When an author has a corpse-shaped hole in the story, and decides to fill it with a character the audience won't mourn.
You watch enough mystery shows or read enough mystery stories, and you may notice a certain trend: often, the homicide victim is an asshole
For example, the victim will have been someone who enjoyed crushing people for the fun of it, or who ripped off at least a dozen people, and possibly more, or who was a criminal himself, etc.
The frequent impression left is that "the victim had it coming"
There are several possible reasons for having an Asshole Victim:
- It's not as depressing; given that, for these shows to work, there must be a Victim of the Week, an Asshole Victim brings up less of the "Tonight, someone will be killed for your entertainment" Fridge Logic.
- It's one of the few ways to have a Sympathetic Murderer. Writers may make the victim an asshole in this case either just to have a sympathetic murderer; or, if the show is a Courtroom Drama, to make it harder to convict the killer as the jury sympathizes. Alternately, the story being told is a Start of Darkness, and most of the corpses at the top of that slippery slope need to be assholes in order to avoid Jumping Off the Slippery Slope (which amounts to an alternate reason to need a Sympathetic Murderer).
- In a mystery show, it maximizes the possible suspects, as just about everyone involved would have a potential motive to kill this guy. Usually the line, "Well, I certainly hated X, but I didn't kill him" will be used repeatedly, and perhaps the extreme variation "Yeah, I wanted to kill X, but somebody beat me to it." In a few really extreme cases, suspects may even add "I'd kill X now if I could, but it's a moot point." In rare cases, a suspect admits that "I wished X was dead" before the victim actually died, and now therefore feels indirectly responsible for it.
- The Villain needs a Fallguy. Murdering a known Asshole, and then lying low for a while, will make the Asshole look responsible for any crimes that have stopped since his death.
Also shows up in Horror and Suspense films, for much the same reasons (Everyone Is a Suspect
frequently gets replaced by a Clear My Name
). However, it will generally not apply to victims of The Scourge of God
, except sometimes when said scourge is a Poetic Serial Killer
. Criminals in Colliding Criminal Conspiracies
generally are this.
Every detective show has a variation of this exchange at least once or twice in its running: The detective asks, "Do you know of anyone who might've wanted X dead?" The other person snorts and replies, "Who didn't
want X dead?" or "Half the city wanted X dead, and the other half didn't know him." or "People would've lined up for a chance to kill X." A common variation once the detectives have a suspect: "Sure I wanted X dead - but I didn't kill him!" or "I'm glad X is dead, but I didn't do it!"
Nearly every soap opera on the air has employed this trope for one of their "whodunit" murder mysteries.
At a minimum, they will have kicked the dog
and may be well beyond the Moral Event Horizon
, especially in less subtle
productions. Pay Evil unto Evil
is when the perpetrator gets away with it because the Asshole Victim deserved it. Indeed, this trope is very common in Criminal Procedurals
with Villain Protagonists
, who are rooted for because the guys they go after are usually even worse than them
; as well as in many Revenge
stories, in which they have usually done some very grievous wrong to our Anti-Hero
and usually engage in other nastiness on the side, ensuring that no one sheds any tears when they get their comeuppance.
Sometimes the memorial services for these victims will be... interesting to watch
. Occasionally the writers will get some comedy out of Never Speak Ill of the Dead
, if everyone knows the victim was a jerk but no one wants to say so.
A similar concept unites this trope to the Final Girl
. She survives because she's the only one without sin or character flaws. She doesn't drink, do drugs, have sex outside of wedlock. She's nice and polite. Everyone else in the movie has such a flaw, making it okay for the monster to kill them.
For dog kickers
who kick an asshole (not necessarily fatally), it's Kick the Son of a Bitch
. Can also be an invoked Take That, Scrappy!
moment. See also Disposable FiancÚ
, which is similar in several respects. When the victim was as asshole for things they did in the process of trying to survive, it's Death by Pragmatism
. Alas, Poor Villain
is the direct opposite of this trope. A less lethal version is Very Punchable Man
, a character who's there to be a jerk so that someone else can look good when they defend themselves.
In accordance with the "Just-world hypothesis
," people may perceive any
victim as an Asshole Victim just to keep their belief that people get what they deserve intact. Then again, whilst the vast majority of homicide victims are not assholes, it presumably follows that assholes are more likely to be murdered than non-assholes, because antagonizing people capable of murder is a good way to get...well, murdered! Of course, that isn't to say they deserved it.
Naturally, this trope can lead to the Unfortunate Implication
that it's okay to kill someone just because you do not like them.
Also, the true jerkishness of an Asshole Victim can either be clear from the start, or it can make itself known sometime later
Not to be confused with people whose posteriors get violated.
Sometimes overlaps with Death by Racism
As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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- Esben and the Witch has Sir Red, who tries repeatedly to get Esben's brothers executed by lying that they told him they could fetch a wonderful or magical item (a dove with feathers of gold, a boar with bristles of silver and gold, a lamp that shines brightly enough to light seven kingdoms, a coverlet that is the most beautiful in the world, and if touched, sounds loudly enough to be heard in eight kingdoms). Sir Red is Hanged in the in end, "for his wickedness... and so he got the end he deserved." The brothers are assholes, but not victims; The witch's daughters are guilty of nothing more than being her daughters, and the thirteenth one in fact helps Esben, and gets baked for her efforts.
- Wicked stepmothers and stepsisters generally tend to be this, unless the heroine is kind enough to have them pardoned.
- "Goodbye, Earl" by the Dixie Chicks.
- "Janie's Got A Gun" by Aerosmith is about a teenage girl who shoots her father after being raped by him.
- "I Remember Larry" by Weird Al has the eponymous Larry do all sorts of horrible things to his neighbor, who eventually snaps.
- Mercedes Lackey's filk "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." The Countess, a talentless would-be musician, dies in a locked tower to which her husband has the only other key. But she was such an unpleasant person that:
And one fact most astounding to them quickly came to light—
That every moment of the Count was vouched for on that night.
The castle folk by ones and twos came forward on their own
To swear the Count had never once that night been all alone.
So though the Tower had been locked tight, with two keys to the door,
One his, one hers; the Count of guilt was plain absolved for sure.
- "38 Years Old" by The Tragically Hip is about a man imprisoned for murdering his sister's rapist.
- "Terror Starts at Home" by Beneath the Sky is another example of this. A man rapes his own daughter and she responds by cutting his penis off. The music video shows it in graphic detail.
- "Testicular Manslaughter" by Cattle Decapitation and "Blunt Force Castration" by Cannibal Corpse are also about a rapist being castrated.
- Alt-Rapper Jesse Dangerously's song "Outfox'd (When Pacifists Attack)" is about one getting what's coming to him
In broad daylight, hey guys
- The girlfriend's father in The Police song "Once Upon A Daydream".
- Jimmy, from Devo's Smoothnoodlemaps, is an animal abuser, a Domestic Abuser, an Abusive Parent, liar, cheater, thief, Corrupt Corporate Executive and made a living by "trashing others' lives", but now he's in a wheelchair and Devo don't care.
- Insane Clown Posse has the song "To Catch a Predator", which has Violent J hunting and torturing pedophiles. In the last verse, he chases one onto the lawn and drags him back inside in full view of his neighbors and mailman. Nobody says anything because they know what the guy was.
Mythology and Religion
- Older Than Feudalism: In Classical Mythology this is a reoccurring theme.
- Ouranos and Kronos lose any sympathy points when they are brutally overthrown due to their treatment of their kids. The Olympians often punished mortals for being complete assholes, but were not limited to this.
- Hercules was known for his rages involving lots of death. What sets him apart from some other Greek heroes is the victim usually loses some sympathy by cheating Hercules or being a complete asshole. Herc usually accepted punishment when he was in the wrong.
- Norse Mythology is often very brutal with Grey and Gray Morality. The gods usually come off slightly better by the giants who were being massive assholes first.
In one version of one story, the gods make a bet a giant to build a wall for Valhalla under a certain time limit, and put Freya, the goddess of love, up for stakes. When they realize that his very strong horse is helping him enough that he's likely to win, they... don't actually do anything. But then the giant decides that he should get the sun and the moon as winnings too, and that prompts the gods to tamper with the contest, and they slay the giant after he loses the bet. (In another version the sun and moon were part of the original deal.)
- The Bible:
- Amnon and Absalom both fall under this heading. The former raped his half-brother Absalom's (half?) sister Tamar. Since his father David evidently felt his own philandering had undercut any authority he had to punish Amnon for this, Absalom eventually took matters into his own hands and had his men assassinate Amnon during a banquet. Drunk on his success, Absalom later rebelled against David, whose Token Evil Teammate Joab managed to catch Absalom at a vulnerable moment and kill him. As the final link in this chain of treachery and murder, David's heir Solomon, in accord with David's instructions on his deathbed, later put Joab to death at his earliest legal opportunity.
- Many later kings qualified, including (but by no means limited to): Nadab, Elah, Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah of Israel; Joash and Amon of Judah; Sennacherib of Assyria; and Co-Regent Belshazzar of Bablyon.
- Jehoram of Judah, whom God struck down with some kind of intestinal plague (possibly cholera). As noted in Chronicles, his death was "...to no one's regret..."
- The earlier books feature entire cities' worth of Asshole Victims, most notably Sodom, Gomorrah, and Amalek. In the case of the first two, the two messengers from God could only find six people among their populations who weren't complete scum.
- The Amalekites were a culture of bandits who followed behind the Israelites during the whole "forty years wandering the desert" thing and picked off the children and elderly for the heck of it. Later, their civilizations were reduced to skidmarks on the pavement (err, desert) by Israel.
- Consul Karl Baumer in Margin for Error is a Nazi of the least likable sort. When Adolf Hitler is making a speech, he turns up the volume on the radio so loud that nobody hears the gunshot that kills him.
- Pirelli in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, a Snake Oil Salesman who passes off "piss and ink" as a hair tonic, beats Toby, and tries to blackmail Sweeney. Also, Beadle Bamford and eventually, Judge Turpin. And at the end, Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd.
- The title character in Agamemnon tried to sacrifice his daughter to the gods, and ends up murdered by his wife and her paramour Aegisthus.
- Aegisthus himself qualifies as an Asshole Victim in The Libation Bearers. Oh, and by the way? Aegisthus also murdered Agamemnon's father, Atreus, for feeding Aegisthus' half-brothers to their father, Atreus' brother Thyestes. This family is one Asshole Victim after another.
- Played with in "The Cell Block Tango" in Chicago; all the ladies but The Hunyak swear up and down that they didn't do it but if they did, their victims were such bastards that they utterly deserved it. Whether they are to be believed is open to question. (All The Hunyak says is that she didn't do it.)
- In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II's first live victim is the emotionally abusive father figure Mr. Mushnik, who's not much less of a jerk. At any rate, the plant uses the line "A lot of folks deserve to die" during the "Feed Me" number.
- Subverted in Nobilis: one example of play in the second edition rulebook involved an attack on the concept of Treachery that relied on warping reality so that a nice person who had been murdered by her boyfriend retroactively became an Asshole Victim. This would, apparently, have undermined Treachery by mixing in justice where it wasn't supposed to be, undermining reality itself. (Excrucians are frequently nice people, but one must never take that to mean they're good people.)
- In the Web Serial Novel Worm, the first people that the Slaughterhouse Nine (Superpowered Psychopaths) attack in the city are The Merchants, a gang of violent, drug dealing assholes.
- Parodied in this article of The Onion: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/51380
- Variant in Black Jack Justice: The Stopped Clock, where the wrongly accused killer is the asshole.
- All of Cody's victims in Angel Of Death are criminals, and were killed in the process of committing crimes. In particular, he has stopped at least one rape and at least one mugging.
- Then again, the narrative doesn't really treat them like they had it coming, only like they're the best option available for Cody because killing them means saving someone else.
- While many characters in Survival of the Fittest clearly don't deserve getting killed, there are also many who are enough of a Jerkass to the point where it's hard to sympathize with them. Some of these border on Karmic Death, such as Anthony Burbank (who was repeatedly stabbed in the groin by the same cousin who he had bullied) and Philip Ward (beaten to death by Jimmy Brennan, a character he had previously beaten up in a hockey game in pre-game). A notable aversion, though, would be Monty Pondsworth of v4 pre-game. Although he was the most prominent Jerkass in pre-game, he did not make an appearance on the island, much to the disappointment of many handlers.
- Jeff The Killer: Jeff's first kills were Randy, Keith, and Troy, a trio of bullies who went around mugging kids and threatening them with knives. After Jeff beat the crap out of them, they got his brother sent to Juvy, and later attacked him at a birthday party to try and kill him, threatening to shoot anyone if they interfered.
- Clyde's mother on South Park, Betsy Donovan in "Reverse Cowgirl", to the point she's still one beyond the grave; she has her Single-Issue Wonk button pressed multiple times by her son, Clyde, whenever he leaves the toilet seat up. She eventually falls into the toilet and gets stuck from the pressure, to which she then dies when the change in pressure rips her insides out. Betsy then comes back from the dead as a ghost and belittles her son for leaving the seat up, saying it's his fault that she died.
- Darkwing Duck has Doctors Gary and Larson killed by Bushroot, who covers them with plants. The few times there were seen before they had to leave, they were portrayed as a duo of Jerk Ass who bullied Bushroot before he got his powers, mocked his interest in plants, criticized his work for focusing on improving quality instead of lucrative value and sabotaged his work, in front of their joint boss, for the sole sake of making him look miserable. Oh, and they mocked him when he started mutating under the effect of his experiment. No one is going to blame Bushroot for killing them. Even Rhoda doesn't bring it up later.
- Batman: The Animated Series
- One non-lethal example in the episode "Heart of Ice", the origin episode of Mr. Freeze. On the outside, CEO Ferris Boyle of GothCorp seems like a pretty decent fellow, even gaining an award for being the "Humanitarian of the Year". But this couldn't be further from the truth. Not only did Boyle nearly kill Nora Fries by stopping her husband from freezing her until a cure could be found for her terminal illness, but he ruins Victor's life forever by kicking him into a table full of chemicals, freezing him and forcing him to live in a subzero environment to survive. Even Batman is horrified by Boyle's callousness and leaves him frozen from the waist down after foiling Mr. Freeze's attempted murder of him, declaring "Good night, Humanitarian" in disgust. For good measure, he also leaves the footage of Boyle kicking Fries into the chemicals with Summer Gleeson.
- Similarly, in the Riddler's origin episode "If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Rich?", Daniel Mockridge fires Edward Nygma so that he can keep all the profits from Nygma's new game for himself. When Nygma comes back for revenge, Batman does save Mockridge from Riddler's death trap... but is darkly satisfied to leave Mockridge to take care of himself after that. In the final scene, Mockridge is now a paranoid nervous wreck, skulking around his own house and tucking himself into bed with a shotgun always in hand in case Nygma comes after him again.
- Batman Beyond:
- A non-lethal version of the "Anyone Could've Done it" plot comes up in "Golem" when the car of the school's Jerk Jock is found crushed like a soda can. Bruce asks Terry whether anyone might be holding some kind of grudge or otherwise seeking revenge against said jock. Terry promptly admits "The line starts with me and goes around the block, twice."
- Interestingly, "April Moon" has this occurring at the end rather than the beginning. As Bruce Wayne is questioning Terry about his latest case, in which he managed to put a stop to the bad guys' crimes by breaking their enhancements but their leader got away, Terry explains how the doctor they were blackmailing into installing enhancements in them caught his "hostage" wife cheating on him with the gang's leader, but the gang's leader doesn't know this. Bruce then realizes that unlike other criminals who're likely to turn up again sooner or later to commit more crimes, they probably won't be seeing this guy again. The very last scene is of the doctor with a drill in hand about to "operate" on the gang leader... and we never do see this guy in any other episode ever again.
- In the movie, the first thief Jafar employs to retrieve the magic lamp from the cave of wonders is Gazeem. Gazeem tells Jafar he had to slit a few throats to retrieve a magic artifact. After delaying payment, Jafar tells Gazeem he will "get what's coming to him" in the cave of wonders. The cave of wonders allows Gazeem to enter, but swallows him up as soon as he does. Jafar observes that Gazeem was less than worthy.
- Destane from the animated series. He's turned into an undead monster by his former apprentice Mozenrath, but according to Iago, Destane was so depraved even Jafar steered clear of him.
- In Ben 10: Alien Force, Kevin averts Save the Villain by leaving his nemesis Ragnarok to fall in the Sun. Considering the guy was an Omnicidal Maniac who killed his father in cold blood and attempted to destroy Earth's sun for the sake of selling its energy, it's hard to blame Kevin for this act.
- In The Simpsons, Mr. Burns would potentially have been this had he not survived the events of "Who Shot Mr. Burns". (That was the whole idea of the Cliffhanger; practically everyone in Springfield wanted to kill him, and in many cases, few would have blamed them.) However, not only did he survive, the shooting was an accident (presumably) making it a Subversion twice-over.
- Starscream in 80's animated film Transformers: The Movie. He'd always been The Starscream Trope Namer to Megatron. When Megatron was kicked by Optimus and fell on the floor, Starscream mocked and kicked him. Later on he left his leader to die in outer space. Unicron saves Megs and turns him into Galvatron. The first thing Galvatron does when he arrives to Cybertron? He kills Starscream. Probably the only time when the audience praised a Galvatron's action.
- Jeff Fecalman, Quagmire's sister's extremely abusive boyfriend from the Family Guy episode "Screams of Silence: The Story of Brenda Q."
- For some, Diane Simmons from "And Then There Were Fewer" as well.
- Justin Hammer in Iron Man: Armored Adventures; the guy is a Psychotic Manchild, leads at the same time a weapon-selling company and a criminal empire, genuinely attempted to kill Iron Man (he actually feels disappointment when at one point he destroys the armor and sees no blood splattering everywhere) and is an especially Bad Boss. His other Kick the Dog moments include trying to bring back to life Living Laser, who had gone through Redemption Equals Death, for the sake of turning him into a weapon he could mass-produce, causing Obadiah Stane to end up in a coma and manipulating Iron Man 2099 to ensure a future where millions of people would die but where he would be president. Comes episode Hammer Falls, that makes him go through an especially spectacular Villainous Breakdown before his final defeat, he acts even worse by developing a zombifying gas, which he is willing to use to cause a Zombie Apocalypse on Manhattan rather than lose his company. You really don't feel sorry for him when Mr Fix gasses him with his own invention