Unbuilt Trope

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An Unbuilt Trope is a work that seems like a Deconstruction but is actually the Trope Maker itself. This is often because later appearances of the trope have decayed compared to the original, defining appearance.

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?

Simple: Because said 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. 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 too dark and thus needed to be Lighter and Softer; 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 plot-wise; 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 (many Sci-Fi Trope Makers suffer from this, and even The Lord of the Rings was considered such when it first came out); 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 to gush about "the original" and how the rest of the works "don't get" the genius. Only 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 sketchs 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 reverse of Seinfeld Is Unfunny and Dead Unicorn Trope. See Ink Stain 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. Related to Funny Aneurysm Moment, Hilarious in Hindsight, and Harsher in Hindsight, if it predicts a problem that won't be relevant until well after it's first shown.

Examples of Unbuilt Trope include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The above example is from Astro Boy. Thanks to his sophisticated story telling, a lot of Osamu Tezuka's work is like this. It's difficult to remind people that the major change to Pluto is simply a Perspective Flip.
  • Galaxy Express 999 in its various incarnations is a very pessimistic account of prospects for The Singularity, despite coming out in 1978, nearly a decade before Vinge introduced the term.
  • Imagine just how messed up life would be for an ordinary person in a world where all the real power is wielded by a relatively small number of people, and that power is not financial or political, but militaristic. Democratic government is essentially meaningless since no union of ordinary people can stand against the might of a lone Badass. Because everyone knows that violence is the force that drives the wheel of civilization, fights occur constantly, and everyone with a bit of ability wants to claw their way as high up the badass scale as possible, whether for the sake of protecting innocents or enforcing their own will on others. The only genuinely powerful people who have any interest in being in charge are usually megalomaniacs, and sociopaths besides. Governments tend to be either tyrannies, or farcical constructs whose laws can only be adequately be enforced by sympathetic vigilantes and a few Knight Templar civil servants who butt heads with them at every opportunity. Countries are constantly in flux between the two as Evil Overlords are dethroned by good guys, replaced with ineffectual governments, and conquered again by new bad guys. The series... Fist of the North Star. One of the first shonen fighting animes!
  • Amelia from The Slayers looks almost like a parody of the very concept of the moeblob, with her naivete and Genki Girl traits exaggerated for comic effect. The twist comes when you realize that she's one of the Trope Maker, along with Rei Ayanami. (The latter has aspects of this, but was never intended to be anyone's idea of sexy. That didn't go exactly as planned...)
    • And speaking of Rei, she would be a very good deconstruction of the Emotionless Girl if she wasn't pretty much the first one.
  • Mazinger Z, while not quite the Ur Example, is definitely the Trope Codifier for the Super Robot genre. However, to a modern reader, it seems to constantly slip between an over-the-top parody, and a brutal deconstruction. The Big Bad is smart enough to send the "Mechanical Beasts" in groups to attack Mazinger; the mecha, though nearly indestructible, doesn't provide much safety for the pilot inside; and the main character nearly destroys the town while he's trying to figure out how to pilot the mecha. And that's before the villains take over a Japanese village in a very Nazi-like manner, including a systematic slaughter of the civilians that they considered "useless" and usage of the women of the village as human shields for their latest Mechanical Beast.
  • And Great Mazinger already deconstructed the Hot-Blooded Ace Pilot trope twenty years before Neon Genesis Evangelion. Tetsuya is not only similar, he is EXACTLY what Asuka is made to deconstruct, word for word. He is a Hot-Blooded Ace Pilot that is so arrogant that anyone that questions his skills will have a trouble with him. The same arrogance also made him bickering with Jun, and Tetsuya Would Hit a Girl even though Jun is both his Love Interest, his Battle Couple, and adoptive sister. On the other hand, he has a massive inferiority complex, and his lacking sense of self worth and constant fear of being replaced became FAR more apparent after Koji's return, which caused so many problems that later resulted in Kenzo's death.
    • And, much like Asuka Langley Sohryu, he had to pay a very heavy prize to learn his lesson.
    • And in one of the Great Mazinger manga back in the seventies he had to fight nine Mass-Production Great Mazingers... Yes, he is Asuka's template, definitely.
  • Violence Jack maybe was the first After the End manga. Compared with it, mangas set in a post-apocalyptic setting -such like Fist of the North Star- became Lighter and Softer. The manga devotes one whole arc to show how all of it happened -with plentiful Nightmare Fuel scenes of people dying awfully, lovingly depicted by Go Nagai-, including a very tense build-up to the earthquake-, providing plentiful geographical details and giving a death toll. And afterwards it shows the resulting world is a Crapsack World, where people are nothing but worms, Humans Are the Real Monsters -and how!-, It Gets Worse ALWAYS, and The Hero is rather a Villain Protagonist does not feel compelled to protect helpless people and he only intervenes into a fight if something draws his attention or he would like bust some heads.
  • Speaking of Humongous Mecha, Xabungle seems to parody tropes that do not fully form within the genre for the next ten years.
  • Skull Man has all the trappings of a Nineties Anti-Hero, complete with killing numerous people just for the hell of it. And yet it also does a good job of pointing out the protagonist is murdering relatively innocent people and by his own standards, he'd have to kill every person in Japan to accomplish his goals.
  • Prior to creating Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, Koji Kumeta wrote the manga Katteni Kaizo. Plotwise, you'd think it was a deconstruction of Haruhi Suzumiya, since it has kind of the same plot, and because Kumeta makes a lot of potshots at Kyoto Animation in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei. This work has basically the same premise as Haruhi Suzumiya (high school student who believes in a Fantasy Kitchen Sink world and forms a club about it), but it has a dark reveal at the end that two of the protagonists are actually insane and being treated in an asylum. Thing is, Katteni Kaizo predates Haruhi Suzumiya.
  • Sailor Moon, and the Magical Girl Warrior genre inspired by it, is cited as being at the extreme idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism, favoring The Power of Friendship over a bullet between the eyes as a way to defeat evil. But in the original manga, the Sailor Senshi rarely attempted to redeem villains and had no problem with killing them.
    • Rei barely makes a half-assed attempt to demonsterize killing off what, in the anime, would have been a major baddy, in her intro story. Wow, did I just burn someone to ashes? *sniff* *sniff*, nah, doesn't even smell human.
    • It also included the ultimate Magical Girl Warrior losing herself to despair after fighting the ultimate evil at the end of time and becoming through Time Travel her own most dangerous enemy with the objective of rebuilding the universe to make it... less painful. Oh, and being a Magical Girl Warrior is an endless cycle of fighting and dying for their princess and rebirth, never having anything like a normal life.
  • Guts wielded a BFS in Berserk before it became a popular convention in anime. Unlike the heroes he's inspired though, he's developed a ripped body from using weapons like it, his sword is demonstrated to not have much of a cutting edge, it's crudely simple in design, and it's often mocked by other characters.
  • Saint Seiya popularized the Rescue Arc as well as the convention of have a sequence of enemies impeding the heroes, but it also deviates heavily from later versions of it. The Gold Saints were above the level of strength Seiya and company could bring to the table and frequently the battles had to be determined by outside forces intervening.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • The Golden Age of Comic Books, at times, was significantly darker than The Silver Age of Comic Books and more mature than The Dark Age of Comic Books:
    • Most of this is due to the fact that comics were only just escaping the influence of pulp fiction. The Golden Age also straddled the same time period as the second World War. When your countrymen are killing and dying on foreign shores to protect life and liberty, it makes sense that your comic book heroes would kill and die too. This can be overstated, though, particularly with regard to the most famous superhero characters. For instance, as professional Batmanologist Chris Sims has noted, "Sure, Batman might’ve fought vampires and carried a gun for like three issues, but by the end of that first year, it was pretty much all cat-wrestling and trips to Storybook Land."
    • If you read the very first Batman/Joker story, it almost looks like someone decided to actually combine the violence and murder of the Frank Miller version with the campiness of the Adam West version. (This was also before Bob Kane decided NOT to have the Joker be one of the villains that spew terrible puns) It has simplistic art and bad dialogue, but people actually literally die laughing with huge unnatural smiles on their faces.
    • If you tell someone there's a comic book where the Human Torch is burning someone's arm to the bone on the cover, they'll probably think "what have comics come to these days?" or "man, they'd do anything to be edgy in the 90s." What they probably wouldn't think is "it's amazing what they put on comic book covers before there were rules about what you could put on comic book covers." Unless they've seen the issue in question.
  • To one who reads Watchmen today, the character of Rorschach feels like a deconstruction of the Nineties Anti-Hero, when he was in fact largely the inspiration for many Darker and Edgier heroes, whose creators missed the point. Ironically, Alan Moore ended popularizing the Anti Heroes he set out to deconstruct.
    • This is even more true with Watchmen's other anti-hero, The Comedian. He has all the mannerisms and attitudes of later "badass" gun using characters like Cable and The Punisher, who became increasingly popular in the decades right after Watchmen was published. He's also a rapist, a war criminal, and an all around asshole.
  • Marshal Law, while deconstructing traditional superheroes, managed to deconstruct the '90s anti-hero in the '80s: At one point Marshal Law accuses the Public Spirit, a Superman analog, of inspiring an entire generation of heroes to go to war in the Zone, in what can only be described as "Super-Nam". The Public Spirit turns this around by telling Law that Law's own vigilante actions have also inspired people, except in a more horrific manner. We then find that Law, the 90s anti-hero, inspired the main villain to take up his actions in the first place, thus completing the cycle. The reader is left to conclude that Law and the Spirit are both extremely messed up people.
  • Marvel's Secret Wars (preceding Crisis itself) was pretty much the start of the Crisis Crossover... and for the most part it never crossed over into the characters' books. You'd just get a few panels of the character disappearing for the crossover and reappearing.

Fanfic[edit | hide]


Film[edit | hide]

  • Many early Italian Exploitation Films tried to paint themselves as "True Art", rather than just shocking for the sake of shocking. Indeed many sub-genres of Exploitation have their origins in Italian "art films", only to be copied by other lesser film makers who just didn't care. Ever hear of Salo Or The 120 Days Of Sodom? While being one of the most disgusting, shocking, and offensive movies ever made, it's not pointlessly so, but rather a satire on Italian Fascism.
    • Anyone going into Cannibal Holocaust will expect disturbing and Gorny. But a thought provoking commentary on Imperialism?
  • Although the giant monster movie genre has come to be synonymous with gleefully watching the invincible monsters tear apart the puny human cities, some of the earlier ones had a far more "realistic" and nuanced view of this. In The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, half of the movie consists of the hero, labeled as a delusional foreigner, trying to convince the American authorities that the rhedosaurus really exists at all. And when it shows up, it's not Immune to Bullets, but—being a recently-resurrected dinosaur -- carries all manner of hideous diseases we've never seen.
  • Similarly, the original Godzilla deliberately equates the monster with the A-Bomb, and examines the political ramifications of the Applied Phlebotinum that kills him. Neither is Godzilla's rampage a gleefully sociopathic scene of destruction: there are extended scenes of little kids painfully dying of radiation burns, and before that is a scene of a mother and her three children, crouching in an alleyway, the mother attempting to comfort her children before Godzilla kills them all.

"Another minute... just another minute... and then we'll all be with your daddy."

  • And similarly, Them came out in 1954, when the giant monster movie was still new, and the first half of the movie is clearly... a Police Procedural (just with really bizarre clues), until we finally see what 'they' actually are. Them! itself was extremely influential. A number of its successors imitate the police procedural structure... even when, in terms of the plot, there's actually no mystery as to what's going on.
  • Possibly M, as the child-murderer and implied pedophile is presented sympathetically, which by modern standards comes across as a reaction against the Pedo Hunt idea.
    • Well, it definitely was a reaction against mob justice, which says a lot about the social and political climate in Germany shortly before the rise of Hitler.
  • Metropolis is one of the first science fiction movies ever, set in a futuristic city dominated by technology. And what's it about? How cool all the machines are? How awesome that robot is? No. It's about unionized labour and class division.
  • Several works explored the ramifications and possibilities of the Reality Show, years before Big Brother and Survivor, the Trope Codifiers for reality television, were a speck in anyone's eyes:
  • Bullitt was actually the first Cowboy Cop movie, but seen today, it looks like a deconstruction of the genre: the cop (Steve McQueen) ignores his superiors and dismisses the quite reasonable demands of a slimy politician (Robert Vaughan) out of distrust, but accidentally kills all the witnesses and ruins any chances of finding the real mob bosses. The film ends with him staring into a mirror, realizing just how badly he's screwed up.
    • Speaking of Cowboy Cop, Dirty Harry also qualifies as an unbuilt trope. Harry's methods aren't actually shown all that positively. His Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique on the Scorpio Killer is downright horrific and ends up doing no good. And in the end he throws away his badge after disregarding orders and endangering innocents.
    • The French Connection did something similar. Popeye Doyle is Vic Mackey before Vic Mackey—goes against the books, quick to jump the leash, and at least a little bigoted. And what happens when he goes in guns blazing in the final Darkened Building Shootout? He kills a police contact, providing enough chaos for the kingpin to get away, and a Where Are They Now? Epilogue explains that he ended up getting transferred out of Narcotics for the clusterfuck.
    • Where the Sidewalk Ends, from 1950, predates them all. The protagonist is a true Cowboy Cop, rampaging all over the city in his pursuit of justice—or he would be, if he didn't have to spend so much time dealing with the consequences of his actions.
  • Blowup contains the Unbuilt Trope version of the Enhance Button. It's based on the realistic version of the trope: a photographer in a dark room. Unlike most other versions of the Enhance Button, enhancing the image is a time-consuming process, and the final result is so grainy that the photo might not show what it seems to show. Ultimately, it's like two mimes playing tennis.
  • Harold and Maude has a notable twist on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl: She's 80 or so years old, though everything else about her fits the bill to a T. This film was made in 1971.
    • Similarly, Harold is a Defrosting Emo Teen before there was Emo.
  • That paragon of 1980s action flicks, Conan the Barbarian is an introspective, dialogue-light opera exploring Nietszchean ideas about Man versus Society.
  • How many people remember that First Blood was a downbeat film about a Shell-Shocked Veteran fleeing the law, rather than Rambo mowing down dozens of Dirty Commies while shirtless?
  • Saturday Night Fever portrays disco lifestyle in a manner that is decidedly unsentimental and depressing enough to be labeled as a grim Deconstruction. A slew of imitators that followed were indeed unapologetically feel-good escapist fantasies - which SNF isn't.
  • They Call Me MISTER Tibbs, a sequel to In the Heat of the Night, predated Shaft by some years and was a more conventional crime drama than later street-crime-seen-through-the-eyes-of-a-black-protagonist productions. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song came out shortly after Tibbs and added, among other things, the fast-paced action scenes with funk music backgrounds that later became really popular through Shaft.
  • Despite its influence on the modern day slasher film genre and kickstarting the career of Wes Craven, the original The Last House on the Left really bears no similarity to modern day slasher films at all. There is no shocking out of nowhere "jump scenes" or tension that has become a trademark of the genre, the killings are slow, obvious and fairly realistic and shocking in that manner. The Soundtrack Dissonance is quite obvious and fairly odd, as is the comedic bits sprinkled throughout. Furthermore all the killers including the gang and parents are both seen as normal people, not almost supernatural and indestructible beings. By today's standards it'd almost be seen as a dark comedy instead of a horror film.
  • The Siege is a movie that looks at how a major terrorist attack in New York would disrupt life greatly...three years before September 11, 2001.
    • This cracked article makes an interesting case that Starship Troopers, viewed today without context, could easily be mistaken for a satire on the War on Terror. A militaristic right wing government, complacent in its own superiority, suffers a devastating disaster that destroys a major population center. They blame a race of far off aliens on an isolated desert planet that couldn't possibly be responsible, and go to war, egged on by media saturated with progadanda. They quickly get bogged down in a quagmire. After capturing the leader, and torturing it horribly, they declare victory. Except it was made in 1997.
  • Gunnery Sergeant Hartmann from Full Metal Jacket is the Trope Codifier for Drill Sergeant Nasty, but his methods lead to one of the recruits snapping and killing him.
  • Drunken Master, the first film of the "Jackie Chan learns Kung Fu" series. In it, Jackie's character was very good at fighting to begin with (he bests his teachers), and was actually sent to the Training from Hell as punishment, though ultimately he ended up becoming much better at Kung Fu than before. But in many subsequent films, Jackie plays an absolute novice with no previous fighting skills who suddenly becomes the best fighter in a very short time, much less time than in that first movie.
  • Animal House actually does a lot in deconstructing Wacky Fratboy Hijinks, as it's pointed out how the wild and destructive Deltas do things that no sane college adminstration would allow; things that would get real college students arrested. As Dean Wormer perfectly puts it, "Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.".
  • The original Night of the Living Dead was the progenitor for the entire Zombie Apocalypse genre, and spawned decades worth of imitators and lookalikes that follow a standard format: society is overrun, and the survivors are left to fend for themselves. However, Night was subverted everything that followed it. The film doesn't dwell too much on the zombies, has little to no gore, has intelligent zombies (who know how to run, operate a car door and smash a vehicle's headlights) and focuses on how tensions in society were building to a fever pitch. It also subverted the entire genre - the zombie outbreak is contained (and resolved) after a couple days by roving posses who head across the country to take out everything that is undead.
  • Funny Games plays like a Genre Deconstruction of the torture porn genre that was popular in the mid-2000s... except that it was made in 1997, as a testimony against any violent media. In fact, the popularity of the genre during this period may have been what prompted its Shot for Shot Remake in 2007.


Literature[edit | hide]

  • What if somebody told you that there's a Sherlock Holmes novel where the great detective spends seven chapters relentlessly hunting down a murderer who, instead of being a hardened criminal or an evil genius, turns out to be a completely sympathetic vigilante who was just trying to avenge his wife (but dies for his efforts anyway), and where the murder victims themselves are the closest things in the story to actual "villains"? Sounds like a pretty brutal Deconstruction of the classic "superhero detective" character that Holmes made famous, right? Nope. That's the plot of A Study in Scarlet—the first written work that Sherlock Holmes ever appeared in.
  • Lord Dunsany 's stories are this way. He had a taste for cruelly ironic endings for his Adventurer Archaeologist protagonists (see "The Hoard of the Gibbelins" for example), which seems like a subversion of the good fortune common to your average Barbarian Hero appearing in Sword and Sorcery stories. However, Dunsany predated Howard, Leiber, etc. who were inspired by Dunsany.
    • "The Sword of Welleran", "Carcassone" and "In the Land of Time" as well, though "The Fortress Unvanquishable, Save for Sacnoth" has a happier ending. The King of Elfland's Daughter is a bit more ambiguous. Keep in mind that H.P. Lovecraft admired Lord Dunsany as much as any (then-)living writer.
  • Lord of the Rings bears this relation to High Fantasy, with its quasi-pacifistic overtones, Bittersweet Ending, and inverted Plot Coupon. Additionally "subversions" in that the heroes do not stick together to the end, and their victory meant the end, not the salvation, of a golden age. And the plucky hero, while exhibiting enormous fortitude, nevertheless fails in his mission; it was Gollum's unlucky slip which destroyed the Ring.
    • Even the earlier, children's book The Hobbit does this. The dwarves turn out to be helpless against the dragon, who is killed by someone else entirely; when this happens, the humans, elves, and dwarves all immediately turn on each other to fight over the dragon's hoard. The hero betrays his companions (stealing the most precious gem of the hoard) in a (fruitless) attempt to buy peace.
    • The current trend of Grimdark fantasy is somewhat motivated by Hype Backlash against Tolkien. However, Tolkien had been creating Grimdark fantasy (The Silmarillion, The Children of Hurin) long, long before Stephen Donaldson and George R. R. Martin.
    • Also nowadays, the trend of fantasy worlds actually having little to no actual wizards seems like deconstruction, but in Lord of the Rings there are no actual human mages, and Elves, while definitely being magical, do not use magic for direct attacks (such as fireballs). Gandalf is the only one we see using "direct magic" onstage.
  • Early Cyberpunk featured downtrodden, lost-in-the-cracks criminal protagonists in a decaying Nineteen Eighty-Four/Soviet Russia/Ayn Rand style Dystopia, where technology and power is in the hands of a small, wealthy elite. Soon after the subgenre was heavily populated by Badass Gunslingers armed with a BFG in one hand and a Katana in the other, using total information freedom to overthrow the establishment. On the flip side, Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination, featured a revenge-driven, cybernetically enhanced Nietzschean protagonist striking out against authority in a dystopian world, in 1956, twenty-eight years before Neuromancer.
  • In all of the original Vampire folklore, the vampires are short, ugly, smelly peasants, and not tall, elegant, sexy aristocrats. Nosferatu combined the two vampire types: Count Orlok is a tall, ugly, probably smelly, aristocrat.
    • For that matter, Dracula (which codified so many of the characteristics of modern vampires) had Drac running around in the daylight and being killed by a couple of knives. He was also described as hairy (even hairy palms!), moustached, and rather brutish-looking, rather than the suave aristocrat he's been commonly depicted as after Bela Lugosi; His breath stank of rotting corpse, too. Also, 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 Prisoner of Zenda falls into this in respect to the "Swashbuckler genre". The antagonist usurper to the throne isn't a Card-Carrying Villain with 0% Approval Rating, instead, he's more of an Anti-Villain who is liked by the populace, and for good reason, as the legitimate ruler is a drunken boor who doesn't care about the average citizen. Nor does his Dragon have this characterization, instead being an Affably Evil / Evilly Affable type who is a Draco in Leather Pants in-universe. Also notable is that the book has a Bittersweet Ending which becomes a Downer Ending in the sequel which is in keeping with Ruritania being presented realistically, rather than as a story-book country.
    • The book was also meant as a satire, partly of Austria and Russia's even then outdated method of ruling through absolute monarchy, partly of the politically unstable Balkan countries.
  • The Genre Popularizer for pirate fiction would have to be Treasure Island. But the pirates in the book are actually the villains, not the loveable swashbuckling lovable rogues, or the care free lay-abouts seen in later works. Also, not a single act of piracy actually occurs in the book: the actual crime committed is mutiny.
  • Gulliver's Travels is one of the oldest examples of adventure fiction, and is often seen as a classic of that genre. However, it was never meant as such. It was in fact a rather heavy-handed satire of European society of the time. It wasn't until Victorian times (the golden age of adventure fiction) that a Misaimed Fandom lumped it together with newer works. Similarly, another early "Adventure novel", The Swiss Family Robinson, was meant to be "educational", designed to teach boys Naturalism, Christian Values, and the Philosophy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
  • Gladiator features an invulnerable and super-strong protagonist who is unable to end a war, clean up Washington, or even make a living off his talents. Even his college football career ends prematurely when he kills another player. It reads as a deconstruction of the Superman myth, but it's the book that inspired much of the early Superman comics.
    • He even comes from another world to Earth as an infant. Basically Gladiator was the proto-Superman in terms of the concept as we know it today, while the actual Superman prototype developed by Siegel and Schuster had psychic powers, was a villain out to conquer the world and looked almost exactly like modern day Lex Luthor!
  • If your only exposure to Yiddish-Jewish culture is Fiddler on the Roof, reading Mendele the Book Peddler, the first Yiddish novelist, is a shocker. His work is about how poverty and anti-Semitism have brutalized Jews, turning them into sadistic bigots—and how their faith in being "chosen people" is a sick joke. In his short story "The Calf," a happy young boy is essentially brainwashed and tortured by his teachers into regarding fun as sinful. His work reads like an angry Deconstruction of Fiddler on the Roof. But the Shalom Aleichem stories that Fiddler on the Roof is based on were actually a Lighter and Softer reaction to Mendele, and were about finding dignity and meaning even in a cruel world.

Trying to scratch out a pleasant tune without breaking his neck.

  • If the Dr. Mabuse books were published today, they'd look like a deconstruction of Bond Villain Stupidity: the title character has several inherently self-destructive tendencies that always ruin everything for him, his plan isn't to Take Over the World but to bring about The End of the World as We Know It and then rule the ashes, and even his name is a pun on the French "m'abuse" -- "I abuse myself." These books were written long before James Bond got started, and it's been argued that Mabuse was the direct forerunner to Blofeld.
  • Horatio Hornblower: Even in what's arguably the flagship of the Wooden Ships and Iron Men genre, Hornblower is a brilliant captain, and a frequently self-doubting man who has difficulty remembering or believing that people actually like him.
  • Frankenstein was one of the first major "monster stories." But going back and reading it now, after growing up exposed to generic Frankenstein's Monster stereotypes where it wanders around aimlessly, groans, and kills people, one may be a bit surprised to find an urbane Woobie of a monster who is in many ways more sympathetic than his creator and quotes liberally from literature. He also carries firearms for self-protection. The only things that make him appear inhuman are his height and his eyes, and it's decidedly ambiguous whether Frankenstein's true crime was creating the monster or a form of Parental Abandonment. And although it's up for a lot of interpretation, the monster is probably not Exclusively Evil.
  • Jane Austen wrote Pride and Prejudice at a time when women found men like The Stoic Mr. Darcy completely unattractive. Today, of course, this only augments his attraction right off the bat rather than detracting from it.
  • Dante's Inferno, despite being the Trope Namer of Fire and Brimstone Hell, and the source of many of the beliefs thereof, actually depicts the lowest and worst level of hell as covered in Ice. Further, Satan, far from being the Ruler of Hell, (the closest thing to a ruler is King Minos) is actually basically in Solitary Confinement (except for three humans whose faces he's chewing) and, far from being the omniscient Evil Counterpart of God, he's so stupid (or possibly Mind Controlled) that he can't figure out that his attempts to escape the ice, by flapping his wings, is exactly what's making it so cold.
    • Another interpretation is that Satan knows he's causing the cold with his wings, but is literally unable to help himself; his desire to return to Heaven is too strong for him to overcome.
  • The original novel of Dr. No prominently features Doctor No's incredibly elaborate, cozy island lair, which was later immortalized in the film adaptation and set the standard for larger-than-life evil lairs everywhere. However, it also goes into detail about the time, money and resources that would go into constructing such a thing—Dr. No first appears in person as Bond wonders just how he managed to build a window facing out into the ocean into the wall, and how much such an operation would cost. ("One million dollars.") Bond is also well aware of how strange, surreal, and (given that he isn't expected to leave alive) morbid his welcome is. The whole thing exists to serve Dr. No's special brand of megalomania. The movie included the impressive lair, but cut out the details of its construction and the kind of mind that led to its creation, making it seem a good deal less extraordinary.
    • The film version of Dr. No was the Trope Maker for the megalomaniacal Bond villain and was repeated with characterisation of other villains in later films - when Dr. No is actually the 6th Bond book and the title character's megalomania was treated as something unusual and unlike the previous villains (some of whom then became the villains in future Bond films due to them being made in Anachronic Order). Confused yet?
  • While pretty much all of its adaptations and inspired works are comical and fairly idealistic, the original A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court is pretty dark. There's humor about Medieval Morons, but there's also realistic depictions of a Corrupt Church and overall bad society. Moreover, instead of being a hero, like in the adaptations, the protagonist becomes a warlord through his technological savvy, and gets corrupted by power.
  • War of the Worlds, the H.G. Wells book, is perhaps the first story of a war between humans and aliens. But rather than the exciting battles, heroics, and scientific ingenuity of e.g. Independence Day or Doctor Who, it features human beings as panicking, weak, or mean, entirely unable to defeat their invaders, who are eventually felled by earthly microbes. It's more about how badly human beings deal with the collapse of civilization, rather than focusing on the fight with the Martians.
    • It was an allegory for imperialism. Invaders come from far away with vastly superior technology rendering resistance futile. In actual history, it was not local resistance that kept European colonies out of Africa until the late 19th century, but disease, hence the ultimate fate of the invaders. War of the Worlds was an attempt to put Europeans in the shoes of Africans (or any other peoples oppressed by imperialism).
    • Additionally, partially because of war paranoia and also due to the limitations of visual media, future aliens as evil outsiders would usually appear human. Only in recent years has the Starfish Alien become a trope in popular science fiction again. However, perhaps because he invented the Alien Invasion genre (a subgenre of the "invasion story"), he was free to provide an early example of the truly alien. In the context of a century or Rubber Forehead Aliens, it manages to come off as Deconstruction.
  • Though it wasn't the first, The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. Dick is considered a hallmark of classic Alternate History, but manages to deconstruct the genre by having the title character write his own alternate history in which the Allies won World War II, but in a different way than in real life. The ending is a Mind Screw which seems to hint that the characters realize that neither that fictional history nor their own is real.
    • Also an Unbuilt Trope in a different way: this is probably the first serious "The Nazis win" Alternate History, but it seems to deconstruct several clichés associated with the genre nowadays. Rather than being a venerated father figure for the Reich, Hitler is in a lunatic asylum and none of the current Nazi leadership can bring themselves to admit that they have built a world based on the ideas of a man even they now think is mad. We spend much more time looking at the Japanese-ruled part of the US than the Nazi-ruled part. One character talks about how the Nazis' policies appeal to some white working-class Americans, making blue-collar jobs more celebrated in culture and socially acceptable (reflecting how they built their support in Germany in Real Life) rather than the usual modern Nazi Nobleman stereotype.
  • Readers of Robert E. Howard's original Conan stories may be struck by how different the character—an intelligent, often cheerful, polyglot who wears heavy armor into battle—is from the Barbarian Hero archetype he inspired.
  • The original novel of The Three Musketeers is a lot like The Prisoner of Zenda in that while it's a major influence on the Swashbuckler genre, it's much more cynical than the films it inspired (including most of its own adaptions). D'Artagnan is something of an anti-hero: he has several love affairs and is not above tricking Milady into sleeping with him while she thinks she's sleeping with her lover. Unlike the malevolent Evil Chancellor of adaptations, Richelieu is an Anti-Villain who has France's welfare in mind. Ultimately, D'Artagnan ends up working for him and becomes good friends with Rochefort, Richelieu's Dragon, after besting him in several duels.
  • A lot of early European novels like Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote seem to be deconstructions of the form, with the author intervening, characters reading earlier parts of the story, etc, and yet they can't be deconstructing the novel because Don Quixote is often considered the first modern novel, and Tristram Shandy is an early English novel.
  • I Am Legend was the inspiration for many of the classic zombie stories, including Night of the Living Dead. It also has the inhuman hordes being depicted as sentient, and the lone survivor is their version of a boogeyman. The ethical questions concerning his attempts to survive in this new world are a primary theme of the end of the novel.
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray is quite interesting in relation to Prince Charming and Prince Charmless. The novel is one of the very first uses of the term Prince Charming, which makes it kind of an Unbuilt Trope example, since it's used about Dorian (although of course there are later, straight examples of Prince Charming). Modern fair tale parodies, reacting to the Flat Character of the stock Prince Charming will tend to potray him as stupid (see Enchanted) or will have the character actually be Prince Charmless and act like a selfish cad (see Shrek, Fables, Into the Woods, etc.) Both of these subversions are used in Wilde's novel, but in a much darker way. When introduced, Dorian seems like the benevolent Flat Character version, but it's taken further since he's a Blank Slate or even an Empty Shell, which explains why when he goes bad, he goes really bad, since his shallowness is at Lack of Empathy levels. Dorian would come across as a very dark take on/deconstruction of Prince Charmless, were he not the first example of it.
  • Misery. Both the book and the film seem to be a rather disturbing Deconstruction of the Straw Fan trope. Keep in mind that the book was written in 1987 and the film debuted in 1990, well before the full extent of Fan Dumb would be exposed on the Internet.

"I have hesitated some time," continued the commander; "nothing obliged me to show you hospitality. If I chose to separate myself from you, I should have no interest in seeing you again; I could place you upon the deck of this vessel which has served you as a refuge, I could sink beneath the waters, and forget that you had ever existed. Would not that be my right?"
"It might be the right of a savage," I answered, "but not that of a civilized man."
"Professor," replied the commander, quickly, "I am not what you call a civilized man! I have done with society entirely, for reasons which I alone have the right of appreciating. I do not, therefore, obey its laws, and I desire you never to allude to them before me again!"
This was said plainly. A flash of anger and disdain kindled in the eyes of the Unknown, and I had a glimpse of a terrible past in the life of this man. Not only had he put himself beyond the pale of human laws, but he had made himself independent of them, free in the strictest acceptation of the word, quite beyond their reach! Who then would dare to pursue him at the bottom of the sea, when, on its surface, he defied all attempts made against him? What vessel could resist the shock of his submarine monitor? What cuirass, however thick, could withstand the blows of his spur? No man could demand from him an account of his actions; God, if he believed in one -- his conscience, if he had one -- were the sole judges to whom he was answerable.

  • The Godfather, the novel that inspired probably the most influential of Mafia movie series, has one of the central tropes of mafia fiction, Nothing Personal, taken apart by none other than Michael Corleone himself:

"Tom, don't let anybody kid you. It's all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it's personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That's what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes? Right? And you know something? Accidents don't happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult."

O senor," said Don Antonio, "may God forgive you the wrong you have done the whole world in trying to bring the most amusing madman in it back to his senses. Do you not see, senor, that the gain by Don Quixote's sanity can never equal the enjoyment his crazes give? But my belief is that all the senor bachelor's pains will be of no avail to bring a man so hopelessly cracked to his senses again; and if it were not uncharitable, I would say may Don Quixote never be cured, for by his recovery we lose not only his own drolleries, but his squire Sancho Panza's too, any one of which is enough to turn melancholy itself into merriment.

  • Don Quixote explores the Book-Burning when books were relatively new and this trope has not those nasty modern connotations: Spain at The Cavalier Years had just discovered the printing press, and books were considered New Media Are Evil. At chapter IV of the first partDon Quixote’s niece and Old Retainer asked the Moral Guardian’s permission to do the Book-Burning in a desperate attempt to cure him. The MoralGuardians are the most educated people in the village (a curate and a barber), they never wanted to impose their ideas and are doing this as a favor to the family, so they don’t care much for this Book-Burning. And a lot of those are really bad written books that destroyed Don Quixote’s mind, and the good books were stolen by the Moral Guardian. At Chapter XXXII, the curate jokingly threats again with burning two of the four books an innkeeper has: two of them are Non Fiction Literature about awesome Real Life soldiers, and the other two Chivalric Romance books heavy on Rule of Cool. The curate wants to burn the latter, and the innkeeper the former.
  • Many old Fairy Tales are subject to Grimmification, being deconstructed into Darker and Edgier stories. However, most of the tales that the Grimm brother recorded were never meant to be kid-frienly. They were horror stories, written by and for adults. For example, early versions of Little Red Riding Hood had the wolf kill the grandmother, trick Red into drinking her blood and eating her flesh, and, ultimately, eat Red.


Miscellaneous[edit | hide]


Music[edit | hide]

  • Tom Lehrer's "The Masochism Tango" did this for the Obligatory Bondage Song.
  • The entire "heavy metal" style of rock music is an Unbuilt Trope for purely semantic reasons. Throughout The Seventies and The Eighties, groups that we rightly think of as heavy metal today (Black Sabbath, etc.) were disdained as "not music" or even outright ignored by the music media. (A notable exception was Judas Priest, who - at least for a time - successfully bridged the divide between "serious" metal and pop-metal.) Until The Nineties, what heavy metal really meant to most people was the "wailing guitar" music of groups like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Van Halen, or Bon Jovi. Good luck finding any of those groups in the "metal" section of your record store today.
    • Also, at the time, many groups (including Black Sabbath) didn't define the music they were making as "heavy metal", but "heavy rock" or other similar terms.
      • Black Sabbath were subjected to a lot of Misaimed Fandom from some supporters, who assumed that they were a "Satan-worshipping" band (which even more detractors also assumed). In truth, Ozzy and the gang were Roman Catholics, they considered themselves a "hippie" band, and they experimented with other styles of music besides "death rock." Their music contained many christian themes. The Title Track from their Self-Titled Album features an image of Satan inspired by a nightmare of Butler's. This depiction of Satan is very clearly evil with Ozzy screaming out to god for help. The track "After Forever" from their third album has a very clear christian message. Their inclusion of the occult could be seen as a deconstruction of Satanic symbolism in later metal.
    • Then there's a sub-example with Venom, the coiners of the phrase "Black Metal". Musically, the only thing their first albums have in common with modern black metal is bad sound quality. Unlike later black metal bands, they were absolutely not serious about what they sang, and occult/satanic songs were along one or two silly songs about sex or music itself.
  • Compare Marilyn Manson, or any other modern Industrial Metal band, with an early group in the genre like Godflesh. Compare them, in turn, with a straight Industrial band of the same era - Skinny Puppy, for example. Now compare all of the above to the bands that started it all: Throbbing Gristle, Cabaret Voltaire, Clock DVA, SPK, NON... Confused yet? And this isn't even factoring in the "missing links" like Swans or Esplendor Géometrico.
  • Listen to any Punk Rock band from the mid-seventies. They sound almost nothing like what we think of as punk music, and barely have anything in common with each other musically. At the time, Punk Rock was just music played by punks. Some particularly pedantic critics even define the rockabilly of the 1950s and the "garage rock" of the 1960s as "punk," which sounds pretty misleading until you remember that those styles of music indeed directly influenced punk (and, less directly, metal).
    • For more specific examples, compare The Ramones (almost like a deconstruction of the 90s pop punk bands) and Richard Hell and the Voidoids (chaos with a loose basis in rockabilly, aka psychobilly 10 years before it happened).
  • It goes without saying that early Emo has nothing in common with bands labeled it under the mainstream definition of the term. However it doesn't sound much either like later "classic" Emo bands or their successors today. Trope Maker Rites of Spring were really just a punk band with more personal and introspective lyrics and a bit more melody to their music, something that is hardly uncommon in modern day punk.
    • Similarly, bands considered "screamo" before the term existed don't sound much like modern day screamo bands and weren't much different than Hardcore Punk of the time, just a bit screamier and more chaotic.


Mythology and Religion[edit | hide]

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh is Older Than Dirt, and the Ur Example (being written when Ur was still a city) of many, many tropes. However, the divine god-king is a tyrannical rapist, Enkidu, though remembered, is never avenged, and Gilgamesh's quest ends in stupidity-induced failure.
    • Of course this comes with it being the oldest known work of written literature. However, it may be that the it was simply Deconstructing older written works that haven't survived, or simply oral tradition (Gilgamesh would have obviously been an oral folk tale long before it was ever put to paper...er...clay.)
    • Also, it's really unclear how much of this is Values Dissonance - the psychotic rape thing might (or might not - it's a little unclear) have simply been a demonstration of how strong and cool Gilgamesh was, to the audience of the time.
  • The Bible. The story of Samson can be retroactively seen as a deconstruction of the Messianic Archetype. He knew he was the Chosen One and abused his special status and he was overconfident with his powers leading to him getting betrayed by Delilah. In the end he pushed those pillars down and killed the Philistines out of revenge because he had nothing left to live for. For the irony-challenged, however, Samson is purely a Badass folk hero who gets a Great Way to Go.
    • The story of Balaam is a deconstruction of the Stubborn Mule, as well as an example of Truth in Television. Balaam was hired to curse the Israelites, but was held back by his mule, who refused to cooperate. When the mule was granted to speak, she revealed that she was protecting him from the invisible angel in front of them, who would have killed Balaam had the mule cooperated. The fact that the stubbornness exhibited by donkeys and mules is really an act of self-preservation is largely overlooked in future media.
  • The original Greek myths must seem like "grim 'n' gritty" reboots of romantic legends to college students who read them after encountering the "cleaned-up" versions as children. Zeus, for one, is no benevolent deity but a very self-centered and even sadistic god; Heracles, meanwhile, is a hot-tempered idiot and barely a hero at all.
  • See Sadly Mythtaken for more.


Stand Up Comedy[edit | hide]

  • Steve Harvey, a pioneer of the White Dude, Black Dude routine, went to great lengths to show how the Black Dude was just as messed up and irrational as his white counterpart, as his 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.


Theater/Opera[edit | hide]

  • 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 De Bergerac 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.
  • George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion is the Trope Maker for the Pygmalion Plot, but its view of Eliza's transformation is more cynical, and, unlike in the adaptations, she has no final reconciliation 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 RUR 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 mechanical androids. 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? Check. Commentary on the dangers of science run amok? Check. Robots analogous to slaves? Check. Inevitable robot rebellion leading to the extinction of the human race? Probably the original Robot Apocalypse plot.
    • At about the same time, children's novelist L. Frank Baum was spinning tales of fanciful "mechanical men" in his Oz books, so Capek's play may have gotten confused with those accounts. Or maybe people were thinking of the ambulatory metal statues that assisted the god Hephaestos in his forge in the old Greek myths. Really, automatons and mechanical men had existed in many forms in folklore and literature for a very long time, so it would have been a much more familiar concept to audiences than organic beings constructed from artificial organs.
  • Romeo and Juliet is considered the quintessential teenage love story. But not only do the title characters wind up dying for each other, but they get to that point by making stupid decisions and thinking with their gonads. Indeed, the character of Romeo is often interpreted by scholars as a parody of the many love-sick, poetry-spouting youths populating the now-mostly-forgotten works of earlier writers. Note that Romeo starts the play lovesick over some girl who we never see, then he meets Juliet at a party and swiftly decides she's his true love, and life isn't worth living without her.
  • 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.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Mons started with Atlus' apocalyptic RPG series Shin Megami Tensei, 10 years before the trope codifier Pokémon even existed. To those who don't get, the Mons in Shin Megami Tensei are demons (well, mythological entities that have become demons).
  • In many ways, the Rance series is this to JRPG heroes. He's a crude, foul-mouthed Heroic Comedic Sociopath who rapes women and only saves the day when he has a personal investment in it. Sound like a Darker and Edgier RPG hero that comes from the last 10 or so years? The first Rance game came out in 1989, only 2 years after the original Final Fantasy, and Rance's core personality traits haven't changed since.


Western Animation[edit | hide]