"In other words, the story does not trick the player, it is the player that tricks himself."
CAUTION: Read this article carefully before using it
— if you don't, you'll probably mistake it for Not a Subversion
Basically, this is playing bait and switch with a trope. A work makes you think a trope is going to happen, but it doesn't.
But how could people know a trope is going to happen? Well tropes
live in the minds of the audience. As such, sufficiently Genre Savvy
(or Trope Savvy
) audience members can predict a familiar trope coming based on the hints dropped by the writer
. So when the writer decides to build on this expectation, only to reveal that the expected "trope" was a Red Herring
while an entirely different situation results, you have a Subverted Trope
Phrased another way, the work is ultimately revealed not
to be using the trope at all, but in the meantime was played up
to look like it was.
This is one method of leveraging a trope to give a story texture. It certainly isn't the only way.
A subversion has two mandatory segments. First, the expectation is set up that something we have seen plenty of times before is coming, then that set-up is paid off with something else entirely. The set-up is a trope; the "something else" is the subversion.
To put this another way, a trope of the form "X are often Y" is not subverted by every X you can think of that isn't Y. If someone is murdered and there's a butler around, but he didn't do it, that's not automatically a subversion of The Butler Did It
. But if the writer makes it look
like a typical example of The Butler Did It
, then reveals he didn't, that's
A full comparison could go something like this: A car chase is in progress at reckless speeds. The camera cuts to some workers carrying a Sheet of Glass
, then cuts back to the panicked driver headed towards the workers. It seems pretty obvious that the driver is going to smash the glass sheet into a million fragments... or is it?
- If the car drives through the pane of glass, it's played straight.
- If the car drives through the pane of glass, and the workers are heard complaining about why cars that are being chased can avoid nearly everything but a pane of glass, it's lampshaded.
- If the car drives through the pane of glass, and the driver gets out of the car to explain the reason why he crashed into it, it's justified.
- If the car misses the pane of glass, it's subverted.
- If something else causes the glass to be broken before the car can even make it to where the glass pane broke, it's also subverted.
- Another subversion is if the car hits, but somehow the car phases through and neither the glass nor the car is broken.
- If the car misses the pane of glass but a second car breaks it instead, it's a double subversion.
- If the car drives into the pane of glass, and the result is that the glass merely has a car-shaped hole in it, that's downplayed (and also Played for Laughs, but that's another matter. It's also Impact Silhouette played straight.)
- However, if the car drives into the pane of glass, and the result is that the glass merely has a car-shaped hole in it, but the pane of glass collapsed on itself, it's either played straight or a double subversion (And also breaking a downplay).
- If the car drives through the pane of glass backwards, or in any other weird way that a car should not be driving in, it's zig-zagged.
- If the car drives through the pane of glass, but it's the car that shatters (instead of the glass), it's inverted (and a very shoddily-built car at that).
- If there is no pane of glass at all, it's averted.
Conclusion: when posting examples, remember that just not doing
a trope isn't the same thing as subverting
it. Unfortunately, most tropers tend to forget that.
In addition, kindly avoid using "subverted brutally" or "subverted hard" when describing the manner in which a trope is subverted. There is no guarantee that your example was subverted any harder than the previous one. The same goes for saying that a trope is "kinda subverted", as treating tropes to play and subversion is by definition inexact.
Bear in mind that, just as Tropes Are Not Bad
, subversions are not automatically good, witty, clever, or original; conversely, don't hesitate to add a subversion (that's actually there) just because you think the work is inane and stupid.
Meta Trope Intro
compares this with many other ways that a trope can be used.
See also Discredited Trope
, Dead Horse Trope
, Double Subversion
, Downplayed Trope
, Playing with a Trope
, Zig-Zagging Trope
trope page has 'subverted in...' somewhere on it. Please
, apply the Wiki Magic
- A series of Discover credit card ads established a pattern of people calling their customer service line, and having their queries answered by an employee who symbolically looks just like them ("We treat you like you'd treat you"). Then they subverted viewers' expectation that the employee's resemblance was purely symbolic, having the employee in a new ad be the caller's actual identical twin.
- Watchmen: Adrian Veidt is set up to be the ultimate in Ambiguously Gay, with all of the preening attention to his own physical appearance and lack of fighting ability that is associated with that trope. Then somebody tries to shoot him, and he responds by picking up an eight-foot-tall floor lamp and using it to bash the gunman into a fountain, then climbing in after him and demanding to know who sent him while shaking and choking him. Subverted even further when we find out that Veidt hired the assassin himself as a red herring, and when Veidt proceeds to beat the everloving crap out of Nite Owl and Rorschach simultaneously, and then proves his skill further by catching a bullet.
- The ending can be seen as a major subversion. Rorschach and Nite Owl confront the now realized-to-be-the-evil-villain Adrian, he explains his master plan and when told that he will be stopped, he informs them that he carried out his plan before they even got there.
- In the season 2 finale of Carnivàle, Jonesy strikes Varlyn Stroud unconscious with a log of wood. He then runs into the house that Varlyn was about to enter and rescues Sophie, leaving Varlyn and Varlyns handgun unattended right outside the door. Seconds later, Josey gets shot... By Sophie.
- This is a staple of much of the comedy on Mongrels; starting out with what seems to be a buildup to an obvious joke only to quickly turn it around (often lampshading it in the process), like so:
Nelson: How did you get these documents?
Badger: Let's just say I have a... "mole" on the inside.
(cut to an ordinary-looking person in an office, grabbing documents off a table and sticking them into an envelope)
Nelson: Huh. Y'know the way you said that I was expecting an actual mole.
Badger: Nope, he's a person.
- Zyuden Sentai Kyoryuger had a Monster of the Week named Debo Hyogakki. He was credited with having wiped out the dinosaurs, but being the first opponent that the team faced, it seemed to be an Informed Ability. Then we got episode 17, where it was revealed that the monsters were getting stronger as Deboss was reviving, to the point where the Kyoryugers started having trouble with the Mooks until they got their Full Potential Upgrade. Then episode 21 subverted it even further by revealing when he was revived that Hyogakki wasn't the only one who wiped out the dinosaurs. He, along with Debo Viruson and Debo Nagareboshi, were a Power Trio known as the Zetsumates, a pun on the Japanese word zetsumetsu, or extinction. Then in episode 25, Hyogakki, as the last of the Zetsumates, showed his true power by making it so that if the people in the city shed a single tear, they'd turn into a Human Popsicle. So while you might have chuckled at his reputation when you first met this guy, it ultimately is revealed that he wasn't nearly as weak as he initially seemed.
- Lemon Demon's Being a Rock Star handily subverts the Rockstar Song trope. It starts with some generic lyrics about rockstardom, but rapidly switches to insulting the concept in the space of a verse or two.
- P.D.Q. Bach's "Concerto for Horn and Hardart" contains a subversion of the Theme with Variations.
Peter Schickele: The striking thing about the middle movement, the Theme with Variations, is that the variations have nothing whatsoever to do with the theme. Now, that's one of those things that everybody takes for granted, but why not? I mean... This is apparently variations on some other theme. Perhaps we'll turn that other work up someday.
- In the The Walking Dead:
- Season One subverts the Big Bad trope in Season One with "The Stranger". Halfway through the game, The Protagonist Lee discovers that Clementine, a girl he treats like his daughter, has been communicating with a Mysterious Stranger over her walkie-talkie. This man is implied to know a lot about Lee's group, and holds something against Lee. After an episode of watching Lee's group try and fail to stay alive, he kidnaps Clementine and Lee goes through hell to try and get her back. It's only when Lee and the Stranger meet face to face that he reveals why he hates Lee; at the end of Episode 2, Lee's group stole from an abandoned station wagon, which actually belonged to this man. Because of this, his Wife and child died, and he blames Lee. The man we expected to be the Big Bad turned out to be an Anti-Villain.
- The series as a whole has multiple subversions of the Sadistic Choice, which constantly turns out to be Morton's Fork. Subverted choices include but are not limited to saving a young boy or a young man from zombies (the young boy's father always saves him, the young man can't be saved), choosing whether or not euthanize or attempt reviving an old man who has had a heart attack and may be on the brink of zombifiying (that young boy's father always kills him), deciding on stealing from an ostensibly abandoned vehicle (if you refuse to steal, the rest of your group steals anyway), and saving an injured man or a woman (an inversion; they both make it).
- Explorers of Souls: It is a staple of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, fanfiction, and comics to make the first Mon the protagonist sees upon awakening their partner for life. Despite what Mel assumes, the Pikachu that she first meets has no interest in adventuring or becoming her compadre.
- George the Dragon subverts the expectations of dragon dietary preferences.
- Blur the Lines subverts Stuffed into the Fridge when Drew receives a present that the giver implies is the head of his lover, Rick. After crying out because he thinks his lover is dead, Rick walks up behind him and says, "What? Why are you screaming?" 
- In Grrl Power, Sydney fumbles for her glasses, talking as if she were Blind Without 'Em. She then takes out the overconfident bad guy and exclains, "Trope subverted!" before explaining that no one's that blind -- well, yes, some people are, but they don't get to be cops.
- Superman: The Animated Series plays straight and subverts many tropes, but it is noteworthy the way it handled Bury Your Gays. Maggie Sawyer was primarily a victim of Hide Your Lesbians, up until the second season episode Apokolips...Now! there had not been any hints to her orientation in the comics, but she seemed to be legitimately set up for death. When she is attacked by Intergang she is thrown from her car in a fiery explosion and she is shown horribly burned beneath a crushing pile of rubble, noticeably without a blinking eye or moving fingers. It looks like she is Killed Off for Real, especially when Dan Turpin starts calling the attackers "murderers" while screaming at them, except a later scene reveals her to be Not Quite Dead. This later scene, which revealed that she had survived and thus subverted the Bury Your Gays trope, also provided the first ever hint at her sexuality when she is visited in the hospital by a woman that the DVD commentary reveals is Toby Raines, her partner in the comics. So, Maggie not only survives the attack, which is a straight subversion of the Bury Your Gays premise, but the setup actually lead to a (partial) revelation of her sexuality, something this trope is usually invoked specifically to avoid, making it also an inversion.
- The Simpsons is the master of the subverted trope.
- One example of many is in the episode "Monty Can't Buy Me Love," where Cue the Flying Pigs is subverted when Mr. Burns and Smithers enter a book store:
Burns: Books and cocoa in the same store? What's next, a talking banana?
Burns: Of course not. The very notion of a talking banana is absurd. But still....
- In Vino Veritas is subverted in the episode "Mountain of Madness," where a park ranger enters a cabin and finds it full of partying employees from the nuclear plant.
Ranger: Hey, what is going on here? Who are you people? This is a lookout post. Where is Ranger Mc Fadden?
Drunk: I was just happy to see so many nice people!
Ranger: Quiet, you drunk. Where is Ranger McFadden?
(The camera then moves a step to the side, revealing a straight-laced ranger with glasses)
Ranger McFadden: Right here, sir, behind the drunk.
- A third example, also from "Monty Can't Buy Me Love," is when Mr. Burns, Homer et al have finally found the Loch Ness monster, who proves impossible to subdue. Finally Mr. Burns walks toward the monster with a stern look in his face. We expect an epic fight where Mr. Burns is revealed as a Badass Grandpa handing out an unexpected ass-kicking — but instead the scene cuts to the team's helicopter in the air, with Nessie tied up and swinging below. Mr. Burns explains to the admiring team:
I was a little worried when he swallowed me, but ... well, you saw the rest
- Another episode subverts the Sheet of Glass example mentioned above. In this case, the car hits the glass, but simply knocks it down flat on the ground and drives over it. The workers then pick the glass back up noting "wow, tough glass."
- The glass example is subverted again in the episode where Bart gets an elephant. The elephant runs off, stampeding down a street towards two workers carrying a glass pane. They jump out of the way of the elephant, with the glass surviving, only to jump right into the path of a skateboarding Bart... Who they also successfully avoid, eventually making it all the way across the street, glass intact, to complete their goal of throwing it into a dumpster, shattering it to pieces.
- The Simpsons really loves playing subversions for laughs. Another example: When the Simpsons are kicked out of their house, Homer remarks: "Well, at least it's not raining!" Beat. "See, it's not raining."
- In Family Guy, Peter has just launched himself from a cannon. Cut to a living room:
Great, I've got all my dominoes
set up exactly how I want them, next to the good china. Now I'll just place this priceless Fabergé egg next to my newborn hemophiliac baby....
(Peter lands with thud outside the window, and looks in.)
Peter: Wow. Those are all really nice things.