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Outdated Hero vs. Improved Society

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San Angeles citizen: What would you say if I called you a brutish fossil, symbolic of a decayed era gratefully forgotten?
John Spartan: I don’t know—thanks?

Someone who was unambiguously considered to be The Hero or A Lighter Shade of Grey in the past has now reached the point where their actions or viewpoint can be considered unnecessary, bigoted or even outright villainous.

They may become a Heel or Jerkass after Slowly Slipping Into Evil or suffering Motive Decay, but they're roughly the same as they ever were. It's just that, now, their ideologies, goals or methods, which once could have been seen positively, are now widely considered outdated. At best, they've become a Politically Incorrect Hero. If they slip further, they can become an Anti-Hero who opposes The Hero or the Big Good but otherwise has good intentions. However, at their worst, society has progressed so far in morality that now they're unambiguously the bad guy.


The point to this trope is that society has moved on without incident since the hey-day of the Fallen Hero. In other words, within the work, we see little or no downsides for what the society criticizes the past hero about. Either it has gotten closer to (or actually become) an honest-to-God Utopia, or the past hero's methods simply no longer work.

The setting does not have to be Like Reality Unless Noted, but it cannot be dystopic. If the change is something modern day Real Life considers "wrong" (everyone is now extremely obese), issues that make it "bad" must be addressed in-universe (obesity is not only attractive in this world, but the related health issues and disabilities are a thing of the past). If the change is morally-complicated, then at some point, the old-fashioned character MUST be on the "wrong" side.


A subtrope of Nostalgia Filter and combination of Values Dissonance and Fallen Hero. May overlap with Noble Bigot (and Noble Bigot with a Badge), Cowboy Cop, Military Maverick, Racist Grandma, Born in the Wrong Century, and Jaded Washout. Subversion of Hero with Bad Publicity and Villain with Good Publicity, since the one with the bad publicity is the one that's wrong. Sympathetic portrayals may overlap with Tragic Villain or Byronic Hero, as well as Broken Pedestal. A character that expects this will often proclaim that there's No Place for Me There. May be considered a heroic version of "You Have Outlived Your Usefulness".

This is an Undead Horse Trope and the polar opposite of Graying Morality. Because of that, it's far more common to see aversions, inversions, subversions or deconstructions of this trope, such as Crapsaccharine World, Happiness Is Mandatory, Gray-and-Grey Morality, Good Is Old-Fashioned, Good Is Boring, Victory Is Boring, Bad Future, or Bad Present.


Before adding examples to this page, please note a few things:

  • Since calling a Real Life person a hero or a villain, and an idea outdated, is very subjective and controversial, No Real Life Examples, Please!
  • Observe the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment. note 


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    Comic Books 
  • Magneto, Depending on the Writer, may fit this trope during his Start of Darkness origins. After surviving horrible atrocities against the worst types of human beings (usually Nazi concentration camps during World War II), the young man who would be Magneto saw similar hate-mongering starting to appear against mutants, which he himself was. At some point, he joined forces with another mutant named Charles Xavier and the two made great achievements protecting and advancing mutantkind. However, Magneto remained convinced that human-mutant coexistence was impossible and that mutants had to eventually take control from humanity. The falling out between himself and Charles and their incompatible ideologies is the impetus for the X-Men series. In particular, Grant Morrison's run on X-Men directly makes the claim that Magneto's contribution to mutantkind is over and that even the mutant populace would rather fondly remember him as an obsolete hero.
  • In Marvel Comics' mythology works (The Mighty Thor, Incredible Hercules and others), many gods succumb to this trope as they can't deal with a world that's moved on without them. (Or, in fact, their lives may depend on being worshipped.) In particular, in some of their douchebaggiest moments, Zeus and Odin have both hatched terrible schemes to trick or cow humanity into worshipping them again, usually by some sort of apocalyptic show of force. Fortunately, Thor, Hercules, and other characters who are loyal to humanity have typically talked them out of it.
  • The reason the DC version of Heracles/Hercules is often depicted as a villain is because society has changed greatly since Ancient Greece while Herc has stayed exactly the same and the actions that used to get him acclaimed as a great hero now get him condemned as a monster.
  • Captain America: Played With, because in his case society may have improved, but the government running it hasn't. While he laments some things he did during World War II, he remained The Cape and fought for what he understood to be good in accordance to contemporary values. Helping matters was the fact that, during his day, America was an isolationist country and not quite the Hegemonic Empire it became during the Cold War. During comic book arcs that were published during The '60s, The '70s and The '80s, a lot of angst was tossed his way because certain things like The Vietnam War and a lot of corrupt government officials generated an extreme (In-Universe and out) hatred for "The Man" and anything that represented him (like Cap). In nearly all portrayals of the character, Cap reaches a point where he realizes that his country isn't merely defending the world from evil, but has in its own its way become the problem. Depending on the Writer, his stories either take a Graying Morality bent, whereas Cap is Only Sane Man, or this trope, whereupon Cap realizes that he is on the wrong side. But really it depends on what point that particular writer wants to make.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Demolition Man: Subverted Trope. One of the major plot points is that John Spartan, your average Eighties/Nineties red-blooded American Cowboy Cop, is seen by everybody in the futuristic city of San Angeles (which runs on Political Correctness Gone Mad) as a curiosity at best and a mindless brute at worst (they really have no problem calling him terms like "neanderthal" to his face). Of course, the reality is San Angeles runs on a very prissy kind of fascism and it takes someone with Spartan's will to point it out, let alone do something about it.
    John Spartan, in the epilogue: [To Da Chief] You're gonna get a little dirter, [to Edgar Friendly] and you're gonna get a lot cleaner... and somewhere in the middle, I think things will work out.
  • Star Trek Beyond: Captain Balthazar Edison was a hero of the Romulan and Xindi Wars. When Starfleet was formed and the Federation preferred cooperation between alien species rather than waging wars, Edison, a Space Marine, was made a Space Navy captain and given an exploration ship. That, coupled with being abandoned (so he thinks, the Federation simply never received his Distress Signal due to electromagnetic interference) in uncharted territories by the society he once proudly served was the final straw that drove him mad and led him to swear vengeance, becoming the film's villain Krall.
  • Into The Storm has this as its theme when it comes to Winston Churchill, and arguably imperial Britain as a whole.
  • James Bond: Ever since Goldeneye and especially in the Daniel Craig reboot series, one of the underlying plot points of the franchise is how super-spies like Bond are seen as relics of the Cold War, useless because everybody thinks that drones and hackers are the way of the future, terrorism is a murkier enemy and even that Bond's preference for sleeping around is a representation of sexual predation. The answer: espionage will always be necessary for the defense of national security, it will never be a nice business, and believing that all of it can be done without having someone on the field is utter foolishness.

  • Speaker for the Dead: At the end of Ender's Game, Ender is universally respected as the savior of humanity for his defeat of the Buggers. By the time of this sequel set 3000 years later, however, he is universally reviled for his extermination of the Buggers, who are regarded sympathetically. This shift is largely due to his own actions; Ender himself was empathetic to the Buggers, and wrote a book from their perspective that proved to be very influential.
  • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy Kelsier is considered a messianic figure and, while we're led to question his motives and methods, he's still portrayed as heroic overall. By the time of the sequel series, though, it's noted that a character follows the same black and white unforgiving attitude. And that definitely makes him a villain, because he's not fighting a horrific dystopia anymore.
  • In The Stormlight Archive by the same author this is played with, in that it's implied Dalinar will come to be seen this way if they win. Wit tells him that he's a tyrant, but that he doesn't think Roshar is ready for anything better. And it certainly isn't ready for massive social change in the middle of the apocalypse. So, while in other times he might denounce Dalinar viciously, here he may be exactly what is needed.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One segment in the Babylon 5 season four finale, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars", set 100 years in the future from the rest of the show, has some Pompous Political Pundits questioning John Sheridan's motives in creating the Interstellar Alliance, essentially calling him a megalomaniac who was out to feed his ego (though they acknowledge he did do a lot of good despite this). Then Delenn shows up, just to tell several million people watching that Sheridan was a good man.
  • Barney Miller: Inspector Luger goes out on a call with one of the detectives to catch a thief. When they do, the Inspector cuffs him and then smacks the perp around until he gives up the goods, which used to be the norm but isn't allowed any more. The Inspector's temporary partner Wojo is quite upset over this.
  • In Blue Bloods there's a recurring theme of how being a Cowboy Cop was a lot more accepted when Grandpa Henry was on the force than it is now: the streets of New York were rougher and there weren't any cell phone cameras. In one episode, there's a threat to an officer from organized crime, and Henry remarks to an old friend about how in a similar situation when he was police commissioner, he sent the boys in blue out to crack heads until somebody coughed up a name. This then shows up on YouTube as Henry admitting to Police Brutality. It's revealed later that Henry was being a Papa Wolf: the officer in danger was his son Frank Reagan, the current PC.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The first two seasons have the Kohn-Ma and the Circle, both being Bajoran groups that came out of La Résistance to the Cardassian Occupation but who now are violently opposed to any foreign presence on Bajor, including the Federation protagonists' humanitarian relief efforts out of Deep Space 9 at the request of the Bajoran Provisional Government. Bajorans friendly to the Federation regard them as little more than terrorists, and not the good kind.
    • The series has a recurring theme of Cardassians attempting to reclaim what they see as Cardassia's glorious past. Late in the series, after Legate Damar pulls a Heel–Face Turn against the Dominion who have reduced Cardassia to a puppet state, he's even forced to gun down one of his own allies and an old friend, Gul Rusot, when he lets his enthusiasm for the old ways get in the way of the immediate mission of bringing down the Dominion.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir's worldview is stuck in the time of the Orlesian occupation of his country, so he considers a handful of Orlesian Grey Wardens and the possibility of King Cailan divorcing Loghain's daughter and marrying the Orlesian Empress instead a much bigger threat to Ferelden than, say, an endless horde of Always Chaotic Evil monsters who spread The Plague and are led by a giant unkillable Dracolich from the underworld. This ultimately makes him the secondary Big Bad of the story, after said dracolich.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Party member Urdnot Wrex felt this way about his father. Decades or even centuries before the start of the games, Wrex and his father came to blows about how to save their Dying Race. His father was a krogan hero who'd fight all the way back in the Rachni Wars. He was set in the old ways, seeking to go to war with everyone regardless of the fact that doing so at this point would be suicide. Wrex, trying to think radically about their survival, wanted to create a more civilized society of krogan. This made him very unpopular with his old man and many of their race. In the end, his father tried one last time to sway Wrex to his side, and when Wrex refused, he sprang his trap. However, it failed: Wrex killed his father instead and fled the planet.
    • The Illusive Man, aka Jack Harper, was once an Alliance hero who fought in the First Contact War against the war-like (and mildly genocidal) turian species. From the viewpoint of the humans, this was their First Contact (natch) with an alien race and these guys were willing to nuke entire civilian cities from orbit to force humans to surrender. However, the whole "war" was a tragic misunderstanding and once things were cleared up, humans were welcomed into galactic society. However, peace was a bitter pill to swallow for many humans (such as Harper), who never lost his "Humans First" priorities. Many humans, in fact, still see him as a hero; even humans with no hate for aliens appreciate what he does to protect mankind—which is how he pooled together thousands of like-minded persons from the military and civilian spheres to create Cerberus, a major antagonist faction across the first Mass Effect trilogy.
  • Metal Gear: Almost every major Big Bad or Greater-Scope Villain in the franchise qualifies for this trope. Part of the conflict of the series revolves around the problem of what becomes of great soldiers once their job is done. For example, many in Army's Heaven, Outer Heaven, FOXHOUND, and the Patriots are once-heroes who have no idea how to cope with peace.
  • Sly 2: Band of Thieves: Jean Bison is a nineteenth century Canadian lumberjack who has survived into the modern via being frozen alive following an avalanche. He is oblivious to the need to conserve natural resources as he seeks to continue his mission to "tame the wild North" via unrestrained chopping down of forests. The writers acknowledge the Deliberate Values Dissonance by having Sly Cooper mentioning that Bison would have been a Hero in his time.


    Western Animation 
  • In the first season of The Legend of Korra, the Equalist Movement holds this opinion of the Avatar, the one person in the world with the power to bend all four elements who is usually also a world-renowned hero (or is destined to be one). Korra, the titular character, is the current living Avatar, and isn't quite fully trained when all this goes down. Deconstructed, in that the Equalist Movement really isn't a movement for an improved society but an extremist movement symptomatic of a class divide between benders and non-benders that had been festering since Aang, Korra's predecessor, had died.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: As recently as the beginning of Queen Moon's rule (the mother of the teenage protagonist Star), Mina Loveberry was considered a hero to Mewni for fighting in its wars against armies of monsters. Times since have become more peaceful, so Mina's gung-ho attitude is thought of less favorable. When Eclipsa becomes queen, and most of the kingdom at least tolerates her pro-monster reforms, Mina becomes an outright Evil Reactionary who wants her dethroned.


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