This is a trope
that goes through a circular pattern of change, eventually returning to its original form after several iterations.
Like this: "Fat Guys Are Jolly
" gets subverted over time to "Fat Guys Are Kinda Sad And Pitiful". After a while at that value, the audience is expecting "sympathetic"
Fat Guys, so it gets subverted to "Fat Guys Are Mean And Greedy
". Once expectations are out there for evil Fat Guys, it gets subverted back to "Fat Guys Are Jolly".
Most cycles are bipolar, though, oscillating back and forth between two opposites that mutually subvert (or invert) each other.
See also Fleeting Demographic Rule
, Popularity Polynomial
. Compare and contrast with Undead Horse Trope
, Evolving Trope
Remember, Examples Are Not Recent
Some tropes that are cyclic:
- 3-D Movie: Started out as "the next big thing", then thrown aside and treated with disdain. Now, it's "the next big thing". This has already happened twice before (first in the 1950s and then again in the 1980s), as each time the Technology Marches On it's revived, gets a couple of years in the spotlight, and then everybody decides it's still not worth the trouble. It seems to have repeated again, with 3D technology becoming less frequent in movies (though the fact that very popular and non-gimmicky movies like Avatar and Toy Story 3 have used it and drawn in more ticket sales as a result means that the trend probably won't disappear entirely).
- Action Girl: Status/appeal cycles between Amazon Chaser and No Guy Wants an Amazon.
- American Dream: Cycles between optimistic and pessimistic depending on the economy and general state of the union.
- The Alleged Car: Depending on the decade, economy/electric cars are either seen as the sign of a thoughtful, world-conscious protagonist or a slick street racing enthusiast, or effeminate crap made by Evil Foreigners out to destroy America, and worshipped by cash-strapped nerds. For larger cars, the driver will either be a nail-biting Badass or a thoughtless conservative who hates the enviroment almost as much as they hate themselves.
- Basement-Dweller: In good economic times, it means the guy is a slacker and a loser. In bad economic times, it's certainly not viewed favorably, but it's cast in a light that makes it more society's fault that he can't get a job / house / whatever.
- The Boy Band goes through a pretty regular boom/bust cycle of being the single hottest thing in music to dormant and/or outright hated to popular when the next generation pokes its head up to see if it's safe to come out. Usually the early part of the decade will have obscenely popular boy bands which will bust during the middle. For example, in the New Tens, One Direction picked up the baton *NSYNC and the Backstreet Boys carried during the early 2000s, who themselves were treading the ground that the New Kids on the Block had covered during the early Nineties, and it's possible to trace it back farther through New Edition, and even back to the Jackson 5.
- Cowboy Cop: Fluctuates between protagonist and antagonist depending on how much "traditional" cops are respected.
- Darker and Edgier and Lighter and Softer: In a market saturated by one mood, a work taking the opposite view stands out and does well, sparking a host of imitators that push the pendulum in the other direction.
- Deconstruction Deconstructing a genre, then deconstructing the deconstruction. The latter then sets the new baseline, which may itself be deconstructed again...
- The Fair Folk, as well as probably most cases of Our Monsters Are Different
- Female sexuality: Since the dawn of time, humans have been cycling though the ideas that All Women Are Lustful and All Women Are Prudes.
- Hair Colors: Hair of Gold, Heart of Gold to Dumb Blonde to Blondes Are Evil and back again, with brunette always being the Foil for wherever blonde is today, and red hair being a more Hot-Blooded version of brunette.
- Hipster: Recurring definition with every generation rejecting the previous batch.
- Joisey: The stereotypical view of New Jersey was never completely true or an exaggeration, as pretty much anybody who is actually from or has actually been to New Jersey will tell you. This trope was used with less and less frequency, until something horrific happened, causing the trope to rise from the dead.
- Knight in Shining Armor: This one's been cycling for a long, long time. It started with straight usage in the Chivalric Romance genre, then was parodied to death by Don Quixote and successors, then returned to favor with Disney and other creators, and has since been deconstructed and bashed so hard that it's difficult to find straight examples, particularly as a lead character.
- Love Interests: Cycles between Proper Lady and Well, Excuse Me, Princess! and every degree in between; characters are Colour Coded Characters, as they cycle respectively between blonde and red-haired or brunette.
- Morally Bankrupt Banker: Popular during banking crises and economic downturns.
- Our Vampires Are Different: Vampires cycle between soulless predatory monsters and angst-filled romantic woobies.
- Patriotic Fervor: Cycles according to world events.
- Raven Hair, Ivory Skin: In older times, pale skin was a sign of wealth and therefore highly attractive: most working-class people worked outside for long periods, developing tans, while affluent noble-types stayed indoors, staying fair-skinned. Then, as beach culture became more popular, pale was out and made way for the Dark-Skinned Blond during the 60's, 70's, 80's and part of the 90's. But then the increasing awareness of skin cancer made tanning less popular - and the bottled "fake tans" that came out as a result looked, well, fake and made people who used them seem oblivious and trashy. Combine that with the rise in the Goth subculture and its embrace of the '50s pin-up girl image, and pale and dark-haired was until recently back in fashion. Since mid to late 2013, we seem to be back to tan and bleached.
- Real Women Have Curves: The attitude that a woman is more "realistic" if she's heavier than the norm. Thanks to shifting ideals about body type, this one keeps coming and going.
- Seldom Seen Species: Some species are more seldom seen in the media of some cultures and in some time periods and than others.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Interestingly, this tends to parallel the political and economic climate of the society generating the works that feature the trope.
- Also related to whatever seems rare and different from the norm, e.g., when any given superhero has an 90% chance of being a troubled, brooding Nineties Anti-Hero, Capes start becoming fascinating to the point of being edgy until they become dirt common then, it switches back, and vice versa.
- Smoking Is Cool: In the 1920s, when most Americans wouldn't even drink, smoking a cigarette was thought to be rebellious - even countercultural - both by those who engaged in it and those who disapproved of it. As a result, it became "cool" to smoke precisely because it offended so many people. A generation later, in the 1940s, smoking had become so commonplace that it was hard to believe it had ever been frowned upon - but the mass media still insisted on smoking being cool. Then, a generation after that, in the 1960s, it was confirmed that tobacco use led to lung cancer, so smoking became socially unacceptable again. Finally, in the 1990s, smoking cigars enjoyed a revival of popularity among young hipsters, perhaps as a thumb to the eye of Political Correctness Gone Mad. Since then, smoking in general has gradually regained popularity in media devoted to adults, as a way to indicate that a character is rebellious or carefree - although it's still viewed with suspicion and disdain in the larger society.
- E-Cigs. Starting from around 2011-2012, the advent of technology where you can smoke flavored water vapor without actually consuming any form of tobacco, nicotine, or any other harmful products has led to a push to make it acceptable to smoke in society again. It's not harming me, it's certainly not harming you, and it's not harming the environment, so then why not start smoking in public again?
- Spy Fiction: The world's current political system determines whether or not Tuxedo and Martini James Bond-ish films or Stale Beer Post Nine Eleven Terrorism Movies get respect from the audience.
- Token Minority: into Token White
- The Vamp: Cycles between blonde and brunette.
- Super Robot Genre: The entire genre goes through cycles of deconstruction and reconstruction. To give a very simplified version, starting with the Trope Maker: Mazinger Z —deconstruction—> Mobile Suit Gundam —reconstruction—> GunBuster —deconstruction—> Neon Genesis Evangelion —reconstruction—> GaoGaiGar
- Sword And Sandal: Hollywood's on-off relationship with them.
- Unfortunate Ingredients: In the '80s and '90s, sugar was the greatest evil. (American soft-drink companies were actually ahead of the game, having switched from cane sugar to corn syrup in the late '70s.) Now, many ads tout the presence of "real sugar" in their goods because nobody trusts artificial sweeteners or high-fructose corn syrup (both are made up of glucose, i.e. blood sugar, and fructose, i.e. fruit sugar, instead, but while sucrose, i.e. table sugar is 50% glucose 50% fructose, corn syrup varies. Typically, the HFCS in soft drinks is HFCS 42, or 42% fructose, while many other foods use HFCS 55 (55% fructose, which makes it sweeter). HFCS 42 and 55 comprise most of the HFCS on the market, but some products use HFCS 90. Of course, too much sugar of any stripe is a problem.
- Western Terrorists: The ethnicity of terrorists cycles according to world events and frequency of use.
- Romanticism Versus Enlightenment: The mother of all Cyclic Tropes — at least, according to some. It is said that there are two trends in culture, coming in waves and supplanting one another: the orderly Apollinian, and chaotic Dionysian. Apollinian Enlightenment is followed by Dionysian Romanticism, which is followed by Apollinian Positivism or Realism... and so on.
- Comics' art style; early Newspaper Comics were a unique selling point (hence "features"), and appeared only on Sundays with large full-panel color. The addition of daily B&W comics along with an ever-shrinking panel size meant that the luxuriant canvas enjoyed by the first generation of modern comics artists would only again be available in the internet era. This led to fanciful detail being first jettisoned in favor of a pared-down Slice of Life style and then to the rediscovery of fanciful detail. Compare the art styles of Winsor McCay, early Charles Schulz◊, and Zack Morrison, and remember that while Schulz' style was in keeping with midcentury modernist trends in design, architecture and "serious" art, he was very much making a virtue of necessity.
- Can't Argue with Elves / Screw You, Elves!: As discussed in the Headscratchers section for the latter, both tropes cycle with each other. For example: many fantasy stories (The Lord of the Rings) use the Can't Argue with Elves trope, human audiences get bored of being continually condescended by arrogant magical races, so Screw You, Elves! becomes popular (Overlord, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim). Many fantasy stories use the Screw You, Elves! trope, and humans appear too arrogant and foolhardy, so Can't Argue with Elves becomes popular again (Avatar). Eventually, we'll likely end up with a kind of reconstruction where fantasy elves combine a mixture of traits according to how the author feels about elves (Greyhawk).