Created By: UltimateChimeraMay 31, 2011 Last Edited By: UltimateChimeraJune 8, 2011
Troped

Memetic Bystander

A character who becomes absurdly popular, despite not being involved in the story in any way whatsoever

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Trope
Do We Have This One, needs a better description, Needs A Better Name, Rolling Updates

All shows need to have extras. Whether they're the Faceless Masses or a Cast Of Snowflakes, everything needs to have some way to show the main characters are not the only people existing in the world (unless, of course, that's the point). But every now and then, someone will stand out... and all of a sudden they become incredibly popular for whatever reason. They may be endowed with a Fan Nickname, and a whole backstory and personality may be extrapolated... from just one character, with few or no lines and highly limited appearances.

The fandom may latch onto these characters because they are either a Recurring Extra or a One Scene Wonder. If the creators of the work get wind of with phenomena, the character may become an Ascended Extra. Compare Background Gag. Overlaps with Ensemble Darkhorse. Can overlap with Memetic Badass, but not all the time.

Examples

Anime
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, as Rossiu Announces Simon's execution, a man can be seen in the crowd giving a Bicep Polishing Gesture. However, due to cultural differences the Western audience interpreted as the man giving an "up-yours" gesture. Dubbed Bruce Ironstaunch, this man became the vent of viewer's hate to Rossiu.
  • Puella Magi Madoka Magica has Poorfag-chan, a girl in the protagonists' class taking notes in a notebook. This was only picked up because everyone else in this particularly fancy school was using laptops. After many threads on a certain Image Board, she became an incredibly optimistic young girl despite her horrendous living circumstances. She is somewhat ditzy and takes whatever the world throws at her with good grace.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh has the "Aquarium Lady", who, despite having less than two minutes of screen time and doing nothing of real relevance to the plot, is widely shipped with Mako Tsunami (when he's not being shipped with Ocean, that is.)

Film
  • Figwit, from Lord Of The Rings. As a result of the "Frodo Is Great, WHO IS THAT?!" meme, this originally nameless background extra was given a name and backstory, courtesy of the fans, and Peter Jackson brought him back with dialogue for the following movie.
  • The belching frog thing in one of the scene transitions in Return Of The Jedi.
    • A few ewoks. One ewok that's staring blankly, as if he's stoned. There's another ewok carrying one of his wounded brethren out of the fray during the Endor ambush.

Live Action Television
  • Morn from Deep Space 9 is an invoked in-universe example, he personally doesn't do anything, but the other characters commonly reference his attributes.
  • Balding Asian Guy from Stargate Universe had some popularity from appearing in crowd scenes in one episode.
  • The extremely hot guy standing behind Carrie when she gets splashed in the Sex And The City opening had quite a following in certain circles.
  • The Observer in Fringe is an in-universe example - though he is significant to the plot, he and his kind have an oath of non-interference ( which is only mostly adhered to), but were noticed by the characters because of their habit of turning up at significant events throughout history.
  • The Glee fandom loves Brad the accompanist, despite him having never spoken. Not to mention he doesn't do anything other than accompany the kids on the piano.

Music
  • In Rebecca Black's Friday video, a girl in pink dancing awkwardly next to Black in one scene exploded in popularity from an already notable song.'

Video Games
  • In Street Fighter II, There's a background character in the Las Vegas stage that always loses a bet no matter who wins. He sobs on his forearm once a round is over.
  • Mega Man X2 has the Green Biker Dude, a Reploid who appears at the beginning of the intro stage and whose only purpose is to pop a wheelie and die.
Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn has the 3-13 Archer and Final Fantasy IV The After Years has Monk C (known by many in the fandom as "Monk Coleman", though that's of course not an official name). In the PSP remake, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, Monk C even has a slightly different color scheme from Monks A and B.

Web Comics
  • Order Of The Stick gives us That Guy With A Halberd, a nameless Azurite soldier armed with (you guessed it) a halberd who appeared briefly during the battle for Azure City. A thread devoted to him on the OOTS forums reached 28 pages.
  • Homestuck has Ms. Paint, a Prospitian woman who carries a bucket of paint and seems to be a part of the White Queen's retinue. Fan reaction lead to a cameo in one of the comics many fourth wall breaking segments.

Web Original
  • The Epic Beard Man viral video, featuring a fistfight on a bus between two men, mysteriously spawned a popular sub-meme around a disinterested bystander who was listening to music. She became known as "Amber Lamps", after one of the men's mangled cry for an ambulance.

Western Animation
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic has the cock-eyed Derpy Hooves, spotted in an early episode. Some of her traits have actually become canon.
  • Avatar The Last Airbender has Foaming Mouth Guy. His first appearance was only for a few seconds in Season 1 as a background character, but he became such a fan favourite he reappeared again in Season 2 (still in the background, but with a lot more screen time).
  • In Daria, there's a blonde kid in an army jacket that's always in Daria's classes or in the hallway. He seems to have a lot of fanart dedicated to him.

Real Life
  • Cigar Guy from a famous Tiger Woods photo is a man wearing a strange wig and fake moustache, smoking a rather large cigar.
  • Frowning Flower Girl appeared at the Royal Wedding, looking rather disgruntled and covering her ears right next to the happy couple about to kiss.
Community Feedback Replies: 69
  • May 31, 2011
    JonnyB
    Would the three old men in Cowboy Bebop count?
  • May 31, 2011
    Rolf
    Do Mort in star trek ds9 count?
  • May 31, 2011
    JonnyB
    ^ That would be Morn.
  • May 31, 2011
    Dcoetzee
    Similar to the "Friday" example:
    • The Epic Beard Man viral video, featuring a fistfight on a bus between two men, mysteriously spawned a popular sub-meme around a disinterested bystander who was listening to music. She became known as "Amber Lamps", after one of the men's mangled cry for an ambulance.
  • May 31, 2011
    StarryEyed
    • Yu-Gi-Oh has the "Aquarium Lady", who, despite having less than two minutes of screen time and doing nothing of real relevance to the plot, is widely shipped with Mako Tsunami (when he's not being shipped with Ocean, that is.)
  • May 31, 2011
    Fearmonger
    Not sure if this counts, but Thor was momentarily separated from Mjolnir at one point. A random paramedic finds it and gives it to him, then leaves before Thor remembers the enchantment that only lets worthy people even hold Mjolnir.
  • May 31, 2011
    JonnyB
    Cigar Guy from the famous Tiger Woods photo fits, and that photo would probably be a good one for the page.
  • June 1, 2011
    Taelor
    • Order Of The Stick gives us That Guy With A Halberd, a nameless Azurite soldier armed with (you guessed it) a halberd who appeared briefly during the battle for Azure City. A thread on the OOTS devoted to him reached 28 pages.
    • Homestuck has Ms. Paint, a Prospitian woman who carries a bucket of paint and seems to be a part of the White Queen's retinue. Fan reaction lead to a cameo in one of the comics many fouth wall breaking segments.
  • June 1, 2011
    EternalSeptember
    Morn from Deep Space 9 is an invoked in-universe example, he personally doesn't do anything, but the other characters commonly reference his attributes.
  • June 1, 2011
    JonnyB
    While not a person, the photobomb squirrel probably qualifies.
  • June 1, 2011
    aurora369
    "Elf Escort", Fan Nickname "Figwit", from the Lord Of The Rings movie.
  • June 1, 2011
    UltimateChimera
    Gonna need someone to do Mort for me, 'cause I don't know anything about the series. And I was hoping someone would do Figwit, because I know of him... just nothing about him.
  • June 1, 2011
    JonnyB
    EternalSeptember's line about Morn (his name is Morn, not Mort) would be good enough, I think.
  • June 1, 2011
    Duncan
    Do on-purpose examples count? Like the guy in the tracksuit in Donnie Darko? He's an undercover FAA agent, but this isn't made very clear in the movie, he's just seen jogging in the background a lot.
  • June 1, 2011
    UltimateChimera
    @JonnyB: Ugh, I ditzed out. Okay then. @Duncan: Well, this is pretty much for characters given disproportionate amount of attention by the fanbase compared to their roles in-series. So I don't think so, if it's entirely in-universe.
  • June 1, 2011
    Nibbles2
    • Avatar The Last Airbender has Foaming Mouth Guy. His first appearance was only for a few seconds in Season 1 as a background character, but he became such a fan favourite he reappeared again in Season 2 (still in the background, but with a lot more screen time).
  • June 1, 2011
    SonofRojBlake

    Arguably Boba Fett is one of these in Empire Strikes Back. What does he DO, really? 1. Stands about on the bridge of the Executor. 2. Follows Han to Bespin... but Vader is ALREADY THERE when Han gets there. Vader disarms Han with his bare hands and the force, and Fett rushes in when it's all already over. 3. Watches while Vader freezes Han. 4. Watches while someone wheels the body onto his ship. 5. Leaves.

    All in all he speaks about a dozen words and does practically nothing, yet he was by far the most sought after action figure and became a Memetic Badass based almost entirely on his appearance. YMMV, obviously...
  • June 1, 2011
    OhNoes
    Would Figwit from Lord Of The Rings be considered one?
  • June 1, 2011
    Glucharina
    Balding Asian Guy from Stargate Universe had some popularity from appearing in crowd scenes in one episode.
  • June 1, 2011
    JonnyB
    ^^^ He doesn't do a whole lot in ROTJ either.
  • June 1, 2011
    Schitzo
    • In Street Fighter II, There's a background character in the Las Vegas stage that always loses a bet no matter who wins. He sobs on his forearm once a round is over.
    • In Daria, there's a blonde kid in an army jacket that's always in Daria's classes or in the hallway. He seems to have a lot of fanart dedicated to him.
    • The belching frog thing in one of the scene transitions in Return Of The Jedi.
      • A few ewoks. One ewok that's staring blankly, as if he's stoned. There's another ewok carrying one of his wounded brethren out of the fray during the Endor ambush.
  • June 1, 2011
    Grandy
    Question: How this differs from Ensemble Darkhorse? I understand you stated they overlap, but I wish to know where they don't overlap.
  • June 1, 2011
    TippyToeZombie
    The Cabbage Guy and the Foamy mouth guy on Avatar The Last Airbender. Doctor Whooves, Lyra, Bon Bon, Dinky Hooves, and most recently Octavia on My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic.
  • June 1, 2011
    JonnyB
    ^^ Boba Fett probably obscured things a bit, I think he's more the Ensemble Darkhorse. I think the original idea was just some random guy that was drawn into the background, not part of the ensemble cast or even one of the supporting characters, but really more just window dressing, who the public picked up on ("hey, look at that guy back there!") and made popular.
  • June 1, 2011
    MorkaisChosen
    Needs a better name, I think- Memetic Bystander would, by analogy with Memetic Badass, suggest someone who became a bystander in public opinion, which is the precise opposite.

    I do think it's separate enough from Ensemble Darkhorse to be tropable, as these guys aren't even main cast members.
  • June 1, 2011
    Valentine
    The fandom usually latches onto these characters because they are either a Recurring Extra or a One Scene Wonder.
  • June 1, 2011
    jaytee
    How is this not covered by Ensemble Darkhorse and Ascended Extra?
  • June 1, 2011
    UltimateChimera
    Yeah, thought it needed a different name, it just rang well. I see. Well, I can't think of anything for now so others, have at it. @jaytee: It's kind of a subtrope of Ensemble Darkhorse, and the character may become and Ascended Extra... but they're not yet. They're just random background extras that people like for whatever reason. The less they do, the less they appear, the better.
  • June 1, 2011
    Duncan
    The extremely hot guy standing behind Carrie when she gets splashed in the Sex And The City opening had quite a following in certain circles.
  • June 1, 2011
    Grandy
    I think Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei plays with this during an episode. The "despair" theme of Itoshiki's at the time was "not being able to pay attention the the main focus of an event because of something in the background", and at one time, they saw a TV report, only no one paid attention to the reporter because there was one guy behind her wearing a ridiculous t-shirt. The guy was a recurring character, though.
  • June 1, 2011
    UltimateChimera
    @Duncan: Movie or TV show?
  • June 1, 2011
    Fandom11
    Would Memetic Background Character be a better title or is that too long?
  • June 1, 2011
    StarryEyed
    ^ I think that would be a great alt title, but Memetic Bystander has a better ring to it.
  • June 1, 2011
    JonnyB
  • June 1, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    I think Memetic Extra and Memetic Background Character are both good. Memetic Extra has the edge of being shorter, though.
  • June 2, 2011
    randomsurfer
    Hazel Frederick, the woman in the Mary Tyler Moore Show opening who gives Mary a sour look as she's throwing her hat in the air.
  • June 2, 2011
    Duncan
    @ Ultimate Chimera, it's in the TV show opening.
  • June 2, 2011
    Chabal2
    The unnamed male student in Azumanga Daioh who appears in one or two classroom scenes, named That One Dude by fans.
  • June 2, 2011
    SunnyV
    How is this different from Ensemble Darkhorse, exactly?
  • June 2, 2011
    Ekuran
    Ensemble Darkhorse = Unexpectedly popular minor character.

    Memetic Bystander = Unexpectedly popular background character.

    Not that hard to spot the difference. It's like comparing an actual Darkhorse that gets famous for winning to a guy in the stands that did something awesome and get's 100,000,000 views on youtube.
  • June 2, 2011
    ChimbleySweep
    The Viper pilot with the dragon tattoo (or was it a tiger tattoo?) on Battlestar Galactica. Apparently, that character had a fair share of fans who waited anxiously for him say a line or do something other than sit in debriefings and get dressed in the locker room.
  • June 2, 2011
    Leaper
    This trope, as far as I can tell, has nothing to do with memes. I mean, we don't call Ensemble Darkhorse "Memetic Ensemble Member," do we?

    Really needs a better name.
  • June 2, 2011
    Sooku
    In the first episode of Dragon Ball Z, a farmer with a shotgun is killed by Radditz. That farmer has gone on to be the go-to joke character when power debates come up.
  • June 2, 2011
    Camacan
    Seems like a classic case of The Same But More. Ensemble Darkhorse, but more minor. We'd be better off adding the examples to Ensemble Darkhorse than adding a duplicate trope article. The interesting bit seems to be "They may be endowed with a Fan Nickname, and a whole backstory and personality may be extrapolated... from just one character, with few or no lines and highly limited appearances."

    It might take some discussion on Wiki Talk but I think (explicitly) background characters could be usefully added to Ensemble Darkhorse with little or no distruption of the main text or the scope of the trope.
  • June 3, 2011
    Fandom11
    ^I can't see why this can't be a sub-trope of Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • June 4, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    There's a pretty fundamental difference between Ensemble Darkhorse and this trope. An Ensemble Darkhorse is an actual character. This involves characters who a lot of the time are just random extras, thrown in during post, or otherwise unplanned. They are not so much characters as scenery.
  • June 4, 2011
    Dcoetzee
  • June 4, 2011
    ArtisticPlatypus
    This is definitely a trope on its own. I can't come up with any better title suggestions, but I think the final title should contain the word 'Bystander'.
  • June 4, 2011
    Cassis
    This is not Ensemble Darkhorse because this person isn't even part of the ensemble (although there are definitely examples on that page, such as Blaise Zabini, who more properly belong here). In Buffy terms, Spike is an Ensemble Darkhorse, Jonathan is an Ascended Extra, and Clem would be this.
  • June 4, 2011
    Grandy
  • June 4, 2011
    JonnyB
    No, because they're not part of the Ensemble cast. Or even a secondary character, for that matter.
  • June 5, 2011
    Grandy
  • June 5, 2011
    Deboss
  • June 5, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    ^ That doesn't illustrate who is a memetic darkhorse in anyway. Memetic Extra, Memetic Background Character or Memetic Scenery Extra are the best choices, I think. Replacing Memetic with Darkhorse could also work. Or maybe Fandom Favored Extra if you want to try to be snappy.
  • June 5, 2011
    ArtisticPlatypus
    I'd say Bystander Darkhorse is the best suggestion.
  • June 5, 2011
    Hadashi
    I think it is too, but it could be way better.

    Incidentally, the Three Old Men from Cowboy Bebop were so popular they got a bit-part in the film.
  • June 5, 2011
    DragonQuestZ
    Not "palmtop". I thought it was about a virtual dominatrix from a handheld computer.
  • June 5, 2011
    JonnyB
    I'm not in favor of using the Darkhorse loaded word as too many people already confuse this with Ensemble Darkhorse.
  • June 5, 2011
    hevendor717
    Isn't a darkhorse someone whose role gets enhanced, or comes out ahead because of fan popularity? This wouldn't be quite that. Seems these Bystander Darkhorses get comedic nods and cool moments but remain non-relevant.

    Compare Background Gag.

    Scruffy, the janitor from Futurama may count as this trope.

  • June 6, 2011
    BraveHoratio
    I think the memetic thing works because it's the fans that make this character...anything at all.

    I think there might be an in-universe example in the Casey And Andy cast song. I'm not recalling the precise words but there's a Stop the Music bit that goes something like "And then there's the green goo that appears in strip 159 - I've written three fanfics about her!"

    I don't think Scruffy the Janitor counts...but the Hypnotoad might.

    And I really really want the couple that always sees the monsters in Gargoyles to be an example, but I don't think they are. And then she gets a name and becomes DA.

    Also, maybe mention in the example who Figwit actually is? It wasn't until I got to the comment where he's described as "Elf Escort" that I had any idea what the example was talking about.

    ...does the Space Core in Portal 2 count, or is he too prominent a character?
  • June 6, 2011
    Hukky
    • Mega Man X2 has the Green Biker Dude, a Reploid who appears at the beginning of the intro stage and whose only purpose is to pop a wheelie and die.
  • June 6, 2011
    aschwartz07901
    The kid on the tricycle in The Incredibles
  • June 6, 2011
    jaytee
    This feels very much like Memetic Mutation But More Specific. And considering the not-inconsiderable overlap with Ensemble Darkhorse, Recurring Extra, Ascended Extra and One Scene Wonder, not to mention the ridiculous subjectivity of the trope (the Boba Fett discussion above sufficiently demonstrates that this trope has no clear boundaries).....

    I think we might be better off without this one.
  • June 6, 2011
    JonnyB
    Actually the Boba Fett discussion above helped define the trope. Before then there was considerable overlap and confusion with Ensemble Darkhorse, but after that everyone (well, most everyone) understood this was not a case (like Boba Fett) where a planned secondary character came into prominence, this was a case where someone put into the background randomly got fan attention.
  • June 6, 2011
    HeroicJay
    Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn has the 3-13 Archer and Final Fantasy IV The After Years has Monk C (known by many in the fandom as "Monk Coleman", though that's of course not an official name). In the PSP remake, Final Fantasy IV: The Complete Collection, Monk C even has a slightly different color scheme from Monks A and B.
  • June 6, 2011
    UltimateChimera
    Ekuran, I really like the way you described the difference. Can I use that?
  • June 7, 2011
    somerandomdude
  • June 7, 2011
    JonnyB
    ^ The teacher was part of the cast, I don't think he fits.

    Also, Get On With It
  • June 7, 2011
    Windsong12
    The Glee fandom loves Brad the accompanist, despite him having never spoken. Not to mention he doesn't do anything other than accompany the kids on the piano.

    Agree, Just Launch It Already

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable