Created By: RaustBD on January 6, 2012

Shooting the Swiss Messenger

A small prank snowballs into a massive catastrophe, prankster blamed.

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The local petty troublemaker in town shoots a spitball into a bar, hitting a man on the back of the head. The man suspects the man next to him, and starts a fight with him, spilling a particularly flammable drink, dropping his cigarette, and setting the bar on fire. The fire spreads to the rest of the town with no hope of containment, and the terrified townsfolk are forced to flee their home, and watch from a neighboring hillside as it goes up in smoke, killing the residents of a local orphanage in the process. When the townsfolk get over their shock, they will inevitably glare at the troublemaker, who will then be severely punished, disowned, socially ostracized, or otherwise dealt comeuppance.

Nobody, oftentimes not even the troublemaker, will realize, much less point out, how outlandishly insane and unfair this reaction is.

If anybody could have predicted the consequences of that small prank, it would have been by luck, and yet since what he did was the tiniest pixel to the "evil" side of the sliding scale, everyone will treat the troublemaker like an arsonist, all because of circumstances entirely outside of his control. The troublemaker will never point this out, and if he did, he'd look like a prick, and that's assuming he even realizes this at all. Most of the time what he "did" will haunt him for the rest of his life.

When this happens, we have an instance of Shooting the Swiss Messenger; a tiny misdemeanor causes the offender to be held accountable for the absolutely ridiculous consequences that somehow arose from it.
Community Feedback Replies: 17
  • January 6, 2012
    Psychobabble6
    I like it. But the title isn't really clear, I don't think, and do you have any examples?
  • January 6, 2012
    RaustBD
    As a matter of fact I do. A children's book called "Why mosquitoes buzz in people's ears" has a huge instance of this, where a mosquito says something annoying to a lizard, who plugs his ears as a result, which causes a retarded chain reaction that results in the death of a baby bird. The mother refuses to call forth the morning sun unless the guilty party is found, and they work their way from the monkey who accidentally broke the branch that killed the baby all the way down the chain back to the mosquito, and they all chant "Punish the mosquito! Punish the mosquito!", and mosquitoes buzz in peoples' ears because they're asking people "is everybody still mad at me"?
  • January 6, 2012
    SeptimusHeap
    Swiss Messenger was renamed, and here it is "Just A Title And A Trope". Small Cause Big Effect?
  • January 6, 2012
    RaustBD
    The point of this trope is that the small causer gets the blame for the big effect, so "Small cause big effect" doesn't really convey that... Huh, it's a bit of a puzzle...
  • January 6, 2012
    Noaqiyeum
    Blame For The Consequences? Or something along those lines?
  • January 6, 2012
    Bisected8
    I think this might be covered by Misblamed. Could be a subtrope though....
  • January 6, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Sadly, this is often Truth In Television. For example, people have been charged with murder because while they were committing a minor felony a bystander died of a heart attack.
  • January 6, 2012
    Faramir
    ^ The felony murder rules work on the principle that there are reasonably predictable results of committing a felony. If you rob a bank you are causing massive stress on the victim and bystanders so a heart attack is a reasonably predictable result. So felony murder would not really be an example of this trope since no reasonable person could predict the Disaster Dominoes.
  • January 6, 2012
    scatterclubs
    Speaking of which, Blame The First Domino for the title?
  • January 6, 2012
    RaustBD
    Blame the First Domino, huh? Interesting...
  • January 8, 2012
    RaustBD
    Okay, who votes for Blame The First Domino?
  • January 9, 2012
    Lumpenprole
    Seconded.
  • January 9, 2012
    DrMcNinja
    Could you avoid the Example As A Thesis? There are already enough of them and it would be nice not to add another.

    The name "Blame The First Domino" doesn't sound bad. You should write the examples to see how many of them you have for the moment, just the mosquito isn't enough to launch the trope.
  • January 11, 2012
    scatterclubs
    Description could be something like: When a largely unfavorable event occurs, those affected will attempt to trace its origins. If the event was caused by a series of events started by a small prank or misdemeanor, the oblivious instigator will be blamed for the entire catastrophe.
  • January 11, 2012
    NoirGrimoir
    Swiss Messenger is now named Unwitting Instigator Of Doom, you know.
  • January 11, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Real Life: the Great Chicago Fire was blamed on Mrs. O'Leary's cow kicking an oil lamp over. Even though it's known that that wasn't the cause, it's still in popular culture as the cause.
  • January 13, 2012
    Tropez
    Happened in the original Police Academy although the instigator was never identified. Gave rise to the expression "who knows how these things start?"

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