Created By: HumanTorch2 on January 8, 2014 Last Edited By: HumanTorch2 on June 19, 2014
Troped

Publicly Discussing The Secret

When spies, undercover cops, and/or criminals discuss classified or sensitive information in public, and don\'t even bother to whisper.

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Trope
Sometimes people need to get up to speed on a secret mission or plan quickly, it's a fact of life. One would probably expect them to whisper or duck into a broom closet, restroom, or office to discuss said information, to prevent their enemies or mark from overhearing them. Sadly, some people just stand around out in the open, while speaking at or above their normal speaking volume, and the question of the enemy/mark catching wind of the mission/plan never comes up. AT ALL!

Also happens in settings involving The Masquerade. In order to keep Muggles from catching on to, say, the fact that dragons fill the sky every spring and fall, you'd expect that the people in the know would only talk about them behind closed doors, not in the middle of Trafalgar Square or on The Washington Mall. Can sometimes result in a Broken Masquerade depending on the circumstances.

Can be justified if the secret in question is an Open Secret. Usually isn't Lamp Shaded at all. Contrast Overt Rendezvous, Public Secret Message, and Easily Overheard Conversation.


Examples

Comic Books
  • Watchmen and the film version too: Dan & Laurie have a conversation in a restaurant reminiscing over old times as superheroes without any regard to anyone who might overhear.

Film
  • When the courier brings the photographs in Spies Like Us, he announces himself quite loudly. The frustrated recipient lampshades this immediately, snarking, "Could you say that a little louder? We could open a window, and you could shout it towards Moscow."
  • Happens quite often in the James Bond films:
    • Casino Royale: After making contact with Mathis, Bond and Vesper proceed to discuss their secret mission in a café just off the town square. Mathis also brings up blackmailing Royale's chief of police, with none of the other patrons noticing any of it.
  • The 1979 film The In-Laws, CIA Agent Vincent Ricardo and Dentist Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett (played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin respectively), are conversing about the situation that they are in while dining at a restaurant. Shelly is not the least bit happy to have been dragged into this adventure and expresses his displeasure in the loudest possible manner which attracts the attention of its patrons.
  • In Jurassic Park Dennis Nedry and Lew Dodgson discuss the plan to steal dinosaur embryos from InGen in a Costa Rican restaurant. Dodgson even demonstrates the functions of the shaving cream can used to smuggle the embryos there while sitting at the table. Nedry lampshades their Overt Rendezvous, believing that Hidden in Plain Sight is in full effect here:
    Nedry: Dodgson!
    Dodgson: You shouldn't use my name.
    Nedry: Dodgson, Dodgson, we've got Dodgson here! Nobody cares. Nice hat. What are you trying to look like, a secret agent?
  • In Munich, two Israeli agents discuss the workings of their terrorist hunting operation on a crowded street, passing dozens of potential witnesses while only talking at slightly below normal speaking volume.

Literature
  • Harry Potter. Double Subverted in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix when Harry, Hermione and Ron decide to avoid this trope by not discussing their plan in the village pub where all the students go. Instead, they go to the (nearly deserted) local Bad-Guy Bar (owned, or at least tended, amusingly enough, by Prof. Dumbledore's younger brother) where, as Sirius later tells them, they were more likely to be overheard.
  • How NOT to Write a Novel strongly discourages this in the section called "Don't Mind Us", using a passage where a couple loudly argues about the husband's sexual life and neo-Nazism during a town hall meeting as an example.

Live-Action TV
  • Happens all the time on Chuck, especially in the early seasons. Chuck, Sarah, Casey, and Morgan routinely discuss the secret mission du jour on the Buy More's sales floor. None of the characters in the know (including the folks back in Langley and Arlington) see any problem with this approach.
  • Happens a lot in the third season of Dexter when the DA repeatedly discusses murdering people with Dexter in restaurants, at parties, over the phone, in the office, and pretty much everywhere. Yet no one ever overhears, nor do the characters seem to be concerned that anyone will hear them. Because having the characters go somewhere private every time they need to move the plot forward would take too much screen time.
  • Played for Laughs on a regular basis by the Trope Codifier, Get Smart.
    • Max would often call CONTROL Headquarters on his shoe phone and openly discuss mission details in plain sight of dozens, if not hundreds, of onlookers. One episode even had Max use a phone that was hidden in a fire hydrant, while people passed him on the street.
    • In other episodes, he'd make collect calls to CONTROL by asking the operator to patch him through, after giving them their secured number. Eventually, the operator learned to recognize the number and would cut Max off in mid-sentence by simply stating: "Oh, you want CONTROL Headquarters. One moment please."
  • The special agents in Threshold would often publicly discuss the secret alien invasion they are investigating. In one instance, they interview a witness while pretending to be looking for terrorists... and then turn their back and immediately start talking about alien viruses and whatnot.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer made a lot of nods early on toward maintaining the masquerade for the muggles' benefit, but that fell by the wayside somewhere in the third season. From there on out, they would just talk about whatever wherever they happened to be.
  • Angel: In a season 5 episode where Lorne hosts a party, he invites the senior partners, who set a trap for Angel. They discuss the trap and the plan to kill everyone at the party, while standing next to the dance floor.
  • Occurs from time to time in Burn Notice, including one scene in season 2 where Michael and Victor discuss the former's next job while playing speed chess in a park in the middle of the day.
  • The genre-blind titular characters of Pretty Little Liars discuss dangerous secrets, the goings and comings of A, and all the rest of their business in the open more than once. For example, in episode 23 of the fourth season, the Emily shouts with Paige about Allison, who is supposed to be dead, in the girls bathroom. This behavior repeatedly leads to the girls getting more trouble from A.
  • Happens on Supernatural since they'll casually discuss whatever monster/ghost/demon their current hunt involves in the middle of diners with normal people just sitting around having a meal.
  • Sesame Street plays with this in an older insert from The '70s, in which Herry tells Grover a secret (basically, the alphabet), and tells him not to tell anybody, so Grover says he won't. Cue a montage of Grover telling a monster named Pamela, Pamela telling another monster named Fenwick, Fenwick telling yet another monster named Rosemary, until they all join in a group reciting of the alphabet, just as Herry walks by; Herry walks over and remarks, "You're very good at reciting the alphabet, Grover. But you're lousy at keeping secrets!"
  • In a recent episode of Degrassi, two perpetrators of a sexual assault were loudly discussing said assault in the hallway which allowed two other students to identify them as the perpetrators. Though they spoke in slightly hushed tones, it was evidently loud enough for two people all the way down the hall to hear them.

Video Games
  • Exaggerated in SPYFox. Not only does Spy Fox discuss secret plans on his spy watch out in the open, but he also refers to himself as a spy to incidental characters on the street.
  • You see this in almost every role-playing video game whose world includes a "Thieves Guild" or something similar. Instead of remaining cagey and guarded until they're sure someone can be trusted, members of the Guild walk right up to your avatar and announce that they're thieves, and by the way they have a guild full of fellow thieves; would you like to come to their hideout for tea?

Web Original
  • The Booth at the End plays off of this trope. The Man at the Booth discusses lucrative, dangerous, and questionable information with visitors who come to see him at his Booth. There are always some other customers in the diners that he appears at, yet he seems not to mind, or care. This leads to a waitress asking about his "business." And then the Man gets a new friend...

Western Animation
  • In Code Lyoko, the heroes regularly discuss X.A.N.A's activities. This has gotten them into a trouble a couple times, but because their super computer has Return To The Past functionality, they're able to undo anyone finding out too much.

Community Feedback Replies: 47
  • January 9, 2014
    randomsurfer
    This used to be the First Law Of Sitcom Acoustics before that got redefined, renamed & split. It has come up again since, I distinctly remember giving the following example on more than one occasion.

    • Watchmen and the film version too: Dan & Laurie have a conversation in a restaurant reminscing over old times as superheroes without any regard to anyone who might overhear.
  • January 9, 2014
    robbulldog
    • When the courier brings the photographs in Spies Like Us, he announces himself quite loudly. The frustrated recipient snarks, "Could you say that a little louder? We could open a window, and you could shout it towards Moscow."
  • January 9, 2014
    DennisDunjinman
    Exaggerated in Spy Fox. Not only does Spy Fox discuss secret plans on his spy watch out in the open, but he also refers to himself as a spy to incidental characters on the street.
  • January 9, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 9, 2014
    Chabal2
    Harry Potter: Zigzagged when Harry, Hermione and Ron decide to avoid this trope by not discussing their plan in the village pub where all the students go. Instead, they go to the (nearly deserted) local Bad Guy Bar where, as Sirius later tells them, they were more likely to be overheard.

  • January 10, 2014
    Bisected8
    The Harry Potter example is probably better described as a Double Subversion than zig zagged.
  • January 10, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
  • January 11, 2014
    abateman
    I disagree. Overt Rendezvous is the caharacters using their public setting as a way of being discrete.

    What is described here is a situation where the characters really ought to be talking about this elsewhere, but the storytellers decide to put the conversation in public for no discernible reason.

    Happens a lot in the third season of Dexter when (spoiler) the DA repeatedly discusses murdering people with Dexter in restaurants, at parties, over the phone, in the office, and pretty much everywhere. Yet no one ever overhears, nor do the characters seem to be concerned that anyone will hear them. Because having the characters go somewhere private every time they need to move the plot forward would take too much screen time.
  • January 12, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 14, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    ^Overt Rendezvous is (usually) justified in-universe or by Word Of God, or is at least lampshaded relatively often. This covers situations where secrets, which, in real life, would be discussed in a private or secluded setting, are discussed (by members of a single organization or group) out in the open, with hundreds of people within earshot, and the people having said conversation are speaking normally or shouting.
  • January 14, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ So this trope has an inherent Fridge Logic?
  • January 15, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    That's one way of putting it, yes.
  • February 10, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    BUMP.
  • February 10, 2014
    MiinU
    Chuck isn't anywhere near the being the codifier, since Get Smart! was using that schickt back in the mid 60's. Speaking of which...

    Live action television

    • Get Smart! invoked this on a regular basis, often by having Max call CONTROL Headquarters on his shoe phone and openly discussion mission details in plain sight of onlookers. One episode even had Max use a phone that was hidden in a fire hydrant, while people passed him on the street.
      • In other episodes, he'd make collect calls to CONTROL by asking the operator to patch him through, after giving them their secured number. Eventually, the operator learned to recognize the number and would cut Max off in mid-sentence by simply stating: "Oh, you want CONTROL Headquarters. One moment please."
  • February 23, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    BUMP.
  • February 24, 2014
    Nithael
    • The special agents in Threshold would often publicly discuss the alien invasion they are investigating. In one instance, they interview a witness while pretending to be looking for terrorists... and then turn their back and immediately start talking about alien viruses and whatnot.
  • February 27, 2014
    BaffleBlend
    Literature
    • How Not To Write A Novel strongly discourages this in the section called "Don't Mind Us", using a passage where a couple loudly argues about the husband's sexual life and neo-Nazism during a town hall meeting as an example.
  • February 27, 2014
    frosty
    Angel: In a season 5 episode where Lorne hosts a party, he invites the senior partners, who set a trap for Angel. They discuss the trap and the plan to kill everyone at the party, while standing next to the dance floor.

    I'm pretty sure this happens on Supernatural, Buffy, and Dr. Who, but I can't think of anything specific right now.
  • February 27, 2014
    Acebrock
    Occurs from time to time in Burn Notice, including one scene in season 2 where Michael and Victor discuss the former's next job while playing speed chess in a park in the middle of the day.
  • February 27, 2014
    Omrega
    In 15 Minutes, played with, the bad guys talk about murdering Detective Fleming in public. But Emil had planned an insanity defense and getting caught could be part of the plan.
  • February 28, 2014
    JesseMB27
    Film
    • The 1979 film The In Laws, CIA Agent Vincent Ricardo and Dentist Sheldon "Shelly" Kornpett (played by Peter Falk and Alan Arkin respectively), are conversing about the situation that they are in while dining at a restaurant. Shelly is not the least bit happy to have been dragged into this adventure and expresses his displeasure in the loudest possible manner which attracts the attention of its patrons.
  • March 2, 2014
    BaffleBlend
    Has the OP updated this at all?!
  • March 3, 2014
    Arivne
    ^ The original post has been updated multiple times and there's no indication that no one else edited it, so yes.
  • March 13, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    BUMP.
  • March 13, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    Film
  • March 13, 2014
    Lakija
    • The show The Booth At The End plays off of this trope. The Man at the Booth discusses lucrative, dangerous, and questionable information with visitors who come to see him at his Booth. There are always some other customers in the diners that he appears at, yet he seems not to mind, or care. This leads to a waitress asking about his "business." And then the Man gets a new friend...

    • The genre-blind titular characters of Pretty Little Liars discuss dangerous secrets, the goings and comings of A, and all the rest of their business in the open more than once. For example, in episode 23 of the fourth season, the Emily shouts with Paige about Allison, who is supposed to be dead, in the girls bathroom. This behavior repeatedly leads to the girls getting more trouble from A.
  • April 2, 2014
    frosty
    I realize it's a bit late, but I see the difference between this and Overt Rendezvous as whether or not the person is using the public environment deliberately. OR is when people utilize a public environment as a mask, but this is when people who really should be discreet blatantly disregard that concern, for no reason.

    To distinguish with the Harry Potter example: When they went to the deserted bar, that was this trope, because they were in a quiet (almost deserted) bar with practically no walk-in traffic and yet they thought it would be a good place for several dozen students to gather and plan a covert resistance movement.

    Had they gone to the crowded bar, as Sirius told them, that would be OR because they would've been utilizing the noise and atmosphere of the crowd to cover their voices.
  • April 2, 2014
    aradia22
    I'm not sure if they count as criminals as the description seems to imply gangsters or a team planning a heist but in a recent episode of Degrassi, two perpetrators of a sexual assault were loudly discussing said assault in the hallway which allowed two other students to identify them as the perpetrators. Though they spoke in slightly hushed tones, it was evidently loud enough for two people all the way down the hall to hear them.
  • April 13, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    ^That would appear to be a subversion, since other characters actually hear them and act on the information. I must admit, as an American, I've never watched any of the Degrassi franchise, so any more details would be appreciated.
  • April 17, 2014
    MiinU
    I still don't get how Chuck is being called the trope codifier, when Get Smart! is both better known for invoking the trope (to the point of using it as a gag on a regular basis) and is a much earlier example of it, by decades.

    It'd be like saying Rick O'Connel was the trope codifier for the Adventurer Archaeologist archetype when Indiana Jones was around longer and has spawned dozens of imitators - including Rick.
  • April 17, 2014
    oztrickster
    Happens in Supernatural since they'll casually discuss whatever monster/ghost/demon their current hunt involves in the middle of diners with normal people just sitting around having a meal.
  • April 17, 2014
    jatay3
    Of course shady people can't talk in a low voice all the time even when they are talking shop. In fact whispering might attract attention in itself.
  • April 17, 2014
    MiinU
    @jatay3 - That's why spies and secret agents will usually meet in private, or discuss top secret information using a secured line, frequency, etc. Rather than meet out in public.

    While ninja used methods like messenger hawks, messenger arrows, or relaying any pertinent information covertly by simply passing it along (i.e. one villager walks past another, casually slips a concealed message into their hand, and so on).
  • April 17, 2014
    greenie2600
    You see this in almost every role-playing video game whose world includes a "Thieves Guild" or similar. Instead of remaining cagey and guarded until they're sure someone can be trusted, members of the Guild walk right up to you and announce that they're thieves, and by the way they have a guild full of fellow thieves; would you like to come to their hideout for tea?

    I might be describing a separate trope, but they're definitely at least related.
  • April 17, 2014
    megahello
  • April 17, 2014
    randomsurfer
    The people around whom they're discussing the secret are often Ghost Extras.
  • May 16, 2014
    bitemytail
    ^^ How about some context?

    • In Code Lyoko, the heroes regularly discuss X.A.N.A's activities. This has gotten them into a trouble a couple times, but because their super computer has Return To The Past functionality, they're able to undo anyone finding out too much.
  • May 22, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    BUMP.
  • May 27, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    Edited the Chuck and Get Smart! examples to reflect the latter being the Trope Codifier instead of the former, then added the Thieves Guild and Code Lyoko examples.
  • May 28, 2014
    Arivne

    The James Bond, Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Doctor Who examples are Zero Context Examples. They need more information about how they're this trope, such as specific films/episodes.
  • June 1, 2014
    HumanTorch2
    ^The problem with listing specific examples for the Bond films is that there's easily at least one per every other film. You'd have to give them their own section (like what happened with Encyclopedia Brown on the Conviction By Contradiction page) in order to list enough to do them justice. The same applies to Doctor Who, because of how old the franchise is.
  • June 1, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ That doesn't justify a Zero Context Example. You could just write "to mention a few" and then give a couple examples. Giving specific examples doesn't mean that you need to automatically list every single instance.
  • June 1, 2014
    Mr.Movie
    • In Munich, two Israeli agents discuss the workings of their terrorist hunting operation on a crowded street, passing dozens of potential witnesses while only talking at slightly below normal speaking volume.
  • June 1, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    ^^^ And that is okay.
  • Live Action TV
    • Sesame Street plays with this in an older insert from The Seventies, in which Herry tells Grover a secret (basically, the alphabet), and tells him not to tell anybody, so Grover says he won't. Cue a montage of Grover telling a monster named Pamela, Pamela telling another monster named Fenwick, Fenwick telling yet another monster named Rosemary, until they all join in a group reciting of the alphabet, just as Herry walks by; Herry walks over and remarks, "You're very good at reciting the alphabet, Grover. But you're lousy at keeping secrets!
  • June 13, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    Description needs slight improvements. A single block of text is awkward reading, and the last few sentences seem like complaining about people using this trope.
  • June 13, 2014
    surgoshan
    This actually does happen all the time on Buffy and Doctor Who. I'm not sure if Doctor Who really counts, though, as the Doctor has never really put a lot of effort into maintaining any kind of masquerade, what with never hanging out in one location long enough for it to matter.

    • Buffy The Vampire Slayer made a lot of nods early on toward maintaining the masquerade for the muggles' benefit, but that fell by the wayside somewhere in the third season. From there on out, they would just talk about whatever wherever they happened to be.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=6nkj0mgilmeq8jf7ve75rp69&trope=PubliclyDiscussingTheSecret