The Classic Entertainment Tropes That Really Aren't Okay Anymore

Courtesy of Netflix
Since Harvey Weinstein was unmasked as a predator, I’ve been reevaluating many of my favorite movies. How do I watch Pulp Fiction and Shakespeare in Love knowing Weinstein played a role in shaping each scene transition, each award show campaign, each final product? I realized something I had only vaguely conceptualized before: Movies don't exist on their own. They are work of many people — often many very flawed people.
So, we've entered into a period of collective evaluation about the individuals behind the movies. But what about the films themselves? Aren't those changed, irrevocably, too? Many frequently recycled tropes, like villains concocting dastardly plans to marry heroines, were just a harmless part of a story before all this. Now, in this heightened awareness of sexual misconduct's ubiquitousness, I might cringe while watching certain tropes play out, again and again, on screen. I will wonder: Do these pervasive entertainment tropes about the way men and women interact sanction certain dynamics? Does watching this patterned behavior inure audiences to power imbalances?
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Essentially, do these minute, occasionally funny, preciously insignificant tropes reinforce rape culture? To understand the paranoia I'm currently experiencing — the realization that rape culture may be embedded into all we consume — read the lyrics to "Baby It's Cold Outside." If translated to the real world, the behaviors depicted in the following tropes might be downright uncomfortable.
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The Villain’s Final Goal is Marriage

The villain’s dastardly plan isn’t to take over the world, or to become president of the United States. No: He just wants to marry the heroine, whether through abduction, coercion, or through weaseling his way into her family’s favor. The villain may be attracted to the heroine and doesn’t think he can win her over, or he wants to have her wealth.

Where you’ve seen this trope before:

The Princess Bride (1987): Prince Humperdink (Ted Sarandos) wants to marry Buttercup (Robin Wright), a farm girl, so he can frame her murder on the neighboring country and start a war. He would’ve done so, had it not been for the heroic Westley’s (Cary Elwes) intervention.

Beetlejuice (1988): Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton), a maniacal ghost, wants to marry the human teenager Lydia (Winona Ryder) so he can stay in the land of the living.

Aladdin (1992): Jafar hypnotizes the Sultan, and convinces him to sanction his marriage to Jasmine.

A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999, 2017): Even though this is ostensibly a children’s series, the first book and Netflix original incorporates a storyline in which Count Olaf, the Baudelaire children’s new legal guardian, tries to marry Violet. Olaf is clear in his intentions. He wants her fortune, and he wants her – he declares they’re “off to have our wedding night.”

Sweeney Todd (2007): The nefarious Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) has effectively destroyed the Todd family. He raped Sweeney Todd's wife, sent Sweeney (Johnny Depp) to jail, and now wants to marry his much-younger daughter, Johanna (Jayne Wisener).

Game of Thrones: Sansa (Sophie Turner) is forced into marrying Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), even after the Lannisters kill her father. Then, she’s forced into marrying Ramsay (Iwan Rheon).

Super Mario: Bowser is always trying to marry Peach.
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Stalking Is an Act of Love

Didn’t you hear? Taking invasive and extreme lengths to show a girl how much you adore her is really, really romantic. Stalking is the first step in the making of a romantic hero — or at least that’s what your favorite rom-coms show. If the romantic hero can just stick around for long enough, the object of his affection will be won over, right?

The association between relentlessly pursuing women and achieving love may have real repercussions. “Men are socialized to be persistent and women are socialized to be flattered by it,” professor Julia Lippmann told the Huffington Post.

Where you’ve seen this trope before:

Say Anything (1989): What if your ex showed up outside your bedroom window, and blasted the song you listened to when you lost your virginity to each other? Lloyd Dobler’s (John Cusack) last-ditch effort to win back his ex considered one of the most romantic movie gestures ever, but in real life, this might be straight-up disturbing.

Labyrinth (1986): Jareth the Goblin King (David Bowie) follows Sarah (Jennifer Connolly) over the course of a day.

There’s Something About Mary (1998): So many people stalk Mary (Cameron Diaz) in this movie. Ted (Ben Stiller), her high school prom date, hires a private investigator to track her down. Then, the investigator becomes obsessed with her, and stalks her too.

Love Actually (2003): Debate it all you want, Love Actually stans. But if your husband’s best friend showed up outside your door and told you he loved you in an elaborate scheme, you’d probably be minorly freaked out. Likely, you wouldn’t walk away wistfully smiling about how romantic it was, like Keira Knightley's character does.

Twilight (2008): Bella (Kristin Stewart) actually responds well to Edward’s (Edward Pattinson) actions, which are pretty creepy— he watches her while she sleeps every night.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015): Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) tracks Ana’s (Dakota Johnson) movements using her cell phone. It’s not surprising that Christian stalks Ana; he’s modeled off of Twilight’s Edward Cullen.
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The Flirtatious Butt Smack

Typically, the butt smack is administered by a man in a position of power to a woman. It can be dismissive, and signal, “All right, dearie. Time to leave the room now.” Or, it can be purely lecherous. Depending on the relationship between smacker and smackee, recipient will respond by being flustered, enraged, or indifferent, as if they’re used to such treatment by now. Of course, sometimes the butt smack is purely playful and consensual.

Where you’ve seen this trope before:

Goldfinger (1964): Bond (Sean Connery) is hanging out with his masseuse, Dink, when Felix Leiter walks by. “Say goodbye to Felix. Man talk,” he says to Dink, before giving her a smack.

That ‘70s Show (2002): Jessica Simpson’s character is exiting a room, but not before Ashton Kutcher’s Kelso can give her a quick slap on her way out.

Runner Runner (2013): A man slaps a nearby sex worker’s ass to explain the “first class” quality of his goods.

This is the End (2013): Michael Cera slaps Rihanna’s butt. She turns around and slaps him back, right in the face. “Don’t touch my ass, bitch,” she says.

Keeping Up With the Kardashians (2014): Here’s the example in “real life.” Kendall’s on the beach, and the man sitting next to her touches her butt. Her brother, Brody, freaks out.
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The Resident Dirty Old Man

In movie-land, once a man reaches a certain level of grizzled, he's able to behave inappropriately toward women without facing consequences. All of his butt pinches and lewd comments are dismissed, and passed up as harmless. He’s a clown, not a threat. That said, in some dramas, the Dirty Old Man trope is taken very seriously, and is treated as a real danger.

Where you’ve seen this trope before:

Hercules (1998): Phil spies on the sunbathing nymphs.

Dodgeball (2004): Patches O’Houlian (Rip Torn), the dodgeball coach, is completely lecherous.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006): The character Grandpa Hoover (Alan Alda) is a slew of contradictions. He helps his granddaughter, Olive, achieve her pageant dreams, but he is sex-obsessed and has a particular affinity for young women: “That young stuff is the best in the world.”

Sweeney Todd (2007): Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) is an example of the Dirty Old Man trope being taken seriously. The musical's principal villain, Turpin rapes Johanna’s mother, and then has plans to marry Johanna after raising her.

The Florida Project (2017): The motel manager (Willem Dafoe) is disquieted by the appearance of an old man near where kids are playing, and removes the man from the motel premises immediately. This is a departure from how the Dirty Old Man trope is typically handled in movies.
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The “Did We Just…?” Moment

After a night of partying, two characters wake up next to each other in bed and wonder what the heck they did last night. Did they have sex? And was consent given?

Where you’ve seen this trope before:

Cheers (1993): In a Season 11 episode of "Cheers," Carla (Rhea Perlman) makes really potent drinks for the bar regulars. She wakes up with the feeling that she slept with one of the regulars, but can't remember which one.

Sixteen Candles (1984): A geek and a girl wake up in a parking lot, having gotten drunk the night before. He points to a bald patch in her hair, and asks, "Did I do that?" They have the whole "did we or didn't we" conversation, and conclude that not only did they have sex, but they enjoyed it.

"Waking Up in Vegas" by Katy Perry (2008): This trope comes up in music quite a bit. In this song, narrated from the perspective of someone who's just weathered a crazy party, Perry sings, "There's a stranger in my bed / there's a pounding in my head."
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Liquor is Quicker

The more alcohol, the higher the chances of sex occurring. This trope occurs when characters get drunk, or help another person get drunk, so that they can have sex with them more easily. Typically, it's a man trying to get a woman drunk.

Where you've seen this trope before:

The Godfather (1972): The entire premise of The Godfather is based around this trope. Maria Bonasera's boyfriend and his friend try to get her drunk on whiskey so she'll consent to sex with them. When she refuses, they beat her up. So Maria's father goes to Don Corleone on "the day of [his] daughter's wedding" to seek revenge, and incites the movie's action.

How I Met Your Mother (2008): Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) is disappointed when the wedding only serves non-alcoholic cocktails. He had intended on getting Robin drunk and sleeping with her.

Glee (2009): Quinn (Dianna Agron) says that she had sex with Puck (Mark Salling) because "[he] got me drunk on wine coolers, and I felt fat that day."
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The Jail Bait Wait

This is a reference to the time that needs to pass before the younger of the pair reaches legal consent. The older person is almost always a male, eagerly anticipating a woman to turn 18.

Where you've seen this trope before:

Friends (2001): In a 2001 episode, Joey hits on a woman, then finds out she's 16. He responds, "See you in 2003."

How I Met Your Mother (2006): Barney (Neil Patrick Harris) makes the comment, "The only reason to wait a month for sex is if she's 17 years 11 months old."

House (2006): A young woman (Leighton Meester) with a crush on Dr. House (Hugh Laurie) gives him a calendar counting down the days until her 18th birthday.

A Song of Ice and Fire books: Occasionally the sexes are switched — Margaery Tyrell in the Song of Ice and Fire books waits until her 8-year-old husband, Tommen Baratheon, is a bit older before she can bed him.
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