Created By: Lawman592 on November 26, 2013 Last Edited By: Lawman592 on August 12, 2016

Karmic Misfire

The cosmos inflicts Misplaced Retribution on an undeserving character.

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In an ideal universe, good and bad Karma would be fairly and judiciously parceled out and distributed to everyone according to their actions.

Works with the Karmic Misfire trope are not set in an ideal universe.

With a Karmic Misfire, a character who escapes with a Karma Houdini will have at least one Karmic Butt Monkey who'll be punished in his or her place. And, to make matters worse, the punishment inflicted on the poor undeserving sap can be far greater than the crime the actual guilty party committed.

Usually, the character who receives Karmic Misfire is completely innocent of wrongdoing and just had the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, sometimes Karmic Misfire can also hit characters who were involved in the real guilty party's actions albeit unknowingly, reluctantly, or to a significantly lesser degree. In any case, the common factor in all these instances is that the person who is primarily responsible karmically gets off lightly or scot-free while someone else who was slightly involved or uninvolved gets hammered.

Karmic Misfire can be employed to demonstrate that the universe is basically an unfair place. If any supreme authority or authorities exist, they are either (at best) indifferent or (at worst) sadistic in how they parcel out justice. Other times, a creator will use Karmic Misfire for no other reason other than to be funny. This will often happen in a Black Comedy, Kafka Komedy or Sadist Show. In these cases, the Karmic Misfire will sometimes be the result of incompetence on a cosmic level.

The Cosmic Plaything is often someone who's the target of Karmic Misfire. Also see the Bewildering Punishment, Can't Get Away with Nuthin' , No Good Deed Goes Unpunished, Fall Guy, The Scapegoat, and Rerouted From Heaven tropes.

Compare with the Guilt by Association Gag in which the guilty party is deservedly punished along with people who clearly don't deserve to be and Sins of Our Fathers where the punishment continues to be passed down to the original wrongdoer's descendants regardless of whether they did anything to deserve it.


Examples

Film
  • In The Parallax View, the protagonist Frady (Warren Beatty) not only fails to publicly unmask the true nature of the Parallax Corporation and prevent their assassination of a senator but is also killed at the scene and ends up being blamed for the assassination by the official investigation committee. Meanwhile, the Parallax Corporation is able to continue its murderous operations unscathed.
  • The main character of Arlington Road, Michael Faraday (Jeff Bridges), tries to prevent his right-wing terrorist neighbor from bombing the FBI headquarters but, like in The Parallax View, he ends up dying and being blamed for it as a result of the orchestrations of the neighbor.
  • Inspector Clouseau in the original The Pink Panther ends up in prison after being framed for stealing the eponymous diamond while the actual culprits - Sir Charles Lytton, his nephew, and Clouseau's adulterous soon-to-be-ex wife - get to drive off into the sunset, laughing. And the reason the innocent Clouseau gets nailed while they get off scot-free? The princess who owns the Pink Panther knows that Lytton tried to steal it, but she doesn't want him to go to jail, so she herself frames Clouseau at the last possible moment!

Comic Books
  • In Chick Tracts, the unintended message is that God will send even good people to hell for not vocally accepting a very specific set of Independent Baptist teachings while people who unapologetically live their entire lives in a manner that's destructive to themselves and others will get off with no punishment or consequences of any kind if they say the correct magic words and accept Jesus right before death.

Jokes
  • Two men are playing golf, when one misses his shot and starts swearing. The other, being a priest, tells him to stop taking the name of the Lord in vain. The man apologizes and they keep playing. A while later, he misses again, starts cursing, with the priest begging him to stop as storm clouds gather. Still later, the man misses again, starts cursing, and as thunder booms and skies darken, a lightning bolt kills... the priest. And a voice comes out of the clouds saying, "Oh Me-fucking dammit! Fucking missed!"
  • In an Israeli joke, a religious man decides he wants to experience secular hedonism for once. He takes off his yarmulke and heads out to a nightclub, but a car runs over him on the way. When he gets to Heaven and meets God, he calls him out for this Disproportionate Retribution, and God answers, "Oh, sorry, I didn't recognize you."

Literature
  • In Joel Chandler Harris's Brer Rabbit story 'Mr. Rabbit Nips the Butter', Brer Rabbit, Brer Fox, and Brer Possum are out in the woods together when Brer Rabbit steals their butter supply while the others are sleeping. He eats it, and then smears it on Brer Possum. This results in an argument the next day, resulting in a strange "trial". A fire is set up, and all three of them have to jump over the fire. The one that fails to make the jump is declared the guilty party. Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox make it over the fire with minor singing, but Brer Possum lands straight in the fire and "Keblam! And dat was the last of ole Brer Possum." The little boy to whom Uncle Remus tells the story objects to this injustice, saying that Brer Possum didn't steal the butter and Uncle Remus replies that "in this world, lots of folks gonna suffer for other folks' sins."
  • In the Discworld, there is a god of Strong Drink and Partying, Bibulous, who is continually drunk and who has a wonderful time with lots of very appreciative nymphs and handmaidens. He never, ever, throws up or has a hangover, the usual consequence for mere humans who party too hard. The unfortunate deity who gets the karmic feedback which would rightly belong to Bibulous is called Bilious, the Oh, God! of the Morning After. Everything on the Discworld has its equal and opposite quality. It is the fate of Bilious to get all the negative stuff connected with drinking heavily, so that bibulous does not have to. He is described as thin and pail, in a stained toga, with a laurel wreath too large for him and somewhat tatty, which has slipped over one ear. He is frequently ill, suffers from splitting headaches, cannot stand bright light, and lives in a sense of existential drea that he will remember some excruciatingly embarrasing or ill-advised thing he did on some unspecified Last Night that got him into this state in the first place. No, it isn't fair. But nothing on the Discworld is "fair".
  • This is discussed in Percy Jackson and the Olympians. The gods, by their nature cannot be punished and so the penalty for their misdeeds often falls upon their children. This is the source for a great deal of bitterness among demigods, and part of the reason so many followed Luke.
  • In Justine by the Marquis de Sade, the title character is consistently punished for her decent behavior while her persecutors experience nothing but boons for their cruelty and selfishness.
  • In Pact, due to Sins of Our Fathers being in effect, otherwise good or at least decent people can have bad things happen to them as a result of their ancestor's actions. This is the case for the main protagonist, Blake Thorburn, who suffers greatly as a result of the large amount of bad karma amassed by his diabolist (demon summoners) ancestors making it so that his fellow practitioners have issues seeing past his karma to judge him on his own merits.

Live-Action Television
  • Pick pretty much any episode of Drake & Josh in which the two titular heroes try to get Megan punished for something she did wrong. Chances are, the parents will not believe their true story, and instead believe Megan's lies and punish them while Megan gets off scot-free.
  • Conversed in The Stinger of one episode of The Vicar of Dibley. Geraldine tells Alice a version of the above joke about God aiming for Sir Swears-a-Lot and hitting the priest instead, and Alice, Comically Missing the Point as usual, complains that the joke is stupid because God wouldn't miss, "and he certainly wouldn't swear."

Mythology
  • In one version of the Medusa myth, the god Poseidon defiles Athena's temple by raping the priestess Medusa there. Athena is so enraged by her temple being violated that she curses Medusa by turning her into a gorgon whose appearance is so hideous that it causes on-lookers to turn to stone. Of course the real guilty party, Poseidon, escapes without even the slightest punishment because he's a god.

Philosophy
  • In one of the Platonic Dialogues, this trope is used to illustrate the question of whether morality comes merely from reward and punishment or from some deeper source. In his example, Plato uses a theoretical "loved tyrant" who gets one Karma Houdini after another as the counterpart to a "hated philosopher" who is a perpetual Karmic Butt Monkey. In Plato's view, the philosopher is still better off because through his well-ordered rational soul, he has found Eudaimonia (true happiness) despite having his eyes gouged out with a hot poker and being sent to Hell by the Greek gods who are just as susceptible to false propaganda as the mortals.

Western Animation
  • In some of the Tom and Jerry shorts, one of the leads starts the feud and yet still ends up the victor while the other victimized character faces a slapstick penalty. (Contrary to popular belief, these weren't always in Jerry's favor since Tom manages to come out on top in a few odd shorts despite being the blatant villain.)

Real Life
  • The then-Bishop of Durham, an academic theologian with little practical experience of pastoral religion, made a speech not intended for public dissemination, aimed at other academic theologians, in which he questioned the literal reality of the Virgin Birth and hinted that even the divinity of Jesus was up for questioning. This inevitably escaped into the public domain and the suitability of this person to be an Anglican Bishop was questioned. Two days after this got into the press, the cathedral of York, a hundred miles away from Durham, was hit by lightning during a thunderstorm, causing millions of pounds worth of damage in the consequent roof collapse and fire. Britain's more excitable tabloids put out the story that this was divine anger at a bishop "preaching atheism from the pulpit". But York was a long way away from Durham and happened to be the seat of a far more orthodox prelate who literally believed in the Bible story and had no problems accepting both the Virgin Birth and the divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The fact Durham got off unscathed was held, if anything, to be evidence God has both a bad temper and lousy aim.
Community Feedback Replies: 43
  • November 26, 2013
    Chabal2
    • A joke: Two men are playing golf, when one misses his shot and starts swearing. The other, being a priest, tells him to stop taking the name of the Lord in vain. The man apologizes and they keep playing. A while later, he misses again, starts cursing, with the priest begging him to stop as storm clouds gather. Still later, the man misses again, starts cursing, and as thunder booms and skies darken, a lightningbolt kills... the priest. And a voice comes out of the clouds saying "Oh Me-fucking dammit! Fucking missed!"
  • November 27, 2013
    DAN004
    Expect lots of Dude Not Funny
  • November 27, 2013
    Larkmarn
    Do you have... like... any examples at all? This seems like it's either Too Rare To Trope, or just covered Karma Houdini.
  • November 27, 2013
    PhantomDusclops92
  • November 27, 2013
    Lawman592
    ^ I think basis behind that joke is that Steven Seagal has the reputation of being a huge jerk.
  • November 27, 2013
    Hodor
    I think this trope is called Did Not Eat The Mousse
  • November 27, 2013
    Hodor
    This trope is Guilt By Association Gag.
  • November 28, 2013
    Lawman592
    ^ Not necessarily. Misaimed Karma has the real guilty party get off lightly or scot free. With the Guilt By Association Gag, the guilty party also ends up being punished.
  • November 28, 2013
    AP
    It does seem similar to Karma Houdini. Granted, a Karma Houdini doesn't actually have to be rewarded by karma, just escape it, but it seems a little like The Same But More.
  • November 28, 2013
    DAN004
    Well everytime Misaimed Karma happens, Karma Houdini also happens. So it's a supertrope/sister trope.
  • November 28, 2013
    Lawman592
    I was wondering whether Karmic Misfire be a better title?
  • November 28, 2013
    DAN004
    ^ Can work as a redirect.
  • December 5, 2013
    Lawman592
    I'm curious whether anyone thinks the Brer Possum story and Arlington Road are good examples for this proposed trope. I was also thinking of adding The Parallax View.
  • December 8, 2013
    Lawman592
    Bumped.
  • December 10, 2013
    Lawman592
    Title changed to Karmic Misfire.
  • December 18, 2013
    FlyingDuckManGenesis
    • Pick pretty much any episode of Drake And Josh in which the two titular heroes try to get Megan punished for something she did wrong. Chances are, the parents will not believe their true story, and instead believe Megan's lies and punish them while Megan gets off scot-free.
  • January 9, 2014
    Lawman592
    Bumped.
  • January 22, 2014
    randomsurfer
    On South Park Timmy is jealous of Jimmy, and so tries to kill him with a kindness: a present, specifically a jacket which looks just like Kenny's. A grateful Jimmy puts the jacket on and the universe tries to kill him (lightning strikes, runaway speeding car, etc.) barely missing each time.
  • March 7, 2014
    Lawman592
    Added the Medusa/Poseidon myth as an example. Tell me whether you think it belongs or not.
  • March 12, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ I don't think that counts. During the time, Medusa's punishment was considered just so there's really no "misfire" happening there.
  • March 12, 2014
    Lawman592
    ^ In the main article, I mentioned Values Dissonance between the time when the story originated and today as one source of this proposed trope.
  • March 12, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ Oh, right. Didn't notice that part. Nevermind then.
  • March 25, 2014
    randomsurfer
    1998: Pat Robertson publicly denounced Walt Disney World for its "Gay Days," saying that acceptance of homosexuality would bring down hurricanes, tornados, etc. During the 1998 season Hurricane Bonnie, which was headed towards Florida, suddenly shifted direction and hit Virginia Beach VA, which is where Robertson's The 700 Club is headquartered. Other hurricanes hit Florida that year, but none hit Disney.
  • March 25, 2014
    Lawman592
    ^ Was that last one really a Karmic Misfire?
  • March 25, 2014
    Tallens
    • This is discussed in Percy Jackson And The Olympians. The gods, by their nature cannot be punished and so the penalty for their misdeeds often falls upon their children. This is the source for a great deal of bitterness among demigods, and part of the reason so many followed Luke.
  • March 27, 2014
    randomsurfer
    ^^Yes from Robertson's POV, since he's the one who invoked Divine Retribution.

  • March 27, 2014
    Lawman592
    ^ Well, the Robertson example is definitely a case of YMMV.
  • April 16, 2014
    StarSword
    Live-Action TV:
  • May 7, 2014
    DAN004
    Who wanna grab this?
  • October 1, 2014
    Lawman592
    Bump.
  • October 1, 2014
    SvartiKotturinn
    In an Israeli joke, a religious man decides he wants to experience secular hedonism for once. He takes off his yarmukle and heads out to a nightclub, but a car runs over him on the way. When he gets to Heaven and meets God, he calls him out for this Disproportionate Retribution, and God answers, 'Oh, sorry, I didn't recognise you...'
  • December 4, 2014
    Arivne
    • Examples section
      • Added a line separating the Description and Examples sections.
      • Blue Linked media section titles (where possible).
      • Corrected improper Example Indentation in the The Pink Panther example.
      • Italicized work names.
      • Corrected spelling (themseleves, lightningbolt, yarmukle).
      • De-italicized yarmulke.
  • March 26, 2015
    Psi001
    • A handful of shorts from the Tom And Jerry involve one of the leads starting to feud and yet still ending up the victor while the other victimised character faces a slapstick penalty instead (contrary to popular belief these weren't always in Jerry's favour, Tom won odd shorts despite being the blatant villain as well).
  • May 20, 2015
    MagBas
    " Other times, it can be due to Values Dissonance between the era and/or culture that produced the work and the present day. " Values Dissonance is YMMV and (new) negative ymmvs are not supposed to be created.
  • May 23, 2015
    AgProv
    Real Life (alleged or commonly interpreted)
    • The then Bishop of Durham, an academic theologian with little practical experience of pastoral religion, made a speech not intended for public dissemination, aimed at other academic theologians, in which he questioned the literal reality of the Virgin Birth and hinted that even the divinity of Jesus was up for questioning. This inevitably escaped into the public domain and the suitability of this person to be an Anglican Bishop was questioned. Two days after this got into the press, the cathedral of York, a hundred miles away from Durham, was hit by lightning during a thunderstorm, causing millions of pounds worth of damage in the consequent roof collapse and fire. Britain's more excitable tabloids put out the story that this was divine anger at a bishop "preaching atheism from the pulpit". But York was a long way away from Durham and happened to be the seat of a far more orthodox prelate who literally believed in the Bible story and had no problems accepting both the Virgin Birth and the divinity of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. The fact Durham got off unscathed was held, if anything, to be evidence God has both a bad temper and lousy aim.
  • May 26, 2015
    Morgenthaler
  • May 13, 2016
    Lawman592
    Bumped
  • May 14, 2016
    MagBas
    Reading the description, i noted three things: a- It links to the Bad Writing Index, implying it is a complaining trope. b- It links to Values Dissonance, an YMMV. c- Despite a and b, it accepts real life examples.
  • May 14, 2016
    DAN004
    ^ And I fail to see anything bad in that.
  • May 21, 2016
    AgProv
    In the Discworld, there is a god of Strong Drink and Partying, Bibulous, who is continually drunk and who has a wonderful time with lots of very appreciative nymphs and handmaidens. He never, ever, throws up or has a hangover, the usual consequence for mere humans who party too hard. The unfortunate deity who gets the karmic feedback which would rightly belong to Bibulous is called Bilious, the Oh, God! of the Morning After. Everything on the Discworld has its equal and opposite quality. It is the fate of Bilious to get all the negative stuff connected with drinking heavily, so that bibulous does not have to. He is described as thin and pail, in a stained toga, with a laurel wreath too large for him and somewhat tatty, which has slipped over one ear. He is frequently ill, suffers from splitting headaches, cannot stand bright light, and lives in a sense of existential drea that he will remember some excruciatingly embarrasing or ill-advised thing he did on some unspecified Last Night that got him into this state in the first place. No, it isn't fair. But nothing on the Discworld is "fair"....
  • May 22, 2016
    MagBas
    As mentioned by Berrenta in the YKTTW Crash Rescue thread when i questioned about the sixth paragraph: " Correct. We do not need more complaining tropes. That paragraph can be rewritten or removed. "
  • May 22, 2016
    DAN004
    Plz mention Black Comedy there.
  • August 4, 2016
    rmctagg09
    Compare Sins Of Our Fathers.

    • In Pact, due to Sins Of Our Fathers being in effect, otherwise good or at least decent people can have bad things happen to them as a result of their ancestor's actions. This is the case for the main protagonist, Blake Thorburn, who suffers greatly as a result of the large amount of bad karma amassed by his diabolist (demon summoners) ancestors making it so that his fellow practitioners have issues seeing past his karma to judge him on his own merits.
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