A Trope Breaker is a change in cultural context, such as a change in customs or mores, or an advance in technology, which renders some well-loved trope moot in contemporary storylines
. Hollywood usually responds to Trope Breakers sluggishly, and clings to broken tropes via lame, sometimes outright bizarre
justifications. Sometimes a Trope Breaker is just flat-out ignored, leading to lots of Fridge Logic
The trope may become a Discredited Trope
, only used for parody, or a totally Forgotten Trope
. If it goes on for long enough you'll get an Undead Horse Trope
One reason for the Period Piece
and Historical Fiction
is that you can go back to a time of plausibility. Sometimes the audience doesn't realize that the Trope Breaker is Newer Than They Think
, where a trope stops being used because a particular work takes the trope to its logical conclusion. Deconstructions are aimed at tropes (most of the time
), while Trope Breakers have Tropes as collateral damage.
Tropes like Science Marches On
, Tech Marches On
, Outdated Outfit
, Two Decades Behind
and Magic Floppy Disk
are largely subtropes.
- DNA testing is a major Trope Breaker for Soap Operas paternity plots. In addition to its potential effects on Luke, You Are My Father and Mysterious Parent plots, it could be able to identify many Unknown Assailants. Instead, it has spawned a wealth of new justifying tropes such as the Laboratory Subversion, the Sample Subversion and the Concealed Test Result.
- The Scottish film "Young Adam" would be over in five minutes if DNA testing was available. It was made in the early 21st century, but had to be set several decades earlier so that DNA testing would not be a plot option. When a drowned woman is discovered to have been pregnant when she died, the last man known to have dated her is charged with her murder (and unjustly convicted) on the grounds that he had impregnated her and didn't want to marry her. DNA testing would have established that he was not the child's father.
- Any uses of Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe can be broken by DNA testing, as long as the possible fathers aren't identical twins.
- Unless the writer has Shown Their Work and the father is a genetic mosaic at the germ line, which can render paternity tests inaccurate. Although the inaccuracy in the paternity test caused by germline mosaicism only apply if the result is negative. Paternity would be confirmed if the result is positive, because although the man with genetic mosaic have two or more genetically different cell lines, if one of these is compatible with the child then the man has to be his father (unless the man has a identical twin). However, they have to stop showing there work some time before they let the cat out of the bag that genetic mosaicism is associated with male infertility... so it's not likely in the first place and if you do have it odds are you're infertile anyway.
- Modern day smartphones are Trope Breakers for people using paper maps and stopping to ask for directions.
- Many smartphones today come with internet and GPS and with apps such as Google Maps to quickly plug an address and get turn by turn directions where to go. The only reason to go back to paper maps is because either there's no cell signal at your location or the batteries in your smartphone are dead (highly unlikely if you're in a car unless you forgot to bring a car charger).
- Alternatively, one might not have a smartphone.
- Less-lethal weapons are a Trope Breaker for police and crime dramas but not police documentaries. Lampshaded by Police, Camera, Action! in the episode Less Lethal Weapons in 2007. This is typically just plain ignored: When was the last time you saw anyone hit with a Taser or pepper spray on a cop show? It's still mostly guns and a few clubs in this world.
- CSI manages to make the pepper spray and taser combo have lethal consequences in one episode due to a series of extenuating circumstances.
- Interestingly enough, Jamie and Adam of the MythBusters were guests on that episode of CSI. They would eventually examine this on their show, and found that - with the right brand of pepper spray, the right kind of taser, and the right fabric - it was possible to set someone's clothes on fire with this combination of less-lethal weapons.
- It's also a point that in real life, police will never Taser a perp holding a gun (the twitching would cause them to pull the trigger), so more often than not, this is justified. Incapacitant sprays also have their own drawbacks; in an enclosed space or if the wind is blowing the wrong way, an incautious cop can find himself Hoist by His Own Petard, and some of them carry a non-trivial risk of doing more harm than a well-placed whack from a baton.
- The Musketeer pretty much became the Spiritual Successor to the Knight in Shining Armor. Several factors include: Adam Smith Hates Your Guts, where to be a knight you needed to be wealthy to afford and maintain your very expensive and heavy suit of armor and your warhorses whenever you go into battle. Knight charges were also easily countered by newer military tactics like pike and shot or Hit-and-Run Tactics. And last but not least, as time went on, firearms became more accurate with greater muzzle velocity, making armor useless.
- France's Musketeers of the Guard were not all that different from their knight counterpart. Like knights, the Musketeers were also from the nobility and were the special forces during their time.
- Thirty years of changes in women's hairstyles are a pretty serious Trope Breaker for the Beehive Hairdo, Elderly Blue-Haired Lady, and other outdated hairstyles. When was the last time you saw any woman with a beehive hairdo in real life? Other than Amy Winehouse, that is. Indeed, the lampshading of beehive poster girl Marge Simpson is constant — but the hairdo is still used as a trope, implying a lot about Marge's character.
- Cell phones are a Trope Breaker for tropes involving Pay Phones and Phone Booths, as well as many other tropes. There are also far more dead zones in fiction — especially in slasher films — than one would expect in the real world, as though the cellular phone is powered by the same thing running the Millennium Falcon... (See Cell Phones Are Useless.)
- The film Phone Booth was in Development Hell for so long that phone booths were no longer relevant by the time it was finally made, so the writers had to jump through a few hoops to explain why the main character would be using one.
- Can possibly be justified when Mr. Important doesn't want to be reached, or the phone itself gets broken or lost somehow.
- The digital camera breaks many photography tropes, some of which are still seen once in a while. What's a "Polaroid" again? Now that our memory cards are around the 2-16 GB range, who "runs out of film" or "out of memory" when shooting stills? Heck, when was the last time you saw a still picture in black and white outside a newspaper for other than artistic reasons? So much for the sort of spy caper where the MacGuffin is "the negatives" of something incriminating (although this one got replaced by "Zoom zoom enhance enhance.") On the other hand, "out of film" and "out of memory" are being replaced by "battery ran out", which has the same effect and is more believable. However, with scientists having prototype batteries that can be charged in 10 seconds, this too may soon be broken.
- However, many older users of digital technology still use the older terms, even if they are no longer accurate.
- Several tabletop games involving vampires in the Urban Fantasy setting have had to make note that most digital cameras don't work by way of reflections, and therefore will capture a vampire on film. This presents many problems for game masters who place an emphasis on stories involving a Masquerade, The World of Darkness in particular. This bleeds into Trope Breaker territory quite often, but just as often subverts it, since traditional cameras do work by way of reflection, and any Period Piece vampire campaign since digital media became the norm has had to pay more attention to the lack of digital photography. This may be one of the few cases of a Trope Breaker that operates solely on Fridge Logic. A few films have made note of this phenomenon, but the simple application of Our Vampires Are Different usually sweeps it under the rug.
- Note that Polaroid now makes digital Instamatic-type cameras, allowing you to take as many pictures as you want and just print certain ones out.
- The increasing social awareness and acceptance of single mothers and out-of-wedlock births have made tropes like Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism acceptable and believable only when stories are set in the distant past, or under very restricting types of characters. This is more obvious in soap operas produced in South America, since single motherhood and absent fathers are so widespread there that few people can understand the drama in that.
- The Civil Rights Movement can be credited with helping eliminate egregious forms of the Ethnic Scrappy, along with many other sad and offensive ethnic tropes. On the other hand, it is hard to argue that other less-offensive but still Unfortunately Implying tropes such as the Token Minority and Black Best Friend did not come into play as the result of attempts to be politically correct. Also, Jive Turkey and the use of the N-word to be "edgy" also seem to have only increased since the 1960s.
- Certain Stock Shticks are rendered broken by technology, such as GPS doing away with the "man never asking for directions" schtick.
- Commercials for Tom-Tom have put a new spin on it, though, having guys ask "Mom-Mom" or "Doug-Doug" for directions instead of getting a Tom-Tom.
- Caller ID can break the stock plot of a person pretending to be calling from a place where he is not (though cell phones can sometimes help it work anyway). There are other ways to mask the number from which you're calling, but these never come up in the shows themselves.
- This was lampshaded by the frat-punk band blink-182 in "What's My Age Again?", where the narrator's prank call is defeated by caller ID.
- Also in Chopping Block, where Butch's attempt to replicate When a Stranger Calls fails thanks to caller ID.
- Ditto for Scream 2, in which one of the first scenes features a dumbass trying to prank call Sidney and claiming to be Ghostface; she looks at the caller ID and tells him off. And it's been said that the first film triggered a threefold spike in the adoption of caller ID systems.
- Caller ID is also a trope breaker for the Prank Call. The whole idea of making a prank call was that it was easy to get away with. Nowadays, with caller ID becoming ubiquitous, it's all but impossible for someone to not know where you're calling from. Works that still use this either are set before 1998 or so (when caller ID first began to get widespread use), or done as a way to show how out of touch with current tech a character is.
- The Great Politics Mess-Up was a big one. Tropes affected:
- The entire Spy Fiction genre: The War on Terror just isn't the same. No more high-tech heroes fighting high-tech enemies. No more mysterious, alluring women with Slavic accents.
- Dirty Communists: Obviously. However, Red Scare paranoia can be replaced with Islamic terrorism paranoia in a pinch. See Mistaken for Terrorist. And this has come back somewhat in recent years with tensions with North Korea.
- A Nuclear Error: Still possible, but doesn't have the punch it used to. China and North Korea might be substituted for Russia nowadays, and the latter might in turn be substituted for the former. This would really only work if North Korea were portrayed as much more powerful than it really is, but Hollywood doesn't seem to have a problem with that.
- Commie Land: Well, there's still Cuba and North Korea. And kinda-sorta-not-really China, Vietnam, and Laos. Belarus has the traditional flavor of this trope, even if it's not officially communist anymore.
- Defector from Commie Land: Possible with Cuba, North Korea or maybe China, but even then not as relevant without the Cold War to drive things. The Korean DMZ can replace the Iron Curtain.
- Russian Reversal: Should be broken, but isn't for some reason.
- Any Enemy Mine plot where Americans and Soviets have to work together against a common enemy. So far, no War on Terror equivalent has sprung up, since a terrorist is a Villain by Default, while Ilya Kuryakin is just a guy on the other side.
- World War III: That's not to say there couldn't be another global war, but the battle lines used to be drawn and everyone knew which countries would be on which side. All that was needed was a match to light the fuse. Now everything has to be contrived from scratch. And really, it's just not a fear on anybody's mind anymore.
- Generally, any plot in which Eagleland has an equal Worthy Opponent. China is the most obvious replacement, but you better not make them look too bad or your movie will get Banned in China, and that's a pretty lucrative market.
- Renegade Russian and Make the Bear Angry Again sprang up as excuses to make Cold War tropes usable again, but they too have become fairly antiquated. Nowadays, writers wanting to use Cold War tropes usually go the Period Piece route.
- The economic rise of Japan killed off forever the stereotype that the Japanese produce inferior technology (e.g., Woody Allen shouting "Goddamn Japanese model!" in Sleeper). Lampshaded in Back to the Future: Part III, where Doc jokes with Marty that it's no wonder a circuit failed, because it was made in Japan. Marty counters that, as far as he knows, "all the best stuff is made in Japan."
- Coeducational colleges and dorms killed off the College Widow.
- Modern medical science in the developed world has, for the most part, done in the Incurable Cough of Death, and Death by Childbirth, or so one would think; many sentimentalist writers didn't get the memo.
- Ignoring period pieces or anything set outside of the industrialized world, as many pathogens develop resistances, incidences of bacterial septic shock and resistant TB are on the rise. If Real Life Writes the Plot, these may become Cyclic Tropes. Sleep tight.
- The current economic slump, credit crunch, and dismal job market just might be a Trope Breaker for Basement-Dweller, as more and more college grads have no other choice, even as they actively search for work so the trope characterizing those who do as anti-social or slackers is fading away. Since the economy rotates between periods of good and bad, this is more of a Cyclic Trope than a Discredited Trope or Dead Horse Trope, and still Truth in Television.
- More militaries have become professional volunteer forces, doing away with Draft Dodging.
- However, should things go horribly wrong in some way or another, just about all of those countries would reinstate drafting or conscription.
- The feminist movement was supposed to be a Trope Breaker for many tropes, including Distressed Damsel, Screaming Woman, Stay in the Kitchen, Hysterical Woman, and Monster Misogyny, but a lot of these are too ingrained to vanish so easily, and still crop up, often in the form of the Faux Action Girl. It also made the tropes Straw Feminist and Real Women Never Wear Dresses.
- Artificial insemination smashes a lot of Sex Tropes to little bits by making sex no longer necessary to produce kids. For instance, All Lesbians Want Kids and Only You Can Repopulate My Race no longer require inserting tab A into slot B with all the potential angst this might involve. Of course, the suggestion almost never comes up except as Fridge Logic.
- On the other hand, the man might have objections to making deposits at the sperm bank.
- The old fashioned way is a heck of a lot cheaper, too.
- And there are countries in which artificial insemination doesn't exist or is still heavily regulated, so these tropes remain relevant.
- World War II is, at least in the West, simultaneously the Trope Breaker for anti-semitism and eugenics.
- And made white supremacy a bit embarrassing in the United States. In fact, you could argue that World War II severely wounded the racism-related tropes that the Civil Rights Movement finished off twenty years later.
- This definitely happened with Jackie Robinson. Followers of baseball assumed the first black player in Baseball would be a Negro Leaguer well-known to white fans, and with a history of performance against white teams, such as Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige. Robinson was not well known at the time. But Branch Rickey knew he needed someone with the right mindset, and Robinson's exemplary performance as an officer in WWII (which included taking a stand against some racist actions) helped convince Rickey that Robinson was the right man for the job.
- Japanese Spirit took a massive hit during World War II, breaking the Japanese military's sense of invulnerability and making the populace question the value of the Martyrdom Culture. There are still traces of it in everyday society and media, though.
- Most action stories that depend on "Alice has to stop Bob from getting the information back to his superiors/client" or "Alice has to get the information back to her superiors/client despite Bob trying to stop her" are difficult to pull off thanks to modern technology, unless we're talking a lot of data. Given current Internet connection speeds, we're talking file sizes in at least the tens of gigabytes, and this will only go up as connections improve.
- This has caused a shift to emphasize the difficulty in acquiring the information in the first place, or acquiring 'proof' of the villain's actions, without being detected. Also, keep in mind that many computers with highly sensitive information are configured to only transmit within private trusted networks, or even intentionally prevented from any network communication.
- The Slurpasaur was common in the days when low budget B-movies forced directors to come up with some way of portraying dinosaurs, however silly it might look. Thanks to advances in special effects technology, particularly with CGI, this became less of a problem. Granted, there may still be Special Effects Failure thanks to Conspicuous CGI, but even then, the audience will still be able to recognize the on-screen creature as a Tyrannosaurus rex and not a dressed-up iguana.
- The Internet Is for Porn: The Internet broke the demand for Poor Man's Porn. As well as Porn Stashes for anyone born after 1970. Though one could argue the Porn Stash has simply moved to hard drives, in nested folders marked "Research." However, as The Amazing Atheist explained, this did not happen overnight. As it still took a very long time for pictures to load in the 90's and early 00's until DSL replaced dial-up, magazines were still the predominant way of looking at porn.
- The Internet also put the final nail in the coffin for adult theaters, which were already brought nearly to extinction by home videotape players.
- The physical Porn Stash trope is still in use in anime and manga, mostly due to harsher Japanese online laws (and in a way to prevent portraying piracy since obviously, Digital Piracy Is Evil and all that).
- The Industrial Revolution was the Trope Breaker for Textile Work Is Feminine, though it was a gradual process — first spinning and weaving, and carding, then much of the sewing, etc. This trope still existed well into the 20th century for domestic textile work and still remains somewhat today.
- New anti-hunting laws introduced in 2004 ended up becoming a trope breaker for Fox Hunting, a sport that had already lost steam since the 1950's. This also had the consequence of making many an old cartoon that used the sport for a plot into an Unintentional Period Piece.
- While Gone with the Wind 's "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn" did not kill off Gosh Dang It to Heck!, it ensured that adult characters using euphemistic profanities in the movies could never quite be taken seriously anymore.
- The Mayan Doomsday trope was broken by the actual arrival of the date on which it was supposed to happen. This goes for any trope about a specific date in the near future.
- While still occasionally used for comedic effect, Blackface, Brownface and Yellowface are practically never used for major characters playing Fake Nationality roles anymore, in part because of Screen Actors Guild regulations stipulating that actors must be at least partially of the same ethnicity as the characters that they portray—specifically put in place to avoid the offensive racial caricatures common in the early days of Hollywood.