In the land of television, morality and justice are swift, sure, and Anvilicious.
Okay folks, listen up: many of the dangerous behaviors in life are as insidious and widespread as they are because most of the time, nothing bad comes of doing them. If you don't wear your seat belt, most of the time, you'll be fine. It's just that on the rare occasion that fate calls you on it, the results are usually catastrophic.
But if you do something wrong/dangerous/stupid on a TV show and divine justice isn't carried out, sometimes Media Watchdogs and Moral Guardians will decry the show for "promoting high-risk behavior".
So on a lot of TV shows, especially those aimed at kids, every time you do something bad, you will get caught.
There is a possibility that this trope is used simply because it's a good way to end a particular story, or an author's personal fantasy or something and not as a deliberate way to get any message across. If fantasy was always like real life, then it would probably be completely boring, so you can't discount the possibility that someone's just trying to tell a good story.
On a Sitcom, this isn't usually all that big a deal, except during the Very Special Episode. In the Teen Drama, it's a recipe for tragedy. Drive drunk even once and somebody is going to die. Have premarital sex even once and there's going to be an STD or an unwanted pregnancy (although logically speaking there can't be an STD unless at least one of the people has had sex before, except in the less likely-to-be-used case of being given one non-sexually via birth, blood, or otherwise), and it's no use protesting, "But We Used a Condom!" And heaven help you if you even look at drugs.
This is sometimes called an "Institutional Lie" — the deliberate exaggeration of the dangers of a certain behavior because the audience wouldn't be persuaded by the actual dangers in the time allowed.
The problem with this kind of lie is that it doesn't convince anyone. Rather than having the desired effect, the audience is liable to dismiss the morality play as obvious fiction, and their trust is lost.
It is also possible that part of the motivation behind the skewed odds in TV Land may be due to the same forces that motivate Reactionary Fantasy: a desire by a certain element of society to see that "unacceptable" behavior (sex, drugs, punk music) is 100% fatal, and those noisy kids next door are going to get theirs.
Another reason for this is that studies looking at how teenagers perceive risk find that teenagers actually overestimate their risk when doing various activities, but still do a cost-benefit analysis. On the other hand, older individuals use the gist method, which means they might actually see the world this way.
If the disaster that comes from risky behavior is implausible rather than merely happening quicker than you might expect, it's a Space Whale Aesop.
A common delivery method for Can't Get Away with Nuthin' messages is the Scare 'Em Straight. A (usually) comedic variation, in which everyone else is getting away with worse misdeeds but one character Can't Get Away with Nuthin' for a lesser misdeed is Selective Enforcement. Very often, this is paired with Chekhov's Gun, as attention wouldn't be brought to the misdeed if it wasn't going to be relevant later on.
Often Selective Enforcement seems to be intent on teaching the Aesop of "just because your friends are getting away with it does NOT mean YOU will". However, seeing it happen to someone else isn't enough. Just because he can't get away with anything doesn't mean you can't, and that's what people end up learning. Except for when this becomes Truth in Television and the person really gets bitten in the ass a couple times in a row when they try getting away with stuff.
The Inverted Trope is Cant Get In Trouble For Nuthin. The polar opposite of this trope is Karma Houdini.
Compare Felony Misdemeanor. See also Compressed Vice.
Kyon of Haruhi Suzumiya, meanwhile, didn't do his homework and ended up stuck in a "Groundhog Day" Loop for centuries, which led to Yuki developing errors and rewriting the universe.
Essentially the whole reason behind Spider-Man's existence. The one time he decided not to act and did something immoral instead, it came back to bite him in the worst way possible.
The movie messes around with this; in the original comic, Peter ignores the criminal because he's letting his newfound fame go to his head and thinks it's not his problem, so it does generally feel like he's being taught a karmic lesson in humility. In the movie, the crook robs the wrestling promoter who screwed Peter out of his prize money and Pete lets him go in order to spite the man, which lessens the impact somewhat because it's easy to sympathize with Peter's attitude in that scene. You could argue that it actually increases the impact, but changed the moral. Instead of being about humility, it was about responsibility (which the comic was also about. After all...), which the movies are big on. Yes the actions were understandable, but Spider Man has to rise above that.
The reboot takes it Up to Eleven, and perhaps Crosses the Line Twice to restore its efficacy; After storming out of the house, Peter tries to buy milk but is two cents short. Since the clerk won't spot him two pennies from the (overflowing!)take-a-penny tray, Peter leaves, only to watch a street thug grab a handful of money from the register while the clerk's back was turned. Peter's reward for doing nothing, the milk the clerk refused him. Naturally Peter doesn't help track down that thug for the clerk. The dude was a Jerk Ass, he deserved to be robbed. Of course, that same thug then kills Uncle Ben, who had been chasing after Peter trying to find him. He dies because of two cents. That's what Ben's life was worth to Peter, two cents. How does that not forever change you? Right things, wrong things, it all matters.
The Plutonian from Irredeemable took a 10 minute break on the moon to get away from the constant calls for help that his superhuman hearing could pick up. In those 10 minutes, a sonic virus was released that turned hundreds of children in to walking skeletal corpses. This, as much as anything, contributed to his going insane.
The law laid down by the Dundonian Presbeteryans who founded D.C. Thomson to the writers of The Beano and The Dandy was simple: They could show the Naughty Is Good characters getting up to all the mischief they liked, as long as they were punished in the last panel.
In All Fall Down, Siphon learns this applies to her when she's arrested for the super-manslaughter that resulted from her becoming the world's last superhero.
One issue of Gladstone's Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers comic actually averts this - a monster that runs on cowboy tropes can't be beaten by the other Rangers and can only be beaten by "an Indian" - or in this case, a bow user.. However, Kimberly (said bow user) got grounded and they need her to help. One of the Rangers suggests just teleporting her there and get it over with. Zordon shoots it down, saying that risking more punishment on Kimberly isn't worth facing the Monster of the Week. Tommy solves the problem by confronting her father and having the others help shoulder Kimberly's punishment over the weekend. It works.
Shane Walsh subverts this in For Want of a Nail fic Better Angels where he murders his best friend Rick and despite being spotted near the body manages to lie his way out. Due to Shane's paranoia and suspicion in the group, this gets doubly subverted as major characters begin to doubt Shane's leadership.
A notable double subversion of this trope is in the 1998 film The Faculty, in which one of the main characters cooks up and sells unnamed "drugs", which prove to be crucial to foiling the alien scheme, as the drug's desiccant properties make them lethal to the water-dependent aliens and the humans they've possessed. In this case, the drug dealer not only survives, but also saves the day and gets the girl. Of course, the "drugs" turn out to be ordinary caffeine pills ground up into powder. So a reversion to the trope because the "drug dealer" is really conning the people who want to do drugs, which makes it okay because they're getting what they deserve..
Played straight, but justified, in The Dark Knight. Two-Face, having sneaked into Sal Maroni's car, flips a coin for Maroni, and Sal wins. He then flips one for Sal's driver, puts on his seatbelt, and shoots the driver in the back of the head. The car rolls over. Sal wasn't wearing a seatbelt, and is implied to be dead at the end of the film. Two-Face is seen later, seemingly without an (additional) scratch.
In Yellowbeard, Betty (Madeline Kahn) tells her son Dan (Martin Hewitt): "The last time I read a book, I was raped - let that be a lesson to you."
The basis of the Sam Raimi movie Drag Me to Hell: a good-natured loan officer turns down a mortgage renewal from an old gypsy woman to show her boss that she is worthy of a promotion. The gypsy ends up placing a curse on her that literally summons demons to drag her to Hell and condemn her to eternal torment.
French Kiss basically runs this Trope into the ground as Kate (Meg Ryan) loses her citizenship to two countries because she had one puff of a marijuana cigarette years ago in college - and got busted - and didn't even enjoy it.
Kids, in which Jenny gets AIDS after having unprotected sex one time.
Hard Candy is a strange case in that its two protagonists represent two different crimes and only one is punished while the other's fate is left open. The universe apparently had a hard time choosing whether or not to punish the perverted child molester or the deranged sociopath.
In The Mexican, Jerry (Brad Pitt's character) stops at a stoplight in the middle of nowhere. He waits for the light to turn for a while, noting that no cars seem to be coming in either direction for miles. He gives up waiting and starts to run the red when a semi-truck comes barrelling through the intersection out of nowhere and almost t-bones him. This is all ironic because it was a traffic accident that mixed Jerry up in the plot to begin with.
Maid In Manhattan. The titular character is shown to be an exemplary, beloved employee in line for a promotion. But when she lets a coworker talk her into trying on a guest's discarded clothes, it kicks off a chain of events that result in her being fired and publicly humiliated over her fling with a wealthy,well-known politician, despite the eventual happy ending.
Amy gets so angry with Jo for not taking her out that she burns the novel Jo was writing. Not only Marmee gets quite upset with her, but when the truth sinks and she asks Jo for forgivenes, she is roughly refused.
Jo refuses to forgive Amy for the aforementioned incident. The next day, Amy nearly drowns from falling through the ice on a river when skating with Laurie, and Jo is partially responsible since she knew the ice was very thin but didn't warn Amy out of spite.
Amy acts like a perfect lady on a visit with their aunts and Jo acts bitchy for no real reason. Turns out they were deciding during that very meeting which girl to invite on a trip to Europe, so Amy is chosen for her polite and levelheaded behavior.
Some of the boys in Little Men share a cigar and beer one night, and set the room on fire. Another time they try to enact a sort-of pagan ritual and end up burning a Creepy Doll for it, only to get shit scared of how it doesn't normally burn (it's one made of leather) and Jo severely scolds them for being stupid.
Jack steals Tom's money and lets Nat take the blame, later running away out of guilt. When he returns, the others act very cold to him for more than awhile.
Outside of the Little Women series, Louisa May Alcott also used this trope often...
In ''Eight Cousins" , Rose Campbell attempts to punish her cousin Jamie's playmate Pokey for petty theft (just some chestnuts and a rolled bandage), making the little girl cry. Jamie gets pissed off and reveals that Rose had her ears pierced by her friend Annabelle without permission of her guardian Uncle Alec, which upset Alec quite a bit.
In Rose in Bloom, Charlie has been struggling with alcoholism and irresponsibility. The one time he slips and gets drunk, he falls off a horse and dies few hours later due to his injuries.
In Jack and Jill, Jill tries to read a letter that's thrown on the floor, believing it belongs to Jack's brother Frank and intending to use it against him for being mean to Jack. Not only does she fall off her couch (a big deal since she's got a recent and very painful back injury), but she discovers that the letter belongs to Frank and Jack's mother... and it says Jill might be this close to being permanently crippled.
The Greyfriars series, and any other school story penned by Frank Richards. The message to the readership is clear: don't gamble, drink, smoke, lie, cheat, sneak, steal, go out of bounds, consort with ruffians, refuse to do your lines, mercilessly provoke the mentally feeble, gang up on people in fights or steal other people's cakes. Just don't. Go outside and play cricket instead.
In the book Les Malheurs De Sophie by Comtesse de Segur, practically every innovative child's play idea Sophie gets causes some sort of trouble, from having her eyebrows shaved off to practically getting her fingers bitten off by a horse.
In The Hyghcock Chronicles, Betsy never once gets pregnant during the years she spent entirely loyal to her husband, but after he dies and (through various circumstances) sleeps with both Protagonist Maynard the priest (and protagonist) and Archie the Sheriff in short order, she gets pregnant and can't determine the actual father. Subverted in that, once Maynard finds out, he outright says he doesn't care who the father is since he loves Betsy anyway.
In Sweet Valley High, a secondary character dies after doing one and a half lines of cocaine. Elizabeth Wakefield drives drunk on one occasion after her drink is spiked and gets in a car crash, which results in the death of her twin sister's boyfriend and her arrest.
The latter is a Double Aesop, too; while Elizabeth is in a car crash and arrest, her twin sister was the one who spiked the drink, and is punished for her actions by a dead boyfriend.
In Comfort Woman, Beccah sneaks out to go on a school trip to the beach without telling her mother Aikiko, who is terrified of her being attacked by evil spirits. She gets a bit of coral lodged in her foot and gets a bad infection, which reveals the whole thing to Aikiko, who ends up keeping her daughter cooped up 24/7 for the next year.
Fablehaven averts this with Seth, who does occasionally slip away and break rules whenever it's extremely beneficial. It's played straight with Kendra, though, whose ability to get away with anything is so bad that she even drags Seth down.
As far as sex is concerned, yes. On the other hand, Marcus can't get out of that one time he stole a woman's phone (because it contained hard evidence that Homeland Security had imprisoned his friend illegally for most of a year), and ends up going to prison for it. The judge even mentions that it's a bit of an absurd edge case, but that is the law...
Paula Danziger employs this trope in a few of her books, particularly with heroines who decide to put themselves first for once after spending most of the book placating or looking after other people.
In There's a Bat in Bunk Five, Marcy spends most of her time as camp counsellor trying to reach out to Ginger, a troubled and seriously obnoxious girl who makes life hell for both Marcy and the other youngsters in her cabin. Eventually, Marcy pretty much gives up on Ginger and starts enjoying her time at camp on her own terms, even starting up a romance...then Ginger decides she wants to talk, when Marcy is occupied. Ginger throws a hissy fit and runs away — Marcy gets lectured on how she was focusing on her own fun and not looking after the girls.
In It's an Aardvark Eat Turtle World, Rosie seems to spend most of her time being the diplomat, and has had to make sacrifices to ensure her mother's relationship with her best friend's father is a success, such as giving up her pets because her kinda-stepfather is allergic. When she goes on holiday with her best friend/sister, Phoebe, she ends up feeling like a third wheel as Phoebe practically ignores her. Eventually, Rosie falls for Phoebe's cousin, Jason, and starts dating him, one of the few things she does for herself...whereupon Phoebe accuses her of being selfish and putting Jason first, resulting in Phoebe's ill-thought out decision to move back with her mother. Rosie spends much of the time afterwards feeling guilty about this turn of events.
In Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment, the Flock spend a night in New York sleeping in trees. They wake up the next morning with the police calling for them that what they're doing is illegal and to get down right now so they can have their parents called. Gazzy wonders who even looks up trees and Max comments "like there aren't worse problems going on than a bunch of kids sleeping in a tree".
In the Wayside School series, Todd is always getting in trouble. Notably, this isn't used to deliver An Aesop, but rather played forComedic Sociopathy - in several stories, he gets in trouble for a very minor offense while practically everyone else in the class is acting up much more.
Played with a twist in Bridge to Terabithia: Jess receives an invitation to a museum from his teacher. Having a crush on her, he doesn't think about inviting his best frienfd Leslie with him. Leslie pays the price - she dies. And Jess has lost his only friend. This is also a straight example for Leslie. She tried to use the rope alone just one this time, even though they had a rule that they always go to Terabithia together. And the water was high, but hey, she was the best swimmer, What Could Possibly Go Wrong??
It's easy to see why Michael never lies in the Knight and Rogue Series. The one time he lowers himself so much as to only tell part of the truth he's beaten up by four men as a result and needs help to even sit. Fisk, on the other hand, is something of a Karma Houdini in this respect.
Gone with the Wind. After the numerous horrible things she's done, including several attempts at seducing the married Ashley, Scarlett and Ashley get caught in a genuinely innocent embrace—she was crying and he was comforting her. Only the intervention of Melanie, Ashley's wife, saves her from total public humiliation—a punishment Scarlett herself says she would have gladly borne had they been caught any of the times that they were doing something wrong.
Sandry gets hit with this in The Will of the Empress. She puts off reading her accounts from her estates in Namorn once, and Duke Vedris very sternly reminds her how shameful it is for her to neglect them. Bear in mind that she hasn't been to Namorn since before she was ten and that she's doing an excellent job helping Vedris run Emelan, to the point that everyone thinks he's going to name her heir, and her Namornese cousin is too proud to ever directly ask for her help. When she goes to Namorn with her old friends, they roundly upbraid her any time she's a little less than reasonable or there's some visible reminder that she's noble, like when she hires a maid to save the woman from an abusive husband and the other servants are fretting over her consequence, or when she loses her composure during an argument. Of course, Tris, Daja, and Briar are still allowed to be as tart and snippy at they like. Even when Daja yells at the fragile Zhegorz and starts actually throwing things at Tris, Tris is perfectly sympathetic once she learns why.note With the caveat that Briar has PTSD.
Live Action TV
Josh from Drake & Josh fits this trope. Drake and/or Megan can often slip through the cracks when it comes to mischief, but that ability falls far short of Josh.
On Seinfeld, Elaine skips the boss's dinner party or whatever event and tells him she has to visit her father in the hospital. She is in fact going to the Yankees game with George and Kramer. When Kramer is hit by a foul ball, their picture is snapped and appears in the sports section the next day, which of course, Elaine's boss never fails to read.
Likewise on Home Improvement when Jill doesn't feel like visiting with her Dad, she out-of-character makes up a white lie as an excuse for why she has to skip town and miss him. He dies. Naturally, her last words to him were another lie to get him off the phone.
Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm embodies this trope. Most of the people he encounters are just as shallow and self-centered as he is, but he always gets caught and called out on it.
Almost, once, in one episode, following a guest dying, and Basil constantly trying to stop the guests seeing the body, he's confronted by dozens of angry guests who all demand an explanation for everything, in one of his few Crowning Moments of Awesome, he quickly declares that his wife, who has barely bothered to help him throughout the episode will answer all there complaints, then quickly escapes by hiding in a laundry basket which was being carried off, thus escaping his usual comeuppance and leaving Sybil to deal with it.
The show Our House loves this trope. It the kids do anything wrong, they will get caught, one way or another. There is one double subversion. On a dare, David takes Gus's car for a joy ride around the block. After returning to the driveway, he finds a small, but noticeable dent. After going to extraordinary lengths to (successfully) get the car fixed, he seemingly pulls it off. At the very end, however, Gus comments on how the dent that had been there for a couple years was now mysteriously gone.
A near aversion takes place in another episode, where David leaves some dirty rags lying about in the basement. A few days later, the house catches fire, but quick thinking and the timely action of the fire department esnures that there is no serius damage, and no injuries. Afterward, Gus tells the family that he doesn't want to know whose fault it was, as it might be simply too big for him to forgive.
A single sip of beer renders our heroes incoherent and leads to a drunk driving accident. Because, clearly, refilling a glass is unheard of. They'd have gotten away with it, if only they'd stuck with their original "swerved to miss a dog" story. But no, they had to tell a different story to each set of parents specifically so their web of lies could unravel within the twenty-two minutes available.
"Jessie's Song", where Jessie has a full-on junkie meltdown after crashing from... caffeine pills. "Narm", indeed.
7th Heaven has a particularly spectacular track record for not letting anyone get away with anything. A recurring character had a son who resulted from the one time he had premarital sex. I think someone once got cancer from touching a cigarette. They make Flanders look like a BadassDepraved Bisexual.
Done part-way on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Every "high-risk behavior" has immediate consequences. A girl gets pregnant from the one time she has unprotected sex (this one actually is true - you can get pregnant or infected from even one instance of unprotected sex, but the moral ought to be "use a condom", not "don't have sex ever"). The most popular girl in the school swallows one pill of ecstasy, and in the resulting high she manages to lose all her friends (plus, she has to go into rehab). But the kids almost always get away with petty crime, like stealing school property or cheating a restaurant.
"Jagged Little Pill" (the ectasy episode) was relatively realistic. Did she royally screw up her life? Yes. Did she go to jail and/or suffer a permanently debilitating injury? No. Did the parents see the mess left over from the Wild Teen Party? Dunno; the episode ended before they got home.
Even writers have noticed this, as there is an increasing amount of Lampshade Hanging about it.
Word of God is that actions are required to have consequences but the increasingly soap-operatic format has freed them from needing to portray the actions and consequences in the same episode.
In the original Degrassi Junior High, if you strike out on your own, you will get molested. Isn't that right, Stephanie and Wheels?
All the way back in 1991, Dwayne lost his virginity to a girl out of his league...and got AIDS. Considering female-male transmission rates and the likelihood a white girl from Toronto would even have the disease at that time, abstinence-karma didn't just smack him it beat him senseless. and then Joey beat him up too
Before that, "Trust Me" (Season 1) had an A plot where Joey and the guys take Snake's parents' car. It was the A plot because of a very contrived effort to show consequences, and as a result Spike's getting kicked out of school for the duration of her pregnancywhich had been built up to all season was shunted off into a B plot.
In an episode of Boy Meets World, Shawn and Corey turn Mr. Feeney's house into a B&B (taking a page straight out of an old Family Ties episode). When nothing bad happens, Corey panics, thinking that God has forsaken him, since this is the first time he's ever gotten away with anything. When Mr. Feeney finally does reveal their plan, he's delighted by the karmic balance. A few seasons later, they actually turn their inability to get away with anything to good, deliberately setting up a Fawlty Towers Plot so that in the process of catching them, Mr. Feeney will be forced to admit his feelings for a potential love interest.
Another episode of Boy Meets World sees Corey getting pulled over for going ONE MILE PER HOUR over the speed limit. Poor kid can't catch a break.
To be fair, in at least one dream episode it saves his life because he and Topanga were virgins in a horror movie.
London lies to her date's friend and says that Maddie is rich when they go on one double date. Suddenly the friend is apparently going to be staying in the city an extra day and Maddie is inexplicably invited to dinner with his parents...one day after meeting the guy.
The twins say she's staying in the Imperial Suite, which that very day just happens to be occupied by a famous wrestler.
Zack and Cody miss the bus and decide to skip school and go to the mall. Their mother just happens to decide to go shopping that day and Cody happens to win a contest to be in a music video filming that day. Their mother sticks around at the mall long enough to wander by the shoot and catch the twins.
The episode "Cold Turkey" of The Brothers Garcia took this to the extreme. Sonia caught the flu off Lorena so Lorena prayed to God and said she would give up watching her novellas for a whole month if it meant Sonia would get better. Sonia inexplicably recovered the next day though Lorena cracked after about a week and Sonia fell ill as soon as she switched the TV on. Then Larry and Lorena go to see a priest who says that they shouldn't make deals with God...
In spite of the fact that several of the secondary characters on Freaks and Geeks are total potheads with no anvilicious consequences, the one time that main character Lindsay smokes up, she totally freaks out like someone in a scene from Reefer Madness.
Played for laughs in The Worst Week Of My Life, in which even the smallest transgressions that protagonist Howard Steel commits are guaranteed to backfire on him in the most humiliating way possible at exactly the worst moment for him personally. For added 'hideously unfair suffering value', however, Howard can't even get away with things that he didn't do, or even that he did right, because that's just how it works.
iCarly has both played this straight (Federal freakin' agents bursting in when they try to hack the school computer!) and averted it (Live webcast from detention and the principal's a fan of their show!)
In the case of the latter, he was probably more concerned with the abusive Sadist Teacher—who fell into this trope after insulting the principal on live web, and got caught/in trouble five minutes later.
Arguably, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia derives a lot of its appeal from this; the characters are amongst the most horrible people on the planet, but they never succeed at anything.
A Taxi flashback episode shows a single taste of a "hash brownie" transforming straitlaced Harvard student James Caldwell into spaced-out hippie freak Jim Ignatowski.
Happens in pretty much every episode of Everybody Hates Chris. Chris screws up, tries to fix/hide the mistake, gets caught and pays for it. Though it's just as likely for him to get screwed over for doing the right thing.
On Buffy the Vampire Slayer: after Dawn lies to Buffy and sneaks off to party with her friend Janice and two boys, she nearly gets eaten when the boys turn out to be vampires.
There's the Season 2 episode where Buffy blows off training to go to a frat party.
Buffy: I told one lie...I had one drink...
Giles: Yes, and you were nearly devoured by a giant demon snake. I think the words 'let that be a lesson' are a tad redundant at this juncture.
On Beverly Hills 90210, resident nerd Andrea ends up pregnant and married within weeks of losing her virginity, to the second guy she slept with. The plot was done to incorporate the real-life pregnancy of the actress, and the writers explained that they thought it would be too much to have her pregnant by the guy who deflowered her. Still, getting pregnant by Guy #2 isn't that much better and when compared with the rest of the gang, who had been sexually active for years, Andrea got shafted.
Don't forget how one beer seemed enough to be alcoholism.
On 8 Simple Rules, Rory is grounded for three months and threatened with expulsion. His offense? Cheating on a test in American History.
Jackson Stewart of Hannah Montana frequently incurs the full wrath of his father for infractions that would warrant, at most, a stern talking-to for his Easily Forgiven sister Miley.
Invoked on True Blood. The first time Jessica sneaks out to go to a friend's party is the night she gets abducted and turned into a vampire.
However, being turned into a vampire gives her the nerve to stand up to her abusive religious zealot of a father and defend her mother and little sister.
In a Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode about underage drinking, not only do the kids end up in jail for underage consumption, two of them proceed to get into an offscreen drunk-driving accident and die. The worst part is that the one that wasn't driving was completely sober.
Though to be fair, they were drinking heavily.
In Pushing Daisies most of Ned's childhood was defined by this trope, particularly anything dealing with his gift, but also for just anything he did. This isn't really used for moralizing, but rather for Character Development to explain how closed off and timid he grew up.
On an episode of Two of a Kind, Kevin is convinced to call in sick at work and go to a ballgame instead. He wins a car because of this- and ends up on the big screen and the evening news. When his boss calls, the trope is revealed to be subverted; he was just asking to test drive the car.
This is first seemingly played straight in one episode of CSI: Miami and then shown to be a subversion in a later episode . When a cop fails to clean his gun one day, he is involves in a big shootout and it jams. He gets into trouble over this and Internal Affairs even suspects him of being in cahoots with the bad guys. In a later episode his gun jams again and we find out that he has been negligent in maintaining his weapons for a long time and has in fact been getting away with it for all that time. This time though he is killed.
In the Red Dwarf episode "Justice" the gang find themselves in a penal colony where the consequences of any immoral or criminal act committed whilst aboard the colony are exacted upon the criminal. Such as when Lister sets fire to the sheets, and his jacket catches fire. Or when Cat hits the crazed simulant and knocks himself out. Also an aversion, though, since the computer responsible for determining sentencing, which can read minds and see every crime you've ever committed, lets Lister go free "despite a number of petty criminal acts."
On a second season episode of Charmed, the telekinetic witch sees a man walking his dog let the dog poop on their lawn. On the encouragement of her younger sister, she flips the poop onto his shoe. Cue a time warp into a future where she and her sisters are corrupt as all hell, witch hunts are a way of life, and things keep getting worse and worse until the telekinetic's sister submits to being burned at the stake. The last thing they see before the Reset Button is pushed is the demagogue behind the witch hunts - the guy who got dog poo on his shoe! The girls decide that the whole thing was an object lesson, as that was the first time any of them had ever used their powers to get even with someone who hurt them - they have to use their powers solely for protecting the innocent, and never solely to punish the guilty. Umm...
What I Like About You has Val lie to their Aunt Wanda that Holly is ill so they don't have to go to her house for Thanksgiving. Guess who shows up at the house checking on Holly.
The opinion of the daughter on Necessary Roughness, that her mother comes down harder on her than on her brother when she gets caught acting up. May or may not be true, considering that her brother is more of a small-time con artist and lothario - and is generally smarter about concealing his antics - while she does things like steal the car and crash into a restaurant.
Family Matters sometimes used this trope where Laura was concerned; many plots revolved around Laura doing something/being pressured into doing something wrong, and then coincidence punishes her, either by having something catastrophic happen, or having her parents just happen to show up to catch her at it. In the Very Special Episode on gun violence, Laura's friend is shot in the arm as soon as Laura attempts to buy a pistol; in another, Laura buys a fake ID to go to a male strip club with her friends. It just happens to be on the same night her aunt and grandmother drag her mother to see the revue.
Glee manages to both subvert and play this straight. The episode that focuses on drinking? Everyone suffers minor consequences, but in general the ending attitude is "we can't exactly stop teens from drinking, so let's sorta make them drink safe". But Laser-Guided Karma is in full force the one time that Quinn is shown texting in a car. She gets in an accident and temporarily wheelchair-bound.
Houseof Anubis - Oh, Patricia. While other characters have gotten away with a couple of things (like Jerome getting away with blackmailing Mara), she gets in trouble for every bad action she does. The only times that she didn't get in trouble for something was when she dumps milk on Eddie, but that was only because everyone (even him) had already decided he deserved it, or the times when she was a sinner, due to the fact that she had no soul at the time. She even gets called out for things other characters do without repercussions, like yelling at people, or even gets people mad at her when she wasn't even causing trouble at all.
Frequently featured Frasier or Niles engaging in some minor act of selfishness or pettiness and ending up being humiliated after A Simple Plan has backfired horribly.
Nashville - While nobody on this show (except possibly Scarlett and Daphne) counts as pure and innocent, no one has stuff backfire as frequently as Juliette. Whether it's the shoplifting scandal or her short marriage or her affair with a married man, you can count on her having to get blowback while the other characters somehow have to deal with less (escaping blame from being in a potentially fatal car crash where she was the driver? Getting her voice back after much less time than you'd think? The whole Maddie thing? Only the lack of an official statement from Callie Khouri is keeping Rayna from being the Creator's Pet).
Bloodhound Gang's I Hope You Die describes how its subject flips some guy the bird, and as a result ends up killing dozens of people in an accident and ends up molested by his psycho roommate in jail. Yeah...
In one Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin is talking to Susie in class. When Susie tells him to stop talking, she is immediately caught by teacher, who only punishes Susie. Susie gets moved to the front of the class, and when she gets an insulting note from Calvin, she writes one in retaliation, only to get caught in the act and sent to the principal. Considering the reputation Calvin has, Wormwood's actions require some explanation. It's her job to treat all of her students fairly, even Calvin. She probably didn't hear Calvin talking. And besides, everything worked out when Susie actually gets a chance to explain everything to the principal. She got off the hook, and Laser-Guided Karma hit Calvin like a ton of bricks.
Susie: I'm so relieved. I was afraid you wouldn't believe me.
Principal (holding an overflowing folder) Oh yes, we've got quite a file on our friend Calvin...
In Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines you'll often see gangsters get into knife fights on the streets and the same prostitutes will walk around the town and not get the slightest bit of notice from the police. On the other hand, if you attack someone, it will immediately mean that the police will show up and try to kill you.
To be fair, it's when you get CAUGHT attacking someone. If you stealth kill someone while invisible or snipe them from a dark alley or use untraceable disciplines to make them commit suicide, there won't be any trouble. Many other games can take this to a "Dude WTF?" level, with small crimes NO ONE EVEN NOTICES getting you in serious trouble. In Fable, you can be attacked by guards by accidentally taking one step inside the house of SOMEONE WHO LOVES YOU a few seconds after shops close. Although since they just stop if you apologize, it's kinda subverted.
In the patched version I have, they do attacked people in the knife fights.
In the earlier Masquerade game, Redemption, your party of vampires—including The Grotesque Nosferatu NPC—could walk around in full body armor with assault weapons and rocket launchers through New York and London(!) without any interference from the ever-present police. But the second you "kiss" someone's neck (ie, drink blood), a battalion of SWAT officers descends on you like a rain of hammers.
Done to a huge extent in The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. The guards quickly find out if you've committed even the smallest crime (in this case let's say you stole a turnip from a shop), soon other city guards are alerted about this armed and dangerous turnip thief. Even if your fine is only five gold, the guards will stop at nothing to apprehend you.
More to the point, the guards have x-ray vision, as you can be in the middle of someone's house, in their basement, with no one around. Breaking in and walking around is no problem, but the second you pick something up the guards will run into the house run down the stairs, and tell you to "Stop thief!"...unless you are crouching which somehow makes you invisible. Oh and a guard can see into your pack and identify stolen goods when you chat with them, and somehow stolen goods are distinguishable from regular goods. Yes it appears that every time someone buys a carrot, they etch their name into it.
The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim steps it up with what may be Artificial Brilliance: you may think you've gotten away with stealing that turnip, as the shopkeeper didn't react, you have zero bounty and the guards aren't hunting you down...but then you meet some well-armed mercenaries later in your travels, hired to teach you a lesson about stealing. If that's not enough? The Dark Brotherhood gets a contract on you too!
Done to a rather comedic extent in Wario's story in WarioWare Touched, where after being warned to not eat any sweets, after some dental surgery, he does just that, immediately gets all teeth damage, apparently has a seizure, flies about fifty feet into the air, smashes through the dentist roof and lands in the chair again.
Grand Theft Auto. In something of a subversion, you can do all sorts of crazy stuff and not be punished, so long as you do it in moderation. The police start taking action at one star, but a quick ride around the block fixes that. Hit two stars, and only heading to a Pay'N'Spray (or other options) will get rid of them. Otherwise, they'll just keep chasing you, and everytime you respond with force they'll up the ante. By the time you cap out the wanted meter, you will be hounded by the military in their instant death collision tanks.
Played totally straight in Grand Theft Auto IV, where the police will go batshit fucking insane trying to catch you for a fender bender. Also falls into Selective Enforcement, because Niko can get run over all day long and the cops won't care.
Many Nancy Drew games include some really stupid, anvilicious examples of this, particularly in regards to safety tips. Forget to turn the iron off after using it, and you'll immediately burn down the hotel. Forget to click on your helmet every time you ride a bike and you'll immediately wipe out and get a concussion. Better wear your life jacket when you get into that boat, else you're immediately a spinning headline about a tragic drowning. And so on.
And then it gets stretched to the point of self-parody. "After you've been knocked out, tied up and left in a burning shed, be sure to put out the fire!" (Ghost Dogs of Moon Lake)
Sierra games can be just as bad. In the original Police Quest if you fail to check all your car's wheels, you'll get a flat tire and a Game Over. In Laura Bow II if you fail to look both ways when crossing the street, you'll get hit by a car and a...
In the first Space Quest game, fail fasten your seatbelt in the escape pod at the beginning of the game, and you'll get an instant Game Over the moment you attempt to take off.
In the Hellsinker universe is karma a very real force of nature and missdeads where punished swift and harshly. In order to free humanity from the shackles of karma the Garland system was build in order to controll it's flow. However this comes to bite humanity in the ass since four children where sacrificed whose spirits power the system and they grew vengeful at humanity, and eventually caused the shutdown of the system. Karmic Death indeed.
In Rune Factory Frontier, if you confess to another women while married, your wife will walk in and beat you up, leaving you with one HP and no RP. Also, her FP and LP will be set to zero, and she'll make you crappy meals.
Similar to the Elder Scrolls example above, Fallout 3 has plenty of this. Not only will you have Regulators hunting you down if you do bad things, but all of the NPCs are psychic enough to know it too, even if they don't immediately turn hostile. For example, if you kill everyone in Arefu, Lucy West in Megaton will still say something to the effect of "I heard about your little killing spree in Arefu. Get away from me!", even if there was no one around to witness it. Speaking of Megaton, decide to nuke it and everyone, including James, will somehow know it was you. And of course, there's Three Dog, who always manages to find out whenever you take the evil option in a quest. You can't get away with being good either, as the Talon Company mercs will be hired to hunt you.
In Fallout: New Vegas, just having a "Shunned" reputation with either of the major factions is enough for them to send hit squads after you. In the case of the Legion, the squad will run up to you at a certain location and announce "The Caesar has marked you for death!", and sometimes they immediately spawn hostile without warning. As above, they are psychic and will immediately all know of your wrongdoing.
Some of the games made by Mat Dickie/MDickie, such as HARDtime... and The You Testament have this sort of thing. You can sit there and watch other characters beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, carry weapons, steal weapons, etc., but if you try to do this, you'll get caught. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
The third Saints Row game toys mercilessly with this idea. You have two tracks of 'Want You Dead' that can be run up at the same time (one for the multi-gang Syndicate, the other for the police/military) and early on, all you can do to shake unwanted attention is run back to a building or shop you own to lay low. Later on, things turn the complete opposite direction when you unlock the 'Notoriety Wipe' options. Suddenly getting the law off your tail is as simple as the Boss pulling out his/her cellphone and asking good friend Mayor Burt Reynolds (yes, that Burt Reynolds) to call off the dogs.
Good luck doing something even morally ambiguous in the Kim Possible world. Unless, of course, your name is Cyrus Bortel.
Lying is also a considerable no-no.
Unless you are not Kim.
Kim gets away with quite a bit if you think about it…being a bit of a jerk to Bonnie (though she so totally deserves it, seriously she does) and Ron being examples.
Regular Show has this in spades. It's practically built on this trope.
Tiny Toon Adventures parodied the above, in which Buster, Plucky, and Hamton all got drunk off of a single beer (which they shared, so it would have really been more like a third each, making the plot even more ridiculous), and then proceeded to demonstrate the dangers of drunk driving by driving a car off a cliff.
Double-parodied, in fact; at the beginning of the episode, Hamton protests that Buster's insistence that they drink his dad's beer is wildly out of character. "I know," replies Buster, "But in this episode, we're showing the evils of alcohol." It's a more lighthearted version of it's sister show Animaniacs' "Wheel of Morality, turn turn turn, tell us the lesson that we should learn."
In its early days, one of the initial controversies that arose from The Simpsons was how rarely Bart received punishment for his misbehavior.
Played straight in the episode "Marge Be Not Proud" where Bart is goaded into shoplifting by Nelson, Jimbo and Kearney. He is immediately grabbed by the store detective, banned from the Try N' Save and later publicly outed and shamed.
Bart felt really guilty about it even before being caught, which was odd since Bart has arguably done much worse than that without feeling an ounce of guilt. Generally, the rule seem to be: if Bart's bad-deed-of-the-week is done as a throwaway gag, or as something that jumpstarts a separate plot, then he will get away with it and and suffer no consequences. If Bart's bad deed is driving the plot, then he will be dealt some sort of comeuppance.
The episode "The Boy Who Knew Too Much" has Bart ditching school after the school day has been lengthened, with Skinner in hot pursuit. He gets away and witnesses an accident that later implicates Mayor Quimby's son Freddy. He later testifies on the stand to clear his name, which proves to Skinner that he indeed played hooky. Skinner, petty as he is, gives him three months detention - "Wait... make that four months detention."
Played the straightest in the Itchy And Scratchy Land episode. He whips out his "Li'l Bastard Kit" and fires a smoke bomb at the hapless mascot. He laughs it up...and then seconds later, a security guard grabs him by the arm, handcuffs him, and them THROWS HIM INTO A HOLDING CELL (meeting Homer, who got arrested for fighting with a costumed staff member). It gets worse when, after things start going crazy in the park, Bart tries to get on a rescue helicopter...in which is the previously-offended mascot, who tells him enjoy Hell before he kicks him away. I tell ya, rampaging robots are nothing compared to bad karma.
Also played straight in another episode, wherein Marge, having a bad day, forgets to pay for an item at the Kwik-E-Mart, after having paid for all of the rest of a big basket of items. She is immediately arrested and sentenced to 30 days imprisonment. To be fair, part of it is because her lawyer was a complete moron.
And then it ends up completely de-constructed as the townsfolk realise that by sending her to jail under this, they've cut out all the good things Marge does around town. Worst. Bake sale. Ever.
In "Bart the Mother" Nelson pressured Bart into shooting a bird with a BB gun. Bart attempted to miss it, but he ending up hitting it because Nelson didn't tell him the sight was crooked.
Futurama episode "Three Hundred Big Boys". At the end, everyone but Bender has learned an important lesson. When he points it out, the cops show up to arrest him for his theft of a valuable cigar, and he triumphantly cries out "Alright, closure!" However, considering Bender usually gets away with his crap...
One exception would be the episode "I Second That Emotion", where Bender retaliates against getting mistreated by Nibbler and not gettting any sympathy for it by flushing the latter down a toilet, and is caught in the act by Leela.
Many an animated plot about characters who are playing hooky from school (usually otherwise honest people) have it so that the day they pick to do ends up being a day that whoever went to school actually enjoyed. (See Rocket Power "Snow Day", Hey Arnold!! "Hookey", etc.)
The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius, "Party At Neutron's": Jimmy almost gets away with throwing a party while his parents are out for the night, but then gets in trouble when he forgot the velociraptor in the closet that someone had accidentally brought to the party with one of his time machines.
Done anviliciously in Ben 10, where Ben and Kevin break into a bottom-rung warehouse with a third-rate security system containing retail shipments of a new video game, only to have police in full SWAT gear arrive in helicopters and cruisers a mere thirty seconds later, and immediately open fire with tear gas and bullets. This leads to a police chase through city streets, involving gratuitous disregard for the safety of innocents on the part of the police. Obviously, that must be a reallySerious Business video game.
Averted quite often in W.I.T.C.H.. The girls assault their teacher thinking he was a monster in disguise, undermine and cover-up a federal investigation on their friend's disappearance, and sneak into a big corporation to destroy important documents related to Will's mom's job to sabotage her career, and many other instances, all without any karma backlash from silly issues like morality.
In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, any time a character tries to do something behind another character's back or disobeys orders, the most dramatic, most impossible, most chaotic thing the writers can think of will happen. Legions of bounty hunters will try to annihilate the guilty party's best friend, the protagonists will wind up in the villain's clutches, Star Command being taken over by giant pants...
In the episode "Toilet Paper," a guilt-ridden Kyle panics at the prospect of actually getting away with a prank.
In "Cartmanland," Kyle sickens and almost dies out of spiritual suffering over seeing Cartman get a totally undeserved windfall, until the episode's end plays the Aesop straight.
Subverted "My Future Self And Me", where Stan touches a joint to throw it away and his future self arrives to warn him that drugs have destroyed his life. It turns out that Stan's future self is just an actor that his parents have hired to scare him straight. The ruse does more harm than good, and ultimately Stan insists that his parents just give him the realistic picture. The show's creators were inspired to do the episode after seeing a poster which claimed that smoking marijuana supports terrorism.
In "Christian Rock Hard", the boys download a few songs illegally and are, within moments, raided by a SWAT team.
Subverted (in their minds at least) when Butters and Cartman are convinced the police surrounding Pioneer Village are there to bust them for sneaking off to an amusement park.
That sounds like played straight in their minds and subverted in real life.
Inverted in The Venture Bros.: Henchman 24 puts on his seat belt while sitting in a parked car. It gets him killed
In one episode of Adventures in Care-a-Lot, Bedtime warns Funshine not to stay up all night, or he might get sick. Sure enough, once morning arrives, Funshine is instantly beset with an illness.
In The Ultimate Enemy, the act of him cheating on a test, has the repercussions of (in the future) Danny becoming one of the most evil ghosts around by fusing with Vlad's ghostly half, killing most of his family and friends, grievously harming the other ghosts, and generally making the future pretty fucked up. Sure, it gets Ret Conned, but all this happened because he cheated on a test.
In one episode of the less-than-well-remembered cartoon Life With Louie, the title character steals a single piece of candy from a store, and is informed that the following night's inventory check will make sure that the store owners know exactly how many were stolen and whose parents to call. Might have been a BS scare tactic, but it's still Anvilicious in its use of this trope.
In "Doug's Math Problem", Doug fails a math test and his parents receive a school letter. His numerous attempts to see what it says first are thwarted. The school alarm system goes off when his hacker friends try to see what the school computer says. When he tries to open the letter, he cuts a corner off when he tries to use scissors, cuts himself with a letter opener, and spills liquid white and ink. When he uses steam to pry it open, it makes the ink run. Just as he is about to read it, his dad comes home and he decides to confess everything.
It's later subverted when Patti shows up at the door - the letter was just telling them that she had been selected as his new tutor.
Plankton is the only character in SpongeBob SquarePants who can't seem to get away with anything. This seems justifiable for when he's up to evil schemes, but at some times it is just unfair. The most jarring case being "One Coarse Meal". Even Squidward has gotten off scot free with some things.
The All New Super Friends Hour had a explicit version of this in the Wonder Twins solo adventures. Most stories were titled with some unacceptable teenage activity like "Drag Race" or "Hitchhiking," which featured teenagers engaged in it at the protest of their sensible friends who are forced to alert the Wonder Twins to deal with the problem. Sure enough, the offending teenagers soon find themselves in deadly peril as a direct result of their misbehaviour and have to be rescued by the Twins.
Averted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Sweet and Elite." Rarity spends a week in Canterlot, intending to work on a dress for Twilight's birthday, but spends so much time at functions with the VIPs of Canterlot that the dress ends up being a simple frock. She then gets invited to the second-most important party in Canterlot that happens to be on the same day as Twilight's birthday party, so she writes to Twilight, claiming she won't be there because her pet cat is too sick to travel. It looks like she's going to be found out when all her friends show up in Canterlot to bring the party to her, but not only does animal expert Fluttershy buy "being wet" as a sickness, Twilight loves the simple dress. On top of that, when Rarity is discovered sneaking back and forth between the two parties, Twilight not only isn't upset, she actually approves, since she assumed that Rarity was making business connections (rather than just protecting her new reputation).
Also averted in "Just for Sidekicks." Spike agrees to care for everypony's pets and makes a complete hash of it because he's more focused on using the jewels he was paid with to make a "jewel cake." This results in, among other things, an impromptu trip to the very place everyone else went and having to hide in the same train car they chose on the way home. Despite some close calls, however, Spike's never actually caught by any of the six main characters.
In "Call of the Cutie", Apple Bloom gets disciplined by her teacher, Cheerilee, for passing notes. The two ponies who passed it to her, the bullies Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon, are not called on, despite the fact that Cheerilee should have been able to figure out that the note came from somewhere, and that they loudly tried to get Apple Bloom's attention first. They then call her insulting things, which Cheerilee fails to remark on despite being well within earshot.
One episode of Family Guy has Peter skipping work to go to a baseball game. His boss was also at that ball game.
Another episode has Lois develop a shoplifting addiction, until Brian makes her come to her senses. She is unfortunately caught by Joe before she can return the goods.
Batman: The Animated Series: When Temple Fugate, before becoming the Clock King, breaks his schedule so he can be more relaxed. Notice that when Fugate was at the park at 3:05, instead of in his office as he had planned, he was very nervous and waiting for certain doom. It’s only when he dared to relax when the Disaster Dominoes that would ruin his life started falling.
Fillmore!: Not even diplomatic immunity can keep you safe from Cornelius Fillmore.
China refuses to air, broadcast, or show movies or TV shows at a cinema or on television if anyone who broke the law are not all captured or killed at the end of the movie. Some filmmakers have been forced to provide an "alternate ending" instead, where a character who was supposed to have gotten away or had a vague, suggesting ending was instead killed or captured at the very last minute, often with Deus ex Machina reasoning.
One 12 year old girl  from New York City is certainly feeling this trope's full effects after being arrested and even put in handcuffs, after doodling on her desk in washable ink. Graffiti must be a high priority crime in NYC. Way to win public support, get them while they're young offenders eh?
This trope actually sums up the Broken Windows policing style of New York City, where the NYPD can and will go after crimes most cities dismiss as minor nuisances. Crimes like public urination or graffiti will get you arrested. While problematic for civil libertarians, especially when policies such as "Stop and frisk" target minorities, NYC has also undergone a very dramatic drop in the crime rate which has exceeded those predicted by other factors. Additionally, there is good experimental evidence that Broken Windows policing works. note For example, in one experiment a five Euro note was left in a visible envelope in someone's mail. The experimenters varied whether the alley behind the envelope was clean or covered in graffiti. The presence of graffiti doubled the rate of theft, presumably because it signaled that this area was lawless.]] Commentary about whether this is good or bad is probably subject to the Rule of Cautious Editing Judgment.
Pretty much every school uses the so-called "Collective Responsibility". If one guy does wrong, everyone in the class gets detention. Way to promote good behaviour...
The military uses the same methods. It's probably supposed to make students or soldiers have incentive to push their peers into shaping up, or turning the culprit in.
Or meting out their own retaliation on the guy who did it, as was done to Pvt. Pyle in Full Metal Jacket.
The shame is often far, far worse. Today, physical violence during initial entrance training can and will get you kicked out or criminally charged in NATO countries, but look at Pyle's face (2:21) during that scene in Full Metal Jacket. That's just an actor. Now imagine having to live with those people for the next few months, with no ability to escape them and no privacy. Ostracism can break a man.
Justified in the military and high school ROTC classes, considering that one person making a mistake could get his buddies killed. Collective responsibility is just another way to teach responsibility to the unit.
Justified in Japanese schools as well, although it's not a good match for more individualistic American ones. In Japan, every "group" or "social unit" is expected to deal with its own problems, in order to promote "harmony". So if a student does something wrong, sometimes what the Japanese teachers assume is that his peer group, the other students, were remiss in their duty to nip the troublemaker in the bud before he became a problem. The theory goes, "This student vandalized the statue of our school's founder! Why didn't his friends stop him when they had the chance?"
Many schools also have a "Zero-Tolerance Policy." If a student has any type of knife, they must be planning to kill someone with it because they're too dumb to use scissors, which they can easily get into a school. One notable example has an elementary schooler being expelled for displaying signs of terrorism. That's right, he was making a gun with his thumb and index finger.
Zero Tolerance has promoted a lot of really stupid punishments for really stupid so-called crimes; a high school senior being barred from graduation because she had a butterknife in her car, elementary school students arrested for playing tag, and pretty much any kind of contact between male and female students regardless of how innocent or inoffensive being called "sexual harassment" and resulting in discipline.
Interestingly enough, Zero Tolerance was originally designed as a response to the opposite of this trope, Karma Houdini. The idea came from conservative scholars in the 1980's, only back then it was called the "broken windows" theory. And the problem it was trying to solve was that there was a rash of vandalism and broken windows in New Jersey, and the culprits got clean away with it without any punishment; this then led to even more serious crimes that also got unpunished. So the conservative scholars theorized that if you leave even one window broken without punishment, there's no longer any incentive for citizens not to commit crimes that are even worse. That's the reason why Zero Tolerance is "stupid", as the above poster put it: in schools, it translates into the idea that if you leave even one butter knife unpunished, there's no longer any incentive for students not to bring real knives to do something really wrong with them.
As far as law enforcement goes, this is an example of the Fallacy Fallacy and the Straw Man Fallacy. While the Slippery Slope Fallacy is fallacious, a more fair statement of the logic behind a zero tolerance or broken windows policy is that the authority intends to send the message that the mores and rules are absolute and thus create a climate which is orderly, which will help reduce infractions. The evidence from criminology journals and social psychology is, well, mixed. And public reaction is, well, mixed.
While their policies regarding violence and sexual harassment are constantly criticized, their drug policies are often even worse. Some are so vague, that otherwise upstanding students will be suspended or even expelled not only for illegal substances, but for necessary medications (female students with Midol, diabetic students with glucose tablets, even over-the-counter things such as aspirin or Dramamine) or substances that can only very loosely be considered drugs, such as mouthwash.
A bizarre version of this combined with Karma Houdini and Values Dissonance often happens in institutions of higher education. Due to things such as alcohol violations, drug violations, and theft being extremely common to the point where it would be sheer lunacy to actually attempt to do anything which would actually involve punishing the miscreants. The result is that people can get away with things like felony drug crimes, but get in serious trouble for having airsoft guns.
This is often true of ace pitchers in baseball. They can strike out every batter they face, or give a solid start before the bullpen takes over. However, the moment they throw a bad pitch, the batter usually makes them pay the price. This usually results in a solo home run. Many ace pitchers lost games with a score of 1-0, just by making one bad pitch during the nine innings.
This, however, could also be because the ace's team has a lousy offense.
This is true for bullying victims. Bullies always get a slap on the wrist and if the victims were to ever retaliate, the victims get punished and the bullies go off scot-free. Great.
Made even worse by the fact that sometimes the bullies get congratulated as the teachers sometimes believe the victims did something to make the bullies pick on them.
On this very site, any use of Artistic License - History in a work based on true events is likely to inspire a long, detailed entry on anything and everything they got wrong, where even the smallest alteration will be considered a fatal flaw.
Many an oldest child see the world this way compared to what their younger siblings get away with.