Follow TV Tropes


Unbuilt Trope

Go To

An Unbuilt Trope is when a work makes it seem like a trope is deconstructed, Subverted, Justified, or even Played for Laughs, when in reality, it's the Trope Maker. Or at the very least, it's the work that popularized the trope, and the one that's often Misblamed for the current saturated use of the trope.

Picture the following scenario:

Boy, Replacement Goldfish is kind of a weird idea, isn't it? Replacing someone you loved like that always struck you as kind of odd. The kind of person who would do that must not be a paragon of mental stability.

One day you decide to read an old comic. In it, a scientist's son dies, and he becomes obsessed with making him anew, a perfect version that can never be beaten, at that! He's a madman! What's this... how can he yell at the little boy for not growing up? Did... he just sell his son into slavery!? Mother of Pearl! You've never seen someone really examine the morality of Replacement Goldfish like that!

So you buy the full stack of volumes and look at the production date. 1952? 1952! It pre-dates every Replacement Goldfish you've ever seen. How can someone turn this vision into that?

Because the work was the trope maker, it could freely explore the ramifications of the trope before it solidified (or in some cases, congealed) into its current form. It seems like a deconstruction, but at the time there was no trope to deconstruct, just an interesting idea to explore; it wasn't expected to conform to a certain pattern because the pattern had not yet been established. And only with the benefit of hindsight does it comes across as subversive. It's like showing a chair to someone who doesn't know a thing about the concept and asking them to describe it; without understanding the primary characteristics of what makes a chair a "chair," they draw from all of their observations, like the material it's made of or its specific shape — the fact that it makes for a nice sitting apparatus may cross their minds, but only as one factor among many.

The trope could have taken on its current form for many reasons: the imitators could have been part of the Misaimed Fandom of the work they drew inspiration from; they may have consciously decided that the original was unsatisfying and thus needed to be Lighter and Softer or Darker and Edgier; later appearances of the trope may have decayed (or been Flanderized) compared to the original, defining appearance; they may simply have decided to take what they wanted from the story, and calling the original their inspiration caused people to assume the original was similar plotwise; or the imitators may not have had the talent required to depict the trope with the same depth that the original author did. After all, frequently a genius invents the trope and works it out with skill, and the hacks come after, only able to vaguely copy it or intentionally simplify it to make it easier to work with.

It can also go the other way around: the original is bland and unappealing (even The Lord of the Rings was considered such, by some critics, when it first came out), and the later authors are the ones that constructed the mythos and the popular cliches. Alternatively, the deconstructed or parodic form of the trope, rather than the original, became more popular and accepted over the long run.

Remember that this trope is not about gushing about "the original" and how the subsequent works "don't get" the genius. It is purely about the source of the conventions in a certain genre. Just because a work came early doesn't make it better or more genuine, in the same way that sketches are not better than the final work. If a work simply is an example of a trope that's more commonly associated with a later, more well known work, you may be looking for Older Than They Think or Ur-Example.

The opposite of Once Original, Now Common. Compare and contrast with Dead Unicorn Trope. See Audience-Coloring Adaptation and Lost in Imitation for the process of how an idea can gradually lose nuance with new incarnations. Sister trope of Early-Installment Weirdness, though sometimes they can overlap. Related to Harsher in Hindsight (if it predicts a problem that won't be relevant until well after it's first shown) and Hilarious in Hindsight. Unbuilt Casting Type is this in regards to the Typecasting of certain actors.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • Grant Wood's 1930 painting American Gothic was the trope maker of the American Gothic Couple. Contemporary and later audiences have seen it as a caricature of American countryside conservatism (Eagleland). Wood however intended the painting to be an earnest tribute to the simple countryside life, and a realistic reconstruction of The American Dream.
  • The Planet Venus is the Unbuilt Trope version of Standardized Space Views because it's meant to highlight the connection between mythology and astronomy, not show the state of humanity's cosmological exploration.

  • When people think of a sport-utility vehicle, or SUV, they're likely thinking of a massive, imposing truck with an enclosed bed, room for nine, and single-digit gas mileage. They're likely not thinking of a vehicle not much larger than a normal station wagon (most of its extra size coming in ride height), built on a unibody structure like a regular car in order to give it a smoother ride; that is known as a crossover. Yet it is also a perfect description of the Jeep Cherokee XJ, the car credited with inventing the modern SUV, and still remembered as one of the greatest SUVs of all time! Auto writer Doug DeMuro has even credited it with inventing the crossover as much as it did the SUV. The association of SUVs with bulky truck bodies and drivetrains mostly came from the later Ford Explorer and Chevrolet Tahoe/Suburban of The '90s, both of which were built on truck platforms and decked out with creature comforts previously restricted to top-of-the-line sedans and wagons. As if to illustrate how much things have changed, the modern KL model of the Cherokee, despite being similar in size to the XJ and similarly capable off-road, is marketed as a crossover rather than an SUV.

  • The BMW 2002 is credited with inventing the Sport Sedan in the early 1970s, but it follows few of the conventions of the modern idea of a sport sedan. Rather than a larger engine in a family car and other such performance upgrades, it instead relied on extremely light weight-its engine was unimpressive even for the time. In many ways, the car resembles a roadster with a back seat more than a sport sedan.

  • Steve Harvey is a pioneer of the White Dude, Black Dude routine. Yet Harvey went to great lengths to show that the Black Dude was just as messed up and irrational as the White Dude; they were just messed up in different ways. In Harvey's routines, the Black Dude's antics were likely to have him end up in far worse shape than if he wasn't so focused on the 'black' way of doing things. The routines thus carried a hint of Stop Being Stereotypical to them while also being a Deconstructive Parody. For instance, in a routine about the White Dude and Black Dude getting fired, Harvey mocked the White Dude for underreacting to such a major life-changing event as losing one's job by only getting mildly annoyed. But at the same time, Harvey also mocked the Black Dude for overreacting to something he could conceivably bounce back from by flipping over the furniture, threatening his boss's kids, and trying to burn down the office. Later "White Dude, Black Dude" routines by other comedians would only mock the White Dude, causing Harvey's routines to seem more harsh and self-critical in retrospect, despite predating many of these routines.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert is the Trope Namer for an inept boss. However, several strips show why an incompetent buffoon like the PHB can become a manager. While Pointy-Haired Boss is bad at the technical aspects of his position, several strips show he is very good at navigating the political aspects of his position, exploiting the incompetence of others for his own gain. When Dilbert is given a managerial position, his technical brilliance is undermined by his social ineptitude. As such, the PHB is a reconstruction of the trope he helped to popularise.

    Fairy Tales 
  • Many old Fairy Tales are subject to Grimmification, being deconstructed into Darker and Edgier stories. However, many of the tales that The Brothers Grimm recorded were never meant to be kid-friendly. Some were horror stories, written by and for adults, or cautionary tales meant to scare children straight. What English readers got is actually toned down from the German; several stories were omitted in their entirety for the early English editions because they were considered too offensive, and others were changed to be more palatable.
    • Little Red Riding Hood is often portrayed as the archetypal "Stranger Danger" story. However, it features elements that nowadays seem like not only a deconstruction, but a particularly angry one at that. The attack happens not outside, but in a house belonging to the girl's grandmother, a place where one would think she'd be safe, and the Big, Bad Wolf preys on her by assuming the grandmother's identity. Furthermore, the attacker gaining entry into said house is not the sole responsibility of the girl; early versions also had the wolf kill the grandmother, trick Red into drinking her blood and eating her flesh, and, ultimately, eat Red. Had it been written today, "Little Red Riding Hood" would've been seen as a stinging critique of the idea of "Stranger Danger", a reminder that most child predators are relatives of the children they prey on.
    • Some early versions of Cinderella had the wicked stepsisters mutilate their own feet in an attempt to make them fit the slipper. As if the foot-mutilation weren't enough, the original Grimm version had the Wicked Stepmother and the evil stepsisters get their eyes pecked out by birds at the end.
    • Contrariwise, reading the original first edition of the stories (not an option in English until the 2010s, admittedly), one might be surprised at the relative scarcity of blood and guts and moralistic endings, in large part because the Brothers intended it as a cultural study rather than pure entertainment and thus hadn't yet rewritten things. Some villains are indeed unpleasantly disposed of (as in "The Goose Girl"), but many are simply embarrassed and sent packing, such as in "Hans-My-Hedgehog".
  • There are many Hotter and Sexier (if not outright smutty) takes on fairy tales, at least some of which are clearly intended to subvert the supposed innocence of the original story (or stories). But in addition to being darker than they're generally portrayed nowadays, many of the original fairy tales were also somewhat more lewd, if only by implication.
    • For example, Rapunzel clearly got knocked up by the prince while she was in her tower, since she gives birth to twins during her banishment to a desert. The original version published by The Brothers Grimm even had the witch figure out about Rapunzel's affair when her belly started growing larger.
    • But at least Rapunzel presumably consented. One of the older versions of Sleeping Beauty, called Sun, Moon, and Talia, had the slumbering princess be raped by a king while she was still asleep. Darker and Edgier versions that take the nonconsensual kiss and turn it into a rape are less original than the author might think.
  • The Prince Charming in many fairytales is not actually that charming, when you take a closer look. Sometimes he is so stupid he goes against the heroine's counsel and is thus tricked into forgetting her, is so easily influenced by his mother that he is willing to kill his wife because his mother says she committed a crime, and doesn't notice the servant girl forced the princess to change clothes with her and is about to marry him. Modern versions that try to deconstruct the trope by portraying the prince as Sheltered Aristocrat or empty-headed pretty boy may be closer to the original tales than adaptations that play the trope straight.
  • The push for more "feminist" fairytales generally supposes that all heroines wind up getting rescued by a Love Interest or other male character. That may be true for most of the famous ones, but plenty of counter examples exist, including quite a few where the girl rescues a Distressed Dude: "Kate Crackernuts," "The Snow Queen," the various "sister helps her transformed brothers" stories (like "The Six Swans" and "The Seven Ravens")... even "Hansel and Gretel."
  • Babes in the Wood is a classic inspiration for pantomimes, in which two children are abandoned by their Evil Uncle to die in the woods, but ally with fairies or the Merry Men to find a way out. The very first iterations instead had them die completely helpless, and thus may come across as a pessimistic condemnation of Improbable Infant Survival — had they not originated the basic story in the first place.

    Fan Works 
  • Aftertale: One of the earliest known examples in the Undertale Fandom of Chara being depicted as a pure evil demon who ultimately takes control of Frisk's body. Except their psychology is explored throughout the story: when Sans asks why they killed Papyrus, they reply that when you love someone, you hurt them, and near the end when he asks again, it's revealed that they hated humans and loved monsterkind, to the point of dying for them, only to come back as a ghost and discover that their adoptive monster father had killed six children and planned on exterminating humanity. The resulting shattering of their faith was so horrific that they became a ruthless murderer.
  • A Trekkie's Tale is the Trope Namer for Mary Sue, as it featured the eponymous character in the story. If anything, Mary Sue lacked most Sueish traits typically associated with the character type, and was a Parody Sue in a Self-Insert Fic. In the early 1970s, fan fiction was emerging onto the scene by being published in fan-made magazines and distributed at fan conventions. Fic author Paula Smith was a fan who happened to notice that many of the bad Star Trek: The Original Series fan stories had the same plot — a female Original Character, who is the youngest whatever in Starfleet. Everyone falls in love with her and they go on adventures with her, typically ending with her meeting a tragic death to be mourned by all. After seeing a particularly egregious example of this storyline, Paula Smith wrote a parody, which features all of those tropes at once but in only four paragraphs. And yet, the titular Mary Sue went on to name the character type that she was openly and mercilessly mocking.invoked
  • Fallout: Equestria is known widely for being the Trope Maker for grimdark My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic epics, immensely long stories featuring horrible things happening to cartoon ponies that openly reject the themes of the show. However, while the fic's depiction of Equestria is a Crapsack World and most have given up on friendship and love, the protagonist's nature as a Determinator is what gives the fic its heart. Watcher tells her at the very beginning that living life without a virtue like friendship, generosity, or honesty makes you an empty shell with no purpose or drive. The main characters from the original show are all depicted as dying horribly in the past, but it's only because they gave up on their own virtues and became convinced themselves that such gushy themes were holding them back; an understandable belief, considering they were forced into the roles of generals for Equestria's first ever war. Only one of them, Fluttershy, held onto her virtue of kindness for her entire life. People mocked and derided her for her belief that good people existed on both sides of the war, but she was the one who ultimately turned out to be right; By the end of the story, the Wastelanders have risen up in unity against a common foe, and while everything isn't suddenly better and things will never be like they were pre-war, a community is beginning to form and hope is once again commonplace among ponies. The kicker is, Fluttershy is rewarded for her omnipresent kindness by living to see this.
  • Heimatfront can be seen as one to the "girls in World War II" Fandom-Specific Plot for Girls und Panzer fanfics. Rather than being an Alternate History in which the girls are fighting on the front lines with everyone else, the girls aren't even supposed to be fighting in the first place. The characters whose Heimatfront equivalents are soldiers have their name and genders changed as appropriate- for example, Miho Nishizumi's older sister Maho becomes Maria Nitzschmann's older brother Marco. Rather than making Miho's equivalent a skilled Panzer ace, the fic has her be a BDM volunteer with as little fighting experience as the rest of her friends- her only qualification is knowing more about tanks than is socially acceptable for a woman in Nazi Germany.
  • Lord Ks Ships Log Entries, probably better known as the "CVB-44 story", kicked off the KanColle Fandom-Specific Plot of a Self-Insert Fic where the SI mysteriously wakes up in the middle of the ocean as a shipgirl and has to make her way to friendly territory. Unlike most of those that Follow the Leader, it goes deep into the psychological trauma that would be experienced by a hitherto sheltered civilian suddenly turned into a sapient war machine being forced to spend weeks if not months running and hiding from a superior enemy force while surviving on their lonesome far from support.
  • A common element of Ron the Death Eater fics in the Harry Potter fandom has Dumbledore lock away most of Harry's magical potential and installing compulsion charms to make him loyal. The Awakening of a Magus might look like a deconstruction, with the sides involved being Voldemort (with Lucius Malfoy's assistance) as the perpetrator and Snape as the victim. However, it was published in 2002, before OotP came out and long before bashing fics became mainstream.
  • The Draco Trilogy codified and named the Draco in Leather Pants trope, in which a villainous or otherwise unlikable character from canon is depicted in a more flattering light. However, unlike most later examples, this story explains why he's hanging out with the good guys and why he's getting the treatment - Draco's arc in the first part of the trilogy involves him pulling a Heel–Face Turn. It also uses some omniscient narration to show Draco's thought pattern, showing his change gradually towards being a better person, and even after his turn, he remains a snarky Anti-Hero - a plausible portrayal for a redeemed Draco. Many later examples would just have Malfoy be a good guy (often opposite Ron the Death Eater) for no reason at all, often turning him into a total woobie in the process.
  • The Sacred and the Profane would read as a Deconstruction Fic of "Crowley never Fell and Aziraphale became the demon instead" Alternate Universe Fics if it weren't the first well-known fic in the Good Omens fandom to explore that premise, long before the TV adaptation made that plot more popular. Instead of merely flipping Crowley and Aziraphale's Noble Demon and Just-Enough-of-a-Bastard Angel roles, the fic shows just how psychologically broken an angel like Aziraphale could become by Falling without warning and how Crowley's devotion to Aziraphale becomes much darker and sadder when Aziraphale is a manipulative demon who isn't above exploiting Crowley's affection for him to get away with heinous acts.

    Films — Animation 
  • Classic Disney movies are associated with Prince Charming rescuing the Princess Classic from distress. Yet the princes in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Cinderella don't do much in the way of rescuing, aside from whisking the princess away to a happy ending. The first Disney prince to actually resemble the character archetype didn't appear until Prince Philip, and even then he would have failed miserably if the Three Fairies didn’t help him.
    • Additionally, Princess Classic in the first three Disney films has one major difference from the commonly associated list - none of the three princesses were raised in a privileged life. Snow White and Cinderella were servants, while Aurora was raised in the forest. None of them enter royal life until the end of their films.
    • Since Cinderella comes from an abusive household, her dreams for happiness don't even involve romance, simply leaving her step-family behind. In fact, her step-family's the ones that spend the movie seeking the Prince's affections, and it isn't until she overhears that the Prince has become enamored with her that she starts taking the idea seriously. And what's more, when Lady Tremaine destroys the glass slipper in the Grand Duke's possession, as the Duke panics, Cinderella reveals she has the second slipper, so she's effectively the one who saves the day.
  • Aladdin: The Sultan is the Trope Namer for Horrible Judge of Character, as-in nobody in their right mind would trust someone like Jafar, which nowadays makes him come off more foolish than he perhaps actually is. However, the very first scene with Jafar and the Sultan together features Jafar hypnotizing him with his staff, making it clear that Jafar's ability to have the Sultan's ear is much more than the Sultan's foolishness. Outside of this so-called lapse in judgement, the Sultan is clearly a capable ruler and considerate person, so being so foolish would be pretty out-of-character for him. It also should be pointed out that when Aladdin breaks Jafar's staff & thus his hold over him, the Sultan immediately orders Jafar to be arrested (which the vizier narrowly escapes from with his sorcery).
  • Parts of The Little Mermaid make it feel almost like a Reconstruction of later Disney Princess films that follow it. For one, the musical elements are purposely integrated into the story so as not to feel out of place: the heroine having a beautiful singing voice is actually a plot point rather than a stock character trait, and the elaborate musical numbers are fully justified by having Sebastian be a concert composer. For another thing, Eric is one of the straightest examples of Prince Charming in the Disney Animated Canon since Sleeping Beauty, only differing from previous princes in that he has more Character Development. But The Little Mermaid was the film that started Disney's renaissance in the 1980s: it set the template for what became the "standard" Disney movie by being an elaborate Broadway-style musical (with the music being the primary storytelling method) rather than a simple fantasy story with a few musical numbers note , and it came out before later movies like Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast started purposefully subverting the Prince Charming trope. So it reconstructed the Disney formula before anyone thought to deconstruct it.
  • The Prince Charmless trope has often been used in works mocking Disney movies, to highlight the blandness and lack of depth the stereotypical Disney Prince has. However most of them seem to be largely based on Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. A Disney movie where the Prince is on equal billing with the Princess and whose character arc is the main driving force behind the film.
  • The first animated film to popularize the deliberate use of Anachronism Stew for comedy - Aladdin - had a justification for it that its numerous imitators ignore. The reason that The Genie Knows Jack Nicholson is because Genie has the power to look through time, which is why he makes a lot of contemporary pop culture references.
  • Sleeping Beauty is the first Disney movie to use True Love's Kiss as the solution to a spell (earlier in Snow White, the cure was actually Love's First Kiss). But it has a completely justified in-story reason for it; as Maleficent has cursed the princess to die, Merriweather can only soften the spell by turning it into an enchanted sleep with the kiss as the escape clause. The fact that she is able to do this illustrates that Maleficent is so evil, she can't imagine someone saving the princess that way - the same reason they are able to successfully hide Aurora from her for sixteen years. So the kiss has a reason for working, rather than being the Deus ex Machina it would often be used as.
  • Despite often being labeled as "cute and harmless", many of the classic movies from the Disney Animated Canon have dark elements, such as Family-Unfriendly Violence and nightmarish sequences. The first few movies of the canon, such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, and Bambi, have pretty dark atmospheres and are more focused on drama than on comedy, being considerably more serious than most of the animated movies that came later. Snow White in particular is noteworthy, since it actually ignited debate in some countries about whether it was appropriate for children to watch. The Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia is exactly the opposite of what could be normally expected from a Disney film, being darker and edgier than most of the animations produced around the same time. It even goes so far as to unashamedly display female frontal nudity, something that not even the PG-rated Disney films of the 2000s and on would ever consider doing or be allowed to do.
    • This is especially evident for Bambi which became the Trope Codifier for many "cutesy baby forest animal" franchises, so many forget how ominous the film can be, particularly the latter half where Bambi is no longer an innocent fawn, but a badass buck who nearly perishes repeatedly against a storm of rivals, hunting threats and natural disasters. There are also at least two deaths in the film, neither of which are a Disney Villain Death. It is telling that the midquel released over half a century later is Lighter and Softer with more cute banter, though even then it follows the unexpectedly dark construction of the original far more than nearly any of the film's copycats did within that time.
  • Lady and the Tramp unbuilds the Pounds Are Animal Prisons trope. The movie is probably the Trope Codifier for the concept, up to and including euthanasia being treated as equivalent to Death Row, but it also provides a subversion in that the pound workers themselves are gentle dog lovers, Lady is quickly reunited with her owners via her license, and a sign on the door reads "give a dog a happy home."
  • At a certain point in the 2000s/2010s Disney decided that it was done having its princesses immediately get married to a man they'd only just met with the ridiculous assertion of them being their One True Love. Movies such as Enchanted and Frozen roundly mocked the old trope and even Tangled took a small jab at it with the final monologue. Only, this never actually happened. At the end of Disney Princess films there occasionally would be a wedding, yes, but it would be taking place an unspecified amount of time after the main events of the plot. In fact, only Cinderella and Ariel have an actual wedding ceremony at the end of their movies (and even then, there's an implied Time Skip of unknown length in both cases).
  • Terkel in Trouble is a relatively obscure Danish movie from 2004 in a similar vein to South Park, but if you were to mistake it for a movie made today (discounting how the animation very obviously dates it to the early 2000s), it would be very easy to interpret it as a parody of the usage of Evil All Along in animated movies, a trend that didn't really kick off until The New '10s. Justin is friendly and likable on the surface, but he is in fact an Ax-Crazy murderer on a mission to kill Terkel for the crime of sitting on a spider.
  • Many Wartime Cartoons weren't mindless propaganda, but rather harsh commentaries about war itself.
    • Peace on Earth portrays a world where human beings wiped each other out through war, with the sentient animals learning from humanity's failure and building a peaceful world. It was released in 1939, two years before America entered the war.
    • Education for Death avoids portraying Germans as fanatically evil. Rather, it portrays the Germans themselves as victims of the Nazi regime. The main character, Hans, starts out as a decent kid, but a mixture of peer pressure and propaganda turn him into a merciless tool for the state.
  • The Brave Little Toaster: The film seems like a pretty chilling deconstruction of movies about living inanimate objects such as Toy Story. The main characters, most of whom are the typical household appliances, are in constant peril in their journey, from dismantlement, obsolescence, and disposal. The climax takes place in a junkyard and includes a song where at least eight still-living cars get destroyed, a stark reminder that for many kinds of inanimate object, the most likely ultimate fate is deliberate destruction. This may sound like an examination of the often-ignored implications of such movies in the vein of Sausage Party, but it came out in 1987, well before such movies were popular.
  • Shrek changed the landscape of animated films during the 2000s with its fresh style of humor: irreverent, vulgar and heavy on the pop culture references. But what many of its imitators failed to grasp was that much of its humor had a purpose: to make a Deconstructive Parody of Disney Renaissance films. Not only that, but for all its humor, it dealt with some pretty heavy themes, such as prejudice and alienation.
  • An American Tail had "Somewhere Out There", which was the Trope Maker for the Award-Bait Song. Unlike most subsequent examples, however, a large part of its charm came from the fact that it was sung by amateur singers, giving it a kind of sincerity that many would say is lacking in many other "Oscar Bait songs" (as well as the Breakaway Pop Hit version).
  • Ralph Bakshi's early films pioneered Animated Shock Comedy: Western animation driven by racy content and edgy humor. But they were also very serious and fairly grim portrayals of life in New York City, even featuring some somber moments of Mood Whiplash; the jerkass protagonists that became common in the genre were targets of satirical mockery; and more "offensive" elements such as racial stereotypes were generally used as social commentary. While some of today's adult animation, such as South Park, arguably does follow up on Bakshi's satirical tendencies, this was certainly not the case with the now-forgotten Fritz the Cat imitators of The '70s.

  • Arthurian Legend unbuilds the idea of the Knight in Shining Armor. Many later works equated knighthood with nobility with inherent moral goodness, creating knight characters who were ideal heroes, if not outright completely pure. But Arthurian mythos has chivalry as a knight's job. They're not inherently or incorruptibly good and noble, and it frequently shows. For the most part, even those who want to live up to the ideals of chivalry have to work at it, since it doesn't come naturally to them, and it's hardly uncommon for them to fall short. Really, the knight who most fits the idea of the pure, untarnished, incorruptible hero is Sir Galahad — who is very clearly intended as a truly exceptional figure. While many of Arthur's knights were certainly successful, heroic figures capable of great selflessness, that didn't necessarily make them wonderful people. The vast majority of them had serious character flaws and/or did some very questionable things. Some of them could even be downright nasty at times. In other words, a knight could be a great and noble hero who did incredible things and saved countless lives — and yet also be an unlikable jackass.
  • Imagine, if you will, a "noble outlaw" who's perfectly willing to help the unfortunate, but who isn't robbing for the express purpose of giving to the poor, doesn't particularly care about the moral alignment of his targets (only their status and role in society), and is willing to outright murder people. Sounds like a more grey-shaded deconstruction of the Robin Hood archetype, right? Actually, this is what Robin Hood was like until the late 19th century, when Howard Pyle decided to make his stories more child-friendly by not having him kill except in self-defense and having his robberies be almost entirely motivated by wanting to redress injustices and support the needy.
    • Further, some of the earlier versions give justification to the Inspector Javert role of the Sheriff of Nottingham by giving him a personal reason for pursuing the outlaw beyond devotion to the king: Robin Hood killed one of his relatives in a dispute over deer hunting.
  • The conflict of Man Versus Machine was pioneered by American Tall Tales. But today, they seem like particularly somber deconstructions:
    • Railroad worker John Henry famously competed against a machine to prove that a man can tunnel through rock faster. While he won, this wasn't exactly a triumph for humanity, since he died from overexertion while the machine could do it all again the next day. Some versions are particularly bittersweet, because they add the detail that Henry was fighting to keep his job... and since he died, the machine replaced him anyway.
    • Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox get in on the act, too, when they go up against a mechanized saw and an advanced steam engine in a tree-cutting contest. In many versions, Paul lost (by a quarter of an inch, in Walt Disney's version) and headed for the Alaskan wilderness when he realized the age of the lumberjack was coming to a close. In other versions of the story, Paul actually won... but left anyway when he realized that age and mileage would only slow him and Babe down, whereas the machines' ability to be tweaked and upgraded meant that they were virtually immune to those factors.
  • In the earliest vampire folklore, vampires are most definitely not tall, elegant, sexy aristocrats. Instead, they're short, ugly, smelly peasants—which you might realistically expect of animalistic human predators forced to live at the fringes of society and prey on other humans for sustenance. Nosferatu, one of the first vampire films in history, even uses elements of this early vampire lore in its portrayal of Count Orlok: a tall, ugly, probably smelly aristocrat. Realistically speaking, living as an outcast subsisting on human blood is not glamorous.
    • Dracula (which codified so many of the characteristics of modern vampires) had Drac running around in the daylight note  and being killed by a couple of knives. He was also described as hairy (even hairy palms!), moustachioed, and rather brutish-looking, rather than the suave aristocrat he's been commonly depicted as after Bela Lugosi; he could pull off a more handsome body, but it required magic to shapeshift and he rarely bothered. His breath stank of rotting corpse, too. There are also other ways it comes off as subversive:
      • Renfield isn't quite The Renfield: although more-or-less controlled by Dracula, he's not willingly so, and even tries to kill him.
      • The original Van Helsing isn't portrayed in the same way as later iterations of the character; he's not a Vampire Hunter or even all that action-oriented, just a scholar who happens to know a good deal about vampires. Even then, he doesn't immediately figure out that Lucy's illness was caused by a vampire and is heavily implied to not have any personal experience with vampires before he comes into conflict with Dracula.
      • Dracula has a trio of vampire women who serve and live with him. Sounds like a typical Vampire's Harem, right? Except it isn't; there's no confirmation that the "brides" (who are never actually called that in the original book) are romantically or sexually involved with him, and it's implied that at least two of them are actually related to the Count. They also unbuild the idea of the sexually alluring female vampire; Jonathan is terrified of them despite acknowledging their attractiveness, and their attempted "seduction" of him comes off as more like harassment if not outright sexual predation.
      • While Dracula is a villain who dreams to Take Over the World, he has also grown weary with his immortality and wants to end it all. So he's planning to create a vampire army to march on the rest of the world, figuring that he'll either win or be destroyed trying, either outcome of which he'd be happy with.
    • The villain of the very first vampire novel, aptly-named The Vampyre by John Polidori, did not have fangs. He did bear an uncanny and insulting resemblance to Polidori's boss, though. It wasn't until Varney the Vampire that fangs showed up, but that was a weird book, too: it ends with Varney killing himself at the crater of Vesuvius. Varney was also the first morally-ambiguous and conflicted vampire, before Dark Shadows, The Vampire Chronicles and Angel came along.
    • Prior to Twilight's vegetarian vampires, The Vampire Chronicles skewered the concept of a "vegetarian" vampire in the first book, Interview with the Vampire, with its protagonist Louis. Although he tried to retain his humanity and survive on the blood of animals, his efforts were in vain and his creator scolds him for his hypocrisy of loathing the downsides of being a vampire while enjoying its benefits. In general, Louis is regarded with mild contempt by most vampires for trying to remain human to begin with and is generally considered the weakest of Lestat's children.
    • The Silver Kiss reads like a deconstruction of the teen vampire romance narrative popularized by Twilight, with its exploration of grief and the main character choosing NOT to become a vampire (and the transformation process freezing a person in time, meaning that any illness they have won't be cured), then the vampire love interest commits suicide by exposing himself to sunlight at the very end
    • Carmilla is the Trope Maker for Lesbian Vampire, but it's not sexploitation. Instead, it's written more as a standard "vampire victim" story, just with the victim and the aggressor sharing the same gender. It's not really a Romance either, although Carmilla can be interpreted sympathetically. At most you could call Carmilla a stalker or sexual predator.
    • And Dracula, Carmilla and Lord Ruthven were all unharmed by sunlight, outside of it limiting their powers or just being uncomfortable but not fatal at all. As noted above, the idea of vampires being killed by daylight didn't appear until 1922 and was imitated by others.

  • Trollface has been used countless times across the Web to illustrate the act of, well, trolling. Yet, the comic that it originated in was a demonstration of how trolls want to believe that they're driving people incoherent with rage, while the troll is actually being little more than a minor annoyance. It also implies that most "trolls" are just people retroactively claiming they were trolling after other people criticize their opinions for being utter nonsense, bigoted, or just plain idiotic.
    • The phrase most associated with Trollface ("Problem, officer?") originally had nothing to do with trolling (and the troll face was actually referred to as the person's "cool face").
  • Many people who read Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations, the book that codified free trade and capitalist economics, are often surprised to see Smith's belief that the invisible hand of the market was not applicable in all situations (such as provision of health care and education), his endorsement of unions (then illegal) as a means of preventing workers from competing against each other and thus driving down wages, and his criticism of acting purely on self-interest. Read today, The Wealth of Nations seems less like the Ayn Rand-style endorsement of laissez-faire capitalism that its reputation suggests, and more a critique of such (if not by an out-and-out Marxist, then certainly a left-leaning progressive or an old-school Tory).
  • Karl Marx himself was also far more enthusiastic about capitalism than is often believed today, and often praised its virtues at length in his writing. His point was he saw capitalism as a phase of human economic development that mankind was now destined to progress beyond, not something entirely without merit as an idea in any context. While it wasn't his ideal economic system, he found it highly preferable to the feudalism that it replaced. To many, it comes off as quite open-minded, pragmatic and even forward-thinking; an almost direct contrast to the revolutionary Marxism of the 20th century.
  • Economic theories' principal ideas are often explored first in literature before being codified: The Wealth of Nations (published in 1776) codifies Division of Labour, RealPrice, and Nominal Price. Coinage was first explored in Robinson Crusoe, published in 1709. The idea of every human activity (including art) being dependent on its economic value was first exposed by Le Père Goriot, published in 1819, before The Communist Manifesto (published in 1848) was published by Karl Marx.
  • Ayn Rand's philosophy and bibliography have often been cited as inspirations for many on the right. Unlike many of her followers, however, Rand hated the religious right due to her pro-choice views on abortion and skepticism of organized religion, and her pro-business views did not extend to people who made money through reliance on lucrative government deals. People claiming her as an influence but being in favor of crony capitalism would make her spin in her grave.
  • The first well-recognized discussion of The Singularity (called the Omega Point) came to be in the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Catholic priest, and it was more like "achieving a complete union with God" rather than "becoming God".
  • For a lot of people: Schrödinger's Cat is one of their first ever exposures to the concept of Quantum Physics; as well as becoming a synonym for uncertain or contradicting situations or states-of-being. What many people probably don’t know is that the experiment was neither an actual experiment or even a serious exploration of quantum theory; rather it is a Deconstructive Parody of the various interpretations of quantum theory that Schrödinger found ridiculous. Mainly the Born/Copenhagen interpretation of Quantum Physics.
  • The Spartan Way is when an army uses a horrifically brutal training regime, sometimes recruiting from young teens, to create the ultimate Badass Army. When the actual city of Sparta tried this some 2500 years ago, they were tactically inflexible to the point of being outright crippled. The army existed mostly to scare the city-state's helot population into complacency, so they couldn't operate very far from home. Since their system only produced elites, it took forever to replace the soldiers they lost, which in turn meant they ended up having a rather small army made up almost entirely of heavy infantry. An enemy army with a detachment of hit-and-run skirmishers - or worse, cavalry - could run circles around the Spartans, and if the Spartans lost more than a few hundred soldiers, they would have to seriously consider surrendering the entire war. Plus, with a Proud Warrior Race Guy mentality, they didn't see any reason to adapt and evolve their fighting style. This came back to bite Sparta in the ass in the Battle of Sphacteria (425 BCE), where Athens had the entire Spartan playbook on file and just walked all over the Spartan hoplites without taking a single casualty. Since all Spartan men were expected to be soldiers, and all Spartan women were expected to stay at home and produce strong Spartan babies, this meant that almost every job in Sparta itself had to be done by slaves that the Spartans kidnapped from other villages. When there were slave revolts — and it wasn't "if", it was "when", since the slaves revolted against the Spartans quite often — the army would have to drop everything it was doing and race back home to get their slaves under control, then raid other villages for more slaves to replace their losses. As a result, Spartans were rarely on the offensive, and if they were, it was frequently to raid more slaves. And Persian accounts described Sparta as thoroughly corrupt and easily bribed for allegiance. All in all, the actual city of Sparta reads more like a deconstruction of The Spartan Way, despite naming the trope.
  • Somebody who thinks that celebrity tabloids are nothing but vapid, pointless gossip would likely be shocked if they were to read old issues of Confidential, the magazine that invented the modern celebrity tabloid in The '50s. It was just as gossipy as any of its heirs, but its reporting on celebrity misdeeds was meant to serve a point: namely, to whip up outrage and moral indignation about the "corruption" in Hollywood through muckraking journalism of a sort that they felt the rest of the press was too afraid to touch. In particular, it was a driver of The Hollywood Blacklist, with editor Howard Rushmore (who had previously been a director of research for Senator Joseph McCarthy himself) seeking to destroy alleged communists and fellow travelers in Hollywood by smearing them as sexual deviants. For all the stereotypes of the tabloids being major players in the Hollywood Hype Machine, they were originally a reactionary effort to demolish that system.
  • When one thinks of a traditional harem, they generally imagine the women in it to be sequestered away from the world at large and not doing anything except producing heirs. However, one of the oldest harems in history, that of the Egyptian pharaoh, was not like this. While the women had a dedicated space (the Eighteenth Dynasty dedicated a whole gigantic palace in the Faiyum called Merwer to the royal harem), they weren't actually secluded in the sense of being required to be apart from the world. The ladies in the harem were well integrated into the elite social life of the area surrounding the harem palace, and senior members tended to have important public roles both in the royal court (held wherever the king was, usually Thebes or Memphis) and in the priesthood (for one famous example, the Great Royal Wifethe Queen—was usually the chief priestess of Amun at the temple at Thebes). The harem palace was a retreat for the royal family to escape their public duties, and its inhabitants could and did leave when they liked/needed.
  • The Noble Savage trope is generally thought of as being applied to people of color. However, the first known examples of the trope came from Ancient Rome, where it was used to describe the very white Germanic peoples. White people being portrayed as noble savages today would generally be considered a unique twist on the trope. It should be noted, though, that skin color as a basis of discrimination is Newer Than They Think, as the very concept of race as a means to divide people was actually invented during the Age of Exploration as an excuse for bringing the slave trade back from the dead.
  • Ancient Rome's Praetorian Guard, the trope namer for a leader's security detail, seems like a very deconstructive take on it. Rather than being a strictly professional and loyal group that was truly subordinate to the emperor, it was a powerful institution in its own right with its own interests, and any emperor who failed to keep them happy was liable to find himself deserted — or worse, backstabbed — by them.
  • The Trope Maker of Mysterious Informant "Deep Throat", the Watergate informant whose identity was unknown, so many aspects of the trope draw heavily from the Pop-Cultural Osmosis of All the President's Men. 30 years later he was finally revealed himself in 2005, as William Mark Felt. The real-life Deep Throat's identity was a mystery to the general public, but Bob Woodward knew exactly who he was talking to. Richard Nixon himself also figured it out pretty quickly (it had to be someone in the FBI and only Felt knew everything Deep Throat had passed on) and torpedoed his career for it.
  • The Mature Animal Story is often seen as a subversion of the longstanding idea that stories with animal leads are always intended for children. However, the perception that stories about animals were for kids only really emerged in the 20th century; before that, animal-centric stories were generally aimed at adults. Reynard the Fox is a raunchy Black Comedy with copious sex and violence, while Black Beauty is a lengthy commentary on issues like animal welfare and social justice that delves into some dark subject matter due to being written with the primary purpose of drawing attention to animal cruelty. So stories like Duckman and Maus, often praised for allegedly taking "talking animal stories" in new directions, are really taking the genre closer to its roots.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Suppose you saw a heel wrestler who wasn't all that muscular and put bobby pins in his bleached-blond hair and entered the arena to a neoclassical music score and had Chanel perfume sprayed all over his body before the match so it would disinfect any germs his opponent got on him. Wow, a Sissy Villain in wrestling! Sounds like a subversion of the big, macho, ugly Wrestling Monster, right? Well, it's Gorgeous George - the very first gimmick wrestler to become nationally popular, back in the late 1940s.
  • The poetry-spouting "Superstar" Billy Graham defied the Dumb Muscle stereotype as early as 1977, despite being one of the first major bodybuilders in wrestling. Suddenly Triple H's "blue-blood" gimmick from the mid-'90s doesn't seem so weird, does it?
  • The very first evening gown match between Sable and Luna Vachon had a different 'psychology' than the Cat Fight the rest would become known for. As it was a Distaff Counterpart to the Tuxedo Match, the gowns were torn off piece by piece - rather than in one go as in later matches.
  • The ideal WWE Diva is thought of as a Statuesque Stunner who's a slim blonde All-American Face Plucky Girl. Likewise, Trish Stratus is recognised as the Trope Codifier. While she ticks the blonde Plucky Girl parts, she's rather short, more of an Amazonian Beauty (as a former fitness model rather than glamour model) and Canadian to boot. The other tropes seem to come from Madusa who was the All-American Face and a Statuesque Stunner, but not slim nor particularly glamorous, and Sable, who was a slim blonde (by wrestler standards) Statuesque Stunner, but also a Faux Action Girl. What's notable is that none of those three were Ms. Fanservice inside the ring. While Sable and Trish were dressed sexily outside the ring, their actual gear was fairly modest. Stratus's sexier ring gear was purely for one off Gimmick Matches.
  • The International Home Wrecking Crew seem like an interesting take on the Girl Posse. Their concerns are often mature even if they themselves are not. All three of them are buddy buddy alpha bitches with no beta, much less omega in sight. In fighting is less from betrayal, jealousy or reform than it is a consequence of no one else to look down on being around. They began as enemies before settling on life partners and though always arrogant, may have never became bullies if they themselves weren't bullied by The Experience Tag Team for being conceited rookies. Thing is, they came before The Beautiful People, Vince's Devils, Team Blondage or even Mean Girls and were "inspired" by the surly, manly Anderson Minnesota Wrecking Crew.
  • "A Fight Without Honor" is usually regarded as a very dangerous stipulation that is only allowed when it is feared what feuding wrestlers will do to one another if they are not allowed to face one another in a No-Holds-Barred Contest. The result is usually lots of Garbage Wrestling and bleeding. The first Fight Without Honor is one of the most popular, and it is also one of the most subdued, more so resembling strong or shooting style wrestling with some MMA nods. This is because it originated from The Prophecy of Christopher Daniels, which was concerned with doing away with the code used by ROH. While Daniels had hired Samoa Joe as an "assassin" to soften up his rival Low Ki, the simple fact no hands were shaken beforehand was itself a symbolic victory for Daniels.
  • Money in the Bank as a gimmick match is known for featuring a couple of wrestlers that everyone knows won't win the briefcase or get pushed as a serious title contender, but will provide some nice highspots in that kind of match. The first MITB match at WrestleMania 21, however, is notable in that its only participants were guys who had either already held the title or been pushed as title contenders. Shelton Benjamin was the only mid-carder in the match, and even he was enjoying a bit of a serious push as the Intercontinental Champion.
  • If you saw a Buried Alive match end with six men taking forever to fill the grave by hand rather than just dumping a truckload of dirt in, you would likely assume it was a parody of the stipulation put together by some comedy indie fed. Except, that is exactly how it went for the very first Buried Alive match, as WWE critically underestimated how long it took to fill a grave. For well over five minutes Mankind, soon joined by The Executioner, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Crush, Justin "Hawk" Bradshaw, and Goldust, frantically shovelled dirt while Paul Bearer mugged for the crowd to try to make it interesting.
  • It's disputed who exactly invented the three man match, but it's generally agreed that ECW was the first to do one that got national attention with the Three Way Dance. However, Paul Heyman was apparently inspired by a match held a month earlier in his old frenemy Jim Cornette's Smoky Mountain Wrestlingnote . The key difference was that SMW's version was organised as a sort of round robin gauntlet, the three competitors having a series of one-on-one matches until each competitor had wrestled the other two, with the man who scored the most falls being declared the winner. The ECW match, and all others that followed, had three guys all fighting at once. The SMW match was also pitched as something that could only happen in the most rare and extreme of circumstances and may never happen again, when nowadays two weeks can't go by without WWE or AEW having one.

  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue comes across as a Deconstructive Parody of the comedy Panel Game format, with (implicitly) cheap production values, a Lovely Assistant who Really Gets Around and never shows up, a panel lineup that's barely changed since 1972, players who don't even get points, games that range from Hurricane of Puns to excuses to force the panelists to sing (with one regular guest being genuinely tone-deaf) to pure Calvinball, impenetrable Running Gags and a host who loathes everyone and everything on the show and spends most of his/her time subjecting it all to the most withering snark imaginable. It even bills itself as 'the antidote to panel games'. It was actually one of the first comedy panel games to get big in the UK. Its original parodic target were the contemporary serious panel shows, and the original joke was that it used the format as a space for doing silly and rude things rather than witty and erudite ones. Nowadays, the panel show format is almost exclusively a comedy genre and the serious games have either got Denser and Wackier (Just a Minute) or just disappeared, changing the central joke to be a swipe at the format itself.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Despite being the Trope Namer of "Get Out of Jail Free" Card, Monopoly jail is a Cardboard Prison that only requires you to roll doubles, pay $50, or use said card to get out. Furthermore, since people in jail can still collect rent and trade properties without fear of paying rent to others, staying in jail as long as possible is a good, if counter-intuitive, late-game strategy. In fact, players are required to leave jail after three turns whether they want to or not, whether by rolling doubles, paying the $50 bail, or playing the card.
  • Space Hulk, the 1989 board game spinoff of Warhammer 40,000, takes the time to deconstruct the Rule of Cool that would later come to define the series. The huge bulky Terminator Armor suits were originally designed for servicing plasma reactors, not military boarding actions, which you can imagine is a problem when the marines are trying to navigate claustrophobic service tunnels. The suits look awesome, sure, but that isn't doing squat against the Genestealers. What's more, the armor doesn't even work, and the Genestealers can tear right through it. It wasn't until later editions that a justification was thought up: most space hulks are filled with radiation far more lethal than the Genestealers, so the Terminator Armor is seen as a necessary handicap on the occasion it's used at all. It also lets each soldier carry much heavier weapons than their normal armor, and in the tight corridors they're stuck in single file either way.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • One of the earliest settings, created by Gary Gygax himself, is Greyhawk - a setting which spotlighted a lot of military conflicts and citystate-based realpolitik (think the Renaissance) in its background. One of its adventures, The City of Skulls, is kicked off when the good-aligned king recruits adventurers to go on a politically motivated rescue mission (the pregenerated PCs even have political ambitions and personal grudges as their motivations for accepting the mission). This is a stark contrast to the cliché assumption of adventurers being noble, heroic figures — or at least that their dungeon-crawls have no significant political impact.
    • Early D&D has a lot of this going on, due to its true roots being in pulpy sword-and-sorcery rather than the Tolkien-esque aesthetic that many people ascribed to it. Motivations were often nakedly mercenary, characters were expected to assume meaningful responsibilities as they grew stronger, combat was grungy and lethal, and many dungeons were designed with thoughtful solutions in mind. Some of the first player characters created were Mordenkainen and Robilar, a Well-Intentioned Extremist and a Blood Knight, respectively. The idea that player characters were expected to be straightforward heroes was later codified in 2nd Edition, as a reaction to the Satanic Panic, and has been the default assumption (to greater or lesser degrees) ever since.
    • For all its role in codifying Medieval Stasis, the aforementioned Greyhawk featured both a crashed alien spaceship and an order of paladins wielding guns.
    • Things like turnstiles or gift shops in the dungeon, or monsters giving out T-shirts, while these days associated with April Fools' Day or parodies like The Order of the Stick or Nodwick, were also present in the very first Blackmoor campaign. After all, it still was a game played by young people.
    • In relations to the discourse on monsters—especially Orcs and Drows—and monocultures related to them, such deconstruction was already prevalent in Forgotten Realms in 2E where there were diverse sets of Drow cultures (one city having male rulers while others—especially Eilistraee and Vhaerun worshippers—rejected Lolth's influence) and instances where many Orcs lived in peace with non-Orcs (former mercenaries and their descendants in Thesk) and even embraced pacifism (Ondonti tribes).
  • Cyberpunk:
    • It was the Trope Codifier, if not Trope Maker, for Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. Unlike its successors, it does not just treat this as a game balance issue or a matter of course, but delves fairly deeply into exactly what psychological impact replacing parts of your body with metal to give yourself superpowers would have on a person's psyche. In essence Cyberpunk treats cyberpsychosis (as it's called) as a natural effect of dealing with the nerve damage, body dysmorphia issues, and increasing alienation from the rest of humanity brought on by shoving metal into yourself to boost your abilities beyond those of everyone else. It also treats the causes of cyberpsychosis as fully treatable, and with proper psychiatric care and by choosing a cybernetic surgeon who can keep the neurological damage to a minimum, nearly all effects of cyberpsychosis can be avoided.
      • The video game adaptation Cyberpunk 2077, which is also canon, backs away from this with the revelation (or retcon) that cyberpsychosis doesn't even exist in the first place, but is rather a collective name for "mental breakdowns by people with cyberware" that the media finds easier to report. In short, it's a media-driven moral panic brought on by suspicion of people with cybernetic enhancements. Whether this makes it timelier or undercuts the game's themes is up to the player.
      • Cyberpsychosis and cyberware resistance were brought back in the 2.0 version of the game, so whether this interpretation was actual canon or an attempt by the devs to justify not including cyberpsychosis as a mechanic in the base game is increasingly unclear.
    • Cyberpunk also deconstructed Everything Is Online a mere six years after the first appliance was given online functionalitynote  and three years before Mark Weiser's paper "The Computer of the 21st Century" that coined the term "ubiquitous computing" was published. Rache Bartmoss found out, to his horror, that a huge number of things that had no business being online, like the ESA lunar mass driver (technically used to send minerals to Earth, but could easily wipe a city off the map) and the airlocks on space stations, could be controlled from his home computer. That was when he decided that the only way out was to destroy the Internet in its entirety, though that too went horribly right.

  • Brigadoon: In spite of being the Trope Codifier for Vanishing Village, the play spends a lot of time examining just how living in an isolated community like that affects someone, mostly through the character of Harry. Harry wants to get an education and marry the love of his life, but is forced by the setting to stay on his family's farm and watch his dream girl marry someone else. The rest of the cast are't completely unsympathetic, but their responses to his desire to get away are more or less sympathetic variations of "Suck it up, you big baby." By act three, Harry is more than willing to put the village out of his misery.
  • The Clouds has one of the earliest examples of a NEET in Strepsiades' lazy, horse-obsessed son Pheidippides. But his father's attempts to break him of being one are rather unconventional by modern standards. Strepsiades sends him to a school called the Thinkery, not to learn anything useful, but to learn "philosophy and rhetoric" (read: Insane Troll Logic) so the boy can help him weasel his way out of having to pay his debts. Not only that, but having him get off his ass and get educated ends up working too well.
  • Lysistrata created and named the Lysistrata Gambit. However, the play was written as a farce; the point was to ridicule the idea of women in politics, an inconceivable concept in Ancient Greece. A modern audience might read the feminist interpretation as Serious Business. While many depictions of this portray the Gambit as easy for the women, due to the ideas All Men Are Perverts and All Women Are Prudes, the women in Lysistrata find it just as difficult as the men, and when Lysistrata first suggests the idea, they are horrified. The play also shows that the sex strike on its own isn't enough to stop the war; the women also seize the treasury to prevent the war from progressing, the idea being that the war is being prolonged by corrupt politicians so they have opportunities to enrich themselves. The sex strike helps, but there are other factors.
  • Don Giovanni has an example of Playing Cyrano that predates Cyrano de Bergerac by a century. The example is pretty complicated, but what it boils down to is that Giovanni acts as Playing Cyrano to his servant, Leporello, and Donna Elvira. The only reason he does this, though, is so that he can get Elvira out of the way; he wants to seduce her chambermaid. What's more, Leporello doesn't even want Elvira; Giovanni is forcing him to seduce her. Might be worth noting that Rostand, the author of Cyrano, wrote a Fan Sequel to Moliere's Don Juan which has substantially the same plot. While this work was written several decades after Cyrano, it could have been in his mind when writing Cyrano.
  • Pygmalion is the Trope Maker for the Pygmalion Plot, but George Bernard Shaw's view of Eliza's transformation is more cynical satire than Romantic Comedy. Unlike in the adaptations, the play's Eliza has no final reconciliation scene with Henry Higgins. Although Shaw remained as the writer for both the play and film versions, the 'happy' ending in the film is a case of Executive Meddling.
  • Karel Čapek's classic drama R.U.R. single-handedly coined the term "robot" and invented a lot of robot-related tropes in science fiction. The catch? If you've actually read the play, you know the robots are more like vat-grown Artificial Humans, not machines. The idea of robots being non-organic only appeared in some of the early stage productions of the play, and for some reason, the image stuck, even though it contradicted the original text. It also hit a lot of other robot tropes before they were tropes. Sapient beings created by assembly line, commentary on the dangers of science run amok, robots analogous to slaves, inevitable robot rebellion leading to the extinction of the human race... It's probably the original Robot Apocalypse plot. Wikipedia's AI takeover article is also headed by a photograph of the original 1921 performance of R.U.R.
  • There is a play in which the rich, eccentric protagonist brings the plot to a screeching halt to address the real-life competition between the theater in which his show is playing, and the theater across the street. Beyond that, the play is suffused from beginning to end with theatrical metaphors, and one of the most famous sequences includes the characters onstage watching a play even as the audience is watching them. A radical new experiment in metatheater, playing now at your favorite off-Broadway location, and critiquing the excess of artificiality in contemporary theater? No – it's Hamlet, and it's been around a while.
    • Hamlet himself is one of the first instances of an Anti-Hero. An Anti-Hero who ends up getting dozens of people killed out of petty revenge, most of whom had absolutely nothing to do with the conspiracy he's taking revenge against. He's so obsessed with his vengeance that he ends up abusing/neglecting his girlfriend to the point of driving her over the Despair Event Horizon and into madness and suicide. Indeed, Hamlet comes off as Lethally Stupid at times.
  • The Bastard Bastard is one of the most familiar tropes of Shakespearean-type stories. A story where the bastard is portrayed as sympathetic, justifying his evil by saying how society perceives him as evil and he is being treated as The Un-Favourite? Sounds like a new idea? It was done in King Lear, with Edmund, the archetypal Bastard Bastard of fiction. Also Edmund shows he isn't entirely evil, as while dying he tries to do some good and save Cordelia.
  • Romeo and Juliet is the Trope Codifier for Star-Crossed Lovers, but the play also works as a Genre Deconstruction of the more upbeat typical Commedia dell'Arte plot. So the Zany Scheme doesn't work out, and five young people come to die. The survivors get at best a Bittersweet Ending, as the sudden deaths of their beloved children can finally make the two families lay their stupid feud to rest.
  • The Tempest:
    • One notable scene between Gonzalo, Antonio and Sebastian is essentially a cynical deconstruction of Anarchism... written more than two centuries before it was a recognized philosophical system. While awed by the beauty of Prospero's island, Gonzalo waxes lyrical about the perfect self-governing utopia that he would build if he were allowed to stay there forever, before Antonio (the villain) points out that one can't force a whole population to conform to a "perfect" system unless one is willing to impose it on them by force - which contradicts the notion of a world with no authority figures.
      Gonzalo: In the commonwealth I would by contraries execute all things; for no kind of traffic would I admit; no name of magistrate; letters should not be known; riches, poverty, and use of service, none; contract, succession, bourn, bound of land, tilth, vineyard, none; no use of metal, corn, or wine, or oil; no occupation; all men idle, all; and women too, but innocent and pure; no sovereignty—
      Sebastian: Yet he would be king on it...
      Antonio: The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning!
    • With his reverence for nature, Gonzalo's aforementioned utopian speech almost sounds like something out of Henry David Thoreau... but it's delivered by a drunken Absent-Minded Professor who's unaware that his "utopian" island is actually home to a temperamental sorcerer who rules it with an iron fist. And said speech comes in a play where the very first words spoken onstage are a dialogue about how humankind will always be vulnerable to nature's fury, delivered by a crew of frazzled sailors as they weather a storm.
  • Macbeth:
  • Pagliacci concludes with a Monster Clown stabbing people to death in front of a live audience, but the reason the drama is so effective is precisely because the trope is unbuilt and nobody expects a clown to be scary, let alone murder anyone. In fact, Canio (the clown) is trying to play a Non-Ironic Clown, while he is actually a Sad Clown but The Show Must Go On. He's not a psychopath or a monster, just a guy trying to bring a little laughter into people's hearts on the stage who finally snaps when his wife turns against him.
  • Noël Coward is famous for his light comedies of manners set in upper class drawing rooms where warring couples spend the play hurling witty comments at each other. So a play in which the couple are both deeply damaged individuals in which the man is concealing a drug addiction and possibly repressed homosexuality while the woman is indulging in a stream of meaningless love affairs with much younger men... oh and the couple are not lovers but mother and son (for extra Freudian undertones). Sounds like a Darker and Edgier deconstruction of Coward's plays, right? The play is actually The Vortex and was one of Noel Coward's earliest plays, written well before the drawing room comedies with which he made his name.
  • Carmen can be viewed as a deconstruction of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, as noted on that trope's page. The uptight Don José's life is ruined by his love for the free-spirited Carmen, not made better, and their clashing lifestyles and values eventually drive her to leave him for another man and him to murder her in a jealous rage. The story made its debut in novella form in 1845 and premiered on the opera stage in 1875, long before the familiar happy version of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope was widespread.
  • Madame Butterfly is the Trope Codifier of the "exotic, submissive Asian woman falls in love with a Western man" plot. The opera itself is actually something of a deliberate deconstruction; the American Pinkerton is a total cad who ruins the Japanese Butterfly's life with his selfish nature and thoughtlessness. It’s topped off by Pinkerton abandoning Butterfly to marry an American woman, which was what he wanted to do all along. Both women also remain unaware of both each other and their relationship with Pinkerton until it's far too late.
  • The climax of the melodrama play Under the Gaslight is that of a Distressed Dude Chained to a Railway by the villain before being saved by his girlfriend. Sounds like something a parody of a silent movie would do to spoof subvert the classic Damsel in Distress tropes.... But the play's from 1867.

  • Bob and George codified many of the tropes for Sprite Comics, but reading it now makes it read like a big deconstruction of the very tropes it so codified. The Author Avatar constantly gets abused, kidnapped or exploited for his control, and having him gone throws everything into chaos. The massive amounts of stupidity displayed by the cast makes them all but useless when a real threat shows up. The same characters' obsession with ice cream also leads them to making things worse when they would rather eat ice cream than stop Dr. Wily. Having No Fourth Wall means the characters constantly complain about being in a comic at all, insulting both the comic creator and its readership. Finally, the entire comic turns out to be a "Shaggy Dog" Story when it's revealed that Bob and George's mom set the whole comic up as a gigantic Gambit Roulette so that George would be willing to kill Bob if it came to that, both to scare Bob into not being such a Jerkass, and to toughen up George. The ending also skewers the inevitable, tragic deaths of the cast, which the comic ended up popularizing as a theory for what actually happened to the cast, by having them all fake their deaths because Dr. Wily found out how he dies and they move to Acapulco, where they live happily ever after.
  • Nuzlocke Comics invented and popularized a certain Self-Imposed Challenge for Pokémon players, along with the tradition of writing a webcomic about their Trainer OC's adventure. Ruby, the writer for the original, lost his first challenge to Steven Stone, his Fire Red version challenge ended in a Pyrrhic Victory over Mewtwo, and his White version storyline has N actively murdering Ruby's Pokemon to blame it on him and his challenge.
  • DM of the Rings is considered the Trope Maker for the Campaign Comic, but it doesn't make use of the tropes a campaign comic is usually known for. Usually in a Campaign Comic, the players have identities and distinct personalities that affect how they play their characters, and the game tries to parse the distinctions of the setting into gaming terms that become a theme (for example, the over-the-top One Piece fighting antics and idiocy of the protagonists turns into a theme of absurd Min-Maxing and Lethal Joke Character builds). DM of the Rings is largely built around how the setting and story of The Lord of the Rings is an awful choice for traditional gaming and how dysfunctional the group is; we learn next to nothing about the people playing the game and even Gimli's initial introduction as The Roleplayer is quickly forgotten.
  • The Virgin vs. Chad meme is commonly used as a plain "bad vs good" template where the Virgin is something they don't like and the Chad is something they do like. However, the original comparison that started it all actually had a purpose which was to mock the original "Virgin Walk" post by creating its foil, the "Chad Stride". It showed how the Virgin and the Chad both exaggerate stereotypes of "beta" and "alpha" males with the former being easy to be around but boring, and the latter being fun but extremely obnoxious and undesirable to be around. Most comparisons just take the format but not really the message.

    Web Original 
  • Inanimate Insanity:
  • Marble Hornets:
    • Many of the problems stem from how the protagonist lacks discretion and publicly broadcasts all his findings, actions, and plans online in a way that anyone and everyone can see what he's up to, including his (potential) enemies and allies. It would be considered a Deconstruction of the various web series in The Slender Man Mythos if it wasn't the progenitor of them and is largely what the rest all follow.
    • With the use of the Ax-Crazy masked people stalking the protagonists and Totheark sending confusing and vaguely threatening video messages, it became popular in other web series to give the Slender Man proxies who acted in a similar manner. However, in Marble Hornets, it turns out the crazy masked people are not necessarily working for the Operator, whereas those who take the closest thing to its proxies are more lucid.
    • The tendency for people in Slender Man stories to film everything is called out by another character when it's pointed out in-universe that the protagonist has no plan beyond "film everything and see what happens." Not only does this not really give them any answers, it ruins the lives of everyone around him over his insistence on doing it. Given what happens to the characters throughout the story, it's pretty hard to argue with that.
  • The Leeroy Jenkins trope is derived from the Leeroy Jenkins Video, which has gone memetic as a descriptor of players/characters who attack impulsively without thinking. However, while the eponymous individual does display that behavior in the original video, the video also shows his teammates as fitting the opposite extreme and being overly cautious and methodical in their planning. Further, the Total Party Kill which results is in part because they stuck to their original plan despite changed circumstances. The plan itself is also completely insane, and involves intentionally sabotaging themselves at every point (pulling all the enemies at once and disabling their own casters by misusing an ability that kills the healers using it are highlights). Even though the plan was so poorly thought-out that it was doomed to fail from the very start, Leeroy Jenkins as a trope is still synonymous with wrecking plans by being reckless.
  • The "haunted video game" genre of Creepypastas (e.g. Sonic.exe and Ben Drowned) have come under fire for their Strictly Formula plots, which means that some of the very first works in said genre retroactively subverting expectations may come as a surprise:
    • Pokémon Black is an incredibly mundane story by today's standards. Right off the bat, the protagonist knows that the eponymous game is a ROM hack and that there's nothing supernatural about it. Rather than be scared by what the game presents, they're intrigued and try to replay it to find out if there's any alternate endings. By the end, they're not killed or psychologically scarred, just a bit sad. The only truly mysterious element is the unanswered question of who made the ROM and why.
    • The NES Godzilla Creepypasta admittedly indulged in cliches such as "hyper-realistic graphics" and the player being forced to continue playing unwillingly. However, it also subverted some of the cliches that its imitators mostly played straight: some of the supernatural phenomena in the cartridge was on the player's side, and it ended with a Surprisingly Happy Ending.
    • A common hallmark for the "haunted video game" genre is for the game to be openly malicious and actively attempting to kill its players. Not so Sim Albert, in which the big twist is that Albert was a Friendly Ghost who was using the player's copy of The Sims to live the life he never had. Sim Albert was made in 2012, merely two years after the start of Ben Drowned.
  • Most "Lost Episode" creepypastas go for the Nothing Is Scarier route in regards to the episode's origins, having the protagonist purchase a DVD from The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday or catch a mysterious, untraceable broadcast on their TV. While it still has a lot of ambiguity, Squidward's Suicide, the inspiration for those stories, had an intern working at Nickelodeon as its narrator, providing a setting where it would actually be plausible for someone to see lost cartoon episodes.
  • A lot of the review shows that arose on the Internet during the late 2000s were inspired by The Nostalgia Critic and The Angry Video Game Nerd. However, in mirroring their use of Alter-Ego Acting, many imitators tended to not notice that both reviewers were deconstructive parodies of the Caustic Critic trope. The Nerd is stuck in the past (the first time he reviewed a newer generation game, he was utterly bamboozled by it) and has major anger issues that seem to get worse as the show goes on, while the Critic is a bitter jerk who became a caustic critic largely because of his incredibly screwed-up childhood which was plagued with parental abuse. Both are the Butt Monkeys of their own shows.
  • Zero Punctuation, meanwhile, is probably the Trope Codifier for caustic criticism on the Internet, especially in the video game community. But its causticity is almost always amped up to an absurd degree — even while implying that he actually liked the game in question — and Yahtzee frequently diverges into ranting about his own fans or himself, or rambling incoherently. The character comes off as more of an eloquent Talkative Loon than a critical genius. This is further exemplified by the fact that he coined the phrase "Glorious PC Master Race" sarcastically as a way of mocking elitist PC players, before said players adopted the mantle completely unironically.
  • Most people know Ventrilo Harassment videos for featuring uptight gamers getting irrationally upset over soundboards early on, while later installments feature all but one person having a good time (or in a few rare cases, everyone's having a good time). However, in the first one (with Duke Nukem soundclips) only Peggy gets upset; the others find it amusing until she starts screaming her head off.
  • Desert Bus for Hope is essentially a parody of video-gaming marathons for charity that started years before any normal ones, like GDQ, existed. The only "game" they play is a ridiculously boring bus-driving simulator—ostensibly, viewers donate to torment the hosts by making them play it longer, but the actual attractions are the sketch comedy, nerd-celebrity guests, and prize giveaways.
  • Twitch Plays Pokémon had a good chunk of the lore written for Red focus on aspects of the series that would later be taken for granted by its characters. The protagonist was often seen as either a loon or a remote-controlled Ridiculously Human Robot instead of just a quirky individual, the voices in his head were very much a bad influence rather than a fun companion, centering the blame for most mishaps on someone who happened to be there was shown to hurt the poor 'mon they inflicted it on, and it was said that the moment Red returned home he collapsed from lack of sleep. His appearance in Crystal was split between isolating himself from Kanto since he was paranoid it would happen to him again, trying to fight AJ on the grounds that the voices in their heads would leave if he won, and foregoing all of it to have a friendly competition with someone for once instead of being forced to do it.
  • Two of GoAnimate's most infamous trends started out as ordinary before ballooning to absurd levels:


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Unconstructed Trope


Bad Anime-Cliche Proto-Twist

While reviewing 'Itsudatte My Santa!', Anime Americas Robyn expresses her disdain for the beat-up-the-accidental-pervert cliche commonly found in anime. However, she ultimately decides to let it slide when this OVA uses it because A) the original manga the OVA is adapting is from the 90s, before the cliche became widespread; and B) the use of the cliche in the OVA also has a humorous twist that future examples would lack. Something that Robyn finds satisfying.

How well does it match the trope?

4.79 (14 votes)

Example of:

Main / UnbuiltTrope

Media sources: