These are the tropes
that are one step beyond Dead Horse Tropes
and Discredited Tropes
; not only are they not used straight, they're not used at all. You won't find this in any
current series; they have disappeared from the writer's toolbox.
Note that Forgotten Tropes aren't actually forgotten
, Future Imperfect
-style, otherwise would we even be talking about them here?
Academics will know all about them, and a few minutes with a web search engine will turn up plenty, if you know what to look for. They may, on very, very
rare occasions, show up in a modern series, but generally those are only emulating a series that did have these. The best place to find Forgotten Tropes is in "classic" works; there you will see them, frozen like insects in amber. They're also often used by artists relying a great deal on the Nostalgia Filter
: Walt Disney
, for example, probably did more than anyone else to keep a number of otherwise Deader Than Disco
Often, these tropes were a sign of the times
, and as the times moved on so did the tropes, morphing to fit the current standard
. Many tropes evolved this way, and while their ancestors went extinct, the fossils remain (as do, occasionally, vestigial features in their descendants).
Forgotten tropes are almost always some of The Oldest Ones in the Book
, except that they've fallen out of the book entirely. When a trope is forgotten but its parody isn't, it's "Weird Al" Effect
When a particular change in technology or culture makes tropes obsolete overnight, it's a Trope Breaker
Examples are sorted by the time period they were most popular or most common. If a trope has a lot of examples, please feel free to use YKTTW
to make it its own page!
Forgotten Tropes with their own pages
Forgotten Tropes without pages
open/close all folders
Older Than Feudalism
- "All new jokes!": In Ancient Greece, while having just invented theater, it didn't take long to get to where the average audience member recognized Comedy Tropes as Tropes. How comedic writers dealt with this became a trope in and of itself. As the Fourth Wall wasn't strong, a character would address the audience, say that Tropes Are Not Good, and say how this play was special because of all the Undead Horse Tropes it wasn't using, which was always a lie. The lie was either indirect (listing various tropes it wasn't using, but using other equally hackneyed old tropes) or absolutely bald-faced. Of course, since writing plays was much more competitive, this must have seemed like sports players boasting. But it also implies a truly odd appreciation for tropes and how they get used. Wow! Just think of it: Post Modernism is actually Older Than Feudalism!
- Law of unities: Aristotle was also responsible for the laws of unities, which held that a play should be set in one location, concern one action, and take place in one 24-hour period. These laws were taken seriously for much longer than playwrights honoured them; Samuel Johnson was forced to defend Shakespeare 150 years after the Bard's death over his disregard of the unities. Another nail in the coffin of this trope was writers realizing that these laws were not so much laws as an attempt at description of the plays Aristotle knew about. It was only made law by neoclassisists who made Aristotle's work Serious Business. The decline of reliance on ancient classics meant the end of this trope. Of course, very short, single-setting plays are still being written and performed; it's just that playwrights now do this because it suits the nature of an individual work, not out of some sense of tradition or obligation.
- Mozart's Don Giovanni is an especially late example, as English-language playwrights had discarded the idea of the unities a century earlier.
- The original Greek Muses: The nine Greek Muses represented art forms that are almost all discarded now (though the Muses live on, they've been reincarnated as patrons of different arts). Clio (Muse of History) and Terpsichore (Muse of Dance) are the only two Muses you can expect a reasonably large number of people to remember, and then only because their names live on in the somewhat obscure words "cliometrics" and "terpsichorean."
- The Anglo-Saxon riddle poem: A game in which a vague poetic description of an item was given and listeners were expected to recall a rote answer, is almost entirely dead today.
- The only popularly-remembered example, "Humpty Dumpty," is no longer perceived as a riddle about an egg, just as a poem about an egg. (This is in part due to The Weird Al Effect of Humpty's inclusion in the Alice books.)
- Used almost directly by J. R. R. Tolkien in The Hobbit, specifically the riddle-contest between Bilbo and Gollum. Tolkien was aware of the trope because he was an expert on Anglo-Saxon literature, to the point of having done original translations from Anglo-Saxon into modern English.
- While no longer considered high art as such, vestiges do still survive in riddles found in modern-day joke books and games on Internet fora (particularly if one of the participants is aware of the idea, either directly or through the influence of The Hobbit).
- All Jews are Sephardic: In Medieval Europe and all the way through the Renaissance, the stereotypical Jewish person that would pop up in your average peasant's mind was one of Sephardic origin, since for a while, Spain was the place with the highest Jewish population in the world. People like Maimonides and Baruch Spinoza were well-known among religious or academic circles and thanks to the expulsion of Jews from Spain, the Sephardic stereotype spread to places like England and the Netherlands. In the 19th century, with declining Sephardic populations, dispersion and the rise of Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe (that changed the balance of power among them), this trope was replaced by All Jews Are Ashkenazi. However, as the Western world becomes a lot more multicultural thanks to liberalized immigration laws, Hispanic and Middle Eastern Jews are once again beginning to make their presence known in large cities, which means that this trope may well be making a comeback.
- The Red Jews: A legendary nation in German folklore that would one day invade the Christian world. It probably saw its major splendor with the Turk attacks that would lead to the fall of Constantinople, when it was popular to identify the Ottomans with the Red Jews stories (absurd, since the Ottomans were mostly Islamic). While unfortunately antisemitism still exists today, the idea of a Great Jewish nation (which nowadays would by default be Israel) invading the West is all but forgotten. Probably the modern equivalent would be other prejudiced tropes like "Jews Control the Media/Economy", but even in those cases, the way they use their power is passive, not violent.
- The Nine Worthies: Nine characters who personified the ideal values of a brave knight. They were three pagans (Alexander The Great, Hector and Julius Caesar), three Jewish (Joshua, King David and Judah Maccabee) and three Christians (King Arthur, Charlemagne and Godfrey of Bouillon), thus uniting the three Western religions (polytheism, Judaism and Christianity) with which most Christians at the time were familiar. It was a very popular motif in art and writing, and there was a sort of spin-off (to call it in modern terms) with nine lady worthies (where different artists and writers have different lists). All of those figures are still very well-known, but most people are not familiar with the idea of all of them united in a single concept.
- Medieval fantasy creatures: A lot of medieval creatures are still famous, but the way they're represented and the motifs and traits they're associated with have evolved with time: most modern representations of the unicorn are related to its class, elegance and/or "royalness" and they're seen as delicate animals, but in the first representations they were, if anything, just the opposite: wild, untameable and fiery. Other derived tropes (like the idea that they could only be captured by virgins) are even more forgotten. Vampires and werewolves are seen nowadays as two different species but in the original stories they were seen as two variation of the same kind of creature. Also, the "bloodsucking vampire" stereotype is Newer Than They Think, at least in western Europe. Medieval English tales about "vampires" often described creatures that we would recognize more as zombies today - and very tame zombies, at that. They didn't suck blood, and they usually didn't even hurt anyone; they were just undead people who liked to cause mischief, coming off more as grotesque fairies. The bloodsucker-type comes from Eastern Europe, and was not well-known in the West until the 19th century.
- Prester John: A Christian King from a far-away eastern land who somehow kept the faith of his country and would appear to save the West from Islamic/Heathen invaders. It was very common to reference him in stories, folktales and maps. There were different theories about the localization of the Prester John Kingdom, including China, India or Ethiopia, but with the advancement of the age of exploration, more of the world was discovered and the idea of this hypothetical nation faded from most people's minds. It is still remembered by scholars and it still comes out in some modern works of fiction here and there, but even those works are relatively obscure. Stories about mythical countries or lands still exist today (some of them, like Atlantis, are even older), but Prester John as well as the notion of a hidden or forgotten country similar to the West or Christendom in the middle of "barbarian" or "uncivilized" peoples have not only vanished from most mainstream fiction, but would be a point of controversy due to Values Dissonance.
- A modern reference in Reginald Bretnor's 1974 Papa Schimmelhorn tale "Count Von Schimmelhorn and the Time-Pony".
- Termagant: The name of an imaginary god worshipped by Muslims, according to different tales of the Christian West. Of course, as time passed, while clashes between the West and the Muslim world remained sources of controversy, Termagant, as a figure of speech used to describe an evil trickster deity, was forgotten. The term is still used nowadays to describe a violent woman, but even in that context it's dark and obscure, even more the original meaning of the word.
- The land of Cockaigne: A legendary land of plenty and abundance that was very popular at the time, being a figure of speech used in poems, paintings and other forms of art, and used as a trope about mythical lands almost as much as in modern fiction we use Atlantis. Sexual liberty, wine, food available without hard labor. The catch? The only way to reach it is going through a river of feaces so long, it would take five years to cross it.
Older Than Steam
- Ruler-flattering prologue: The grand operas of the ancien régime period had pompous prologues in which the ruler sponsoring the production was compared to the hero of the story.
- Exit after aria: The deeply, deeply annoying exit convention, which required the performer to exit the scene after finishing an aria, caused all sorts of logistical problems, and after the Baroque period was seldom used.
- Obesity as a sign of great wealth: This is not entirely dead (with tropes such as the Fat, Sweaty Southerner in a White Suit) but it is certainly a dying trope, replaced by obesity as a sign of working class subsistence on junk food and beer, the price of fresh food, lack of time for home cooking, etc. Meanwhile, physical fitness of the "sweaty gym" variety has been a pursuit of wealthy Westerners at least since the 1970s, and in some cases probably earlier.
- In Nigeria in the 1970s, obesity was still a sign of great wealth. Polynesia also had positive connotations to fatness.
- Fashion satire prints: While exaggerations are pretty much the cream of the crop in satire, there was a time when mocking the fashion trends of the era were commonplace in every editorials from the late 18th century up until the early 20th century. It was easy for the cartoonist to sideline political issues with the excesses of popular culture of the era, and fashion was no exception. It was a time when cartoonists lavishly ridiculed the gigantic wigs and frou-frou styles of the late 1700s, the contrastingly plain yet slutty sheer muslin gowns of the Regency era, the gigantic hoopskirts and bustles and frills of the Victorian era, and the overly wide hats and very narrow skirts of the 1910s. And all of the prints showed shorter hemlines for comical effect. It wasn't until the 1920s and the 1930s put a halt to these prints due to the influences of film and fashion photography putting in a realistic look of the fashions, and due to the simplicity, the lack of supportive undergarments, and actual shorter hemlines removing the need for ridicule and exaggerations on editorial prints.
- Massive formal opera chorus: One convention found in many grand operas of the mid-19th century was the massive formal setpiece chorus in the middle of the middle act (i.e. the second act, or the third if more acts were to come)
- The Triumphal March ("Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside") from Aïda.
- Secret Scottish weddings: In British literature up through the mid-1800s, a frequent plot device involved a secret marriage happening in Gretna Green or other Scottish border towns. This was because an English law dating to 1754 allowed the parents of people under 21 to stop them from marrying; Scottish law had no similar provision, and, further, allowed almost anyone to perform a marriage as long as two witnesses were present. Moreover, the wedding announcement could be held back from English newspapers. Gretna Green is still a popular venue for destination weddings, and turns up in that capacity in modern works, but its use in novels like The Woman in White to reveal a secret wedding in a character's past is now mostly forgotten even in period pieces.
- Columbia: Colombia was a poetic 19th century name for the United States of America (it is the "C" in "Washington D.C."). Columbia herself was represented as a young woman (or goddess) and was a popular national personification into the early 20th century. Since then she has been displaced by another American personification — "Uncle Sam". note
- The patriotic song "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" had a similar period of popularity.
- "Columbia" was also used as a synonym for the continent(s) of America, hence the names of the South American nation of Colombia and the Canadian Province of British Columbia (and the latter is even on the opposite coast from the one where Christopher Columbus operated). And Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean is still performed.
- Many older American memorials and monuments still depict Columbia, the most notable and newest of which is the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, dedicated in 1949 in Hawaii.
- The statue atop the US Capitol dome, while not officially of Columbia, shares many of her characteristics.
- CBS used to stand for the Columbia Broadcasting System. Even they've abandoned this trope.
- In Alex Ross's graphic novel Uncle Sam, there's a sequence where Sam meets up with Columbia to discuss the good old days.
- About the only place you will see poor old Columbia these days is at the opening of a "Columbia Pictures" flick: she is the woman holding the torch.
- Also, 'Columbia' has popped up again in BioShock Infinite, interestingly.
- Columbia, Marianne, John Bull, Britannia, and Uncle Sam are all gods in the World War II setting in Scion.
- Uncle Sam himself replaced the almost entirely forgotten Brother Jonathan as national personification of the USA. (Jonathan was the brother of Britain's national personification John Bull, the satirical joke was that they did not get on although they looked almost identical).
- Brother Jonathan is referred to in the Flashman novel Flashman and the Mountain of Light.
- Irish national personifications: All of the traditional personifications of Ireland (Róisín Dubh, Kathleen Ni Houlihan, the Shan Van Voght, the Maid of Erin) are forgotten, mainly because they're seen as incredibly dated.
- Big boy pants: It used to be a rite of passage for a child to start wearing long pants and skirts. Younger children — both boys and girls — wore short pants with a dress or skirt over them, so that the material would not be worn out during playtime. Once you were old enough, you were trusted to wear long pants. The expression "big boy pants" is still around, but now it's just a vague metaphor about growing up.
- The variant about young girls wearing short skirts makes a significant appearance in Fingersmith.
- This trope is far from being forgotten in manga and is used mostly for school uniforms like in Shinkuu Yuusetsu.
- French opera ballet: The mandatory ballet in French grand opera is a trope long forgotten.
- Composer Jules Massenet, presumably after one too many times being forced to shoehorn a ballet in, not only lampshades it in Manon by having the ballet girls of the Paris Opera brought to a party, but justifies it, as he manages to tie it into several different plots — it's an expensive attempt by Manon's rich Stalker with a Crush to win her from the man she's playing courtesan to, but just beforehand, Manon learns that des Grieux, her true love who she threw over in favour of riches, is about to become an abbot, and this leads to her ignoring the performance, as the first sign of her redemption. Unfortunately, said Stalker with a Crush begins conspiring against her after that.
- When Wagner's Tannhäuser was being premiered in Paris, he was told that they'd have to insert a ballet; he could either write one, or they'd pay someone's brother-in-law to arrange some of the thematic material from the opera into it. He said he'd write one, and that the place where it would make the most sense plot-wise would be in the first act. The management told him it would have to be in 'the middle of the middle' because that was when they seated latecomers.
- In fact, said latecomers were aristocratic patrons of the Paris Opera, who liked to dine at their clubs and thus couldn't be bothered to be there when the opera started, but still wanted to see the ballet, as they were romantically interested in the dancers themselves. Tannhäuser still premiered with its ballet in the first act, but the uproar it caused led to interruptions, and the production was withdrawn after three performances.
- Victorian children memorizing poems: In Victorian schools, rote memorization was thought to be good for the mind as well as instilling discipline. Aficionados of Victorian novels and autobiographies will be familiar with children having to "get" a number of "lines", usually of Bible verses, poetry or a Shakespeare play. Along with adult works, poems were written especially for this purpose, exemplifying virtues for children to emulate. This practice trickled down into family life, and children were expected to appear at adult parties to "say their piece", sing, play an instrument or dance. The mania surrounding Shirley Temple kept this going through the 1930s and 40s, and merged with Beautiful Baby contests (which have a variety of origins) to become the Child Beauty Contest.
- Lewis Carroll parodies this by having Alice actually base part of her identity on her ability to recite, only to have it turn into Word Salad. Children who'd been forced to recite that damn "How doth the little busy bee" poem would have loved Carroll's hysterical mangling.
- Rags to Riches via clean living: In the late 19th century, the Rags to Riches trope usually involved a poor yet clever and virtuous boy who rises to affluence through hard work and clean living (and phenomenal luck, but they won't tell you that). This trope was arguably the basis of Social Darwinism, but it died sometime during the forties and no one can say why for certain. Presumably it had something to do with the immensity of the Wall Street Crash (for if people got rich by hard work and clean living, did that mean all those that lost wealth were lazy and uncouth, along with unlucky?), the influence of the World War II experience (with Hitler's Germany being a horrific case of many of the tenets of Social Darwinism put into action), the New Deal (which made people question the idea of individuals purely responsible for their success) and the nascent civil rights movement (springing from demographics of people who had been denied success for the color of their skin, not for the content of their character, even though Booker T. Washington to some degree embraced the theme).
- The British equivalent is Dinah Craik's John Halifax, Gentleman and Samuel Smiles' Self-Help.
- It refuses to die as long as Ayn Rand has disciples.
- Charles Dickens' work ranges from unintentional trope overdose (Oliver Twist) to low-end Subversion (Great Expectations) to high-end Subversion (Hard Times). The last-named features a supporting character (Josiah Bounderby) who claims that his mother abandoned him soon after his birth, and that he was completely independent by the age of three. It is later revealed that his parents adored him, and scrimped and sacrificed so that he might receive a good education and a promising apprenticeship. He then rose rapidly through the ranks of society, and deserted his doting parents in their old age.
- Parodied like crazy by radio comedy Bleak Expectations.
- Also well remembered for being deconstructed in The Great Gatsby.
- Also deconstructed and parodied in George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion.
- The young readers' novel Montmorency could be considered a parody, as it features a dirt-poor youth who ascends to the aristocracy through hard work ... by robbing Londoners and faking his way into high society.
- Christmas ghost stories: Actually very common in the Victorian era. Today the only one widely remembered is a A Christmas Carol and thus most people don't realize there were many others of its ilk, but telling ghost stories around Christmas was a common tradition. A reference to it remains in the song "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year" that seems fairly weird to modern listeners.
- Travelers' tales: A genre of nonfiction (usually) adventure stories of far-off lands. With the advent of Television and Film they seemed rather redundant.
Turn of the Century
- Breach of promise of marriage: The doctrine that a man engaged to a woman had made a legally binding promise to marry her and was liable for damages if he backed out. The purpose of this doctrine was to discourage "seduce and abandon" trickery in an age when engaged women commonly lost their virginity during the engagement period. As virginity became less important to marriageability and marriageability became less important to a woman's future, the doctrine was abolished. The modern descendant of this doctrine is the woman keeping the engagement ring if the man breaks off the engagement, the implication being that a woman's virginity is worth the price of a ring.
- Gilbert and Sullivan fans will recognize Trial By Jury as a Breach of Promise case. When the plaintiff enters, the first line the chorus of bridesmaids sings is, "Comes the broken flower", suggesting a seduce-and-abandon scenario.
- The 1952 Setting Update of Of Thee I Sing removed the references to Diana accusing Wintergreen of breach of promise.
- In the third Dream Sequence in Lady in the Dark, Liza Elliott is put on trial for refusing to marry Kendall Nesbitt as she promised. The phrase "breach of promise" is not used, however, partly because, as Liza suggests, women were traditionally immune to such claims.
- Referenced in, of all places, A Hard Day's Night, where Paul describes his grandfather (the clean old man) as a "villain, a real mixer, who'll cost you a fortune in breach of promise cases".
- Romantic operatta waltz song: A major trope in old operettas was having a big romantic song in slow waltz time with enormous vocal range and mushy lyrics, rendered with lots of rubato. This was once as popular as the Award Bait Song is now.
- This was already obsolete by the mid-20th century when Anna Russell parodied it as "Ah, Lover!"
- And lampshaded with 'Wunderbar!' in 'Kiss me Kate'
- Invasion literature: A popular British sub-genre of Science Fiction (not named as such at that point) in the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. This genre focused on the invasion of Britain Twenty Minutes into the Future (or earlier) by a foreign power. This foreign power was most often either France or Germany, depending on which seemed Britain's most likely enemy at the time. Its mainstream incarnation vanished during World War I, presumably because they had actual wars with Germany.
- The Battle of Dorking (1871) by George Tomkyns Chesney, the Trope Codifier, though not the Ur Example. This was written in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian war, which had shocked Europe with the speed with which Europe's second-largest army was defeated by a numerically smaller but technically more sophisticated foe. This theme ran through the genre.
- Both The Riddle of the Sands (1903) by Erskine Childers and The War of the Worlds (1898) by H. G. Wells ended up having an effect on fiction long after the extinction of the original trope serving as the progenitors of modern espionage thrillers and the Alien Invasion, respectively. The Invasion Fiction lives, but the invader has changed.
- A late example is Nevil Shute's What Happened to the Corbetts (1938). By that time, of course, most people had a pretty good idea that something bad was going to happen, even if they didn't know quite how bad it would be.
- There were a few American examples of the genre, usually involving the Yellow Peril; the revival of that associated trope during World War II included a novel by Whitman Chambers titled Invasion!.
- The "threat to Britain from France or Germany" idea did make it into at least one post-Cold War techno-thriller, Larry Bond's Cauldron. The scenario involves the dissolution of NATO and a war pitting an aggressive France, allied with Germany and much of continental Western Europe, against the US, UK, and most of the former Warsaw Pact, excluding Russia. (However, the notion of England actually being invaded is never brought up.)
- A modern example of Invasion Literature most Australians will know of is Tomorrow: When the War Began, wherein Australia is invaded by an unnamed country.
- The genre was being parodied as early as 1909, when P. G. Wodehouse wrote his early novel The Swoop, in which England is invaded by the armies of nine different countries at once, only to be driven out by the Boy Scouts. (Oddly enough, in Saki's When William Came, written four years later, the "Boy-Scouts-as-saviours" idea is repeated, entirely seriously. The Scouts don't actually fight off the Germanic hordes, thankfully. Instead, they inspire the population to resistance by boycotting the Kaiser's parade.)
- One of the later examples is the comic book series Invasion!, which ran from 1977-9. The creators had to change the Russians to "Volgans" and remove representations of Margaret Thatcher and other real life people.
- Stealing the help: There's a common Edwardian comedy trope where some aristocrat will have a particularly good cook and their friends will do everything they can to "steal" that servant (because great food is such a crucial part of performing the part of a host).
- This happens in some Saki stories.
- Happens in P. G. Wodehouse stories with the chef Anatole.
- This gets a modern use in the Miles Vorkosigan novel Memory where his parents and other relatives are tempted to steal away his new cook, Ma Kosti, but that's probably because the series is often social comedy Recycled In Space.
- Perhaps a modern variation is the competition by rich families for good nannies, as seen on Desperate Housewives.
- This is played with and parodied to hilarious effect in To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis.
- Another modern version occurred in the 3rd Rock from the Sun episode "Citizen Solomon", with Dick and Mary fighting over a maid:
Mary: Give me back my maid!
Dick: I'm sorry, Mary, but Cathy is not some product to be bought or sold on the open market. She is a living, breathing human being with feelings, thoughts, and emotions — you don't own her. [beat] I do!
- Also on Game of Thrones when Janos Slynt suggests he'll be hiring Tyrions' cook
Tyrion: Wars haven been started for less.
- Female hysteria: Before modern psychiatry and medicine, hysteria was once a common diagnosis for a woman with any sort of illness. There are thousands of documented cases of women in real life diagnosed with hysteria (and often institutionalized or otherwise marginalized) who were later found to have had heart attacks, ovarian cancer, schizophrenia, depression, endocrine imbalances, or one of any number of physical or psychological diseases.note The trope became discredited after women finally got fed up with being told that their problems were all either "in their heads" or made up for attention, and faded from fiction at about the same time.
- Hysteria, and more broadly the consistent mis-diagnosis and mis-treatment of women during the 19th and early 20th centuries, is the theme of the classic early feminist short horror story The Yellow Wallpaper.
- Ethnic white groups: Ethnic white characters and stories, if they're not outright forgotten, are usually touched on only in historical contexts. This trope was popular among American audiences through the 19th and part of the 20th century, and it consists in the idea that some Caucasian ethnicities aren't truly "white", ergo, not truly American, and it aimed to almost every European ethnic group: Irish (the famous "Irish Need Not Apply" signs in stores and other business), the Dutch (President Van Buren was seen with suspicious by large groups of voters, who even questioned if he was actually American-born), Germans (Especially in WWI), Italians, Polish and many more. Nowadays, the idea that some ethnic groups couldn't be classified as white seems almost alien to most modern audiences. Heck, even most White Supremacist groups ditched the old Nordicism idea (a concept that held that the superior race/truly white people were only those of Nordic or Germanic roots) and try to integrate all ethnic white groups to their movement. Xenophobia still exists today, but mostly is aimed at non-white groups like Latinos, Asians, etcetera. Consider how funny it would be if someday Hispanics came to be considered "whites" and were among the ones discriminating against a new wave of immigrants in the country. European ethnic identities persist (among Irish, Ashkenazi Jews, and Italians especially), but they don't serve to isolate or alienate such peoples anymore; now they're really just a way for ethnic whites to avoid being classed as the dreaded "Anglo-Saxon."
- Edisonades: A variety of late-19th and early-20th century stories called "Edisonades" were usually about a young man building a robot, going west, defeating savages and carving out a name for himself. Steam Punk was created partially from a desire to fight the attitudes presented in the Edisonades (despite the genre being dead for several generations).
20's and 30's
- The "10-20-30" melodrama: a long-extinct genre of theatrical productions which used many tropes now more typically associated with early silent films like The Perils of Pauline. The "10-20-30" name was derived from the cheap ticket prices charged for these productions - 10 cents, 20 cents, 30 cents. Interestingly, the name itself became obsolescent during the very heyday of these melodramas ("15-25-75" would have been more accurate.)
- The smoking song: a song about (tobacco) smoking either banishing worldly worries or inspiring sentimental visions. It probably originally derived from the nineteenth-century opium craze (since smoking opium often caused users to have vivid dreams), only to eventually be replaced by the more socially acceptable use of tobacco in the twentieth century. Songs about smoking certain other things are still alive and well, however.
- The "love nest" song: a song describing the type and/or location of the cozy little home a couple would plan to settle down in.
- The extravaganza: the American equivalent of English pantomime, the extravaganza was a family-friendly type of musical using many of the typical pantomime characters and settings (though the "dame" played by a man in drag seems not to have fully caught on). The genre survived until the Great Depression.
- Cigarette lighter gag: Jokes about cigarette lighters refusing to light were obnoxiously common in the days of vaudeville. Apparently a bit of Truth in Television. The founder of Zippo noted that one of his friends carried a IMCO lighter (which was apparently ugly and unfashionable) "Because it works". He copied and improved the mechanism when he founded his own company.
- Extended unimportant montages as film openings: Many films of the 1920s and 1930s feature plot-irrelevant montages of urban life, especially multiple people's daily routines, store displays, manufacturing processes, or popular amusements, much longer than what would be needed for a standard Establishing Shot. Such sequences, leftovers from early cinema in which simply seeing such things was a novel spectacle, eventually vanished unless they were immediately relevant to the plot. They still exist in art and experimental cinema in various forms, but in commercial fiction films it has long since faded from public consciousness.
- The clever young widow pursuing a new husband: Frequently The Ingenue's rival for the protagonist's affections. This character type was popular in the early 20th century, back when young ladies were supposed to be watched over by parents and chaperones before marriage: the widow had the advantages of independence, (moderate) experience and wealth, though the last of these assets often depended on gold-digging among prospective second husbands. The more dangerous Femme Fatale might be this type's eventual descendant.
- Anthony Trollope liked this one, having Madame Max Goesler in Phineas Finn and Mrs. Hurtle in The Way We Live Now.
- Mitzi May in Lackadaisy is a modern example in a webcomic set in the 20's. The author is very knowledgeable about the time period, so it's likely an intentional reference.
- Goat glands as Viagra: In the 1920s, 'goat glands' were a quack remedy for erectile dysfunction and general lack of energy (don't ask how it was done ... Squick). The use of goat glands - with miraculous Popeye-after-Spinach type results - not only became a trope in films themselves, but a film industry term for silent films that had sound hurriedly added to them to bring them up to date. Monkey glands were also used for the same purpose.
- Goat glands are used in Buster Keaton's Cops
- The song "Monkey Doodle Doo", from The Coconuts (1929), written by Irving Berlin
Let me take you by the hand
Over to the jungle band
If you're too old for dancing
Get yourself a monkey gland!
- Starving Artists' loft apartments: The image of a Starving Artist living in a garret apartment dates from a time when the top floor of a building was the most inconvenient to access and thus rented out for the lowest price. Thanks to elevators, landlords can now rent out lofts for a hefty markup relative to the rest of the building, and Starving Artists had best starve somewhere lower down. If you smear some Big Apple Sauce on this trope, though, it comes back to life with some Truth in Television on its side. Buildings of five floors or fewer in NYC do not have to have elevators. Guess who lives in fifth floor walk-ups in certain neighborhoods.
- Allegorical film sequences: Films of the early 1920s often included allegorical sequences (or entire parallel stories) set in past eras. Bible Times, Ancient Egypt and Ancient Grome were popular choices, which also provided a convenient excuse to shoehorn in a few scantily clad slave girls and Roman orgies, proving that Getting Crap Past the Radar is Older than Television (in fact, older than the Talkies).
- This was a popular enough trope to be parodied by Buster Keaton's film Three Ages.
- This gimmick is arguably still with us, in the form of "The History of..." spoofs in comic strips and TV commercials showing stereotyped scenes from past eras, often with Bamboo Technology.
- The officer fallen on hard times: The British army commissioned a lot of officers from outside of the traditional officer class during World War One, and after the war most of these men had to return to their former stations in life. This was a popular character type in post-war British fiction, but most of those novels are now forgotten, with one of the few exceptions being Lady Chatterley's Lover, in which Mellors the gamekeeper is a former officer.
40's and 50's
- Facial muscle control: As mentioned under Clark Kenting, facial muscle control was used by pulp magazines to handwave Master of Disguise abilities, because it was thought that if a male character wore make-up for a disguise, that would make him a "sissy". Perhaps because of common awareness of the use of make-up in films or the lack of believability of the facial muscle explanation, this trope hasn't been used for a while.
- Although this was used in the movie Minority Report, with the aid of an electronic device to relax the muscles.
- Homosexuality as a disease: In the past, homosexuality or male effeminacy was frequently described as a mental disorder (if in fact it was discussed at all). Today, attitudes have changed
- As late as the 1970s, Mike Brady (played by gay actor Robert Reed) was heard to say in an episode of The Brady Bunch that if he found out that one of his sons was interested in playing with dollhouses, he'd take him to a psychiatrist.
- Films adapted as radio plays: During the 1940s, films were sometimes adapted into radio plays, usually performed by the original cast of the film. The most popular of these radio programs was Lux Radio Theatre, which if it couldn't get the original cast, usually got other A-listers to perform the parts. Television, being a visual medium like film, made such adaptations redundant, though they did still happen to a limited extent even into the 1980s - Star Wars being a very famous example, and also one of the very last produced in this manner.
- Ballet sequences in musicals: A trope from Hollywood musicals of the forties and fifties was the ballet sequence — a segment in which the movie broke away from the main action, usually as a dream, to tell a mini-story through stylized interpretive dance. It may have evolved into the Big Lipped Alligator Moment.
- The Big Ballet trend in musicals was started by George Balanchine and "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" from On Your Toes (and revisited in the "biographical" Words and Music), which in turn might have been inspired by the Busby Berkeley Number "Lullaby of Broadway" from Gold Diggers of 1935.
- Sports comics and stage magic comics: In between the Golden Age Of Comic Books and the Silver Age of Comic Books, a number of non-superhero genres were popular. While some, like crime, horror, romance, monster, and western comics are fondly remembered, still continue, or are occasionally revived, a few others have been entirely forgotten, such as the brief vogue for sports comics and the even briefer vogue for comics about stage magic (think of Moloch the evil magician from Watchmen as a contemporary Shout-Out to this subgenre). This is partly because the institution of the Comics Code Authority in 1954 following the publication of Seduction of the Innocent (see below) killed off the more violent or lurid examples of these comics for nearly a generation, and some of the genres never recovered.
- Short stories in comic books: The two-page prose short story featured in many comics from the 1930s up to the early 1960s was due to postal regulations requiring any publication taking advantage of the cheaper magazine bulk distribution rates to have at least two pages of prose or other written content. The popularity of the letters pages and Stan Lee's promotional "Bullpen Bulletins" pages replaced them, and eventually postal regulations changed.
- The superhero's Bumbling Sidekick: The Bumbling Sidekick was very popular in Superhero comic books in the 1940's. They were often drawn in a different style from the rest of the comic, and were often racially insensitive or hilariously fat. To some extent, the trend continues with the inclusion of Lethal Joke Character examples like Deadpool, but even these characters generally get serious moments and do more than provide simple slapstick or Too Dumb to Live moments.
- Civilian adventure comics: The dominance of the superhero has all but eliminated the once popular "civilian adventurer" type, who often had an exciting profession and invariably ended up battling criminals and spies. Many early comics featured the likes of aviator Hop Harrigan, TV host Roy Raymond, and adventurer Pep Morgan starring in backup features in the increasingly superhero-dominated anthologies. While some of these characters still exist, they usually survive by either becoming superheroes (like Congo Bill becoming Congorilla) or becoming part of the supporting cast of a superhero comic (like Speed Saunders, who has been tied in with Hawkman). The idea of such characters headlining their own comics is long gone.
- Superheroes with a vehicle as their gimmick: The hero whose sole gimmick is a unique super-vehicle of some kind — such as Taxi Taylor, Captain X, and the 1940s Red Torpedo — is all but forgotten, having long since been absorbed by superhero characters like Batman who have other gimmicks and talents besides a Batmobile or the like. A particular subset of these characters, the aviator hero with a special plane, exists today almost entirely in the form of the Blackhawk characters, who also have the gimmick of being a multinatiuonal team of flyers.
- Eccentric village characters songs: A folk song trope that isn't used much anymore. In the fifties, there were plenty of songs about eccentric but beloved village characters such as the old lamp-lighter or the old umbrella salesman. Those songs are forgotten except by those very familiar with old songs.
- Tom Lehrer's song "The Old Dope Peddler" parodies this
- Maddy Prior's "All Our Trades" stands out as a late example of this trope done straight.
- Many of Tom Lehrer's songs parody styles and tropes which were old even when he was writing them (although a few had seen revivals at the time); and have now been all but forgotten by any but aficionados of old music.
- Everything's greener with chlorophyll: A minor trope in The Fifties, afterwards forgotten. The brief fad for chlorophyll as an additive centered on its supposed deodorizing and "healing" properties, not to mention giving products like toothpaste a natural green color. TIME Magazine reported a chlorophyll boom in April 1952 which had become a bust by October of the next year.
- All greasers are Italians: A minor trope back in the 50's about the stereotype that all or most greasers were ethnically Italian. Nowadays, this subculture is still remembered, but the racial connotation seem to be lost for modern audiences. The reality-TV show Jersey Shore did briefly revive this trope in a more modern context.
- Alum gag: One gag used in cartoons was when someone ingested the multi-use substance alum, their lips would tighten to a pucker, their head would shrink, or their voice would increase in pitch
- Cuba is a hotbed of sin: During the Batista years, the Mafia opened numerous casinos, nightclubs, and places of ill repute in the country to avoid American law enforcement, making it an extremely popular tourist destination. All of this died out with Castro's revolution - in fact, part of Castro's reason for taking over was because he was disgusted over American criminals controlling Cuba's economy.
- The comic book anthology series: This type of comic book featured multiple genres and art styles waned during the 1940s and 1950s and finally died by the mid-1960s both because the massive size of The Golden Age of Comic Books was no longer viable and because publishers began to realize that single-genre comics were more marketable. Prior to this shift, however, the standard practice was to present short eight-to-ten-page stories, usually a few superhero features, a few pulp-inspired civilian adventurer characters, and various humor strips. When characters like Superman and Batman got self-titled comics featuring only their adventures, the comics still featured multiple short stories about those characters rather than one long story. As late as the mid-1960s, DC Comics still tended to present two stories of the star character in its superhero titles, as well as one or two half-page, usually crudely-drawn gag strip features. By the Bronze Age, however, this format was was abandoned.
- Male Heterosexual Life-Partners who share a house: In the first half of the 20th century, this trope was common in children's comic books – sometimes the main characters would even share a bed and showed little or no interest in women. However, in the United States Dr. Frederic Wertham anvilled this point repeatedly in his 1954 book Seduction of the Innocent, which sparked a Congressional hearing, after which it became more and more common for adults to interpret this kind of relationship as gay. Wertham emphasized that even the youngest children understood the characters to be gay. This inevitably led to a Gay Panic and mobilized the Moral Guardians, forcing American comic writers and publishers to abandon this trope and make changes specifically designed to avert it and stop the accusations. In Europe there never was a comparable panic, so this trope continued to exist longer, gradually phasing out during the second half of the 20th century.
- Examples of this trope in comic books include:
- Similar housing arrangements can also be found in non-comics literature:
- Sherlock Holmes and Watson (before the latter got married and moved out)
- A four-way example would be Biggles and his three chums, Algy, Ginger and Bertie.
- Bullets go ping: Movie bullets used to make a long pinging sound whenever they hit a rock or metal surface; this sounds ridiculous to most modern ears, although the similar Bullet Sparks trope remains alive.
- It was used in the Marathon computer games as late as 1996 (source).
- Due to its heavy use in old Western films (enough that the sounds are often associated with the genre), pieces paying homage to the classic era of Westerns will use this effect as a shout-out, similar to using the Wilhelm Scream. Red Dead Redemption is a good example of this at work.
- Rock and roll music causing juvenile delinquency: This one was fairly widespread during the first few years of rock's existence (mid-1950s, mostly), turning up both in fiction and in real-life accounts. Although juvenile crime is certainly still a problem, since about the 1980s the culprit held responsible has usually been rap music. Rock music hasn't been viewed as a social menace since the 1970s at the very latest, and any complaints from parents about rock and roll nowadays are bound to be about how it supposedly makes young people lazy and stupid, not how it makes them criminals - and as the more highbrow, progressive varieties of rock move more and more into the mainstream, even that trope has started to disappear.
- All-Male Stylish Black Musicians - This one has origins in vaudeville. In order to get past the stereotypical view of blacks as unruly "wild men", black performers would don the most dapper suits they could afford and act as refined as possible. This had a deep mark on music for a very long time - think The Four Tops, The Inkspots, Frankie Valli...
60's to 90's tropes
- Typewriter theme music: A minor trope in old newscasts was using introduction music that emulated the sound of a teleprinter or typewriters. With the predominance of new technology, those devices eventually were considered obsolete, so using such a style of musicalization wasn't making sense anymore (and younger audiences probably wouldn't be able to recognize them anyway). As late as the 1990s, however, some radio news bulletins were still using it as a sort of Affectionate Parody of The Evening News with Walter Cronkite. Nowadays, newscast themes are usually "rockish" and/or electronic sounding.
- Airplane hijackers demanding to be taken to Cuba: The airplane hijacker who demands to be taken to Cuba (inspired by a number of real hijackings) had a brief heyday in the 1960s and 1970s, but was already fading into Dead Horse territory by the 1980s, and has since been completely supplanted by hijackers with far more sinister motives.
- Monty Python's Flying Circus played with this. One passenger on a direct flight to Cuba tries to hijack the plane and go to Luton. He ends up talked into jumping off the plane just in time to catch a bus "Straight to Luton," which was then hijacked by a man who demanded to be taken to Cuba. The bus changes its sign to "Straight to Cuba" and turns around.
- Seinfeld references the Cuban hijacker trope with Dominican characters that are repeatedly mistaken for Cubans.
- An Italian pop band founded in 1994 is named "dirotta su Cuba" ("hijack towards Cuba")
- In P.D.Q. Bach's The Abduction of Figaro, Captain Kadd, after his "I Am" Song, says he's "taking this ship to Cuba." The other characters have to remind him that he's not on a ship ("What do you mean, I'm not on a ship?").
- Cracked magazine spoofed this phenomenon in the late '60s with a few pages of strips of many other modes of transportation being hijacked, including ice-cream trucks, rickshaws, magic carpets, and horses in the Old West.
- Ugly Slavic women: This will sound strange to European tropers, but in the '60s and '70s a common trope on American TV (and especially stand-up comedy) was the purported extreme ugliness of Russian women. For decades the standard-issue US pop culture Russian woman was either a muscled, mannish athlete or a troll-like creature with a mustache wearing a "babushka" (a "grandma kerchief" tied below the chin). Now, thanks to the likes of Anna Kournikova and Maria Sharapova (both of them athletes, ironically enough), this trope is now increasingly uncommon even in American media.
- To paraphrase an old Soviet joke, "where once were ladies and gentlemen, there are comrades and comrades."
- Watch some old (uncensored) The Tonight Show monologues — at least once a week Carson would make a joke about how mind-numbingly ugly Slavic women were. And, since he was the most respected comedian in America, everyone copied him.
- Yakov Smirnoff was using this as late as The Eighties: "In Russia we have a saying: 'Women are like buses.' That's it."
- Speaking of Smirnoff, this trope became a running gag for his character on Night Court: In his first appearance on the show, Smirnoff's character (also named Yakov) is an immigrant from Soviet Russia who speaks almost no English, and Harry is forced by circumstance to befriend him despite the language barrier. It Makes Sense in Context. At one point, Harry gets to see the inside of Yakov's wallet and see photos of his loved ones. Harry is initially confused as to why Yakov has a photo of Soviet Premier Breshnev in his wallet, until Yakov explains that's his wife, Sonia. Since then, each time Yakov made an appearance, reference is made to how painfully ugly Sonia is, until the episode where finally we get to meet Sonia... and she's absolutely gorgeous. Naturally, Yakov thinks she's a KGB impostor, even as she claims her new appearance is due to Magic Plastic Surgery, required due to an accident.
- And this wonderful Wendy's commercial.
- One joke involved a man going to sleep next to his lovely wife of the first type and being horrified to discover, the next morning, that she has passed her "expiration date" and transformed overnight into the second.
- This trope was used as recently as 2004 in Dodgeball with the ugly woman with a unibrow from "Romanovia".
- A VCR flashing 12:00AM: a common gag before the advent of DVDs, due to the notorious difficulty in resetting a VCR's time. The joke doesn't work in the era of DVD players, because the vast majority of them can't record, and thus have no need for clocks in the first place - and those who do have a clock either have an internal clock battery, or can fetch the local time from the broadcast metadata.
- It used to show up in a lot of Cartoon Network shows like Johnny Bravo and Dexter's Laboratory, with the joke being that someone is a genius but is still unable to reset the VCR, or this being used as an example of newfound brain power.
- Broadcast metadata and the rise of the smartphone have also killed off the trope of multiple characters synchronizing their wristwatches in Spy Fiction and The Caper stories.
- Gimmicked "interactive" filmgoing experiences: 3D has come back a few times, but what did not was everything else, up to and including systems of pulleys and winches that slung "ghosts" around the cinema to "heighten the experience", Smell-O-Vision (plus copycat AromaRama and John Waters' variant Odorama), special visors that let you see or not see monsters on the screen, and an elaborate system that gave viewers in the audience joybuzzer-style "electric" shocks so that they would think they were under attack from the movie's monster.
- Part of the plot of Matinee is kids going to one of these types of films during the Cuban Missle Crisis. It's implied that they served as escapism from the Cold War.
- The idea of olfactory accompaniment for movies was even older; the "scent organ" in Brave New World was merely a futuristic extrapolation of what was already being done occasionally in musical revues.
- There has been one such idea that's been getting rolling lately: D-BOX theaters, where the seats shake in sync with the action on-screen.
- This sort of technique has become very common in theme park attractions, even if your average movie theater doesn't bother with such stunts.
- Rock Bimbo: The "rock bimbo" was a trope that often appeared in comedy through the '80s and early '90s, based on perceptions of female fans of rock bands like Guns n' Roses and Aerosmith as attractive, shallow, dumb, promiscuous partiers and more often than not overlapping with stereotypes of the Valley Girl and images of the singer Madonna from the time. It went away completely with the rise of grunge rock in the '90s - not to mention the rise of alternative rock, which cemented the image of women in rock as musicians in their own right and not just groupies - although similar stereotypes about teenaged and college-aged women still surface, but at least the rock bimbo's look - long feathered hair, dark but skimpy clothing, and wearing lots of long necklaces topped by maybe a large crucifix - has long been a relic. Of course, even today you can attend some heavy-metal "throwback" concerts and see forty- or fiftysomething blonde women trying to prove they're still relevant...dammit.
- This shaped the portrayal of Kelly Bundy and her friends on Married... with Children after the first couple of seasons
- a big part of Julie Brown's comedy persona especially on the old skit comedy show The Edge.
- Not rewinding the tape gag: Another frequent gag of the 80s and 90s was an Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking or Felony Misdemeanor type joke (along the lines of the Mattress Tag Gag) with the revelation that a villainous character had once returned a rented video without rewinding it. DVDs quickly killed this joke.
- Teen girls' huge phone bills: In the 80s and 90s, part of the Valley Girl stereotype was having a phone in her room and jokes about the immense bills run up and the impossibility of anyone else getting a chance to use the phone line. Thanks to cell phones, with some help from Facebook and IMs, this has bitten the dust. Remnants still exist, such as in Juno (though this was mostly just to make a hamburger phone joke) and in Totally Radical advertising aimed at teens. (You can still joke about the phone bills, though.)
- "Motherfucker" is a black word: The term "motherfucker" as a term used by African-Americans. It's noted by a lot of older folklore/analysis of humor books that it was an African-American-only term. For better or worse, it's become a mainstream curseword with no racial associations, beyond a strong association with black actor Samuel L. Jackson, who says it a lot.
- There's a joke to the effect that this would be the title of an African-American adaptation of Oedipus the King.
- One episode of set-in-the-1920s Boardwalk Empire shows its work when black gangster Chalky uses the word and white protagonist Nucky has never heard it before.
- In the 1999 film The Green Mile, a Cajun character screams the word in a fit of anger...in the setting of 1930s Louisiana. While it's true that some Cajuns were racially mixed, this one certainly didn't look like he could be. It's probably just a case of Present Day Past.
- Kept alive (and subverted) by comic Bill Burr, who notes that nobody has a problem with a black guy speaking of an "Asian motherfucker", but Burr is regarded as a bigot when he talks about a "motherfucking Asian".
- Educator James Herndon describes teaching in a segregated school where the white men who ran things had a policy of zero tolerance on saying "motherfucker". They believed it was such a terrible insult that it would automatically start a fight. What they didn't realize was that the worst thing you could call someone was not motherfucker, but black.
- Evangelists in airports: Airports as places where you can expect to be repeatedly accosted by evangelists, Hare Krishnas, political activists, and the like. This was once common in American airports, which were generally considered "public forums" for free speech purposes. A 1992 Supreme Court ruling changed this, allowing airport authorities to make reasonable regulations to avoid congestion and disruption to air travelers, and 9/11 got rid of them for good.
- While the scene is still funny, some of the vicarious thrill of Robert Stack's Foe-Tossing Charge in Airplane! is lost on a modern audience. A 1980s traveler really did have to pass through similar gauntlets of airport attention-seekers, and probably wanted to handle them in Rex Kramer's no-nonsense fashion. However, even if the setting is unfamiliar, the behaviour itself is recognisable to anyone who's ever walked down a pedestrianized high street.
- There are even some episodes of The Simpsons that get in on this. Homer makes fun of all the people imploring him to love his neighbor until the two at the end of the line persuade him to join a cult. Another Simpsons episode inverted the trope with two American missionaries in suits showing up in an airport in India and a Hare-Krishna muttering: "Oh, great... Christians."
- Inferior Japanese products : for a few years after World War II, there was the stereotype that any product made in Japan was very cheap and of poor quality. We can see this trope was alive as late as the 70's, (e.g., Woody Allen shouting "Goddamn Japanese model!" in Sleeper). This is even referenced in Back to the Future III, where Doc Brown doesn't seem surprised when a circuit failed since it was made in Japan (Marty would make clear that in his time, the best products are actually made in Japan; words that truly shock Doc Brown). Around the 80's, and thanks to its economic rise, this image changed, and cutting-edge technology and high quality are usually what anyone thinks about Japanese products. Sure, maybe the idea of Japan Takes Over the World was a li'l too much, but it is still regarded as a super-power that excels in a lot of industries, specially cars and electronic devices.