper
And again, how would everyone fighting over it be People Sit on Chairs? How could that just happen in the story, and not have a narrative purpose?
I'm on the internet. My arguments are invalid.
 4 Shale, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:19:21 PM from Int'l House of Mojo Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
Mighty pirate!

This post was thumped by the Eldritch Flyswatter of Horror

 5 Shale, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:20:22 PM from Int'l House of Mojo Relationship Status: You cannot grasp the true form
Mighty pirate!
To clarify the term, the "no narrative purpose" thing...isn't phrased especially well, but it's an equal part of Hitchcock's definition. The MacGuffin is something the characters in the story care a great deal about, but to the readers/viewers, it could be anything. If it's important to the plot that the spies are fighting over nuclear-bomb schematics instead of, say, the plans for Dr. Von Crazy's death ray, then the papers are no MacGuffin.

 6 shimaspawn, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:21:54 PM from Here and Now Relationship Status: In your bunk
I hate it when people misuse People Sit on Chairs. It does not mean it's common. It means it has no narrative purpose. Even if the trope was something everyone fights over, which it's not, it wouldn't be People Sit on Chairs because the object would automatically have narrative value. People Sit on Chairs isn't something that's common. It's something that does not impact the story.
Reality is that, which when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

-Philip K. Dick
 7 Meta Four, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:27:18 PM from riding the wave
AXTUCE MUN AXTE INCAL
In Pulp Fiction, the contents of the suitcase are important enough that a trio of nobodies tried to screw Marcellus Wallace over them, and Marcellus sent Vincent Vega and Jules Winfield to kill them and retrieve the suitcase.

At no point do we, the audience, ever learn what is inside the suitcase, nor does any property of the suitcase's contents (aside from its perceived value and the fact that it fits inside a suitcase) affect the plot.

That, I thought, was what Macguffins are all about. They may just as well be a block of wood with a post-it note reading "pretend this is something that everyone has a good reason for wanting".
 8 Dragon Quest Z, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:31:59 PM from Somewhere in California
The Other Troper
"They may just as well be a block of wood with a post-it note reading "pretend this is something that everyone has a good reason for wanting"."

Put that in the description, please. It's great.
I'm on the internet. My arguments are invalid.
Sometimes the nature of the MacGuffin is concealed, sometimes it isn't. The Pulp Fiction briefcase never being shown is just Tarantino lampshading that what it is isn't important.

edited 11th Oct '10 6:33:41 PM by FastEddie

Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty
 10 Dragon Quest Z, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:42:41 PM from Somewhere in California
The Other Troper
The Maltese Falcon itself was also lampshading in another way, in that it turned out to be worthless, and thus it turned out everyone really was fighting over nothing.
I'm on the internet. My arguments are invalid.
 11 Madrugada, Mon, 11th Oct '10 6:44:18 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
But it's a great way of explaining what a a MacGuffin is: It doesn't matter if the audience never finds out what it was. I love the line about a block of wood with a post-it note.
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
The classic Hitchcock definition means the MacGuffin is something important to the characters but never influences the story. The government secrets in The Man Who Knew Too Much, the stolen money in Psycho, etc. You could change the stolen money with government secrets and there wouldn't much of a difference to the story.

The modern definition, which TV Tropes has intergrated into its page, focuses on the interchangable aspect of the item rather than being "important to the characters, irrelevant to the story." As such items that do have an impact on the plot (The Ark of the Covenant, The One Ring) are considered MacGuffin's by many critics and filmmakers.

I think the test is this: You can replace the McGuffin du jour with another object and the plot of the story would remain mostly the same.

 14 Madrugada, Mon, 11th Oct '10 8:12:18 PM Relationship Status: In season
Zzzzzzzzzz
^ This. You might have to make some minor adjustments, like where it's hidden, or how it's transported, but nothing major.
'He strutted across the bedroom, his hard manhood pointing the way' sounds like he owns a badly named seeing-eye dog. 'Sit, Hard Manhood!
So... not a repair issue.
Goal: Clear, Concise and Witty
Thanks for the clarifications! I sort of thought that Hitchcock may've had more to say about Mac Guffins than just "everyone wants it, " but I couldn't seem to find a reliable source. And I think I was a victim of People Sit on Chairs misuse at some point... Or else I just assumed based on the name and how it was used elsewhere. Now I know!

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Total posts: 16
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