Created By: Clendy82 on April 21, 2008
Nuked

The Gump

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"Yeah, sir, you might want to send a maintenance man over to that office across the way. The lights are off, and they must be looking for a fuse box, 'cause them flashlights, they keep me awake." -Forrest Gump, setting off the Watergate scandal

"That means it wasn't just history. It was me. I did it." -The Doctor, "The Fires of Pompeii"

Creating an original character is hard work. First you have to come up with a decent backstory and personality. Then you have to go and put them in these really tedious plots and situations where they, you know, have to interact with people and do things. More of a hassle than it's worth, really. So many people are doing the same thing all the time. How do you make a character really stand out?

What if it turns out that the character was responsible for a major well-known incident?

Enter The Gump. While in many cases an original and often very well written character in their own right, The Gump simply cannot get around the fact that a good chunk of his screen time is being the driving force behind major events that have already been written or described by others. In effect, he is made more interesting by association due to having "guest starred" in a suitably major event. Just like anything else, it depends on the strength of the writing. If done well, The Gump can be a brilliant twist on an old historical event or previous plot. If not, then he can be a leech who drains strength of character for himself at the expense of the host event.

Almost always the source of a Historical In-Joke. When done poorly or overbearingly, can be a sign of a Canon Sue.

Film:

  • The titular character, Forrest Gump, was based around this concept. Throughout the movie, he was responsible for exposing the Watergate break-ins, teaching Elvis how to dance, was involved in a famous anti-Vietnam rally, and founded the real world corporation Bubba Gump shrimp.
  • The second National Treasure movie featured a minor character, Nicholas Cage's character's great-grandfather, burning a vital clue to a hidden treasure given to him by John Wilkes Booth minutes before the assassination of President Lincoln, thus preventing the Confederates from recovering the treasure and having the funding to start a second Civil War.

TV

  • In almost a dark parody of Forrest Gump's life, the Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files has been responsible for the JFK assassination, rigged the Oscars, sabotaged the Soviet Union's goalie to allow for the US comeback in the 1980 Olympics, arranged a change of venue for the officers involved in the Rodney King beating, and has vowed that the Buffalo Bills will never win a Super Bowl and has taken steps to make that happen.
  • It should stand to reason that the Doctor is a flagrant abuser of this trope. Particularly egregious examples include having inspired Shakespeare with many of his signature lines and being responsible for the Mt. Vesuvius eruption (referenced in the quote above).
    • The older series is probably an embarrassment of riches of examples that somebody far more British than I will have to detail.
  • An episode of Star Trek: DS 9 takes a slightly different track. During an episode where much of the main cast was transported to the timeline of the original series, they were responsible for many of the offscreen events which took place during the Trouble With Tribbles episode. Thus, it is an example of DS 9 playing The Gump to another fictional series.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and to a greater extent Xena: Warrior Princess each had the titular characters delving into full-on Gumpdom. This troper believes that the latter series Jump the Shark moment came when Xena was responsible for Lucifer's fall from grace(?!)

Video Games:
  • Aldo Trapani, the main character from The Godfather: The Game, serves as the Corleone Family's personal Gump. He is responsible for removing Khartoum's head and placing it in Woltz's bed, beating the two kids who raped the Bonasera's daughter, assassinating both Paulie Gatto and Salvatore Tessio for betraying the Family, hiding the pistol Michael would use to kill Solozzo and Mc Cluskey, and participating in the assassination of the heads of the Five Families.

Literature: Nick "Ace" Geraci, from the Godfather sequels
Community Feedback Replies: 44
  • April 16, 2008
    LordTNK
    I think the Bubba Gump Srimp company was made after the movie.

    Otherwise, this is a trope, and an cool variation of Beethoven Was An Alien Spy.

    Deep Space Nine also had a Future History event about a famous mid-21st century riot, that Sisko found himself involved in.
  • April 16, 2008
    AirOfMystery
    Can you please spoiler the Doctor Who examples?
  • April 16, 2008
    Clendy82
    Can do.
  • April 16, 2008
    Faux Furry
    The main Character of The Godfather the game is a videogame example of this.
  • April 16, 2008
    Brickie
    Clendy - possibly the DW quote in the original post is worth spoilering as well.

  • April 16, 2008
    LordTNK
    A lot of the cutaway gags in Family Guy involve this.
  • April 16, 2008
    SchrodingersDuck
    I think just removing/tagging the episode title should be enough - after all, a good 20% of Doctor Who episodes probably have that sort of plot.
  • April 16, 2008
    Clendy82
    I had just thought of the Godfather character when I went to work this morning. I had thought of him while I was doing the initial writeup but he didn't make it onto the screen for some reason.

    I don't think that spoilering the quote is a good idea. I mean, what's the point of an introductory page quote if you have to unspoil it to read it? It should be vague enough that most people will have to read the in-depth example to understand the context.
  • April 16, 2008
    Withad
    So this is a character that goes around causing Historical In Jokes?

    Doctor Who has a huge number of examples. For example, I know that the Doctor started the great fire of Rome, wrote half of Shakespeare's plays (as well as getting rid of Love's Labour's Won and having one of his companions inspire a sonnet), was probably responsible for the sinking of the Titanic, found the reasons behind the royal family's haemophilia and Prince Albert's obsession with the Kohinoor, inspired a huge number of people (including Einstein, H G Wells and Charles Dickens), will at some point seriously annoy Queen Elizabeth and was/is/will be/could potentially become in an alternate universe Merlin.

    And that's not even going into all the other things in Earth's past that have been done by aliens. Kind of makes you wonder why the Doctor loves humans so much, since most of the interesting things in our history were done by him or one of his enemies...

    The X Files episode Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man made the titular CSM into The Gump for several historical events. It even references Gump in several places, though with a darker spin on it.
  • April 16, 2008
    INH
    Vandal Savage from DC Comics has a bunch of these. He's an immortal supervillain who is more than 50,000 years old. He claims to have been Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Blackbeard, and Vlad the Impaler, among others. He was also an advisor to Adolf Hitler, Napoleon, Bismarck, and Erik the Red.
  • April 16, 2008
    foxley
    Strictly speaking, the Doctor didn't start the Great Fire of Rome: he inspired it. His glasses accidentally ignited Nero's plan for a perfect city, causing Nero to realise that if he burnt Rome down, he would be able to construct his dream city.

    He did, however, give Odyesseus the plan to sneak into Troy inside a wooden horse.
  • April 16, 2008
    LordTNK
    @INH That's already Julius Beethoven Da Vinci. This is about people causing historical events, not being people in history.
  • April 16, 2008
    RossN
    Geraci is more of a Canon Sue IMO (though I suppose that doesn't stop him being The Gump).

    Indiana Jones from the Young Indiana Jones series?
  • April 16, 2008
    Clendy82
    To try and draw a distinct between them, Julius Beethoven Da Vinci is when the character actually is a historical figure, whereas The Gump is a character who somehow plays a behind-the-scenes part in bringing about a historical event.

    To use the Vandal Savage example, being all those people would make him the JBDV. But if somewhere along the way he happened to mention, "Say Adolf. I think attacking Russia would be a really good idea. Wait until next Spring? Nah! Go ahead, it'll work out fine", that would begin to wade through the shallow end of Gumpness.

    Hmmm. That reminds me.
  • April 16, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    John Loengard in Dark Skies, in all his attempts to expose the alien conspiracy, well... he kind of caused (or can at least be tied to) the events of the 1960's.
  • April 17, 2008
    Duncan
    Sam Beckett of Quantum Leap, also a frequent trope abuser.
  • April 17, 2008
    The Adversary
    Yuri Hyuga in Shadow Hearts and it's sequel (Among others) saved Anastasia Romanov from death, killed Rasputin, and failed to stop a Big Bad from unleashing a wave of evil energy that eventually caused World War I.
  • April 17, 2008
    ilikejawbreaker
    the Blackadder series is based around this trope.
  • April 17, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. The narrator, Gordianus the Finder, seems to have been involved behind the scenes in every political crisis of the time of Cicero and Caesar.
  • April 17, 2008
    foxley
    Can we call this something other than The Gump? The idea behind this trope is not the first thing that leaps to my mind when I hear someone described as The Gump.
  • April 18, 2008
    Clendy82
    As far as renaming the trope, I'm open to suggestions. Maybe Historical In Jokester?
  • April 18, 2008
    Doug S. Machina
    If it's a character name, I suggest The Zelig. IIRC, he was a similar character played by Woody Allen who predates Forrest Gump by several years. Or perhaps the Invisible Hand Of History, {mixing economist Adam Smith and ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair.)
  • April 18, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    Heh, I was going to add this... actually, wait, it was something related yet different... off to add now, I guess.

    The Cree, and, in particular, Erik, from [[Animorphs Animorphs]]. In most of their appearances it's revealed that they are the reason for specific events in history. Erik himself claims to be responsible for The New Deal, though it was in a Poker game.
  • April 18, 2008
    INH
    It's Chee, and I believe Erek only suggested the name "New Deal." There are probably a few other examples with him.
  • April 18, 2008
    foxley
  • April 18, 2008
    Rogue 7
    I think Erek was Beethoven's valet or something. I like The Gump- that movie needs more love around here.
  • April 18, 2008
    foxley
    The Gump makes me think of someone who speaks like Forest Gump, not someone pivotal to historical events.
  • April 18, 2008
    Clendy82
    True, while the first thing you think of when you think of Forrest Gump would be the Cloudcuckoolander, the second thing would be all of the neat historical events he was a part of. Though the "Life is a box of chocolates" line might be the second thing, actually.
  • April 19, 2008
    Doug S. Machina
    IIRC (which I seem to type a lot) the player character in WWII FPSs such as Medal Of Honor appear to be part of every crucial or famous event in the war.

  • April 19, 2008
    Noaqiyeum
    "...for we all knew that the most important events of every age never make it to the history books." - C. S. Lewis, The Dark Tower (and Other Stories)

    That's from memory, so fix-up as needed.

    History Is Made By Stupid People? Mmm, too Gump-specific.
  • April 20, 2008
    foxley
    The Doctor is not stupid. Behind The Historical Scene?
  • April 20, 2008
    Antheia
    That Was Me?

    I'm also wondering wheter all those fictional people who knocked the Sphinx's nose off would count.
  • April 20, 2008
    maxmordon
    One Chapulin Colorado episode have him [spoiler:Accidentaly killing Hitler. I Am Not Making This Up]

    From El Chapulin Colorado (mexican superhero parody from the 70's) [After accidentally killing Hitler] "Then they will say he killed himself"

    Watch this if you don't believe me:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt5Kp156omU
  • April 20, 2008
    UnknownTroper
    Hmm, I looked around a little and I think we already have this under Historical In Joke.

    Maybe we should split between "played for laughs" and "deadly serious"?
  • April 20, 2008
    Stinkoman87
    In Reborn Vol 7, it is said that the winner of this one contest the Vongola Family holds gets their wish. One of them became the first man on the moon. Niel Armstrong has Mafia connections.
  • April 20, 2008
    Gamingboy
    John Amsterdam from the all-too-cool but probably canceled show New Amsterdam.
  • April 20, 2008
    foxley
    In the Marvel Universe, it was the original Human Torch who killed Hitler (who told his staff as he was burning to death to say he committed suicide).

    In The DCU, it was the Unkown Soldier who helped Hitler commit suicide.
  • April 20, 2008
    Clendy82
    Maybe The Gump Of History? Historical Gump? Gump Retcon?

    Ooooh, I like that. Gump Retcon. Any objections?
  • April 20, 2008
    foxley
    I'd really prefer not to mention Gump in the title. Doctor Who Retcon?
  • April 20, 2008
    Ghilz
    I like Gump Retcon more then Doctor Who Retcon personally.
  • April 21, 2008
    foxley
    The Doctor was doing this decades before Forest Gump.
  • April 21, 2008
    Recon5
    I think there's an important point which has been missed. The Gump is essentially a deep, complex character whose limelight is stolen by the events that he inspired. I'm sure more people remember his pulling down his pants before the President than his first run. The first was just for laughs, while the second was the defining moment of his character. In essence, the focus is shifted away from the character to the events he sets in motion despite him being more deserving of the attention.
  • April 21, 2008
    Clendy82
    As much as I like Doctor Who, I'd still like to keep Gump in the title simply because he's more readily identifiable as a driving force behind historical events than the Doctor. In the new series, such Gump-like events turn up only every so often; perhaps once or twice a season. I can't imagine the old series would have been that much different without including liberal amounts of Beethoven Was An Alien Spy and In The Past Everyone Will Be Famous. On the whole, the various Gump examples play the intended trope more straight than the Doctor's.
  • April 22, 2008
    FireWalk
    Agree with Gump Retcon. Doctor Who Retcon could mean anything.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=hzz0c8jj&trope=TheGump