Created By: Catbert on March 18, 2012 Last Edited By: troacctid on April 8, 2012
Troped

Karmic Thief

Robs from people that deserve it, keeps the money for himself.

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This is Repair Job for Half Robin Hood. It is being done because of this TRS thread.

Needs More Examples

A Karmic Thief is a thief who steals from people for selfish reasons, but only steals from people that are portrayed as being unlikable. Their targets will usually be wealthy, corrupt, or more often than not both at the same time. Expect a few Kick the Dog moments just to make you really not like the victim. The target might even be a criminal himself, who made his fortune by stealing, scamming, or extorting money from the poor, the middle-class, or even sympathetic rich people.

The Karmic Thief's actions are "justified" because they're being done to someone that is seen as deserving it. This turns the thieves into heroes for whom the audience can cheer more easily. If the thieves are themselves poor, the story might contain implicit themes of class conflict.

A Karmic Thief will never steal from those who are poor and honest. However, unlike a thief who is Just Like Robin Hood, a Karmic Thief is not interested in charity through giving away all their ill-gotten-gains to the poor.

This is a Sub-Trope to Caper Rationalization and is often a case of Pay Evil unto Evil. Compare also to the Lovable Rogue, where the emphasis is on the likability of the thief rather than the idea that all his victims deserve their fates.

Examples

[[foldercontrol]]

[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
  • In Lupin III, Lupin's schemes mostly focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful. It is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative. Even when they seem initially seem nice or affable, they will be eventually be unveiled as evil.

[[folder:Literature]]
  • At one point, Artemis Fowl chooses to focus his efforts solely on stealing from the wealthy and corrupt. However, he explicitly says he is not aiming to be Just Like Robin Hood.
  • In Not a Penny More, Not A Penny Less by Jeffrey Archer, a group of people who have been swindled by a con man band together to steal from him exactly the amount he took from them.
  • Arsène Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat refuses to steal from anyone but rich corporations that are insured against theft, though once he is recruited by the Special Corps, he turns his skill against various villains.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Film]]
  • The team from Ocean's Eleven target two unscrupulous casino owners and a thief.
  • The film Tower Heist involves a Wall Street banker being targeted by the workers in his penthouse building.
  • The Sting is about Con Men scaming a corrupt cop who murdered one of their fellow con artists.
  • The band of highly-skilled hijackers and bank robbers in Michael Mann's Heat. They only target high-value targets like precious metal depositories, banks and corporate money vans. Robert De Niro's character invokes this directly during a bank heist by telling everyone they're holding hostage "This isn't your money. Your money is federally insured."
  • The crew of career criminal protagonists in Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels decides to rob the much nastier gang of thieves who happen to live to next door to them to get themselves out of massive debt. Ironically, the profits they plan to steal from their neighbours are themselves being stolen from a group of drug dealers.
    • Dog and his band of unpleasant thieves who're the neighbors mentioned above only steal from other criminals - mostly drug dealers.
    "When they're not kicking puppies or picking the peanuts out of poo, they rip unfortunate souls off of their hard-earned drugs."
  • In Serenity Mal Reynolds and crew take a job which involves stealing a corporate security payroll. It's a job hurting The Alliance from a probably corrupt corporation, so they're Jerkass Victims, but Mal has no intentions of handing out his crew's cut to the poor. Well, except that the poor and the crew of Serenity have a lot in common.
[[/folder]]

[[folder:Live-Action TV]]
  • The crew from Hustle make money for themselves through conning people who earn their ire.
  • The Rogues is an American television series that appeared on NBC from September 13, 1964, to April 18, 1965, starring David Niven, Charles Boyer, and Gig Young as a related trio of former conmen who could, for the right price, be persuaded to trick a very wealthy and very unscrupulous mark.
[[/folder]]

Community Feedback Replies: 43
  • March 18, 2012
    Catbert
    Needs more examples, but I'm also open to suggestions on the description and the title.
  • March 18, 2012
    Bisected8
    What about; Rob The Villain
  • March 18, 2012
    TBTabby
    Moist von Lipwig viewed his career as a con man this way: anyone who bought into his schemes was just as crooked and dishonest as him, and therefore deserved to get conned. Mr. Pump later debunks this by pointing out that his bank fraud schemes had far-reaching and unintended consequences.
  • March 18, 2012
    Doryna
    Lupin III generally falls into this as part of the motives for his heists, although a few versions have him closer to Just Like Robin Hood.
  • March 18, 2012
    Catbert
    ^Could you elaborate a bit?
  • March 18, 2012
    Doryna
    Usually, Lupin's schemes focus on him stealing something from someone rich and powerful; it is usually obvious from the beginning that his targets are corrupt, tyrannical, or exploitative, but even if they seem nice or affable, they will be unveiled as evil at some point.
  • March 19, 2012
    Catbert
    ^Perfect. Thanks!
  • March 19, 2012
    Doryna
    You're quite welcome.
  • March 22, 2012
    Catbert
    Bump.
  • March 25, 2012
    Catbert
    Bump
  • March 25, 2012
    reub2000
    Literature
    • Arsene Lupin's first theft was from a family that had been paying his mother an unfairly low wage for the work she did.
  • March 26, 2012
    Duncan
    The Stainless Steel Rat has this as his main justification for stealing.
  • March 27, 2012
    Alvin
    A short-lived series called The Rogues, which I've seen on Me TV, was like this. The protagonist were a close-knit upper-class extended family of con artists, mainly British (for example, one played by David Niven) but with branches in other countries (for example, one an American cousin played by Gig Young).
  • March 29, 2012
    Catbert
    ^That is pratically is a Zero Context Example. It doesn't matter for the sake of the trope who played what part. What matters is what the characters do that qualifies for the trope. "Was like this" doesn't really tell me much. Please expand.
  • March 30, 2012
    TitoMosquito
    The thief who stole an artifact which imprisoned a entity named Karkull in ''Superman The Animated Series". Karkull possessed his body, transforming it into his own. It wasn't revealed what became of the thief after Superman and Dr. Fate defeated him, but he may have been arrested by the police surrounding the Daily Planet building.
  • March 30, 2012
    Catbert
    ^Wait what? How does that relate to the trope?
  • April 1, 2012
    troublegum
    ^ I think that ^^ may have been confused by the working title into thinking that Karmic Thief meant the thieving backfires in some karmic manner. Halfway To Robin Hood? Trope Namer being Blackadder in the episode Amy and Amiability, in which mysterious highwayman The Shadow is said to be "halfway to being the new Robin Hood."
    Blackadder: "Why only halfway?"
    Baldrick: "Well, 'e steals from the rich, but 'e 'asn't gotten around to givin' to the poor yet."
    -- Edmund Blackadder and Baldrick, Blackadder The Third, "Amy and Amiability."

    Film

    Live Action TV

    Literature
    • In Kim Newman's Dark Future novels Jessamyn and Hawk-That-Settles only raid convoys from the Megacorps GenTech and Winter Inc. They stockpile their wealth to pay for supplies and hire people to do things that they need done.

    That one's slightly iffy, 'cause ultimately, they're using their accumulated wealth to buy supplies and services to help them stop the series Big Bad from ending the world. They're not donating it to charity, though.

  • April 1, 2012
    Catbert
    I really want to avoid a Trope Namer name. Especially one involving Robin Hood, given that it might be confused with Just Like Robin Hood, and given that Robin Hood was as much known for being The Archer as for being a thief.
  • April 1, 2012
    troublegum
  • April 1, 2012
    MorganWick
  • April 5, 2012
    lebrel
    Rob The Asshole Victim Keep The Dough? I don't know if there is a short and snappy title that captures the trope. Maybe break off the first sentence of the description into its own paragraph to make the core of the definition more obvious.

    Also needs a link or pothole to Asshole Victim somewhere early.
  • April 5, 2012
    abk0100
    The big change in definition that was decided on in TRS was making this trope "robs from those who deserve it" instead of just "robs from the rich, so ^ those ^^ names could be a problem.
  • April 5, 2012
    troacctid
    I am okay with Karmic Thief as long as Karmic Theft is a redirect.

    However, it should not be a requirement that the thief keeps the money for himself. The important part of the trope is having the theft be justified with an unsympathetic victim.
  • April 5, 2012
    lebrel
    ^ "The important part of the trope is having the theft be justified with an unsympathetic victim." That seems a bit too much like Pay Evil Unto Evil / Asshole Victim.
  • April 5, 2012
    Andyzero
  • April 5, 2012
    lebrel
  • April 5, 2012
    troublegum
    Karmic Thief is just too easy to get confused with instances where the thief is hit with some karmic consequence for the theft itself. Or where a character loses something to celestial forces due to being an asshole.

    And I think that if none of the loot is kept by the thief...then what's the difference between this and Just Like Robin Hood or Pay Evil Unto Evil? At least some of the ill-gotten gains should remain in the thief's possession. That's more the point of this than that the victim is 'deserving.' The victims in both the other tropes are frequently deserving, too. The important distinction here is the selfish motivation of the thief, which he justifies to himself with the Asshole Victim part.

    Justified Thievery, maybe?
  • April 5, 2012
    Larek
    How about Lina Inverse from the Novel Anime Manga slayers. While she thinks of herself in a hero light, doing good. Her Actual Actions Fit this well. She steals from Thieves, but then keeps the loot for her self.
  • April 5, 2012
    ScreamingBlue7
    Movie example - Plunket & Mac Leane. Highwaymen that scout out the rich parties and then rob from those who are worth stealing from. As one ad put it "T Hey steal from the Rich. And that's all."

  • April 5, 2012
    Catbert
    ^^Justified Thievery would be another name for Caper Rationalization. This is supposed to be about a character type, not a type of theft.
  • April 5, 2012
    troublegum
    Is the justification here that the target is 'evil' or that they're rich or that they're rich AND evil?

    Several of the suggested examples won't work then. Mine from Heat - you could use the crew in Heat but it would then be exclusive to what they do to Van Zant. Plunkett and MacLeane and many of Slippery Jim DiGriz' targets are never shown to be 'evil' either. If we want to make this about a Karma Approved Thief, then we'd surely have to lose the description lines about sympathetic rich people, how their victims may simply be wealthy and extorting money from the poor and hold examples to demonstrate how the victim is evil. See ccoa's comment in the TRS thread about how robbing serial killers (even poor serial killers) would be ok.

    Moving away from the wealth = evil angle potentially narrows the example pool down even further.

    I'm not a big fan of using karma in trope titles, but Karma Approved Thief or Karma Neutral Thief might work.

  • April 5, 2012
    lebrel
    ^ I think the decision in the TRS thread was that the distinguishing factor is that the victim is a jerk; not necessarily actually evil, but unsympathetic. Whether or not they're wealthy is irrelevant, as long as they have something worth stealing. The line about "sympathetic rich people" is referring to how the target of the Karmic Theif got his money, not the target himself.
  • April 5, 2012
    troublegum
    ^ then the trope description needs a little work still, because it still leaves open the wealth = evil option.

    Honestly, I think as is, it's too similar to existing tropes like Pay Evil Unto Evil. When it was more about invoking the "rob the rich and fail to give to the poor" aspect, it actually had more to separate it, purely because more works riff on the "halfway to Robin Hood" thing (however inaccurate an invocation of Nottingham's most famous son this may or may not be).
  • April 5, 2012
    lebrel
    ^ But how is "steals from the rich" different from just plain "steals"? Unless you want to make it for parodies of Robin Hood or something.
  • April 5, 2012
    troublegum
    Or for works where they purposely invoke a Robin Hood comparison - see Plunkett and MacLeane and the Blackadder example mentioned. Artemis Fowl, too. Or maybe this just isn't a very good trope; it's essentially a theft-specific Pay Evil Unto Evil.
  • April 5, 2012
    Catbert
    The general impression I get from the Half Robin Hood trope that this is attempting to fix is that the idea is that the thief will only rob from those that are seen as "fair game" because they are evil, rich or both. If they are rich, they will either be faceless corporations that are depicted as being able to afford the losses, or they will be depicted as assholes to some degree, even if only in their arrogance and greed, if not downright corruption and criminality. Basically what the writer creating the character wants to avoid is having the thief rob from someone that we will feel sorry for. Someone poor, honest, sympathetic, honorable, etc. And yes, there is often a bit of class warfare rich = bad vibe inherent in the trope.

    I mean, how often have you heard someone say it is okay to pirate music and movies because the rich corporations that produce them can afford it anyway? If the rich corporations actually go after people stealing their intellectual property somehow it becomes the victim of the piracy that is portrayed as a greedy bastard, not the pirate.

    I know some people has said that "steals from the rich" is the same as "just plain steals" but the idea here is that the thief will not go after the poor, the middle class, or anyone else that can't afford the loss and/or has earned their money "fairly", unlike a regular thief who would have no qualms about stealing from anyone.

    This is a bit of a hard concepts to balance clearly. I'd welcome any suggestions.
  • April 5, 2012
    troacctid
    I agree ^, but I also don't think it should matter what they do with the money. The point of this trope is to make the audience feel like the guy who got robbed deserved it in order to preserve the Sympathetic POV for the thief. (Asshole Victim, by the way, is something different, and Pay Evil Unto Evil is much broader.)

    Is the justification here that the target is 'evil' or that they're rich or that they're rich AND evil?

    From a Watsonian perspective, the justification is that they are evil or rich or a jerk or any other reason why the thief thinks they deserve it. From a Doylist perspective, the justification is that they are unsympathetic to the audience.
  • April 6, 2012
    troublegum
    ^ If they don't keep the money, what do they do with it? If they give it away, we're back to Just Like Robin Hood, especially if you want to make this about making the character of the thief sympathetic. The unsympathetic nature of the victim is what makes up for the unsympathetic nature of the act of theft.

    ^^ That was also the general impression I came away with; and I feel there is an inherent element of rich = acceptable target. As you say, music / video game piracy is frequently justified with the stock phrase of "they're good for it." Fraud and theft against banks, tax evasion, tax fraud, shoplifting from large supermarket chains, skimming money from a mobster's protection fund or simply a multi-millionaire not because he's bad or corrupt, but because he's a multi-millionaire.

    I'd say that the underlying moral perspective here is that of the 'Victimless Crime.'

    They're good for it. He won't miss a few hundred thousand. They're insured.

    That would be at the rich = acceptable end of the trope. At the other end of the trope:

    It's not as if they can go to the police and say "Excuse me, we've had all our drugs and money stolen, it it?"

    For those targets who're okay to steal from, because they're corrupt or criminal themselves.

    Either way, simply being able to 'afford the losses' isn't the same as being unsympathetic or outright unpleasant. It moves the trope away from: the victim must be evil or a jerk and more towards, the audience must perceive the act of theft as having minimal consequence for the victim.

  • April 6, 2012
    troacctid
    I don't see a conflict between this trope and Just Like Robin Hood. If a thief takes the money earned from this trope and gives it to the poor, then that's both tropes and that's fine.
  • April 6, 2012
    troublegum
    Except that, if we already have Just Like Robin Hood, why do we need to include the same examples in this one? Equally, someone who purposely steals from the wealthy or corrupt and gives it away to the poor isn't an unsympathetic character. If the point of this trope is to maintain sympathy for a character doing unsympathetic things by making his victim unsympathetic, it's pretty pointless to include examples where the character isn't doing something unsympathetic.

    Motivation is what makes a character's actions sympathetic or not. If a thief's motive is to redistribute wealth or otherwise strike a blow for social justice, he's not an unsympathetic character.

    It waters down the distinction of the trope and it becomes Just Like Robin Hood with a minor difference clause. Keep the two distinct.

  • April 6, 2012
    troacctid
    The worst it could do is make Just Like Robin Hood a subtrope. Which is fine.
  • April 6, 2012
    troublegum
    Well, that would be fine. If we were to do that, should we gather some of the other My Thief Is Sympathetic tropes like Loveable Rogue and Neighbourhood Friendly Gangsters as subtropes?

    Audience Friendly Thief as a trope name?
  • April 8, 2012
    troacctid
    Those wouldn't be subtropes because having them steal from unsympathetic targets is only one way of making a thief sympathetic; there are other ways, too.
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