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Chekhov's Red Herring

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When a detail is too obvious not to be significant... but is actually completely insignificant.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
abateman on Dec 9th 2013 at 11:24:42 PM
Last Edited By:
abateman on Dec 12th 2013 at 3:03:36 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Chekhov, master of the short story, gave this advice: if it's not essential, don't include it in the story... But sometimes people do it anyway. A camera shot or line of dialog or other Notice This implies that a detail is significant, either as a Shout-Out, Continuity Nod, Chekov's Gun, or foreshadowing.

But whether because the content it refers to was cut, because the creators are messing with the audience, or by total accident, the seemingly significant detail is never used again or explained.

This usually leads to Google searches and questions left on boards trying to figure out what it means, but as far as anyone can tell, it means nothing.

Unlike Red Herring, this is completely unrelated to the plot. It's not that the viewers or characters are being led astray for legitimate purposes, it's simply an oddly prominent, yet completely insignificant content.

Of course, it takes a Word of God to know for sure what happened, but otherwise, the internet just has to speculate.

In one of the first scenes of Doctor Who NSS 2 E 7 The Idiots Lantern, the camera angle places a license plate in the center of the shot. Given the show's propensity for Call-Back and Continuity Nod, this has to mean something, right? Nope.

Another example, from Doctor Who NSS 2 E 6 The Age Of Steel, is the final shot from the alternate universe, 2 centers on the van's license plate "N355 FWU", which really looks like it should mean something.

In Fallout New Vegas, a number of computer terminals give the option of "Lucky 38 Executive Override", but performing the operation does nothing and no other part of the game ever references it. According to the Word of God, this was originally part of the quest, "The Moon Comes Over The Tower", but was cut.

In Metroid Prime, there is one, and only one, item in the whole game that can be scanned, but doesn't have any other purpose. The subversion makes it worse when the description says "An ornate wall hanging with a highly reflective surface. It does not appear important." This caused many players to waste untold time and return trips refusing to accept that it's truly unimportant.

Feedback: 12 replies

Dec 9th 2013 at 11:44:07 PM

I considered Red Herring, but that is really more plot specific, isn't it? The characters are aware of it. But what I am describing is referencing the choices in filming angle and focus only experienced by the viewers, not those inside the universe. Sort of like Dead Star Walking.

As for the name, I am open to suggestions. It just felt appropriate, even without it being a Who reference.

Dec 10th 2013 at 12:33:00 AM

Perhaps Cinimatic Red Herring for more clarity. Or maybe something in the neighborhood of Ignore The Neon Lights? Which could broaden the definition to include some video game things like the pointless Lucky 38 computer terminal uplinks in Fallout New Vegas or the random scanable mirror in Metroid Prime

Dec 10th 2013 at 4:13:14 PM

This would be subversions of Notice This, in a nutshell.

Also, a Red Herring can be purely something that misleads the audience, without the characters even being aware it exists. It does encompass when the text or camera fools the reader/viewer, so this would definitely be a type of Red Herring — it may work as a Sub Trope.

Notice This Suckers? ("Notice This, Suckers")

Dec 11th 2013 at 2:21:58 PM

How about Notice This Red Herring? Combo of Notice This and Red Herring. Though that does imply that its intentional. I think sometimes its an accident on the part of director or photography team.

Dec 11th 2013 at 11:03:22 PM

Updated a bit, including new name.

Dec 12th 2013 at 2:47:30 AM

Okay, how's this different from regular Red Herring? And concept sounds similar to Schmuck Bait, except for Law Of Conservation Of Detail.

Compare Empty Room Psych.

Dec 12th 2013 at 3:03:36 PM

This name is ... even worse. And this still is not distinct from Red Herring. That is very simply something that looks like a Chekhovs Gun but turns out not to be one.

Motion to discard.