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 allows 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 in sorrow with tears like our own, and laugh with joy with loud guffaws, just like us.
    They even rent the same movies that we see and eat the same fast food with the same soda we drink here.
    What does all of this demonstrate? That they, though seeming so different, are just like us!
    It's so easy to say, "They are just like us!" How long will it take for us to even begin to say "We are just like them"?

  • X-Men:
    • X-Men: The Last Stand: Angel's father's 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.
    • X-Men: Days of Future Past: Played with when 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 Gentile teacher at the beginning of The Hebrew Hammer implores her all-Christian students to be respectful of Mordechai's different faith and practices, although that doesn't stop her from throwing a few jabs at Jews into her speech.
  • 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.
  • The War: A new teacher comes to town and she's not prejudiced in the slightest bit. She thinks it's wonderful that dumb black children have to sit in the back of her classroom while the bright white children get all her attention. That's what makes life "a bowl full of cherries" for her.

  • 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 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.
  • 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.
  • The "Smug Marrieds" in both the novel and films in the Bridget Jones series either passive aggressively shame/pity single peers (mostly women) when they aren't asking "How's Your Love Life?" or making "tick tock tick tock" sounds when reminding Bridget about her biological clock.

    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.
  • In Highway To Heaven, a bar patron is highly offended when his efforts to buy a drink for a man in a wheelchair, just because he is in a wheelchair, are met with "No, thank you." He thought he deserved brownie points for "being nice to a cripple."
  • House addresses this a few times in the mentality of doctors and their patients. Cameron previously was married to a man who she knew was dying of terminal cancer, and their marriage naturally only lasted six months. She finds herself likely attracted to the miserable, depressed, crippled House, and makes several advances on him. Eventually House spells it out that what she feels for him isn't love, it's pity, and that he's not going to go into a relationship based on something like that. Likewise, Wilson's repeated failed marriages are attributed by House that he's only attracted to women who are "broken," and then loses interest when they get back on their feet. Again, it's implied this is a major reason why Wilson and House are friends, since House is so damaged that Wilson just can't fix him no matter how long they're together.
  • 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.

  • 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.)


    Web Original 
  • 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 non-European protagonists generally do fine if they can get into theaters in majority-ethnic-European societies.)
  • Discussed in The Tuesday Zone's review of Call Girl of Cthulhu, specifically as it relates to the protagonist's Nice Guy Syndrome.
    First of all, the main character—who we are 100% meant to sympathize with and support—just referred to women as things. Second, note that the main character desperately wants sex and only interacts with two women before this conversation: his roommate, whom he condescends to because he could only have sex with someone he loves, unlike her, and the titular call girl, whose line of work he disrespects but attempts to tolerate. He paints prostitutes, apparently reflecting on how he respects their bodies more than most clients or some hogwash like that, but doesn’t realize that he’s judging them and their line of work in a snobbish way as a result. He thinks he knows what their bodies are good for better than they do.

Alternative Title(s):

Pitying Perversion, Condescending Pity