Dead Horse Trope
Nobody told him that Visual Puns aren't funny anymore.

"For years there have been reports of the death of the Western. Now comes American Outlaws, proof that even the B Western is dead. It only wants to be a bad movie, and fails."

A trope which has gone way beyond being a Discredited Trope to where the very act of Playing With that trope has itself become a trope.

The progression is generally:

Clever idea → TropeDiscredited Trope → Dead Horse Trope.

→ Then, if the downward slide continues, it may end up as a Forgotten Trope.

Named for "Beatingnote  a Dead Horse" — an old idiom that describes continuing in a course of action which is clearly pointless. There's no use in whipping your dead horse to make it move faster — that horse is dead; it's not going anywhere.

Naturally, the Dead Horse Tropes tend to be The Oldest Ones in the Book, too.

If a Dead Horse Trope is still used straight in recent works despite seemingly being used/abused to death, it's an Undead Horse Trope. If it was never really played straight in the first place (but everyone assumes it was), it's a Dead Unicorn Trope. If it's so natural to the medium of storytelling that it can still be played straight no matter how often it's used and abused, it's an Omnipresent Trope. If the trope not only makes viewers/readers groan but also makes them angry, you've probably got a Pet Peeve Trope.

A common cause of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, because it's hard to imagine yourself back into the innocent frame of mind when this was new. A related trope is Deader Than Disco, where something that was very popular in its day later becomes better known for the backlash against it than for its own merits.

Compare Discredited Meme.

Please put any examples on the trope pages, as it gets in the way of indexing.


  • 419 Scam: Since this con is one of the Oldest Ones in the Book, most people are Genre Savvy enough to know that there is no Nigerian prince on the other side of the email willing to give you a share of riches for shuffling money around. So when it's used in fiction, it's almost always parodied, most commonly by showing that the Nigerian prince is real, and dumbfounded as to why no one ever emails him back, or to show What an Idiot someone is to fall for this trick.
  • 90% of Your Brain: It turns out that most people do indeed use all of their brain, just not all at once — the same way you won't have every light in your house on if you're not in a particular room. In fact, if you ever find yourself with all your "lights" on at once, congratulations: you're having a seizure.
  • All That Glitters: Don't expect anyone to take this Aesop seriously. More of a Spoof Aesop, if it were an aesop. Famous straight uses include The Merchant of Venice or Don Quixote, both of which were Trope Codifiers. The Lord of the Rings inverts it: "All that is gold does not glitter."
  • Alliterative Title: In Flanders at least, this sort of title is considered to be a staple in Suske en Wiske comics. Putting one unironically makes people think that you are ripping them off. Still crops up in parodies of the comic (such as in the short comic Kinky en Cosy with De Gegaste Gasten).
  • Asian Speekee Engrish has been one for decades due to Values Dissonance over racism. There are Asians who have broken English, very much Truth in Television, but it's not treated as comedy anymore unless the author wants to come off as offensive (or has the Asian equivalent of N-Word Privileges).
  • Black Dude Dies First: After comedians started mocking its use, and general racism decreased. It still occasionally happens but it's not expected to anymore, to the point that most examples are coincidences in modern works (or intentional parodies)... most.
  • Blackface: Rarely appears in modern mainstream media played straight. If it shows up at all, it's generally for Black Comedy (No Pun Intended), satirical purposes, or Deliberate Values Dissonance. It still does occasionally show up in Japanese culture, but even that can be prone to controversy and creates serious headaches for exporters. Averted in Flanders, where slavery never caught on due to plenty of historical reasons (most prominently the fact that it was colonized for much of its history).
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: This trope is only played for laughs now.
  • Bond Gun Barrel: Parodied so many times that it became a stock parody. It's still played straight by the James Bond franchise, either on movies or video games, because people have come to expect it and would complain if it weren't included. If you see it elsewhere, it's probably a parody.
  • Anything with British Royal Guards in London, or Royal Canadian Mountiesexcept in Police Procedurals, where they are depicted more realistically.
  • Bullet Time: The Matrix inspired so many imitations and parodies in the early-to-mid 2000s that audiences got sick of it. Nowadays, it's seen as nothing more than a gimmick. It's still played straight fairly often in video games, though, often as a power-up or Anti-Frustration Feature.
  • The Dark Age of Comic Books: While many series have continued to get Darker and Edgier, the specific stylings of 90's comics, such as pouches, random metal ornamentation, and bizarre headpieces have all been parodied well after they went out of style.
  • Due to their usage as far back as silent movies and early theatrical cartoons, some of the more common Deathtrap conventions are dead horse tropes. Chained to a Railway and the Conveyor Belt-O-Doom are prime examples. The Dastardly Whiplash mustache-twirling villain also present in such things is almost never used seriously these days.
  • The excuse "A dog ate my homework!" is so prevalent in media that even students know better than to pull this when they don't finish their homework. Nowadays, this is replaced by the more plausible "My printer stopped working!"note  The logical extension of this trope, "The dog ate my printer!", has yet to catch on.
  • Dastardly Whiplash: The original form of this stock villain character appeared in stage melodramas through the 1910s to the 1930s, after which it was parodied in silent film; the character has been appearing only as a parody of itself for so long that the parody is now the trope and its origins are close to being forgotten altogether. For the record, even in silent film, the only work that contains a character similar to Dastardly Whiplash at all is the serial The Perils of Pauline, and in it the character is quite different from any later parodies. As Mighty Mouse had several Pauline-like episodes with such a villain (a mustachioed cat named Oil Can Harry), and Dudley Do-Right was a parody of Pauline in many ways, this led to the misconception that such a character was very common throughout all silent films.
  • Donut Mess with a Cop: Many actual donut shops would now face fines or other undesirable consequences if they gave free donuts and coffee to law enforcement officials. On the other hand, this just means the cops just buy the donuts and coffee and still hang out there, so it manages to remain true even though it's a dead horse (cops are fully aware of the trope and treat it with a laugh, because who doesn't like donuts?)
  • Dumb Blonde: Next to never played straight anymore. Between works that subvert it, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to works that deconstruct it, such as Scream, it's hard to take this trope seriously in any form anymore.
  • Dunce Cap: The only time this really saw much use was in the early 20th century. Anyone trying it in real life nowadays would be setting themselves up for all kinds of trouble. Plus, what with an increased focus against bullying in The New '10s, singling out a student and calling him stupid in this manner, even in fiction, would never fly.
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Rarely used; frequently parodied.
  • Exploding Calendar: Pretty much everyone has done a gag at some point or another, making the joke a trope of its own.
  • Speaking of newspapers, there's the paperboy calling out "Extra Extra!"
  • Face on a Milk Carton: Thanks to, in the U.S. at least, the Amber Alert system which allows missing children's names to be broadcast on television or on expressway signs within minutes. You might still see it on Iceland-brand milk bottles, but otherwise this is almost never seen anymore in real life, and hardly ever done seriously in fiction these days. However, they still exist, in the form of dozens of posters (with age progression) at the entrances to Wal-Mart stores and some grocery store chains.
  • Faux Interracial Relationship died out due to better attitudes on interracial marriages.
  • Flashback Stares: Characters who stop to stare wistfully into the mid-distance are more likely to be interrupted by another character asking what they're looking at.
  • Floating Advice Reminder: Except for Coronation Street but that hasn't yet happened.
  • Foreign Wrestling Heel: Due to audiences not generally finding the fact that a wrestler is a foreigner to be enough of a reason to view them as a villain, most audiences find this type of character very difficult to take seriously when played completely straight. Modern depictions of this character type will either be a parody, or at least be a villain that happens to be foreign, as opposed to a villain because they're foreign and just hate America. Another reason for this trope's decline is becaus, for the most part, the modern wrestling world tends to focus on what a wrestler can do, with things like where they come from and what they look like as only a footnote. WWE is about the only major company in the world that still plays this trope completely straight, even in the 2010's, and even their use of it comes with a dose of Grandfather Clause.
  • Glove Slap: Just slapping them is far more common now.
  • Good Angel, Bad Angel: Straight examples are rare in these days. Playing with a Trope is more common: two devils, two angels, convincing devil and dimwit angel, the devil and the angel agree, etc.
  • Great White Hunter: A combination of accusations of racism and of an increase in animal rights. If one such hunter does show up, he'll either be laughably behind-the-times or genuinely evil. Sympathetic versions who are safari guides, game wardens, wildlife conservationists or Steve Irwin clones may show up, but they aren't hunters in the traditional sense.
  • Greedy Jew: Due to the Unfortunate Implications of this stereotype, it is only seem nowadays for satire or Deliberate Values Dissonance. The Lighter and Softer version All Jews Are Cheapskates is seen occasionally.
  • Helping Granny Cross the Street: The only examples you'll see in modern media involves the old lady never wanting to cross in the first place, or crankily belting the hero with their cane or handbag. Occasionally the straight version still shows up in commercials and music videos with a "good deeds, pass them on" theme. There are some real life examples here.
  • Hippies are seldom played straight outside of 60s/early 70s period pieces, having been mostly replaced by New Age Retro Hippies and Granola Girls.
  • Hypno Ray: Along with hypnotism in general, unless its ability to be effective is heavily justified in-universe.
  • I Remember It Like It Was Yesterday as a segue into a Flash Back. More often than not, "it" was yesterday or maybe even "earlier today."
  • Idea Bulb: Nowadays usually has the lightbulb somehow breaking or turning off if they have a bad idea or forget, or using candles or other sources of light for characters predating the lightbulb, or possibly even taking the lightbulb out and using it in their idea.
  • Instant Cultured: Several prominent smart folks have come out in modern times without engaging in so-called "smart people" activities.
  • It's a Wonderful Plot: The original plot is nowadays more commonly parodied (by the world in fact being better off if the protagonist was never born) than played straight.
  • It's Quiet... Too Quiet: If a character does actually think it's too quiet, they're not going to say it. If this trope does get used, it'll usually be followed immediately by something that's not actually a threat making a loud noise.
  • Jail Bake: If you're planning to break out of jail, you'll have to find a more creative method if you need a file smuggled in; modern prisons have metal detectors and anything visitors bring will be searched.
  • Kawaiiko: Now that we're in the age of salarymen, Japanese sex dolls (as mentioned by Justin Lee Collins) and Japanese supermodels like Leah Dizon, this trope is very much now no longer able to be played straight. British magazine Take A Break treated it as The New Rock & Roll, but they were Two Decades Behind - the kawaii fad is known for its flaws and is a joke nowadays.
  • Knights and Knaves: The solution to this puzzle has become so well-known thanks to Pop-Cultural Osmosis that it can't be played straight anymore. If it's used at all, expect the creators to throw in a third guard, or otherwise add an element to make the puzzle much harder.
  • Lie Back and Think of England: If a woman endures sex rather than enjoys it, it's either a signal that she's had traumatic experiences with sex or that her partner is inadequate. Or she's asexual.
  • Lights Off, Somebody Dies: Parodies that have pointed out the sheer amount of Fridge Logic required to make this kind of "whodunnit" plot work means that no one's going to play it straight.
  • Look Behind You: This is mainly for the fact that a lot of problems could be avoided by simply stepping aside, so that the villain could eye both the hero and whatever was behind him simultaneously.
  • Mayan Doomsday: The supposed "end of the world" date of December 21, 2012 is now safely in the distant past, and suffice to say, the world remains intact. It's hard to imagine any works playing this trope straight anymore with that in mind.
  • Millennium Bug: The problem was noticed in plenty of time and a lot of work was put in to make sure things went smoothly (with only two reported deaths). At this point most people barely even remember it, or falsely assume that the problem was never real in the first place.
  • Minstrel Shows: While it would be a stretch to say that racism is completely extinct, the more overt displays of it are certainly no longer generally acceptable.
  • Nobody Here but Us Birds: Fell out of favor after bad guys in 1990s environmental movies aimed at kids started falling for it. The parodies and use of this trope to indicate "look at how dumb those Mooks are" mean that it's never going to be used in any serious context.
  • Non-Ironic Clown: For some reason (most likely because of the cultural impact of Krusty the Klown and/or Pennywise), every clown in these days tends to be scary or sad. Portraying a clown as a genuinely friendly cheerful jester is unusual. Likewise, most fictional priests nowadays tend to be child molesters or otherwise villainous, to the point where a genuine Good Shepherd is rare. The creepy clown sightings of 2016 helped make the dead horse deader.
  • Peeling Potatoes: At least when done by soldiers in the military on KP as a punishment. Mess halls nowadays have more efficient ways to do it.
  • Planetary Romance: The classic version (set in the Solar System, specifically Mars) has been killed by science, and is impossible to do except in a deliberate Genre Throwback that either ignores or lampshades the science. The genre as a whole is sliding into obscurity as well, due to changes in the Sci Fi Ghetto. note 
  • Prince Charming: Time was, every fairytale had a character whose main function was to be a) physically attractive and b) a socially advantageous marriage prospect for the hero/heroine, by virtue of being wealthy and/or a member of the aristocracy. Information about this character's actual personality tended to be sketchy at best, except period dramas. Remained popular through the early 1990s in the Disney Animated Canon. Nowadays princes are just as often clueless and vain, if not downright evil. See Prince Charmless, which is the current form nowadays. See what we meant by the spoof becoming a trope?
  • Racist Grandma: Aside from Innocent Bigots not being acceptable anymore, there is some (inconclusive) evidence that people become more prejudiced as they grow oldernote 
  • Retirony: It's far more common to see this outright discussed, or otherwise played with than played straight anymore.
  • Riddle of the Sphinx: Like the case of Knights and Knaves, the answer to this one has become too well known, and is only parodied these days.
  • Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...: Parodied more often than played straight.
  • Save the Princess: Had its days as an acceptable Excuse Plot in Video Games, but those days are pretty much over. Unless you're Mario, and even then, the newer games in the series Lampshade this plenty.
  • Scary Flashlight Face: Parodies of this kind of lighting are so common that this has been listed as both a horror trope and a comedy trope.
  • Scooby-Dooby Doors: Not even its trope namer uses this seriously anymore. And even when it was used, it usually subverted or played with this every time.
  • Showdown at High Noon: No longer played straight, except in Western films or novels, but even then done as a tip of the hat to tradition.
  • Sleeping Single: An Enforced Trope by film censors implementing the Hays Code in the 1930s. It was considered kind of silly even at the time, and a couple sharing a bed wasn't even outright banned in the Code's heyday. Sitcoms from the 1960's (and actually beforenote ) started ignoring the Code (even considering that TV had a stricter code than film), and this trope died along with it.
  • Slow No: This trope is parodied now, and virtually never used straight these days.
  • Smoking Hot Sex: Two factors work against this one. Smoking in general has become less acceptable in media (as well as simply not being all that cool anymore), while overuse in the 70s/80s has made it hard to even parody the trope without seeming cliche.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: It isn't commonly used in Real Life, despite what stereotypes suggest.
  • Standard '50s Father: The '50s ended, and took the more overt forms of patriarchy along with it. The Bumbling Dad, originally a pretty clear way of rebelling against this trope, eventually become so prevalent in modern media that showing a sensible, competent father (in a sitcom, anyway) is now the rarity. The presence of well-meaning, intelligent (but still quirky) father figures saw a revival in the 1980s, but it has also become a remnant of that period, not to mention some tragedy in retrospective in most cases.
  • Stern Nuns beating students at Catholic school. At least in the United States, nuns stopped doing this a long time ago (and also a good many Catholic schoolteachers are lay people), and yet Hollywood and TV shows constantly act like it's still standard procedure, as sitcom parents often threaten their rebellious teen with a transfer to a school run by nuns, implying that they will be beaten.
  • Subverted Suspicion Aesop - This type of Suspicion Aesop is NEVER played straight- there's a reason that Subverted is in the page title. Sometimes a Double Subversion is put on it, but it's never played straight.
  • "Super Sentai" Stance: Almost universally made fun of in these days. Except of course within such series, and even then it'll be lampshaded.
  • Take Me to Your Leader: Despite the fact that there is some Truth in Television in the sense that an explorer in a distant land, upon meeting some of the locals, might wish to speak with whoever's in charge around here, the form of this where visiting extraterrestrials request this is almost never played straight anymore. This is usually replaced in most fiction (mainly movies) with We Come in Peace — Shoot to Kill- the alien captain will simply vaporize everyone in the room the moment someone says "hello," or he and his unit are mindless Starfish Aliens with no concept of diplomacy, or the local General Ripper will ignore protocol and blast a hole in the alien's chest long before any leader is summoned. When this line is used, it's generally combined with an "I Always Wanted to Say That"-type line.
  • The Talk: Considering the proliferation of the Internet and other knowledge resources, this scene cannot be taken seriously by writers or audiences. Unless it's in a period drama or coming-of-age story set before the Information Age. And even then, the "talk" itself might be either vague or incomplete on the parent's part, or the parent might be so jittery about giving the talk that they avoid it altogether.
  • Tall, Dark and Handsome: More like an Undead, cyclic trope that alternates with Knight in Shining Armor. Because of both of these tropes in combination with The Hero and Anti-Hero, a story can keep the audience in suspense about where exactly it will land on the Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism. On the most literal level, however, this trope is still alive and well. After all, Americans and northern Europeans are on the average taller than other peoples; black and brown are still the most common hair colors; and Hollywood Homely has yet to become a widespread, non-ironic look for protagonists.
  • There Are No Rules: There's almost certainly at least one rule nowadays.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: Never mind that most people wouldn't own any torches or pitchforks anyway, this type of mob is only ever used in parodies or as a gag. Any work that plays mob mentality straight typically involves throwing rocks and bottles, smashing windows, and lots of shouting.
  • Trope 2000: Could no longer be played straight in its original form after January 1, 2001. However, the trope is still being played straight, albeit with larger numbers (3000, 4000, etc.) in place of the original 2000.
  • Utopia is mostly deconstructed in these days.
  • Vampire Vords: Strongly associated with "old", Bela Lugosi-style vampires. Neither the modern "sexy" vampires or the few genuinely threatening ones in modern fiction talk this way, because it's silly. Bela himself didn't talk that way; initially memorizing his English lines phonetically, he tended to pronounce "w" as "wh".
  • Venus Is Wet: Common when the only thing known about Venus was the permanent cloud cover over its entire surface, stomped flat when unmanned space probes reveal that the clouds are sulfuric acid, the atmosphere is largely carbon dioxide, and due to the resulting greenhouse effect the temperature at the planet's dry and barren surface is around 480°C (900°F). Now only appears as part of a Genre Throwback. The few modern stories that still use this trope generally invoke terraforming as an explanation.
  • Wire Dilemma: 9/11, The Troubles and 30 years of terrorists hiding grenades inside dead cows and cars instead of metal boxes marked "BOMB" have stomped this one flat. If it's used at all it will be some subversion, such as all the wires being the same color, or the person with the wire cutters getting fed up and throwing the bomb out the window.
  • Working on the Chain Gang: The punishment was once very commonplace in Southern US states up until the mid-1950s, with Georgia being the last to abolish it in '55. Today only a single county in Arizona remains as the one place that still makes use of chain gangs, although inmates serving on these ones aren't shackled together anymore. Nowadays, chain gangs mostly just exist in period pieces in media that involve prisoners in the early half of the 20th Century. Replaced with "community service" nowadays; usually a crew of guys filling potholes on the highway or picking up litter in the park, but these activities aren't gritty or sexy enough for Hollywood so they rarely show up in media. Prisoners nowadays are more likely to be employed in indoor factories, making anything from license plates to combat gear for the Army.
  • You Always Hear The Bullet: The page mostly hosts aversions of the trope, since it's just not used any more.