Cyclic Trope

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. People might be reading this in the year 5070, so keep them in mind.

Some tropes that are cyclic:

  • Action Girl: Status/appeal cycles between Amazon Chaser and No Guy Wants an Amazon.
  • The American Dream: Cycles between optimistic and pessimistic depending on the economy and general state of the union, as well as the racial and/or socioeconomic background of the writer. It also changes dramatically along with the middle-class aspirations of different eras: a modern suburban couple might well dismiss a 1950s suburban home as "too poor."
  • 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.
  • 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). 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).
  • Communists: The portrayal of communists cycles between Dirty Communists, Chummy Commies, or something in between such as Well-Intentioned Extremist. Prior to The Great Politics Mess-Up, the deciding factor seems to have been how good the West's relations with the Soviet Union were at that moment. Since 1991, it's been a mixed bag for fictional commies. On the one hand, the failure of the Soviet bloc means that communists will be regarded, at best, as foolishly believing in a system which doesn't work. On the other, the end of the Cold War means that there is much less reason to have communist villains in the first place.
  • 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 Dogged Nice Guy: Is he a determined and heroic go-getter who happens to be the victim of a bitch who won't give him the Standard Hero Reward, or a creep with an entitlement complex? Both? Neither? It depends on the writer, and what the prevailing views of sexuality and relationships, and gender roles, happen to be in a particular time and place.
  • 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 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.
  • Ideal Hero/Anti-Hero: The two fashions tend to usurp each other in turn across various media, though the dividing line can change as values march on. If the Ideal Hero dominates, writers will introduce antiheroes as a reaction to that until it's impossible to take the Ideal Hero seriously, and then the antiheroes will become a cliche of their own and we'll see a Reconstruction of the Ideal Hero. For example, The Modern Age of Comic Books has generally reclaimed a lot of the idealism of the Silver Age as a reaction to the Dark Age.
  • 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.
  • Male beauty standards change according to the zeitgeist of the era. It had been dandy in the 1920s and 1930s; hard-boiled and strong in 1940s; sporty and fatherly in the 1950s and early 1960s; suave and intellectual in the rest of the 1960s; Hunk in the 1970s and 80s; Metrosexual in The '90s and the Turn of the Millennium, and Adorkable in The New '10s.
  • The Misophonic: Characters under this condition may attempt to overcome their hatred to their specific sounds, and then revert.
  • Monochrome Casting: All-white or all-black casts were the norm in popular media until the end of segregation in the 1960s, when racially-integrated ensembles became common, especially throughout the 1970s. However, by the 1980s the pendulum swung back towards this trope, becomming prevalent until the very late 1990s when multicultural casts became the cool thing to do in Hollywood during the 2000s. The 2010s however have pretty much preferred to return to the trope.
  • 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. Goes hand in hand with Looks Like Orlok. First they did, then they didn't, then they did again, then they switched back and forth a few more times,. Who knows what they will look like next.
  • 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, and later the 90's and the '00s. 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 came back in fashion although lighter is favored in the 2010s.
  • Real Is Brown: In the First-Person Shooter genre, there seems to be a constant cycle between grim and gritty realistic-looking tactical military shooters, and colorful cartoonish ones, which swings back and forth based on whichever the last big successful release was... eg. from cartoonish games early on when that was all the hardware could handle, to realistic ones as they became possible, to cartoonish ones following Team Fortress 2, to realistic ones following the success of the later Call of Duty entries, back towards a more cartoonish look following the success of Overwatch and Splatoon.
  • 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 (along with some people claiming that it encourages obesity), this one keeps coming and going.
  • 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 Apollonian, and chaotic Dionysian. Apollonian Enlightenment is followed by Dionysian Romanticism, which is followed by Apollonian Positivism or Realism... and so on.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Some species are more seldom seen in the media of some cultures and in some time periods than others.
  • Sex Is Cool: First appeared in the 1970s at the peak of the "sexual revolution" to be annihilated by the following decade with the AIDS scare. Open sexuality returned with a bang in the 90s and 00s, but an overuse of the trope has led to another bust during the 2010s.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. 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 '90s 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. In the 1980s cigarettes became regarded as classy once again. And while this trend lost favor 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, although the emergence of smokeless tobacco and the like has made smoking somewhat more acceptable.
  • Space Opera: The Sci-Fi genre cycles between favoring tongue in cheek seriocomic space adventures or more cerebral, serious, thought provoking stories. It really depends on which one the public tires of at the time. Serious science fiction of the Star Trek style with social commentary and realistic science was popular until Star Wars came along. After the conclusion of that trilogy (along with its imitators), more introspective scifi became popular again, especially with Star Trek: The Next Generation. Now SFX action romps are popular again now that technology has caught up. It is observed that whenever Star Trek style sci-fi is in vogue, it invariably goes unnoticed by the mainstream but neverthless enjoys a cult following among serious SF fans.
  • 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.
  • Strawman Political and Straw Feminist: While Strawmen Political has always been a part of the landscape of fiction, trends in what they represent will vary with the times depending on the social climate of whenever the work was made. The Straw Feminist is a specific case of this, with women's issues taking the forefront during certain decades but not others, causing there to be more Straw Feminists in the media of its time. In the United States, for instance, they popped up during the suffragist and temperance movements in the 30's and 40's, again during the Civil Rights Era of the 60's and 70's, and again in The New '10s in conjunction to the decade's "alt-right" anti-feminism.
  • 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 Zdeconstruction—> Mobile Suit Gundamreconstruction—> GunBusterdeconstruction—> Neon Genesis Evangelionreconstruction—> GaoGaiGar
  • Sword & Sandal: Hollywood's on-off relationship with them.
  • Token Minority: into Token White
  • 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.
  • The Vamp: Cycles between blonde and brunette.
  • Western Terrorists: The ethnicity of terrorists cycles according to world events and frequency of use.
  • 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.

Alternative Title(s): Cyclical Trope