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Crapsack Only by Comparison

This world is actually quite okay, at least by standards that can be expected by the audience. However, it is very much a matter of perspective whether a certain world is a Crapsack World or a Utopia. And thus, sometimes a character or cast of characters are faced with a world that is awful for them without being particularly bad in itself.

These characters might come from a world where boredom, lies, poverty or even death itself simply doesn't exist. When they encounter a world just like ours (and a rather kind version of it at that), it looks horrifying in comparison. In some cases, they learn to appreciate this new world after awhile. In others, they remain repulsed by it.

If the character is unbalanced enough, this could possibly lead to him wanting to Put Them All Out of My Misery.

Compare Life Will Kill You and Humans Are the Real Monsters. Deliberate Values Dissonance and Culture Clash are bound to come into play.


Examples

Anime & Manga
  • Inverted in Amakusa1637: To the medieval peasants, the modern-day Japan described by the time-traveling protagonists sounds downright utopian.

Comic Books
  • The Adventures Of Oliver And Columbina features two worlds: The rosen dream lands, and reality-where-you-get-bored. The latter is simple and unproblematic for the readers, but incomprehensible for the characters.

Film
  • The characters in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home find themselves as Fish Out of Temporal Water in The Eighties, and Doctor McCoy in particular is horrified by modern day medical practices, angrily comparing them to "the Dark Ages" and "the Spanish Inquisition". Since it's a rather lighthearted film, the whole thing's treated as comedy rather than serious criticism.
  • In the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie, Teela and Man-at-Arms have their first taste of Earth food. Teela curiously asks what the white sticks in the middle are for, and she's instantly rendered nauseous when she's told that they're rib bones and she's eating a dead animal.
    • Man-At-Arms, meanwhile, doesn't seem to mind.
  • Pan's Labyrinth plays this straight for a few minutes, as the problem with our world is claimed to be that it has bright sunlight and cold. Then averted for the rest of the movie, as it turns out that the world the heroine now lives in is a straight Crapsack World saturated in nightmares.
  • Enchanted sends Giselle to a place where True Love doesn't exist and there are no happy endings... New York. Semi-subverted in that by the end of it she does seem to have managed a happy ending and true love while staying in our world.

Literature
  • Vonda N. McIntyre's Thieves' World short story "Looking for Satan". A group of people come to Sanctuary and find it appalling. This is not so unusual (Sanctuary is a Wretched Hive after all) but the reason is that the place they come from is idyllic: everyone lives together without jealousy or greed and with a Free-Love Future orientation.
  • H. G. Wells' Men Like Gods (1923). As the result of an interdimensional accident a group of English citizens find themselves in another world. The people there are perfect by human standards, and Wells uses their comments on the visitors' attitudes and values to criticize English society of the time.
  • Inverted & played with in The Giver and Gathering Blue: Jonas at first thinks that he's in a utopia, but it's actually more of a Crapsack World. The town of Gathering Blue thinks itself a utopia, but it really isn't. Messenger implies that both towns genuinely get better with time.
  • Inverted in Interesting Times, with a traveler who considers Ankh-Morpork to be not crapsack because his own homeland is so much worse. Rude and obnoxious guards are celebrated for not torturing random innocents to death, and so on.
  • This trope, or possibly its inversion, shows up in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. The protagonist, Shevek, goes from an anarcho-syndicalist utopia on the planet/moon Anarres to its planet/moon Urras (it's a double-planet system, and the two bodies aren't too different in size), which is dominated by the capitalist parliamentary republic A-Io and the totalitarian socialist Thu (if this reminds you of anything, it should), both of which have rigid class structures. After encountering the way the lower classes live and then being forced to take refuge in the embassy from a post-apocalyptic Earth, he says that the planet seems like hell to him; the ambassador comments that, compared to the way things are on Earth, it looks like heaven.

    The Dispossessed has a subtitle: "An Ambiguous Utopia;" LeGuin takes pains to portray the problems of an anarcho-syndicalist system in practice,note  and Shevek frequently has his doubts about his own society.
  • In Brave New World, John the Savage views the "utopian" world of London as amoral, unnatural, and pointless, while Lenina sees John's home on the savage reservation as backwards, uncivilized, and barbaric.
  • The Number of the Beast by Heinlein has our protagonists run into several such worlds. One of these, merely described, indicates abrupt Earth Drift.
  • Most citizens of Xanth (magical realm) who travel to "drear Mundania" (non-magical rest of the world) feel that way about it.
  • Gulliver's Travels would constitute a Trope Codifier in that Swift was using the fantastic societies Gulliver encounters to lampoon British society at the time.
  • The central conflict in Dies Irae is between the conflicting ideologies of Heljanita the Toymaker and Darkscar of Despair. Heljanita thinks the time he comes from is terrible due to stagnation and tedium; Darkscar quite likes that society, and is terrified of what Heljanita will create.
  • In Nausea, Antoine the lugubrious, Woobie, protagonist laments his own infuriating hopeless extreme melancholic and pessimistic take upon the world and is viewed via the contrast of other people's happiness. He deconstructs in twain their glee and joy to his own level of woe. This trope plays out by Antoine being the "Crapsack World" and the rest are the comparison.

Live-Action TV
  • The episode "Amy's Choice" of Doctor Who has the Doctor trapped (possibly) in a dream world where his two married companions are in a humdrum rural town that is incredibly boring. The Doctor asks, "So, what do you do to stave off the self-harm?" Apparently the Call to Agriculture is a death knell to him.
    • An earlier episode, "The Girl In The Fireplace", has Madame de Pompadour briefly visit the 51st century, seeing the inside of the space ship that has the unexplained windows into her time. This, combined with whatever she saw in the Doctor's mind, has her firmly convinced that she is better off staying in 18th century France.

Music
  • SPOCK's song "Beam Me Up", (surely inspired by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) sums up our world with the words "Beam me up, there's no intelligent life down here where I am".

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the grimdark grimdarkness of the grim, dark future, there is only grimdarkness! Er, war. Except that the Imperium of Man (and to a lesser extent, some of the other factions) must have a vast agricultural/industrial base to support their colossal war machine, and some of the licensed novels show the places that aren't right on the front lines (especially the Ciaphas Cain novels). Presumably, it's possible to live a pleasantly uneventful life among the trillions on agri-worlds and forge worlds that doesn't involve being eaten by tyranids, chopped up by orks, enslaved by dark eldar, annihilated by necrons, executed for heresy by the Inquisition, having your soul ripped apart by Chaos, and so on and so forth. But it doesn't make a good story, and certainly doesn't work for a tabletop wargame.
    • In one of the Eisenhorn novels, Eisenhorn makes his escape...on a first-class luxury train operating on a route that has been in service for nearly 1000 years, crossing the equivalent of the Rocky Mountains for several days. Of course, stuff eventually blows up, but for a few days you have the characters simply enjoying a wonderful time on a massive luxury train. Unsaid is that even after stuff blowing up, this train is going to keep operating thereafter as well (probably with a few new cars, however).
    • Even forge and agri-worlds aren't exempt from this; in general, forgeworlds are cramped and terminally polluted and the Adeptus Mechanicus is not exactly concerned with the well being of its workers. Agri-worlds are supposedly better off, but even they will be subject to the occasional Chaos incursion/Tyranid invasion/Exterminatus.
    • It should be noted that most of the worlds in the Imperium are what is known as Civilian Worlds, which are mostly on part with preset day Earth in terms of living conditions but since they're not GRIMDARK they're rarely mention unless they're being attacked.
    • The Tau have a tendency for using concentration camps, forced sterilizations, mind control and orbital bombardment to bring people into the fold of "the Greater Good." In any other setting, they would be considered the bad guys; IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE, THEY ARE TOO OPTIMISTIC AND TRUSTING.

Video Games
  • Star Trek Online is this compared to hard canon, especially compared to TNG. It's almost a century later, the Federation is at war with the Klingons and newly commissioned officers are being fast-tracked to their own full commands because of losses incurred, Romulus and Remus have been destroyed, the New Romulan Empire is largely trying to make a new home for its people but is wrought with internal conflict, the Borg are making a new incursion, most of this has been set up by Species 8472 infiltrators, the Iconians are researching how best to break the various species when they come back and are hinted at manipulating Species 8472 into manipulating the conflicts into existence to soften everyone up... it's much bleaker than even DS9 at the height of the Dominion War. It's still Star Trek, though, so most civilizations, certainly Federation members, are still post-scarcity and despite the various conflicts going on, it's paradise compared to any actual Crapsack World.
    • It's especially nice compared to the Crapsack World shown in-game. One storyline shows what would have happened if the Enterprise-C from the TNG episode Yesterday's Enterprise hadn't made it back to correct the timeline; the Federation lost the war with the Klingons,note  a resistance movement got going, but then the Dominion invaded and crushed all opposition (and the Tholians cut a deal with the Dominion and now has a greatly expanded territory and large amounts of humanoid slaves). The cutscene when time changes shows the player's character going from captain of their ship to captain of a run-down freighter, with some of the player's bridge officers living dreary lives elsewhere.

Visual Novels
  • Several of the main cast members in Sharin No Kuni live under extremely harsh legal restrictions which they have mostly come by undeservedly, and the main character was put through a nightmarish training program in order to become qualified to oversee and rehabilitate such individuals. However, the legal system of the setting, which is explicitly intended to prevent crimes and socially destructive behavior, rather than conferring fair and proportionate punishments on the guilty, is stated to result in much lower crime rates than our own, and such restrictions are implied to be very rare compared to imprisonment in Japan, which already has low crimes rates by real world standards, such that a town which is considered to have an unusual concentration of social unrest has a grand total of three residents living under restrictions.

Webcomics
  • In one Bob the Angry Flower comic, Bob dies and goes to heaven; he realizes that everything up there is so awesome that people still living on earth are in agony, relatively speaking. He then jumps down to earth, saying "I've gotta kill everyone!" (doubles as a cruel parody of Damaged Soul).
  • In Sluggy Freelance, the Perfect Pacifist People of the so-called Dimension of Lame are rather disturbed by being visited by someone who's willing to use violence in self-defence and swear, which definitely implies they couldn't handle his world either. It kind of works the other way around too, because they're doing okay there before the demonic invasion, but Torg from "our" world gets really fed up with such a conflict-phobic and wussy dimension. This is an inversion, since the world is too nice for him.
    Torg: "Why the BLEEP does it smell like flowers down here?"
    Alternative ZoŽ: "It's a sewer, silly!"
    Torg: "I hate this dimension!"
    • Their world is so utopian, they don't even understand the word "evil" - they use the expression "rather nice" to describe anything less than utopian.

Web Original
  • In Fine Structure, characters from universes with high numbers of spacelike and timelike dimensions, where intelligence arises spontaneously everywhere, land in our universe of 3+1 dimensions, where the laws of physics are limited and intelligence is barely tenable at all. It's compared to a kind of hell.


Condescending CompassionPsychology TropesDate My Avatar
Crapsaccharine WorldSettingsDystopia
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