Acceptable Inevitable Targets

A subset of Acceptable Targets. These examples deal with targets that, God willing, will happen to all of us at some point in our lives, and will thus almost always inevitably end up being Hypocritical Humor.


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The elderly

People in their sixties and beyond, especially women, are mostly portrayed as useless and doddering at best and creepy perverts at worst. Comedies make fun of them, dramas are concerned about them but in a somewhat condescending manner. Whatever the Competence Zone of your show, expect these folks to fall way outside of it. Cool Old Guys are the exception. Don't also forget how many people decide that, when they're old, they can be as rude as possible and get away with it. And when it comes to middle-aged or old people having sex, especially when both partners are the same age, the reaction is either played for gross-out laughs or is seen as straight up horror. It can be assumed, however, that the young people reacting in this manner will change their tunes when they find themselves middle-aged or old themselves.

  • Jeff Dunham's puppet Walter.
  • Bowser and Blue have songs about getting old: one is called "When a Man Turns Fifty," which they wrote to commemorate their own fiftieth birthdays, and another is "It's Okay to be Grey."

  • As famous, high-grade Hollywood stars gain years, this trope is getting subverted more and more often; there are even movies with elderly people as the stars, possessing understanding or skills that the youngsters just don't have yet. Bubba Ho Tep and Gran Torino are good examples of movies which fulfill both the stereotype and the cool grandpa concept with their main characters.

Live-Action TV
  • Pierce Hawthorne of Community embodies the racist/sexist/homophobic/antisemitic angle (though his upbringing probably had a part in this too); nevertheless, he is often very considerate and sweet and is often on the wrong end of Values Dissonance (for instance, he genuinely thinks telling Annie she’s ‘crafty’ because she’s Jewish is a compliment).

  • In the young-adult trilogy from Dragonriders of Pern, especially the first book, Dragonsong, all of the elders (the "aunties" and "old uncle") are portrayed as idiots - to the point where the aunties argue about their respective ages and where they were born.
    One auntie: I've lived through more lives than you have, my girl.
    Another auntie: You have not! I came here from Red Sands in Ista...
    The first auntie: You were born at Half-Circle, you old fool, and I birthed you!
    • This isn't just present in a few isolated characters; the world overall, with a few notable exceptions, does not show elderly people in a positive light, when it shows them at all. In Dragonsong, all the aunties are seen at menial tasks, and Old Uncle was removed as leader and kept somewhat isolated after he lost his legs. He acts as if he has dementia, but that could be related to the way that he was completely sidelined when he could no longer command at sea.

Western Animation

Real Life
  • Particularly, due to changes in opinion over time that holds in more or less all of the Western World, the elderly are considerably more likely to be shown to be racist, sexist, homophobic, and the like. Sometimes this appears more innocently, when somebody's grandpa just doesn't realise you don't say "Chinaman" or "colored" any more. Or it could just overlap with Screw Politeness, I'm a Senior!.
  • This editorial by Joel Stein discusses how presidential candidate John McCain's age is an acceptable target for political satirists (The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, for instance, are fond of jokes about how he's spoken to Lincoln, walked with Jesus, created the first cave paintings, though that part was actually a Lampshade Hanging on their normal use of the joke) and concludes that the elderly are Acceptable Targets because we'll all get old some day, and these jokes help us to deal with this fate.
    • McCain himself has been remarkably good-natured about age jokes; when he hosted Saturday Night Live one sketch was a mock campaign ad wherein he announced that only he had "the courage, the wisdom, the experience and, most importantly, the oldness necessary" to be President. It doesn't help that his lifetime [1] dates back to 1840, nor that he made a major campaign issue out of what an acquaintance of Obama was or wasn't doing when most of the electorate were too young to vote.
    • This picked up remarkably after McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. Almost all commentary on his campaign by the opposition shifted to saying he was absolutely, certainly, most definitely going to die in office if elected, there wasn't a single shred of doubt. Most commentary had him dropping dead and crumbling to dust within months at the most. Even if if he served two full terms, McCain would be 80 years old at the conclusion of his administration, which while making him the oldest President ever, is still hardly outside the normal human age range. (Four presidents—Adams, Hoover, Ford, and Reagan—all lived shortly past their ninetieth birthdays.)
    • This was particularly ironic given that McCain's mother was healthy and alert enough to do an interview during the campaign season. She's 95 years old.
      • And his father died at age 70.
    • Until his removal, similar jokes were made about Menzies Campbell MP (former Leader of the UK Liberal Democrat party), both by political opponents and the (theoretically) unaligned satirists. Unlike McCain, it is likely that these jokes played a fairly serious role in his removal.
    • Likewise, Ronald Reagan tended to be a target of this. If you liked him, he was genial and grandfatherly; if you didn't, he was either senile or pretending to be.
      • Reagan was, like McCain, pretty good about this. In a debate against Democratic presidential challenger Walter Mondale, when age was brought up, he responded "I will not hold my opponent's youth and inexperience against him," and at the 1992 Republican convention he commented on Clinton comparing himself to Thomas Jefferson by saying "Well, Governor, I knew Thomas Jefferson and you are no Thomas Jefferson."
    • It has likewise been common practice for Jay Leno to make fun of Strom Thurmond's age when he was a sitting U.S. Senator.


Conversely, children are also subject to vitriol from adults who find children to be a nuisance. Certain members of the childfree movement— who themselves tend to be acceptable targets— will be outright hateful of children. This, unfortunately, makes their group look bad. See Child Hater and Sadist Teacher. They're also often shown as an inconvenience, although it overlaps with sexual Acceptable Targets in that young boys will act up for the hell of it way more than young girls will...while likewise, girls are always Alpha Bitch.

Real Life
  • Sometimes, people who are themselves minors will strongly dislike people who are younger than them.
  • Then, of course, teenagers especially tend to endure negative stereotypes - both from adults and smaller children. See Teens Are Monsters.
  • Children and adolescents starting a new level of education often find the transition from the top of one level to the bottom of another very jarring, and the more senior students are often less than sympathetic. See Teenagers below.

Adults, in works directed at children

In media and literature which attempt to depict a world from a child's point of view, the heroic children must navigate a world full of grown-ups who are stupid, preoccupied, mysterious, unpleasant, or even downright evil, and certainly outside the Competence Zone. There Are No Adults is an extreme case in which they become entirely invisible.

Comic Books
  • Runaways abuses this like it was an incontinent puppy, despite the fact that most of the characters were old enough that in the real world they'd almost certainly be demanding to be treated as adults, one of them is legally an adult, and probably the majority of its readership were adults. However, characters that had started off as teen heroes, such as Spider-Man and Cloak & Dagger, were consistently portrayed as more sympathetic and understanding towards the runaways.

  • Also in commercials directed at children. Examples include sugary cereal commercials that have the adults eating boring "wheat pellets" or something and having their children, who obviously know much better, changing the adult's perspective by introducing sugary cereal into their lives. Also, the older Jello pudding commercials with Bill Cosby where kids know better to lick the top of the pudding container before throwing it away.

Fan Works
  • Marissa Picard. Her Kids Crews wouldn't have much to do if the adults around her were actually competent.

  • See most of the works of Roald Dahl, especially Matilda, although the one nice adult (Miss Honey) is pretty much the coolest teacher ever. Acknowledged by Dahl himself in the preface to Roald Dahl's Guide to Railway Safety, where he stated that Matilda was far and away the most popular book he had written for children because his audience knew that he understood their frustration at having adults tell them what to do.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events portrays all the adults in the series as incredibly evil, incompetent, or dead.

Western Animation
  • Codename: Kids Next Door. It's pretty much explicitly stated that the older you get, the more evil you get. The finale actually said growing up is a disease.
  • Care Bears portrays grown-ups as being clueless and rude, sometimes even the antagonist.
  • Phineas and Ferb has an odd relationship with this. Adults have a broad range, with quite a few incompetent side characters offset by well rounded and fairly realistic adult characters. Even so, none of the adults come anywhere close to the competency of the main cast, and the only one who matches there scope is Doofenshmirtz, who is absolutely nuts, and incredibly stupid.
    • Note that Phineas and Ferb are meant to be exceptionally competent, even for children, but even other children their age show exceptional qualities. Baljeet's mastery of theoretical sciences seems to rival, sometimes to exceed, that of the stepbrothers. Buford manages all sorts of amazing, and sometimes impossible, physical stunts, and is occasionally hinted out to be far, far more learned and intelligent than he has any right to be. And, of course, Isabella and the Fireside Girls are an impressively organized group that accomplishes the implausible, if not outright impossible, on a regular basis.


Adolescence is a very difficult time for most people, as they deal with a rapidly changing body, burgeoning sexuality, fear of social rejection, acne, school and the general realization that not everyone gets to live out their dreams. Anything told from an adult viewpoint (e.g. Harry Enfield and Chums) views teens as whiny and annoying.

Live-Action TV
  • Most sitcoms; see Bratty Teenage Daughter for plenty of examples.
  • Harry Enfield's iconic Kevin The Teenager. "IT'S SO UNFAIR! I HATE YOU!"

Newspaper Comics
  • Zits is an interesting example in that it has shifted somewhat from the teenaged Jeremy's viewpoint (complete with first-person narration) to that of his parents. While Jeremy has always been kind of a dolt (the cartoonists are parents of teenagers, after all), his parents have shifted more from being clueless and square to being sympathetic. This may have something to do with the medium's general shift in demographic...

Western Animation
  • Katie Kaboom from Animaniacs, who will grow into an ogre-like monster and detonate in an atomic blast if angered.
    "I'm not overreacting! I'm a teenager!"
  • Candace Flynn from Phineas and Ferb is an irrational, loud tattle-tale. Partially subverted, because there are teenagers who are more normal.

Real Life
  • Colleges in many countries have fraternities or similar cliques that offer a convenient social network, a sense of belonging and various privileges, but often only after an arduous and humiliating hazing process.

Mothers-in-law, normally the wife's mother, but the husband's can also be targeted.


Fairy Tales
  • In The Six Swans, the king's mother kidnaps the heroine's newborn children and tells the king she killed them until he agrees to her execution.
  • In The Girl Without Hands, at least in The Brothers Grimm's first edition, the king's mother sends a letter telling the king that his wife gave birth to a monster; when the king replies that she is to be treated kindly, the mother alters the message to order their deaths.
  • In Princess Belle-Etoile, the queen mother conspires with her daughter-in-law's sister to expose their children and claim that one of them gave birth to puppies.



  • There's a whole sub-genre of manga dealing with mothers-in-law, however not in a comedic light. Actually most of them are handled as some sort of horror soap opera. One of the most popular of these titles is Chikae Ide's Rasetsu no Ie which chronicles the horrifying ordeals a young daughter-in-law has to endure.

Live-Action TV
  • Since this is a staple in family sitcoms, it would be easier to list those series that *avert* this trope. Particularly The Cosby Show stands out in this regard: pretty much everyone gets along perfectly fine (except for some tensions between Claire and Alvin, though of course it's nothing really serious).

  • The late Ernie K. Doe's song about, who else? His "Mother-In-Law"!
    The worst person I know
    Mother-in-law, Mother-in-law!
    She worries me so
    Mother-in-law, Mother-in-law!
    If she'd leave us alone,
    We would have a happy home
    Sent from down below
    Mother-in-law, Mother-in-law!

Stand-Up Comedy
  • A mainstay of jokes for a long time, though now so emblematic of old-school comedians that they're only done in a self-aware, ironic fashion.

Western Animation


While The Fifties "Father Knows Best" depiction of the infinitely wise and rational husband was a stereotype as well, the modern portrayal created in response can be just as bad. Married men have a tendency these days to be portrayed as bumbling incompetents who couldn't resolve a domestic matter to save their lives or operate power tools without injuring themselves.


Live-Action TV
  • Married... with Children: Al is a terrible father, a lazy bum, and quite stupid.
  • Hal from Malcolm in the Middle is a rather typical Bumbling Dad. He usually has the best intentions when dealing with his family, but either gets distracted from what he needs to do or is too incompetent to do it right.

Western Animation
  • Homer Simpson is more or less the shining example of the lazy father/stupid husband in most media. He's abusive, deadbeat, foolish, and slow-witted.
  • Peter Griffin in Family Guy is arguably worse. He fits the tropes of Fat Bastard, Bumbling Dad, Too Stupid To Live, and many other exaggerated, negative stereotypes of bad fathers.


Often have the misfortune to be portrayed as grasping, controlling harpies who live to make their husband's lives miserable. This is a slightly older trope, less common in modern media, but still pops up regularly.

  • The 2010 Superbowl car commercial where the husband angrily declares to his wife that he will bow to her every grasping, controlling, irrational whim, but he will drive the car he wants to drive, damn it! This is made worse by the fact that the things he complained about doing were minor compromises compared to those expected of anyone in order to make an adult relationship work. Given how much work goes into these adult relationships to hold them together, a man whining about having to watch vampire shows and engage in similar "emasculating" activities to keep his mate happy makes it especially pathetic.
  • The commercials by State Farm Insurance about one wife calling an agent about her husband's purchase of a falcon.

Other Drivers

They will get this quite a bit. Especially SUV drivers and drivers of hybrid or electric vehicles who are both seen as incredibly arrogant for different reasons. The SUV driver for consuming far more than what's seen as their "fair share" of the world's resources and rubbing their ability to pay the fuel costs in everyone's face, while the hybrid driver is often accused of being a conceited leftist environmentalist, turning the mere act of driving somewhere into a political movement.

  • George Carlin aptly noted that everybody who drives faster than you is a maniac, while everybody who drives slower than you is an idiot.
  • Thank you Jeff Dunham for saying the Prius makes the "I'm gaaaaaay" noise.

Western Animation
  • The South Park trope that Prius/hybrid drivers are contributing heavily to Global Smugness.

People who failed a driving test

The driving test is seen as "easy" and "even a child can pass it"; if you flunked this... then you'd best hide in a bunker.

Averted in several European countries, where it's normal to fail it the first time, because there are many, many little rules; cars no longer are king of the road and the examiners are very, very severe and sometimes even outright nasty. Averted in the United States as well, depending on which state you're in; most driver's tests have a list of instant fail conditions, half of which are things the average driver will do thousands of times in their life with no consequence.

  • In the Harry Potter series, Ron Weasley once failed a Muggle driving test and had to use Laser-Guided Amnesia on the examiner to pass. Though note that the British driving exam is notoriously difficult.
    • He also once failed an Apparition exam, basically like a wizard driving test.

Western Animation
  • Spongebob Squarepants. Though it's not him hiding in a bunker but rather his driving instructor, Mrs. Puff...


In multiplayer games, lots of people make fun of 'noobs', even though every single one of them was once a noob.

Real Life
  • Traditionally, "newb" is a lighthearted, casual phrase directed at new players of a game. "Noob" is the insulting version directed at anyone who plays badly or decries the use of 'cheap' tactics, regardless of their amount of experience playing the game.
    • It can be said that "newb" is someone who is actually new to the game, and a "noob" is someone who is not new to the game and still doesn't know how to play.
      • Noob can also imply someone who expects not knowing the rules (many of which are often fairly common sense and/or basic courtesy) to excuse them from following the rules. Especially if the rules are clearly written somewhere unavoidable.

Old Money

In an intensely capitalistic and competitive society, families who have been rich for more than a generation always get grief for "not deserving their money" or "not having earned their money." But the fact is that every family who becomes wealthy will soon turn into this stereotype, unless they're willing to give all their money away and force their children to start from scratch.
  • Among Old Money families, New Money (or Nouveau Riche) are an Acceptable Target. They are usually stereotyped as brash and uncouth, flagrantly spending and displaying their wealth (conspicuous consumption is very much out of vogue currently) and making a spectacle of themselves.

High School freshmen

At the very least, they hear rumors of hazing, "Freshman Friday", and other anti-freshman traditions.
  • Most of which is merely intended to scare.

College students

Will often be portrayed as Teens Are Monsters only with more power and and less parental supervision; drunken, irresponsible parasites on society who don't give a damn about learning or work. Also commonly portrayed as idiotic and astoundingly arrogant student activists who will blindly support a cause while knowing very little about it just because they want to impress people and appear informed.


For some reason, being a virgin after about age 16 since The '70s (or at least The '90s) is usually seen as bad, or because there's something wrong with you. Men are seen as losers or awkward, and women are seen as too choosy, that is if they are not portrayed as overly religious prudes saving themselves for marriage. Or worse still, as just too ugly to get laid.

  • The omnipresent Sex Is Cool and the immaturity of some people are the reasons.
  • A Man Is Not a Virgin, unless he's a complete loser!
  • The media almost always portrays male virgins as absurdly stereotyped nerd-like losers despised by women and desperate to get laid (and people who mock virgins think they are always like this).
  • It's not their intention but supporters of sex positivism make things worse once in a while.

  • In Hocus Pocus, you will be informed, many many times, that the protagonist is a virgin, and should be shunned for it. Hilariously, one of the people who are fond of pointing out this glaring flaw of character is his little sister, who is most certainly one herself, and doesn't know what it really means.


In fantasy and science fiction it is often the case that humans are rotten, whereas elves, big-eyed aliens, dolphins, spirits, robots, ents, AIs, unicorns, replicants, and most other non-human sentient beings are more noble and more civilized than us. And also, far stronger.


Similar to Humans, many settings that depict some sort of Differently Powered Individuals tend to treat normal people as pretty much pathetic or boring in comparison.


  • In the Harry Potter series, only the Dursleys come even close to being significant recurring Muggle characters and, while Petunia and Dudley undergo some Character Development, the fact is they're presented as being ridiculously boring at best and downright abusive at worst. All other Muggles pretty much exist to be helpless against the bad guys and patronized by the heroes.
  • Twilight is basically about one girl's quest to become a vampire, because she's basically too amazing to be allowed to stay a human, with a Vampire-Werewolf Love Triangle thrown in. Seriously, Bella can barely tolerate anybody her own species, and the reader is clearly meant to agree.

The dead

Abusing a corpse is still seen as spectacularly offensive in Real Life, but in comedies it's become increasingly acceptable to show characters being killed in "wacky" ways, or to use corpses for slapstick (Weekend at Bernie's and that one Halloween episode of South Park being chief examples). You can even use dismembered corpses for mockery (8 Heads In A Duffel Bag, anyone?). And then, of course, you have what happens in zombie movies....

Every one of us

Let's summarize this.

Of course, no matter how cool your life is (or better, how cool YOU think it is), sooner or later, someone will find a way to make you an Acceptable Target. It will happen, and getting defensive about it will just make you look more ridiculous, so learn to laugh at yourself.