Dead Horse Trope

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.

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


  • 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."
  • America Saves the Day has been one since the seventies at the latest; the Vietnam War and an overdose of this trope in the Hollywood of the forties, fifties, and sixties conspired to kill it. In some respects, The War on Terror was supposed to be this, only going to prove how dead it actually is.
  • 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).
  • Bank Toaster: Banks do not give new accounts items directly, instead using a points reward system or "cash back" to let customers obtain their own custom prizes.
  • 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.
  • Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word: "But in this case, it's appropriate."
  • 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 2000s that audiences got sick of it, and 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.
  • 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 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.
  • 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!" 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 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).
  • Dunce Cap: Actual schools don't do this anymore.
  • 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!"
  • Eek, a Mouse!!: Rarely used; frequently parodied.
  • External Combustion: Rather soapy method for dispensing of unneeded characters or faking their apparent deaths. A popular trick in spy fiction, and still going strong today.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fox Hunting: A once-common British sport that was made illegal in the early 2000's.
  • 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.
  • The Greedy Jew stereotype in the Western world, after it was used as a justification for the Holocaust.
  • 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 Sixties 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Mattress Tag Gag: Never played straight — if, indeed, it ever was.
  • Mayan Doomsday: Since December 21, 2012 has come and gone with no incident, any work attempting to use this seriously is asking for mockery. It doesn't help that the trope was a subject of much mockery and dismissal even before the supposed end-of-the-world date.
  • 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.
  • Motivational Poster: Barely played straight to begin with, parodied endlessly.
  • Nazi Hunter tracking down someone involved in the Holocaust, as anyone who served in World War II gets too long in the tooth to be anything other than a Nazi Grandpa. And the generation that would have been old enough to be movers and shakers in the Nazi party would now be centenarians. Finally, the end of the Cold War dramatically expanded the choice of stock villains.
  • 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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 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?
  • Retirony: It's far more common to see this outright discussed, or played with than played straight anymore.
  • 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.
  • Scary Flashlight Face: 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 television censors in the 1950s that was considered kind of silly even at the time. Thanks to the sexual liberation of the Sixties and beyond, it became much more socially acceptable to show married couples sharing a bed on TV.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 Versus 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 "Always Wanted To Say That"-type line.
  • 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 after January 1, 2001.
  • 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".
  • 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.