Created By: Cassis on February 15, 2013 Last Edited By: Cassis on July 24, 2014

Town with a Secret Dark Secret

When even the townsfolk are in the dark

Name Space:
Main
Page Type:
Trope
{Note: I wanted to add Storybrooke to TWADS, but that description specifically mentions the townsfolk being in on the dark secret, which in OUAT they’re not. The trope examples had several aversions, though, and I could think of a few more off the top of my head, hence this YKKTW. This may not be common enough to trope—but if it isn’t, I think it is common enough to add as a variant to the main TWADS entry. If it’s tropeworthy, then I’ll beef up the description and of course it Needs a Better Name. Also needs suggested potholes for related tropes.}

There are towns where the shifty-eyed inhabitants are clearly concealing some mystery from outsiders. And then there are places like this, where most or nearly all of the townspeople are oblivious Muggles who are as likely to become monster munch as any unfortunate tourist or newcomer.

The holders of the secret are usually members of a family, secret society, or conspiracy, or even, rarely, a single Evil Overlord. The new resident, out-of-town relative, or returning prodigal may have to convince his/her friends and family that there is such a secret before they can even worry about surviving it.

Note that to qualify as this trope, the secret must affect the majority of the population, not merely the occasional unlucky victim. A single serial killer or vampire working an area would not be an example—unless the local authorities were covering up the crimes. Or he was the local authority.

May very well be located in Lovecraft Country, the Deep South, or other out-of-the-way place. May be a Utopian Uncanny Village but is just as likely to be a mundane-looking Anywheresville.

Film:

Literature:
  • Is Stephen King’s ‘Salem’s Lot an example? A few vampires move into a small town and begin converting it…
  • In Stephen King's Under the Dome, only a select few town leaders are aware that their small town contains America's largest meth lab. This becomes a problem for everybody when the meth lab explodes, starting a fire that kills most of the townspeople.

Live-Action TV:
  • Haven, Maine--A small town that has for generations hosted individuals with various curses. The mysterious “Troubles” have recently returned, causing the deadly powers of some citizens to reactivate with horrible consequences. Troubles are usually passed down in families, and it appears that most nonafflicted people are convinced that they are just legends. The local police chief employs a “fixer” to remove evidence of Trouble-related death and mayhem, and the newspaper regularly ascribes strange events to gas leaks. Loosely based on a novella by Stephen King (who obviously loves this trope).
  • This trope may have been first used on television in The Twilight Zone episode "Walking Distance" (1959).
  • American Gothic has Trinity, South Carolina, a town whose dark secret is that its sheriff is the Devil Incarnate. No one knows this fact at all (except Merlyn, it seems), while only the few who run afoul of Buck's wrath, dare to cross him, or refuse to obey him ever even discover what a Magnificent Bastard he truly is.
  • Played with in the case of Sunnydale, California. It's a medium-sized city conveniently located on a Hellmouth and overrun with demons and vampires that treat the place like a buffet. Most of Sunnydale's citizens at first seem hilariously oblivious to the many, many mysterious deaths that occur there. The only humans in on it are the heroes and various characters who tap into the dark powers of the place for their own ends, such as the Big Bad of S3. (There’s a reason Sunnydale is a former trope namer for Weirdness Censor.) However, later in the series it becomes clear that most of the residents actually do have a pretty good idea of what’s going on; they just choose to live in denial, making it a classic Town with a Dark Secret.
  • Mystic Falls, Virginia, has been home to supernatural creatures—witches, vampires, and werewolves—for hundreds of years. The Founders’ Council is to keep these in check and protect the townsfolk—as well as keep them in the dark. Lately they haven’t been doing such a good job…There’s been a rise in “wild animal attacks” and “accidental” deaths.
  • Storybrooke, Maine, is a town under a curse—the residents are actually fairytale characters ripped from their magical world by the vengeance of the Evil Queen from the Snow White tale. Time is suspended in the town and the people live in an unaging, semi-amnesiac haze as shadows of their true selves. At the beginning of the series, the only ones who know the truth are the Evil Queen herself, Regina, and her ten-year-old adopted son. In S2, after the curse is broken, the fairytale characters remember their former lives but need to keep the outside world from learning about them, and it becomes a classic Town with a Dark Secret.
  • Torchwood: Most people don't know there are Aliens in Cardiff.

Web Original:
  • In the Whateley Universe, Whateley Academy is literally in Lovecraft Country, since the closest town is the Dunwich. Only maybe half of Dunwich is in on the dark secrets, since the town has been gentrified.

Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • February 15, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    I think that the town of Sandford on 'Hot Fuzz' would fit here as well. There is a VERY Dark Secret on it, but none of the other officers other than Nicholas Angel (and one other) have figured it out, dismissing all of the horrible murders and people disappearing without a trace as 'accidents'.

    The Dark Secret being known by just a dozen or so people out of about three or four thousand, it means that not every shifty-eyed guy on the room is evil.
  • February 16, 2013
    Cassis
    Okay, added (with a bit of editing).
  • February 16, 2013
    Met
    In Under The Dome by Stephen King, only a select few town leaders are aware that their small town contains America's largest meth lab. This becomes a problem for everybody when the meth lab explodes, starting a fire that kills most of the townspeople.
  • February 16, 2013
    KZN02
    BIONICLE: the Matoran of Voya Nui didn't know the Mask of Life was located on their island. This becomes problematic when the Piraka arrive to take it and use the Matoran to "help" them take it.
  • February 17, 2013
    Koveras
    The current title is bulky... Manchurian Agent Town? Regular Manchurian Agent also doesn't know he has a dark secret.
  • February 17, 2013
    Cassis
    Added Under the Dome.How do you usually categorize Bionicle? The link says it's a franchise containing books, comics, and toys.

    ^I completely agree about the name, but I think Manchurian Agent Town is a little clunky too. Maybe Manchurian Town, but that could be confused for a town in Manchuria...
  • February 18, 2013
    Koveras
    ^ Yeah, that's what I thought, too.
  • February 18, 2013
    randomsurfer
    Torchwood: Most people don't know there are Aliens In Cardiff.
  • February 18, 2013
    Cassis
    Added Torchwood.

    Any other thoughts about the title? Or good related tropes?
  • February 19, 2013
    Mouser
    I think Oblivious Town With A Dark Secret might make the distinction a bit more clear. Still bulky, though.

    In American Gods, Lakeside is a peaceful, thriving, Lake Wobegone-ish community whose prosperity is powered by regular child sacrifices. And only one person knows about it.
  • February 19, 2013
    Arivne
    It's possible that some of the examples on Town With A Dark Secret are actually this trope and were shoehorned in there due to Missing Supertrope Syndrome.

    If you launch this, please look over that page and move over any such examples.
  • February 19, 2013
    Cassis
    I did a quick check of TWADS, which is where I picked up the Whateley Universe, Twilight Zone (and if anyone can expand on that, let me know), and Dead and Buried examples, and I borrowed some of the text on Sunnydale and Trinity. But I can do a more complete read-through. Would I then delete the original entries? (Obviously I'm pretty new here.)

    Oblivious Town with a Secret?
  • February 20, 2013
    Arivne
    ^ Please only delete the examples from TWADS after this one is launched. Quite often new YKTTW's aren't launched for whatever reason. If you deleted the examples from TWADS first, they might be lost.
  • February 20, 2013
    Stratadrake
    I agree that TWADS (what a funny abbreviation) appears to have an issue when its description clearly states "everybody is in on it" when that is not always the case. Is this a job for TRS though? Or should we just expand the existing trope?
  • February 20, 2013
    Cassis
    ^^That's how I've been proceeding.

    ^As I said in my intro, I'm totally cool with expanding TWADS but I don't know how to go about it. Can any editor just go in and change the meaning of a trope? Or do any such changes go to trope repair? (Even when it's not so much broken as limited.) Or at what point is it worth breaking something out? There are fourteen examples so far, and TWADS has at least sixty (though on review there are definitely a few more that could move on to this). Is that a high enough percentage to warrant a separate trope?

    I actually have similar questions about a number of other tropes--they are the closest thing to an example I would want to include, but the descriptions are so precise or culture specific that my examples wouldn't fit (for example, the only trope that is specifically honor suicide is Seppuku, which is a particular kind of honor suicide, while Driven To Suicide contains a lot of different variants). There is probably a better place for newbie to ask these questions but I'm not sure where it is.
  • February 20, 2013
    Stratadrake
    Generally no, ordinary edits should not change the spirit of a trope's definition (especially if it affects what is or is not already an example of it). In the meantime, giving the article a Wick Check (i.e: looking at the trope's Related page, clicking pages and finding where the link is used) to see how many are spot-on with the current stated definition and (in this particular case) how many should actually belong to this broader proposal will give a good indication of how the existing page is already used; if there's a high percentage of use for the broader definition (and a 1 in 4 rate is definitely noticeable) then it's definitely worth discussing and proposing to change (in this case, expand) the page's definition.
  • February 21, 2013
    Cassis
    Okay, so do we think I should give up on this and just work on TWADS? Or is this common enough to be tropeworthy?
  • February 21, 2013
    marcoasalazarm
    I think this would be a good expansion of TWADS. For now, let's keep it as another Trope-if nobody goes around to fixing TWARDS to add this particular trope to it.
  • July 24, 2014
    marcoasalazarm
    Bump
  • July 24, 2014
    hvezdomuz
    I would say that "there is a secret people don't know about" sounds a lot like Masquerade. Maybe.
  • July 24, 2014
    DAN004
    Uh... So what is TWADS, and what is this?
  • July 24, 2014
    MorningStar1337
    ^ Town With A Dark Secret. A trope where everyone living in given neighborhood/county/village/town/city knows something off about their area and try to cover it up (the secret ranges to a conspiracy to supernatural stuff that could land them in the nuthouse they try try to warn them anyway or being entralled by said supernatural happening and forming a cult)

    This trope is alike but the key difference is that the inhabitants are Locked Out Of The Loop about the dark secret.
  • July 24, 2014
    f1shst1x
    Per How To Write An Example in Administrivia, the name of the work should be clearly stated towards the beginning of an example, not just pot holed as is currently the case with the Live Action TV examples featuring Storybrooke, Mystic Falls, and Sunnydale.
  • July 24, 2014
    BKelly95
    I think that Salem's Lot would be an example since the citizens aren't in on the secret of the vampires...until they start to be converted.
  • July 24, 2014
    jayoungr
    Does it have to be a whole town? Seems to me this could also apply to a family, possibly to an individual. If so, the title could be shortened to Secret Dark Secret.
  • July 24, 2014
    Generality
    In American Gods, Lakeside is a sleepy little town whose population has remained about the same for generations; it's stayed prosperous and avoided being either absorbed by a local megalopolis or drying up and becoming a ghost town. Sure the occasional youngster goes missing, but they probably just ran away to find someplace more exciting. In fact, exactly one young person is abducted per year, and sacrificed in a spell to keep the town the way it is.
  • July 24, 2014
    DAN004
    I guess TWADS needs a little tweaking so this can be merged with TWADS.
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