Suspiciously Specific Prohibition YKTTW Discussion

Suspiciously Specific Prohibition
Bob tells Alice not to do something that would otherwise never cross Alice's mind.
(permanent link) added: 2011-06-11 12:39:11 sponsor: NetMonster (last reply: 2013-02-01 22:42:31)

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Bob tells Alice not to do something that would otherwise never cross Alice's (or the average person's) mind, much to Alice's surprise and confusion. The strangeness of Bob's request is not lost on the audience.

This can be due to any of the following:

1. Bob has reason to believe Alice will at some point have the intention of doing said thing even if she hasn't yet thought of it. This can happen if Bob is a seer or a time traveller. In a case of Dramatic Irony, this can end up being something of a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy if Alice does the forbidden thing because Bob planted the idea.

2. Bob has been in a place where people were expected to do that. Usually the audience has followed Bob along this journey and understand why he would say that to Alice. The scene may function as a way of showing how Bob's experience has alienated him from his home world. Often a Call Back to Bob's adventure, and Played for Laughs.

3. Bob simply doesn't know how Alice thinks. In this case, the scene is usually meant to show how insane or evil or jaded/cynical he is. Less often done in the opposite fashion, to show how naive he is.

May be phrased as "Whatever you do, don't ever..."

The standard response is "Why would I want to do that?"

Note that Suspiciously Specific Prohibition doesn't include the case where Bob is trying to pull off a Batman Gambit to get Alice to do that very thing. That's Reverse Psychology. If Alice does it specifically to hurt Bob, it's Briar Patching.

Compare/contrast Could Say It But and Stepping Out for a Quick Cup of Coffee, for when Bob is only pretending to forbid Alice from doing something, but he is actually implying that he wants her to do it.


  • Type 1 occurs in Back to the Future when Marty tells his future parents to go easy on their son if he ever happens to accidentally set fire to the carpet.
  • Type 3 occurs in the movie The Green Mile, with Percy begging the other guards not to put him in a cell with a violent criminal. This is done to show how sociopathic Percy is, and is appropriately lampshaded in the answer he gets: "Only you would think of that".
  • Looney Tunes: In Real Life, the producer poked his head in one day and apropos of nothing said, "Bullfights aren't funny," and forbade them from making a bullfight cartoon. Up until then they had no plans to make one, but this inspired "Bully for Bugs," one of the most beloved Bugs Bunny shorts. That was apparently a type 3.
  • Type 1: In The Eyre Affair Thursday's father (a Time Traveller on the run) pops up and tells her to tell her mother not to paint the bedroom mauve(?), because he's just come from the future where she did and he hates it. Thursday dutifully tells her mother not to paint the bedroom mauve. Her mother thinks that's a wonderful idea and goes ahead and paints it mauve. And then asks Thursday why she suggested it, since it looks terrible.
  • Either a type 2 or a type 3: In Bill Bailey's Tinselworm, he talks about an occasion when he was approached by a representative of a Swiss bank and asked to perform a routine for them, with the condition that his material must not mention Nazi Gold.
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