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Authority in Name Only
Yes, folks, he really existed.

"Now, despite rumors to the contrary, I did not just buy a crown at the costume palace and ask people to start calling me the King of Town. I earned my title the same way I earned a free combo meal; by purchasing one of equal or lesser value."
The King Of Town, Homestar Runner

Authority In Name Only is when someone claims to hold a title, but that title is a sham. Either it is a purely symbolic function with no actual power, or the title itself is made up, and it has no genuine authority over its "subjects". As such, most characters of this trope have no one (except for the occasional Yes-Man or Professional Butt-Kisser) who actually respects their non-existent authority. May often be referred to as the Pretender to the Throne.

In terms of the ranks of Authority Tropes, the next steps up are The Caligula, The Good Chancellor, and Evil Chancellor, Standard Royal Court, and Deadly Decadent Court.

Contrast Mayor of a Ghost Town, where the person is a recognized authority figure, it's just that there's no one left to rule over. Also contrast Just the First Citizen, where the figure doesn't claim a grand title but holds the real power nevertheless — the diametric inverse of this trope. For characters who actually do wield tyrannical control over some place, see I Own This Town. Can overlap with Kicked Upstairs if the title is actually bestowed by someone else who does have real authority, often specifically to appease the victim or move them out of the way.

Another important point about your average one of these - as long as you don't do anything to shake their delusions of authority too badly, they'll be so busy enjoying said delusions of authority that you can put them through all sorts of misteatment real people wouldn't even begin to take. So even if nobody likes them, they can be useful to have around as sort of a idiocy sink (like a heat sink, but for stupidity).

In Comic Books, while there are dozens of super-villains with the word "Doctor" in their villainous names, ones that actually hold doctorates in any field are incredibly rare. (Exceptions do exist, like Spider-Man's enemy Doctor Octopus, but these are few and far-between). In fact, one big irony in comic books is the fact that Reed Richards, who legitimately holds doctorates in several fields, does not use the title in his heroic name, choosing to be called "Mr. Fantastic".


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Luffy from One Piece is the official captain of the Straw Hats, but Nami gives a lot of orders as well. She even asked the crew "Do you honestly think there's a captain on this ship capable of giving orders?", to their reply, "Not at all."
    • There are som exceptions: when making decision either affecting the crew in a big way, or when deciding where to head next, Luffy does have the last word. When he says to sail for an incredibly dangerous-sounding island and uses the phrase "captain's orders", the others do not argue, even if some of them may facepalm. On a day-to-day-basis, though, Nami is usually acting as captain.
    • Luffy has gained some leadership skills due to Character Development as the series has progressed, most notably in the Impel Down arc, an event where he - and the rest of his crew - became one of the biggest threats to the world government in its history.
  • In Code Geass, the position of "Sub-Viceroy of Area 11 (formerly Japan)" was created for Euphemia by Cornelia. However, the position is basically just a figurehead's job, which several characters mention during her tenure. Even her creation of the Specially Administrated Zone of Japan was the result of her going to Schneizel for help.
    • Turns that Nunnally, when appointed as Viceroy, has even less power than Euphemia had as sub (note that she is the same age Euphie was at that point). Gino even has to remind Lohmeyer who is supposed to be Viceroy.
  • At the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Jack Atlas was known as the King of the Riding Duels. He didn't know that his title meant nothing. He was a puppet being manipulated by Rex Godwin to entertain the people of Neo Domino and maintain the illusion of a utopia, and a lot of his victories, like the one against Dragan, were rigged without him knowing. Bommer even called him out on this during the Fortune Cup, calling him a "poor king" (and when Jack tried to hit him for the insult, knocked the punch aside as if he didn't care). (In Jack's defense, after Godwin's fall, he would later prove during the WRGP that he was capable of defeating Dragan in a fair duel when the two faced each other again. Although, to be honest, this was after Jack had aquired Burning Soul, an ability he didn't have the first time.)

    Fan Fiction 
  • Nav dismisses Cadance as this in Diaries of a Madman, but she eventually turns into a competent leader.

    Film 
  • President Skroob of Spaceballs is an incompetent twit whose purpose seems symbolic, at best, with Dark Helmet the closest thing to an actual authority figure on Spaceball One. "I can't make decisions! I'm the president!"
  • The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to come from the same political school as President Skroob. Indeed, we could say that Jack Skellington is the real leader of Halloween Town:
    Mayor: Jack, please, I'm only an elected official here, I can't make decisions by myself!
  • In Woody Allen's Whats Up Tiger Lily, there's this exchange.
    High Macha Of Rashpur: Good afternoon. I am the Grand Exalted High Macha of Raspur, a nonexistent but real-sounding country.
    Phil Moscowitz: Uh-huh.
    High Macha Of Rashpur: Yes. We're on a waiting list. As soon as there's an opening on the map, we're next.
  • Thirteen Days:
    • A major plotline of the movie is just how much (or little) control over the complex system known as the United States government President Kennedy actually has. This is most apparent in his dealings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, best summarized by this exchange (Kennedy has just been informed that SAC has gone to DEFCON 2, when he only wanted to elevate the DEFCON level to 3):
      General Max Taylor: Technically, SAC has the statutory authority-
      Kennedy: (slams hand on desk) I have the authority! I am the commander-in-chief of the United States, and I say when we go to war!
    • Another example is the US continuing to test both nuclear weapons and missiles in the midst of the crisis (due to the White House neglecting to put a stop to it), making the US seem like the aggressor.
      President Kennedy: (after learning of a US missile test) Well, who the hell authorized this missile test?
      Robert Kennedy: Who do you think? God knows what this is gonna communicate with the Soviets!
      Kenny O'Donnell: Communicate with the Soviets? We can't communicate with the Pentagon, and it's just across the goddamn river!

    Literature 
  • The Redemption of Althalus: The ruler of Wekti is the Natus, meaning 'father', who has no authority whatsoever but believes himself to be the complete ruler of Wekti. The real ruler is Exarch Yeudon, the leader of the Church.
  • David Eddings
    • In The Elenium, the King of the Rendors is so ineffective that most of the other heads of state in the region can't even be bothered to learn what the man's name is. Prince Regent Avin Wargunson of Thalesia was almost as bad (He was too annoying for people to forget his existence, but nobody really obeyed any of his commands). The ultimate sign of how well regarded Avin was came when he was drowned in a barrel of wine and the people mourned the fact that it was a vintage year.
    • Then subverted in The Tamuli, Emperor Sarabian of the Tamuli empire is just a figurehead...who stages a coup to really be in charge. When accused of treason; it's asked "against who?", and the accuser is temporarily speechless at the semantics required.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Zaphod Beeblebrox is the former President of the Imperial Galactic Government. The position's purpose is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.
  • Zigzagged in The Robots of Dawn. The Chairman of the Legislature of Aurora is officially the head of the state. He was intended to have purely ceremonial power, and is even supposed have a vote only in case of a tie. However, the Aurorans' dislike for political conflict eventually gave the post a lot of real power - as a mediator in case of political disputes.
  • In Wheel of Time, King Ailron of Amadicia holds no power whatsoever. Pedron Niall, commander of the Children of the Light, is the true ruler of Amadicia.
  • Part of the overall plot in Sisterhood of Dune and Mentats of Dune is the relatively weak Emperor Salvador Corrino. It's mentioned several times that his father Jules Corrino would never have allowed the likes of Manford Torondo (the leader of the fanatical Butlerians) and Josef Venport (the CEO of what would eventually become the Spacing Guild) to hold so much power in the Imperium and even dictate terms to the Emperor. Meanwhile, Salvador's brother Roderick is much more competent but is also fiercely loyal to his brother, even stopping a Sisterhood conspiracy that would leave him in power over his inept brother. While it's true that both Manford and Josef hold enormous power (Manford through his ability to incite mob violence, and Josef through having a monopoly on spice mining and a nigh-monopoly on foldspace shipping), it's also made clear that part of that lies with Salvador's previous policies that turned the Imperial military into a shadow of its former self by assigning command posts based on political motives rather than by merit. Roderick understands this, but Salvador is insistent on playing politics.

    Live Action TV 
  • Rare non-kids'-show example: Gilmore Girls's resident Control Freak Taylor is technically Town Selectman, and is only briefly voted out of office before his replacement becomes sick of all the small-town residents' endless complaining and quits.
  • Mr. Show featured a sketch that was opened with a ribbon-cutting by the Mayor of Television.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
    • In the episode "Rightful Heir", Worf convinces Chancellor Gowron to give a clone of Kahless (the legendary founder of Klingon culture) the vacant position of Emperor, just as a symbolic function for the empire to rally around.
    • Lwaxana Troi liked to introduce herself with a handful of titles; it was never explained what any of these titles meant in terms of importance. It can be assumed that they were legitimate titles but that they held only ritual significance. Deanna once said that the "sacred chalice of Riix" was a moldy pot stored in the closet. The Expanded Universe novels stated that the primary duty of being "Guardian of the Holy Rings of Betazed" is to take them out of the shoebox and polish them every now and then.
  • The Office (US). Dwight Schrute may well be the only middle-management example of the trope. Although he's very proud of his title, "Assistant to the Regional Manager," his supposed authority is wielded over people who barely respect him enough to acknowledge that he's the same species they are. In one episode Michael admits that it isn't even a real position, he just made it up one day to keep Dwight quiet; Dwight takes this very hard.
  • This trope is played straight at the beginning of the second season of Dan For Mayor. Dan got elected to be mayor of Wessex on a fluke and everyone in the city government is trying their hardest to make sure that he has no real authority. When he figures this out, he tries to become relevant and Hilarity Ensues.
  • King Uther in the first few episodes of the fourth season of Merlin is still king in name, but Arthur and to a lesser extent, Agravaine as The Mole, are calling the shots since Uther is broken and half mad.
  • Andy on Cougar Town is elected mayor, which is mostly a ceremonial position. His duties consist of attending a meeting every six months and be present at ribbon cutting ceremonies - the first of which is for a bicycle rack, and no one attends.
  • Red Dwarf Arnold Rimmer is the highest ranking crewmember remaining on the ship after the accident, despite being dead. The others just ignore his orders.
  • One multi-part story of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers ended with Master Vile forming an army of monsters - all of them previously appearing as Monsters of the Week led by someone named Professor Longnose; kind of hard to believe he was any sort of academic type. (Of course, maybe this was a case where the title was simply inappropriate. Since he led an army, "General" might have been better.)
  • In Fraggle Rock, the Gorgs (fat, furry, ogre-like creatures who stand about fifteen feet tall) claim they are the King and Queen of the Universe. (Well, the husband and wife do; Junior never says anything like this, although his parents do claim he's their heir.) In reality, they seem to be nothing more than a family of simple farmers with a rustic house and garden patch.

    Music 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Dread Emperor is an incredibly powerful magic user who claims to rule the world. He doesn't, and he lives in isolation (with the exception of children he keeps chained to his armor at all times), but if anyone tells him he doesn't rule the world, he'll kill them. And he won't hesitate to kill hundreds of bystanders in the process.
  • In the Ravenloft campaign, this is sometimes the case with whoever claims or thinks he rules a domain. (Or both.) Not all the darklords rule their domains openly (although some do) and some are unseen or even unknown by the common folk, but they are, without exception, the true rulers. Examples of realms that are like this include Lamordia (the apparent ruler is Baron Vilhelm von Aubrecker, but even he doesn't know that Mordenkainen's monster Adam is the true ruler) and Dementlieu (believed to be ruled by Lord-Governor Marcel Guignol, who is actually a puppet of the darklord, the master hypnotist Dominic d'Honaire).
  • Lord Mishima of Mutant Chronicles is nominally the undisputed ruler of the Mishima corporation, and as such one of the six most powerful people in existence. In reality, he's been Kicked Upstairs to being Mishima's representative in The Cartel, with all important corporate decisions being made by one of his sons, and the only ones who actually obey him are his ten-thousand or so personal retainers.
  • Exalted gives us Regent Fokuf, an inept figurehead filling the throne in the absence of the Scarlet Empress. He's most known for his harmless (if blasphemous) perversions. Although filling the throne only in a technical sense; the one time he actually seated himself upon the Scarlet Throne, it growled menacingly at him (you know you've go no actual authority when the symbol of office hates you).
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh!, there's Brron, Mad King of Dark World, who is supposedly, as his name suggests, the ruler of the Dark World Fiends, and he is portrayed as such in the anime. However, as the Master Guide 2 claims, Brron is actually subordinate to Goldd, Wu-Lord of Dark World and Sillva, Warlord of Dark World, who in turn report to Reign-Beaux, Overlord of Dark World. And even he likely answers to Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World.

    To make this even more complicated, the anime version of Brron suggested that the ultimate ruler of Dark World was someone called "Colorless, Chaos King of Dark World". Basically, Dark World's government is kinda screwed up.
  • In Ironclaw the High Kings of House Rinaldi have pretty much fallen to this level in recent centuries, with the Guilds of the capital gaining more and more influence and the other Great Houses getting more ambitious. And one of the first adventures takes place shortly after the latest king's murder and a brewing Succession Crisis.

    Theater 
  • Cora Hoover-Hooper in the musical Anyone Can Whistle. She demands being treated royally despite having achieved a 0% Approval Rating.

    Video Games 
  • Kirby
    • King Dedede claims to be the ruler of Kirby's land, but the most it gets him is a castle for our pink protagonist to storm through once per game. He seems to have vast independent wealth, but that's about it.
    • The anime version makes more of a show of it; he even has a Prime Minister (Cabinet Minister) and the dubious loyalty of Meta Knight, but his rule seems to be even more dubious. In one early episode, he actually plants archaeological evidence that his ancestors were royalty. Meanwhile, the actual Mayor seems to be the legitimate authority figure, while the Prime Minister doesn't seem to ever do anything beyond being the father of The Kid with the Leash.
  • Mayor Bo in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is among the more competent examples of the trope. On the other hand, in a village populated by eight adults, two teenagers, and five kids, it's hard to imagine there's a lot of competency required.
  • Mayor Doteur in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask mostly just sits around saying "uhm...well" while the Captain of the Guard and the lead carpenter argue the issue of whether they should evacuate. Though he does resolve the issue if Link wears the Couple's Mask to the meeting- whichs consists of "Screw it, the world's ending, do what you want."
  • Final Fantasy VII
    • Palmer. As a Shinra corporation executive, he has a massive salary and an impressive title. However, his department, Space Exploration, hasn't received any funding in years and fired all of its employees. He doesn't actually have to do anything except show up for the occasional board meeting and tag along with the President whenever he goes to Rocket Town, the site of the failed launch of the Shin Ra No. 26 rocket and the place where all the ex-employees of the Space Exploration department live.
    • Played more literally with Mayor Domino of Midgar, who has no actual power to speak of since Shinra runs everything. Mostly he hangs around the Shinra building being useless. He actually ends up helping AVALANCHE during their raid on the building just because he's bored.
  • Lars' position as the leader of Bladehenge and the resistance in Brutal Legend is mostly symbolic. The man rarely ever takes charge and he's just a symbol. Eddie actually leads the troops in battle, forms strategies, and does pretty much everything. This suits Eddie fine though, as he's a roadie, and a roadie's job is to make someone else look good.
  • Dragon Age II
    • Viscount Dumar should be the most powerful man in Kirkwall, but the word on the street pretty much says Knight-Commander Meredith's the one with the real power. And all around him, extremist clerics, taciturn Qunari and who knows what else threatens his already delicate rule of the powder keg that is Kirkwall and he is unable to do anything about the problems that crop up except to turn to you. A shame, really, since he's the one of the Reasonable Authority Figures in the blighted place.
    • Grand Cleric Elthina is played up as being a majorly respected power and master of negotiation, but in practice nobody seems to listen to her and she in fact has very little control over what her own clerics do.
  • Fallout 3 lets you play as one in a couple situations. Upon entering the settlement of Big Town, you're confronted by a guard, who obviously has no idea what he's doing, who asks who you are. One option is to tell him "I'm the king/queen of the wasteland, what's it to you?". Later you can talk to him again, demanding a new greeting speech that acknowledges your title as royalty.
  • Tortimer in Animal Crossing doesn't seem to do much besides hand out goodies at special events. In New Leaf, you become the mayor of your new home-town, and can either play this straight by goofing around or avert it by approving (and donating to) the construction of new decorations and new buildings.
  • Borderlands:
    • The Sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2 has no legitimate claim to the title of Sheriff, having just showed up one day and taken the whole place over. Deputy Winger (who doesn't know the Sheriff's real name and may not have even been a cop before she deputized him) thinks it's best that everyone just do what she says, because she has a ton of enforcers and is always looking for an excuse to hang somebody. It also helps that she's the girlfriend of Handsome Jack, the most powerful figure on Pandora and thus has the backing of the Hyperion corporation.
    • While Mister Torgue might have started off as the founder and head of Torgue Corporation, by the "Wattle Gobbler" DLC he's simply a spokesperson after having sold his shares for $12 and a high-five.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater':
  • In The Order of the Stick, all of the figureheads that Tarquin and Malack have served under over the years. The official ruler actually changes every couple of years, but Tarquin and Malack remain the true powers. The same is apparently going on in the Western Continent's other empires, ruled by their four other old companions.

    Web Original 
  • Not quite the king, but the Emperor of The Town is a nudist lech who does no ruling, and is, currently, completely vanished.
  • Tthe King of Town in Homestar Runner is treated as a rather loopy old relative who isn't going to let go of his delusions, and he does own a castle, which he lives in, but he rarely shows any signs of having any kind of authority. In the "Strong Badia the Free" episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, however, he imposes a retroactive e-mail tax, and no sooner does Strong Bad find out about it than he is put under house arrest for failing to pay it. Strong Bad and several of the other characters get fed up with him and secede from his rule, addressing him as "The Of Town".
    • While he doesn't hold any actual power, he is the actual employer of The Poopsmith, who is also his sole enforcer for The Municipality, the Ko T's armed riot police. So, in essence, his authority extends as far as The Poopsmith and anyone who's on the far end of The Poopsmith's billy club. "Strong Badia the Free" actually lampshades the fact: Strong Bad is in the middle of answering an email, telling the writer that the Ko T is pretty much harmless since he's too old and demented to do much damage, when the King barges in, Poopsmith in both riot gear and tow, to inform Strong Bad that he's delinquent on his taxes.
    • In the end of that chapter of SBCG4AP, Strong Bad discovers that not only was being KOT more stressful than he thought, but the King orchestrated Strong Bad's rebellion just so he wouldn't have to be King anymore!
    • Strong Bad himself is sort of a King of Town over his micronation Strong Badia. In this capacity he does minimal damage, because his subjects consist of a small array of inanimate objects, and anyone willing to put up with him for an hour or so while they hang out on a small patch of tilled ground that Strong Bad rents from Bubs (that's right, rents).
  • President Critic of Kickassia, following the takeover and renaming of Molossia (see Real Life section).
    • The Critic is also this to the That Guy with the Glasses site too. He tries to reassert his authority, really he does, but he will nearly always get walked over and then give up.
    • Donnie from Demo Reel. Being 42 and the director he's technically in charge of everyone, but because of all his trauma, he acts far younger and has to be looked after.
  • The Mayor of Ink City presents himself as an Ultimate Authority Mayor, but is generally viewed by the residents as this. It doesn't help that he tends to keep to himself and not interact with anyone unless they manage to hit one of his Berserk Buttons hard enough. When he lies low during the World Split crisis, he gets called out HARD upon his reappearance.
  • Once an Episode with Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation. In the Credits Gag it will always title him as something different, such as 50,000,000th in line to the throne.
  • Donut from Dusk's Dawn really isn't a royal guard of Celestia, but claims himself as one.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama's Professor Farnsworth is a professor, but he only teaches one class, on a subject he made up. Fry's the only one to sign up for it, and the Professor's pretty upset. "I don't know how to teach, I'm a professor!"
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: In "Over the Moon", K'nuckles declares himself to be 'the Moon King' and starts giving orders to the moon.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 3's Stalker with a Crush King Sandy isn't king of anything. In fact, it's very likely that he and his three cousins simply Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality.
  • In The Simpsons, in Captain McAllister's first appearance, Lionel Hutz accused him of not being a real Captain, and McAllister sadly admitted it. However, Depending on the Writer, McAllister is sometimes seen commanding ships now and then.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender , the Earth King came to power at age four, so naturally his advisers handled most of the government work. Unfortunately one of them, Long Feng, manipulated events so that the Earth King remained ignorant and powerless even after he reached adulthood. He eventually reasserts his influence, only for his capital to be quickly conquered by Azula.

    Real Life 
  • His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico. The Emperor was the very definition of Crazy Awesome, and so naturally citizens of San Francisco loved this character, and even provided for him.
  • Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia. Here, there's an interesting twist: Molossia is incredibly small, consisting primarily of various properties owned by Baugh, meaning that not a lot of competence is required. Still, he does his best to cultivate good relations with the United States, which completely surrounds Molossia, sending them "aid" every April 15. Unfortunately, none of this protects him from film invasion.
  • The Mayor of Hollywood, a position created by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to supposedly represent the entertainment industry. The main focus of the job is to appear at Walk of Fame ceremonies and to arrange for lavish yet tacky floral arrangements to be placed on the stars of recently deceased honorees. (Attendance at funerals is also part of the job.) The position has been vacant since the death of Johnny Grant, who in lieu of pay had all his (admittedly modest) needs supplied.
  • The Roman Catholic Church
    • The church requires that certain positions in the Vatican administration be held by bishops. But a bishop is supposed to be the head of a diocese, and a bishopric in a real diocese is a full-time job. The church instead assigns bishops intended to work in the Vatican to a "titular see", which is a diocese that's no longer extant. (Most are located in the Middle East or North Africa, areas that were wholly Christian before the advent of Islam.) The best-known titular bishop might be Nicolaus Steno (aka Neils Stensen), the Titular Bishop of Titiopolis, a geologist and the subject of an essay by Stephen Jay Gould.
    • Nominal dioceses over areas lacking active Christian congregations have been also been used as a means to reassign bishops to Antarctica, particularly if the bishop in question has unusual opinions and/or criticizes Church policy but hasn't actually broken with Church doctrine.
  • South Korea, which claims to be the rightful government of the entire Korean peninsula, appoints governors for its Northern "provinces". Nobody's sure what they actually do, but reportedly the offices are quite busy. (Incidentally, North Korea makes the exact same claim, but there's only one authority up there.)


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alternative title(s): King Of Town; The King Of Town
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