Armor-Piercing Question
aka: Armour Piercing Question

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/Piercing_question_1206.jpg
The injury is imaginary,
but the pain is very real.

Detective Del Spooner: Robots don't feel fear. They don't feel anything. They don't eat, they don't sleep—
Sonny: I do. I have even had dreams.
Detective Del Spooner: Human beings have dreams. Even dogs have dreams. But not you. You are just a machine. An imitation of life. Can a robot write a symphony? Can a robot turn a canvas into a beautiful masterpiece?
Sonny: ...can you?

Ever since Socrates, the power of the question to provoke insight has been well acknowledged. Sometimes a single question, well phrased and well timed, can collapse a person's mental defenses and throw their entire worldview into doubt.

Whether it's The Mentor trying to force their student to learn a vital lesson, or a villain trying to reduce a hero to a wreck, or a hero trying to show a villain how wrong they've been all this time, or somebody desperately trying to force the kid on the sidelines to realize they are meant to do something... more, a good Armor Piercing Question either cuts directly to the heart of a person's worldview, obsession, or psyche, or else forces the listener to confront unpleasant truths that they either didn't want to face or didn't even consider.

This sometimes translates into people using a continued line of questioning to upset or enlighten other characters. Among the most powerful forms of this is finding a single question and formulating it so the answer forces your target to face something difficult to admit, and keep pounding it. In this variant, the key is to find a question with an answer that cuts close to the bone and not let up.

May involve, but is not necessarily related to, Armor-Piercing Slap.

The Constantly Curious often comes up with an Armor-Piercing Question in total innocence, being, like many children, Too Dumb to Fool.

This is a real technique used in psychotherapy, education, religious groups, and debates; the Socratic method taken to its extreme, it's occasionally known as the "Synanon Game". Note that it's usually not as effective as it is in fiction, especially when pointing out doublethink; one common reaction is to verbally attack the person causing the cognitive dissonance. Or the person may simply leave the discussion, or rationalize away the point, etc.

Compare Break Them by Talking, Hannibal Lecture, What Is Evil?, The Only Way They Will Learn, Figure It Out Yourself, Koan, Cryptic Conversation, Wham Line.

Super Trope to And Then What?, which is about a specific subset of armor-piercing question to make the target think about life beyond their plan.

Compare and contrast Armor-Piercing Response, when it's a response (instead of a question) that brings the other guy to a shock. It can be used to answer an Armor-Piercing Question, but it's just as likely to be used against an entirely innocent remark.


Examples:

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    Music 
  • Death Cab for Cutie's "What Sarah Said": "So who's gonna watch you die?"
  • "What Would You Do?" by City High, where the viewpoint character gets put in is place when he asks a girl he went to school with why she's stripping for money.
    What would you do if your son was at home, crying all alone on the bedroom floor,
    Cause he's hungry and the only way to feed him is to sleep with a man for a little bit of money?
    And his daddy's gone in and out of lock down, I ain't got a job now, He's just smokin' rock now,
    So for you this is just a good time
    But for me this is what I call life
    And all I know is
    If my mama can do it
    Baby, you can do it
  • In the music video of Beyoncé's "Pretty Hurts", the question "what is your aspiration in life?" makes the pageant contestant pause and it clearly rattles her.
  • In "Downstream" by the Rainmakers, the singer asks Harry Truman "What about the Bomb, are you sorry that you did it?", to which the president answers, "Pass me that bottle, and mind your own business."
  • "What Would You Do (If Jesus Came To Your House)," a country gospel standard popularized by singers Porter Wagoner and Red Sovine. The armor-piercer is indeed the titular question: Christians who do not uphold their stated principles in private life are asked what they would do if they learned Jesus Christ was making an unexpected visit, and what would they do to prepare, such as having to hurriedly get rid of ill-reputable materials and be unable to carry on the normal household conversation ... and treat him like an honored guest instead of someone they were uncomfortable with having around. The song also asks listeners whether they would uphold their values only when Jesus were around before reverting to a less-than-Christian lifestyle after he had left, or if they would practice Christianity all of the time.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In one Bloom County strip, Oliver Wendell Jones takes Binkley and Opus on a Mind Screw journey contemplating the nature of the universe, all the while asking "Why?" As the trip gets more and more out of control and Oliver keeps asking why everything is the way it is, Opus gets fed up and asks "Well, WHY NOT!?" which metaphorically brings Oliver back down to Earth.
  • In one strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin asks his father, "Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world's problems?" His father has no answer for him.
    • Two from the arc where Calvin and Hobbes go to Mars to escape Earth's pollution: "Is that your candy wrapper over there?" and "Would you welcome a dog that wasn't house-trained?", both asked by Hobbes after Calvin litters on Mars. Calvin realizes he's part of the problem and he and Hobbes go home so as not to ruin things for the Martians, and partly out of the realization that as human habits cause pollution, it's not right to go to another planet to escape the mess they've caused on Earth.
  • In Doonesbury a soldier asks her friend what she'll say if she's asked "Was it worth it?", to which her friend says that joining the army was greatnote  for her. Her friend responds that they'll be asking if the war was worth it; her friend's response is "what do you think I'm avoiding answering?"
  • In Dykes to Watch Out For #452, Conservative lesbian student Cynthia relates her problems with her homophobic parents to her professor Ginger. Ginger tries to end this conversation by saying "Oh. Jeez. Well, uh ... maybe you should talk to someone." Cynthia's response ("I thought I was.") may not be framed as an armor-piercing question, but functions like one ("What do you think I was trying to do just now?").
  • Linus does this in one Peanuts strip when he asks a doomsday prophet who has been terrorizing (or boring) the camp kids for a week: "Have you ever considered that you might be wrong?".
    • Another strip has Charlie Brown getting ready for a baseball game and explaining to Sally that he has to put his left sock on first.
      Sally: What would happen if you didn't?
      Charlie: Well, we'd probably lose the game.
      Sally: Have you ever won?
  • Argentinian cartoonist Quino made a strip about a man showing to his grandson his collection of books:
    Man: I've dedicated my life to reading all these books. I have learned who were the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Incas, Mayas...
    Boy: Wow! And we grandpa? Who are we?
    Man: ...
    (a moment later)
    Mom: Where's your grandpa?
    Boy: In the library, crying.
    • In his comic strip Mafalda, Felipe is celebrating the end of the school year and the start of summer vacation. After cheering, he suddenly flops on the sidewalk and asks:
    Felipe: My God, what are we going to do with all this freedom from now on?
    • In another Mafalda strip:
    Manolito: Today the teacher congratulated me for my high marks in arithmetic, she praised my natural ability with numbers.
    Mafalda: That's great Manolito! And what about the other subjects?
    Manolito: (beat) ...today the teacher congratulated me for my high marks in arithmetic, she praised my natural ability with numbers...
  • In B.C. by Johnny Hart, Thor is attempting to explain the game of golf to the Cute Chick.
    Cute Chick: Let's see if I get this right. The less you hit the ball, the better your score?
    Thor: That's right.
    Cute Chick: Then why hit it at all?
    shift to nighttime; Thor standing by the tee holding his club
    Thor: Why ... do ... it ... at ... all?

    Professional Wrestling 
  • During their 2010 feud in DGUSA, Jimmy Jacobs (at the time an atoning for his past sins) confronted Jon Moxley and tried laying one of these on him combined with Not So Different: "When I look at you, I just see myself in the mirror... Whole life's a struggle, isn't it? Keep fighting. Keep fighting, then what? Then what?"
  • On the July 11th, 2011 edition of Raw, John Cena delivers one to CM Punk. Punk had spent the entire promo Moving The Goal Posts while talking over his contract to renew with the WWE and trying to win over the audience in the process. Cena comes out and hits Punk with a Kirk Summation, pointing out how big of a Hypocrite Punk is before asking him this question; if you love the WWE universe so much, why are you trying to leave the WWE? Punk, who'd been in full Magnificent Bastard mode all night, gets furious and tries to lay the blame on Cena, but the fact he'd just been offered the very things he'd been complaining about Cena having and more but still hadn't gotten enough to stay in WWE renders him unable to effectively answer this. Punk would then piss off Cena, by deriding his claim of being the underdog. He stated that Cena, like his hometown of Boston, has long since become a dynasty, comparable to the New York Yankees. Cena, unable to argue against that claim and angered over the comparison, promptly decked him in the face.
  • John Cena has been on the receiving end of armor-piercing questions as well. Such as on the March 2, 2015 edition of Raw Is War, when Stephanie McMahon — after raking him over the coals for demanding a spot in the André the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania XXXI without (in her view) doing anything notable to earn it — makes a bone-chilling, soul shaking comment: "It's not where would WWE be without John Cena. It's where would John Cena be without WWE!" (Which Cena, of course, successfully sells.)

    Religion 
  • This idea, applied reflexively, is the idea behind Zen koans. The teacher, when asked a question by the student, provides an answer which is supposed to prompt the student to ask the right question to pierce their own ignorance.
  • Often used by Jesus in The Four Gospels to challenge His disciples, or to confound and remonstrate the Pharisees for being Holier Than Thou.
    • The Pharisees frequently tried to do this to Jesus, usually by asking questions about secular traditions that seemingly contradicted religious mandate. Jesus's answers inevitably pointed out and defied the false dichotomy.
      • A good example of this trope is Luke 20:1-8. The Pharisees demanded Jesus tell them by what authority he was performing miracles, so he asked them whether John's baptisms were of heaven or men. If the Pharisees said heaven they knew Jesus would call them out on condemning John; if they said men, the people would hate them because the people believed John was a real prophet. They tried to Take a Third Option and say 'We don't know', to which Jesus replied 'Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things', meaning he won either way.
  • The Book of Job features a famous example from God Himself. The premise of the book: Satan is having a chat with God in Heaven after the former has been out and about in the human world. God points out Job, His faithful servant, and Satan argues that Job is only faithful because God has blessed him with wealth, health, and many children; if he lost all of that, he would surely turn against the Divine. God accepts the challenge and tells Satan that he's free to hurt Job however he likes, as long as he doesn't murder him. Soon after, Job's sons and daughters are killed, he loses everything he has, and he's struck with festering boils and illness. At the end of the book, Job, who's been The Stoic throughout, finally asks God why he's being punished. God replies as such: "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?" In other words, These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, and God is so beyond mortal comprehension that humans can't even begin to grasp His workings. Job repents, acknowledges God's mastery, and admits his own limited wisdom; this pleases God, who rewards Job with more prosperity and children.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dark Champions villain known as Dr. Enigma has a similar power called The Unanswerable Question that can leave a person in a helpless daze. He touches the victim with a chemical and then asks a bizarre question such as "Why must two and two make five?" or "What color is Tuesday?"
  • Mage: The Awakening invokes this with the spell called "The Inescapable Question", which causes any question to cause the hearer to stop and ponder its meaning and answer (it is noted that particularly savvy mages can get the effect by simply asking "Why?"). In effect, the spell adds a distracting veneer of profundity to a question that can be a completely inane Ice-Cream Koan.
    • Hunter: The Vigil: vampires around the world will crap their pants upon receiving a piece of paper, or an SMS, or an email, or a phone call, that asks "Who is Cain?" This isn't necessarily because of the significance of Cain; it's because it means the Cainite Heresy is coming for them.
    • In Hunter: The Reckoning the redeemers have this power. They can ask a question, although what exactly the question is and if the monster answers, is not of much relevance. As long as the hunter appeals to the humane side of the target they bring it forward and the creature is overcome with possibly forgotten feelings and emotions of being alive and mortal. The book states that a common question is "Do you remember?"
  • In the backstory of Warhammer 40,000, the primarch of the Night Lords, Konrad Curze, subdued the Wretched Hive of a planet he landed on as a child through brutal and uncompromising murder of anyone who broke the law. When down the line this method of governing causes extreme problems for both the planet (when Curze is gone, the place slips back into its old ways without fear of him keeping people in line) and the Astartes recruited from it (they're a bunch of sadistic, murderous psychopaths), Curze's second in command calls him out for using such brutal methods, leading to this exchange:
    Sevetar: No? What other ways did you try?

    Theater 
  • The Crucible - "Is Your Husband a Lecher?" Repeated a few times.
  • "Now tell me, how do you take religion?" Asked by Gretchen to Faust, in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's version. Having made a Deal with the Devil, he has a hard time answering it. Became so influential that "Gretchenfrage" entered the German vocabulary.
  • 1776: When Adams and Jefferson speak out in support of the anti-slavery clause in the Declaration, Jefferson describes it as an infamous practice that wounds human nature. Rutledge immediately points out Jefferson's and Massachusetts' hypocrisy:
    "Then see to your own wounds, Mr. Jefferson, for you are a—practitioner, are you not?"
    "[singing] Who sails the ships out of Boston?"
  • Into the Woods has "Last Midnight," a song sung in the second act by the Witch. The whole first verse consists of simple questions delivered to the Baker, Jack, Cinderella, and Little Red Riding Hood: "Told a little lie... stole a little gold... broke a little vow, did you?" Those questions force the heroes to admit that their shortsighted, self-centered wishes and "small" wrongdoings have had major consequences for everyone.
  • In Company, Bobby, with a little help from Joanne, manages to give one to himself:
    Joanne: I'll take care of you.
    Bobby: But who will I take care of?
    Joanne (a big smile): Well, did you hear yourself? Did you hear what you just said, kiddo?
  • The Andersonville Trial - During a recess in the trial, Baker confronted Chipman with the possibility of his being a puppet of a higher mortal power, not very much unlike Wirz. Chipman does not take it well.

    Visual Novels 
  • One could argue that finding these is pretty much the entire point of gameplay in the Ace Attorney series, since you're trying to peel away lies to uncover truths in the courtroom. Appropriately, the people being asked often react as if they've been physically pierced by the questions.
    • In Ace Attorney Investigations 2, the new "Logic Chess" system involves having a verbal battle of wits to draw a secret out of someone by way of Dialogue Trees rather than presenting evidence and pressing statements. Hits hardest with the final opponent, Yumihiko Ichiyanagi (Sebastian Debeste), when the point of the final round turns out not to be acquiring any case-relevant information, but to help find a cause that's enough for a completely broken individual to go on living for.
    • The player is actually treated to a pair of interrelated questions at the end of the second Phoenix Wright game:
      • Is it right for a murderer to get off scot-free, in order to protect the life of a completely innocent bystander? This wouldn't be too hard to answer on its own, as most justice systems have an answer built in: protect the innocent, no matter what.
      • It's the second question that makes it more complicated: Is it still right if another completely innocent person gets convicted in the guilty party's place if the latter walks free? (In context, this also amounts to "what is justice?" and "what does it really mean to be a lawyer?") As one player put it, "I have never been so paralyzed by a simple yes-or-no question in a video game."
    • Earlier that case, an exchange like this happens between Phoenix and Edgeworth, when Phoenix, having realized that Engarde is indeed guilty, begins to question what being a lawyer means.
      Edgeworth: It doesn't matter who, every person deserves a proper defense and a fair trial. Isn't that the basis of our judicial system?
      Phoenix: "Proper defense"? But what exactly is that? Is it where a lawyer forcibly and blindly gets an acquittal through shouting and trickery?
      Edgeworth: ...*sigh* Ironic that you of all people should say such a thing. Isn't that exactly how you have fought for your clients up until now?
  • Katawa Shoujo:
    • In Rin's route, as Nomiya is angry about Rin walking away from the exhibit and Hisao questions whether the commitment is worthwhile, Nomiya asks Hisao if he has anything comparable to Rin's passion for Art. Hisao, who may or may not have left the club by this point, based on player decisions, silently concedes that the answer is no.
    • Also, asking one of these of Rin is the key to getting her good ending. Rin laments that what she really wants is for someone to understand her well enough to not have to ask her questions; Hisao asks, "But if you found someone like that, then what?"
    • Jigoro, in response to Hisao suggesting that he visit his daughter Shizune at Yamaku, ends up asking Hisao when the last time he's called his parents. Hisao is forced to concede that he hasn't done a very good job of keeping in touch with them; other routes show minimal, and usually off-screen contact with them.
  • A Profile's second route has Miku as the heroine, who is prone to asking Masayuki questions he really doesn't want to answer about his study habits and how he quit track. The answer that he doesn't want to admit is that he really misses being on the track field. Before this, people were too afraid to mention it in front of him.
  • Youhei, of all people, gets one of these in Kyou's route in CLANNAD, when he forces Tomoya to confront the fact that the Fujibayashi sister he is dating is not the one he actually cares for.
  • Much like the Ace Attorney example mentioned above, these questions are the entire point of Socrates Jones: Pro Philosopher, which draws heavy inspiration from that series AND is about philosophy and debate.

    Web Original 
  • In Hitherby Dragons, this is the method Ii Ma uses to trap others within the Place Without Recourse. They are given a question that they cannot answer without negating everything they believe in — and while that question remains unanswered, they're left in a place where nothing they can do matters at all.
  • The question that shatters Jappleack's self-delusions in Ask Jappleack, after Apple Bloom's death, is a very simple one: "What's the point of growing apples?" When she can't come up with an answer, her entire worldview falls apart. It's worth noting that, near the end of the story and after much Character Development, someone asks the question again... and she comes up with an answer.
  • Nostalgia Critic
    • In his phone call to the director of My Pet Monster, the critic's self-loathing starts to seep in when he gets asked why he's in his twenties and is still watching kids' movies.
    • Santa Christ give an armor piercing question and statement in Christmas Story 2 that causes the critic to show guilt.
    Nostalgia Critic: Santa Christ, I need your help on something. I just threw out this really annoying person named Hyper Fangirl.
    Santa Christ: Well, what did she do?
    Nostalgia Critic: She tried to make me appreciate Christmas. (he just realizes his mistake)
    Santa Christ: Wow. You're a douche.
    Nostalgia Christ: No no no, it's not like that. She did all these terrible things and she deserves to be punished for it.
    Santa Christ: Well last I heard, she was flying 35,000 feet through the air completely set on fire. Sounds like punishment enough to me.
    Nostalgia Critic: You're not gonna be on my side, are you?
    Santa Christ: I don't think you're on your side.
  • In Worm, Emma uses one of these on Taylor in Chapter 2.4 as part of her bullying campaign.
  • In one Global Guardians story, Big Bad Lord Doom is ranting over the captured heroes about how his entire motivation is saving mankind from itself by taking over the world. This prompts Bungie, the team's Plucky Comic Relief, to ask the mastermind, "What's the most important part, taking over the world, or saving mankind from itself?" The answer to that question causes the villain to release the heroes and vanish. Five years later, he returned from hiding, and carried with him an AIDS cure, functional prostethic replacements for lost limbs, and cheap fusion power, all of which the villain supplied to all nations freely.
  • In The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Jane asked Lizzie what she planned to do with herself after her degree and the normally vocal Lizzie is rendered with only a few words.
  • RWBY:
    • In the episode Search And Destroy, Dr. Oobleck asks Blake why she wants to become a Huntress.
      Blake: There's too much wrong in this world to just stand by and do nothing. Inequality, corruption... Someone has to stop it.
      Oobleck: Very well. How?
    • He also asks Weiss and Yang the same question. The result is the three realizing that they weren't being honest with themselves about why. And then realizing that their personal motives didn't matter: what was important was that they chose to protect others, not why they chose it.
    • He doesn't bother asking Ruby, because she knows exactly why she's a Huntress: To help people by fighting monsters and bad guys, and because it's cooler than being a cop.
    • In an earlier episode, Weiss was complaining to Professor Port and expressing frustration that Ruby was made team leader and not her. The professor counters her with this:
    "So the outcome did not fall in your favor. Do you really believe that acting in such a manner would cause those in power to reconsider their decision?"
    • During an argument with General Ironwood about his decision to bring an entire army as security to Vale, Ironwood protests that his fleet makes people feel safe. Ozpin's response actually makes Ironwood hesitate over his decision for the first time:
    Ozpin: A guardian is a symbol of comfort, but an army is a symbol of conflict. There is an energy in the air now; a question in the back of everyone's minds: if this is the size of our defenses, what is it we're expecting to fight?
  • A humorous example in "The Salvation War". A succubus is hosting a talk show and is interrogating some corrupt politician about his misdeeds. When he's trying to flip the script by mentioning the atrocities she earlier commited, she responds that yes, she did, but then she's a literal demon from Hell. What's his excuse?
  • In Welcome to Night Vale Earl Harlan is trying to talk to Cecil about being stuck at nineteen years old for a century while Cecil is reminiscing about their last days in high school together and glossing over Earl's concerns, until Earl asks him what year they graduated. After several seconds of absolute silence Earl prompts him with "You don't remember, do you?" and Cecil abruptly changes the subject.
  • In My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap, Pinkie Pie catches her sister Maud trying kill herself, after the latter realized she could no longer pretend she's okay with her loner existence, but is too afraid to try making the effort of changing her life, prompting this exchange:
    Maud: I decided to end my life, rather than undertake the monumental task of salvaging it.
    Pinkie: But you're going die one day anyway?
    Maud: Obviously, what's your point?
    Pinkie: My point is that if death is certain anyway, then what's the harm in trying to live a little longer? At the very worst, you'll still end up dead like you wanted, but at best you might actually be happy.
    • After being subjected to a particularly harsh prank that made her think she killed everyone she cared about to teach her a lesson about acting out character by the rest of the town, Rainbow Dash asks them if that was out of character of them. Cue horrifying realization.

Alternative Title(s): Armour Piercing Question

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArmorPiercingQuestion?from=Main.ArmourPiercingQuestion