A subset of Acceptable Targets
. These examples deal with targets that are often just very unlucky. These are things that could happen to just about anybody.
In a way, these might be even worse than other Acceptable Targets
. While many people do show pride in their culture, ethnic group, nationality, etc. - people generally (with few exceptionsnote
) don't show pride in a disability, illness, or whatever hardship that they have. It's usually considered bad enough that they have the disability, illness, or any other hardship - that being discriminated for it would add insult to injury, so to speak.
Of course, in some cases there's some circular logic here - they're only unlucky because they happen to be Acceptable Targets
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Fat Comic Relief
You must be dumb. End of story. Or lazy. Or greedy. Or gluttonous (in some TV shows fat characters never appear in a single scene
without shoving food into their mouths). Or low-class trailer trash. Or a slob. Or sweaty, stinky, or otherwise sub-human. Or, in an inversion, if you're American you must be a disgusting fat slob. Or, if you're fat, you're American.
Crazy Homeless People
The Mentally Disturbed
Though with some luck this just might be heading for Discredited Trope
status, though there's still a very long way to go yet. See Heroic Albino
— compare how short is next to the Evil Albino
- The treatment of albinism in fiction is startlingly harsh. The condition seems to have been declared officially creepy with Moby-Dick (although the whale in question only had a white hump). There are no ordinary people who happen to be albino; instead there are an assortment of insidious operatives and psychotic killers. There is a sense of albinos having some kind of otherworldly powers, when all they can really claim is poor vision and susceptibility to skin cancer.
- Played with in The Princess Bride. The Albino in that really only takes care of the Zoo of Death.
- In The Da Vinci Code, it seems like Silas is this. Turns out, that's exactly what he is.
- Horrible truth in television since the persecution of albinos is still widespread, especially in areas of Africa where witch doctors pay a fine fee for albino limbs to use in their concoctions.
People with speech impediments
Common speech problems such as the lisp, stutter, pronunciation of "r" as "w", or even funny accents, are still regularly used for comic effect. This can even extend all the way up to damaged vocal cords requiring the use of an external electronic voicebox, or complete loss of speech, which usually results in jokes about people having to write down everything they say
. Most Looney Tunes
characters had "amusing
" speech impediments, but the classic examples have to be Michael Palin's portrayal of Pontius Pilate in Monty Python's Life of Brian
, and Peter Cook's Impressive Clergyman in The Princess Bride
- Foreign/unusual accents and dialects are also typically considered speech impediments, and therefore become subjects of mockery. Examples include Borat, Inspector Clouseau, Ricky Ricardo, "Fes," King of the Hill's "Boomhauer," etc.
- It's hard to classify Boomhauer because nearly every character in the show can understand him perfectly even if the audience can't.
- Boomhauer is also kind of a special case in that he's pretty clearly at least as smart as any other regular on the show, and arguably better adjusted to boot. He just has a strong Appalachian accent.
- Essentially the entire point of The King's Speech, in which George VI is humiliated by his stutter.
- Spoiler alert! In the movie Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski. Used and then subverted. A Japanese gardener refers to the "grasses" but the detective (along with the audience) only identifies the gardener's bad grammar and so dismisses him as a humourous red herring with nothing valuable to offer. Later, the detective returns and comes to realizes an essential clue from the gardener who wasn't saying "grasses" but "glasses". The error wasn't in grammar but in pronunciation: the 'r' and 'l' being commonly mispronounced by those Japanese who attempt to speak English. Shame on the detective for being so quick to dismiss an unsophisticated foreigner, eh?
- Another Michael Palin example, in A Fish Called Wanda, in which his character stutters like crazy, but only the villain makes fun of him for it. Palin based this aspect of the character partially on his father, who had a stammer. There now exists, in London, the Michael Palin Institute for Stammering Children.
- Worth noting that the actor who played the stuttering public attorney in My Cousin Vinny actually had a speech impediment in real life for years and only recently beat it before signing up for the role. He thought of his character having a speech impediment as a "sick joke."
- Subverted in Pan's Labyrinth and used for horror, when the character who stutters is told that he will not be tortured if he can count to three without stuttering. He can't, and is tortured.
- Averted in The Big Bang Theory. Kripke is a jerk to the main characters, but they never pick on his rhotacism. Of course, it's still pretty clearly intended.
- Sure? "What accent is that?"
- The character that asks that was born in India and moved to America, it seems like the writers were re-asking a fan question.
- The Roman emperor Claudius stuttered due to cerebral palsy, and in I, Claudius, his family is presented as very cruel because of the way they shun him for this. He is able to overcome this impediment through a lot of training, although he continues to pretend to stutter prior to becoming emperor to preserve his public image as "poor Claudius".
- Played with in M*A*S*H, when a wounded soldier with a bad stutter treated as an idiot by his commanding officer. However, the normally snobbish and rude Charles was very sympathetic and mentions that many very intelligent people also had stutters, at the end of the episode it was revealed that Charles's sister also has a stutter.
- Japanese musicians are often mocked for their accents (especially by racists or other haters, but occasionally even by fans) even if the musician is not a vocalist and the accent only shows up in interviews or at most stage patter. A sad example here is the hate Yoshiki Hayashi gets for his accent - while he does interviews on behalf of the band and talks/yells doing stage patter, he is a drummer, pianist, and occasional guitarist, none of which are affected by what remains of his accent, and his English is actually native-level for the most part.
- As mentioned above, dang ol' Boomhauer, man.
- Boomhauer doesn't seem to actually have a speech impediment in the usual sense of the word. He mumbles and slurs his words together in an exaggeration of an Appalachian accent (Mike Judge based it off of an irate caller complaining about Beavis and Butt-Head, but the general impression he gives is that he just doesn't bother to try to enunciate better, not that he can't.
- Inverted in one episode where from his point of view, he is well spoken and clearly enunciates, but everyone else mumbles and adds random 'dang ol' cruft.
People with non-disabling deformities
Especially with the increase in the availability and use of plastic surgery, people who have noticeable disfigurements that are not actually disabling (or at least don't appear to be, regardless of whether they actually are) are subject to ridicule, if they're ever shown on television at all.
- In Harry Harrison's Eden trilogy, Armun has a harelip which she covers with her hair, as it makes her a target for insults and names from her tribesmates.
- Women with flat chests and women with huge breasts are often the subject of ridicule. The former are often accused of being immature, while the latter are often accused of being slutty.
- An episode of Family Guy at one point featured Stewie having a recollection about a man with a cleft lip, who he referred to as a harelip - an offensive term for the condition.
- Not to mention Jake Tucker and his upside down face.
- Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the main villain of Season 1) has a nasty burn scar on his face, which was given to him by his own father. He does get a Heel-Face Turn in Season 3, though.
- Zuko is an interesting example, as his scar doesn't prevent him from being Mr. Fanservice.
People with 'mild' disorders such as ADHD, OCD or Asperger's
For the most part, people with Aspergers, ADHD, OCD, depression, etc. will get smacked from two angles. On the one hand, they'll be portrayed as stupid, incompetent, and foolish - the traditional way to do it. Then, they'll get attacked from the opposite angle - that they're actually perfectly fine and are either whiny or suffer from Special Snowflake Syndrome
. Drama queens in other words. Or that they're just trying to get special advantages on tests. There is a grain of truth here, like there is in a lot of things that gain public traction. There has been an over-diagnosis of various disorders over the years (due in no small part to Big Pharma wanting to push as much product out the door regardless of whether the person even has the condition and, through doctors that are hasty to diagnose normal energetic kid behavior as "hyperactive", using children as lab rats) with ADHD probably being the most notorious, which means people are even less likely to believe people who legitimately have the disorder(s). In addition, ADHD medicine often gets abused by people in high schools and on college campuses in order to stay up and study later. That said, people who actually have ADHD are often just as troubled by this behavior as everyone else, if not more, since the medicine that they actually need is at risk of being stolen and abused (not to mention the fact that it's really friggin' expensive and there are frequent shortages).
The "swearing disease", despite the fact that swearing tics occur in maybe ten percent of the cases. Pretty much whenever a character has Tourette's on TV, they'll have the rare swearing tic due to the Rule of Funny
used to describe people who are dumb in some way. Admit it...you've heard it used to describe that Jerk Jock
or that big-ass bully with more muscle than brain in high school, those stupid customers who ask stupid questions, the slovenly basement dwellers talking shit on message boards and online games, or that big fat motherfucker of a bouncer with a squashed, bulldog-like face that you just know
was caused by him getting his nose smashed one too many times. Some of us have to breathe through our mouth because we have a cold, sinus infection, the flu, or really bad allergies. (And we all know 90% of Allergy Medications don't work) OI!
- Marvel's Weasel is a mouth breather, and a creepy nerdy loser criminal on top of it.
- Uhura calls Kirk one in Star Trek, although considering her talented ears, it may just have been an accurate descriptor - breathing through your mouth is of course quieter, and he was trying to hide.
- Mentioned in Hogfather, with the stupid thug Banjo who "looked as though he was living on invisible plankton".
- Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock is liable to call you one if he thinks you're stupid. He's called Kenneth a mouth-breather at least once.
- Jaye's supervisor is nicknamed this by her and her family on Series/Wonderfalls. He doesn't take kindly to it, telling Jaye that it's due to an undeviated septum, but this doesn't stop her from using it. It should be noted that she rather dislikes him anyway, due to being younger but promoted over her, and for being annoyingly upbeat at their retail job.
- Not to mention when it's caused not by a temporary sickness or allergy, but a permanent deformation of the internal sinus passages.
- Subverted in JAG, wherein major character Bud Roberts gets a leg amputated as result of stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, yet he's ultimately able to fully recover (with the aid of a prosthetic leg) and to live a happy familiy life.
- One particularly grating recent example being Dutch Rail's refusal to display posters that show one of Marc Quinn's Complete Marbles sculptures at railway stations across the country. Before you ask, no, it wasn't the nudity they objected to. To put matters into perspective, this is a company that will happily plaster a close-up of a bloody face◊ across its billboards.
People in wheelchairs
People with allergies
Especially ones that cause them to develop cold or flu - like symptoms from plants, animals, dust, etc. Like overweight people, their suffering and awkwardness is often just plain funny. It's often depicted as just one more indication that the character isn't Mr. or Miss Right for the protagonist. However, if a secondary protagonist is a Loser
, an allergy sufferer rejected by The Hero
may be his last hope for wedded bliss. There's also a tendency to give nebbishy characters allergies in order to reinforce their wimpiness.
- Walter, Annie's fiance from Sleepless In Seattle, has many allergies including some foods. While he's not unsympathetically treated on the whole, it is presented as if it's a nerdy and less-than-sexy trait.
- Daniel Jackson in Stargate, on top of other nerdy traits, spends about half the movie sneezing because he gets allergies when he travels. This is done to make him stand out as different from the soldiers in the movie. This trait was dropped in the show, aside from a brief Shout-Out in the first episode.
- See also, Mouth breathers. Some people have to breathe through their mouth because they can't clear their nose out thanks to allergies. It's a Catch 22 all around...the second you clear it out, within 10 minutes, your nasal passages are blocked again and you have to breathe through your mouth.
- A lot are played through laughs, at least hayfever. Allergies like Nuts or Shellfish? No laughing matter. Even people who complain about not being able to eat peanuts in an area that has a large no nuts sign is more than often shut up when they learn how severe peanut allergies can be.
- People who loudly and/or obnoxiously inform others -especially strangers- of their allergies are perfectly acceptable targets, regardless of the severity of said allergies.
There's usually a good reason for it in Real Life
, but in sitcoms they're often depicted as lazy, ignorant, etc., or else the Butt Monkey
. It's really interesting when the lower-class (usually) guy falls for the Rich Bitch
and has to deal with the vast ocean of differences between the social classes. Hilarity Ensues
People who were held back a year in school
Commonly portrayed as a Jerk Ass
Bully, being much
bigger than the class, being incredibly
stupid, and most fiction examples won't cover any potential examples for being held back (such as how they were held back because they spent too much of the school year in the hospital recovering from a severe illness or injury). They also are never
shown as taking school seriously; frequently giving up and not even trying
to do their schoolwork so they can catch up.
The ultimate butt of education jokes. Whether a series takes place in high school, "real" college, or the outside world, expect at least one joke about a character attending community college. Despite the fact that many educational professionals agree attending community college for two years and then transferring to a four-year school is an excellent financial decision, pop culture and society at large have not gotten over the fact that "anyone can get into community college." Community college students are seen as A) poor, B) lazy, C) stupid, or D) all of the above. This is one of the few fiction-based acceptable targets that also applies completely in real life—it is perfectly acceptable to insult the community college system and its students in most social situations.
- And this despite the fact that many community colleges offer an excellent education with some even offering programs not available at the local universities. In particular, many community colleges offer courses covering technical content not available at most public four-year schools. For example, a traditional four-year school might offer enough lecture courses to get you a mechanical engineering degree, but community colleges are more likely to offer actual hands-on courses on machining and welding, leading to a more practical understanding of the trade. Engineering in particular is notorious for involving designs that look good on paper but don't perform that well in practice. The hands-on experience can be invaluable.
- Also, at a university, in some fields you're unlikely to get to actually ask questions of any instructor who isn't a grad student for the first two years anyway. The guy teaching the 300 person lecture class will probably be a Ph.D., but he might as well be a video for all the interaction you'll get from him. Community Colleges don't have grad students, so most of your interaction will be with people who at least have a postgraduate degree (and, often, actual real world experience to boot) right from the start.
- While not a comedy example, Rudy is told that he must build his academic record at a community college before he will be eligible to apply to Notre Dame. The inference is that these institutions are dumping grounds for Ivy League rejects.
- He's explicitly being told to go there to "build up his academic record", i.e. prove that he's smart/dedicated/whatever enough to make it at Notre Dame. Sounds more like a refinery than a "dumping ground".
- In Iron Man, Tony threatens to donate Dummy to a community college, the implication being that it would be a most embarrassing fate for the poor AI/robot.
- In Christopher Pike's Final Friends series, the heroine finds out that she'll be unable to get into a "real" college due to her abysmal SAT scores and will have to go to community college instead. She says it's "like going to summer camp after you expected to climb Mt. Everest" and eventually decides to give up on academics entirely rather than suffer the humiliation.
- Played with in the episode of CSI: Miami, with Richard Speight Jr guest-starring as an intelligent guy who didn't get into a great college because his classmate stole the test, got a really high score and offset everything. The classmate then lorded it over him at a reunion.
- Played for laughs on the TV sitcom Community, set in a community college.
- The show lampshaded this in one episode where the main characters try to find a way to get Highschool Students attending the campus for college credits to stop making fun of them for being in a community college.
- In The Big Bang Theory, Sheldon looks down on Penny for attending (and dropping out of) a community college. Though in this case, it's less that the show itself attacks community colleges and more that Sheldon is an Insufferable Genius who looks down on everyone - including his other friends and colleagues, many of whom have earned Masters and Doctorates from "proper" universities. None of the other characters seem to have a problem with it.
- Bonus Points as sometimes, community colleges are better in some courses than "real" colleges, only cost much less. (For example, the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education, arguably one of the best culinary arts schools in the country, is part of Grand Rapids Community College in Grand Rapids, Michigan.)
- Laney College in Oakland, California is increasingly regarded as one of the best theater schools in Northern California, as its actors frequently land top spots in universities—or, you know, get picked by theaters as soon as they graduate. Unfortunately it has the double-whammy of being a community college in Oakland, which is stereotyped as being dangerous, poor, and riddled with drug dealers.
- Unless, of course, the character comes from a poor background, like Luanne Platter from King of the Hill, where her going to Community College is celebrated by her family.
- Hayley on American Dad! attends a community college, which is often the butt of some jokes ("I got a check-plus. That's like a C at Arizona State!").
By people who have not been to trade schools.
Male Sexual Harassment Victims
- Astronauts actually did get people understanding them, before Lisa Nowak went after that woman her boyfriend was having an affair with.
Did you know that Sexual Harassment can actually happen to men
too? Or that women can actually commit Sexual Harassment...and actually do it to a man
and not another woman? Or that men can actually commit Sexual Harassment against other men
? Most places don't actually realize this and force men who are targets of harassment to "take it like a man" and that anyone who tries to do something about the harassment is "PC Bullshit" or "a wimp." See also Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male
- Averted in Kinou Nani Tabeta?, the lawyer protagonist took a case in which a big guy is abused by his small girlfriend, it is portrayed realistically.
- The treatment of Dale (played by Charlie Day) in Horrible Bosses zig-zags this. On one hand, his friends don't seem to think that his problem—his sex-crazed and very hot (played by Jennifer Aniston) boss constantly hitting on him at work—is all that bad. On the other hand, the creators go out of their way to make her seem insane and kind of creepy, and make him seem like a really nice guy happily engaged to his fiancee and not in the least bit interested in any other woman—which accentuates the horror.
- An episode of What Would You Do? tested peoples' reactions to abuse by different sexes, by having two actors playing a couple alternate being abusive. When the man was the one yelling and being rough, more often than not people stepped in to stop it. When the woman was the abuser, most people did nothing — in fact, several women who saw it happening looked satisfied, including one who did a little fist-pump after she passed them. When asked her about her reaction, she said she assumed he had it coming.
- Pretty much the whole message of Michael Crichton's Disclosure and the MacGuffin for the book. He also waxes at length on the (presumably correct for the time) statistics and what they mean.
- In an episode of King of the Hill, Hank Hill's reaction to being told he can sue for "Male on Male Sexual Harassment" is... "BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!" followed by his shocked expression. The other person he shows it to also is too afraid to admit it. It's amazing how real it can be.
- Another episode had him being borderline-stalked by a female cop with the hots for him, which wasn't shown as being the least bit acceptable. Yet still played for laughs.
- An episode of Family Guy had Peter being sexually harassed by his boss, to the point that she demanded he come to her house and have sex with her. While she was clearly shown as being in the wrong, the whole thing was Played for Laughs, and Lois outright refused to believe that a woman could sexually harass a man (mostly because All Men Are Perverts). Later on, the boss tells Peter she's a virgin because she was too ugly to get laid, itself an Acceptable Target.
Males with small penises
Guys with a Teeny Weenie
. As the popular perception goes, Bigger Is Better in Bed
, and a large penis is symbolic of virility and all-around masculinity. Those that have smaller-than-average "equipment" are usually perceived as weak, pathetic, and not truly a man. This main perception is the core reason why Compensating for Something
is widely considered an insult and why it's called "compensating
- The Lily Allen song "Not Big". After her boyfriend breaks up with, the protagonist responds by saying she's not upset because he was sexually inadequate.
- The infamous One-Hit Wonder "Short Dick Men" by Gilette, back in the mid 1990's. The bowdlerized version changed that part of the lyrics for "Short Short Men", which not only misplaced the singers complaint to another Acceptable Target (men of small size), but also because the "tiny weenie" lyrics weren't edited out the target became "short men with small equipement".
Minimum Wage Employeesnote
Anyone who works a low-paying job. Bonus points if it's "menial" labor or customer service.
To many, the term "Vocal Minority
" doesn't exist, they forget it exists, or they are too ignorant to say it exists. If there is a "Vocal Minority
" in your group causing havoc to society, oftentimes much of everyone else will lump you and the other innocent people in your group
and you will be lambasted for your group's Vocal Minority
regardless if you were never apart of it or were even against it. This goes double for fandoms, triple if it involves politics, race, nationality, and/or religion. For example, if you are American, you are a stupid fat slob who disgraces society
. If you are an American who is smart, slim, and nice, you do not exist to these people. No exceptions.
People of short stature
People of smaller-than-average height, especially males, face discrimination in several facets. Physically, they are smaller, so they may be seen as "small" in other ways due to the Halo effect
. Mentally, their personality is considered weak no matter what it is; if they are timid, they are weak all-around; if they are aggressive, they must suffer from the Napolean Complex
. Sexually, men in particular face serious difficulties in the dating arena; studies have shown that height matters more to women on average (as polled through dating sites) than money, fitness, or personality. This general sentiment means they will often be cast in sexually unappealing roles.
- In Shrek, Lord Farquaad's height is ridiculed on several occasions. It doesn't help that he's the villain and must be compensating for something, or that he's incompetent, or sexually abusive, or (laundry list of his character flaws).
People with physical features that some just don't happen to personally find attractive
If someone finds a person unpleasant for any reason, it's not uncommon for the complainer to, while ranting about this person they find unpleasant, also throw in "Oh, and they also have a big nose/a weird chin/creepy eyebrows/chubby cheeks/are fat/too hairy/etc
- Naruto has Gai and Lee, who are frequently made fun of for their large eyebrows and their oddly shaped eyes and lashes, in canon, fanon, and just the fandom in general. The jumpsuit, haircut and poses are all their own choices, though, so those don't count.
- The entire driving plot of Cyrano de Bergerac is that despite being a smooth talking literary genius who has a way with words, he couldn't get a girlfriend to save his life because he has a big nose. We're not talking a slightly-larger-than-average Roman nose. We're talking about an epic schnozzola that has defined the very real former Gascogne knight and playwright for over 300 years.
- Roxanne is a modern adaptation of Cyrano De Bergerac starring Steve Martin. Instead of a knight, he's a firefighter. Since it takes place in the modern day where you can find dozens of plastic surgeons in even the smallest town in America, his current condition is justified in that he's allergic to anesthesia. But he does go to therapy.