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"In today's pop cultural landscape there seems to be this sort of obsession with the ideas of "subversion" and "deconstruction." When a show comes along that does something a little bit different from the lowest common denominator idea of what would be considered normal for its genre, people are quick to praise the innovation that they feel is on display and to herald the crushing of the old tropes. While I can appreciate this excitement over the idea of innovation and challenging storytelling norms, I think that a lot of this overzealous celebration is misguided. And to me it reeks too much of coming from the position of wanting to think that the things you like are somehow smarter, more mature, and more interesting than the stuff that came before, or that is propped up by the mainstream.'"

The loose usage of the term "subversion". "Subverted Trope" as we define it here means "It's set up to look like the trope is going to happen, but then it doesn't," but people like to call just about anything a subversion.

Subverted Trope vs. Averted Trope

People tend to label any series that merely completely avoids a certain trope as a "subversion," when in fact that's called an aversion. It's only a subversion if the creator sets up the trope within the work, creating an expectation that the trope will be used, and then does something else. It's an aversion when the genre itself creates the expectation that the trope will be used, but it isn't even set up within the work.

For instance, if the trope in question is "pre-recorded laughter that punctuates every joke in a sitcom":

  • Aversion: The show has no laugh track.
  • Subversion: The pilot episode begins with an especially obnoxious laugh track, but it turns out to be part of a Show Within a Show. After that, it's never heard again.

A good rule of thumb for remembering which is which is that a subversion is where the writer literally "subverts our expectations," while an aversion is where the writer completely avoids them from the get-go (in fact, it might even be better for aversions to simply be called "avoidances," were it not for the enormous hassle such a change would be for this site and the fact that it would instead be confused with Defied Trope, in which a character actively avoids the trope).

Aversions hardly ever need to be noted. To quote Averted Trope, unless the trope is so universal within a genre that exceptions truly stand out, there's not much point in listing an aversion on an examples list that serves to illustrate a trope's patterns and their prevalence. However, if works in a series make notable use of a trope, then aversion in later installments also become notable.

Subverted Trope vs. Inverted Trope

A slightly more subtle distinction; inverted tropes are sometimes incorrectly described as "subverted". An inverted trope is where the usual setup of the trope is in some way swapped: sex-flipped versions are quite common, though by no means the only example.

As an example, if the trope in question is the Black Dude Dies First:

  • Inversion: Everyone dies except the black dude.
  • Subversion: The show makes it look like the black dude is going to die first, but he survives his injuries and someone else is killed.

A trope can of course be both inverted and subverted, if the viewer or reader is led to expect the straight version only to be given an inversion of some kind, but an inverted trope is not automatically also a subverted one: there needs to be a genuine attempt to suggest that the trope is going to be used straight to qualify as a "subversion". Continuing the example above:

  • Subversion and inversion: The show makes it look like the black dude is going to die first, but he doesn't—everyone else dies instead.

Subverted Trope vs. Justified Trope

Worse, occasionally a slight spin on the standard trope formula, such as the addition of an in-universe justification why the trope happens, is seized upon as a subversion by the occasional fan, perhaps because they don't want to acknowledge that a trope was played deadly straight to good effect in their favourite work. The reverse assumption is also common.

Subverted Trope vs. Deconstructed Trope

Occasionally, Deconstructions are also listed as subversions. A Deconstructed Trope is played completely straight, and does not change the trope but its consequences. There's also a related problem of people mislabelling things as deconstructions or deconstructed tropes when they aren't, but that's another matter.

So for instance, if the trope in question is "Superheroes can fly":

  • Played Straight: A Superhero leaps off the roof of a building… and flies away to the delight of onlookers.
  • Subversion: A Superhero leaps off the roof of a building… and falls to their death to the shock of onlookers as non-powered flight is impossible.
  • Deconstructed: Because non-powered flight is impossible, the superhero has to build a mechanical jet pack to sustain themselves in flight… but ends up being arrested by the police for not having a pilots license.

Subverted Trope vs. Downplayed Trope

Sometimes, when people talk of a "partial subversion", they mean Downplayed Trope, where the trope is still present, but to a much lesser degree.

Subverted Trope vs. Playing with a Trope

Beware ye these abominable Weasel Words that refer to various methods of Playing with a Trope:

  • "Slightly subverted in that..."
  • "Semi-subverted when..."
  • "Partially subverted..."
  • "Actually somewhat subverted because..."
  • "A possible subversion is..."

A real subversion plays off the expectation of a familiar trope being set up in the viewer's mind. Subtle, even laudably creative, variants are not that. When a trope is subverted it's very, very obvious: there is no "somewhat."

Subverted Trope vs. Played Straight

Sometimes, a trope is marked as a subversion even though it's actually played straight. This is most likely to happen in a trope that can be played straight in a number of ways, but one method is chosen the majority of the time. An example of this kind of trope is Down to the Last Play. Though it doesn't have to be the protagonists' team that dramatically wins the game, it almost always is.
  • Played Straight: The game ends in a dramatic fashion, regardless of whether or not it's the protagonists' side that's victorious.
  • Subversion: It looks like the game will go down to the wire, with the teams tied for most of the game, but then someone scores in the third quarter (or seventh inning) and then it peters out anticlimactically.

Subverted Trope vs. Zig-Zagging Trope

If you find yourself struggling to describe a work's convoluted usage of a trope that meanders between actual examples of subversion and various other categories on this page, there's a good chance you're looking at a zig-zagged trope- a sort of meta-example where the creator spends a while (or the whole work) poking the trope with a stick in various ways.

Subverted Trope vs. Square Peg, Round Trope

Worst case scenario, the so-called "subversion" is actually not an example at all. If the event that gets "subverted" is Not a Trope, it is not a subversion because there is no trope. It's just Bait-and-Switch. Lacking basic required elements of the trope is also not a "subversion", it's just not that trope.

If you ever see Subverted Trope listed as an example, it's probably this.

Alternative Title(s): Not Subversions