Created By: Eclipt on June 18, 2009
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As Judged By The Protagonist

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A specific type of Moral Dissonance. It occurs when a character is classified as either good or evil based not on all their actions, but rather, only their actions with respect to the protagonist. Often it won't matter, as the character in question will behave the same way to the protagonist as to everyone else, but what if there's a difference?

Suppose, for example, a character slaughters innocent villagers by the thousand, but then helps save the protagonist's mother. Or suppose a character routinely saves orphans from burning buildings, but uses the resultant fame to woo away the protagonist's Love Interest. In some works, the acts which make the protagonist happy or sad will be treated as somehow more important than the experiences of all those background characters.

In short, a character is considered (by the other characters, by the story itself, or both) to be a good guy or a bad guy based solely on what they've done for the protagonist, rather than on their entire track record. The protagonist is essentially acting as though, in certain respects, it really is All About Me, and the narrator might well be agreeing.

This may be a generator of both Designated Heroes and Designated Villains, if the audience notices that the character is being judged only by a narrow section of their activities. Villains who supposedly "redeem" themselves in this manner can be Karma Houdinis, although they don't have to be.
Community Feedback Replies: 21
  • June 18, 2009
    Dcoetzee
  • June 18, 2009
    wanderlustwarrior
  • June 18, 2009
    wanderlustwarrior
    Ash Ketchum seems to be an example
  • June 19, 2009
    Heatherly
    Ooh, this bugs me when it happens!

    Possible example (though it may only work on a comparison basis): Darth Vader is an evil bastard. No, really, a very evil bastard by any measurement you want to use. Ultimately, though, sacrificing himself to save his son brings Luke to forgive his father. (And is apparently enough of a Heel Face Turn for him to find peace in his afterlife.) Fast forward thirty years in the Expanded Universe novels: When Jacen Solo turns to the dark side, he doesn't rack up nearly as much bad karma as Vader did- among other reasons, he didn't have nearly as long to do it in. But the second he kills Mara Jade-Skywalker, he's irredeemable. Luke can apparently forgive the deaths of hundreds of strangers- at least a round dozen of which were innocent children- if his life gets saved at the end of it. But he can't forgive the murder of his wife. And we the readers weren't supposed to, either.
  • June 19, 2009
    Blunderbuss
    Oh lord, this trope NEEDS to exist.

    Jonas from Twister. He's the bad guy because he 'stole' the idea for Dorothy (even though it obviously wasn't patented), got funding for his research, and was 'competing' with the heroes to launch his invention first. But the movie sets him up as evil because he's a jerk to the hero despite the fact that if he succeeded, his data could also save people from tornadoes as well.
  • June 19, 2009
    Unknown Troper
  • June 19, 2009
    Acacia
    Related, but it's not the same trope.
  • June 19, 2009
    Earnest
    I could swear I've seen this somewhere... anyway, this usually happens when Forgiveness Requires Death and the villain has somehow helped the hero. He'll save him both because "killing is wrong" and he's done the hero a good turn.
  • July 2, 2009
    Eclipt
    I didn't know about A Million Is A Statistic when I started this... Lost And Found didn't turn it up. I'm not sure there's enough of a distinction. A Million Is A Statistic sounds like it might just be about cases where characters ignore the relative magnitude of acts, and if that were so, there might be room for a different trope - there could, after all, be situations where the magnitude of two acts is about the same, except one affects the protagonist and one doesn't, with this being "what counts". Looking at A Million Is A Statistic, however, I think a lot of its examples seem to be more or less what I had in mind here anyway. Thoughts?
  • July 2, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    This is a different aspect, though, in that it's the recipient of the acts rather than the numbers that matter.

    About Jacen: Luke did get over his desire to kill him even before they fought but Jacen's eagerness to kill him in that fight persuaded Luke that he was long gone. Even then he still didn't kill Jacen (although it could be argued that he just couldn't in the state both of them were in at the time).
  • July 2, 2009
    Andyzero
  • July 2, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In the novel The Red Blazer Girls, a character who stalks the protagonists and is apparently in competition with them is described by one as "Pure evil!", although he actually turns out to be on their side, and they forgive him.
  • July 2, 2009
    Wulf
    If the person being judged notices and calls the hero on it, it may lead to a either a Not So Different or What The Hell Hero speech.
  • July 24, 2009
    Eclipt
    Not sure what to do with this one. It should be slightly different from A Million Is A Statistic in theory, but I'm not sure that it turns out like that in practice, looking at the examples. Still, if someone wants to make a go of it:

    Up For Grabs

  • July 24, 2009
    arromdee
    David Brin's infamous Star Wars articles (not the first part, but has links to the other parts) mention this as one criticism of Vader's redemption.
  • July 25, 2009
    feo takahari
    Depending On The Writer, this can be a problem in regard to the Spider Man antagonist Venom--he wants to kill Spiderman, but generally protects civilians, and may or may not be portrayed as a villain.
  • July 26, 2009
    Earnest
    I want to launch this, but I'm stumped on a good name. As Judged By The Protagonist is okay, but it's long a bit clunky. Protagonist Relative Morality and Protagonist Morality Lisence can also be interpreted as things other than this trope (as in, the protagonist can have their own relative morality, rather than morality being relative to the protagonist).

    All I could come up with is Protagonist Jury And Executioner and Designated Morality.
  • July 26, 2009
    Eclipt
    Maybe something like Hero-Centric Morality? Or does the hyphen not work in titles?
  • July 27, 2009
    JET73L
    We need more examples from the other direction, where the antagonist is heroic but maybe kind of smarmy, but if he messes with the hero's Story, he's going down (especially if he makes off with the love interest]).

    For example, one interpretation of Captain Hammer (the one that most people in-story believe, and most viewers refuse to believe) in Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog is that he really is a hero and didn't, on average, deserve a comeuppance (and wasn't really any worse than a lot of other heroes except from the point of view of Doctor Horrible).
  • July 27, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    Good point, note that as Doctor Horribles turns into a true Supervlain the Dissonance May have been deliberate. Then again buffy is the poster girl for this trope, so maybe not.

  • July 27, 2009
    Unknown Troper
    In the webcomic Pv P, Max Powers was a parody of this, until the characters actually became friends with him about a year or so ago. Although he was really nothing more than a friendly, decent guy (if somewhat self-centered) he was the "villain" of the strip, and Cole's "nemesis." His "crime" was nothing more than being more successful than Cole.
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