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Condescending Compassion
"All sympathy given to victims is treacherous. The love is directed exclusively to a victim whom one consider oneself superior to. [...] It's a human psychological mechanism to be excited at the chance to help someone who is weaker, a victim. But this only works for as long as this hierarchy is firmly in place."
Natascha Kampusch, in the epilogue of 3096 days

Condescending Compassion is when a person feels themselves magnanimous enough not to hold someone's 'faults' against them openly. They can't help being a commoner, idiot, a mutant or simply wrong so it would simply be rude to treat them badly because of it. Instead, they resort to the much better idea that they should be sympathetic or even friendly to that lesser being, but of course they won't really take them seriously. In a way, the condescension or even pity is likely well intentioned, but if the target of this attitude realizes it (and they probably will) then they're naturally likely to be quite insulted or hurt.

May factor into Black and White Insanity or Windmill Political. Compare and contrast Heteronormative Crusader. Often runs in the background of White Man's Burden or Save Our Students plots, which explains why some viewers find those stories offensive and others find them inspiring or heartwarming.


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  • Common in the works of the German cartoonist Ralf König. A good example is a show-within-a-show-within-the-comic. The protagonist is a film critic with a Condescending Compassion bias. He show the audience a movie where this is built into the narrative. The comic start with the film critic ranting about how movies these days are naive and shallow when it comes to homosexuality, making horrible mistakes such as portraying gays as capable of happiness and meaningful lives. Then he shows his own favorite movie. It's about gays getting beaten to death and falling in love with each other as they lie dying in the hospital. After the movie, he feels so sorry for the poor, poor little homos that he pretty much has a nervous breakdown.
  • In one strip of The Feeling Prince Charles Had, a heterosexual character talks to a homosexual and holds a little well-meaning rant about how he thinks it's okay to be gay, ending with his wondering when we will ever get rid of homophobia and start treating homosexuals as equals. The reply: "Maybe when you no longer feel you need to give me permission".
  • This comic Strip from Joaquin Lavado (Quino) is titled "They are Just Like Us." Here comes a translation:
    This "globalization" issue let us to realize that the people of other races and cultures fall in love, Just Like Us.
    And, like us, make love, and children are born of that love. Children that they love and care about, just like us.
    And they need music to express themselves, dance and have fun, just like us.
    And they weep his sorrows in tears as ours own tears, and laugh out loud their joys with laughter, just like us.
    They even rent the same movies that we see and eat the same fast food with the same soda that we drink here.
    What shows us all of this? That they, only apparently so different, are just like us!
    It sounds so easy to say: "They are just like us!" How long time will it take for us to even begin to say "We are just like them"?

  • X-Men:
    • Angel's father in X-Men: The Last Stand: His quest to help his son is a classic example, only fueling the son's self-hatred. As he caught his young Angel trying to cut off his own wings, he reacted with revulsion to the fact that his son was a Mutant. He then dedicated his life to trying to "cure" his son from being a mutant.
    • Played with in X-Men: Days of Future Past. A nurse tells Mystique that she feels sorry for the blue-skinned woman she saw on the TV because it must have been such a shame to be born looking like that, but she's unaware that she's talking to the woman in question.
  • The Breakfast Club: This is Claire's attitude towards the unpopular kids in school, particularly Bender. Her popularity and friends influence her to be mean to those "beneath her," and much of her conflict stems from hating the fact that this is so.
  • Played with by the protagonists of Inception as they write the story of the Dream Within a Dream. Their target is a young heir who they intend to manipulate to make a certain business decision. There is some resentment between him and his dead father, with the father's last word to him being "disappointed". The protagonists resolve this by giving him a fake epiphany...
    Son: I know, you were disappointed because I couldn't be you.
    Father: No... I was disappointed... because you tried.
  • The main conflict in The SM Judge is about how the prosecutor and others are trying to cast Magda in the role of the poor little victim who everyone should feel sorry for-never mind that the prosecutor himself is the only one having a real harmful influence on her life. Ironically, she didn't get any help when she hated herself for being a masochist or when she got abused for real by her previous husband. Nope, the pity comes only after she has turned her life around so that everything is going great.
  • In Mammoth, believing prostitution to be horrible, Leo keeps feeling sorry for Cookie. He does this in a way that's actually shaming her and would damage her emotionally if she internalized it.
  • In a film called Hate Crime, the mother of a young man convicted of murdering a gay man decides that the Christian thing to do is offer condolences to the mother of the gay man. She says something to the tune of "Well, after all, your son's bad choices weren't your fault." Bitch gets slapped.
  • In the The Ledge the Christian antagonist openly feels sorry for the atheist protagonist's "empty life without God" as well as for his gay roommate (he mistakenly thinks they're lovers). This doesn't sit well with the protagonist, who then decides to seduce the antagonist's wife in retaliation.

  • In Lois Bujold's Mirror Dance, a scene at the end comes when the beautiful, powerful, and highly competent and respected mercenary officer Elena Bothari-Jesek reports to the short, crippled, morbidly obese Lord Mark, about destroying the records of his horrific experience of being repeatedly raped, tortured, and even forcefed over a period of days while Mark lies there as everyone else is busying themselves carrying out the terms of the happy ending Mark had arranged for them. When she places her hand on his arm and expresses her pity, the result is a Crowning Moment Of Awesome. "Don't you dare pity me. I won!"
  • In 3096 Days and I Choose Life, the autobiographies of Natascha Kampusch and Sabine Dardenne, they both spend the last part of their books discussing this trope. Both women were kidnapped as kids, and after they got free they experienced that people tried to reduce them to a victimhood-role that was basically there for these people to feel better about themselves at the victim's expense.
  • Don Quixote in the first part of the novel give us The Barber and the Curate, two Moral Guardians, and in the second part Loony Fan Sanson Carrásco, whose sincere desire to help that poor fool, Don Quixote and cure his madness is sabotaged by this attitude, rendering all of them into Threshold Guardians. Also, all three do things to help him that could be easily described as "crazy".
  • In a Daily Show bit just after Obama's election, Larry Wilmore got all excited about finally getting the chance to exercise his "black liberal guilt" by condescendingly praising other races for basic accomplishments like being hardworking and having cute children.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, when he receives news that Lydia has eloped with Wickham, the rector Mr. Collins decides that it would be a good idea to write to Mr. Bennet and 'console' him and his cousins on their misfortune. These condolences primarily come in the form of a self-righteous lecture about what a wicked and shameful girl Lydia is and how she's brought ruin on them all through her wicked conduct.
    • The 1995 TV adaptation has him come and deliver this lecture in person ... which, needless to say, just endears him to the Bennet sisters even more.
  • In The Baby-Sitters Club series, Stacey is this toward a new girl in one book.
  • In David Weber's The War God's Own, this is the attitude of spoiled young Sir Vaijon of Almerhas when first introduced. Things go to hell when he meets the protagonist, who is of a race that Vaijon considers the lowest of the low and has been personally chosen as champion by the patron god of Vaijon's military order.
  • Lampshaded in The Tamuli. Throughout The Elenium the protagonists have been Elenes who are very pro-Styric despite the wide-spread anti-Styric attitudes that exist among Elenes, and stand up against Elene racism on the matter. However, in The Tamuli they finally get to see the great city of the Styrics and the shock of seeing Styrics living ordinary, normal lives like Elenes, as equals to Elenes, instead of the downtrodden, victimised people they're used to seeing, makes them realise that they'd been courting condescending compassion all along. Being good people at heart, they're able to confront this ugly side of themselves and overcome it, but it's a shock to the system when they're first exposed to the reality of the type of compassion they'd previously been feeling.
  • Harry Potter:
    • This is how the non-Death Eaters tend to treat Muggles. The Muggle Prime Minister is frustrated by Fudge and Scrimgeour treating him like a child instead of an equal.
    • Hermione's treatment of House Elves also has more than a bit of this. Their Blue and Orange Morality makes them eager to serve humans, and they're offended by such notions as "freedom" and "payment". They like working for kind, understanding humans better than mistreatment, but they still (with only one exception that we see) prefer mistreatment to freedom, to the point where they literally consider it a Fate Worse than Death. Hermione, believing that she knows what's best for them and that they'll like freedom "once they've got a taste of it," attempts to trick them into freeing themselves. They do not take it well. Dumbledore, by contrast, treats them kindly and respectfully and gladly agrees to pay the one House Elf who asks for it, but does not suggest freeing the majority who don't desire it.
  • In David Weber's Honor Harrington series, this is one of the attitudes that (nicer) civilians of the Solarian League have towards non-league 'neobarbs'.
  • In Warbreaker, Vivenna tries to be understanding towards the prickly Jewels after learning that she lost her Breath to one of the Returned. Jewels responds that being chosen to give your Breath to a god is an honor for her people, and that her sacrifice helped save her family from starvation, and thus she really isn't interested in Vivenna's pity.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Occurs in the "Early 21st Century Romanticism" episode of Community: when Britta makes a friend who is a lesbian, she uses this as an excuse to not-so-subtly brag about what a politically-correct person she is. At one point, the rather naďve and sheltered Annie curiously asks her some questions about her friend, and Britta uses this as an excuse to condescendingly lecture her on her "homophobia" and how it makes her a lesser person.
    • Of course, Britta's "lesbian" friend was doing the same thing. She was straight and befriended Britta for exactly the same reasons
  • In an episode of Fringe, a doctor with a paraplegic son was killing other paraplegics in an attempt to find a cure for his son's condition. When the son found out, he was not only horrified by the murders his father was committing, but incredibly hurt that his father didn't accept him the way he was.
  • An episode of Saved by the Bell had Zack dating a paraplegic girl. He was very considerate to her, but to such an extent that he slid into this trope. She called him out on it and broke up with him, but by the end of the episode he'd learned the error of his ways and they'd reunited (at least temporarily).
  • In season 9 of How I Met Your Mother, the front desk clerk Curtis constantly and repeatedly pities Ted for being single at a romantic location and during a wedding.
  • In Red Dwarf, Lister indignantly refutes Kochanski's insinuation that he is homophobic by citing his drinking-buddies status with a gay crewman who he describes as being just one of the boys. The fact the crewman's nickname is Bent Bob doesn't seem at all incongruous to him.

  • Nanne Grönvall's song "Fördomar" (Prejudice) plays this for laughs. The whole song is about the protagonist bragging about how she's a perfect Mary Sue who does not have any prejudice whatsoever. The first verse is simply about how great and open-minded she is in general. The second verse is the Alice of this trope, expecting gratitude from gays for not despising them. The rest of the song goes downhill from there with blatant racism (against blacks and whites), sexism (against men and women), ageism (against young people and old people) and so on.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age II, Sebastian tries to sell Merrill on the Chantry by talking about its work caring for orphans and widows. Merrill questions why orphans and widows need to be cared for - in her own clan, they are treated just like everyone else.

    Visual Novels 
  • Katawa Shoujo plays with this trope in a few ways. Being a game about disabled love interests, it's easy to fall into this, and is the cause for some bad endings. Especially Hanako's.
    • Ironic in one way, but this is basically the real life playing out of the "sympathetic bigot" part of the trope. Not knowing led to ignorant pitying, but once the creators actually began researching and talking to people they developed a more nuanced portrayal of the people involved (for example, the main obstacles in the characters lives are rarely their disabilities but their emotional/psychological problems - which can stem from their disabilities but don't necessarily have to.)


    Real Life 
  • This was actually the start of liberalization towards homosexuality in the European world: instead of criminals, homosexuals were considered as mentally ill. Not that anyone would consider this progressive nowadays, since Society Marches On, and people suffered because of that attitude. Still, without this first step, homosexuality might still be considered a crime.
    • The progression was pretty much from "[Godless] criminals" (19th century Britain)note  to "mentally ill" (20th century 'til the 1960s or so) to The Woobie (1970s through 1990s) to Positive Discrimination (1990s and 2000s), and finally to the (generally) nuanced portrayals of today.
  • Autism Speaks has the goal of "curing" autism. You might say it has good intentions, but many autistic individuals are outraged by their conformist message and portrayal of autism as an illness that needs to be cured, restoring the 'real' person that the autistic person has taken the place of, rather than simply a different way of interacting with the world that has its own difficulties and blessings.
    • In the past, autistic people had been deeply offended by the videos released by the charity, one of which depicted autistic children as horrible burdens and included parents who admitted contemplating killing their autistic children in murder-suicides-sometimes when those kids were in the room. Another sticking point was the fact that despite claiming to represent autistic people, no autistics currently sit on the charity's board of directors.
      • Regarding the murder-suicide contemplation some parents openly proclaim in Autism Speaks' videos, such a murder actually happened less than a week after the charity released their most (in)famous such video, and many autistic self-advocates find the correlation suspicious, to word things politely.
      • What's more: Autism Speaks' very charter explicitly bans autistic people from sitting on the board of directors, violating one of the core tenets of the disability rights movement: Nothing about us without us.
      • Similar to this was a CBS report by Sharyl Attkisson-known for her sympathies towards the anti-vaccine fringe of the autism community-which tried to rationalize the murder of an autistic teenager by his mother, who drugged him and stabbed him in the heart. The report was criticized not only for its soft treatment of the mother, but also for engaging in flagrant misinformation about the case.
    • Autism Speaks' problems only got worse in November 2013, when co-founder Suzanne Wright appeared at a fundraiser and labelled autistic people as a "problem" and describing their families as "existing" rather than living. Hundreds withdrew from an Autism Speaks marathon when the comments were published, and John Elder Robison, the group's sole autistic member, quit after writing a stinging open letter to Suzanne Wright and then publicly renounced all ties to the group, and actually going out of his way to apologize to his fellow autistic self-advocates for complicity in the prejudice against them, stating that he thought it made more sense to try to change the (already-in-place) system from within than to build a new system from scratch, conceding that Autism Speaks was beyond reform and that if he had known this before he would never have even accepted any job offer from the group.
      • Moreover, during that same fundraising event, Autism Speaks endorsed the Judge Rotenberg Center, and if you thought that pothole was exaggeration, you thought quite wrong. There is a very good reason why the place is prominently listed among the real-life examples of that trope. The most galling part of the endorsement is that it happened exactly eight months after the UN's special rapporteur on torture issued an official statement confirming that the JRC's methods do in fact constitute torture and would be treated as a war-crime if used against prisoners-of-war. Again: Autism Speaks endorsed the JRC after that statement from the UN classifying the center's methods as torture.
    • In fact, a good bit of ableism can be described as this.
  • This Cracked article, "5 old timey prejudices that still show up in every movie", argues that this attitude from white people is why there are so few non-white protagonists of blockbuster movies. And especially not in a relationship with a white female character.
    Again, we can blame the studios all we want. But they've learned from hard experience that for the most part, if they don't play to our prejudices, we simply won't go see their movie. (However, this experience may be out of date, as films with minority protagonists generally do fine if they can get into theaters.)
  • Poor introverts, being born preferring time alone or with one close friend to wild parties, and thinking rather than filling a room with hot air. Is there anything we can do to cure them of this illness?
    • It does, of course, go the other way. Introverts, so special and precious! Extroverts: so...common. Poor silly duffers. They must live such shallow lives compared to us... (This turns up especially often in internet communities, where introverts are more likely to form their own cliques.)
  • Some of the implications of naturalization are how better off someone is to have their cultural identity replaced by the local stuff.
  • Aw, poor atheist (or [insert X religion here that isn't Y religion])! Don't worry, I'll pray for your immortal soul, though you'll probably be doomed to reincarnation/damnation/die! Or better yet, join us and you probably won't! Maybe! (though you still won't be as good as us, of course!)
    • And, on the flip side, "Those poor, simple-minded, religious folk. Let's politely avoid pointing out how everything they believe in is a lie because it's just so cute that they actually believe in such things at their age! Besides, after a lifetime of brainwashing they couldn't handle living like we do, without spiritual-emotional crutches. It would just be too cruel."
      • And then agnostics bring along, "Those poor atheists and religious people! It's a pity they're all so close-minded and unable to accept anything but their hard-bitten little blind beliefs in 'god' or 'science' or whichever. Such a shame they're not open-minded like we are."
    • In short, try not to bring it up, or accept that everyone's an idiot including you.
  • Those poor natives in the territory we're colonizing/our ancestors colonized! They've lost their lands and their way of life, so we should help them become eco-friendly hunter-gatherers who worship Mother Earth/Nature again! Lots of helping! Helping aggressively. So helpful, we know that's exactly what they want without even asking them. Isn't that helpful?
  • Unfortunately, this isn't rare enough among people who work in fields where the job is to help the disabled, and sometimes be bad enough that outright bigotry will preferable to those they are 'trying to help.' "Stop Helping Me!" can cause a lot of interesting reactions from the type. Unfortunately, the rarest is it working.
  • African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans who are against affirmative action often cite this as a turn-off. Shelby Steele is a notable example.
  • Bill Clinton once described compassionate conservatism as, "I want to help you. I really do. But you know, I just can't."
  • It's not unheard of for sex workers to accuse anti-sex industry campaigners of this. While such campaigns are often targeted at ending the myriad examples of abuse, exploitation and suffering endemic in the industry, these sex workers claim that campaigners often treat all sex workers as helpless, exploited victims deserving of condescending pity or contempt when this is not necessarily the case. They suggest this can even lead to campaigners denying sex workers their humanity and agency in a way that's little different from the abusers and exploiters they're trying to defeat.
    • Anti-sex industry campaigners often assume (and loudly proclaim) the entire sex industry is about exploitation and abuse, ignoring the very people who are in it. On the other hand, sex worker activists campaign for a stop to harassment, especially from law enforcement (which are a prime source of abuse where sex work is illegal).
  • A big problem that the blind face socially is that oftentimes they are viewed as unable to help themselves, when in reality they're often much more capable than most people would assume. Because they are capable of handling their lives in ways that sighted individuals may not understand, it often leads to people trying to help someone who doesn't need it, which often ends up being viewed as the sighted individual talking down to the blind person. Most blind people just want you to interact with them like another human being. It may seem obvious at first but some people may be interrupted over 10 times when simply walking from one place to another.
  • Many children who grow up in single-parent homes will be pitied for the fact, to resentment from some.
  • For people with mental illnesses such as depression or anxiety, this trope can paradoxically lead to a Double Standard in which any emotion they display has to be a symptom, but other people's emotions are normal. Poor Alice. She has depression. Let's watch her closely at Charlie's funeral, and make sure she doesn't fall to pieces. Don't let her cry too hard! Alice doesn't dare shed a tear, under all that scrutiny, while Betty is free to express her emotions openly because nobody is fussing over her.

Asshole VictimVictimhood TropesDesignated Victim
Category TraitorSociology TropesCulture Justifies Anything
Cats Are SnarkersOh Great, a Snark Index*Cough* Snark *Cough*
Compliment BackfireInsult Tropes*Cough* Snark *Cough*
Color Me BlackPrejudice TropesDeath by Racism
Circumcision AngstPsychology TropesCrapsack Only by Comparison
The Complainer Is Always WrongThe Only Righteous Index of FanaticsDay of the Jackboot
Condemned ContestantAdded Alliterative AppealConfession Cam
Compressed ViceCharacter Flaw IndexConditioned to Accept Horror

alternative title(s): Pitying Perversion; Condescending Pity
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