Cassandra Gambit

"Honesty is the most subversive of all disguises."
T Bone Burnett, "Hollywood, Mecca of the Movies"

An organization, often a Government Agency of Fiction, deliberately releases secret information, sometimes within a work of fiction, in order to invoke a Cassandra Truth. Alternatively, an individual or small group may do this to get the word out to allies and others in the know despite people/groups/governments who don't want the word to get out; the fictional/tabloid nature of the outlet provides cover for these Cassandras to stave off retaliation from their opponents. They're just Genre Savvy enough to know that You Wouldn't Believe Me If I Told You. It also allows them to honestly state, "Well a lot of people got that idea from this book, which is a work of fiction". They can then turn on their critics and say they're too credulous or are confusing fiction and reality.

The differences between this and Sarcastic Confession are that the confessors aren't being sarcastic, and they are addressing themselves to many people rather than one or two. Unlike a Public Secret Message, which is published in the open but in code, a Cassandra Gambit is straightforward: what is said is what is meant. She knows others won't believe it, but hopes someone out there ("the right listener") will believe and act on it.

Super trope of Fiction as Cover-Up. Compare Getting Crap Past the Radar, Hidden in Plain Sight, and Refuge in Audacity. The topic these Cassandras are warning about is likely to be the Elephant in the Living Room. Strategy #1 of The Thirty-Six Stratagems.


Anime and Manga:
  • In Amagi Brilliant Park, the cast of the park are in fact magical beings from the parallel world of Maple Land, and really do have magical powers; the mascots are real creatures, not people in costumes, and the dragon is not animatronic. The children of course believe it, just as they'd believe the Mickey Mouse at Disneyland is the real deal, but the adults don't. When Kanie is introduced to the park, he thinks the staff are all just really dedicated to keeping up the act and it takes a Magic Kiss from Latifa that imbues him with mind-reading powers before he believes any of it.

  • Played for Laughs in Men In Black: you know all those tabloid stories that are obviously just made up? Yeah...
  • In Deep Cover, Laurence Fishburne has to Take a Third Option when asked by a gang of thugs if he's an undercover cop. If he lies, then any future arrest would be worthless because it'd be considered "entrapment". And of course, if he tells the truth, they'll kill him. So he just tells them the truth in a way that makes it seems ridiculous. (Note: This is actually a case of Artistic License Law. Real cops don't have to tell their marks that they're undercover. The entrapment clause doesn't work that way. Because if it did, there'd be a lot fewer arrests and a lot more dead cops.)

  • In Darth Bane, Bane allows a few drunkards to see him, while acting obviously unrealistic. He knows that when they tell their seemingly false story it will not be believed and work to discredit more believable sightings.
  • In play for a time in the Harry Potter universe, when The Quibbler (regarded as an unreliable tabloid) is used to get the word out about Voldemort when The Daily Prophet adheres to the Ministry of Magic's official line (that Voldemort is long gone/dead).
  • The alchemist gives this advice to the protagonist in The Alchemist, a book by Paul Coelho.
  • Actually done by the original Cassandra in the book "Goddess of Yesterday". In the climax, the heroine has regained the infant prince from the Troys, and has to walk out of the city. During the unbearably tense walk (where she has to act totally natural when all her instincts are screaming to get the hell out of there right now) she hears Cassandra screaming from the battlements that a servant girl has kidnapped the prince and will return him to the Greeks. She panics...then realizes Cassandra's plan is working perfectly and no one is paying attention to her, and the baby prince is safe not long later.
  • In James Thurber's story "The Catbird Seat," Mr. Martin, who doesn't smoke or drink, smokes and drinks, to make an obnoxious co-worker seem unstable.

Live-Action TV:
  • In Stargate SG-1, Wormhole X-Treme!, a Show Within a Show that parodies the main show, is allowed and even encouraged by Stargate Command, because, well, this.
  • Seven Days: a Conspiracy Theorist gets Frank to go on TV, and Frank tells the world about the Project. Nobody believes him. It helps that he starts off by telling them that he was "recruited" from a mental institution, also true. Suddenly, no one wants to listen to him.
  • Breaking Bad: "You got me!"
  • Used in the Mission: Impossible episode "The Diplomat," when enemy spies have found the locations of four key US defense stations. Jim Phelps lets himself get discovered as an undercover US agent, so the enemy will distrust their discovery when he confirms it is accurate.

Tabletop Games:
  • Many games set in "the real world with a masquerade in effect" imply the game itself is this.

Video Games:
  • In Arcanum: Of Steamworks & Magick Obscura, the people behind the half-ogre breeding conspiracy routinely allow manic crackpots to find out about pieces of the conspiracy (and later kill them off to provide more fuel for the other crackpots) in order to convince the public to dismiss it as just an absurd idea.

Web Comics
  • The Comet in Scandal Sheet exists for this.
  • Justin wrongly believes this to be Arthur's intent in El Goonish Shive when he publicly acknowledges the authenticity of footage of a superheroine fighting a fire golem, then making cryptic predictions about future magic users and putting on a wizard costume before leaving. Mr. Verres immediately jumps down Justin's throat, saying this technique always backfires and Arthur would know that; sure enough, the next day a radio poll has only 20% of respondents doubting the truth of the incident, with extras comparing skeptics to moon landing conspiracy theorists.
    • As he points only works when you have an alternate plan to handle LATER things that corroberate the story. Making the truth sound ridiculous doesn't work if evidence keeps piling up. (In this case, a person is seen using magic on the news, specifically Pandora)

Web Original

Western Animation:
  • Area 51 in Kim Possible plays this trope to a T, so much so that Kim and Ron are surprised to find out that Area 51 is exactly what the tabloids claim it to be.
    • In this case, the gambit failed — Dr. Drakken believed the stories, and decided to invade Area 51 to get his hands on the alien technology.
  • On Futurama, when Area 51 recovers a crashed "spaceship" (Bender) and alien "invader" (Zoidberg) in 1949, they invite a conspiracy theorist to tour the facility specifically because no one will believe him and he doesn't know how to operate his own camera.
  • Inverted in the South Park episode Mystery of the Urinal Deuce, they discuss 9/11 conspiracy theories. George Bush himself tells the boys that the government caused 9/11. Later however it is revealed the government is responsible... for the 9/11 conspiracy theory movement. They create the theories so the government appears all powerful to 1/4 of Americans who are retarded.

Conspiracy Theories:
  • The F-19. The Air Force said that the F-19 didn't exist, encouraging people to speculate that it did, leading some to speculate that this was done deliberately to create a decoy project to protect the F-117.