Created By: Paireon on February 18, 2012 Last Edited By: Paireon on February 23, 2012

Council Of Unwise Men

The group of wise men running things are not very good at their job, or even outright villains.

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Trope
A common assumption in human societies is that with age comes a certain wisdom coming from experience and perspective. It therefore makes sense to put a group of trustworthy older or at least experienced individuals in charge of things, as such a multiple font of wisdom will obviously make the enlightened decisions that benefit their nation/people/organisation/society the most, won't they?

Well, not always. Sometimes some of these groups' decisions make a very good argument in favor of lowering their mandatory retirement age.

The Council Of Unwise Men (and on occasion, women as well) is a group, usually but not always made up wholly or mostly of elder individuals, whose rulership is revealed at some point to be definitely not in the best interests of the common good. The Reveal can be rather disturbing for many groups who place a strong emphasis on filial piety and respect for legitimate authority. Whether simply incompetent, obstructive, corrupt, or even outright evil, you can expect them to make themselves a nuisance for the heroes, if not The Man Behind the Man or even the Big Bad right from the start.

See also Evil Old Folks, Omniscient Council of Vagueness. While most of these usually get along as a group, those more incompetent than evil will often devolve into a Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering.


Examples

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[[folder:Anime and Manga]]

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  • The Jedi Council in the Star Wars prequels for the most part played right into Darth Sidious's plans; supplementary materials explained that over a thousand years of relative peace, the Order had become more or less calcified in their ways, losing a lot of doctrinal and operational flexibility, making them prime candidates for manipulation when thrust in an unfamiliar situation (such as a large-scale war; although things had deteriorated to the point that even smaller-scale crisis management was less than satisfying in the decades preceding the Clone Wars). The Galactic Senate, if anything, was even worse, compounding the above problems with intense factionalism and rampant corruption. The last time its bickering groups managed to agree on something was the election of Palpatine as Chancellor... And we all know how THAT went...
  • The Ephors in 300 are the shriveled, corrupt, manipulative, and risk-averse masters of a proud warrior culture. As priests charged with interpreting the "visions" of their personal Waif Prophet (who it's all but spelled out is sexually abused by them), their words supposedly carry the edicts of the gods, and they use this clout to forbid the Spartans from intervening at the most critical time to stop the persian conquest of Greece. They turn out to have been bought by the Persians with gold and the promise of more young girls to molest.

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[[folder:Western Animation]]

  • An all-robot planet had an incompetent council of robot elders in Futurama. How incompetent? On a planet whose citizenry was mostly made up of what is basically sentient industrial machinery, they had a critical shortage of basic necessities like lugnuts. They created anti-human propaganda to cover it up.

  • The Simpsons: In "They Saved Lisa's Brain" the members of the local Mensa branch put themselves in charge after the Mayor flees the city. They think that they're the wisest and therefore the best rulers, but they aren't. It took the intervention of Stephen Hawking himself to (somewhat) clear up the mess.
Community Feedback Replies: 23
  • February 18, 2012
    DragonQuestZ
    • A planet had an incompetent council of robot elders in Futurama. They created anti-human propaganda to cover it up.
  • February 18, 2012
    SKJAM
    • Green Lantern: The Guardians of the Universe more and more each issue.
  • February 18, 2012
    Paireon
    Good ones; most examples I have off the top of my head are anime/manga-related, and tropes tend to have stronger cases for them with examples across several media. I'll integrate them in the main body of text when I can think of more detailed writeups (the Guardians of the Universe in particular have LOTS of boo-boos worth mentionning).
  • February 18, 2012
    randomsurfer
    The Simpsons: In "They Saved Lisa's Brain" the members of the local Mensa branch put themselves in charge after the Mayor flees the city. They think that they're the wisest and therefore the best rulers, but the aren't.
  • February 19, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    In Gullivers Travels, the flying island of Laputa is ruled by Ivory Tower academians who impose far-fetched and unworkable "improvements" on their unhappy subjects.
  • February 19, 2012
    Ryuuma
    The Gorosei (Five Stars of Wisdom) in the One Piece world.
  • February 19, 2012
    Koveras
    The TSAB High Council in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Striker S are so old they had to surgically remove their brains and place them on life support after their bodies died. Yet they make some incredibly stupid decisions which set up many of the series' conflicts.
  • February 19, 2012
    Paireon
    Been adding up the suggestions to the article writeup. Hope everyone's OK with the changes I made.
  • February 19, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ You changed "series" to "franchise" in my example, which is technically incorrect: the Council only appears and has a major role in the events of the third season (StrikerS).
  • February 19, 2012
    pawsplay
    The Ephors, in 300, are corrupt, manipulative, and risk-averse masters of a proud warrior culture.

    In an episode of Supernatural, a group of elders maintain a tradition of human sacrifice to appease a dark demigod.
  • February 19, 2012
    ChrisX
  • February 20, 2012
    Frank75
  • February 20, 2012
    Unknown Troper
    Literature/Real Life:- novels about the Boudiccan revolt in Britain (by Manda Scott and others) shortly after the Roman invasion report that the Roman invaders thought the risk of rebellion from the conquered British was so small that it was safe to knock down the protective town walls of Colchester and London so as to re-use the stone and wood. Boudicca's army therefore ravaged unprotected open cities...
  • February 20, 2012
    69BookWorM69
    @ Frank75 We do, and I'm not sure I see a distinction here.
  • February 20, 2012
    Earnest
    I'm kicking myself because I can't properly attribute this, but I do remember hearing RDM say this on DVD extras for BSG.

    • The Quorum of Twelve from the original Battlestar Galactica Classic was made up of these, constantly making the wrong call in contrast to the paternally wise Adama. Ron D. Moore, the series creator for Battlestar Galactica Reimagined even comented on how this trope made a case for military rule by constantly putting Adama in the right. To counter this, he made efforts to give relevance to civilian rule in the reimagined series.

    Contrast Commander Contrarian.
  • February 20, 2012
    Bisected8
    This often overlaps with Not So Omniscient Council Of Bickering.
  • February 21, 2012
    Paireon
    Often, yes, but not always. Of the examples in the writeup (so far), the Star Wars senate (and maybe the Jedi council) and the Mensa branch from The Simpsons are the only ones that really overlap, and the could be removed if it helps clarify the trope. The others don't appear to bicker all that much, and I can add the distinction between both tropes in the definition.

    Also, to Koveras: AFAIK the High Council, while not really visibly active elsewhere in the franchise, still had had a major, if indirect, impact on the two previous series: sanctionning the incredibly dangerous experiment that killed Precia Testarossa's original daughter, therefore causing her Start Of Darkness; Jail Scaglietti, their creation, supposedly aided and abbetted Precia in her scemes; and they were certainly the ones who ordered the execution of the plan to contain the Book of Darkness that would have imprisoned Hayate forever as well. At least that's my perception of things.
  • February 21, 2012
    Koveras
    ^ There is no canon indication that the High Council had a hand in anything taking place in the first two seasons, except sanctioning Project F. At least according to the movie, Precia's energy plant project was forced by her corporate superiors, and Graham executed his plan in A's of his own volition, motivated by Clyde's death. Any further suspicions should be listed under Wild Mass Guessing, as they have no substantial support within canon.
  • February 21, 2012
    Paireon
    OK, no prob. You seem to be more in the know than I am about Nanoha anyways.
  • February 21, 2012
    Madcapunlimited
    Ah, distinction from bickering being primarily incompetence? "Counsel of the Unwise" rolls off the tongue better IMO
  • February 21, 2012
    Tzintzuntzan
    If I understand correctly, this is often the Evil Counterpart of Wasteland Elder. The leader of the tiny settlement doesn't want people to leave town, or innovate, or question the existence of the forest monster, or stand up to the bandits, because it's dangerous, people, dangerous.
  • February 23, 2012
    Paireon
    ^^@Madcapunlimited: Not sure if I get your meaning; the distinction I meant is that while the Not So Omniscient Council Of Bickering's main problem is said bickering, the Council Of Unwise Men don't really have that problem, but are still unhelpful or downright an obstacle (or villain) for the heroes to overcome.

    ^@Tzintzuntzan: It can be, if there are more than one elder (if it's just one guy/gal then it's simply Evil Old Folks), and if the advice/orders they give are clearly wrong and/or actually villainous. Also, as noted, evil isn't a sine qua non prerequisite, but it helps.
  • February 23, 2012
    ScanVisor
    Real Life:
    • Whether justified or not, you can count on this to be the popular opinion of the main legislative body of any given country, although typically there is a serious discrepancy between the approval ratings of a legislative body, and the approval ratings of individual members of that legislature.
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