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Dead Unicorn Trope

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Don't be sad — it was never alive in the first place.

A Dead Horse Trope, except it was never really a trope in the first place.

This sort of trope becomes well-known from being twisted and played with but was never actually in wide use in its straight form. The Butler Did It and Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000 are two of the most well-known examples.

Related concepts:

  • Beam Me Up, Scotty!, where a commonly quoted statement never existed in that form (at least by whomever it was attributed to).
  • Shallow Parody, where a work is spoofed for qualities that it doesn't actually have or are grossly inflated.
  • Windmill Political, where a political threat is rallied against that doesn't actually exist.
  • Newer Than They Think, where the original work(s) are thought of as containing examples of the tropes that were simply later derived from them.
  • This Index Is Not an Example, where an iconic line or scene named or inspired a trope, but is in and of itself not a straight example.
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  • Lost in Imitation, where tropes and other plot devices actually originated in later adaptations of a work.

A note for adding examples: Do not add examples to this index simply because you have personally never heard of them. Younger tropers should be especially careful of adding tropes that date back before their births: tropes such as the white wedding dress signifying virginity or the purported stupidity of Polish-Americans were real tropes at one point. Beware of your own small reference pool. Do not add examples just because they were never Truth in Television; they might still have been used seriously as tropes.

Do not confuse for a certain robotic unicorn, or for a Rainicorn. Not (usually) related to actual dead unicorns either.

Compare Cowboy BeBop at His Computer.

Contrast Undead Horse Trope, where the trope continues to be frequently played straight in spite of an abundance of parodies and subversions that would normally discredit it.



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  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Actual drug dealers don't go up to random kids, or teens, or adults, and offer them drugs (or pressure them into trying them), or slip them drugs in the guise of "candy". First, that's just asking to get caught. Second, it would be impractical for them to just give away their product for free. They usually just rely on word of mouth. Most people who get into drugs do so not through strangers, but through friends, family, or even doctors. Nor do drug dealers loiter around Pay Phones, waiting for "customers" to call them; that just generates suspicion. Instead, they use Burner Phones, or apps that generate fake numbers, in order to stay Beneath Notice.
  • Aliens Steal Cattle is a mashup of two separate ideas: aliens abduct people and mutilate cattle.
  • Likewise, Anal Probing is not actually a preoccupation in Real Life UFO abduction communities. The trope derives from Whitley Streiber's description of a recovered memory of an anal probing in his first nonfiction UFO book, Communion, whereupon it took a life of its own. UFOlogists are much more interested in the concept of aliens fiddling with actually important human functions, including the reproductive organs (and hence things like genetic engineering). The idea of a rear-end fixation is probably from the media having one organ in particular on their minds. Some believe the focus on the rear-end was meant to take the edge off what would otherwise be a pretty scary concept — the idea of an advanced alien intelligence basically being a Nazi doctor.
  • The Bankruptcy Barrel was indeed a historical artifact, but people didn't wear it because they were poor — it was a punishment for public drunkenness and other similar disorderly conduct offenses.
  • Black Dude Dies First: This trope is far more often parodied and lampshaded than it is played straight. A review of all the major horror movie franchises will show that if there's a black guy at all, he's usually either one of the last to die, or even one of the few survivors.
  • Brain Food: The idea of zombies eating brains is commonly believed to come from the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead or one of the many zombie films that followed it immediately afterward. It doesn't; in fact, it comes from The Return of the Living Dead, which was released in 1985. And that film is a much more comedic and less serious take on the zombie movie genre than most other zombie movies, hence why it's almost impossible to find any other movie where the zombie actually say "Braaaiiins". The trope appears to be a conflation of two unrelated aspects of George A. Romero's zombies: they eat human flesh, and the only way to kill them is to destroy their brains.
  • The Butler Did It is a particularly famous example. The origin of the phrase was not a literal description of a common plot in old mystery novels, but rather a summary of a broader and more common trope: an unimportant background character turns out to be the culprit. It doesn't have to be the butler, but the butler is a good choice to illustrate the trope. The butler only ever actually did it in a couple of old mystery novels. There is a sizable list of examples on the trope page, but almost all of these come from after the twist had become a Dead Unicorn Trope and are either parodying it, playing with it, or using its notoriety to make it a case of The Un-Twist. The butler's specific popularity may have come from an incident where a man tried to spoil The Mousetrap (a play famous for swearing its audience to silence as to the culprit's identity) by shouting to the line at the theater that the butler did it, when the play doesn't even have a butler. More detail here.
  • Captain Space, Defender of Earth! is a parody of the kind of central character who appeared in old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials — except the concept never really existed before the parody became a trope. The protagonists of Space Opera serials were typically either heroic everymen (like Flash Gordon) or exceptionally courageous military men (like Buck Rogers or Kimball Kinnison) who just rose to the occasion when the day needed saving. The Captain Space, Defender of Earth! trope is more of a conflation of the Space Opera genre and the Superhero genre, which both became popular around the same time.
  • Droit du Seigneur: It's unclear whether anybody ever actually practiced this in Real Life. That is to say, there were certainly nobles who took advantage of their subjects, including to satisfy their lust, but codifying these acts as "a lordly right" is a guaranteed way to draw people's ire and quite possibly invoke a rebellion. However, accusing people of practicing it goes all the way back to The Epic of Gilgamesh. Basically, it seems to have never been an actual thing that happened so much as it was a go-to horror story to tell people when you wanted to turn them against a particular rich person you disliked.
  • The Dyson Sphere was a concept proposed by Freeman Dyson as a thought experiment on how a civilization could most effectively harness the energy of its star. Science fiction stories like to show their smarts by criticizing the viability of such a construction. To do this, they usually describe a Dyson Sphere as a solid shell fully enclosed around a star, with the entire inner surface of the sphere as a living habitat spanning an area equivalent to trillions of Earth-sized planets. While this is indeed impractical,note  this isn't what Dyson originally proposed, nor was it ever very common in science fiction. Dyson's idea was more in line with the most common alternative scheme, which is a cluster of artificial structures surrounding a star, akin to Ringworld's Niven ring.
  • Flat World has, at least since the 19th century, been a stock trope to describe Medieval Morons' ignorance of science. In Real Life, people have known the Earth was round — and been able to measure its circumference to a surprising degree of accuracy — since at least Ancient Greece. Many people in the old days did believe the Earth was flat, but this was more a rejection of science than ignorance of it, akin to modern-day believers in a flat Earth.
  • Food Pills are often mocked as Zeerust, except they were never really taken seriously to begin with. The trope's Ur-Example appears to be from the Land of Oz series, where they're more akin to inedible military rations than actual meals; its first sci-fi use is probably the 1930 sci-fi musical Just Imagine, which plays the trope straight but derives humor from the Human Popsicle protagonist having to get used to eating them. This shows that while food pills might be useful, nobody ever thought they would be as enjoyable as eating a real meal.
  • Here There Be Dragons is in fact only found on the Lenox Globe (from the 1500s): HIC SVNT DRACONES is written on the coast of east Asia, probably in reference to Komodo dragons. That derived from Roman and medieval cartographers' practice of writing HIC SVNT LEONES ("Here there be lions") on unexplored areas.
  • Horny Vikings: Vikings in Real Life never wore horned helmets for combat; these would be impractical or even fatal. Ceremonial helmets with horns were used at occasions by Old Norse and in other cultures. Drinking horns and other artifacts made of animal horns were in common use. The horned helmet was popularised in 19th century depictions of Vikings.
  • How We Got Here: A specific variation of this trope, namely the "*record scratch* *freeze-frame*" meme and an opening line something to the effect of "Yep, that's me. You're probably wondering how I got in this situation." While a common trope as many movies open in media res, many have struggled trying to figure out which specific movies open with the 'record scratch' variant. Cursory research suggests it may have cropped up in the occasional Made-for-TV Movie on BET; further investigation is merited. Commonly-cited examples of this trope in action are usually The Emperor's New Groove or Deadpool (2016).
  • The Iron Maiden did not actually exist as a torture device during the Middle Ages; it was in fact a later invention by museum curators, which looked impressive enough that they started to appear in fictional works.
  • Ninja tropes tend to be like this:
    • The stereotypical all-black ninja-gi associated with the ninja warrior didn't exist in real life. This outfit is actually the uniform of the kuroko, or stagehands in Kabuki theater, so that they could manipulate the scenery in plain view but be easily ignored by the audience. In real life, a ninja was basically a spy who would blend in seamlessly with the environment (e.g. by dressing as a merchant or a farmer) so no one would find him a threat — until he suddenly killed you and ran away. Kabuki theater, when showing a ninja assassination, would depict this by having a stagehand doing the killing, shocking the audience by having someone they had taught themselves to ignore suddenly interacting with the characters (and also conveniently saving on costumes). It thus worked similarly to The Butler Did It; it's a good illustration of how ninjas work in the story, but not how they actually behave. A ninja who dressed in all black would ironically stick out like a sore thumb.
    • The shuriken, or Ninja throwing star, is often depicted as a killing weapon in "Ninjer" movies from The '80s. In Real Life, ninja used them as a throwaway weapon of distraction. Even when they did throw them directly at their enemies, they weren't meant to cause damage on their own, but distract the opponent for a key second and allow the ninja to strike. They also weren't usually throwing stars, but more often just plain metal spikes.
  • Real Women Don't Wear Dresses: True femininity being seen as compromising a girl's character is a very real problem in real life, but it hardly ever appears in fiction, except when it's being used as An Aesop about how there's nothing wrong with femininity. That might be why most of the examples on the trope page are subversions and inversions.
  • The Sheet of Glass is an obstacle that commonly, but never seriously, appears in chase scenes.
  • Synchro-Vox was only ever used seriously in a few animated series during The '50s and '60s, notably Clutch Cargo and Space Angel. It was immediately discredited as an extreme form of Limited Animation, and was used only for comedic effect afterward.
  • Take Me to Your Leader is believed to have first been used in a cartoon in The New Yorker.
  • Tinfoil Hat: How many actual conspiracy theorists do you know of in real life who wear these? Probably even fewer than the number of conspiracy theorists in fiction who don't wear them.
  • Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000: Ultra-violent video games do exist, but anyone who has actually played games like the Grand Theft Auto or Fallout series knows there is a lot more to them than senseless violence. Mortal Kombat kind of started the trope, but even that wasn't a really violent game (and certainly not as violent as the parodies make it out to be); the controversy was probably more due to the violence appearing more realistic due to the digitized Motion Capture. Games like the Manhunt series and MadWorld do sort of fit the stereotype, but they also largely parodies of this trope and only came about because of it. The very few examples of actually released senselessly violent video games (e.g. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for the Atari 2600, Hatred) were quite unpopular and sold poorly.
  • Vampire Vords are a parody of Bela Lugosi's accent from his definitive performance of the Classical Movie Vampire in the 1931 Dracula — except Lugosi never talked like that. While he did have a thick accent, he had no problem pronouncing his Ws correctly. And other vampires only talk like this if they're meant to be an incorrect imitation of Dracula or a send-up of him from Eastern Europe. Dracula himself in the novel spoke fluent English, and it was even a plot point that he wanted to remove his accent entirely.
  • Voodoo Doll: The "Voodoo Dolls" of popular culture are actually taken from the western folk magic practice of Poppets, using dolls as stand-ins when hexing someone. In Real Life Vodun, the dolls are used for healing.

Stories and Genres:

    Anime and Manga 
  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex: The "Standalone Complex" is a reference to this phenomenon, defining it as an activity meant to be a copycat of an original that doesn't exist.
  • Whenever someone brings up the Tsundere archetype, they're usually described as being a blonde and twintailed Shana Clone. Individually, tsunderes of each type have gotten famous, but the only one that matches all three points is Nagi of Hayate the Combat Butler.
  • A typical Shoujo love story is said to start with the heroine being Late for School with a Toast of Tardiness in her mouth, giving a quick narration to the audience about who she is before she crashes into her soon-to-be love interest at the street corner. Plenty of anime and manga have parodied this sort of encounter as a "fated meeting", but none use the exact scenario to start a story.

    Comic Books 
  • Superman has a lot of so-called clichés that parodies and homages love to send up, but which rarely (if ever) happened in actual Superman media:
    • The trope of Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth was only ever used straight twice, in the Superman Theatrical Cartoons of the 1940s. Superman did it once in the comic books of the same period, only to note how difficult it is to change costume in a phone booth, meaning this was deconstructed when it was new. All future uses of the trope are parodies or Lampshade Hanging. In fact, it would be kind of stupid for Superman to change costume in a glass phone booth where anybody could see him, and indeed phone booths in the 1940s were made of solid wood — yet every parody or homage will use a modern glass phone booth. Brian Cronin sets the record straight in his "Comic Book Legends Revealed" blog here.
    • The parodists love to make Lois Lane out to be the dumb girlfriend who can't tell that Clark Kent and Superman are the same person and is easily fooled by a pair of glasses. In the comics, Superman used Clark Kenting to extreme effect to maintain his disguise, and Lois is usually the first to figure out that Clark Kent is Superman (or at least is more certain of it than anyone else), forcing Superman to go to greater lengths to throw her off the scent. After the 1990s, most continuities have her completely in the know.
  • The idea of Batman being a grim, brooding, Crazy-Prepared semi-madman is more complicated than you would think. Batman became popular during The Silver Age of Comic Books, when he was more or less a straight-laced Invincible Hero, and later from the 1966 TV series and the 1970s Superfriends, which were unbelievably Campy and where he was the furthest thing from gritty and brooding. He was a grim brooding villain in the early 1940s, but this was also before his Thou Shalt Not Kill phase and basically can be chalked up to Early Installment Weirdness. The idea that the modern gritty Batman is a "return to classic Batman" is thus a misnomer, as this version of the character only really came out in the Bronze Age and works like Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Tim Burton's 1989 film.
  • Superheroes from the 1950ies are usually thought of as obnoxiously patriotic and reactionary, with parodies such as Radioactive Man and Marshal Law mocking Superman types as "making the world safe for capitalism". That has rarely ever been true, however - early comics had a strong leftist bend, mostly by praising the Roosevelt administraton, and once they abandoned it, they abandoned politics in general, preferring to keep their villains in the realm of aliens and mad scientists. A lot of Public Service Announcements featuring Superman also leaned liberal, and religion was taboo, it even being implied that he followed a Kryptonian religion. It was Marvel's early Silver Age comics that had a conservative bend, even if, at the time, they were being praised by portraying flaws on both sides of the spectrum.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Silent Movies:
    • The Dastardly Whiplash was barely ever used, much less in its iconic form, in silent film. It was mostly used in vaudeville and stage melodramas of the day, which was where the overuse really came about and led to all the parodies of the concept, even though the trope was as dead as disco by the time the 1930s hit. The only significant use of the trope in silent movies was in The Perils of Pauline, but even that example is quite different from the standard whiplash stereotype.
    • The image of a silent movie villain who leaves a woman Chained to a Railway isn't real. The trope has origins in Victorian theatre, but there it was dashing Two-Fisted Tales heroes who'd get tied to the tracks, and it would be women who rescued them.
    • Silent films are popularly portrayed as having Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness in their word cards, mostly to evoke an archaic feel. While occasionally words might pop up that aren't commonly used anymore, most silent films were very visually-driven, kept the dialog very simple, and only used word cards to move the plot along.
  • Frankenstein:
    • The idea of The Igor comes from conflating Fritz, Dr. Frankenstein's hunchbacked assistant in the first movie, with Ygor from the third and fourth movies — a non-hunchbacked (though broken-necked, which caused him to carry one shoulder higher) schemer who wanted to reanimate the monster for his own personal gain. Neither of them were in the original book — although after seeing Young Frankenstein, one gets the feeling that if Igor didn't exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
    • The monster is not exactly a child-minded Gentle Giant. He was like this at the beginning of the book, but then he learned how to speak, and began to question his own existence. The movie (which followed the simplified play more than the book) never got that far, but from that point on, everyone imitated the movie.
    • The whole idea that the Creature was assembled from bits of corpses originated in the numerous stage plays that followed the novel (read: ripped it off), then was indelibly codified by the 1931 film. Shelley's original text never stated how Frankenstein built his monster.
  • During the heyday of the "quirky indie" style of movie, parodies and jokes about it often included barbs about them always featuring a guy hooking up with a gorgeous girl far out of his league. But while this is a common sitcom trope, it doesn't describe these movies too well. Usually in such films the female lead is a more down to Earth, cute Moe type, with the male often the equivalent; he may not meet the conventional standards of "handsome", but is not unattractive (think Jim Carrey, Michael Cera, Paul Dano, or Joseph Gordon-Levitt). It tends to be more about the social (not socioeconomic) status of the characters — they aren't cool enough. In silent and early sound films it is socioeconomic; a working class guy tries to succeed to become worthy of a higher-class woman. (She already loves him — the one he has to impress is her father.)
  • Pop culture zombie tropes are often thought to be derived from African or Afro-Caribbean legends, but they're hardly alike. In those traditions, zombies are corpses resurrected by magicians to be slaves. These zombies will not attack you (unless, presumably, their masters order them to) and can't "spread" their condition to you. The threat of becoming a zombie is scary, but the idea that the zombies themselves hurt people has no basis in folklore. Likely it's a misappropriation of Ghouls in legend, undead who would, sure enough, eat people. In fact, at no point in Night of the Living Dead (1968) is the word "zombie" spoken, but "ghoul" is (the ending credits does list "featured zombies" though). The fans ran with zombies, though, and the term stuck as the film spawned an entire genre.
  • Many parodies and pastiches of Jason Voorhees, villain of the Friday the 13th films, show him wielding a chainsaw, even though his favorite weapon in the movies is just a machete. Indeed, he has never used a chainsaw for any purpose — the closest he came was using a circular saw once (and interestingly, a chainsaw is used against him in the second movie). Most likely, his attributes are being mixed up, intentionally or otherwise, with those of Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Many parodies of the Terminator have the character as a Dumb Muscle. In the original film, the Terminator was actually very intelligent, and in fact this was a big part of what made it so threatening. It knew to retreat from a bad situation, how to repair itself when damaged, how to find its target via the phone book, and at one point it even imitates the voice of the target's mother over the phone to trick her into revealing her location.
  • All parodies of and homages to Film Noir have moody jazz scores, but the real classic Noirs from the 1940s had the typical orchestral scores of that period of Hollywood music. It was the late 50s-early 60s TV shows inspired by Film Noir (like Peter Gunn) that used jazz. This article explains it in detail.
  • Most parodies of Godzilla and other classic kaiju films tend to mock concepts that never actually existed in the genre. Perhaps the most stubborn myth is that the miniature cities destroyed by the monsters were constructed quickly using cardboard and not really meant to be convincing. In reality, the miniatures in even the worst Godzilla films are easily the most expensive and time-consuming element of the production (just one of these sets could take up to 35,000 man hours to build), as they were lavishly detailed and built using the same materials as real buildings, mostly wood and plaster. Also, the commonly-mocked scene of a crowd of Japanese pedestrians running down the street while pointing back at the monster and yelling "RUN! IT'S [NAME OF MONSTER]!" rarely, if ever happens in a real kaiju movie despite being nearly universal in parodies of the genre.
  • James Bond:
    • The notion that in the films the villain always tells Bond what his evil plan is is not entirely accurate, as often Bond already knows or has figured out what the plan is already, and the villain is just filling in some details (usually for the benefit of the audience). Indeed, on several occasions it is Bond who actually explains the evil plan to the villain, often to stroke their ego, distract them to buy time, or get them to drop their guard.
    • The notion that "the main Bond girl works for the villains until she falls in love with James Bond" has only happened once, with Pussy Galore from Goldfinger. While Bond has slept with evil henchwomen before (Thunderball, Goldeneye, Die Another Day), the aforementioned Goldfinger is the only case where he slept with a henchwoman who changed sides as a result. (Bond did sleep with May Day, who later changed sides, but these events were not related.) The rest of the time, they were either completely innocent but just happened to get involved with the villain's plans (Honey Ryder, Christmas Jonesnote ), on Bond's side to begin with (Kissy Suzuki, Tracy Di Vincenzo), working for the villain but having no idea what their plans were (Tatiana Romanova, Octopussy) or effectively a slave of the villains (Domino, Solitare).
  • "In a World..." is the most clichéd way to open a movie trailer, but the number of actual, non-spoof trailers that use the phrase at all is smaller than one would think, and ones that actually open with it are rarer still. It originates with the works of Don LaFontaine.
  • The notion that characters in The Western wear hats that are Color-Coded for Your Convenience (heroes wearing white hats and villains wearing black hats) was never really a thing, except for children's shows. All the way back to The Great Train Robbery hat colors were fairly evenly distributed, and once films went to color most characters had brown hats in any case. The trope was invented in the 1990s, mostly to mock the Black and White Morality of many Westerns.
  • Some pornographic films advertise that they do not use the missionary position, as everyone is tired of that because it is so common. However, the missionary position is actually avoided for the fairly obvious reason that it's difficult to see the woman's "assets" if the actors are smooshed against each other (for the same reason, reverse cowgirl, rear-entry, and anal are far more popular in porn than in real life). Also, during the missionary position it's easier to see the man than the woman, which is exactly what porn aimed at straight men (as the majority is) wants to avoid. Using it would actually be a subversion.
  • More a meme than a trope, but the idea of comedy movies starting In Medias Res with some wacky scenario (often in a crowded setting) that culminates in a freeze frame, Record Needle Scratch, and the voice of the main character narrating "Yep, that's me. I bet you're wondering how I got into this situation..." and then segueing to the start of the story. Except no movie has ever been documented doing this exact thing. Megamind opens with a similar line, but over a slow motion shot of the protagonist falling to his death. And Ratatouille opens with Remy being thrown out of a house, with a freeze frame followed by a voiceover, but the scene in question takes place before the rest of the story.
  • Having the last line of a movie be a Title Drop is a go-to mockery of bad writing, especially when mocking Sequelitis or a Fauxlosophical Narration (something like ending the movie with "It truly was...a Star Trek 6: The Undiscovered Country"). Doesn't seem to have ever happened in anything other than parody, though - Aqua Teen Hunger Force was supposed to have made use of it, but was surprisingly uncancelled.

  • Fairy Tales:
    • Fairy tales' supposed idealism and inevitable happy endings are commonly mocked and "deconstructed", most people being unaware that the real stories were often violent, cynical, and depressing. It's something of a Cyclic Trope, since the original stories had such a grim tone, before being bowdlerized and Disneyfied because Children Are Innocent (which is in itself an example of this trope), causing the stories to end up in an Animation Age Ghetto, which left them filled with Fridge Logic and other ripe fodder for deconstruction. On the other end of the spectrum, the belief that all fairy tales were originally gory grimdark horror stories before their Disneyfication is similarly exaggerated. Grimmification as a trope is a rather ironic appellation, as The Brothers Grimm were in fact the Ur-Example of Disneyfication, with many of their stories being even darker before the Grimms retold them (but still not the nightmare gorefest people like to think).
    • True Love's Kiss is not an original element to most fairy tales, but is rather a Disneyfication element. Many fairy tales' protagonists did indeed have The Big Damn Kiss, but it's not meant to be something especially powerful or magical, like a Deus ex Machina. Taking a survey of the most popular such kisses: in the Grimms' version of Sleeping Beauty, the prince does awake the title character with a kiss, but that's just coincidence because he happened to be there when her hundred-year curse expired;note  and in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the prince never kisses Snow White, but instead drops her coffin and dislodged the chunk of poisoned apple stuck in her throat.
    • The Knight in Shining Armor rescuing the Distressed Damsel from a dragon is commonly associated with fairy tales, but this is rather rare; The Brothers Grimm only used it twice.
    • The Unicorn (natch) is even more rare. If you do catch one, it won't be the delicate and pure creature like the modern trope, but the fierce and dangerous version of actual medieval legend.
    • The Fairy Godmother is extremely rare and appears to have been introduced from literary variants. Sleeping Beauty is often just the victim of a prophesied fate. Cinderella is generally helped by her dead mother in some way, or by some magical beings whose good will she's earned. Even when she appears, it's not that "fairy godmother" is a type of supernatural being akin to a "guardian angel", but rather that a character's godmother, someone everyone in medieval Christendom would have and would already know as a close family friend, is unexpectedly revealed to be a fairy in disguise.
  • Many of the entries in Roger Ebert's Glossary of Movie Terms are Dead Unicorns, particularly the classic Fruit Cart on the street and the ability to hide in a St. Patrick's Day parade at any time of the year.
  • Most homages to The Divine Comedy will describe Hell as a Fire and Brimstone Hell with demons with pointy sticks torturing sinners. This is actually a fairly uncommon punishment in Dante's Hell, and shown only a couple of times. Dante was instead enamored with the Ironic Hell, and indeed those bits of Hell where people are tortured are reserved for the kind of people who were torturers when they were alive.
  • The rather popular "Isekai" (otherworld) genre of Light Novels is often stereotyped online as always starting with the protagonist getting hit by a truck and then reincarnating in a fantasy world; this perception seems to be largely based on just one example of the genre, Mushoku Tensei. In fact, Deconstructive Parody Konosuba used this example as a gag, with the protagonist dying of shock at being almost hit by a truck (that never even got close to him). The stereotype is also conflated with Character Deaths from outside the genre where people actually do die by truck, no reincarnation involved. That stories of this type also use different methods to reach the other world (Summon Everyman Hero, Down the Rabbit Hole, etc.) is also ignored for the sake of the joke.
    • The genre's more female targeted stories usually feature a young woman being reincarnated into the body of the "villainess" (read: Ojou love rival) character in an otome game, and usually takes place in an upper class society on the cusp of war where the villainess is set to marry the game's primary love interest. Even considering the Angelique series of otome games, many 2000s and 2010s otome games do not match the description of a typical "otome isekai" otome game, usually either setting themselves in a comparatively modern setting or being about something else entirely even in a rich fantasy setting. And the idea of a love rival in otome, while still existing, more often gives way to "friendship routes" and even occasionally a Gay Option between some of the more prominent female characters.

    Live-Action TV 
  • MythBusters wound up doing this a lot, busting myths that weren't really myths to begin with. This was especially an issue in later seasons, when they had fired their folklorist and had to do episodes on more obscure myths, leading them more to finding out what is possible than setting the record straight. Specifically:
    • While tackling the myth that steel-toed boots could actually sever toes instead of protecting them (busted, by the way), Adam commented about "samurai movies" where the tip of someone's boot would be cut off, but the toes are intact right behind where the tip was severed. This occasionally appears in comedy, but its appearance in a "samurai movie" is highly dubious at best (not least because the typical samurai costume includes sandals).
    • They tested the claim that Japanese armor was better because it was made of lacquered wood — except it wasn't. They used leather, and later lacquered iron (metal was expensive in Japan, and iron rusted easily in the humid climate). Or, to put it another way, there was such a thing as wood-crafted ceremonial armor, but mistaking it for the real thing is akin to thinking that European knights rode into battle in ruffled collars and ring-covered hands.
  • Doctor Who, being a Long Runner and pop culture phenomenon in Britain, generated a lot of misconceptions of how things typically went:
    • Not many of the Doctor's companions actually twisted an ankle, and very few were helpless screaming women. In fact, Susan is the only one that comes to mind who did either, and even she shared the TARDIS with another female companion, Barbara, a strong-willed teacher who Minored In Ass Kicking. The Second Doctor used Victoria's screaming to defeat a foam monster, and even then it was subtly pitched as a send-up in Victoria's last story to something she had seldom done. That said, the producers seemed to think this was the case, and new companions were often promoted in the Radio Times with promises that they wouldn't be screaming girls like in the old days. Mel in particular was introduced as an "homage" to 1960s companions, but she more resembled a B-Movie scream queen than anything that had appeared in the series before.
    • The Doctor travelling with only a female companion is also Newer Than They Think. In the 1960s, he tended to fill his TARDIS with rotating man/woman pairs, with an occasional "child" character to round out the team; the sole female companion only became the norm in the 1970s.
    • The line about Daleks being unable to climb stairs was trotted out right up until their return in 2005, even though it was implicitly obvious they could in the 1960s and actually shown on screen in the 1980s. In fact, in the Daleks' second appearance (in the Dalek Book) they were shown flying with transpolar discs.
    • People often misremember Doctors' personalities. William Hartnell is remembered overwhelmingly as being grumpy and a Token Evil Teammate when he spent more of his tenure being silly, grandfatherly, and giggling about one of his schemes. Patrick Troughton is remembered as the giddy, recorder-playing fool he was in "The Three Doctors" rather than the often detached and authoritative character he was. Tom Baker is much more associated with his CloudcuckooLander Invincible Hero characteristics despite spending most of his tenure as a gothic, detached Byronic Hero who could be as disturbing as he was silly. And Peter Davison is often decried as being a boring Nice Guy despite being a Deadpan Snarker Determinator who was much more likely to just shoot the monster than most other Doctors. Much of this is down to gimmicks being remembered better than a whole portrayal, or disproportionate weight given to certain eras and scenes.
    • Robert Holmes is stereotyped as always using Obstructive Bureaucrats as lead villains. He only had them as lead villains in "Carnival of Monsters" and "The Sunmakers", both of which use settings where this would be unavoidable (customs officials and a taxation dystopia). Usually, his lead villains were more dynamic types — even in "The Deadly Assassin", which was much criticised for turning Gallifrey into a bureaucratic parliament, the bureaucratic Time Lords are Lawful Neutral at worst, and the villainous Time Lords are a slick and ambitious man of action and a hissing zombie.
    • The idea that the Doctor always goes to Victorian Britain, or someplace with Steampunk "Space Victorians". He really didn't go there all that often in the Classic series, and they didn't make a big deal about it until Season 14 ("The Talons of Weng-Chiang", which used every Victorian London trope in the book). By Season 23's "Timelash" and Season 26's "Ghost Light", the Doctor had become self-aware that it was a bit of a cliché — except it wasn't, really. The Revival series embraced this idea with gusto, in particular having the Eleventh Doctor retire to Victorian London at one point on the grounds that it's a "default" setting. Perhaps the Doctor's Victorian fashion sense gave the idea that he hangs out there more often than he does (or Britain is full of Victorian buildings and the BBC has plenty of the clothes already, so it's cheaper than Aztec period Mexico or early medieval England).
    • The Classic show is often stereotyped as unemotional, whether to criticise it for being nerdy and sexist, or to praise it for its lack of soap opera Glurge. In fact, the Classic series often focused on the relationship between the Doctor and his companions, and it was often modelled after British-style Soap Operas in format and Emotional Torque (all the better when you don't have a big special effects budget). The Fourth Doctor, who had a particularly long tenure and was emblematic of the era, was less emotional and more distant than the others, and that's probably what enforced the stereotype (that and his longest-tenured companion being a Robot Dog), but this was still a character trait of that specific Doctor and mined for its own emotional storylines when his companions try to connect with him.
    • The Classic show wasn't entirely sexless until it became an Enforced Trope in the '80s, by which time the Doctor's Asexuality was already a meme. The Doctor did not kiss his companions, and the show was not focused on romance at all, but UST was omnipresent and innuendo was common. Each of the first four Doctors got at least one story where they would be allowed to flirt with a pretty girl or be distracted by one; Implied Love Interest relationships and Ship Tease moments between the Doctor and his companion were common throughout the '70s;note  and the First Doctor was introduced with a granddaughter (which implies certain actions that produce children) and even got engaged to a Girl of the Week in one story. The idea was not supposed to be that the Doctor had no sexual feelings — just that the show wasn't about that sort of thing, and so it wouldn't make sense to include a Token Romance. Nevertheless, fandom memory holds that the Doctor was Not Distracted by the Sexy (and possibly without the relevant parts) until the Revival series decided to make him into a Chick Magnet, and jokes to this extent have been made on the show. A disproportionate amount of this came from fans latching onto the Fourth Doctor's notorious "You're a beautiful woman... probably" line in "City of Death", which in context seems more likely to be deliberate mockery of the Countess's villainous attempts to distract him with sexiness than actual asexual innocence.
    • On the other hand, the Revival series is often seen as "reversing" his asexuality into becoming The Casanova. While there is kissing, more often than not he's on the receiving end (and totally bewildered by it); in fact, his disinterest in all the people coming on to him has made him look even more like a weird alien asexual. Part of it is that since the love interests are much more forward to him, there's the question of an actual Relationship Upgrade, which he has to reject (partly because It's Not You, It's My Enemies, and partly because he's Really 700 Years Old and it just wouldn't work out. He did get married to River Song, but she described it as a one-way relationship ("you don't expect a sunset to admire you back").
  • Anything related to Game Shows:
    • The "Guy Smiley" stereotype of game show hosts as always-smiling Large Hams who give a "slimy used-car salesman" vibe, crack awful jokes, and wear loud, flashy suits. Most of the genre's greats were a bit goofy and loud at times, with Jim Perry being the codifier of the stereotype, but even he, along with party animals like Gene Rayburn, or slicker types like Wink Martindale or Monty Hall, knew when to put on a serious demeanor. The "Guy Smiley" type host is an extreme Flanderization of the aforementioned hosts, with a few traits thrown in just for comedy. Prolific host Bill Cullen was mellow, unattractive (at least in his later years), kindly, self-deprecating, and physically handicapped by polio — in other words, about as far from the "Guy Smiley" stereotype as possible, but that image is so ingrained in the American consciousness that it inspires things like this ... talk about Truth In Television.
    • The deep, melodramatic Large Ham Announcer voice that most "parody" game show announcers have is actually based more on comedy announcers like Gary Owens (the announcer for Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In) as opposed to any announcer whose primary work was in game shows. Don Pardo had a deep, dramatic voice, but it was authoritative and exciting without being over-the-top, in addition to sporting an obvious New England accent. (That, and 99% of his game show career was before 1975; his association with game show parodies is likely due to his association with such parodies on Saturday Night Live, where he was the announcer for many years.) In fact, most game show announcers sound absolutely nothing like that. Most had much higher pitched voices (e.g., Johnny Olson, Rod Roddy, or Johnny Gilbert), while quite a few were much mellower (such as Gene Wood, Jack Clark, Charlie O'Donnell, or John Harlan). Probably the closest that any actual game show announcer has come to this style is Burton Richarsdon, although even he was still somewhat more subdued.
    • Cheap, chintzy sets that look like they were scavenged from a backwater cable access channel's news program. Sure, maybe in the old days, back when TV was predominantly black and white, the sets weren't much to write home about, but they went all-out a lot earlier than many people think. The gigantic tic-tac-toe board on The Hollywood Squares first came to be in 1966. The sprawling, three-doors-and-a-turntable set of The Price Is Right showed up in 1972. The massive contestant turntable on Match Game was from 1973. That one probably came about due more to the budgets of the sources of the parodies; it's much harder to justify a flashy set when it's only going to be used for one episode of a three-camera sitcom.
    • Having the audience shout the show's name in the intro. Wheel of Fortune and Scrabble are the only shows that have ever played this straight (although the 1985 show Break the Bank did it when throwing to commercial), and even then, Wheel's chant has been the same pre-recorded one on all but a handful of occasions.

  • Country Music:
    • All country songs are about dogs or trucks, or dogs in trucks. That's why many parodies of country music say it's not a country song without a truck or a dog (e.g. David Allan Coe's "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" or British musical comedian Jasper Carrott's routine). Except there are hardly any country songs that are actually about dogs or trucks; only a few mention them in passing at all, and it was never really a thing outside of party-themed "bro-country" songs from The New '10s.
    • All country songs are slow, maudlin lists of depressing problems, many of them involving the singer's wife, mother, dog, or truck. While there are a few songs in existence that fit this description (e.g. "Things Have Gone to Pieces" and "These Days I Barely Get By", both recorded by George Jones), they are nowhere near as common as supposed. There is a kernel of truth in this stereotype in that country songs often deal with depressing, real-world subjects, but they are almost never structured in this manner. Quite a few blues songs follow that structure, though.
  • To the general public, Nu Metal means vocals that switch from singing to screaming with occasional rapping, murky downtuned guitars, funk-influenced slap-style bass playing, throaty pseudo-growls, DJ scratching provided by a turntablist as a band member, varying degrees of electronic manipulation, no guitar solos, and a focus on painful experiences and personal crises. In reality, all the qualities put together to make a "pure" nu metal band simply do not exist outside of parody. In fact, there's really no such thing as a "pure" nu metal band as it isn't really a coherent genre, but rather a basic template to add on to or remove as each band sees fit. Under the umbrella of nu metal, it's produced styles as diverse as groovy alternative metal (Korn), experimental shoegazing (Deftones), funky hip-hop-influenced rap metal (Limp Bizkit), pop-punk-rap-grunge-comedy-rock (Guano Apes), death metal-influenced groove metal (Slipknot), dancehall-influenced reggae metal (Skindred), industrial-bent hard rock (Disturbed), electronic rap rock (Linkin Park), alt-metal influenced post-grunge (Trapt), and gothic/symphonic/alternative rock (Evanescence).
  • Public perception of Grunge involves relatively simplistic guitar rock with a bit of feedback and a singer droning apathetically about problems with women and other general life woes. The problem is that no grunge bands really sounded like this, let alone like one another. Much like nu-metal, there was no real unified grunge sound, only a general skeleton that other bands added onto, and individual sounds varied between noisy alt-rock with some power pop leanings (Nirvana), Arena Rock (Pearl Jam before their journey into more outre territory), a mix of noise rock and 70s hard rock (Soundgarden), a strange hybrid of Hair Metal and Doom Metal (Alice in Chains), stripped-down, bluesy, almost protopunk-leaning alt-rock (Mudhoney), Psychedelic Rock (Screaming Trees), Post-Hardcore and proto-sludge metal (Melvins), or Noise Rock (Tad).
  • Emo Music became subject to the stereotype that most bands were whiny high schoolers singing about relationship problems or general Wangst, and that bands would tend to cry on stage. No reliable reports exist of bands doing this, and while bands such as Simple Plan certainly could be seen as fitting for the rest of the description, most of the better-remembered bands of the genre really weren't like this. AFI, who popularized the "dark clothes and fringe hair" look, were 20-30 somethings, who even in their mainstream success brought about by albums like Sing The Sorrow and Decemberunderground continued to write about classical horror-influenced themes. My Chemical Romance never took themselves seriously as a band, shunned their "emo kid" fans and wrote about a fun topic for their final album. Fall Out Boy stopped writing about relationships with Folie a Deux. This is one of those cases where a work's perception is shaped by that of its fans.
  • The opening line "My name is X and I'm here to say..." is often used in Stock Parodies of old-school rap songs, but no one is quite sure how it became ubiquitous with the genre as it's hardly ever been used in a straight context. As this article points out, the earliest known usage of the phrase in a rap song was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five's 1980 single "Birthday Party", and not many examples of it are known after that. It's suggested in the article however that the phrase's usage in an infamous 1988 Fruity Pebbles commercial may have contributed. Hip-hop was still a big novelty at the time and hadn't really penetrated the mainstream yet (at that point the only rap acts that had hit it big were Run–D.M.C. and Beastie Boys), so commercials like that had more of an influence on the image of rap for the broad American public than you'd expect.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The school of thought that the woman wrestler of the past was a scary Brawn Hilda and that the women in the sport became Progressively Prettier is actually quite false. In fact the documentary Lipstick & Dynamite shows what women wrestlers were really like; they had to be dolled up to the nines when entering and leaving the arenas, and wrestlers like as Mae Young and Penny Banner modelled their looks off various starlets of the time. There was always a mix of glamorous women wrestlers in with the Brawn Hilda performers. In Wrestling/WWE they started bringing in models to specifically be Ms. Fanservice, but the earliest that happened was in the 1990s.

    Video Games 

    Western Animation 

  • Jelly bracelets, worn as a fashion item by teenage and preteen girls back in The '80s, and at the Turn of the Millennium. They were bands of jelly-rubber or silicone, often stacked like bangles or linked together to create a new look. Somewhere along the line, they attracted a rumor that they were a signal of what sex act(s) the wearer was willing to do, if someone were to break the bracelet, a different color for different types of sex acts from kissing to lap dances all the way up to anal sex. (This rumor was especially troubling at the Turn of the Millennium, when they were adopted by preteens and even younger children.) Although even to this day, they are referred to as "sex bracelets," and "everyone knows" that they signal availability for sex acts (and because of these rumors, they have been banned at some schools), no credible reports exist of people (of any age or sex) actually using them in this way. Indeed, jelly bracelets are nearly impossible to break with one's bare hands, a key component of this particular urban legend.
  • Rainbow parties, where girls wearing different colors of lipstick supposedly perform oral sex on boys to leave a "rainbow" on their penises, became a moral panic in the early 2000s. Despite there being no credible reports of actual rainbow parties ever happening they turn up as plot devices in crime procedurals with some regularity.
  • There have been rumors of female Olympic athletes intentionally getting pregnant, and then terminating the pregnancy about 2-3 months in, just to get a boost from the hormone surge caused by the pregnancy. (What that hormone boost was supposed to do is to increase the volume of the athlete's blood, thus theoretically improving her athletic performance, similar to other methods of "blood doping," but more difficult to detect or prove.) To date, there have been no credible instances of athletes doing this. It also might not be very practical, as pregnancy hormones cause side-effects like Morning Sickness and fatigue, neither of which are really conducive to athletic performance or endurance, even as they taper off when the pregnancy is terminated.
  • Straw Feminists burning bras at demonstrations. There have been no known, credible instances of this happening. The closest thing to this idea is the demonstrators in question tossing bras, corsets, high-heeled shoes, cosmetics, and other items they regarded as symbols of female oppression into a garbage can, similar to a protest from The Vietnam War, where young men (who were not pleased with not being old enough to vote but old enough to be drafted into a war they may or may not have agreed with) threw their draft cards in the trash. But none of the items thrown into the garbage (at either protest) were actually burned.
  • The infamous "Tide Pod Challenge". In early 2018, after a few reports emerged about teenagers supposedly swallowing laundry detergent pods on a dare, jokes about the phenomenon suddenly became ubiquitous, and everyone from YouTubers to late-night talk show hosts got a good laugh mercilessly mocking the kids who were dumb enough to participate. It wasn't that long before jokes about the Tide Pod Challenge became far more common than documented cases of kids actually doing it. In fact, there's very little evidence that the Challenge was ever a widespread fad. note  When stories about the Challenge were at their height, The Washington Post could confirm less than 20 instances of teens intentionally ingesting the pods in early 2018, with around 55 intentionally ingesting them the previous year. Indeed, Tide Pods (and other detergent pods) pose a much greater risk to small children (who either are at the stage where they put everything in their mouths, or mistake the pods for candy with their wrappers and bright colors), or elderly people (in particular, dementia patients) who mistake them for candy than they pose to teens and young adults.
    • Also, the meme "Millennials eat Tide Pods" is even more of a dead unicorn trope. The few who did consume the Tide Pods were Generation Z. Depending on your source, Millennials were born from 1972-1990, 1976-1993, 1979-1994, 1980-1996, or 1981-1995. Using the most generous estimates from those birthyears, the youngest Millennials would have been in their 20's. In fact, teens that are often called "Millennials", ironically enough, often have parents that are actual Millennials.
  • Every Halloween, some local law enforcement agency, news program, or newspaper will run a story about drug dealers handing out drugs in the guise of "candy" to children out trick-or-treating, and how parents need to beware that they could end up in trick-or-treat bags. First of all, as mentioned further above, edibles are much too expensive for anyone to just give away for free. And secondly, even if that were financially viable (and it's not), the kids would have no way of knowing who the dealer was.
    • Similarly, stories of children being poisoned on Halloween, or given unwrapped treats with razor blades, needles, and the like inside by malicious adults. There have been no proven instances of random children being injured or killed in this way; most of the instances involved pranks Gone Horribly Wrong, or the use of an existing urban legend to cover up a parent (or someone else known to the child) harming or killing them.
    • And for yet another Halloween-related urban legend, the one about Satanic cults using ritual abuse against black cats. Every year, pet owners are encouraged to keep cats indoors, and animal shelters sometimes restrict or completely veto adoptions of black cats during the month of October. Halloween can be a stressful time for cats, what with strangers coming to the house and disruptions in their routines, and sometimes cats bolt out the door and get hurt by cars and predators. There have not been any credible reports of any cults torturing or sacrificing cats on Halloween (though sometimes the cats fall victim to malicious people, usually teens). And the reason shelters limit black cat adoptions is a much more practical one: people sometimes "adopt" black cats as accessories to witch costumes or living "home décor," then dump the cats off (or bring them back to the shelter) after Halloween.
  • Reports of Satanic ritual abuse taking place at daycare centers and the like back in The '80s. The idea was popularized in a "memoir" of a man who allegedly spent time in a Satanic cult...which he later admitted was pure fiction. That, combined with distrust of daycare centers (which were a relatively new thing, thanks to the rise of working mothers), led to a belief that these institutions were fronts for ritually abusing and sacrificing the children left there. Even worse, agencies such as the FBI actually believed these conspiracy theories. This, and the fact that they were interviewing children who were terrified of them (not their caretakers) and priming them to say what these officials wanted to hear, led to many daycare centers being shut down, and daycare staff being imprisoned or shunned by their communities for things they did not do.
  • Opponents of Barack Obama like to claim he apologizes for America all the time. Yet when asked they usually can't provide a single example. A possible source for this is Mitt Romney's book No Apology: The Case for American Greatness. This article has an extensive analysis of the claim, including direct quotes.
  • Contrary to popular belief, ancient people never believed Atlantis was a real place. It was actually an allegory thought of by Plato and never intended to be taken literally.
  • Christopher Columbus is often mocked and portrayed as an idiot who didn't discover America, thought the Earth is shaped like a pear, and drastically miscalculated his journey, ignoring everyone who told him he was wrong. Except he never thought any of this. While it's true that educated people of the time knew the Earth was round, nobody was certain exactly how large the continents were. Columbus charted his route according to a map made by Italian cartographer Toscanelli, which showed where most educated people at the time thought Japan was. When Columbus landed in the Caribbean, he thought he'd discovered a series of previously uncharted islands off the coast of Asia, not China or India. Likewise, he never claimed that the Earth was pear-shaped, but that it was a sphere with a protuberance, at the top of which was the terrestrial paradise, aka the Garden of Eden. None of this was unique to him; map makers across the centuries and other explorers thought this paradise was real and lay to the south of Asia. During his third voyage, Columbus landed in what's now the Gulf of Paria, and he began to wonder if this land- which he realized was not Asia- was actually the terrestrial paradise explorers had been searching for.
    • Some people and many children’s programs seem to think he was trying to prove the Earth was round. That was not the case and it was agreed upon by educated people of the time that the Earth was round.
  • Far-right people often claim that liberal and left-leaning people brag about how tolerant they are, but don't tolerate anyone who disagrees with them. In fact, it's pretty rare for such people to just brag about being "tolerant" in general; rather, they usually say something like "I'm pro gay rights" or "I'm pro feminism" which doesn't mean they tolerate everyone equally, as if you are pro-gay you are necesarily against people who are anti-gay and so forth.
  • People saying "check, please" in movies and TV is common enough it could be a Stock Phrase, yet it's pretty rare for people to say this exact phrase in real life (unless they are deliberately imitating a movie or being facetious), usually it's something more like "May we please have the check".


Example of: