Deader Than Disco / Literature

Once these books were bestsellers, and considered modern day classics. These days, however, you'd be lucky to find them anywhere but the bargain bin.

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  • During the 1850s, there existed an entire genre of "anti-Tom" literature (or plantation literature), written mainly by authors from the Southern US in reaction to the anti-slavery work Uncle Tom's Cabin. Such books were Author Tracts that portrayed slavery as a benevolent system that existed for the good of black people, and the arguments against the "peculiar institution" as a sack of lies. Abolitionists were used as strawmen, presented as either misguided social-justice warriors who had no clue what they were talking about (and would often "come around" by the end once they saw the "reality" of slavery), or as mustache-twirling Damn Yankee villains who were out to destroy the Southern way of life, motivated less by compassion for the slaves than by personal gain. For obvious reasons, this genre died out very quickly after the Civil War, while Uncle Tom's Cabin has gone on to be regarded as one of the great American novels.
  • The industrial novel was a mid-19th century genre of English fiction that's been almost forgotten today. Often set Oop North, the industrial novel concerned itself with the lives of the new urban industrial working class. The best-known industrial novel today is probably Charles Dickens's Hard Times, but Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South was much more popular at the time. The reason for it dying off could be traced to higher wages for workers by the 1860s, the diversifying of industry in general and the more modern middle-class which led to a demand for newer kinds of stories.
  • This is not uncommon with various genres of Young Adult Literature, the result of Fleeting Demographics and new generations of teenage readers coming to see the last generation's stories as trite and cliche.
    • The 2000s saw a boom in books about "elite" high school girls. Following the success of the film Mean Girlsnote , books about the lives of incredibly rich, spoiled teenagers became a big market, with one of the more successful examples, Gossip Girl, being turned into an even more successful TV series. However, due to the Alpha Bitch stereotype being so firmly ingrained in pop culture, it is very difficult to make such characters likable or sympathetic protagonists, and the books quickly became Snark Bait among actual high-schoolers. Another reason was most likely the 2008 recession, which made large displays of wealth seem tacky.
    • Teen Paranormal Romance as a genre largely rose and fell with the success of, and backlash against, Twilight, which is described in more detail below. Not long after Twilight became a smash hit, numerous cheap imitators came out trying to cash in on the fad. This caused the young adult sections of most bookstores in the late '00s to be absolutely glutted with horridly-written, cliché-infested Paranormal Romance books. As more and more subpar imitators came out and the Twilight books themselves declined in quality and popularity, the genre all but vanished a few years into the '10s.

    Fiction books 
  • The Clique by Lisi Harrison is the exemplar of the aforementioned "elite high school girl" series and how that genre declined. During the series' first publication run from 2004 to 2011, it was one of the hottest young adult series around, with many comparing it to Mean Girls in literary form (the series started around the same time the movie came out). Several of the books in the series made the New York Times Bestseller List (though frequently for only a week or so), and it received a film adaptation in 2008 starring a then-unknown Bridgit Mendler. Then, almost as soon as the series reached its conclusion, it just about dropped off the YA radar completely, with Harrison quickly moving on to write other series like Monster High and the spinoff Alphas, both of which faded into near-obscurity as well.

    Several factors conspired against the series. Its protagonists were an Alpha Bitch and her Girl Posse at an all-girls school, and with youth bullying becoming a hot topic in The New Tens, Values Dissonance turns them into Villain Protagonists. The writing style of the series hasn't helped either — the whole series is almost written entirely to hip pop-culture references and other things that were in style around each book's publication date, the characters (who are supposed to be in middle school) frequently act like high school upperclassmen or even older (up to and including blatant sexualization, to the point where some have legitimately accused the author/editors of pedophilia), many grammatical errors are present as a likely result of the books being rushed out, and otherwise it just exudes tween pulp fiction (not that it doesn't have its redeeming qualities). Given its long span of publication dates and how quickly it faded into obscurity, it's likely it was only able to grab and hold onto the first round of readers/fans who stuck around only to see how it ended.
  • Point Horror was a line of teen-oriented horror novels written by authors like R.L. Stine, Diane Hoh, A. Bates, and Christopher Pike that was popular among middle school students in The '90s, seen as an "adult" version of series like Stine's Goosebumps. They often had pulpy plots based around teenage girls battling psychos, cults, secret societies, and other malicious forces while dealing with high school life, in a manner reminiscent of films like When a Stranger Calls, Sorority Row, or The Skulls, and were never seen as "serious" literature even by the standards of young adult fiction. While there was once a time when Point Horror books could be found on any teen girl's bookshelf, the series died out and was largely forgotten in the Turn of the Millennium (even as Goosebumps and its ilk remained popular with young readers and nostalgic with older ones), and when it is remembered, it's mostly for its Strictly Formula writing. Unsurprisingly, a relaunch of the line in 2013 (one whose new books were based around the internet and social media) fizzled out the following year after only four books.
  • James Patterson's Maximum Ride went from a New York Times bestseller (even with talks of a movie adaptation) to near-obscurity due to increased amounts of ass pulls, anvilicious green Aesops, and a very poorly done Re Tool to appeal to the Twilight crowd. The final book came out with almost no fanfare. It really says something when its manga adaptation is more well-known and better regarded, to the point of Adaptation Displacement.
  • The Baby-Sitters Club used to be a smash hit phenomenon, with a movie, a TV show, and countless other merchandise. Now it's pretty much unknown, mostly due to aging very badly. There have been numerous attempts over the years to reprint and/or reinvent the series (prequels, graphic novels, et cetera), but all of them flopped badly. The only people still actively reading and remembering the series seem to be snark blog writers. A lot of it has to do with Values Dissonance. Back when the books were written, it was common for girls aged 11 to 13 to be hired for babysitting, which is nowadays seen as a deeply irresponsible (like getting CPS called on you irresponsible) thing to do. These days, tween girls are more likely to have high school-age babysitters hired for them.
  • Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, as mentioned above. It was enormously popular among tween/teenage girls and older women when the first book came out in 2005, and as hard as it is to believe today, it actually received fairly positive notices from critics at the time (though there were dissenters even then), with many calling it a true-to-life depiction of teen angst and romance mixed with an Urban Fantasy setting. Once the sequels rolled out in the late '00s, the series quickly became a pop culture sensation, sparking a boom in Young Adult Literature that's still going strong, with its film adaptations becoming Critic-Proof smash hits that turned their stars into A-listers. Together, the books spent a collective 235 weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List, and are often (together with the Harry Potter books) credited, even by their hatedom, for restoring interest in reading among young people. However, it didn't take long for audiences outside of its Fleeting Demographic — and even a number of former fans who had moved on — to rip it up for its perceived Unfortunate Implications, Narm, moralizing, and general lax quality, with Bella and Edward's romance in particular frequently described as a textbook example of a mutually abusive, destructive relationship (a viewpoint that was notably shared by the actor who played Edward in the films). Hype Backlash also played a big part, especially once the film adaptations and the imitators started coming out.

    Now that the series is complete (both books and film), the books are only ever brought up to mock them and society in general for making them popular in the first place. People riffing on and insulting the books seem to vastly outnumber the people who unironically enjoy them, its depiction of vampires is a common target of Your Vampires Suck jokes in other medianote , and even hardcore fans were disappointed by how the final book ended. The finishing blow was arguably The Hunger Games, which was not only an even bigger smash success than Twilight was and seen as the true successor to Harry Potter that Twilight was originally touted as, but which many people saw as a direct response to the messages and themes of Meyer's books (at the very least, it was often treated as such by Twilight's critics and anti-fans). The first three Hunger Games films all made more money than any Twilight film ever did, and launched Jennifer Lawrence to a level of stardom that the three Twilight leads never even got halfway to. In fact, the series' popularity plunge all but finished off all three of their careers due to their Type Casting, along with killing the young-adult Paranormal Romance genre. The tenth anniversary of the original book's publication saw the release of a Rule 63 reimagining of the story called Life and Death that was met mostly with shrugs and snark, the YA fandom that had emerged and exploded around the series having long since turned against it and moved on to other books, seeing it as a symbol of everything wrong with the genre.

    The decline of the Twilight series also had this effect on Meyer. Her only non-Twilight work that had any success was The Host, and that faded from public consciousness in even shorter time (it didn't help that The Film of the Book bombed). The books themselves and the behind-the-scenes details of them have created a perception of her as a lazy, misogynistic, one-note writer who panders to tweens and uses her books to preach conservative Mormon values (and most likely to vent out personal problems/cry for help), effectively making her a laughingstock.
  • Robertson Davies' "The Cornish Trilogy", particularly the first installment The Rebel Angels. While a few of Davies' earlier novels remain popular today (most notably "The Deptford Trilogy", of which Fifth Business is the first), The Rebel Angels is particularly striking because it was hailed as his Magnum Opus by many critics in 1981, but has now been forgotten by all but the most hardcore Davies fans. There's a reason for that. For better or for worse, Davies was already widely seen as a rather curmudgeonly defender of "The Good Old Days" in his heyday, but Angels was one of the first books where his conservative beliefs really began to take center-stage. His characters' many diatribes about why feminism is inherently misguided and the gay rights movement is doomed to failure might have flown in the 1980s, but they're very hard for most readers to take seriously today. There's also his noticeably lofty view of Academia, with his characters (nearly all of whom are upper-class White academics) regularly extolling the virtues of pursuing a university education for its own sake, and praising the modern university as a refuge for eccentric luminaries who are just too "bright" for humdrum ordinary society. It can be a bit hard to take such a worldview seriously in The New Tens, when millions of disillusioned Millennials with college degrees are struggling to make ends meet, and post-graduate admissions are more competitive than ever.

    Non-fiction books 
  • History
    • Stephen Ambrose was once among America's best-regarded historians. After publishing well-received biographies of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, Ambrose gained a large popular following for his World War II histories Band of Brothers, Citizen Soldiers, The Victors and The Wild Blue. Towards the end of his life, however, Ambrose was increasingly hit with accusations of plagiarism and sloppy fact-checking - especially The Wild Blue, which copied entire passages from Thomas Childer's lesser-known book, The Wings of Morning. After his death, it was discovered that Ambrose fabricated large portions of his Eisenhower biography, claiming to have met Eisenhower regularly instead of the mere three times recorded. While his WWII books remain popular, he's regarded as persona non grata by fellow historians.
    • Edmund Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France is cited by conservative commentators and is still widely read for its prose style. However, Burke's actual reflections on the conditions of The French Revolution are no longer taken very seriously by actual historians as serious analysis on the events. His dualist approach of opposing the maintainence and preservation of institutions against the desires of reform and uplift operates under the idea that liberty wasn't universal and that it only developed in the Anglophone societies (as per Burke's argument) because of tradition. This argument is not true of English historynote , nor does it adequately cohere with events in France (where several Kings and ministers tried for comprehensive reform before, but failed because of the lack of central authority that only came during the Revolution). Burke's defenders have likewise argued that his essay predicted the Reign of Terror, but the Terror was a consequence of the declaration of war (by the very anglophile Girondins) which was likewise supported by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette (aka bearers of traditions), and it was not a consequence of the original reform and protests that characterized the Revolution but contingent to later developments (chiefly the Flight to Varennes, the Champs de Mars massacre, the 1792 Declaration of War). Finally, the essay in question is dated for its rather boldfaced classist dismissal of the entire Third Estate as malicious rabble and "Jew brokers", as well as its refusal to recognize divisions within the Revolution, equating an Internal Reformist like Mirabeau with the radical revolutionaries. Burke's embrace of Abbé Augustin Barruel's spurious Conspiracy Theory that The Illuminati and the Freemasons had planned and executed the Revolution in order to overthrow Christendom also didn't help his case. Today commentators argue that the book's real importance is in influencing other political scientists and the discourse on the Revolution in Europe (i.e. prevent any and all attempts at reform on similar lines in their countries and oppose all measures of equality), but not as Burke intended, as a genuine analysis of the conditions in France.
    • The William Dunning School of historiography, which regarded Reconstruction following The American Civil War as corrupt, harmful, and a failure, orchestrated by uneducated former slaves who were manipulated by white northern carpetbaggers and white southern scalawags. Wildly racist and heavily sympathetic to the South, this viewpoint persisted for much of the first half of the twentieth century (one of the only significant dissenters was W.E.B. Du Bois) and influenced depictions of Reconstruction in films such as The Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. This viewpoint is considered to have significantly damaged people's understanding of Reconstruction, and it fell heavily out of favor in the wake of the success of the Civil Rights Movement, where scholars looking back at the postbellum era found that the Reconstructionists' efforts to prevent the return of racial discrimination were Vindicated by History. While its legacy can still be found in the mainstream due to the popularity of the aforementioned films and numerous other cultural works which espoused the Dunning School's views, nearly all historians regard it as an unfortunate and incorrect interpretation from an earlier time, and its influence on modern works of popular culture has also dwindled.
    • William Shirer's The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, a colossal best-seller which for decades was considered the definitive history of Nazi Germany. Modern historians, however, criticize it for a number of failings, chiefly Shirer's argument that Germany had a special predilection towards dictatorship and anti-Semitism which made Nazism inevitable. His depiction of Adolf Hitler as an Evil Genius who meticulously plotted his rise to power, rather than a shrewd, canny and extremely lucky opportunist, is also suspect. Other writers attack Shirer's vitriolic tone (including use of homophobic slurs to describe Nazi leaders), lack of objectivity, and shallow understanding of German history. Though Shirer's book remains in print, it's largely been supplanted by more authoritative works by William Burleigh, Richard Evans, Joachim Fest, and Ian Kershaw.
    • The Great Terror by Robert Conquest and The Black Book of Communism were once Cold War classics and among the definitive non-fiction accounts of the early (pre-World War II) years of the Soviet Union. However, modern historians and demographers (both anti-communist and left-leaning) have cast doubts on its inflated numbers of victims and its exaggeration of the power of the Soviet totalitarian system (attributing its failings to malice rather than incompetence), and today argue that its main interest is as polemics against communists and fellow travelers in Western countries. The phrase "useful idiot", often attributed to Vladimir Lenin, has likewise proven to be untraceable, and the suggestion that Lenin, whose critics viewed him as hopelessly idealistic, would cynically mock Western partisans of the October Revolution is seen as woefully off the mark.
  • Entertainment
    • Easy Riders, Raging Bulls was once the definitive book about the '70s American New Wave of cinema. Today, it is a rightfully discredited piece of spurious scholarship that is almost never cited by serious researchers. A lot of the assumptions of the book have been proven wrong, and its gossipy nature is seen as sensationalist. It's also been criticized for its Rule-Abiding Rebel nature, vicariously living off the success of the rebellious artists while in the end printing overhyped publicity about that era. What doesn't help this book: the critically acclaimed IFC documentary A Decade Under The Influence.
    • Donald Spoto was once cited as the definitive biographer of Alfred Hitchcock. Today, he is seen by film scholars as a hack who tried to project the darker aspects of Hitchcock's films onto the man himself, and reprinted a number of myths which have been discredited by biographers such as Patrick McGilligan, Hitchcock's own daughter Pat, and new research into Hitchcock's archives. The myth of Alfred Hitchcock pre-planning all his films via storyboards was exploded by Bill Krohn in his book Hitchcock at Work, which showed that he often deviated from script, was not averse to Throw It In and other improvisation from his actors, and that, far from being totally in-control, his movies constantly went over-budget and over-schedule. It's notable that where Spoto's early Hitchcock books were well-received by film buffs and literary critics past, his most recent volume, Spellbound By Beauty, was almost universally panned.
    • Orson Welles was once seen as an egomaniac who thought he was better than Hollywood, and that his best film Citizen Kane was largely down to his collaborators Gregg Toland and Herman J. Mankiewicz. Pauline Kael popularized this viewpoint in her 1971 essay "Raising Kane," published in the New Yorker and alongside Kane's screenplay. Far from being an upstart who thought he was better than Hollywood, Hollywood went to Welles. Gregg Toland loved Welles' theatre productions and volunteered to work with him. Welles was also backed by John Ford, King Vidor and William Wyler. Rather than Welles taking credit for Mankiewicz's contribution, it was Mankiewicz who was contracted on the condition that he wouldn't be credited and it was Welles who finally decided to share credit with him. Today, scholars argue that Welles' real failure began with The Magnificent Ambersons, since it was his first film made without his well-wishers and protectors (who shielded him on Citizen Kane), and that the reason for that failure was lack of experience with normal studio politics.
    • Siegfried Kracauer's From Caligari to Hitler was once seen as the definitive book on German Expressionism of The Twenties, and it was one of the first to take movies as Serious Business. However, Kracauer's sociological perspective, which looked at movies as products of their time rather than works by artists with distinctive styles, has dated the book. Its chief argument, that Weimar cinema's expressionist, violent, and psychological emphasis was essentially Storyboarding the Apocalypse for the rise of Hitler, is seen as simplistic since the Nazis opposed expressionism, and the filmmakers and screenwriters involved in the movement were largely on the left and got purged by the Nazis once they came to power. Fritz Lang mocked Kracauer for slamming his generation for being "the bearers of bad news". Likewise, Kracauer's misreading of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari as an anti-authoritarian film ruined by Executive Meddling was disproven when the original script was unearthed and showed that the Framing Device criticized by Kracauer was absolutely part of the film from the beginning.
    • Marc Eliot's Walt Disney: Hollywood's Dark Princenote . When it was released, it was praised for being a damning exposé on the "real" Walt Disney, but two decades of being debunked by other film historians and people who worked for Walt have discredited its more scandalous claims about the man (racism, sexism, antisemitism). Today, the book is only taken seriously by anti-Disney people as a form of Confirmation Bias alongside Richard Schickel's The Disney Version (which is also DTD).
    • Wired, the tell-all bestseller about John Belushi's drug abuse by post-Watergate Bob Woodward, is now this thanks to the terrible biopic starring Michael Chiklis (which The Cinema Snob said was the only good thing about it) along with Dan Aykroyd, James Belushi, John Landis and wife Judy calling out the bogus claims made in the book. It is today criticized for its manipulative writing that technically tells true stories about John Belushi but ignores the context so it can interpret them as negatively as possibleexample , as well as its extreme focus on the minutiae of Belushi's drug abuse over important events in his lifeexample .
    • The Medved Brothers' three books on bad cinema paved the way for such things as the Golden Raspberry Awards and Mystery Science Theater 3000 (the latter being less mean spirited). The Fifty Worst Films of All Time (And How They Got That Way) in 1978 was followed by 1980's The Golden Turkey Awards — the book that formally christened Plan 9 from Outer Space the worst movie ever and its director Edward D. Wood, Jr. as the worst director to boot. The trilogy was completed with The Hollywood Hall of Shame (1984), a look at Box Office Bombs. Despite their popularity in the past, the books were never reprinted or updated, and have thus aged poorly. Many of the films in Fifty Worst have been either Vindicated by History (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Last Year at Marienbad, and the Ivan the Terrible duology are on the Roger Ebert Great Movies List and The Criterion Collection while The Omen remains popular) or merely been forgotten as mediocre. The book's tendency to tar and feather Cult Classic genres like Kaiju, Spaghetti Western, and Blaxploitation along with much-maligned stars like Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, Richard Burton, and Elvis Presley with representative examples of their work comes off as mean-spirited now, as does the extremely politically incorrect and (by the authors' admission) shameless mockery of both name stars and groups of people in Hollywood Hall of Shame, with a great deal of fat-shaming aimed at performers like Kate Smith and especially Elizabeth Taylor and a takedown of Can't Stop the Music that verges on homophobic (ironically, very few members of The Village People are actually gay, but this does not help), as does mockery of Liberace and Rock Hudson (whose orientations were not public knowledge at the time, but much-rumored). Perhaps worst of all, Michael Medved has admitted that he and Harry didn't even see some of the movies they trashed.
  • Other
    • Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, published in 1992 by relationship counselor John Gray, was one of the most talked about books of The '90s. It was a relationship-themed self help book with the fundamental message being that men and women "essentially live on different planets and want different things out of life." The book sold more than 50 million copies, received constant media exposure (particularly on tabloid talk shows), and was frequently parodied in mainstream pop culture. A heavy backlash hit around the Turn of the Millennium, however, once both its claims and the credibility of its author came under fire. Many relationship psychologists and scientists argued that its core assertion of men and women being "completely different socially, politically, etc." was false and based heavily on gender stereotyping. But what finally did the book in was the revelation of John Gray's qualifications: he earned his "doctorate" from a diploma mill that was forced by the government to shut down in 2000, while his background seemed to be more rooted in transcendental meditation than relationship dynamics. Today, Men Are From Mars... is almost never cited in relationship-themed academic discourse except to critique it, and most professional marriage/relationship counselors have discarded it altogether, citing it as an example of all that's wrong with so-called "pop psychology".
    • Cobb, Al Stump's infamous take on legendary ballplayer Ty Cobb (to the point of an obscure Tommy Lee Jones film), is now this due to Stump's creation of a fictional Ty as well as inaccuracies plus forgeries.
    • A Million Little Pieces by James Frey was initially promoted as his memoir when it was first published in 2003, telling a gripping tale of recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. It got a mixed reception from critics (some of whom felt that Frey's stories rang false) and languished in obscurity until 2005, when Oprah Winfrey discovered it and selected it for her book club, sending it to the top of the New York Times Bestseller List for fifteen straight weeks. Early in 2006, however, The Smoking Gun published a damning report accusing Frey of fabricating large swaths of the story. The backlash that erupted culminated in Oprah bringing Frey on the show and grilling him for an hour over the inaccuracies, claiming that she now felt duped by the book and regretted ever promoting it. A Million Little Pieces, now sold as a fictional novel, has come to be regarded as one of the most notorious literary forgeries of the 21st century. Frey's career quietly recovered, with him having written the Lorien Legaciesnote  and Endgame young-adult series, but his name remains associated with A Million Little Pieces and the scandal around it.
    • Michelle Remembers by psychiatrist Lawrence Pazder and one of his patients, Michelle Smith, was one of the books that kicked off the moral panic over "Satanic ritual abuse" in The '80s. Claiming that Michelle had been abused and tortured as a child by a Satanic cult, it became a bestseller and fueled a Witch Hunt over the perceived threat of an organized network of Satanists committing lurid crimes and infiltrating public services in order to cover them up, while Pazder became an expert on Satanism who made the rounds on the talk show circuit. By The '90s, however, cross-examination of the book's claims against what could be proven about Smith's life from public records caused them to fall apart, and the reputation of the book, Pazder, and the "recovered memory therapy" he used to get Michelle's story collapsed. Nowadays, the claims made in Michelle Remembers are only taken seriously by Christian fundamentalist Conspiracy Theorists.

    Fictional examples 
  • Browns Pine Ridge Stories: The author writes in the seventeenth story that "Maybe collecting turpentine has gone out of style," as a result of it being replaced with cheaper and/or more effective substitutes. Though it's worth mentioning that this observation is not entirely true, as an article on The Other Wiki shows that it still has uses in some modern day products.
  • Isaac Asimov's short story "Blind Alley" (loosely in the Foundation continuity) features a fluoro-globe - that is, a sphere glowing with pretty colors in the dark - which is stated to be "A Galactic fad of three years ago; which means that it is a hopelessly old-fashioned relic this year".