Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Apropos of nothing, a quick primer on “Chekhov’s gun”

Illustration for article titled Apropos of nothing, a quick primer on “Chekhov’s gun”
Image: UniversalImagesGroup / Contributor (Getty Images), Photo: JIM WATSON / Contributor (Getty Images)

An unavoidable fact of life is that sometimes a whole lot of people are going to make the same joke at once. It happens, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. For example, everyone you know who writes about or even really likes television has probably let this one fly at some point in the past few weeks in the past few months this year since 2016:

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Well, the joke of the moment—a moment that began late last night and which continues today—is about a principle of drama and storytelling which is often shorthanded as “Chekhov’s gun,” so-called because of the celebrated 19th-century Russian playwright and short story writer Anton Chekhov’s description of the principle. The idea is this: If you put a gun above the mantle in a play, that gun had better go off eventually. That does not mean that any gun that goes off must be conveniently placed above the mantle for all to see; Chekhov is instead arguing, essentially, that a writer shouldn’t make promises she does not intend to keep.

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Not to put too fine a point on it, but in this case, the “gun” is Donald Trump’s reckless, inept, defiantly anti-scientific response to Covid-19. That’s different from foreshadowing, which is more Donald Trump gleefully mocking Joe Biden for his wimpy wimpy girly girly habit of wearing a mask during a pandemic.

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Arguably it’s the second Chekhov’s gun to go off in the last few days:

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There are other uses (though this one doesn’t really track?):

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It should also not be confused with “laying it on way too thick,” which is the Hope-Hicks-is-named-HOPE-get-it? angle.

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Anyway, it’s time for a new joke.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club and The Takeout. Allison loves TV, bourbon, and overanalyzing social interactions. Please buy her book, How TV Can Make You Smarter (Chronicle, 2020). It’s short!

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