Indecisive Deconstruction

A deconstruction that can't make up its mind if it is examining a genre, or if it is just in that genre.

A deconstruction has to have at least some elements of the genre it is deconstructing, but there is a fine line. It has to fundamentally criticize the tropes of the genre, playing them straight and demonstrating the actual consequences of the genre's tropes (good or bad). However, even standard genre pieces often do that to at least some of their genre conventions. What about works that were meant to be deconstructions, but didn't go far enough? Or works that were never meant to be deconstructions, but ended up as being viewed as such? What about works that crank up the tropes to the point of parody yet are ambiguous on whether or not they are criticizing the tropes? What about works that merely play the conventions for realism, with no critical intent on the part of the creator, yet can still clearly be read as criticisms?

Basically, there are many questions that can be raised about what counts as a deconstruction.

There are at least four potential subtypes of Indecisive Deconstruction:

  • Unintentional Deconstruction, where the work can be read as a criticism of the tropes it plays straight, even if there is no critical intent on the part of the author (or the author has not expressed any critical intent whatsoever). Half-Life, as stated below, can be read as a deconstruction of the Trope Codifier Doom, but the authors have never implied any critical intent. Twilight can also be read as a deconstruction of traditional romances, because Edward is sometimes seen as an abusive, manipulative control freak, yet Stephenie Meyer has stated she believes Edward is the perfect boyfriend (thus, no critical intent exists). It should be marked that this type of deconstruction can be either a product of very attentive and intuitive (sometimes naive) writing or the product of writing so bad that the author doesn't even understand the context and consequences of their own work.
  • Partial Deconstruction, where the work deconstructs several tropes, but whether or not it actually criticizes the tropes essential to the genre (or enough of the tropes essential to the genre) is debatable. This category exists for Genre Films that throw in some deconstructed tropes but may not be deconstructions of their genre. This can be intentional or unintentional on the part of the author but can be effective or not depending on the nature and purpose of the work. This often depends on which genre the work is classified as; sometimes it becomes incidental as an author intends to deconstruct one genre but actually ends up writing it for another (a lot of tropes are common to many genres, but are only essential to a limited number).
  • Attempted Deconstruction, where the work postures as a Genre Deconstruction but isn't. This is the reverse of Unintentional Deconstruction; deconstructive intent is present, but the deconstruction is hampered by too many tropes being played straight. Scream (1996) fits here. Arguably, some of the Darker and Edgier Dark Age Comic Books (which [mostly unsuccessfully] attempted to emulate Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns) also fit under this category. This is either the result of bad writing where the author doesn't really understand the consequences of the tropes they are deconstructing, or the result of a series where an author starts off with one idea but then changes to settle on another (this doesn't mean that the work is badly written, just that its purpose changed over time).
  • Defictionalized Deconstruction, where the work actually never intended to deconstruct the work at all (or deconstruction was at the very back of the author's thoughts) but the setting, genre, and specific story being told ends up filling the fiction with loads of deconstruction-enough in fact to be considered a deconstruction of popular narrative cliches, tropes, and even genres and setting. A common example are stories based on real incidents where so many popular tropes were averted because the events that inspired the work of fiction pretty much occurred as though the story was a deconstruction. This is especially prevalent in well-researched historical fiction, war stories, and crime fiction where authors tend to copy almost the entire plot from real history and documentations word-for-word (with some twist of creativity on the author's part). Also common in many fictional works where the author garnered a professional expert or scholar (or reasonably accurate secondary sources and references) to aid him on themes and tropes related to the story (such as battle scenes in war movies like Saving Private Ryan), if not then the author outright being a long time enthusiast of said subject (such as a skateboarding fan deconstructing the determinator trope by realistically portraying what injuries would do like disqualifying a participant). Also authors may throw in events based on or inspired by their personal experience just to spice up the story or show character development (even though they never intended to deconstruct popular tropes that occurred very differently in real life).

See also Indecisive Parody and Unbuilt Trope.

Compare Supposedly Rebellious Series, when a story appears to challenge metaconcepts, but doesn't. Compare and contrast Decon-Recon Switch, where a work begins as a deconstruction but (intentionally) switches to a Reconstruction by the end.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Manga Rose Of Versailles deconstructs many popular cliches of the French Revolution and even the Shojo and romance genre. For starters rather than overwhelming armies of the French monarchy, peasants are shown being massacred during the violence and riots of the revolution. Furthermore even in cases where the rebels have been able to defeat French forces on their own, they were armed with musket rifles, explosives, and other gunpowder weaponry-the very same tools that the military of the French nobility were using-rather than charging towards them in a brutal melee with farming tools and other improvised weapons. Also the leaders of the Revolution were from the aristocracy and even when the citizenry took the initiative on their own to fight the corruption of the monarch, they consisted mostly of the middle class (many whom were literate and even educated with degrees including high paying professions such as doctor and lawyer), with the lower class participants coming from a military or police background. In the end elements of the French army and scholarly class were shown as being essential in order to defeat the monarchy's army and reform the government. These are just a few and this is not counting in showing the consequences of court rumors, adulterous relationships, cross-dressing, and other tropes common in Shojo and romance stories. However the author Ikeda was primarily basing the story's events, setting, and artistic direction on a biography on Marie Antoinette and other historical sources and was a fan of European culture so this is an example of defictionalized deconstruction.
  • The Chuunin Exam Story Arc from Naruto deconstructs several tropes of the Shōnen action genre: The hidden motives and behind-the-scenes scheming during the Tournament Arc force the tournament to be canceled part way through. The "winner(s)", although there is only one in this arc, are picked by a panel of judges, and they reward the secondary character who forfeited; they found his decision to make a tactical retreat admirable, while Naruto's "never give up no matter what" attitude struck them as likely to get himself or his teammates killed some day. And, when Naruto finally proves himself better than his Rival, Sasuke, instead of Defeat Means Friendship, just the opposite occurs; Sasuke is so disgusted at his weakness compared to Naruto that he joins the Big Bad in exchange for power. However, so many other tropes are played straight during the arc that it's unclear if a deconstruction was intended.
  • Rei Ayanami from Neon Genesis Evangelion was an attempted deconstruction of the Yamato Nadeshiko, and Extreme Doormat Love Interests in general, where Hideaki Anno took the trope to its logical conclusion and asked fanboys "so, is this what you want?" However, the response to that question was a resounding "yes," and Rei became not only a Fountain of Expies, but also a major Trope Maker for Moe as we understand it today (not helped by the fact that Rei was portrayed in a very sympathetic light in the anime).
    • Similarly, Asuka Langley Soryu from the same series can be read as a Deconstruction of how much it would suck to have a Tsundere love interest (being a neurotic mess who emotionally abuses the protagonist). However, it's not clear how deliberate this was, as Anno has stated his preference for Asuka in interviews.
    • Interestingly, Kaworu can be read as the Yaoi Guys version of Rei. While just as many people took him in exactly the wrong direction (including Studio Gainax themselves), quite a few people did take him the way he was intended, and his Hatedom just keeps growing.
  • Medaka Box: The series was meant to examine many of the tropes which defined Shonen manga, with its eponymous protagonist representing many of the ideal Shonen Hero traits. On one hand the series tried pointing out the kind of personality that would actually result in being designed for that role: for instance Medaka is so utterly devoted to heroism that she doesn't seem to be able to relate to people. On the other hand, Medaka's methods are rarely shown to be wrong in the narrative itself.
  • Master of Martial Hearts: A raging document against the Panty Fighter, while giving us just as much if not more Fanservice as the typical show it's insulting. That's what we call "trying to have it both ways".
  • Fans of Gunslinger Girl see it as a social commentary on Child Soldier's and a deconstruction of the lolicon genre. It's not. The mangaka just likes middle school girls with guns and the fratello relationship really is supposed to be ambiguously sexual. The first anime plays the presumed aesop straight while Teatrino uses the original one, which is part of the many reasons why fans disliked it.
  • Yuri Kuma Arashi deconstructs a number of Yuri genre tropes and criticizes the way lesbians are treated in Japanese society, but at the same time, also indulges in a number of Yuri tropes (especially Fanservice), as well as some Unfortunate Implications when it comes to LGBT people (especially where Yurika is concerned).

    Comic Books 
  • The obscure Image Comics character Bloodwulf. He was a parody or homage of Lobo, in that he had the look, the high body count, the serious joy in bloodletting... but he was also a devoted family man who loved his wives and kids. His few appearances were never quite clear on whether they were mocking the character, or trying to cash in, or both.
  • The Killing Joke by Alan Moore was intended to counter Insane Equals Violent and Single-Issue Psychology (which was also the deconstructive focus of Watchmen) and provide a more realistic motivation for the gimmicky villain motifs. By exploring Joker's origins and treating him as a victim of mental illness, the story introduces the possibility of Joker being cured. However any attempt to do would be Failure Is the Only Option since it would counter the role and function that Joker is intended to serve as a fictional characternote  and so can't really experience the Character Development that comes up with deeper motivations. In the end, Joker's darker, nastier backstory becomes a Freudian Excuse for him to darker, nastier things.

    Fan Fiction 

    Films — Animated 
  • Happily N'Ever After: comes close to deconstructing the typical Disney fairytale storyline, but since it's a kids' movie couldn't go all the way.
  • More famously, Shrek does something similar — it satirizes traditional fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters left and right and turns the traditional fairy tale structure on its head — the Princess has a reason to hide in the tower, the perfect fairy tale kingdom comes at the expense of forcing all of the non-humans to live in the woods, the nasty ogre is the reluctant hero. However, there's still room for a happy ending and a dance party at the end.
  • Brave is set up as a deconstruction of the normal story of a Rebellious Princess wanting to get her own way, and it does achieve this to some end (as Merida does realize that she can't just do what she wants all the time), but it doesn't go all the way, as said princess gets her way in the end.
  • The Swan Princess attempted to deconstruct some Disney Princess movie tropes long before ''Shrek'' did, such as having its princess point out to the prince that she arranged to get married doesn't have much reason to love her aside from her beauty, but this is brushed aside and they both get married at the end in spite of not having all that much relationship-building throughout the film. Also, they genuinely did not like each other at all during their childhood and adolescence and the princess had a spunky, proactive personality, but that's rendered moot with the grown-up princess having a more generic personality.
  • The 2007 film Beowulf plays the myth fairly straight for most regards, but adds elements suggesting Unreliable Narrator, all sorts of raunchiness and deviations from the myth that suggest that it is a "true" version that ended up being portrayed more heroically in the myths. However it still has a naked Beowulf backflipping when fighting Grendel and being all beardy and manly and fighting monsters. A lot of arguments come up about whether or not a particular element was meant to be taken seriously.
  • Frozen parodies the 'true love at first sight' aspect and the typical romantic princess-dashing knight-evil queen setup of the original Disney films, with Anna wanting a boyfriend to make up for her emotional neglect, Hans being a secret villain, and Elsa being a misunderstood good person. However at the climax of the movie Anna realises she and Kristoff love each other(although it is not used as the movie's solution) and at the end they share what the script terms 'a true love's kiss', despite her knowing him for only three days. Further, while Anna and Hans look like a stereotypical Princess and Prince respectively, Elsa doesn't resemble anything in the Disney Villain lineup.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The movie Adaptation. is this on purpose. First, it explicitly states all the tropes it's not going to use, and in the second half it gleefully goes all out in using them. Not for the art, but as a commentary about Executive Meddling.
  • Scream (1996) was marketed as a Deconstructive Parody of the Slasher genre, but it's deconstruction only went as far as having characters point out loads of slasher movie clichés, then proceed to fall for all of the old traps anyway. Because Slashers were not en vogue at the time, it ended up being closer to a Reconstruction and, for better or worse, breathed new life in the genre for at least another decade.
  • Hancock can't decide whenever it wants be a deconstruction or a tragedy. The first half is basically a straight Deconstructive Parody. The second half is a different kind of deconstruction, examining the fact that superpowers don't exist in a vacuum. (You can't have Superman without Krypton, or Wonder Woman without Paradise Island.) Whether it's any good depends on the viewer.
  • Wanted plays its tropes so straight that it's hard to decide what it's doing. The comicbook that it was loosely based on is a more straightforward deconstruction of supervillains and glorification of violence, as well as the Hero's Journey by turning it into a path towards evil instead of good.
  • Kick-Ass sets itself up to examine the reality of normal people of superheroes like the comic book it adapts, and shows rather jarringly what would realistically happen to anyone who believes they got the skills, assets and resourcefulness satisfactory to be a costumed vigilante. However, unlike that comic book, it then becomes a Reconstruction - effectively subverting the source material's entire plot and having the lead character eventually gain many, many levels in Kick-Ass to demonstrate that either anything's possible with enough determination... or that grim realism is detrimental for a compelling plot. Of course, the original comic book went for such a self-indulgent Darker and Edgier dystopic view on humanity that you would think that it is an unintentional deconstruction of the self-absorbed emo-teenage fantasy (of the kind Frank Miller would agree with). At this point, however, it's either a very competent Stealth Parody or very sadly played straight.
  • Enchanted is either this or a Decon-Recon Switch, depending on a): how self-aware you think it is of its tendency to reuse tropes it previously smashed into little pieces, and b): how convincing you think its reuse of those tropes really is.
  • Last Action Hero - Affectionate Parody or straight-up lampooning of action movie tropes? The movie bounced between the two and suffered for it.
  • Sucker Punch: Action-movie Fanservice, or a deconstruction of Action-movie Fanservice? Who knows?
  • Good Luck Chuck sits firmly into Unintentional Deconstruction territory. As noted under Deconstructive Parody there are several elements that can be taken as criticism of some of the particularely contrived examples in the Romantic Comedy subgenre, like the loser protagonist who can't get a good girlfriend needing a literal curse for the plot to work at all, fairly realistic consequences of going to absurd lengths to woo a girl, etc. Interviews with the director and main actors suggest they viewed it as nothing other than a typical wacky Rom-Com (Jessica Alba did critique the film later on, but for different reasons).
  • Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, with its dead serious dramatic delivery and completely insane fight sequences, is either a mediocre action movie or an excellent deconstruction of how nonsensical action movies can be in their presentation.
  • Golden Eye walks the line between this and Decon-Recon Switch, as many characters talk about whether James Bond still has a place in the post-Cold War world, which is offset by puns and gadgetry straight out of the Connery and Moore films.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Fringe would be this for the Paranormal Investigation Genre.
  • Power Rangers RPM, somewhat: it essentially Deconstructs, or at least lampshades, many of the series' tropes ("sometimes when I morph, there's a giant fireball behind me," not to mention Venjix's real reason for sending in Monsters of the Week). The thing is, all of this self-aware goofiness takes place in a post-apocalyptic wasteland (which the heroes' mentor indirectly caused). It was fairly well received overall, to the point of being a Reconstruction following a Dork Age to some.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer was an Indecisive Deconstruction of the idea of The Chosen One, alternating between It Sucks to Be the Chosen One and So What Do We Do Now? and points out that it would be very bad (both for Buffy and the universe as a whole) if she actually were normal. Eventually, it gets dealt with by introducing The Chosen Many.
  • Glee contains elements that parody high school underdog story shows riddled with Glurgey Very Special Episodes, such as the Deadpan Snarker dialogue and the cast's Dysfunction Junction, while at the same time the lessons are supposed to be taken seriously and the show is intended to be heartfelt. And then there's the matter of whether you think the entire series is in fact an attempted deconstruction of the harmonious high-school community, showing how ridiculous it is for any group of teenagers to be in the same room singing along with happy smiles together without attempting to kill each other.
  • Michelle Tanner of Full House could be interpreted as a deconstruction of the Bratty Half-Pint and Karma Houdini. The reason that she acts like a spoiled brat all the time is because she is never punished for it, and the reason that she is never punished for it is because her mother died when she was a baby, meaning that her father does not want to ever discipline her, because that would require him to admit that she is old enough to know the difference between right and wrong, and therefore that her mother is dead. But this is unintentional, as the real reason is because Michelle is a Creator's Pet, so this is a coincidence.

  • [title of show] starts out as a postmodern look at how musicals are made, pointing out and critiquing many of the common plot points. By the second act, however, it's more or less a melodrama about a theatre troupe who are totally falling apart, guys.

    Video Games 
  • The plot of Haze attempts to deconstruct the more arcade-style FPS' with military settings like Halo by trying to show what it would be like if war were like a video game. Specifically, all the "players" (soldiers) would be apparently be Psychopathic Manchild Jerk Jock types deluding themselves into believing their side is morally perfect when in reality the moral conflicts of war aren't easily reducible to Black and White Morality. However, only one side of the conflict is actually subjected to severe critical analysis; the initially-villains are shown to be borderline saints. Given the whole theme of the game is meant to be about the moral complexities of armed conflict, this contradicts the point.
    • Zero Punctuation made an additional point in this regard, discussing out a major missed opportunity: when you switch sides, nothing changes about your squadmates' stats. Instead of trying to make a point about the invincibility of the former protagonists and how the severely outgunned rebels have to resort to cunning and trickery, the game simply "switches jerseys:" your rebel allies that were dying in two shots a mission ago can now heal back a burst from a rifle, while your power armored-allies now go down like mooks.
  • Half-Life can be read as a deconstruction of the Trope Codifier Doom. The basic premise (an experiment into teleportation technology goes horribly wrong) is basically the same as Doom. Like Doom, there is very little plot exposition. But unlike Doom, Half-Life showed you exactly how terrifying this kind of scenario would be if it happened in the Real World; you must think and not act like a stereotypical Space Marine in order to remain alive. And of course, this kind of experiment would require immense levels of government funding. Necessitating a large covert laboratory. And thus, when everything goes wrong the military have to be called in to keep things covert. However, the developers have at no point implied any critical intent. Thus, Half-Life is arguably an unintentional deconstruction.
    • Of course, once the initial shock of being a scientist as opposed to a Marine wears off, it goes the opposite direction, and the game never tries to justify the protagonist's (who had never seen Day One of action prior to all hell breaking loose) ease of mowing down wave after wave of aliens and Marines beyond that he has a special suit. The second game goes even farther away from a deconstruction, presenting the protagonist as The Chosen One who never expresses any qualms about killing the countless adversaries in his path, even though he had never killed anyone before the Resonance Cascade happened.
  • For that matter, both Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption also count. Both games are attempts by Rockstar to show the life of a gangster and outlaw as being completely horrific, with characters that are trying to redeem themselves from those lifestyles. This might work... if it weren't for the fact that more than likely, all the player will want to do is, well, embrace those lifestyles in the game and just have fun.
    • While it's definitely Lighter and Softer than IV, Grand Theft Auto V may be an even more severe example. The tone is much lighter and the organized crime aspects in general are shone in a much more flattering light, but somehow that just makes the darker aspects of the story all the more jarring. For example, Michael has a completely dysfunctional family life and a mountain of debt he owes to a government agent after striking a deal to escape his life of crime, culminating in Michael and his partners later being forced to torture and kill on the government's behalf in order to return the favor, and two of the game's three endings requiring Franklin to murder one of his closest partners. And don't even get us started on Trevor.
  • Far Cry 3 attempts to show the slow devolution of a protagonist into madness. On the other hand, he never seems too crazy and this is the only way to rescue his friends.
  • Despite Final Fantasy VII's deconstruction of many trope (Aerith's death, Cloud just to name a few), it has been jeered by many people to be just your generic Eastern RPG with cliches that maybe, ironically, were the deconstruction. While it is more a case of Seinfeld Is Unfunny, FFVII has a vibe that's still same with a usual RPG (quite upbeat), and the Darker and Edgier feeling later that's usually presented with the Deconstructed work in the first place's usually waved off as just those Cerebus Syndrome for still not dark enough. It doesn't help that the fanbase itself rarely realized it and the deconstruction maybe mistaken as an attempt to make a new trope.
  • From the beginning Halo's backstory had subversive elements. The awesome action hero Master Chief turns out to be that way because he was indoctrinated since childhood on how to kill. His One-Man Army status is irrelevant against an enemy who uses Orbital Bombardment. The unified human civilization of the future turns out to be not a benevolent federation but an authoritarian near-empire that just happens to be fighting aliens who are even worse. And sheer willpower by humanity turns out to be incapable of winning the war; humanity only survives because on an Enemy Civil War tangentially related to this conflict that splits the invasion apart. If one just plays the games, though, the story appears like a straight "power of humans" tale, though later games are unifying the game stories and backstory more.

    Western Animation 
  • The Dreamstone comes off as such due to the Urpney scenes, which mock the Serious Business formula of 80s/90s cartoons and put excess Sympathetic P.O.V. on what the Urpneys suffer from being Trapped in Villainy over a futile goal. The heroes themselves however play the formula totally and utterly straight and are always treated as in the right against the Urpneys, making it more a standard Designated Hero vs Designated Villain situation. Later episodes try to tweak the plot to find a middle ground.