Created By: KJMackley on June 29, 2012 Last Edited By: alnair20aug93 on August 19, 2017

Better Guilty Than Incompetent

Better to lie than look incompetent

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Sometimes there is no third option to use, you can't get out of a situation without making yourself look bad. So your best option is basically to take the lesser of two evils.

The catch is that the options that gives you the least problems is also the ones that makes you look like you had no idea what you are doing. So instead you make yourself look guilty in an effort to keep up your reputation.

Examples:
  • Named from the film version of The Sum of All Fears, where the Russian President takes responsibility for a military strike done by a general acting without orders so it doesn't seem like he was incompetent. This leads to a later argument with the US President over who was actually in control of his military.
  • In Transformers Prime, Miko followed Bulkhead into a dangerous situation without his initial knowledge and thus he worked on trying to keep her safe while still completing the operation. Upon returning to base Optimus Prime berates Bulkhead for his poor judgement, and Bulkhead just apologizes. When Miko tries to fess up to her actions Bulkhead quiets her down.
  • In How I Met Your Mother Robin's little sister comes to visit and hints towards wanting to lose her virginity to her boyfriend (also along on the trip), which freaks Robin out. This leads to the other characters confessing their own first time. Ted eventually says he basically used a girl and left her, he wasn't proud of it but wanted to explain to her what all teenage boys are thinking. It works but when pressed by Robin for being out of character for him, he admitted the roles were actually reversed and he would actually prefer to look like a womanizer than admit he was the one being used.
Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • June 29, 2012
    Damr1990
    in one episode of South Park we learn that the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories saying it was orchested by the goverment are a conspiracy... made by the goverment, they preffer that the Conspiracy Theorists belive it was an internal work instead of admiting the may had had a security flaw
  • July 4, 2012
    Polarbear2217
    In The Birds, Melanie pretends to work at the birdshop.
  • July 4, 2012
    Bisected8
    • In The Adventures Of Doctor Mc Ninja, McNinja held a grudge against a former member of his college vigilante club who he thinks sold them out to some villains (their leader was killed in their sleep, another member disappeared using her powers and is still MIA, the doctor himself woke up half way through killing his would be assassins). It turns out that said member's monster form makes him less intelligent, but he didn't want to admit it so he pretended to have collaborated.
  • July 4, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Title is misspelled: impotence isn't the same as incompetence.
  • July 4, 2012
    KJMackley
    It's still spelled right and "Impotent" is the exact word I was going for. Admittedly I can't remember if that was the exact wording from The Sum Of All Fears, so there is that.

    Also from How I Met Your Mother, Robin had an Old Shame as a teen pop sensation in Canada with only one hit song called "Let's Go to the Mall" and the experience made her hate malls. She initially tried to keep it from the group and when they theorized she got married in a mall she decided to admit to that rather than the truth.
  • July 4, 2012
    JonnyB
    Impotent? What does this have to do with the inability to attain an erection?
  • July 4, 2012
    Arivne
    ^^ It would be better to use an alternate word with the same meaning, such as "weak" (or "incompetent", as used in the Laconic).

    Related to Sure Lets Go With That.

    One variant: Alice accuses Bob of doing something wrong that requires intelligence but Bob denies it. She then changes her mind, saying "No, Bob's too stupid to have done that." Bob then says "Well maybe I did do it!"

    I can definitely remember seeing such a situation (with "Bob" using exactly that phrase) in a Bloom County strip, but I'll have to look it up before adding it.
  • July 5, 2012
    Tiiba
    Impotence isn't just about erections. It just means you can't do something.
  • July 6, 2012
    Arivne
    Using "impotent" will cause some people to think the trope is about the sexual meaning. Trope names that can legitimately cause confusion should be avoided, as per Clear Concise Witty.
  • July 6, 2012
    abk0100
    I didn't think that.
  • July 6, 2012
    Bisected8
    I understood what the title meant by impotence (it's probably worth noting that most dictionaries seem to give the "helpless" definition before erectile dysfunction).

    Still, what about; Better Traitor Than Twit, Better Guilty Than Gullible, Better Deceptive Than Dumb, Pity Is Worse Than Hatred?
  • July 6, 2012
    KJMackley
    Admittedly I knew some people would probably snicker at the word (and that was part of the hope, to make the name stand out more) but I was hoping people would know it doesn't mean just erectile dysfunction.

    The climax of The Dark Knight works out this way. Batman was ultimately innocent of any crime besides vigilantism, while he recognized he failed to stop the Joker's ultimate goal of corrupting Harvey Dent. To keep Harvey's image pure he took credit for the murders and became actively hunted by the police (before it was an almost sarcastic "Official policy is to arrest the Batman on sight..." statement).
  • July 6, 2012
    Dacilriel
    In Legally Blonde Elle's client, Brooke, refuses to give an alibi, even if it means she will be convicted of her husband's murder. Her reason was she was a well-known fitness guru, and at the time of the murder she was getting liposuction. She said that after losing her husband she would rather go to jail than lose her reputation.
  • July 6, 2012
    Goldfritha
    In the Dresden Files, the White Court lets out that they killed Morgan for his treachery. In fact, he was innocent and they knew it, but they would rather look like powerful fools than weak wise people.
  • July 6, 2012
    LittleLizard
    This trope is derived from the quote "If you ask, you'll be an idiot for a moment. If you don't, you'll be an idiot for life"
  • July 7, 2012
    Bisected8
    ...no, that quote refers to something completly different (the importance of admitting you don't know something and learning).
  • July 7, 2012
    LittleLizard
    ...True fact. Still, it can be applied here IMO.
  • July 10, 2012
    TonyG
    The Emperors New Clothes is built around this trope. The swindlers claim that the special cloth they're "weaving" is invisible to the foolish, so everyone, including the emperor, refuses to admit they see nothing, lest they be considered incompetent. It takes an innocent child to finally point out the blatantly obvious ("The emperor has no clothes on!") and show everyone who the real fools are.
  • March 2, 2013
    KJMackley
    Compare Jerkass Facade (where they feel making themselves look like a jerkass is preferable to something else).

    In Firefly Saffron was able to drug a couple of the crew with her lipstick, including Mal. Inara was the first to find Mal and figured out Saffron was responsible, but was so relieved that Mal was alive but unconscious she kissed him and eventually felt the effects of the drug via second-hand contact. Mal later assumed she was drugged through first-hand contact, which she didn't correct him on. Considering she is not averse to female companionship it was more about keeping her UST with Mal in check.
  • March 2, 2013
    StarSword
    Fixed the title.
  • March 2, 2013
    Koveras
    • In Murder on the Leviathan, Aono Gintaro (a Japanese surgeon pretending to be an officer) is so afraid of losing face due to his incompetence in military matters that his clumsy lies make him the prime suspect in the eponymous murder case.
  • March 2, 2013
    KJMackley
    The title is what it is, we haven't agreed on anything else.
  • August 14, 2017
    KJMackley
    How I Met Your Mother plays hop scotch with this trope. Marshall revealed that his wallet was stolen in a mugging. When Lily gets upset and talks about buying a gun for protection, Marshall changes his story that a monkey at a zoo stole his wallet, and he made up the mugging to not feel so stupid. Robin picks up on the monkey theft and wanted to tell the story on her news show, with a result that the monkey might be removed by zookeepers and separated from its mate because of Marshall's story. Then he starts saying he made up the monkey story to make Lily feel better. By the end of the episode both stories come into conflict and Marshall ends up refusing to say which story was the truth.
  • August 14, 2017
    Snowy66
    Isn't this Honor Before Reason?
  • August 15, 2017
    Arivne
    Throwing a discard bomb. This proposal should have no hats because it isn't ready to launch.
    • The creator refused to change the title even though it was pointed out to them that it is confusing.
    • The OP is improperly formatted and the work titles are not Namespaced or italicized.
    • The Examples section is not divided by media type.
  • August 15, 2017
    Chabal2
    • Le Sage De Sauvenat: An old man proudly admits to the murder of an all-around Asshole Victim (domestic abuser, embezzler, sold out his uncle to the Nazis...). At the trial, the Only Sane Man in the village reveals that the accused is very short-sighted (and stubbornly refuses to wear glasses), and thus could not have committed the murder, instead shooting at where he thought the man was. The old guy is still condemned for perjury, but gets a very light sentence.
    • V For Vendetta: At the beginning of V's terrorist campaign, he blows up a historical London building. The government claims it's a "scheduled demolition" rather than admit it was the work of one man (who, unbeknownst to them, has hacked their security system for years).
    • Dawn Of War II: Retribution: Part of the reason Diomedes refuses to accept the reality of his Chapter Master's heresy and treason for over a decade is that it would mean facing the fact that on Kyras' orders, things what were then justified as I Did What I Had To Do to protect the Chapter were in fact serving Chaos. When finally confronted with undeniable proof, he suffers a Heroic BSOD for a while.
  • August 15, 2017
    alnair20aug93
    Like the trope description. fixed the title rather than letting it get ignored. Anyway, the OP hasn't edited this for four years now, so, Up For Grabs?
  • August 16, 2017
    Larkmarn
    Echoing Arvine. This should have zero hats.

    I'm not sure if this is necessary given Hanlons Razor, but the description is so barebones that I don't know for sure.
  • August 16, 2017
    Bisected8
    Definitely different:

    • Hanlons Razor is a simple rule of thumb (see wikipedia) that argues it's more beneficial to assume that someone is merely incompetent when you're determining their motives in lieu of any other evidence.
    • This trope is about a character deciding themselves that they would rather be seen as malicious than admit they're incompetence.

    The important part of the trope is how the character wants to be seen (and how it can provide a twist in the story), so it has nothing to do with HR at all (that it would be the best way to analyse such a character In Universe aside).
  • August 17, 2017
    Koveras
    I agree with Bisected 8, we have a strong characterization trope here (though the write-up could be improved a lot).

    • A more light-hearted variation occurs in Batman The Animated Series episode "The Man Who Killed Batman": The wannabe mobster Sidney Debris knows that he did not, in fact, murder Batman, but takes full credit for it in order to get the street cred he desperately wants and, in doing so, becomes an Unwitting Pawn in the Caped Crusader's bust of Rupert Thorne's drug ring. Sid then voluntarily goes to jail, realizing that he now has the reputation of a man who duped both Thorne and the Joker and almost killed Batman.
  • August 18, 2017
    KJMackley
    OP here, I'm the one who bumped it. A) this proposal is several years old, I'm looking to renew interest in it and really confused at the logic behind giving it bombs. B) people changed the title without discussion, I'm all for discussing a different title but people saying "fixed it for you" isn't discussing anything. C) if there is genuine interest in the idea then I would expand the description (why write a three hundred word description for something no one is interested in).
  • August 19, 2017
    Bisected8
    I would assume the bombs were added because this isn't ready to launch yet (hats are only meant to be added when the trope's ready to launch, not just because it's a good idea for a page).
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