Created By: Omrega on April 25, 2014 Last Edited By: Omrega on July 11, 2014

Arguing With a Brick Wall

Carrying on an argument with a non-sapient partner

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Trope
Some topics will get a person worked up, so worked up that he'll begin to argue with anyone in the area. After his self-justification has reached a certain pitch, he may realize that the thing he's been justifying himself to isn't worth it. It's not even alive, or at least not in the sense of having a mind. This realization will be followed by the character hanging a lampshade on the fact that he's been carrying on an argument with a pointless target.

This has a few variations:

  • a character has a rhetorical conversation with an inanimate object that reveals an internal conflict as they realize that they are really trying to justify their position to themselves
  • a character imagines or hallucinates a literal two-sided debate with an object or non-sapient entity
  • a character argues with a non-sapient that can respond, though not necessarily intelligently

Related to Consulting Mr Puppet.

Used to be called Arguing With The Nonsentient.

Examples

Fan Works

Film
  • In Maleficent this trope is used to show Stefan's insanity: when a servant informs him that his wife is dying, he sends him away and berates him for intruding on his conversation. He was actually hallucinating a conversation with Maleficent's severed wings
  • In Man of Steel, Zod argues with Jor-El's hologram for a while before concluding, "And I'm arguing [my plan] with a ghost."

Live-Action TV
  • In the series Little House on the Prairie, an elderly woman is being courted by an elderly man. At first it is unwelcome. Toward the end of the episode, the woman tells her cat to get down off the table. When the cat doesn't respond to the command, this realization occurs. "I said get down! Do you understand me? No... of course you don't understand me. You're a cat. That man out there loves me, and I'm in here talking to a cat."
  • In The Odd Couple series, Oscar ends up trying to justify himself to a tombstone after he bets the deposit money for Felix's grave plot on a slow horse.

Video Games

Web Original
  • In Mr Welch's 100 Ways to Annoy Wargamers, one item is "Discuss tactics with your [models]. Become argumentative."

Real Life
  • During the 2012 Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair he was pretending was Barack Obama.
Community Feedback Replies: 40
  • April 25, 2014
    DAN004
  • April 26, 2014
    Arivne
    • Formatted the Examples section.
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Blue Linked Example section media titles(s).
    • Namespaced work name(s).
  • April 26, 2014
    Elfkaiser
    • In the midst of dealing with the Mecha Maid's confession that she's actually in love with her and her own feelings on the matter, Spinnerette finally confronts her bottom left hand that's been giving hints over the past several issues of her subconscious true sexuality. To get a straight answer, she gives her bottom left hand a pen and paper to finally write down upfront her true feelings. After some time of no results, it dawns on Spinnerette the absurdity of what she's doing much to her frustration.
  • April 26, 2014
    MorningStar1337
    I think there's an example with Spongebob talking to a billboard but I forgot the context.
  • April 26, 2014
    Omrega
    ^^ I'm not sure that that is an example. She's just writing stuff down, not arguing with a non-sentient thing.
  • April 26, 2014
    JonnyB
    In the sci-fi novel Blindsight, the crew attempts a conversation with a threatening alien vessel in a first contact scenario, before figuring out that they're talking to a "Chinese room", and the life form does not have sentience or consciousness as we know it; in fact considers sentience to be a virus that needs to be eradicated.
  • April 26, 2014
    Elfkaiser
    ^^ She seemed to be arguing with her bottom left hand rather profoundly. Also seemed to forgot the part where she asks it if it needs a Ouija Board and she facepalms herself at the whole thing.
  • April 26, 2014
    Mozgwsloiku
    In V Ampire The Masquerade Bloodlines, a Malkavian character can argue with a stop sign.
  • April 26, 2014
    Bisected8
    • Double Subverted in I Robot. A holographic recording of Dr. Lanning specifically activates to get Will Smith's character's attention and is able to answer questions (thanks to having a basic AI)...but doesn't say anything useful. Later on, it turns out the recording needed the right prompting, since he was essentially being held prisoner by V.I.K.I and had to record it in a way which would let Spooner work it out himself.
      "I'm sorry. My responses are limited. You must ask the right questions."
  • April 26, 2014
    Scorpion451
    I'd call this Arguing With A Brick Wall, like the saying.

    Good way to sum it up might be "A character has a heated discussion with an inanimate or non-sentient partner."

    I can think of a few standard variants, too:
    • a character has a retorical conversation with an inanimate object that reveals an internal conflict as they realize that they are really trying to justify their position to themselves
    • a character imagines or hallucinates a literal two-sided debate with an object or nonsentient entity
    • a character argues with a non-sentient that can respond, though not necessarily intelligently- say a cat or dog responding with a blank stare or a confused head tilt, or the above example with the AI from I, Robot.
  • April 26, 2014
    DAN004
    A variant is arguing with a photo of someone you're pretending to talk to.
  • April 27, 2014
    crazysamaritan
    There's also cases where the "object" is actually another person, but the character arguing doesn't give them time to contribute.
  • April 27, 2014
    Omrega
    ^ I'm not sure that counts.
  • April 28, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    Film
    • Played With in Red Cliff, During the "Borrowing of 100,000 Arrows" chapter, Zhuge Liang and Lu Su were having arrows rained upon their boat covered with straw (some arrows got in and almost hit them too). Lu Su keeps trying to ask Zhuge Liang about their safety, but he just keeps silent to invoke Unspoken Plan Guarantee, Lu Su eventually gave up and started talking to a Straw Effigy that was inside with them instead, Lampshading how ridiculous it is since he's with someone already.
  • April 28, 2014
    Scorpion451
    ^^^Hmm, might be on to something with that one- I've seen it played where they do answer, but its totally ignored or misinterpreted, or with the Smart Guy in The Madness Place hashing out theories with a bunch of blank stares(even shows up both ways simultaneously in the Girl Genius panel used as the page image for The Madness Place).

    Treating a conversation with someone as this trope might be a sub trope of this one.
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ would this count in that?
    • In Thor The Dark World, Dr. Selvig is teaching about the "convergence of realms"... in an insane asylum. And nobody listens to him. (Except for Stan Lee.)
  • April 28, 2014
    DAN004
    Btw compare this trope with Trick Dialogue.

    Some examples in that may fit here too.
  • May 5, 2014
    Omrega
    ^^Counting a conversation with a person seems strange. The point is that they're talking to something that cannot (theoretically) understand them.

    Do you think Talking To A Brick Wall is good? It calls up the idea of stubbornness rather than merely talking with something inanimate or non-sentient.

    I'm also not sure the Blindsight one counts; they don't know it's non-sentient.
  • May 7, 2014
    Koveras
    To expand on the VTM:B example: The Malkavians are a clan of vampires whose shtick is being incurably insane. In addition to arguing with a road sign, a Malkavian character can also chat with a TV set and get some unfunny jokes out of it.
  • May 7, 2014
    dalek955
    • In Mr Welch's 100 Ways to Annoy Wargamers, one item is "Discuss tactics with your [models]. Become argumentative."
  • May 27, 2014
    Omrega
    A lot of these seem to be more "Talking to the Nonsentient" than "Arguing With the Nonsentient."
  • May 27, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ but that is tropable as well, right?
  • June 14, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • June 14, 2014
    randomsurfer
    During the 2012 Republican National Convention, Clint Eastwood talked to an empty chair he was pretending was Barack Obama.
  • June 15, 2014
    WaterBlap
    "a non-sentient that can respond"

    "Sentient" means "responsive to." You can't be non-sentient and able to respond. Maybe Arguing With The Nonsapient (sapient) would be a better name (or Arguing With A Brick Wall as above).
  • June 15, 2014
    Andygal
    This is definitely Truth In Television, as a lot of people argue with their pets, or household appliances that aren't working properly.
  • June 15, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ What do you mean? Chairs, walls etc cannot respond to anything, right?
  • June 15, 2014
    WaterBlap
    ^ I mean that if the non-sentient can respond, then it is sentient... by the definition of the word "sentient."
  • June 15, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ ah, forgot that you're talking about the description.

    For the third case, yeah, it's "nonsapient" instead.
  • June 15, 2014
    Omrega
    ^ Okay, then.
  • June 15, 2014
    DAN004
    Description should note that it doesn't have to be a brick wall.
  • June 23, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Bump.
  • July 7, 2014
    StrangeBro
    Should Consulting Mister Puppet be cross-referenced as a related-but-contrasting trope?
  • July 7, 2014
    Synchronicity
    • In Maleficent this trope is used to show Stefan's insanity: when a servant informs him that his wife is dying, he sends him away and berates him for intruding on his conversation. He was actually hallucinating a conversation with Maleficent's severed wings.
  • July 7, 2014
    Omrega
    I'm trying to decide if this trope has to have the person realize that what he's arguing with is incapable of a meaningful response.
  • July 7, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ would arguing with an unconscious person count, then?
  • July 7, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    In The Odd Couple series, Oscar ends up trying to justify himself to a tombstone after he bets the deposit money for Felix's grave plot on a slow horse.
  • July 7, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
  • July 7, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ oh, thanks.
  • July 8, 2014
    Alvin
    Comic Strips: I'm certain there's a Peanuts strip that goes like this: Linus makes a speech to a brick wall, then makes the same speech to Lucy, and, getting no response, goes to Charlie Brown and says "You're right. It's just like talking to a brick wall."
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