Trope Breaker

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

A Trope Breaker is a change in cultural context, such as a change in customs or mores, or an advance in technology, which renders some well-loved trope moot in contemporary storylines. Hollywood usually responds to Trope Breakers sluggishly, and clings to broken tropes via lame justifications. Sometimes a Trope Breaker is just flat-out ignored, leading to lots of Fridge Logic. If it goes on for long enough you'll get an Undead Horse Trope.

One reason for the Period Piece and Historical Fiction is that you can go back to a time of plausibility. Sometimes the audience doesn't realize that the Trope Breaker is Newer Than They Think.

Contrast Deconstruction, where a trope stops being used because a particular work takes the trope to its logical conclusion. Deconstructions are aimed at tropes (most of the time), while Trope Breakers have Tropes as collateral damage.

Tropes like Science Marches On, Technology Marches On, Outdated Outfit, Two Decades Behind and Magic Floppy Disk are largely subtropes.

Examples of Trope Breaker include:
  • DNA testing is a major Trope Breaker for:
    • Soap Operas: In addition to its potential effects on Luke, You Are My Father and Mysterious Parent plots, it could be able to identify many Unknown Assailants. Instead, it has spawned a wealth of new justifying tropes such as the Laboratory Subversion, the Sample Subversion and the Concealed Test Result.
    • The Scottish film "Young Adam". It was made in the early 21st century, but had to be set several decades earlier so that DNA testing would not be a plot option. When a drowned woman is discovered to have been pregnant when she died, the last man known to have dated her is charged with her murder (and unjustly convicted) on the grounds that he had impregnated her and didn't want to marry her. DNA testing would have established that he was not the child's father.
      • Which in itself changes nothing in context of the case, since he could have panicked before the confirmed results were available (if ever), and the shoddy court practices would remain shoddy. The possibility of testing would only partially shift the case into We Could Have Avoided All This area.
    • Any uses of Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe can be broken by DNA testing, as long as the possible fathers aren't identical twins.
      • Of course, there was also a somewhat famous test which confirmed father, but didn't confirm mother. And then the test itself (but not ridiculous conclusion) turned out to be correct - due to said mother having minor chimerism. Thus with test it's not a complete dead end anymore, but the test itself may be correct, may be botched, or may be technically correct, yet supply misleading evidence anyway.
    • Though more "advertisement of DNA testing" than reality.
  • Less-lethal weapons are a Trope Breaker for police and crime dramas but not police documentaries. Lampshaded by Police, Camera, Action! in the episode Less Lethal Weapons in 2007. This is typically just plain ignored: When was the last time you saw anyone hit with a Taser or pepper spray on a cop show? It's still mostly guns and a few clubs in this world.
    • CSI manages to make the pepper spray and taser combo have lethal consequences in one episode due to a series of extenuating circumstances.
    • It's also a point that in real life, police will never Taser a perp holding a gun (the twitching would cause them to pull the trigger), so more often than not, this is justified.
  • Several decades of changes in women's hairstyles are a pretty serious Trope Breaker for the Beehive Hairdo, Elderly Blue-Haired Lady and other outdated hairstyles. When was the last time you saw any woman with a beehive hairdo in real life? Other than Amy Winehouse, that is. Indeed, the lampshading of beehive poster girl Marge Simpson is constant — but the hairdo is still used as a trope implying a lot about Marge's character.
  • Cell phones are a Trope Breaker for tropes involving Pay Phones and Phone Booths, as well as many other tropes. "I'm afraid Mr. Important is out of his office and can't be reached right now." There are also far more dead zones in fiction - especially in slasher films - than one would expect in the real world, as though the cellular phone is powered by the same thing running the Millennium Falcon... (See Can You Hear Me Now?.)
    • Can possibly be justified when Mr. Important doesn't want to be reached.
    • Cell phones have also seriously injured any trope that relies on a character being out of touch of friends, family or authorities for dramatic necessity. New tropes are evolving around the need to deprive a character of his cell phone in order to put him into some state of jeopardy that will last longer than it takes for him to call 911 or check Google Maps.
  • The digital camera breaks many photography tropes, some of which are still seen once in a while. What's a "Polaroid" again? Now that terabytes can be contained on media the size of a fingernail, who "runs out of film" or "out of memory" when shooting stills? Heck, when was the last time you saw a still picture in black and white outside a daily or weekly newspaper for other than artistic reasons?
    • So much for the sort of spy caper where the MacGuffin is "the negatives" of something incriminating (although this one got replaced by "Zoom zoom enhance enhance.")
    • "Out of film" and "out of memory" are being replaced by "out of battery" which has the same effect and is more believable. However, with scientists having prototype batteries that can be charged in 10 seconds, this too may soon be broken.
    • Several tabletop games involving vampires in the Urban Fantasy setting have had to make note that digital cameras don't work by way of reflections, and therefore will capture an image of a vampire. This presents many problems for game masters who place an emphasis on stories involving a Masquerade, The World of Darkness in particular. This bleeds into Trope Breaker territory quite often, but just as often subverts it, since traditional cameras do work by way of reflection (as do some digital SLRs), and any Period Piece vampire campaign since digital media became the norm has had to pay more attention to the lack of digital photography. This may be one of the few cases of a Trope Breaker that operates solely on Fridge Logic. A few films have made note of this phenomenon, but the simple application of Our Vampires Are Different usually sweeps it under the rug.
    • Similarly, any allegedly non-fiction work which relies on rare and fuzzy photographs of unconfirmed abnormal phenomena like UFOs or Bigfoot has to deal with (or suspiciously ignore) the frankly embarrassing admission that even with practically every person in the world carrying a high-resolution still and video camera at all times, there are no more and no better photographs of their cryptid or alien of choice than there were when having a camera handy was a rare and special case.
      • The bottleneck of such cameras is tiny plastic objectives, however, thus beyond typical portrait range quality of images smaller than landscape in general is not that great.
      • The serious cover-ups rely more on actively (and preemptively if possible) discrediting any dangerous information via fakes (see Evil Overlord List, entry A-9). In the real world, as the quality of available 3D rendering approached and then reached photo-realistic, "deep fakes" became possible; since making this common knowledge discredits fake and real evidence alike, much interest in having this possibility widely discussed by entertainment and press could be expected, and this indeed happened. Vampires would have Hollywood movies — and now also enthusiastic Goths and Twihards — to help with being dismissed as "obviously fake". Which is only one step beyond The World of Darkness situation — it's not that vampires can hide their existence completely, they only need to keep the "silly-to-believable" ratio high enough and anyone who talks without presenting an incontrovertible proof would be dismissed as delusional or attention-craving, which in itself is a deterrent.
  • The increasing social awareness and acceptance of single mothers and out-of-wedlock births have made tropes like Stigmatic Pregnancy Euphemism acceptable and believable only when stories are set in the distant past, or under very restricting types of characters. This is more obvious in Soap Operas produced in South America, since single motherhood and absent fathers are so widespread there that few people can understand the drama in that.
  • The Civil Rights Movement can be credited with helping eliminate Egregious forms of the Ethnic Scrappy, along with many other sad and offensive ethnic tropes. On the other hand, it's hard to argue that other less-offensive but still Unfortunately Implying tropes such as the Token Minority and Black Best Friend didn't come into play as the result of attempts to be politically correct.
    • And since the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States in 2016, it appears that a distressingly large segment of the population is doing its best to bring them all back for political reasons.
  • Certain Stock Shticks are rendered broken by technology, such as GPS doing away with the "man never asking for directions" shtick.
    • Early commercials for Tom-Tom put a new spin on it, though, having guys ask "Mom-Mom" or "Doug-Doug" for directions instead of getting a Tom-Tom.
    • Cars (2006) pretty much turns "Route 66? It's not on my GPS." into a running joke, along with surprise that "it's still here". US66 was decommissioned in 1985 and a fifth of it no longer exists, so there still is a need for specialist printed maps like the eight-state "Here It Is!" series.
  • Caller ID can break the stock plot of a person pretending to be calling from a place where he is not (though cell phones can sometimes help it work anyway). There are other ways to mask the number from which you're calling, but these never come up in the shows themselves.
    • This was Lampshaded by, of all people, Blink-182 (yes, the frat-punk band) in the song "What's My Age Again?" where the narrator's Prank Call is defeated by Caller ID.
    • Also in Chopping Block, where Butch's attempt to replicate When A Stranger Calls fails thanks to Caller ID.
    • This is another case where Technology Marches On even further, driven by the needs of spammers and scam artists. As of the late 2010s, there are now ethically-dubious services which provide Caller ID spoofing to those whose business model and profit margins are driven by not being identifiable when they call you.
    • Actually, many unbundled Voice-over-IP services let you send whatever you like as Caller ID, so sending spoofed or spurious info is trivial. Caller ID was good while it lasted...
  • The Great Politics Mess-Up arguably broke the plausibility of the entire Spy Fiction genre, though it still hobbles along with The War on Terror.
    • Or not. A reasonably well-organized underground group is not hampered in intrigue the way it would be in open war. And states still have secret service doings.
      • What the great politics mess up really eliminated was the war story. You could pretend that War Is Glorious in World War 2 when there was real fighting to be done and a chance to be heroic. Now, if it is done right it is more dreary business of bandit hunting. And if someone really messes up it is just nukes which mean one dude pushes a button and a whole bunch of others die.
  • Modern communications technology -- including digital photography and satellite phones, among many other devices -- is also responsible for the death of War Is Glorious and related tropes. When uncensored images and footage of casualties and damage from a battle can be in the average person's living room the same day hour as the battle, it's hard (though not impossible) for either side to blur and spin the events to suit their needs. The Pentagon has acknowledged for decades that controlling the Press's access to the front is almost as important as fighting the enemy.
  • Coeducational colleges and dorms killed off the College Widow.
  • Modern medical science in the developed world has, for the most part, done in the Incurable Cough of Death, and Death by Childbirth, or so one would think.
    • Ignoring period pieces or anything set outside of the industrialized world, as many pathogens develop resistances, incidences of bacterial septic shock and resistant TB are on the rise. If Real Life Writes the Plot, these may become cyclic tropes. Sleep tight.
  • Eight-track tapes probably should've put a stop to the Record Needle Scratch. Even today, in the age of CDs and MP3s, that record needle still hears occasional use.
    • Probably because it just sounds funny.
    • Then again, the same jokes can be recycled for that other anachronism, the CD with a fingerprintintintintintintintintintint...
  • The late 2010s economic slump, credit crunch, and dismal job market just might be a Trope Breaker for Basement Dweller as more and more college grads have no other choice, even as they actively search for work. However, since the economy rotates between periods of good and bad, this is more of a Cyclic Trope than a Discredited Trope or Dead Horse Trope, and still Truth in Television.
  • More militaries have become professional volunteer forces doing away with Draft Dodging.
  • The feminist movement was a Trope Breaker for many tropes, including Damsel in Distress, Screaming Woman, Stay in the Kitchen, Hysterical Woman, and Monster Misogyny. Unfortunately, it also made the tropes Straw Feminist and Real Women Don't Wear Dresses.
  • The tropes where daughters must be married off at all costs, as a purely economic proposition, are thankfully becoming badly outdated.
    • For instance, in opera's La Traviata (Verdi, 1853) Alfredo's father (Giorgio Germont) demands his son's lover Violetta break off her relationship because of fear that Violetta's reputation has somehow threatened his daughter's (Alfredo's sister's) engagement (Giorgio: Pura siccome un angelo, Iddio mi diè una figlia – "Pure as an angel, God gave me a daughter").
    • The historic legend of St. Nicholas of Myra involves St. Nick secretly paying for the weddings of a poor man's three daughters, as somehow the only economic options for young women are presented as either marriage or prostitution.
    • Then there are the endless fairy tales where Happily Ever After is blatantly and routinely defined as espousing someone whose parents own a government. Mind you, in real life, a floppy-eared prince is likely to cheat on you with Camilla, leading to an ugly divorce.
  • The sexual revolution, the Pill and Roe vs. Wade have also broken many Sex Tropes, like the one where yer redneck weddin' ain't no good unless her pappy's got a licence for the gun.
    • The same could be said for many of the pregnancy tropes which involved women being forced to carry an accidental or unwanted pregnancy to term - although your mileage may vary as some régimes still hunt abortion doctors as criminals, depending on the country.
    • And then there's the whole heap of excess baggage about being expected to marry a virgin... which is belatedly dying, at least in the West.
  • Artificial insemination smashes a lot of Sex Tropes to little bits by making sex no longer necessary to produce kids. For instance, All Lesbians Want Kids and Only You Can Repopulate My Race no longer require inserting tab A into slot B with all the potential angst this might involve. Of course, the suggestion almost never comes up except as Fridge Logic.
    • On the other hand, the man might have objections to making deposits at the sperm bank.
      • If he does, there are always sperm banks with anonymous donors, including some claiming to have "samples" from Nobel Laureates. There need not be a man anywhere in the equation save at the other end of the donation.
  • World War II is, at least in the West, simultaneously the Trope Breaker for antisemitism and eugenics.
    • And made white supremacy a bit embarrassing in the United States. In fact, you could argue that World War II severely wounded the racism-related tropes that the Civil Rights Movement finished off twenty years later -- until the 2016 election revived all of them once again.
  • Most action stories that depend on "Alice has to stop Bob from getting the information back to his superiors/client" or "Alice has to get the information back to her superiors/client despite Bob trying to stop her" are difficult to pull off thanks to modern technology, unless we're talking a lot of data. Given current Internet connection speeds, we're talking file sizes in at least the hundreds of gigabytes, and this will only go up as connections improve.
    • However, the fear of hackers intercepting sensitive information and writing programs to make data interception and theft easier has given some credence to the idea that physical couriers will always remain relevant. It's a delicate balance between going paperless and not trusting paperless technology, having backups or making sensitive data scarce, etc., but several Speculative Fiction stories utilize and/or outright run on this concept. The best example would be Johnny Mnemonic, but it's not the only instance. Stories set in modern times still have a Broken Trope on their hands, though.
    • The fears of damaging information being covered up by various questionable means are all still valid. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup (2018) by journalist John Carreyrou is a damning description of Theranos, a multibillion-dollar biotech startup, blatantly covering up the fact that their equipment gives unreliable or wrong results – which can lead to misdiagnoses which endanger patients' safety – by abusing "trade secrets" law to have sleazy lawyers bankrupt whistleblowers with abusive litigation while Private Eye detectives have journalistic sources stalked and followed. Every law they abused is very much still on the books.
  • The Slurpasaur was common in the days when low budget B-movies forced directors to come up with some way of portraying dinosaurs, however silly it might look. Thanks to advances in special effects technology, particularly with CGI, this became less of a problem. Granted, there may still be Special Effects Failure thanks to Conspicuous CG, but even then, the audience will still be able to recognize the on-screen creature as a Tyrannosaurus Rex and not a dressed-up iguana.
  • The Internet Is for Porn: The Internet broke the demand for Poor Man's Porn.