Created By: ACarlssinJuly 15, 2011 Last Edited By: SteveMBAugust 14, 2012
Troped

The Punishment is the Crime

The punishment for committing the crime is... being allowed to commit the crime.

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Trope
In some cases (in fiction, and one would imagine in real life as well), a person will commit a crime, and then get caught. As they wait in fear to find out what their punishment is, the hero will reveal that no punishment could possibly be worse than simply being allowed to live with the consequences of the crime itself, so there will be no further punishment. Also compare Be Careful What You Wish For, Ironic Hell.

The villain may raise this issue himself, arguing that he's being punished enough already and should be spared anything further. Depending on the character and the circumstances, this may come off as genuine regret deserving of mercy, a cynical ploy to evade justice, or somewhere in between.

In particularly literal cases of the trope, the offense is punished by forcing the perpetrator to continue doing it long past the point where it is pleasurable or desirable.

Examples:
  • In no less than three Doctor Who storylines, the punishment for people seeking immortality was to become immortal. "Human Nature"/"Family of Blood" was a subversion of this trope, because the Doctor added extra punishments on, but in the other two examples ("Mawdryn Undead" and "The Five Doctors"), the punishment for seeking immortality was nothing more than immortality itself.
  • In one episode of "Seinfeld", Elaine eats a 100-year-old slice of wedding cake which was one of her boss's prized possessions. When he finds out, she's afraid he'll punish her somehow. His response is something along the lines of, "Do you know what sitting around for 100 years does to a piece of cake? What's about to happen inside your intestines will be punishment enough."
  • There was once a newspaper comic in which someone tried to get out of paying their taxes by offering to sleep with an IRS agent. Their punishment was to sleep with an IRS agent.
Often used in fetish fiction: The punishment for a man trying on women's clothing is...being forced to wear women's clothing.
  • In the backstory of Mortal Kombat, it's stated that the Elder Gods punished Shang Tsung for taking a soul with a curse which not only forces him to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off his grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely.
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer is put on trial for causing the deaths of the original crew. Kryten, as his defence lawyer, sums up his argument as "He's only guilty of being Arnold J. Rimmer. That is his crime, it is also his punishment"
  • Many sorts of Fantastic Nuke may be included, since, as Shadowdale put it,
Elminster: Spells of this sort are directly forbidden, although it is difficult to punish transgressors as they are usually dead before the spell reaches this stage!
  • At one point the penalty for attempted suicide was death by hanging (in England at least). Though this may have to do with suicide being considered the honorable way out and execution bringing shame to the guilty's family.
  • In That Seventies Show, Eric is going to go to Africa as part of the Peace Corps (iirc) and at the same time, his parents finally find out about the regular marijuana use that he and his friends engage in. This leads to this commment from Red, "Well, this is the worst thing that you have ever done! Eric, I am gonna make you... I am going to... well, I can't think of anything worse than sending you to Africa. You're going to Africa!"
  • In La Fille Mal Gardee, after Colas's appearance in Lise's room causes Alain to dump her, Widow Simone, who had earlier been deadset against Lise marrying anyone other than Alain, decides she'll have to settle for Colas.
  • There's the classic "smoke the whole pack" punishment for kids who are caught smoking. Homer Simpson once attempted this one on Bart when Bart was actually transporting cigarettes for Fat Tony.
    • The "smoke a whole pack" punishment occurred in an episode of King Of The Hill where Bobby started smoking.
  • A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum--"Suicide's illegal! The penalty is death!"
  • Real Life example: one man in Africa was caught having intercourse with a goat. The locals handled the matter by forcing him to marry it...
  • In A Song Of Ice And Fire, two of the Lannister hostages try to escape from King's Landing by hiring on as oarsman. Tyrion Lannister suggests keeping them on the oars for a few years as punishment, but eventually decides against it as they can't afford to lose the hostages.
  • In Code Geass this occurs in the final second - season episode. However, it's a very odd example because Lelouch had been planning this for some time and Suzaku had willingly agreed to it.
Lelouch: "The punishment for what you've done shall be this, then. You will live on, always wearing that mask serving as a knight for justice and truth. You will no longer live your life as Suzaku Kururugi. You shall sacrifice the ordinary pleasures of your life for the benefit of the world. For eternity...
Suzaku: This Geass, I do solemnly accept.
  • Many branches of Christianity teach that God's main punishment of sin is the ENJOYMENT of the sin committed. So many of our sins are easier to stop on day 1.
  • In the Codex Alera, Fidelias's eventual punishment for being a spy and pretending to be Valiar Marcus is to have to keep living as Valiar Marcus.
  • There is an old joke that states that God's punishment for polygamy is having two wives.
  • In Theodore Sturgeon's short story "Vengeance Is", two men rape an academic's wife and he begs her to give into them. He does so because he knows that she's the carrier for a venereal disease that will soon cause them painful death.
  • A literary example would be Ambrose Bierce's definition of bigamy: "A mistake in taste, for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called 'trigamy.'"
  • On one episode of Married With Children, a man told Al that Peg was running around with his husband. He responded "Well, he's got what he deserved!" When reminded that what he got was Al's wife, he said "Let the punishment fit the crime!"
  • In an episode of The Buzz On Maggie, Maggie went to see a PG-13 movie her parents forbade her from seeing and it ended up scaring her so much she was left traumatised. After Maggie confessed to her parents they decided her trauma was more than enough punishment.
  • In Deuteronomy in The Bible, the punishment for raping a woman is being forced to marry her. Certain amount of Values Dissonance here since the victim is also stuck married to their rapist.

Community Feedback Replies: 52
  • July 16, 2011
    SKJAM
    Often used in fetish fiction: The punishment for a man trying on women's clothing is...being forced to wear women's clothing.
  • July 16, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    I don't remember where I saw it but reliving one's sins over and over again was one version of possible hell. Also compare Be Careful What You Wish For.
  • July 16, 2011
    AMNK
    • In the backstory of Mortal Kombat, it's stated that the Elder Gods punished Shang Tsung for taking a soul with a curse which not only forces him to kill his enemies, but to take their souls as well. Only in this way would he hold off his grim fate: to age rapidly and die prematurely.
  • July 16, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^^I think that's Ironic Hell.
  • July 16, 2011
    BlackMageJ
    In one episode of Red Dwarf, Rimmer is put on trial for causing the deaths of the original crew. Kryten, as his defence lawyer, sums up his argument as "He's only guilty of being Arnold J. Rimmer. That is his crime, it is also his punishment"
  • July 16, 2011
    AndrewCarlssin
    Oh, crumbs. This is just Be Careful What You Wish For reworded as a Crime and Punishment trope, isn't it?
  • July 17, 2011
    PaulA
    ^ Pretty much, yeah.
  • July 24, 2011
    TBeholder
    Many sorts of Fantastic Nuke may be included, since, as Shadowdale put it,
    Elminster: Spells of this sort are directly forbidden, although it is difficult to punish transgressors as they are usually dead before the spell reaches this stage!

  • July 24, 2011
    Chabal2
    At one point the penalty for attempted suicide was death by hanging (in England at least). Though this may have to do with suicide being considered the honorable way out and execution bringing shame to the guilty's family.
  • July 24, 2011
    Topazan
    How does Radish Cure relate to this?
  • July 25, 2011
    Frank75
    Counts, I guess - kid smokes, father forces kid to smoke the whole pack.
  • July 25, 2011
    Jordan
    In That Seventies Show, Eric is going to go to Africa as part of the Peace Corps (iirc) and at the same time, his parents finally find out about the regular marijuana use that he and his friends engage in. This leads to this commment from Red, "Well, this is the worst thing that you have ever done! Eric, I am gonna make you... I am going to... well, I can't think of anything worse than sending you to Africa. You're going to Africa!"

  • July 25, 2011
    ryanasaurus0077
    In La Fille Mal Gardee, after Colas's appearance in Lise's room causes Alain to dump her, Widow Simone, who had earlier been deadset against Lise marrying anyone other than Alain, decides she'll have to settle for Colas.
  • July 26, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Yeah, Be Careful What You Wish For is a definite comparison for this. See also Ironic Hell.
  • July 26, 2011
    callsignecho
    There's the classic "smoke the whole pack" punishment for kids who are caught smoking.
  • July 26, 2011
    ChocolateChip
    A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum--"Suicide's illegal! The penalty is death!"
  • September 8, 2011
    HiddenFacedMatt
    Bump....
  • September 8, 2011
    Mozgwsloiku
    In last years news, one man in Africa was caught having intercourse with a goat. The locals handled the matter by forcing him to marry it...
  • September 11, 2011
    Zsuzsa
    In A Song Of Ice And Fire, two of the Lannister hostages try to escape from King's Landing by hiring on as oarsman. Tyrion Lannister suggests keeping them on the oars for a few years as punishment, but eventually decides against it as they can't afford to lose the hostages.
  • September 11, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    anime and manga:
    • In Code Geass this occurs in the final second - season episode. However, it's a very odd example because Lelouch had been planning this for some time and Suzaku had willingly agreed to it.
      Lelouch: "The punishment for what you've done shall be this, then. You will live on, always wearing that mask serving as a knight for justice and truth. You will no longer live your life as Suzaku Kururugi. You shall sacrifice the ordinary pleasures of your life for the benefit of the world. For eternity...
      Suzaku: This Geass, I do solemnly accept.
  • September 11, 2011
    jate88
    Are passive agressive people a fan of this kind of punishment?
  • September 11, 2011
    Ctrooper2011
    I'm a Christian and I learned in a sermon that God's main punishment of sin is the ENJOYMENT of the sin committed. So many of our sins are easier to stop on day 1.
  • September 11, 2011
    SmashingMelons42
    . . .

    The "smoke a whole pack" punishment occurred in an episode of King Of The Hill where Bobby started smoking.
  • September 12, 2011
    Irrisia
    In the Codex Alera, Fidelias's eventual punishment for being a spy and pretending to be Valiar Marcus is to have to keep living as Valiar Marcus.
  • September 22, 2011
    TrustBen
    Bump again. Should be updated.
  • September 22, 2011
    margibso
    There is an old joke that states that God's punishment for polygamy is having two wives.
  • September 23, 2011
    TrustBen
    In Theodore Sturgeon's short story "Vengeance Is", two men rape an academic's wife and he begs her to give into them. He does so because he knows that she's the carrier for a venereal disease that will soon cause them painful death.
  • March 5, 2012
    Met
    I wouldn't put: "In last year's news..." Just start with the man in Africa. If this is up for years it won't be last year's news anymore.
  • March 5, 2012
    mdulwich
    Isn't the hanging as a punishment for attempted suicide example based on the Christian idea that suicide is a sin?
  • March 5, 2012
    TrustBen
    ^^Good point. Fixed.
  • March 6, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^^ If anyone's wondering, we have this as the policy Examples Are Not Recent.
  • March 6, 2012
    IronLion
    I think the Red Dwarf example should be the page quote.
  • March 6, 2012
    TooBah
    Please put the spoiler tags on the Codex Alera example in the main post. TrustBen has the tags on correctly in his comment. Major spoiler.
  • March 6, 2012
    Jhimmibhob
    A literary example would be Ambrose Bierce's definition of bigamy: "A mistake in taste, for which the wisdom of the future will adjudge a punishment called 'trigamy.'"
  • March 8, 2012
    cygnavamp
    On one episode of Married With Children, a man told Al that Peg was running around with his husband. He responded "Well, he's got what he deserved!" When reminded that what he got was Al's wife, he said "Let the punishment fit the crime!"
  • March 15, 2012
    StevenT
    In an episode of The Buzz On Maggie, Maggie went to see a PG-13 movie her parents forbade her from seeing and it ended up scaring her so much she was left traumatised. After Maggie confessed to her parents they decided her trauma was more than enough punishment.
  • March 15, 2012
    Duncan
    Not quite sure if this fits here, but in Deuteronomy in The Bible, the punishment for raping a woman is being forced to marry her.
  • June 11, 2012
    OmarKarindu
    Comic Books
    • Gardner Fox, the author of many Silver Age DC Universe comics, liked this one a lot. Both Hector Hammond and the alien Queen Bee wanted immortality...but discovered that the nature of the immortality condemned them to permanent immobility.

    Western Animation
    • In the Tex Avery cartoon "The Chump Champ," Droopy and Spike compete for a kiss from "The Queen of Sports." Spike cheats his way to victory, and goes for the kiss, only to discover that under her veil the Queen is hideously ugly, and he Exits Pursued By An Abhorrent Admirer.
    • In a roundabout way, this is happens to Vandal Savage in Justice League. Superman is thrown forward in time to discover that, in his absence, Savage used a superweapon to defeat the heroes by killing the entire planet's population off. In the intervening centuries, Savage comes to realize that being stuck on a depopulated Earth is the worst imaginable fate for him.
  • June 12, 2012
    mythbuster
    In the Deuteronomy example, the victim could refuse to marry the rapist, but if she chose to marry him, he was stuck with her, for he could neither refuse to marry her, nor ever divorce her for any reason. This law also applied if the sex was consensual.
  • June 12, 2012
    Waterlily
    In Otis Spofford by Beverly Cleary, Otis's punishment for throwing spitballs in class in having to spend a long time throwing spitballs into the wastebasket.
  • August 10, 2012
    SteveMB
    In the Kim Possible episode "The Twin Factor", after Kim and Shego are released from Drakken's control chips, Kim decides not to bother capturing Drakken -- his punishment when Shego gets her hands on him will be "ten times worse" than anything she could do.
  • August 10, 2012
    SteveMB
    In the Star Trek The Original Series pilot "The Cage", the Talosians release their captives when they determine that humans can't be domesticated for their purposes. When Captain Pike angrily objects to their lack of apology or remorse, one of them replies that the Talosians have now lost their last hope of survival and asks "Is this not sufficient?"

  • August 10, 2012
    Bisected8
    • Nitpick: Suicide wasn't the honorable way out (in England); successful suicides were punished by not being buried on hallowed ground (i.e. not in a Church's graveyard). The thinking behind hanging was more along the lines of punishing someone for their own attempted murder.
  • August 10, 2012
    Astaroth
    Comedian Mark Steele has talked about the bemusement he felt when he was expelled from school for committing truancy.
  • August 10, 2012
    SteveMB
    Another possible title: "Crime Is Its Own Punishment". That covers both the literal "forced to keep doing X (after you no longer want to) as the penalty for doing X in the first place" and the more abstract "forced to live with the consequences of doing X" cases.

  • August 11, 2012
    Thunderchin
    This reminds me of an episode of The Twilight Zone that depicts Hell as a place where the criminals keep doing what they do, and are never caught.
  • August 11, 2012
    sigh824
    @Steve MB I think you should take out the "The" in the phrase, it makes it alot snappier.
  • August 11, 2012
    SteveMB
    Hmmm... point. Edited.

  • August 14, 2012
    ACarlssin
    Holy crap, it's got four hats? Can I add a fifth myself or is that rude? (What's the etiquette here? Can a YKTTW starter also hat it?)
  • August 14, 2012
    polarbear2217
    ^^^^ "A Nice Place To Visit"
  • August 14, 2012
    Bisected8
    @A Carlssin: If you think it's ready to launch, I don't think there's any reason you shouldn't (and there's no way to tell anyway).
  • August 14, 2012
    Topazan
    Don't forget to distinguish between this and Radish Cure in the description.

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable