Sometimes, especially when writing a story or a script about a highly unusual situation, you find that you've just loaded up your protagonist or some other fairly important character with lots of potentially Unfortunate Implications
. Alas, trying to have your character explain to everybody
why this is Not What It Looks Like
is likely to ruin the flow of the plot, and will probably just make your audience even more suspicious. What can you do?
Fortunately, there's an excellent—if not perfect—solution to your problems: the Deliberately Bad Example. The Deliberately Bad Example is everything your morally wholesome and upstanding protagonist is not. If you present this depraved buffoon's perversity comically enough, you won't have to say anything about your protagonist's motives at all. Your viewers will understand that since your protagonist is not at all like this Deliberately Bad Example, he must not
be a bad guy.
There are lots of variants. For example, rather than the protagonist, the Deliberately Bad Example may be serving as the backdrop to an important secondary character. Pointing out the differences or similarities between the behavior of the two characters may also serve to raise suspicions rather than allay them. (If the Jerk Ass
doesn't behave like the Complete Monster
, how do we know he isn't really a closeted warm-and-fuzzy type
? If he does, how do we know he isn't The Mole
Deliberately Bad Examples do of course tend to be rather one-dimensional in their usual roles as the Butt Monkey
or Complete Monster
, but need not always be so. Quite often, if a story lasts long enough and they get enough face time, they may go on to develop personalities of their own and maybe even become a Draco in Leather Pants
or an Ensemble Dark Horse
This a sub-trope of the Foil
. Compare the more PSA
-oriented version of this character-as-a-device, the Anti-Role Model
, where the character's purpose is to be an example of what the people in the audience
aren't supposed to do. The Wrong Way in the Right Way/Wrong Way Pair
may be this, especially if the "right" and "wrong" ways are being contrasted morally. See also Black and Gray Morality
Anime and Manga
- Mori Kouji and Toufukuji from I My Me! Strawberry Eggs, of course. See how these guys behave? Amawa Hibiki is nothing like them!
- Love Hina's Shirai and Haitani are definitely this to Keitaro, though all the girls in the dormitory fail to see the difference.
- Odagiri from Koi Kaze: he's the raving pervert with a fetish for high school girls who's pining away for a younger sister, not Koshiro.
- Parodied with the character Matagu from Please Teacher!: although he's definitely Hot for Teacher and has always wanted to marry a space alien, he's not really necessary. It's already pretty well established from the beginning that the protagonist Kei is nothing like him—which doesn't stop Kei from getting jealous and bad-mouthing him to Mizuho anyway.
- s-CRY-ed is practically littered with examples. Many of Ryuhou's associates from HOLY serve to emphasize that he really does believe in what he's doing as a Knight Templar by showing what people with less noble motives might do with their powers. The way a number of Kazuma's fellow alter-users behave also indicates that his noble behavior as the Anti-Hero is more the exception than the rule out where he lives.
- From the Tournament Arc in Fairy Tail, Sabertooth is this to the Fairy Tail guild after they force a member to strip before kicking them out for losing a fight. And then you see Raven Tail who makes Sabertooth look like a mild case of Good Is Not Nice in comparison, initially.
- Deadpool (pictured above) is this for a lot of characters in the Marvel Universe.
- Helping Spider-Man deal with the Ax-Crazy mass-murdering symbiote Carnage earned sometime Arch-Nemesis Venom a measure of respect as an Anti-Hero from both the readers and Spider-Man himself.
- In the long-running strip "Goofus and Gallant" in Highlights for Children magazine, Goofus is always a perfect example of how not to behave in any situation. This helps the reader get past what a prig Gallant is. A prime example of this trope, and its long existence and the sheer amount of parody around it make it a good candidate for Trope Codifier.
- In Assassins, the villainous hitman and Complete Monster Miguel Bain's rather indiscriminate slaughter of bystanders along with his targets helps establish that although the protagonist Robert Rath is also a hitman, he's a lot more restrained and professional, making his role in the story as a Hitman with a Heart somewhat more believable.
- Wild Target follows Assassins' lead, making the vicious hitman Dixon a Deliberately Bad Example in order to make his colleague Victor Maynard more sympathetic.
- While Dirty Harry tends to act more like a gunfighter than a police officer (the way a lot of the TV cops these movies were parodying did), a band of lawless vigilante cops in Magnum Force whose idea of community service is coldblooded premeditated murder of the accused helps demonstrate that he does at least have some scruples against vigilante justice.
- Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter novels. If Severus Snape really were a Complete Monster rather than a neutral Anti-Hero, this is who he'd be.
- In Rafael Sabatini's novel Captain Blood: His Odyssey, Isterling and l'Evaser are both portrayed as monsters so that Peter Blood can retain the image of a noble pirate.
- In Alexander Pushkin's "Captain's Daughter" the author made use of one of these to avoid censorship: The hero Grinev is friends with the anti-Czarist rebel Pugachev, yet remains a positive character, which could have led to the book being banned in Czarist Russia. So Pushkin introduced Shwabrin, a spineless, unscrupulous traitor who sells out everybody; in comparison to this, the hero seems quite loyal and patriotic.
- The way John Simpson is used in the mass meeting in Grantville in 1632, where the time-displaced Americans for the first time gets to know what has happened and what they will do about it. Basically, he was used to set up one way to react that Stearns could target, and thus quickly be established as the leader. Written that way simply as a halfway realistic way to avoid lots of tedious discussion and drawn-out wrangling. Later in the series, Simpson got more screentime and lots more nuance.
- The Office: The main character usually aggravates his employees with his antics, but he's at least better than the eccentric Dwight Schrute.
- Homefront: Although John Milius is, by his own admission, something of a raving nationalist, he specifically wrote some very nasty survivalists into the game to show that he wasn't a racist or an excessively far-right nutjob.
- Amical of morphE is one for the morality and mannerisms of the mage community. Normally in the New World of Darkness a mage would not be able to operate as publically and callously as Amical without facing repercussions. The seedlings do not know this, however, and only have him as a role model.
- Two of the Troll dancestors from Homestuck are based off of Tumblr's notorious social justice warrior blogs. The rude and petulant Kankri is an extreme, over-the-top asshole who thinks Everything Is Racist and is strongly hinted to be a massive Hypocrite. He's clearly meant to be evocative of everything social justice supporters shouldn't be. He is contrasted by the level-headed, mostly nice, and understanding Porrim, who represents social justice groups when they're actually done right.
- Wait Till Your Father Gets Home has Ralph playing this as a neighbor to Harry Boyle; Ralph is a paranoid far-right militia type the level-headed conservative Harry is the first to call a nutcase.
- Ultimate Spider-Man: The titular character is already one of the cockiest characters on the team, but he's not as bad as Nova, who's far more reckless than anyone else.