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Can't Stop the Signal
aka: The World Must Know The Truth
"So I called that guy I know at NBC. And then I got to thinking — You know what I hate? I hate those lame action movies where the good guy calls just one person who ends up betraying him. So I called ABC, CBS, The Post, The Times, the local news channel, and the FBI."
A character breaks The Masquerade
by sending the details they have uncovered to the press — often to multiple publications at once. Usually happens at the end of a work.
Occasionally this is the posthumous revenge of a Dead Man Writing
. This can be used to subvert a Shoot the Shaggy Dog
ending — the protagonists achieved nothing and died in the attempt
, but it's subsequently revealed that they managed to get the word out, and it might all be worth it in the end. Can also be played ambiguously
, with the audience unsure of whether the information gets delivered or not (or whether or not it has any effect
if it does).
Naturally, this is the modus operandi
of the Intrepid Reporter
, especially when they're Going for the Big Scoop
. If the messenger is relying on other people making a Last Stand
to give him a chance, it's Bring News Back
Compare and contrast the villainous counterpart, Do Not Adjust Your Set
. See also Information Wants to Be Free
, You Cannot Kill An Idea
and Irrevocable Order
This is both an Ending Trope and frequently a Death Trope; spoilers follow.
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Anime and Manga
- One episode of Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt has the duo attempting to subvert this trope by recovering every copy of an old porn tape Panty made that's ruining her upcoming movie career. They eventually succeed and Stocking is given the last copy, with Panty figuring she can't do any harm with it. However, a double subversion kicks in when Stocking learns Panty had all her scenes from the film cut, so she puts the video on the 'net as revenge.
- Episode 22 of Kiddy Grade has Chevalier, who hijacked the Deucalion in the previous episode, broadcast all the illicit background dealings and incriminating evidence of corruption by the Nouvlesse to every single news channel in the galaxy as well as the ship's true purpose: to disable the warp gates with a quantum virus then warp out of the galaxy, leaving the commoners to their fate of dying off as trade and planetary economies collapse while planets under terraforming will revert back to inhospitable, killing their entire population who can't relocate since the warp gates are kaput. Needless to say, the commoners didn't take it well.
- Akumetsu uses this continuously. And, when the government decides to stop him from broadcasting his final "movie" on hijacked TV signals, he puts it all over the internet.
- The World Government of One Piece puts the planned execution of Portgas D. Ace on the equivalent of television and keeps it going even as the event is attacked by the Whitebeard Pirates. Sengoku, the leader of the Marines, orders the signal to be cut so people won't find out they made a deal with some of the pirates to kill Whitebeard for him. Then it turns out Buggy grabbed one of the cameras for the sake of showing off to bolster his reputation, and he keeps it rolling throughout the battle, most importantly Whitebeard shouting out that One Piece exists.
- The remaining Modulle 77 kids use it to expose the Magius to the world by showing the Dorssian Furher's immortality.
- Double Subverted. Cain destroys the terminal, but ARUS President Anderson exposes them anyway. A global upheaval and hunt for the Magius erupts as a result.
- A subversion in Milestone Comics' Hardware. This is the first thing the protagonist tries, anonymously sending the media all the evidence he's gathered on Alva's wrongdoing. And the media pointedly ignores it.
- The Spider-Man What If? issue "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?" (v1 #24) concludes with a reversal of this trope, in that it's the villain who sends information to the press rather than the hero. The Green Goblin posts evidence of Spider-Man's Secret Identity to the hero's "second-greatest enemy": J. Jonah Jameson.
- The original Watchmen plays this slightly differently to the film (see below) — Rorschach puts his diary in a mailbox before the denouement, and we only discover its destination at the very end. Whether the world finds out (let alone whether they should) is left ambiguous, and the reader is asked to decide.
- Doctor Strange: The Oath involves Strange's efforts to recover a magical potion which was stolen from him by a pharmaceuticals company intent upon Withholding the Cure. The CEO winds up dead in a way which looks like suicide by the end of it, and it looks like no one will know what they've done, but one of Strange's allies finds his "we have to kill 'em all" memo to the board of directors and proceed to fax it far and wide.
- Serenity, the Trope Namer — the heroes use the late Mr Universe's equipment to broadcast the truth about Miranda and "Pax" to the four corners of the 'verse.
: Mal. Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that? I got a short span here. They destroyed my equipment, but I have a backup unit. Bottom of the complex. Right over the generator. Hard to get to. I know they missed it. They can't stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal.
- The second half of Blue Thunder involves getting a video tape to a TV broadcasting station, despite various attempts by the conspirators to intercept it.
- The entire plot of The Book of Eli is his attempt to deliver the Bible to someone capable of disseminating it.
- The Bourne Ultimatum.
- it was stopped according to the sequel
- And Green Zone — Paul Greengrass likes this one.
- In The Bourne Legacy the government is killing off everyone connected to the program. Professional Killer Aaron tells scientist Marta that is she leaves him, her only chance for survival is to go public.
Aaron: But you better ask yourself this: Could you ever say it loud enough, fast enough, that they'd leave you alone?
- In Chain Reaction, the good guy releases to the world the details of the machine allowing production of functionally unlimited energy by faxing it to news offices everywhere.
- In The Constant Gardener, when Justin sends a letter to his friend containing details of a pharmacy company's unscrupulous testing methods for their medicines, knowing he's about to be murdered for knowing too much. His friend reads it out as his eulogy.
- The Core: The Rat sends the details of the government earthquake-weapon research and the save-the-planet mission that cost the lives of most of the heroes to all the world's news outlets. Noteworthy that the team hired him explicitly to stop the signal in the first place and prevent word from getting out to avoid mass panic.
- Edge of Darkness sees Elle Craven's whistleblowing video sent to the press by her father, who knows he's dying of thalium poisoning courtesy of her employers.
- The Movie of Harrison Bergeron.
- A very different version of this particular trope: two people in the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation who have taken the Mark of the Beast try to stop the anti-Day Of Wonders virus program from uploading by pulling out the disk from the computer and even shooting the computer it's uploading on, all to no avail as it miraculously continues to boot up. Unfortunately, this plan only delays the Day Of Wonders program from being released worldwide, as it shows up in full use in the following movie Tribulation.
- The climax of The Net.
- This is how the MST3K "classic" Parts The Clonus Horror ends; the Retired Badass Intrepid Reporter Jake Noble is murdered, but manages to get a tape exposing the Clonus project to the media.
- Smith from Shoot 'em Up does this out of Genre Savvy — see the page quote.
- They Live! inverts the trope; the villains are the ones sending the signal (which maintains their Masquerade as humans like us), and the heroes wind up stopping it in the end.
- The Shawshank Redemption has a small-town variation on this. As he escapes and takes all of the secret kickback money out of false bank accounts, Andy drops a package of hard proof of the warden's crimes into the outgoing mail. That gets sent to the local newspaper; in the next scene, the front page article indicting the prison warden is shown on the Warden's desk, just as the cops are trying to beat down his office door.
- Subverted at the end of Three Days Of The Condor. Turner reveals to CIA chief Higgins that he's had told everything to the New York Times. But as Turner walks away...
Higgins: Hey, Turner! How do you know they'll print it? How do you know...
- In The Movie of Watchmen, Rorschach sends his diary to Not The Weekly World News before the big showdown. At the end a writer is sent to dig through the "crank file" for a story, but it's ambiguous as to whether the journal was chosen or not.
- The U.S version of State of Play ends with a credits montage of Cal and Della's story on Point Corp going to print.
- Man of Steel, Lois Lane is told by Perry that he refuses to publish her article about a mysterious man of alien origin with superpowers wandering the country incognito. Lois Lane gives the article to an alternative media site's owner instead, who puts it online.
- Captain America: The Winter Soldier: All of SHIELD's information is unencrypted and leaked online, thus stealing all advantage HYDRA might gain. Apparently, it started trending.
- Isaac Asimov's short story "The Dead Past". A man discovers the secret of chronoscopy (a machine that can view the past), which has been placed under government control. He releases the information to several publicity outlets so it will become public, then learns why the government suppressed it: it can be used as an unstoppable spying device ("the past" includes "one second ago"), which means privacy as we know it is ended.
- Of course, the reason he had so much trouble is because the government had been using it as an unstoppable spying device - releasing the information simply turned the tables on them.
- Frank Herbert's short story "Committee Of The Whole". A man uses the broadcast of a U.S. Senate hearing to describe a cheap, easily-built laser that could cut the Earth in half like a ripe tomato. He then spends several pages trying to justify distributing information that could allow any madman to destroy the planet. He later admits he had distributed the information far and wide earlier.
- Sherlock Holmes does this before he ends Moriarty once and for all.
- The old Interactive Fiction adaptation of/sequel to Fahrenheit451 ended with Montag publicly broadcasting the contents of a lot of the banned books.
- Robert Harris' Fatherland ends with an ambiguous use of this; what we see is what the main character hopes / believes is happening, not necessarily what is. The film of the book plays it straight.
- In Greg Iles' The Footprints of God, the main character exposed the AI project he's working on after he recovered from a coma.
- At the end of Firestarter, Charlie gives her story to the one major publication she can trust not to be controlled by the government... Rolling Stone Magazine.
- Serpico makes futile attempts to get his various police superiors and the Mayor's office to do something about police corruption, but it's only when he and his colleagues go to the New York Times that a proper enquiry is held not only into corruption but how it's allowed to flourish. This only makes Serpico a greater target however.
- The Yiddish Policemens Union ends with the protagonists calling a journalist to reveal the Government Conspiracy, despite having already been bought off.
- The Avatar novelization reveals that the Na'vi and scientists sent a message to Earth (either by Subspace Ansible or radio, but either way it would beat the RDA Sleeper Ships there) about the RDA's actions on Pandora to incite public opinion against the Mega Corp. trying to retaliate against their eviction.
- In Ancillary Justice, Breq's plan for revenge against Anaander Mianaai is to reveal his secret actions to himself, leaving him unable to deny the split in the Hive Mind that composes him. This succeeds, plunging the Anaander Mianaai into civil war against the other parts of himself.
Live Action TV
- Attempted in the season finale of Alphas when Dr. Rosen broadcasts testimony of the existence of alphas and the government's response. They eventually cut him off, but not until it's far too late.
- Averted, barely, in Highlander: The Series only because Duncan uses the quickening to fry Paris' power grid — and the computer holding the disk which holds information about Immortals and Watchers.
- Push Nevada (Ben Affleck's gimmick show where a viewer could win the money stolen from an In-Universe casino) — the protagonist sends his evidence to every email address he can find.
- Played with in the second season of Sherlock. Whoever said the unstoppable signal had to speak the truth?
- The second season finale of Babylon 5 with Inter Stellar News getting a copy of Warren Keffer's gun camera footage after his fighter is destroyed, revealing to the galaxy the existence of the Shadows. Unfortunately, the heroes had been trying to suppress that information, so as to avoid tipping their enemies off to the fact that they were aware of their plans.
- This is the Yatagarasu's entire schtick in Ace Attorney Investigations. The Yatagarasu steals evidence of corruption from businesses and political offices, then sends it to the media to expose the truth. They do this because they've lost faith in the legal system, and it's the only way they can bring some measure of justice to people above the law.
- Some of the endings in Alpha Protocol involve Michael Thorton carrying this out against Halbech and Alpha Protocol.
- This is what drives one of Starcraft II's branches, the Revolution/Matt Horner missions. They manage to bring the truth to the Dominion's civilians, thus starting a revolution.
- Post-Dragon Age II lore includes Wynne's use of this trope; she uses a magical broadcasting device in one of the Circles of Magi to get out the word that it is possible to reverse the Rite of Tranquility and restore a mage who has been rendered both unable to cast spells and effectively lobotomized.
- Part of the modus operandi of supervillain Brigand in the Whateley Universe. First, he runs a huge Mission: Impossible style con on some Corrupt Corporate Executive types to steal money from them and make them reveal the really bad stuff they have been doing. Then he makes sure the media get all the details, while he makes his big escape.
- The Internet in general. Since it's so integrated into our lives and anyone can post pretty much anything, news travels faster than The Flash. Also, since the Internet is so touchy about censorship, any attempt to stop the signal results in it spreading even faster. See the Streisand Effect and Forbidden Fruit entries.
- Samizdat is an example as well. People in Poland spreading the news about what was really happening despite the attempts of the Soviet-controlled communist government of the time. Using photocopiers to print news articles to be distributed to neighbours and allies.