: We're never going to get away with this. What will you do if Montero
: Montero considers himself a true nobleman. He would never look a servant in the eye.
One way for a character to evade detection from someone who is looking for him is to disguise himself, not in a highly elaborate way, but rather as an incredibly plain, ordinary-looking person who isn't worthy of attention. The idea behind such subterfuge is that even if an authority figure comes looking around, he won't demean himself by looking a commoner straight in the face. Blending into your environment works for chameleons, after all, so why shouldn't it work for humans, too?
This trope appears in many settings, with its use generally depending on the values of the time period. In a class-stratified society, it is literally unthinkable for an aristocrat to even consider pretending to be a commoner
simply for the sake of honor, so the idea never even occurs to anybody to look for a commoner. Contrast a modern setting, where rather than a whole underclass, usually certain peripheral professions will be utilized for this. In either case, the Selective Obliviousness
of characters can become a plot point if a Genre Savvy
character declares that Everyone Is a Suspect
in hope of keeping others from failing to notice those usually Beneath Notice.
This is why The Butler Did It
is such an attractive trope for mysteries: Nobody
notices the butler, and he's usually the most trusted member of the household help.
may be this. May result in The Dog Was the Mastermind
. Related to They Look Just Like Everyone Else
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- This is how Bruce Banner, aka the Incredible Hulk, gets into labs generally speaking. He needs the equipment or access to machinery, he dresses up as a janitor. Plus it's the added bonus of being there after hours.
- In Sneakers, Carl disguises himself as a gardener in order to sneak into Playtronics' corporate headquarters.
- Actually subverted, in that the gardener is emphatically not beneath the guards' notice, and the only reason it works at all is because they get Mother to dress in an identical uniform as a body double.
- In The Mask of Zorro, this is how the old Zorro is able to masquerade literally right in front of Montero. Because he is masquerading as a servant, it would not even occur to Montero to take more than a passing glance at him.
- In X2: X-Men United, Mystique disguises herself as a janitor.
- In The Movie of The Fugitive, Dr. Kimble disguises himself by shaving off his beard, and is able to walk right by a few cops that way without being noticed. One even asks him if he's seen [Kimble's description]; he responds "every day in the mirror - except for the beard, of course."
- He caps it off by dressing in baggy, drab-colored clothes, making it easy to slip into a hospital disguised as a janitor.
- In Fist Of Fury, Bruce Lee disguises himself as an Asian and Nerdy telephone repairman in order to infiltrate the home of the man who arranged his teacher's death.
- In Perfume, it's explained that the main character has no scent, making people subconsciously treat him as beneath their notice. At one point he steps right over a guard dog, which ignores him.
Live Action TV
- A common tactic for The A-Team.
- A common tactic on Burn Notice, Michael will sometimes don the uniform of a maintenance worker or such, since nobody thinks to question why a guy from the phone company is fiddling with phone connections.
- A trait it seems he inherited from his dad - Mr. Weston Sr. used to do the same to steal equipment off of work sites.
- On Leverage, while Sophie, Hardison and Nate are more likely to show up people of importance, Parker and Eliot generally fly under the radar by posing as irrelevant workers. Parker and Eliot are also much less likely to be captured, though that is also due to their respective skill sets allowing them to get out of danger more easily.
- Parker apparently learned this from her mentor Archie, as he also does this in "The Big Dam Job." As he says, "Nobody ever cuts the cake until someone tells them to cut the cake." he was stealing a sword from an exhibit on opening night by smuggling it out through a fake cake, appearing as part of the catering staff.
- On Hustle, Ash uses this fairly often in terms of setting up their cons.
- In Fringe, Walter explains that a side-effect they noticed amongst the children treated with Cortexiphan was that it instilled a subconscious desire to blend into their surroundings; as such, they had a tendency to be dress in drab colors which don't attract much attention, such as black, white and grey.
- In the Alphas episode "Rosetta" the team encounters an autistic woman during a raid on a terrorist safe-house who has the power to understand and translate all languages she hears, instantly, and figure that the terrorists have been exploiting the woman to encode and decode their secret messages. The woman volunteers to assist them in catching the terrorists and seems to be helping, until Gary notices she's been intentionally mistranslating the encoded messages by just enough to make it look like she was making minor mistakes. Turns out she wasn't being exploited by the terrorists... she was the leader of this particular terror cell and no one considered she was anything but a victim because of her autism.
- On Babylon 5, the pak'ma'ra were frequently reviled by other races due to their bizarre cultural and dietary habits. They also tended to be everywhere, often working menial jobs where their presence was ignored as much as possible. Delenn reasoned that this characteristic made them ideal couriers and even infiltrators.
- Shadowrun. Often used by runners infiltrating corporate facilities.
- Common in Shadowrun fiction also. In one of the first short stories written for the setting, a fugitive from the yakuza is successfully smuggled across town past a cordon of street thugs, all of them on high alert, because her escort bribed a pizza deliveryman to let them borrow his van.
- In 7th Sea, the Servant skill has a Knack (sub-skill) called Unobtrusive, which relies on this trope.
- In Vampire: The Masquerade, characters with the Obfuscate discipline at a certain level can use it to hide in plain sight among groups of people. It's especially useful for a Nosferatu, who by definition Looks Like Orlock.
- Likewise, many games in the New World of Darkness not only have abilities like Obfuscate, but a Merit that makes it harder for someone to find records of the individual or track them down. It goes by various names depending on the game line, among them "Occultation," "Hidden Life," and "Anonymity". Often, though, these Merits also apply penalties to situations where being known would be useful ("Who're you to throw your weight around? Don't know you from Adam...").
- Mage has a Legacy (the Blank Badges) with an ability that turns Occultation into effective dots of Status in any mundane group. The net effect is that nobody knows who the character is but they're clearly someone important, allowing for all kinds of social engineering fun. There's also the "Incognito Presence" Mind spell.
- The "Beggar Prince" book from The Elder Scrolls
- Also the Thieves Guild uses beggars as spies
- In Hitman: Blood Money humble disguises like repairmen or janitors raise less suspicion from guards. They are, however, a disadvantage by restricting the areas you can enter while wearing them.
- In Mass Effect 2, Thane's loyalty mission has his backstory exposition include the tunnel vent rats, a group of orphans who live in the Citadel and acted as his spy network because nobody ever took notice of them.
- The Collectors exploit this by having the Vorcha release their plague on Omega, a species considered vermin by the rest of the Galaxy. This also yields the side-benefit of causing civil unrest when it's discovered it's an engineered virus, as the two species who are immune are Humans and Vorcha... and guess where the finger falls on.
- The Keepers who operate the Citadel are another example of this. Even the player will have likely forgotten about them by the time their true purpose is revealed; silently maintaining the Citadel until the time is right to open the Relay and allow the Reapers to return from Dark Space.
- Although he is a janitor, Roger Wilco from Space Quest fame dresses up as a janitor of an Evil Inc. in Space Quest 3.
- The true antagonist of Persona 4 is the gas station attendant who shakes your hand in the opening scenes of the game.
- In Dragon Age II, party member Merrill notices that she doesn't have to do much to stay hidden from the Templars in Kirkwall; as long as she doesn't use magic, she's nothing more than just another Elf in the Alienage to them.
- Real Ninja (supposedly, since ninja are supposed to be a secret) were not actually invisible, but would take the role of an ordinary peasant and, sometimes for years, just blend in with everyone else until it was time to strike.
- The common 'ninja uniform' of black pajamas and a face mask comes from exploiting this quality in the audience of Japanese theater. Throughout the play, stage hands dressed in this manner would be visible during the play, but ignored as just part of the scenery. Because of this, they were the perfect place to stick a ninja into the script—to the audience, they would be appearing out of nowhere.
- Then dictator of Mexico General Antonio López de Santa Anna attempted this trope after the Mexican Army lost the Battle of San Jacinto during the Texas Revolution. He hoped that the Anglo-Texans and Tejanos would be so busy looking for an officer in a flashy uniform that they would overlook a simple peasant farmer. It didn't work.
- Since disguising like a commoner is much more than just putting on common clothing, this trope isn't truly averted here, but played with. Commoners do notice other commoners and if they are behaving strangely and are also a stranger to everyone, they are a suspect.
- Also, dude had a wooden leg. Kinda hard to miss that.
- Jefferson Davis is rumored to have attempted to escape the victorious Union forces disguised as a woman.
- Sometime around (before?) the Russo-Japanese War, there was a Japanese spy in Singapore. He served food in the officers' mess in a British base, listening to the information they revealed talking to each other, and no-one looked at him.
- Chilean lawyer and guerrilla leader Manuel Rodríguez used this often to fight the Spaniards out of Chile. He went as far as opening the carriage door for the current Spanish governor Casimiro Marcó del Pont, who didn't recognize him and gave him a coin for the favor.