Dead Unicorn Trope
Don't be sad — it was never alive in the first place.

A Dead Horse Trope, except it was never really a trope in the first place.

This sort of trope becomes well known from being twisted and played with but was never actually in wide use in its straight form. The Butler Did It and Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 are two of the most well-known examples.

Related concepts:

  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!, where a commonly quoted statement never existed in that form (at least by whomever it was attributed to).
  • Shallow Parody, where a work is spoofed for qualities that it doesn't actually have or are grossly inflated.
  • Windmill Political, where a political threat is rallied against which doesn't actually exist.
  • Newer Than They Think, where the original work(s) are thought of as containing examples of the tropes that were simply later derived from them.
  • This Index Is Not an Example, where an iconic line or scene named or inspired a trope, but is in and of itself not a straight example.

A note for adding examples: Do not add examples to this index simply because you have personally never heard of them. Younger tropers should be especially careful of adding tropes that date back before their births: tropes such as the white wedding dress signifying virginity or the purported stupidity of Polish-Americans were real tropes at one point. Beware of your own small reference pool. Do not add examples just because they were never Truth in Television; they might still have been used seriously as tropes.

Do not confuse for a certain robotic unicorn, or for a Rainicorn. Not (usually) related to actual dead unicorns either.

Contrast Undead Horse Trope.


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  • Aliens Steal Cattle, which is a mashup of the ideas that aliens abduct people and mutilate cattle.
  • Likewise, Anal Probing is not actually a preoccupation in Real Life UFO abduction communities. Whitley Strieber described a recovered memory of it in his first nonfiction UFO book, Communion, whereupon it took on a life of its own. The idea of the hind-quarters, rather than the reproductive organs (and hence, potential genetic engineering connections in the literature, etc.) is due to the media having one thing on their minds far too much. And some think it's quite intentional, to get people to chuckle at what is actually rather terrifying stuff when you read the real stories: a supposedly advanced alien intelligence, behaving in ways reminiscent of Nazi doctors.
  • Zombies eating brains. It was not a part of Night of the Living Dead (1968) or any of the films that followed on it, until The Return of the Living Dead — which was released in 1985, nearly two decades after Night, and was a much more comedic and less serious take on the zombie movie genre than its predecessors or most of its followers. Furthermore, it's almost impossible to find a movie where the zombies actually say "Braaaiiiins." This appears to be a conflation of two unrelated aspects of Romero's zombies: they eat human flesh, and the only way to kill them is to destroy their brains.
    • The Brains thing was a side effect of the writers of Return overthinking the science a bit— dead people, they reasoned, by definition can't produce their own new biochemicals and tissues. This justified the flesh-eating, but also meant that they'd need to consume the specific tissues they needed to maintain. They also would go after lungs when their ability to speak was breaking down and spines when theirs were broken and so on, the brains thing was just the one that stuck for whatever reason. In the actual film the justification is that brains somehow dull the pain they feel from decomposing.
  • The Butler Did It is the most well known example. It does appear in a couple old mystery novels, but is nowhere near as common as people unfamiliar with such novels seem to think. (You will find a somewhat sizable list of examples on our tropes page but almost all of these come from after the twist had already become falsely known as a cliche and are either parodying it, playing with it, or using its notoriety to make it a case of The Untwist.) The origin of the phrase was not a literal description but rather a summary of a far more common trope: Having an unimportant background character end up being the culprit. What happened far more often was the butler had access to the crime scene and knew who did it, rather than having been the culprit himself. See here for more info. It might also have gained some lift from that one incident when a man, getting out of a The Mouse Trap showing (the play is famed for not having its ending be an open secret) yelled in the street "It was the butler!"... while no butlers are even featured in the play.
  • Captain Space, Defender of Earth! is supposedly a parody of the kind of central character who appeared in the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, but that concept never really existed before the parody itself had become a trope. The protagonists of Space Opera serials were typically either heroic everymen (like Flash Gordon) or exceptionally courageous military men (like Buck Rogers or Kimball Kinnison) who just rose to the occasion when the day needed saving. The Captain Space, Defender of Earth! trope is more of a conflation of the Space Opera genre and the Superhero genre, which both became popular around the same time.
  • Chalk Outline: They do not do that in real life. Ever. It actually does contaminate the area and makes it more difficult for the investigators. The trope may be partly a case of The Coconut Effect, as newspaper photographers who weren't allowed to show the body would use a chalk outline as a stand-in, and the public presumably came to think of this as part of the crime scene investigation itself.
  • Droit du Seigneur: It's unclear whether it was ever actually practiced by anybody in Real Life. That is to say, there were certainly nobles who took advantage of their subjects, including to satisfy their lust, but codifying these acts as "a lordly right" is a guaranteed way to draw people's ire and quite possibly invoke a rebellion. However, criticizing people for practicing it goes all the way back to The Epic of Gilgamesh.
  • Dyson Sphere in science fiction: The concept was proposed by Freeman Dyson as a thought experiment on how a civilization could most efficiently harness the energy of its star. The most widely visualized variant is a solid shell fully enclosed around a star with the entire inner surface of the sphere a livable habitat spanning an area equivalent of trillions of Earth size planets. This is actually the most widely publicized visualization, but it's neither Dyson's original intent, nor was it ever that common in science fiction. Hard science fiction writers, at least, realize how flawed, impractical and implausible such a structure would be, and not just from an engineering standpoint. Anything living on the inner surface of a Dyson sphere would be pulled toward the sun by gravity and even if it were spinning, only the equatorial area would be habitable. Most of the time, in fiction, you will either see more plausible variants such as a Niven ring or clusters of artificial structures surrounding a star; the latter was closer to Dyson's original intent. The Ringworld series, at least addresses the problem of how such a structure would maintain its orbit around a star without crashing into it. The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Relics (in which the Enterprise actually does encounter a Dyson shell) actually lampshades the notion that the Dyson sphere is a very old (to them) concept that Picard is not suprised that Riker hadn't heard of.
  • Flat World has, at least since the 19th century, been a stock trope to describe Medieval Morons ignorance of science. In Real Life, Earth's spherical shape has been known to scholars at least since Ancient Greece.
  • Food Pills in science fiction. William Gibson mocked the idea in his story "The Gernsback Continuum," but it appears that food pills have always been used as satire or mockery, rather than being presented as something people might actually do in the future. In fact, the Ur-Example seems to be from the Land of Oz series, where the pills are useful as field rations, but as for replacing regular meals... the one time their inventor tried to enforce that, he was thrown into a lake.
    • The 1930 sci-fi musical Just Imagine may be the source. It was a comedy, but it seemed to take food pills seriously. (The joke comes from the unfrozen protagonist getting used to eating them, not the food pills existing.)
    • Star Trek: The Original Series had one species that used food pills, but this was to show they were out of touch with the pleasurable aspects of life and emotions in general, and the Enterprise crew convinced an alien not to use them.
    • Save The Pearls uses food pills completely seriously, but that's probably among the least of that book's problems.
    • Mystery Science Theater 3000 mocked this: In Brain Guy's supposedly advanced culture, food pills exist, but you have to eat an entire bowl of them at a time, thus negating any advantages.
  • Here There Be Dragons: Not common on early maps: in fact, it's only found on the Lenox Globe (from the 1500s): HIC SVNT DRACONES is written on the coast of eastern Asia, probably in reference to komodo dragons. Roman and medieval cartographers usually wrote HIC SVNT LEONES ("Here are lions") on unexplored areas.
  • Hockey Mask and Chainsaw: This is a result of conflating two popular slasher film characters, Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, into one character with features of both.
  • How We Got Here: This trope is related to the "*record scratch* *freeze-frame*" meme which popularly mocks many movies which open with said sound effects, and an opening line something to the effect of "Yep, that's me. You're probably wondering how I got in this situation." While a common trope as many movies open in media res, many have struggled trying to figure out which specific movies open with the 'record scratch' variant. Cursory research suggests it may have cropped up in the occasional Made-for-TV Movie on BET; further investigation is merited. Commonly-cited examples of this trope in action are usually The Emperor's New Groove or Deadpool.
  • Ninja outfits: The all black ninja-gi associated with the ninja warrior did not exist much in real life. This outfit actually originated in Kabuki as the uniform of the kuroko (stagehands). Although they were visible in their function of manipulating the scenery of a performance, their black color was an indication that the viewers were supposed to pretend that they could not see them. However, whenever ninjas were present in a kabuki story itself, they wore kuroko outfits due to their stealthy appearance, as well as to save money on costuming. In real life, a good ninja would wear whatever would help him blend in with his surroundings, be it a merchant, a farmer, or an average man on the street. Various books on ninjas have pointed out that a ninja wearing a black outfit at night would actually stand out more than if he was wearing a blue, grey or even red outfit.
    • The Ninja throwing star (also known as the shuriken) was not a killing weapon, as is often depicted in "Ninjer" movies from The '80s. The shuriken was a throwaway weapon of distraction. It often was not expected to actually damage the target but to at least momentarily slow them down and divert their attention while the thrower either made his escape or made a counterattack. Shuriken would often be thrown at the face or hands as a distraction to the opponent. Also, the most common form of realistic shuriken was not the the throwing star (Hira) but a plain metal spike (Bo).
    • The ninjatao or shinobigatana is frequently depicted as the chosen blade of the ninja. Modern day ninja exponents such as Masaki Hastumi and Stephen Hayes popularize the weapon and it also frequently appears in ninja movies. However, although there is no historical evidence of this weapon as a specialized ninja sword, it does appear to be derived from the wakizashi and chokuto. More likely, ninja would use whatever style blades that they could acquire. The ninjatao seems to date no earlier than the 20th century and this was after the ninja clans dissolved.
  • Once Upon a Time in the original fairy tales, though many of the Grimms' tales do.
  • Princesses Prefer Pink: The trope is far Newer Than They Think. Up until around the 1950s, blue was seen as the 'feminine' colour - presumably due to depictions of the Virgin Mary. If one looks at the three classic Disney Princesses, Aurora and Cinderella do wear pink briefly but their famous gowns are blue and white respectively. The idea of a princess wearing pink likely comes from Princess Peach. So while famous princesses may have worn pink, they were just as likely to wear other colours as well.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: True femininity being seen as compromising a girl's character is a very real problem in real life but it hardly ever appears in fiction except when it's being used as An Aesop about how there's nothing wrong with femininity, hence why most of the examples are subversions and inversions.
  • The Sheet of Glass is an obstacle that commonly, but never seriously, appears in chase scenes.
  • Synchro-Vox was only ever used seriously in a few animated series during The '50s and Sixties, notably Clutch Cargo and Space Angel. It was immediately discredited as an extreme form of Limited Animation, and was used only for comedic effect afterward.
  • Tinfoil Hat: How many actual conspiracy theorists do you know in real life who wear these? Probably even less than the number of conspiracy theorists in fiction who DON'T wear them.
  • True Love's Kiss: It doesn't appear in as many fairy tales as one might think. It's not in the original Snow White at all - instead, the princess is saved when the apple core in her throat is dislodged. The Disney film borrowed it from Sleeping Beauty, but it's not a straight example in that tale either. The princess wakes up when the prince kisses her - but only because the hundred years of the spell are up. And even then in Snow White the cure for the poison is Love's First Kiss. In the original version of The Frog Prince, the titular hero is restored to human form when the princess angrily throws him against a wall (because... uh...), the kiss motif only appearing in modern retellings of the story.
  • Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000: Ultra-violent video games do exist, but anyone who has actually played games like the Grand Theft Auto series or other bloody games like the Fallout series know there is a lot more to them than senseless violence. Mortal Kombat kind of started the trope, but even it wasn't that violent of a game and the controversy was probably more due to the violence appearing more realistic due to the digitized images of real people being the characters, nor was it anywhere near as over the top as parodies of it were described as. Games like the Manhunt series and MadWorld do sort of fit the stereotype, but they also largely grew out in response to this trope and are parodies of video game violence as well. The only actually released examples of senselessly violent video games played straight is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre game for the Atari 2600, which next to no one bought. To further demonstrate that this type of game isn't anything more than a niche market, the 2015 game Hatred drew significant controversy for playing the trope completely straight before rapidly fading into obscurity upon release.
  • Vampire Vords: A parody of Bela Lugosi's accent from his definitive performance of the Classical Movie Vampire in Dracula (1931)...except Lugosi never talked like that. While Lugosi did have a thick accent, he had no problem pronouncing his Ws correctly. And of course, no vampire talks like this unless they're 1) Dracula, or 2) supposed to come from the same Eastern European region.
  • Voodoo Doll: The "Voodoo Dolls" of popular culture are actually taken from the western folk magic practice of Poppets, using dolls as standins when hexing someone. In Real Life Vodun, the dolls are used for healing.

Stories and Genres:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex refers to this in-universe with the series' subtitle, defining it as one or more copycat activities (any activities, presumably) mimicking an original that doesn't exist.

  • The so-called cliche of Clark Kent changing to Superman in phone booths comes entirely from TWO straight uses in the Superman Theatrical Cartoons of the 1940s. A use of this trope in the comic books of the same period had Superman note how difficult it is to change costume in a phone booth, meaning this was deconstructed even when it was new. Parodies and homages sprung up soon afterward, but in the comics Superman would more often change costume in a deserted storeroom or alleyway, and in the George Reeves television series he NEVER used a phone booth at all. Later uses of the phone booth costume change outside of parody are all done with winks, nods, or other acknowledgements of the 'cliche'. Brian Cronin sets the record straight in his 'Comic Book Legends Revealed' blog here.
    • Also worth noting is that in the 1940s, telephone booths were made of wood with no glass panels. Clark Kent would never consider changing in a glass phone booth (which all parodies use) because everybody would be able to see him change.
    • Superman: The Movie actually pokes fun at this trope as well. Clark is looking for a place to change, notices a phone kiosk (not a booth as such; only the phone is sheltered from the elements), and gives it a strange look before "changing" thanks to a revolving door. This particular trope is so well known that its inclusion as a gag in the movie was guaranteed to get audiences to laugh.
    • Another supposed classic element of the Superman mythos is that Lois Lane has no idea that Clark Kent and Superman are one and the same and that she is easily fooled by a pair of glasses. What makes this ironic is that Lois is the character in the comics who is most certain Clark is Superman and that between the 40s and 90s every other Superman story had Superman use some elaborate scheme involving robots, optical illusions, Bruce Wayne wearing a Clark Kent disguises and so forth in order to throw Lois off the scent. After the early 90s most continuities have her completely in the know.
  • The idea of Batman being a grim, brooding Crazy-Prepared semi-madman is both an inversion and a subversion of this trope. The Batman of the 40s was a bit of a homicidal maniac, but the Batman we've all come to know and love was more or less a straight-laced Boring Invincible Hero. The Batman that most people remember was the Silver Age version, who often got involved in silly situations, and the Super-Friends version who couldn't be called "grim", "brooding" or "dark" at all. It was probably the 1986 graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns that really brought Batman's darkness to the fore, and since that was one of the stories that inspired Tim Burton's 1989 film, that's the version that is popularly thought of nowadays.

  • Despite what all the numerous campy homages to silent cinema tell you, the Dastardly Whiplash was barely ever used, much less in its iconic form, in silent film. It was mostly used in vaudeville and stage melodramas of the day, which was where the overuse really came about and led to all the parodies of the concept, even though the trope was as dead as disco by the time the 1930s hit. The only significant use of the trope in silent movies was in The Perils of Pauline, but even that example is quite different from the standard whiplash stereotype.
  • Frankenstein:
    • The idea of The Igor comes from conflating Dr. Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant in the first movie (Fritz) and Ygor from the third and fourth movies — a non-hunchbacked (though broken-necked, which caused him to carry one shoulder higher) schemer who wanted to reanimate the monster for his own personal gain. Neither of them were in the original book— although after seeing Young Frankenstein one gets the feeling that if Igor didn't exist it would be necessary to invent him.
    • In the same way, the idea that the monster is a child-minded Gentle Giant. He was like this at the beginning of the book, but then he learned how to speak, and began to question his own existence. The movie (which followed the simplified play more than the book) never got that far, but from that point on, everyone imitated the movie.
  • During the heyday of the "quirky indie" style of movie, parodies and jokes about it often included barbs about them always featuring a guy hooking up with a gorgeous girl far out of his league. But while this is a common sitcom trope, it doesn't describe these movies too well. Usually in such films the female lead is a more down to Earth, cute Moe type, with the male often the equivalent; he may not meet the conventional standards of "handsome", but is not unattractive (considering he's often played by Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Paul Dano or Joseph Gordon-Levitt...). It tends to be more about the social (not socioeconomic) status of the characters. They aren't cool enough. In silent and early sound films it is socioeconomic; a working class guy tries to succeed to become worthy of a higher-class woman. (She already loves him. The one he has to impress is her father.)
  • Pop culture zombie tropes have almost nothing to do with the African/Caribbean legends—in these traditions zombies are corpses resurrected by magicians to be slaves. These zombies will not attack you (unless, presumably, their masters order them to) and can't "spread" their condition to you. The threat of becoming a zombie is scary, but the idea that the zombies themselves hurt people has no basis in folklore. Likely it's a misappropriation of Ghouls in legend, undead who would, sure enough, eat people. In fact, at no point in Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the word "zombie" spoken, but "ghoul" is (the ending credits does list "featured zombies" though). The fans ran with zombies, though, and the term stuck as the film spawned an entire genre.
  • Many parodies and pastiches of Jason Voorhees, villain of the Friday the 13th films, show him wielding a chainsaw, even though his favorite weapon in the movies is just a machete. Indeed, he has never used a chainsaw for any purpose — the closest he came was using a circular saw once (and interestingly, a chainsaw is used against him in the second movie). Most likely, his attributes are being mixed up, intentionally or otherwise, with those of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Many parodies of the Terminator have the character as a Dumb Muscle. In the original film, the Terminator was actually very intelligent, and in fact this was a big part of what made it so threatening. It knew to retreat from a bad situation, how to repair itself when damaged, find its target via the phonebook, and at one point it even imitates the voice of her mother over the phone to trick her into revealing her location.
  • The popular belief that the word cards for silent movies constantly employed Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. While occasionally words might pop up that aren't commonly used anymore, most silent films were very visually-driven, kept the dialog very simple, and only used word cards to move the plot along.
  • All parodies of/homages to Film Noir have moody jazz scores, but the real classic Noirs from the 1940s had the typical orchestral scores of that period of Hollywood music. It was the late 50s-early 60s TV shows inspired by Film Noir (like Peter Gunn) that used jazz. This article explains it in detail.
  • Most parodies of Godzilla and other classic Kaiju films tend to mock concepts that never actually existed in the genre. Perhaps the most stubborn myth is that the miniature cities destroyed by the monsters were constructed quickly using cardboard and not really meant to be convincing. In reality, the miniatures in even the worst Godzilla films are easily the most expensive and time-consuming element of the production (just one of these sets could take up to 35,000 man hours to build), as they were lavishly detailed and built using the same materials as real buildings, mostly wood and plaster. Also, the commonly-mocked scene of a crowd of Japanese pedestrians running down the street while pointing back at the monster and yelling "RUN! IT'S [NAME OF MONSTER!]" rarely, if ever happens in a real kaiju movie despite being nearly universal in parodies of the genre.
  • The notion that in James Bond films the villain always tells Bond what his evil plan is is not entirely accurate, as often Bond already knows or has figured out what the plan is already, and the villain is just filling in some details (usually for the benefit of the audience). Indeed, on several occasions it is Bond who actually explains the evil plan to the villain, often to stroke / poke at their ego or to distract them to buy time or get them to drop their guard.
  • "In a World......" is THE most clichéd way to open a movie trailer, but the number of actual, non-spoof trailers that use the phrase at all is smaller than one would think, and ones that actually open with it are rarer still.
  • The notion that characters in The Western wear hats that are Color-Coded for Your Convenience (heroes wearing white hats and villains wearing black hats) was never really a thing, except for children's shows. All the way back to The Great Train Robbery hat colors were fairly evenly distributed, and once films went to color most characters had brown hats in any case. The trope was invented in the 90s, mostly to mock the Black and White Morality of many westerns.
    • Similarly, the gunslinger's Famous Last Words of "Oh, they GOT me!" was used mainly in parody and lighthearted fare, and nothing serious.

    Adult Films 
  • Some pornographic films advertise that they do not use the missionary position, as everyone is tired of that because it is so common. However, the missionary position is actually avoided for the fairly obvious reason that it's difficult to see the woman's "assets" if the actors are smooshed against each other (for the same reason, reverse cowgirl, rear-entry, and anal are far more popular in porn than in real life). Also, during the missionary position it's easier to see the man than the woman, which is exactly what porn aimed at straight men (which the majority is) wants to avoid. Using it would actually be a subversion.

  • Fairy Tales and their supposed idealism and inevitable happy endings are commonly mocked and "deconstructed," most people being unaware that the real stories were often violent, cynical and depressing. Something of a Cyclic Trope, since the original stories had such a grim tone, before being bowdlerized and Disneyfied because Children Are Innocent (which is in itself an example of this trope), causing the stories to end up in an Animation Age Ghetto, which left them filled with Fridge Logic and other ripe fodder for deconstruction.
    • And on the other end of the spectrum, the belief that all fairytales were "originally" gory grimdark horror stories before their Disneyfication. Some were gory by modern standards and there's a lot of Values Dissonance, but overall it's not as bad as many people make it out to be. For instance, Disney's Cinderella is frequently claimed to have bowlderized the darker Brothers Grimm version, even though the Disney film opens with a disclaimer that it's based on Charles Perrault's version, which predates the Grimms' version by over a century.
    • One of the most egregious examples of a Dead Unicorn Trope via Disneyfication is True Love's Kiss. Fairy Tales such as Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs did originally involve romance and kissing, but not as their central focus or Deus ex Machina. In the Grimms' version of Sleeping Beauty, the title character and her kingdom do awaken after the prince kisses her, but the kiss is not what breaks the spell - they awaken simply because the hundred years of sleep designated by the spell are over that day; the prince just happens to be in the right place at the right time. In the original proto-version of Sleeping Beauty, the princess awakened after the prince "made love" to her, she gave birth to children, and one of them sucked the poisoned needle out of her thumb. And in the original version of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White awoke from her enchanted sleep after the Prince accidentally dropped her coffin, dislodging the chunk of poisoned apple stuck in her throat. There was always kissing in Fairy Tales, but the power of the kiss has been inflated via Disneyfication and the words "true love" added.
    • For some reason, knights in shining armor rescuing distressed damsels from dragons is commonly associated with fairytales, even though this is rather rare, appearing only twice in the works of The Brothers Grimm.
    • Unicorns are even more rare. The Brave Little Tailor, one of their rare appearances, has not the delicate and pure creature but the fierce and dangerous version of actual medieval legend.
    • The Fairy Godmother is extremely rare and appears to have been introduced from literary variants. Sleeping Beauty is often just the victim of a prophesied fate. Cinderella is generally helped by her dead mother in some way, or by some magical beings whose good will she's earned.
  • At one point in the The Tough Guide to Fantasyland the author comments on a sort of gender-based Wacky Wayside Tribe plot/setting, in which while boys do one thing, girls get to bond with dragons. The thing is, that while there are books with female Dragon Rider characters (i.e. Dragonriders of Pern), there doesn't seem to be any series in which that was an exclusively female activity - it's closer to exclusively male in the Pern booksnote , and the Pit Dragon Chronicles likewise features males making that bond, and all of these books were written before the Guide was published. It is worth noting, however, that the author of the Tough Guide wrote it after reading umpteen Tolkien-esque, Tolkien-length novels as a judge in a contest. She was probably not referring to any published books when she wrote this.
  • Many of the entries in Roger Ebert's Movie Glossary could qualify as Dead Unicorns. Particularly the idea of being able to hide in a St. Patrick's Day parade at any time of the year. Also, Fruit Cart!

    Live-Action TV 
  • MythBusters made reference to one when tackling the (busted) myth that steel-toed boots could actually sever toes instead of protecting them. Adam commented about "samurai movies" where the tip of someone's boot would be cut off, except the toes are intact right behind where the tip was severed. This is actually a somewhat common comedy trope, but its appearance in a "samurai movie" is highly dubious at best (what with the characters wearing sandals and all).
    • Mythbusters does this a lot, actually, especially in recent seasons. Since almost all the more well-known myths have been tested over the course of the show's eight seasons, the show has used much more obscure ones to keep things going.
    • Since firing their folklorist, the show has been more about finding out what is possible than setting the record straight.
    • Speaking of Samurai, Japanese armor was never made of lacquered wood despite many claims to the contrary - it was usually various types of leather, iron, and eventually steel armor, with plenty of silk cording to tie it together. note 
      • Or, to put it another way, there was such a thing as wood-crafted ceremonial armor, but mistaking it for the real thing is akin to thinking that European knights rode into battle in ruffled collars and ring-covered hands.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Not many of the Doctor's companions actually twisted an ankle, and very few were helpless screaming women. In fact, Susan is the only one that comes to mind, and she did both. And even Susan shared the TARDIS with another female companion, Barbara, a strong-willed teacher who Minored In Ass Kicking. In the 60s, the Doctor filled his TARDIS with rotating man/woman pairs, with occasionally a younger 'child' character to round the team out, and the sole female companion only became the norm in the 1970s. Much of this is because there were women in similar science fiction shows at the time who were pointless Ms. Fanservice damsels (see the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Science Fiction Sketch" for an example of a parody) and the memory cheats. Unfortunately, memory often cheated the producers - new companions were usually promoted in Radio Times with promises that they weren't just screaming girls like in the old days, and Mel was introduced as something of a "homage" to the companions of the 1960s, but was more like John Nathan Turner's version of a B-Movie Scream Queen - it's fair to say no character like her had ever appeared in the series before.
    • The line about Daleks being unable to climb stairs was trotted out right up until their return in 2005, even though it was implicitly obvious they could in the 1960s and actually shown on screen in the 1980s. In fact in the Daleks' second appearance (in the Dalek Book) they were shown flying with transpolar discs.
    • People often misremember Doctors' personalities. William Hartnell is remembered overwhelmingly as being grumpy and a Token Evil Teammate when he spent more of his tenure being silly, grandfatherly and giggling about one of his schemes. Patrick Troughton is remembered as the giddy, recorder-playing fool he was in "The Three Doctors" rather than the often detached and authoritative character he was. Tom Baker is much more associated with his Cloud Cuckoo Lander Invincible Hero characteristics despite spending most of his tenure as a gothic, detached Byronic Hero who could be as disturbing as he was silly. And Peter Davison is often decried as being a Good Is Boring Nice Guy despite being a Deadpan Snarker Determinator who was much more likely to just shoot the monster than most other Doctors. Much of this is down to gimmicks being remembered better than a whole portrayal, or disproportionate weight given to certain eras and scenes.
    • Robert Holmes is stereotyped as always using Obstructive Bureaucrats as lead villains. He only had them as lead villains in "Carnival of Monsters" and "The Sunmakers", both stories of which use settings where this would be unavoidable (Customs officials and a taxation dystopia). Usually, his lead villains were more dynamic types - even in "The Deadly Assassin", which was much criticised for turning Gallifrey into a bureaucratic parliament, the bureaucratic Time Lords are Lawful Neutral at worst; the villainous Time Lords are a slick and ambitious man of action and a hissing zombie.
    • The idea that Doctor Who always takes place in Victorian Britain, or with 'Space Victorians', or Steampunk, etcetera. In the Classic series, we first visit the Victorian era (relatively briefly) in "The Evil of the Daleks" in Season 4, and we don't go back until "The Talons of Weng-Chiang" in Season 14 (which used every Victorian London trope going). Then "Timelash" in Season 23 and "Ghost Light" in Season 26 started using the setting with a self-aware vibe of it being deliberate Doctor Who cliché. ("The Next Doctor" pulls out all the Victorian London / Steampunk stops, beginning with that first lavish Dickensian Christmas Eve setting.) The Revival series embraced this with gusto, in particular having the Eleventh Doctor retire to live with a Sontaran and Silurian in Victorian London for a plotline on the grounds that it's a "default" setting. Presumably, the Doctor's Victorian fashion sense gave the idea that he hangs around there more than he does...
    • The Classic show wasn't entirely sexless until it became an Enforced Trope in the 80s, by which time the Doctor's Asexuality was already a meme. The Doctor did not kiss his companions, and the show was not focused on romance at all, but UST was omnipresent and innuendo was common. Each of the first four Doctors got at least one story where they would be allowed to flirt with a pretty girl, or be distracted by one; Implied Love Interest relationships and Ship Tease moments between the Doctor and his companion were common throughout the 70s;note  and the First Doctor was introduced with a granddaughter (along with the implications of what sort of actions someone would have had to have done to get a granddaughter) and even got engaged to a Girl of the Week in one story. The idea was not supposed to be that the Doctor had no sexual feelings - just that the show wasn't about that sort of thing, and so it wouldn't make sense to include a Token Romance. Nevertheless, fandom memory holds that the Doctor was Not Distracted by the Sexy (and possibly without the relevant parts) until the New series decided to make him into a Chick Magnet, and jokes to this extent have been made on the show.
    • Which brings us to the new series' much-talked-about reversal of his asexuality. Honestly, mostly he's getting kissed by someone else and is totally bewildered by it, and for someone who's suddenly shagging everybody, his lack of sexual interest has been made more explicit than ever (genuinely not understanding why someone would want to put Dark Water, which makes non-organic material invisible, in a swimming pool, immediately dismissing Amy's coming onto him on the grounds that it would never work with someone as old and alien as him, spending a lot of the Rose Tyler seasons at UST critical mass but only the part-human clone Doctor being able to go into a full Relationship Upgrade, River Song of all people genuinely believing that though she loved him, she didn't truly matter that much to him because "you don't expect a sunset to admire you back"). There has been a definite increase of flirtatious banter, and that "getting surprise-snogged" thing is a big-time Running Gag, but a misunderstanding of both eras has led to the misconception of "ultimate asexual turned ultimate manwhore."
  • Anything related to Game Shows:
    • The "Guy Smiley" stereotype of game show hosts as always-smiling Large Hams who give a "slimy used-car salesman" vibe, crack awful jokes, and wear loud, flashy suits. Most of the genre's greats were a bit goofy and loud at times, with Jim Perry being the codifier of the stereotype, but even he, along with party animals like Gene Rayburn, or slicker types like Wink Martindale or Monty Hall knew when to put on a serious demeanor. The "Guy Smiley" type host is an extreme Flanderization of the aforementioned hosts, with a few traits thrown in just for comedy. Prolific host Bill Cullen was mellow, unattractive (at least in his later years), kindly, self-deprecating, and physically handicapped by polio — in other words, about as far from the "Guy Smiley" stereotype as possible. But that image is so ingrained in the American consciousness that it inspires things like this ... talk about Truth In Television.
    • The deep, melodramatic voice that most "parody" game show announcers have is actually based more on comedy announcers like Gary Owens (the announcer for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, the #1 show on the air in the late-1960s) as opposed to any actual game show announcers. Don Pardo had a deep, dramatic voice, but it was authoritative and exciting without being over-the-top, in addition to sporting an obvious New England accent. (That, and 99% of his game show career was before 1975.) In fact, most game show announcers sound absolutely nothing like that. Most had much higher pitched voices (e.g., Johnny Olson, Rod Roddy, or Johnny Gilbert), while quite a few were much mellower (such as Gene Wood, Jack Clark, Charlie O'Donnell, or John Harlan). Burton Richardson almost played this kind of voice straight for a while.
    • Cheap, chintzy sets that look like they were scavenged from a backwater cable access channel's news program. Sure, maybe in the olden days, back when TV was predominantly black and white, the sets weren't much to write home about, but they went all-out a lot earlier than many people think. You know that gigantic tic-tac-toe board on The Hollywood Squares? That thing first came to be in 1966. The sprawling, three-doors-and-a-turntable set of The Price Is Right? 1972. The massive contestant turntable on Match Game? 1973. That one probably came about due more to the budgets of the sources of the parodies. It's much harder to justify a flashy set when it's only going to be used for one episode of a three-camera sitcom.
    • Having the audience shout the show's name in the intro. Wheel of Fortune and Scrabble are the only shows that have ever played this straight (although the 1985 show Break the Bank did it when throwing to commercial), and even then, Wheel's chant has been the same pre-recorded one on all but a handful of occasions.

  • Country Music songs being about dogs and/or trucks. While they may be mentioned in passing, they're virtually never the primary topic.
    • Mocked by David Allan Coe on "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" in which he addresses the listener:
    Well a friend of mine named Steve Goodman wrote that song, and he told me it was the perfect country and western song.
    I wrote him back a letter and told him it was not the perfect country and western song because it hadn't said anything at all about "Mama", or trains... or trucks... or prison... or gettin' drunk.
    Well he sat down and wrote another verse to the song and he sent it to me. After readin' it I realized that my friend had written the perfect country and western song. And I felt obliged to include it on this album; the last verse goes like this here:
    Well I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison
    And I went to pick her up in the rain
    But before I could get to the station in my pickup truck
    She got run'd over by a damned ol' train
    • This is interesting, as British musical comedian Jasper Carrott performed an identical routine about country music with a very similar song.
    • Similarly, there is a widespread view that country songs typically feature a slow, maudlin list of problems (my wife left me, my truck broke down, my dog died - we all know the old joke about what happens when you play a country song backwards). While there are a few songs in existence that fit this description (e.g. "Things Have Gone to Pieces" and "These Days I Barely Get By", both recorded by George Jones), they are nowhere near as common as supposed. There is a kernel of truth in this stereotype in that country songs often deal with depressing, real-world subjects, but they are almost never structured in this manner.
      • There are, however, quite a few blues songs that follow that structure. Almost none of them start "I woke up this morning", though.note 
    • The real Dead Horse Trope in country music is Your Cheating Heart. By the 1970s you started hearing songs about cheating songs, and by the 1980s they pretty much disappeared.
    • Interestingly, the wave of party-themed "bro-country" songs in The New '10s seems to have turned "country songs about trucks" into an actual trope, as many such songs take place in a truck bed or on a tailgate, or at least mention it prominently.
  • To the general public, Nu Metal means vocals that switch from singing to screaming with occasional rapping, murky downtuned guitars, funk-influenced slap-style bass playing, throaty pseudo-growls, DJ scratching provided by a turntablist as a band member, varying degrees of electronic manipulation, no guitar solos, and a focus on painful experiences and personal crises. In reality, all the qualities put together to make a "pure" Nu Metal band simply do not exist outside of parody. In fact, there's really no such thing as a "pure" nu metal band as it isn't really a coherent genre, but rather a basic template to add on to or remove as each band sees fit. Under the umbrella of nu metal, its produced styles as diverse as groovy alternative metal (Korn), experimental shoegazing (Deftones), funky hip-hop-influenced rap metal (Limp Bizkit), pop-punk-rap-grunge-comedy-rock (Guano Apes), death metal-influenced groove metal (Slipknot), dancehall-influenced reggae metal (Skindred), industrial-bent hard rock (Disturbed), electronic rap rock (Linkin Park), alt-metal influenced post-grunge (Trapt), and gothic/symphonic/alternative rock (Evanescence). You're starting to get the idea here. The tendency for bands classed as nu metal to not sound like other bands can lead to frustrating scenarios where people try to deny a band being nu metal because they don't have the "stereotypical" aspects (happens a lot with Slipknot), or band being lumped in as nu metal for playing alternative metal or progressive metal (like System of a Down).
    • "Nu-metal bands never have guitar solos, but some do" (This is actually only true of a handful of bands who just happen to be labeled nu-metal. Many famous nu-metal bands do feature guitar solos, albeit somewhat short ones. Even Limp Bizkit had a couple of brief guitar solos.)
    • "All nu-metal bands rap, but some don't" (Korn, most obviously, as well as System of a Down, Disturbed, Trapt, Evanescence etc.)
      • And even Korn made some use of rapping, as on the rap battle with Fred Durst, "All in the Family", and guest vocals from Nas and Ice Cube.
    • "Every nu-metal band whines about something, but not all of them" (Deftones)
    • "All nu-metal bands use seven-string guitars (Korn, Deftones, early Limp Bizkit), except when they don't (most nu-metal bands use downtuned six-strings)
    • "Nu-metal bassists play slap technique, some play other styles, and some rarely, if ever, use the slap technique" (The Gazette)
    • "Some nu-metal bands play electronica (Linkin Park) while others have a more industrial-bend" (early Disturbed)
    • "Nu-metal vocalists either have a low, scratchy grunt (Slipknot, Soulfly) or a clean-sounding, boyish voice (Lostprophets, Linkin Park)"
    • "Culturally, nu-metal lives on the gritty aggression of American machismo and yet some bands are influenced by foreign musical styles" (P.O.D., Ill Nino, Sepultura and Soulfly throw in Latino influences, while Dir en grey draw inspiration from traditional Japanese music)
    • "All nu-metal bands have turntables (Slipknot, Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park), except the ones that don't (Korn, Papa Roach, System of a Down, Evanescence)"
  • Public perception of Grunge involves relatively simplistic guitar rock with a bit of feedback and a singer droning apathetically about problems with women and other general life woes. The problem is that none of the bands really sounded like this, let alone like one another. In fact, there was no real unified grunge sound, only a general skeleton that other bands added onto, and individual sounds varied between noisy alt-rock with some power pop leanings (Nirvana), Arena Rock (Pearl Jam before their journey into more outre territory), a mix of noise rock and 70s hard rock (Soundgarden), a strange hybrid of Hair Metal and Doom Metal (Alice in Chains), stripped-down, bluesy, almost protopunk-leaning alt-rock (Mudhoney), Psychedelic Rock (Screaming Trees), Post-Hardcore and proto-sludge metal (Melvins), Noise Rock (Tad)... you get the picture. Basically, bands that actually did try to boil grunge down to one single cohesive style (Bush, Candlebox, Live, and Stone Temple Pilots circa Core, mainly) wound up either creating or aiding in the creation of Post-Grunge, which, minus the feedback part, is essentially what the public thought grunge was, ergo there's no such thing as a grunge act that truly embodied every single part of the stereotype.
  • Emo Music became subject to the stereotype that most bands were whiny high schoolers singing about relationship problems or general Wangst, and that bands would tend to cry on stage. No reliable reports exist of bands doing this, and while bands such as Simple Plan certainly could be seen as fitting for the rest of the description, most of the better-remembered bands of the genre really weren't like this. AFI, who popularized the "dark clothes and fringe hair" look, were 20-30 somethings, who even in their mainstream success brought about by albums like Sing The Sorrow and Decemberunderground continued to write about classical horror-influenced themes. My Chemical Romance never took themselves seriously as a band, shunned their "emo kid" fans and wrote about a fun topic for their final album. Fall Out Boy stopped writing about relationships with Folie a Deux. Finally, this may be one of those cases where a work's perception is shaped by that of its fans.
  • The opening line "My name is X and I'm here to say..." is often used in Stock Parodies of old-school rap songs, but no one is quite sure how it became ubiquitous with the genre as it's hardly ever been used in a straight context. As this article points out, the earliest known usage of the phrase in a rap song was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1980 single "Birthday Party" and not many examples of it are known after that. It's suggested in the article however that the phrase's usage in an infamous 1988 Fruity Pebbles commercial may have contributed. Hip-hop was still a big novelty at the time and hadn't really penetrated the mainstream yet (at that point the only rap acts that had hit it big were Run–D.M.C. and Beastie Boys), so commercials like that had more of an influence on the image of rap for the broad American public than you'd expect.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The school of thought that the woman wrestler of the past was a scary Brawn Hilda and that the women in the sport became Progressively Prettier is actually quite false. In fact the documentary Lipstick & Dynamite has the women speaking against this school of thought. They actually had to be dolled up to the nines when entering and leaving the arenas, and others such as Mae Young and Penny Banner modelled their looks off various starlets of the time. There was always a mix of glamorous women wrestlers in with the Brawn Hilda performers. Sure in WWE they started bringing in models to specifically be Ms. Fanservice, but the earliest that happened was in the 1990s.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • The Anvil on Head gag (or alternatively, dynamite gags) is very commonly associated with cartoons from The Golden Age of Animation, but one would be surprised to know that while violence was common in these cartoons and had gag props to match, anvils and dynamite were an extremely rare sight in them until some point around the 1950's, where the trope was popularized as a stock cartoon gag by its use in the Road Runner cartoons (which were intended as an over-the-top parody of these earlier cartoons in the first place) and the odd Bugs Bunny cartoon like Show Biz Bugs and Long Haired Hare. The book American Cornball has a section discussing this very subject. The use of the trope is far more prominent in parodies or homages to these old cartoons, such as Itchy and Scratchy and Animaniacs.