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Headscratchers: The Emperor's New Clothes
  • Why would anyone want clothing that let stupid people see you naked?

  • Why do they always leave off the last part of the story, where the laughing crowds are rounded up and put to death, changing the Aesop from the far more sensible "Do not laugh at the man in control of the military industrial complex lest you meet an unpleasant end" to some guff about gullibility.
    • Because the modifed Aesop is more useful in modern societies with elected leadership?
    • The story is a Hans Christian Andersen original, and the original version doesn't say anything about the crowd getting massacred. Any emperor who tried to do something like that would quickly find himself with a 0% Approval Rating—and sheer logistics ensures that such an attempt would be a disaster anyway.
    • Discworld had (I believe) the death/punishment of the boy and telling everyone to forget it ever happened.
      • IIRC, the boy was beaten by his father for "being rude to royalty" in the Discworld version, and the guards rounded everyone else up and told them that it never happened.
      • And then the rest of the empire saw the benefits of the new clothes, started playing games on the beach with large, inflatable, multicolor balls, and all but died out in an influenza epidemic. The point was that the story, and therefore the aesop, changes completely based on how much and what of it you tell.
      • Nowadays, there are any number of ideological fallacies by which this story could have a Downer Ending, at least for the kid:
      Kid: "But he has nothing on!"
      Crowd: "You're just saying that because you're white and he's our first black emperor ever. Shut up, you racist!"
    • I'd be fearing for those tailors. They were pawing that emperor's naked body for hours, pretending to be tailors making him a suit, making him think he had empirical evidence that he was a fool, they probably even pricked him with needles to make it more authentic, and he probably paid them a lot. And they did this to the emperor. Emperor is one level above king, and implies an empire, so they can't even run. Nor can they shame him into keeping it quiet, because he was humiliated before a massive crowd.
      • Maybe they wanted to touch the king's naked body?
      • It's worth it, to have say that they pulled a con on not only the emperor, but his court, and the entire imperial city.
      • Who says there's nowhere to run? Depending on which empire this was, they could depart for a neighboring empire or for the barbarian kingdoms just outside its borders, where they'd be especially welcome for having put one over on the bothersome neighboring empire.
    • I prefer the modern version, because of the moral I myself see in it, which isn't quite the same one everyone else takes away from it: that children are, despite what most people are taught to think, sometimes in their own way wiser than adults, because they have not had their heads filled with as much bullshit as they eventually probably will. A child is fully capable of calling a spade a spade because they haven't been inculturated yet with all the "complexities" that render up down and black white in the minds of older people. They're incapable of understanding things that...well, do not really contain anything to understand, because they're just codswallop. The kind of nonsense that reaches its peak when the child is, say, a philosophy major in college evading your refutations by asking you what the keyword of every sentence out of your mouth "means" whenever you're challenging any nonsense they're spouting. This wonderful parable illustrates the principle better than any other metaphor I can think of: all the adults, I think, have taught themselves, to some tiny degree, to believe on some level that the emperor is wearing clothes, because that's what everyone else is saying and that's what they're supposed to believe as well. Only the little kid who hasn't yet risen in the ranks of horseshit knows better.
      • The above is a perfect example of why I dislike the story. Why are children held in such respect for their 'innocence' which is really just a non-understanding of the way the world works? Captain Planet is a perfect example of 'childhood innocence' - pollution is bad because it is destroying all the nice plants and animals so we must stop all the nasty polluters. And whatever idiocies may have been committed in the name of philosophy, the very nature of enquiring what you mean by words and notions at least shows us that we are often taking for granting a whole number of concepts. Try and form a society that is 'fair' or 'just' for example without stopping to consider what those notions really mean.
      • But surely the child is not to be praised for its "innocence" but for its honesty and courage? The entire grown-up world is knowingly playing along with the invisible-clothes-thing because they fear for their reputation and are prone to self-doubt, lying to one another to save face and thus feeding the lie. In that world, in a public place and before every last citizen, ONE child raises its voice and speaks the truth: there are no clothes (and you are all cowards who believes the words of others but not you own two eyes). The child is the needle of brutal honesty which breaks the bubble. Speaking a truth which everyone around you fear to aknowledge is BRAVE.
      • But the child is only brave because that is the way the story is written, it's obvious that the emperor is naked. The problem is when people try and extrapolate this story into real life. "Hey everyone, you're all saying Citizen Kane is a good film. Well I'm saying it isn't - the emperor has no clothes" "Hey everyone you're all saying that Darwin is right, I'm saying he isn't, the emperor has no clothes". It may be that everyone is too scared to acknowledge a truth. But it may also be that everyone is agreeing on a something BECAUSE it's true and the one person who goes against is not being brave but quite simply is wrong. Perhaps I shouldn't say I dislike the story itself but dislike it when it's used to try and extrapolate some real world moral.
      • The other problem is that there's a difference between bravery and foolhardiness. The other citizens might have been afraid to speak up... because as adults they know that there's a real chance of being tossed in a dungeon for making a fool of the emperor. The child isn't speaking up because he's brave enough to risk the consequences, but because he's too naive to realize that he might be thrown in a gulag. He's not speaking out of bravery, but out of ignorance of the possible consequences of his actions.
      • (On the other hand, the emperor and his staff shows a kind of bravery as well. Double Aesop? No, wait. They ignore the truth to save face – just like everyone did from the very beginning. Now I hate the people (and the court+personnel) for embarrassing a person with no means of escape, when they were equally decieved until moments ago. The emperor has been encouraged along the way; now that everyone realises the mistake, they still allow him to go on display to carry the burden of everyone's shame. And they pretend not to (the servants still carry the non-existent train of his non-existent clothes). Will someone please lend him a shirt! And bring him back home and serve him hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream!)
      • The moral I got from the story was "There's no greater foolishness than being afraid of looking foolish". That it's a child who doesn't know enough to be afraid who saves the township the trouble of saying what they're thinking is, I think, a convenience of the story. The story could have made a bigger deal of who saves the day and why if that was the point, rather than focusing on what everyone else did wrong.

  • Or you can say the moral of the story was more straightforward, that intuition and savvy work outside of our "systems"

  • Wouldn't he at least sense the clothing in some way? Wouldn't he be feeling a breeze, some weight? What kind of tailor makes the underwear and the suit in one shot, or are we talking about the classical "nude" where you still have underwear?
    • This troper recalls a version where the fabric's magic meant it could also only be felt by the wise as well as that the tailors spent several days making several different pieces of clothing for him to wear.
    • And I recall there's a line where one of the advisers remarks on how light the fabric is, therefore it feels like nothing too.
    • The original has the swindlers themselves telling him that it's so light that one might feel like he had nothing on, "but that is the very beauty of it!"
    • The story is probably set in a time before underwear became common.

  • If there really was a fabric that stupid people or those unfit for their position can't see, surely it'd have a lot better uses than clothing? You could ask all your employees and vassals what color a piece of it is, then demote the ones who get it wrong.
    • He was vain, he didn't want it for practicality, he wanted it because it was supposedly the most magnificent fabric in the world, made even more magnificent because only the worthy could perceive it.
    • In Hans Christian Anderson's original, the Emperor does think of exactly that:
      “That must be wonderful cloth,” thought the emperor. “If I were to be dressed in a suit made of this cloth I should be able to find out which men in my empire were unfit for their places, and I could distinguish the clever from the stupid."
    • In order to test his men on what color it is, the Emperor himself would have to know what color it is. Obviously he doesn't know.

  • The tailors' scheme is more of a Gambit Roulette than a reasonable con-game. What if the Emperor had shown a bit more Genre Savvy, and ordered them to demonstrate the fabric's properties in some way that proved its tangibility? For instance, insisting that they show how strong their special cloth was, by stretching it out like a trampoline and dropping rocks onto it. If he's Genre Savvy and nasty, he could've even ordered the tailors to lie down underneath the "cloth" during the testing process: if they're feeding him bullshit, they get pelted with rocks, and serves them right.
    • One of the points of the story is that the Emperor isn't the sharpest tool in the shed.
    • They could just counter that it's not very strong because it's so light, and therefore won't support much weight.
    • Even if he were a bit brighter, it would be very difficult to demand that the cloth be tested without giving away the fact that he can't see it.
    • Actually, the tailors were damned lucky that the Emperor didn't insist that they adorn the "new clothes" with genuine jewels and gold thread from his treasury, as is common in fancy royal regalia. They can't exactly sew spangles on thin air, can they?

  • Why did everybody believe the little boy that the Emperor really wasn't wearing clothes? Wouldn't they just think he wasn't very smart?
    • Because one kid gave voice to what they were all thinking, they all paused the charade to think, "It's not that the clothes are invisible and I'm stupid; it's that there are no clothes!"
    • None of them wanted to admit even to themselves that they were stupid(which every single last one of them including both the Emperor and the little kid were).

  • If the emperor'd intended to use the "new clothes" to test if his advisers and underlings were competent, why didn't he keep it a secret that they couldn't be seen by the foolish or inept? By letting it become common knowledge, his test would have been invalidated even if the tailors had been honest about their fabric, because everyone would (and did) lie about seeing it.

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