Major Monogram: Oh! Wow! What are the odds?
Carl: Well, it is a cartoon, sir.
What did I tell you about breaking the fourth wall, Carl?
Hey! How're you doing out there? It sure is nice to be the Breaking The Fourth Wall page on TV Tropes
. Sure, I don't get as much attention as some of the other pages, but I try my hardest.
Anyway, the Fourth Wall
is the fact that in any work of fiction is that the characters are unaware of the fact that they're fictional characters in a work, the audience observing them, and whatever medium conventions occur in between the two.
Breaking the fourth wall is when a character acknowledges their fictionality, by either indirectly or directly addressing the audience. Alternatively, they may interact with their creator (the author of the book, the director of the movie, the artist of the comic book, etc.). This is more akin to breaking one of the walls of the set, but the existence of a director implies the existence of an audience, so it's still indirectly Breaking The Fourth Wall. This trope is usually used for comedic purposes.
It should be noted that other sources will refer to any fiction that draws attention to its fictionality as "Breaking The Fourth Wall". Our definition is a bit narrower: Breaking The Fourth Wall only occurs if the characters acknowledge the audience or the author, whether directly or indirectly, got it? It's not enough that I recognize my status as a wiki page, it's the fact that I'm commenting to you about it!
Although Breaking the Fourth Wall
are mostly Played for Laughs
nowadays, serious fourth wall breaking is not unheard of.
Named for the theatrical convention of building sets with right, left and back walls
, while the audience observes the action through an imaginary "fourth"note
wall located at the front of the stage. Breaking the fourth wall would occur when the actors would step through where the virtual fourth wall should be and address the audience directly.
This is a very old trope
: William Shakespeare
's characters often addressed the audience. They broke it regularly in Ancient Greek
theater, too, pretty much as soon as they'd invented
the Fourth Wall
- or, arguably, before
inventing the Fourth Wall
When a series breaks the fourth wall on such a regular basis that there may as well not be one in the first place, then you've gone straight into No Fourth Wall
Can be expressed using Medium Awareness
. When done literally, it's Camera Abuse
. See also: Narrator
(this trope is their job), Post Modernism
(loves this trope), Aside Glance
and Aside Comment
(particular kinds of this), Animated Actors
(an animation-specific subtrope), and Who Would Want to Watch Us?
(characters lampooning the premise). He Knows About Timed Hits
often involves breaking a videogame's fourth wall through necessity. For a detailed discussion of the line between this and No Fourth Wall
, see Sliding Scale of Fourth Wall Hardness
. If the creator of a work, the audience, or you, personally, interact with characters in a way that isn't Audience Participation
, it may well be From Beyond The Fourth Wall
Often used for Lampshade Hanging
. But if a character lampshades without addressing or acknowledging the audience, it's just Lampshade Hanging
. Similarly the fourth wall can be broken with no lampshades in sight.
If somebody is not in the break and doesn't understand who the ones breaking the wall are talking to, see Audience? What Audience?
Leaning on the Fourth Wall
Anyway, thanks for your time... on to a couple examples, in which I shall kindly stop smashing your computer screen with a hammer:
open/close all folders
- In Sergei Prokofiev's Love For Three Oranges the action is frequently interrupted by a Greek Chorus (or rather, four or five separate Greek Choruses) of opera fans and stagehands. This on its own doesn't quite break the fourth wall. But when the stagehands decide to intervene in the plot by kidnapping the main villain, you've got to feel like some kind of line has been crossed. Relatively rare in that the fourth wall is broken from the OUTSIDE: rather than one of the characters in the play turning to address the audience, characters from the "audience" reach in and start mucking about in the play.
- There was this gem from Hulk Hogan on a November 2010 episode of TNA ReAction:
"Well, brother, we're lightening the load around here. We're trimming the fat. We're thinning the herd. I mean, you know, it's pathetic. It's pathetic, that Dixie would let this company get in the shape it's in. It's her train of thought! Raven? Who hasn't had a damn shower or bath? Y'know, with RVD, and that whole crew out there? They meant to professional wrestling what Hulk Hogan, who sold out Shea Stadium? who put 94,000 people in the Pontiac Silverdome? who slammed a 700-pound giant? They mean to professional wrestling what Hulk Hogan means?
"No wonder this company was
in the shape it's in. It's time to get rid o' the trash, the garbage, the worthless piece of crap out here, and we started with Dixie Carter. Yeah, we're gettin' very
real around here. We are so, real, it's unbelievable. Because, if you don't get over like I said, you're fired. If you don't draw number, if you don't entertain, if you don't put asses in seats, if you don't put the coinage in the piggy bank, you're fired. No more games. No more, "Kayfabe
." "It's a work." "I've won 34 tag team belts." Who gives a damn, how many…fake belts you won!? If you don't draw money, you get fired around here. If you don't put asses in seats, you’re gone."
- Professional Wrestling as a whole exists in a weird space where there is no fourth wall...but there is. The universe portrayed in the ring is considered "real", for all intents and purposes. The people who enter the ropes, be they the living undead, obliviously narcissistic, or rich beyond belief; that's who they actually are. The audience has to believe that they exist both on and off the clock just as you see them. Likewise, they are constantly aware they are on television and performing before a live audience, so the concept of a fourth wall in the traditional sense is not there. The actual fourth wall is Kayfabe, which is something you generally do not want to break (as the notion is almost critical to the concept of pro wrestling making sense at all; even admitting its existence, like the above, is a surefire way to throw Willing Suspension of Disbelief out the window and even the audience knows it).
- CM Punk, through his scathing shoot promo, has created an on-screen character for himself where he can fly between the fourth wall and reality.
- In that initial promo, he even explicitly mentions that he's breaking the fourth wall.
- The Rock does this a lot. For example, in reference to the brief John Cena / Zack Ryder / Eve Torres love triangle in early 2012, Rock pointed out that Cena is married in real life.
- The Cashore Marionettes do this occasionally; one of the most significant instances is the skit "The Quest", in which a puppet scales his own puppeteer like a mountain, accompanied by triumphant music.
- There's no better way to mess with your friends than by breaking the fourth wall in conversation. That way, if there's ever a movie made of your life, you can include fourth-wall breaking scenes without having to fictionalize anything.
- So that's what you've been doing. Knock it off, Derek! Yes, this is an attempt to mess with the heads of every Derek in the world. Don't spoil it
- Thanks to the existence of wiretaps, it is now possible to break the fourth wall by giving a friendly, or not so friendly, hello to the FBI/DHS/NSA/SRI/etc. This is customarily done after making a particularly seditious comment, as exemplified by this xkcd comic and another from Last Days Of Foxhound''.
- Can you say that directly into the microphone please? * Prominently displays shirt pocket or some other mundane place a microphone could be hiding*
- George Carlin once told a story about a friend of a friend who, while under investigation by the FBI, took to answering his phone with "Fuck Hoover" instead of "Hello".
- If your boss is prone to listening in on staff you don't even need the FBI.
- On online games, some savvy players do this to moderators who might be monitoring the chat.
- During the 1980's when MI-5 were wiretapping Arthur Scargill he would apparently often swear down the phone at them.
- Have you ever had a homework in which you have to write X amount of sentences? Now how many times have you (or classmate) written: "I am doing my homework" or "I am learning [insert subject] at school". (This is more frequent in a foreign language class.)
- You know when you're waking up and half-dreaming still, and you say something utterly surreal that makes complete sense at the time but makes no sense later, until you realize that it was actually a very profound remark, as if someone were narrating your life? You just broke the fourth wall.
- Bonus points if you just turn your head away (usually towards left side) and give a look worth of Deadpan Snarker and make a mental note over the situation.
- Some very young Clarissa Explains It All fans used to kind of talk into the camera while walking around the house describing what they were doing/thinking. Breaking the fourth wall.
- You know when you're praying to God or whoever? You're talking to the author.
- Oh, my head. Does anyone have an aspirin?
- Smile! You are being filmed. You know you will smile or look directly at the camera, as if you KNOW someone will watch you in that exact moment.