Created By: sturmovik on October 1, 2013 Last Edited By: ShanghaiSlave on October 9, 2013

Old Man Potter

Where a local plutocrat ends up dominating a small town and the lives of everyone in it

Name Space:
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Trope

Name Pickin' Crowner

He owns the waterworks, the railroad and the hotel on Baltic Avenue. If you cross him he'll not only burn down your house, but throw your mother out of work and send your best friend to the morgue. Forget about going to the police because he owns them too. You're only hope is to somehow recruit that stranger with the mysterious past, or, if you can find them, some mercenaries.

Named for the chief antagonist in It's a Wonderful Life, Old Man Potter is the capitalist successor to the previous class of landed gentry that used to fill the same role. Naturally there are numerous examples that helped inspired the trope and made such fingers highly salient to everyday people. Often portrayed as a Patriarch (or Matriarch) of an extended family that can serve as their muscle, Old Man Potter often succeed in completely cowing the entire town into accepting their villainy, even in societies where one wouldn't expect it.

Old Man Potter is always a Big Fish in a Small Pond, content to dominate their little fiefdom without much greater ambition. Often times they are able to get away with their crimes because nobody in the big city or state capitol notices what's going on out in the countryside. If a hero is unable to defeat Potter and his family by [[/Road House kicking]], most times just getting word out will be enough to summon The Cavalry.

While once popular in all forms of media, Old Man Potter is on his way to becoming a Discredited Trope, at least in the developed world. corrupt executives working for National, Multi-National or Megacorporations have stepped in to take their place as the Real Life local businesses that once influenced small town life have been bought up by larger and larger players whose wealthy owners don't even bother to live near the communities they are destroying.

Modern implementation of Aristocrats Are Evil. Compare with Corrupt Corporate Executive.


Examples:

Films
  • The Trope Namer from It's a Wonderful Life, Old Man Potter owns the only bank in town which, as we see in the alternate future, is enough to give him complete control of the lives of everyone in it and allowing him to turn it into an Egopolis. Stands out for not needing to use violence to get what he wants.
  • Brad Wesley exemplifies this trope in Road House, being able to do pretty much whatever he pleases while leaching off the citizens of Jasper using his son and the local police force to maintain order.
  • Biff Tannen becomes this in Hill Valley in the alternate timeline in Back to the Future Part II. The reveal of the alternate Hill Valley cinematically mimics that of "Potterville" in It's A Wonderful Life.
  • Mrs. Deagle from Gremlins owns the bank, is therefore the richest person in town, and is a bitch to everyone. (Also in the deleted scenes it's revealed she was forcing people out of their homes to put down a strip mall, effectively destroying Kingston Falls.)
    "The bank and I have the same purpose in life - to make money."
  • Miss Gulch from The Wizard of Oz. Threatens to bring a damage suit against a farm because of a small dog.

Live-Action TV
  • The A-Team seemed to go up against Old Man Potters in a majority of their episodes and might even serve as the modern day Trope Codifier.

Live-Action TV
  • The Lincoln County War was a feud between Lawrence Murphy and his business partner James Dolan, who were trying to maintain a dry goods monopoly, and newcomers John Tunstall, his partner Alexander McSween and their ranch hand Billy the Kid.
  • My Name Is Earl featured both Chubby and (after he died) his son Little Chubby owning damn near every store and operation in Camden County.

Western Animation
  • In The Simpsons Mr. Burns is a caricature of this trope that can be Played Straight or Played for Laughs Depending on the Writer. It is implied many times that he is above the law and controls many aspects of the local economy including the ability to plunge the city into darkness, but at the same time is routinely called to account by various regulators and lacks the ability to effectively threaten people.
  • Don Rosa's Scrooge Mc Duck is a an Lighter and Softer example with the whole of Duckburg being built around his financial empire. He nevertheless holds lease with the majority of the city, and holds sway with the local branch of the army, going as far as being able to order a missile strike to his doorstep. Played for Laughs, of course.

Community Feedback Replies: 29
  • October 1, 2013
    kjnoren
  • October 1, 2013
    sturmovik
    I figured that Old Man Potter was a highly apt example that hints to the evil and not just that they are wealthy. Tycoons aren't necessarily evil. For example the Daniel Day Lewis character in There Will be Blood would be a Local Tycoon, but not an Old Man Potter because he was never shown to own/control/intimidate the town in the way that Potter or Brad Wesley did.
  • October 1, 2013
    kjnoren
    Plenty of alternatives still. Corrupt Local Tycoon. Of course, I now found Corrupt Hick, which seems to fit nicely.
  • October 1, 2013
    nitrokitty
    We also have Company Town.
  • October 1, 2013
    Ryusui
    I like Corrupt Local Tycoon, but it doesn't quite imply the level of power that this trope suggests. Maybe The Town Overlord or some such?
  • October 1, 2013
    StarValkyrie
    Small Town Royalty? Small Town Big Man? I don't think this is really "discredited at least in the developed world" - firstly because it seems to me that this trope is overwhelmingly about American towns and that statement implies otherwise. But also, I think it's really a matter of how small the town and how all-powerful the character is portrayed as being. I grew up in a US town like this - I mean literally that the firetruck at the town fire station did not move unless someone from this one family was driving it because that was their acknowledged privilege... because they owned the drag race track and the bar... so maybe I tend to notice this more when it does appear, but I just feel like I still see this one a lot. I'll try to remember some specific examples but in the meantime, I definitely think the last paragraph needs to not imply this is a trope about Darkest Africa or something.
  • October 2, 2013
    DAN004
  • October 2, 2013
    Bisected8
  • October 2, 2013
    Lumpenprole
    In this case I think a Trope Namer is justified.

    • Boss Eustis, of Howard Waldrop's A Dozen Tough Jobs is the prototypical county boss of a rural southern county in the 1920s.
  • October 2, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    What The Fuck.

    i thought this was about "A Mentor Archetype who happens to be a potter who constantly uses pottery in his analogies".

    terrible trope namer.
  • October 2, 2013
    OlafMerchant
    Needs A Better Name, for certain. Very confusing in it's current form.

    Also, examples:

    • Don Rosa's Scrooge Mc Duck is a an Lighter And Softer example with the whole of Duckburg being built around his financial empire. He nevertheless holds lease with the majority of the city, and holds sway with the local branch of the army, going as far as being able to order a missile strike to his doorstep. Played For Laughs, of course.
  • October 2, 2013
    robinjohnson
    Seconding Local Tycoon. EDIT: ShangaiSlave convinced me to unsecond it.

  • October 2, 2013
    RandomSurfer
    How about just Local Plutocrat?
  • October 3, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    ^^&^ doesn't say anything about his way of running things.

    Downtown Dictator and Tyrranical Town Tycoon sound descriptive to me.
  • October 3, 2013
    DAN004
    Title crowner plz.
  • October 3, 2013
    Duncan
    • Mrs. Deagle from Gremlins owns the bank, is therefore the richest person in town, and is a bitch to everyone. (Also in the deleted scenes it's revealed she was forcing people out of their homes to put down a strip mall, effectively destroying Kingston Falls.)
      "The bank and I have the same purpose in life - to make money."
    • Miss Gulch from The Wizard Of Oz. Threatens to bring a damage suit against a farm because of a small dog.
  • October 5, 2013
    robinjohnson
    ^^^ Good point. I like Tyrannical Town Tycoon (spelt right :-) )
  • October 5, 2013
    kjnoren
    I like the name, but I think this would overlap a lot with the definition of Corrupt Hick (which has a poor name and I think some misuse, though).
  • October 5, 2013
    JDogindy
    Trope needs a better name, but here's an example.

    • My Name Is Earl featured both Chubby and (after he died) his son Little Chubby owning damn near every store and operation in Camden County.
  • October 5, 2013
    Arivne
    Namespaced and italicized work names.
  • October 7, 2013
    sturmovik
    I could go with Tyrannical Town Tycoon, but folks can feel free to provide additional suggestions. Town Overlord also has a nice ring to it and can cover situations where the person isn't that wealthy or derives power from non-traditional wealth.
  • October 7, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    here's your order of crowner sir. held the unmentioned suggestions.
  • October 7, 2013
    sturmovik
    I've never dealt with the rename process before, what's going on now?
  • October 7, 2013
    ShanghaiSlave
    from my short experience in YKTTWing, people vote for names and... that's it.

    you then choose whichever won.

    it's far less complicated when it's still in YKTTW. dunno how it goes when one gets a rename after it gets launched.
  • October 9, 2013
    sturmovik
    I still have reservations about the word Tycoon. Any suggestions with Mogul or Magnate?
  • October 9, 2013
    kjnoren
    Both are plenty fine to me, better than Tycoon.

    That said, this is pretty much Corrupt Hick as currently defined (though that name is quite poor), so I think that one needs to go to the Trope Repair Shop.
  • October 9, 2013
    sturmovik
    Tyranical Town Moguls are not corrupt hicks. While they might employ Corrupt Hicks they are rarely one themselves. In fact they are usually the money and the power behind Corrupt Hicks. I guess it depends on if Corrupt Hick is simply my proposed trope badly named or refers to corrupt small down law enforcement and other officials. I always felt it was like the relationship between The Boss and The Dragon. Mr Burns is the Tyranical Town Mogul and Chief Wiggum the Corrupt Hick.

    BTW I am aware of I Own This Town, but that can often include gangs and organized crime. Town Tyrants will almost always own the town, but towns are not always owned by Town Tyrants.

  • October 9, 2013
    kjnoren
    You just show that the trope name for Corrupt Hick is poor. Here is the first paragraph from it:

    The rural southern U.S., and indeed, the rural north of England, are apparently full of small towns run by evil hicks of some sort. His control over the town may be political, economic, religious, or purely criminal, but in most cases it gradually expands to "all of the above".
  • October 9, 2013
    sturmovik
    Going through the examples you get a mix of both types. "Corrupt Southern Sheriff" is a trope on its own. For example.

    The Simpsons: "Even I'm offended by this, and I'm a fat Southern sheriff!"

    • The Rich Texan has frequently been shown as a doing anything for money, yet does have a good side (he does love his gay son.)
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