Bless This Trope: Body Swaps

| Friday, July 12, 2013

Throughout the illustrious history of this blog, I've done a lot of posts about killing stock characters and common cliches in YA. I've talked about tropes I find problematic. I've even found the silver lining of tropes I don't especially like very much. But I haven't done many posts where I talk about tropes I unabashedly love. So I figured I'd remedy that!

Welcome to a trope I absolutely adore: body swaps.

If you don't know why this is hilarious, I am sorry.

You might be thinking: "Body swaps? Really? The whole breadth of tropes at your disposal and you love BODY SWAPS?"


I recently started watching Lost Girl, which is an urban fantasy show full of queer characters and people of color in prominent roles and amazing ladies who kick ass and are also unabashedly feminine and a bisexual protagonist whose sexuality is treated with respect and OH MY GOD IT IS JUST A REALLY GOOD SHOW WHY AREN'T YOU WATCHING IT RIGHT NOW. (But I am only two seasons in) (so don't spoil me) (I will cut you).

Yeah. Anyway. It's a great show. Great cast, fun fantasy walking the line between fluffy and gritty, lots of sexy sex, etc. This is all set up so that I can segue into talking about body swaps. The following is a spoiler for a single episode, but doesn't spoil anything about the main plot other than some general characteristics of some of the characters.

In the episode "Original Skin," some mysterious magic-y magic happens that causes everyone to switch bodies. And. It. Is. Hilarious. Ultimately, this is what really tickles me about the body swap trope -- the fact that you already have preset expectations of a character. You've gotten to know them, how they act, how they respond to situations. Then body swaps completely undermine all of those expectations and you're exposed to familiar characters acting like their polar opposite, often to great comedic success.

This particular episode has Kenzi -- the spunky, fashion-obsessed, high-energy, jokey thief character -- switching bodies with Dyson -- the brooding, buttoned-up, cool-guy cop character. It's a joy to read/watch scenes like this because they're so unexpected. It opens up a whole different ballpark of character interaction, ranging from issues of consent (is it okay to look at someone's body naked without their permission if your consciousness is inside it? Not really.) to experiencing life through a literal different lens.

I have seen this trope done so many times in so many different ways, and it almost always thrills me. It can be done badly, of course, and that always bums me out, but nine times out of ten, I'm going to love it. This trope is most often used for its comedic potential, but it can also be used to create a really raw, emotional story. In this same episode, Kenzi uncovers a secret Dyson's been hiding, and it's pretty darn sad-making.

Likewise, there are episodes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer's "Who Are You" (spoilers ahead), wherein Faith forcibly switches body with Buffy. Her intent is to get to live as the girl "everyone loves" and wreck as much havoc as she can, but she ends up opening some very deep wounds and, in several emotionally charged scenes, learns some crushing truths about herself.

In a nutshell, this trope is great for comedy, but equally great for character development and deepening characters' understanding of one another. And man, I just love watching really talented actors pull this trope off. Anna Torv playing Leonard Nimoy on Fringe? PERFECTION.

This trope is not without its issues, like many others. I mentioned consent above, but body swap adventures in general seem to have a real issue with it. Characters insist on grabbing intimate parts of the bodies they're in with complete disregard to the body's owner. Sometimes they even use the body to have sex with someone who otherwise would never agree to it, which is UNCOOL AS HELL (and also a form of sex assault). Occasionally social issues are handled really, really poorly -- no, you do not "understand what it's like" to live as another person just because you spent a few hours in their body. These issues, when they occur, are rarely inverted or explored. So it's not perfect.

Even so, I love the possibilities and outcomes of this trope. There are so many ways to play it. Was the switch an accident? Intentional for one or all parties involved? Shapeshifting spell? Projected consciousness fighting for control of the body? THE OPTIONS ARE ENDLESS.

This is a trope that tends to be better suited for television, since actors often play an integral role in comedic timing and ability to capture the essence of a character they don't usually play. It's also most effective when the audience has had time to learn the personalities of the characters and feel they're well-defined. However, it CAN be done in novels. It just takes a skilled hand.

BLESS THIS TROPE. Here's your assignment for comments today: tell me about a trope you completely, unashamedly adore.


{ Old Kitty } at: July 12, 2013 at 1:54 PM said...

Body swaps!! Like Freaky Friday! My favourite though has got to be All of Me - Lilly Tomlin gets to be in Steve Martin - brilliant!! Take care

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