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Evolving Trope

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Tropes are based upon very well-founded principles of storytelling. But, as society changes, tropes may fall out of favor, either through association with something no longer considered acceptable, or from simple overuse and falling into a cliché. At that point, a subversion of the original may rise up to become the new standard, and the original will be slowly forgotten.

This is not a Cyclic Trope; the original trope probably isn't going to come back, for one reason or another.


Examples:

  • Between the 1930s and the '60s, the U.S. government, in film, was portrayed as unequivocally good. The portrayal of corruption has become more and more common, though as Patriotic Fervor rises, it may lapse back for a time. The late Sixties saw liberal contempt for the U.S. government, but in The '70s conservatives started to exhibit anti-government attitudes. There are currently antiestablishment factions on both ends of the spectrum (exemplified perfectly by the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street), and they wax and wane in influence depending on the political alignment of whoever is in power at the time.
  • Men Are Tough and Women Are Delicate often swap or reverse the stereotypes associated. For instance, it was once believed that Men Are Better Than Women in every way, as well as the bastions of higher education and culture. Nowadays, the shift towards careers that need more "soft" skills has meant that women are stereotyped as being the wiser sex, that college is for girls, and men would rather do anything than be "cultured". Despite the reversal, however, the big idea is still that women are physically weak, shallow or over-sensitive while guys are tougher, pragmatic and level-headed.
  • Immigrants were seen up until the mid-20th century as shiftless lowlifes on their way to ruin any given national culture. Nowadays, many consider that migrants do not only enrich culture, but also they are an economic asset rather than a liability.
  • In the same lines, diverse ethnic groups have been targeted in the U.S. throughout the years, often linked to migrant waves: In the early 19th century, it was the Dutch and the Nordics, followed by the Germans during the middle of the century, Irishmen during the late 19th century, Jews and Italians during the early 20th century, Asians during WWII, Latinos since the second half of the 20th century, and Arabs/Muslims during the early years of the 21st century.
  • Portrayal of Germans in Film:
    • At first every German, from civilians to Gestapo, used to be monochromatically evil (this applied to World War I, as well), with the concept of the "Good German" appearing as the conflict went on. Imperial-era Germans in fiction didn't even need anti-Semitism, racism or just plain world domination as a justification to be evil; they did terrible deeds just for the hell of it.
    • As Communists emerged as enemies and West Germany an ally in the real world, WWII movies redefined it to just Nazis being evil, most civilians became either resistance or misguided Nazi sympathizers.
    • Further redefined in that Nazi-era German soldiers could be decent people and not just Faceless Goonsnote ; but most SS and Gestapo still have souls blacker than night.
    • More recently, a German might be portrayed as depressive or have odd senses of humour. The main constant though has been Oktoberfest and other related Bavarian traditions as lederhosen are almost always funny. Through it all, also, the eccentric Germanic professor or doctor has remained a comedy staple, even though plenty of other countries - some of them nowhere near Germany - now churn out brilliant scientists.
  • Portrayal of scientists in popular media:
  • For decades, any kind of scandal would be the kiss of death for a celebrity. In the 1990s, the rise of celebrity culture and the decreasing power of Moral Guardians led celebs to actively seek scandals based around wild behaviour to gain popularity. Then during the 2010s, a wave of allegations of sexual abuse shattered the reputations of many celebrities and it became clear that there was a limit to what the public would put up with, and studios once again began adding "turpitude clauses"note  on their contracts to protect themselves from stars who went too far.
  • Folk tales often portrayed wolves as evil, rapacious animals that preyed upon innocent livestock and humans. As the Industrial Age progressed, the wolves were no longer a threat, the people realized that wolves only kill to survive, and they're now portrayed as proud, majestic protectors of nature or just trying to feed their babies. The truth is somewhere in between (wolves aren't as saintly as they tend to be depicted these days, and they did kill livestock and, at least in Europe, the odd person)
    • The same goes for many other wild animals. Bears used to be considered so scary that people even avoided saying their name. The word they used to use in place of their name was "bear". The fact that that word has now become the animal's actual name, and that we use it without fear, is a good demonstration of how much the trope has evolved. While bears still tend to be portrayed as ferocious, it's often justified by them being a Mama Bear, and anyone trying to kill them is portrayed as the real villain.
  • The Onion points out an example. African Americans were thought to be unable to compete at sports in before Jackie Robinson, now in the United States, it is assumed that African Americans are better at sports than others.
    • Given the many stellar black athletes in the U.S. prior to 1947, it's probably more accurate to say that whites did know they could compete, but just didn't want to play alongside them.
  • The Polish used to be the butt of many jokes ripping on their supposed lack of intelligence. However, once Polish-Americans settled in, they assimilated pretty well, even taking top-level positions in the US government - Zbigniew Brzezinski comes to mind. Recently, Polish-American and American Jews of Polish descent are often portrayed as smart - for instance Howard and Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory. This can result in Unfortunate Implications, since if you're of Polish descent and you just happen to be simple-minded, you'll get hell from everyone: bigots will mock you (and feel justified in doing so), and fellow Poles will despise you for making them look bad.
    • This is not so likely in any recent portrait of Polish people in Western Europe shows. Since the European internal borders were opened, West European countries have seen a massive influx of Polish people seeking simple labour for relatively high wages. Since often they speak reasonable but not that well mastered English and often lack higher education (since West needs more blue-collar jobs), they're again being mocked.
  • It used to be that cats were portrayed as evil in literature and society in Europe and later North America. For the most part they are portrayed more positively or neutrally now.
  • Many students of mythology will tell you that depictions of the gods and goddesses in human stories underwent a complex metamorphosis over time: from freakishly inhuman beings, to anthropomorphized monsters who were needlessly cruel to humans, to despicable caricatures illustrating various vices, to bumbling yet lovable clown-figures, and finally to heroic beings who protected mankind from destruction. Some anthropologists attribute this gradual shift in attitudes to a parallel shift in how the Greeks and other ancient peoples regarded authority, social mores, and the universe itself.
  • Computers were originally depicted as house-sized switchboards full of vacuum tubes. Later on, they began using transistors and sported reel-to-reel tapes spinning in the background. Still later, they used microchips, got much smaller, displayed their information on monitors and stored data on floppy disks. Right now, they're small enough to fit in a pocket and stay connected to the outside world. Who knows what's next?
    • There's a weird component to this, though: a savvy sci-fi producer will make their future supercomputer somewhere between the size of a washing machine and the size of a couple of refrigerators sitting next to each other, because that seems to be the sweet spot for how big supercomputers actually have been since at least the mid-1970s. Sure, you can put the computational power of a 1975 CRAY-1 in a smartphone now, but you can put many times that power in a refrigerator-sized cabinet ... and most supercomputing centers have the space for such a cabinet, so why not use it?
      • Also, with all the "computer farms" around nowadays, you can't say that some depictions of "modern" computers in some Sci-fi settings were not an excellent prediction.
  • Until The '90s, a few small tattoos were enough to make a Tattooed Crook. As small and medium-size tattoos went into mainstream fashion in the mid-90s, the bad guys have started taking their tattoos Up to Eleven, with Knuckle Tattoos, facial tattoos and so on. Japan is an exception, as tattoos are still mainly worn by the Yakuza.
    • Similarly, a man wearing a piercing before 1990 would be outed as either a criminal or gay (or a punk in the late 70s-80s).
  • Cheating with the Milkman derived from an era where houses regularly had milk delivered. Later on, when this was no longer true, the trope evolved into Pizza Boy Special Delivery, which is based off of professions which do continue to make visits to customers' homes (besides food delivery, repairmen are also a common part of the joke).
  • Phlebotinum du Jour is a good example of a trope which constantly changes as Science Marches On and the public become more familiar with a given technology or theory - as soon as one technology is widely understood (or discredited), speculative fiction turns to another, newer, sort to explain whatever technology is needed for the plot.
  • At first a Porn Stash was a hidden cache of printed magazines. Then a hidden video/DVD collection. Then the contents of a computer's hard disk (and thumb drives, as they became more popular)note .
  • As My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic changed the public's perception of My Little Pony, the nature of My Little Phony would change with it. Whereas older examples of the trope would mock the franchise, more modern ones would depict it in a more positive light as an Affectionate Parody, sometimes poking fun at its older audience.
  • In high school settings, from the late 1990s onwards it has become very rare for the most popular girl in school to be portrayed as a Brainless Beauty. Generally any Alpha Bitch or Lovable Alpha Bitch who does seem ditzy will be Obfuscating Stupidity or at worst a Genius Ditz. Surprisingly the revelation that the pretty, bubbly girl is actually brainy is still usually treated as a stunning reveal in universe.
  • As webcomics first began to appear as a medium, Two Gamers on a Couch became a good way for a strip centered around video game humor to frame its jokes. Thanks to Sturgeon's Law and overuse, it began to fall out of favor amongst web comic creators, but the concept of Two Gamers on a Couch survived through the world of Let's Play, with Two Best Friends Play and Game Grumps being among the most prominent examples.
  • Quite apart from Science Marches On the narrative role of dinosaurs in films and television has changed over the years. Outside of comedy and cartoons (where friendly dinos can be found since Gertie's day) Reptiles Are Abhorrent was the overwhelming depiction for decades with even non-predatory dinosaurs being shown as ugly, lumbering monsters. Jurassic Park seems to have been the gamechanger where dinosaurs were as much a source of awe and delight as fear and even the T-Rex coming across as a dangerous but majestic beast more than a mere killing and eating machine.
  • A Dog Ate My Homework is now so well-known as a Lame Excuse for students who didn't do/bring in homework assignments, that most students wouldn't use it. That, and the fact that this is the computer/printer age, make for the (much more plausible) excuses that a) "my computer crashed" or b) "my printer stopped working". (Using the two together would, however, be laying it on too thick.)
  • The Yuri Genre has broadened its scope in The New '10s. The pure romance story where two girls meet at a One-Gender School is showing its age, while lesbian relationships are becoming increasingly common romantic subplots in a number of genres. Cross Ange and Kill la Kill, among others, show multiple homosexual relationships among the main characters, but use very few of the standard tropes of the genre and are primarily action series. This is increasingly referred to as "background yuri."
  • Arcadia was once regarded as charming because it was settled by humans, with pastures and fields, as opposed to the Wild Wilderness. Now, in more settled times, it is regarded as natural and so a contrast to Vice City.
  • The usage of Kayfabe in Professional Wrestling has changed significantly over the years. Up until the late 1990s, kayfabe basically centered on "don't let fans know it's fake". After the big secret became irrefutable, it now refers to the Fourth Wall separating wrestling from the real world and the Willing Suspension of Disbelief required to enjoy it.
  • Garlic Is Abhorrent has had this occur within the last century. For centuries, many cultures deemed garlic in itself disgusting. It has since become popular worldwide, so the revulsion now usually comes from the smell not the taste.
  • Enfant Terrible is a trope that has evolved by being exaggerated and subverted from previous inceptions. Before both the characters known as Dennis the Menace were created, kids in popular media were usually portrayed as angels. As mild as the US Dennis's mischief was and while the UK Dennis was usually punished, both started playing Naughty Is Good straight. Later, when creating The Simpsons, Matt Groening created Bart Simpson as an answer to the US Dennis, in an attempt to show what a bratty kid would really be like. Bart himself then became tame, despite losing what sense of realism the character had, when compared to Eric Cartman. What'll come after Cartman, God only knows.
  • Dirty Old Monk has been evolving too, sadly. At first, men of the cloth were portrayed as completely saintly, so the trope itself was a subversion of the traditional Chaste Hero. As the influence of organized religion diminished, clergymen were relegated to harmless friendly vicars, with perverted priests being played either for black comedy or controversial drama. Of course, now that Pedophile Priest is the first thing people think of when a catholic church scandal is mentioned, a priest having sex with a woman is usually portrayed positively. An example from a long-runner: In South Park, Father Maxi was a corrupt villain when the kids found him having sex with a woman in his confession box during "Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?". A decade or so later, he was a hero for attacking all the other priests, who were all pedophiles, during "Red Hot Catholic Love".
    • Also, while Catholic priests make an oath of celibacy, there is (usually) none of the sort in Protestant denominations, and married priests are completely normal. For the longest time the notion of a married priest was extremely strange and bizarre especially for people who had lived their entire lives in a predominantly Catholic country, and this notion can be seen to large extents especially in older movies. As knowledge of other cultures has become widespread, the notion of a married Protestant priest has become less and less of an oddity even in these countries.


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