This trope is about the versatility, ubiquitousness, and downright usefulness of the substance known as "duct tape". A plastic adhesive tape, usually black, grey or silver in colour, originally created to seal ammunition boxes in World War II, but whose usefulness is apparent to anybody who's ever had a breakage of any kind that has to be temporarily held together. It is the first cousin to, but distinct from, gaffer tape, which is less adhesive and designed to be removable. A military version also exists, known as hundred-mile-an-hour tape in the US, which is even stronger and more adhesive than duct tape, and typically comes in some shade of green or brown.
A commercially-available child of duct tape has come out recently, called Gorilla Tape. It is black, and slightly wider than a roll of duct tape, and rated about 30% stronger than duct tape. However, it is substantially more costly than duct tape.
Common usages in fiction include restraining individuals and jury-rigging...well, everything.
Rather ironically, Duct Tape actually sucks at sealing ducts. It degrades and loses its stickiness over time, failing "reliably and catastrophically" when used on ducts. Aluminum tape or mastic is used instead. It is also banned by some building codes for use on ducts due to the occasional incidence of bursting into flame under high temperature.
The etymology of the word and whether it originated as "duck" tape is unclearnote there IS a brand of duct tape called Duck Tape, but it's relatively new, and so named to deliberately capitalize on the joke. Not to be confused with scotch tape, although egregious use of duct tape can function as Scotch Tape. International names include "silver tape" in Latin America, "gum tape" (gamu teepu) in Japan, "roadie tape" and "Jesus tape" (because it performs miracles) in Finland, "American tape" in Spain and Italy, "Panzertape" (armor tape/tank tape) in Germany, and "weave tape" or "silver tape" in Sweden, "isolenta" ("isolation tape") in Russia. In England, it may be (mistakenly) called "gaffernote Also an informal term for an old man or a foreman, make of that what you will tape".
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Anime and Manga
In Battle Royale, one character uses duct tape to hold his intestines in after his stomach had been cut open.
In Pokémon Special, Looker has a huge roll of it, which he dubs as Secret Weapon No 10: Super Tight Tape. He uses it to tape Charon's mouth shut to stop his commands to Heatran before completely wrapping him up in tape to prevent him from escaping.
In Marvel Vs DC, the Guardian of Space/Time (Access' predecessor) at first attempts to seal the rift between the Marvel and DC universes using duct tape. Surprisingly, this doesn't work.
Deadpool: "Man, I love duct tape. I love how it tapes. I love the sound it makes. I love saying it. Duct tape, duct tape, duct tape."
The fifth issue of Empowered has two separate Duct Tape moments. First there's the time when she lets Ocelotina interview her, only to be caught off guard and bound up with duck tape. Ocelotina finishes her big discussion on how great Duct Tape is as a bondage medium with the comment "Can you imagine using a pair of handcuffs or a ball gag to do, like, plumbing repair or whatever?". The whole thing was just a complex preparation to Emp being spankedfor underestimating duct tape. This also helped her to use it as a Chekhov's Gun:
Then later after Willie Pete blasted the space station, MindF** k's spacesuit had a big chunk torn out of it, and Emp successfully patched the big hole with Duct Tape*
Well, most of the space station was assembled with duct tape.
Shadowpact's Enchantress carries a roll of this at all times with her. She's surprised Nightmaster doesn't.
The Dangerverse has Fred and George invent their own version, which they call "Stuck Tape".
During at least one killing spree in Hard Reset, Twilight binds a changeling with duct tape before casually going over to it and smashing its brains in with HomeRun.
Used on Casey's boyfriend Steve in the opening of the first Scream.
In Gran Torino, Clint Eastwood's character claims that a man who is worth his salt can do half of the jobs around the home with three tools: a can of WD 40, a pair of vise grips and a roll of duct tape.
In Alaska the kids fix the canoe they find with the liberal application of Duct tape.
In From Dusk Till Dawn, the character played by Tarantino bond his wounded hand (actually a huge bullet hole) with duct tape.
Right at Your Door, in which the main character seals his home this way. This turns out to be the worst thing he could have done, as the duct tape works too well and seals contaminated air inside his house, where the warmth and lack of circulation allow it to multiply to lethal levels.
In Major League, the wing of the Indians' broken-down plane is sealed with duct tape.
Reservoir Dogs uses this trope. The cop gets tied up by Mr Blonde using duct tape. We won't go into what happens next.
The Signal. Everyone has gone crazy, and one man kills those who try to kill him, but if they don't seem dangerous, he simply binds them with duct tape.
Used hilariously in Pineapple Express, where a constantly high drug dealer and his bumbling server witness a murder and find themselves pursued by crooked cops and hitmen. On the run, they go to Red's house (a friend of theirs) and find him beaten up. Fearing his call to his wife is in fact a call to the hitmen and cops on their location, they subdue and duct tape him to his deceased grandfather's chair before running through the back door when the hitmen come in.
In The Rundown, The Rock flies to a tiny airfield in the middle of South American nowhere on a tiny, beat-up prop-job. On approach for landing, The Rock notices the right main wing spar seems to be patched up with duct tape. He questions the pilot, who (played straight) responds in the affirmative.
In Defendor, the title character(Woody Harrelson)'s costume makes good use of it.
In Schooled, it's an early reference that one of the main characters' commune home is 30% duct tape, and they buy many, many rolls each time they go to the store.
The novel also says that duct tape was used for fly paper, holding up baby diapers, house repairs, and broken bones. And in one of the final scenes, after Cap is sent back to the commune, the only thing left in his room is a page from his report on what he thought the most useful invention in the world was, duct tape.
In the John RingoInto The Looking Glass novels, "Spacetape" is used by the Marines and Navy aboard the Vorpal Blade. It is superior to Duct tape in that it is usable in a vacuum and won't dry out under temperature extremes of deep space. The drawback? It costs upwards of $100,000 dollars a roll!
In 2010: Odyssey Two, the novel version of 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the protagonists, under a deadline to depart Jupiter, bind together the spaceships Leonov and Discovery using what is for all intents and purposes very strong duct tape, so that Discovery can be used as a booster for Leonov. The use of this trope is Lampshaded by the characters.
Duct Tape is the favorite tool of MacGyver (he carries a roll around at all times). This has actually resulted in an interesting phenomenon: Duct Tape is sometimes referred to as MacGyver Tape.
Duct tape forms an essential part of one of the monster-fighting devices in Tremors: The Series, prompting Jodi to yell, "Duct tape! Duct tape can do anything!"
Duct tape is explicitly anointed as the 'handyman's secret weapon' on The Red Green Show, becoming identified with it to the extent that Red (aka Steve Smith) became Scotch's spokesman in Canada. An entire episode of the program was called "No Duct Tape" and focused on the Possum Lodge running out of it and Red freaking out over it. In a brief DVD commentary, Red Green poked at the writing staff (including himself) about the fact that it took them ten seasons to come up with that.
He also once stated the second quote on the top. Whoever said it first is beyond me.
One early episode contained a subversion by showing a situation when using duct tape is not a good idea-Red uses Harold to show how you can use duct tape to shave your legs. Also subverted (or played for laughs, depending on how you look at it) in a later episode when Red actually did need to tape two pieces of ductwork together, and spent nearly half a minute on-screen trying to figure out what he could use for this purpose before arriving at the obvious solution of masking tape.
In an episode of One Way Out, the oddball heroes test out various junkyard devices to survive a fall. They end up using a descender cable made of duct tape. Amazingly, it works.
Joe from NewsRadio once claimed that the only thing holding the station together was his home-made duct tape.
In one episode, a class of kids around 10 years old go visit the station ("Broadcasters of the Future", they're not time travelers though). Every member of the cast is assigned to take care of one kid and show him around the station. Joe uses the day to show the boy assigned to him the many uses of duct tape (including taping the boy to his back for easier transport).
In the Titanic episode, Joe claims that the hull is made entirely out of duct tape.
In the LOST season 4 finale, Frank patches the helicopter's gas tank with duct tape.
And in the series finale, Miles uses it to fix the hydraulics of a passenger jetliner.
Miles: I don't believe in a lot of things, but I do believe in duct tape.
In Season Two of Discovery Channel Canada's semi-reality show Canada's Worst Handyman, one of the contestants kept falling back on duct tape for everything. The producers were very much annoyed at him.
Burn Notice loves this trope. In the pilot episode, Michael comments that it's "better to fight your wars with duct tape" because "duct tape makes you smart." Since then, we've seen a duct tape pulled out a few times. When Agent Bly destroys Michael's favorite chair, we later see him fixing it up with a roll of duct tape. Then, in the season 2 finale, in the middle of a car chase, Michael pulls a roll of duct tape out of his glove compartment.
The character from the first episode on the receiving end of Michael's duct tape strategy returns in season 3 as a client. Throughout the episode, he suggests that Michael can resolve the situation by doing something cool with duct tape. Sure enough, midway through Michael ends up using duct tape (among other things) to turn a microwave into a bomb.
Made a joke of by the Mythbusters, when Jamie proposed attaching microphones to the necks of actual living ducks with ... what else?
Although that one was an aversion: they put velcro-strip collars on the ducks instead.
And later they made an entire hour about its many uses. Including, lifting a car, patching a leaky boat, making a boat, sealing a potato gun, and finally making a fully functional cannon.
And they did ANOTHER Duct Tape hour, where they made a rope bridge out of the stuff, put a torn apart car back together(and it still worked), and did the old trick of using duct tape to stick a car to a pole - the engine gave out before the tape did in both experments. However, duct tape CAN'T stop a 60 MPH car...well it could, if you used enough of it.
It did take them several tries to get this result, because the duct tape wall held tight while the anchoring points on the concrete weights kept ripping off. It's only once the anchors finally held on that the wall gave way.
Adam also stated that if they chose too, they could do an entire season with nothing but duct tape.
The build team outdid themselves again by first fixing a grizzly bear mauled plane with Duct Tape to the point it could fly. Then made a functioning plane out of duct tape!
And they've done a third hour-long episode, this time with duct tape as the only tool Adam and Jamie are allowed to use to escape from a Deserted Island. They make a number of interesting objects, including sandals, a waterskin, a spear and net for hunting, a chess set, hammocks, and a duct tape version of Adam's trademark fedora. Oh, and an outrigger boat to escape from the island.
Towards the end of the Duct Tape Island episode, Jamie basically summed the trope up with this:
"We’ve found that duct tape is not a perfect solution for anything. But with a little ingenuity, in a pinch, it’s an adequate solution for just about everything."
It should be made clear that the Mythbusters did rate survival on a desert island under realistic conditions (other than the duct tape supply) to be highly plausible, mostly because they resorted to duct tape in 90% of their survival situations. However, an effectively infinite supply of duct tape was assumed (approximately a whole shipped crate, if not an entire shipment), as well as a water supply like a spring or stream.
This is lampshaded in Star Trek: Voyager. Captain Janeway says that the Voyager is held together by duct tape.
Having his dad's chair in the living room is made even worse for Frasier because his dad uses duct tape to patch up any damage to said the chair.
NCIS - Abby uses duct tape to restrain her evil assistant in one episode.
In Greek, Rusty is duct taped to a wall during the first season episode War and Peace as part of a Kappa Tau/Omega Chi prank war.
An episode of Castle opens with Rick Castle having his daughter, Alexis, duct tape him into a chair, and leave him there, so he can figure out how his hero in the book he's writing will be able to extract himself from that situation.
On The Amazing Race, Season 16 had Steve & Allie crash their front right fender at a curb. When loose parts were making an awful scraping sound while driving, Steve used some Duct Tape (that his wife packed him "just in case") and were able to tape up the loose pieces and motor along to a respectable finish.
The gang uses Duct Tape with much more subtlety. They are seldom shown actually applying it but nearly everything they they make themselves has at least some tape on it and when something is broken, it is often shown repaired with duct tape the next time it appears.
One Dilbert comic has Dilbert, Alice, and Wally tie an annoying co-worker to his chair with duct tape. Alice comments on how useful the stuff is, and Wally responds "Sometimes I use it instead of underwear."
In one arc of Alley Oop some thugs from the present day captured some of Moo's people and tied them up with duct tape. King Gus was so impressed with the stuff that when they were freed he traded the time travel agency a couple sacks full of diamonds for several rolls of it.
Part of comedian Tim Allen's routine was how every maintenance problem could be solved with duct tape. The catch phrase was "Have a problem with _____? Duct it!".
"Duct tape is preferred for gagging their victims by 4 out of 5 kidnappers."
"A true mechanic needs only two tools. WD-40 to make it go, and duct tape to make it stop."
Gaffer tape "can mend anything but a broken heart."
"You can fix anything with either red roses or duct tape." This is probably in response to the "broken heart" version quoted above.
A Hallmark card for a father's birthday says, "Dad, because of you, I learned the essential things in life. Duct tape and WD-40. Happy birthday."
John Cena met Batista in a Last Man Standing match in the main event of WWE Extreme Rules 2010. Normally, you win this kind of match by knocking your opponent out for a 10-count; instead, Cena beat Batista by using duct tape to tape Batista's ankles to a turnbuckle, thus making sure he could not stand to answer the ref's count. Not even Batista could break duct tape, and thus he suffered a REALLY embarrassing defeat.
In D20 Modern, one of the magic items you can get is a roll of duct tape that instantly repairs anything broken you use it on. Essentially a potion of cure wounds for inanimate objects. Normal duct tape is one of the cheapest items on the equipment list.
Dead Rising 2 actually uses this in gameplay, as duct taping weapons together is a core feature. Chainspear, anyone?
This really becomes funny in the cut scenes for the Combo Weapons. You see Chuck from behind, fiddling on the work bench and you hear the distinctive sound of duct tape being pulled from the roll, while he should be nailing up a baseball bat.
There's also an achievement called "Duct Tape FTW".
Tsukihime: Arcueid doesn't see any problem with using duct tape to patch up her wounds; or keeping herself together after being cut into 17 pieces. She is a True Ancestor vampire, though (capable of rebuilding her body from scratch if need be), so don't try this at home.
Duct Tape actually works fine as a bandage, if you're not too worried about sterility.
Unless you're Arcueid, at which point you'll just bleed right through it anyway. So, a subversion?
In Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck, the player can make a rip in the background using the stylus, which Daffy then repairs with duct tape.
Daffy: Good thing I always carry duct tape. Geddit? Duck tape?...No sense of humour.
In zOMG!, you can wrap up your enemies with duct tape to keep them from moving. Even the Landshark.
There's a Duct Tape item for your avatar on Gaia Online, too. One pose, called "I FIX IT!!!" has your avatar duct-taped to the screen.
DOOM 3 was a vastly different game from its predecessors in that you actually needed a flashlight to see in the dark tunnels of Mars. The problem was that you could only carry either it or a gun at one time. The solution? The "Duct tape mod", which attaches a flashlight to most weapons. The author says the mod is justified and not a cheat, beacuse it's wholly illogical that one shouldn't be able to find a roll of duct tape in a space station of the future.
Wizardry 8 has "Duct Tape" item. Gadgeteer can entangle an opponent with it.
The Panther King in Conker's Bad Fur Day apparently duct taped the Professor to his table as a substitute for the missing leg at some point. When the Professor goes to work on fixing the table, the King says, "I wouldn't want to have to get the duct tape out again."
One of the "repair item" sound effects in Fallout 3 is - you guessed it - the sound of duct tape being ripped off a roll.
Several weapons in both this game and Fallout New Vegas have bits of duct tape wrapped around them.
Quoth the recipe for Weapon Repair Kits; "1x Duct Tape, 1x Scrap Electronics, 2x Scrap Metal, 1x Wonderglue, 1x Wrench"
Also in the same game the perk 'Jury-Rigging' shows Vault Boy duct taping two unrelated weapons together. (I think they are an assault rifle and a shotgun) He uses a lot of duct tape.
In Half-Life 2, Alyx Vance's clothing is held together by duct tape.
A fan-produced expansion pack for Freespace 2 called Derelict features Lt. Mackie, who frequently references duct tape in his dialogue. Got far enough that it's considered one of the character's defining traits among the fandom.
In Gear Head Duct Tape is one of the repairing items. Given enough of it and a skilled repairman, one can fix a gaping hole in a mecha with it.
Kerbal Space Program has struts, which essentially act as duct tape if your rockets won't stay together in flight. The fandom has even nicknamed them "space tape".
In Schlock Mercenary, Pronto the demo expert loves using duct-tape. A foot-note also mentions that, out of common jury-rigging materials, "Duct Tape has actually seen the most change during the intervening centuries. For instance, it can now safely be used to fasten and seal duct-work. Just be sure to lose the handy-dandy spool with the built-in tape cutter before it trims the tape just above your first knuckle."
In the parodic fantasy webcomic Nodwick, duct tape is an essential component of healing spells, up to and including resurrection of the dead. Whether the tape itself has any inherent magical properties is left to the reader's mind, should one choose to venture beyond the Rule of Funny powering the setting.
In Freefall, Sam made several repairs to the Savage Chicken with duct tape before Florence joined the crew. In a subversion, she points out that the tape is woefully inadequate.
Also, Sam's scarf is at one point replaced by one made of duct tape. Also, when a robot's leg has just been repaired by welding, a character remarks: "You should put some duct tape on it. Repairs never seem complete without duct tape."
Unwinder: Doc, pick a masculine thing to learn about, or I'll pick one for you. Dr. Minivan: Well, I've heard good things about using duct tape for various tasks. Unwinder: Excellent choice! Horse-Man, go over to Hardware Hank and get this guy a roll of duct tape large enough to compensate for something. [Later] Unwinder: Yeah, I'm having second thoughts about the duct tape thing. It seems like you're just turning this into arts and crafts.
It is even used in Nodwick by the party's cleric in place of healing spells. A generous application of duct tape has even been used to bring Nodwick back to life after being torn in half, and from having his head cut off.
With creative programming, Duck Tape 2.0, can be used for any number of applications.
In the Grand Finale of Beast Wars the Maximals had some technology being held together with duct tape aboard the Autobot shuttle (which apparently served to explain how the shuttle made it to transwarp).
In an episode of Megas XLR, the titular mecha's photonic stabilizer is damaged, which could wind up with Megas exploding big time. After spending the whole episode looking for a replacement part, and in the middle of a fight for the replacement part that was pushing Megas to its limits, a cry of "DUCK!" inspires Coop to wrap the damaged stabilizer in duct tape. Seconds later, Megas is able to fight at full power. "When in doubt, duck it!"
In The Replacements, Riley and Tasumi met when Riley used duct tape to mend an embarrassing rip in Tasumi's armour. Riley explains that her dad makes her carry a roll with her at all times as duct tape "can fix anything".
In Invader Zim, Zim was captured by aliens who try to "fuse" different species together. They do this by duct taping stuff together.
One episode of I Am Weasel takes this to absurd levels, where the baboon is a ship captain and glues his ship together with duct tape and bubble gum.
During the series finale of Hey Arnold "The Journal", Grandpa threatens to use a roll of duct tape to silence Grandma when she continues interrupting the journal reading with her usual delusional comments. It works.
Squid Billies combines garbage bags and duct tape to give us the Hillbilly Hazmat Suit. Now breathe deep and hold your breath!!!
Truth in Television, as anyone who has worked as a stage hand can attest to. Everything in a theatre is held together by either duct tape, gaffer tape, 12 gauge wire, or bits of string. Or prayer.
1972: Apollo 17: One fender on the lunar rover was damaged. The astronauts taped it back on with duct tape. Eventually, the moondust overcame the tape and the fender fell off again. This time, they jury-rigged a fender out of duct tape and four laminated maps. The map-fender lasted through 15 hours of EVA.
Also during Apollo 13, duct tape among many other items was used to adapt the "square peg" CM carbon dioxide scrubber canisters for use in the "round hole" LM scrubber socket.
Hilarity ensued in 2002 when the newly-formed Department of Homeland Security advised citizens that, in the event of a chemical or biological attack on their neighborhood, they could protect themselves by sealing their doors and windows with duct tape. Lewis Black points out the flaw in this in one of his routines, stating that the only way such a thing would protect you is if you used enough of it to suffocate yourself before the chemicals killed you.
As spoofed in this take-off of the old "Duck And Cover" nuclear air raid drill.
Sealing doors and windows with plastic and tape was, however, widely practiced in Israel during the Gulf War as a precaution against biochemical Scud missile attacks. The rationale was to limit exposure by reducing drafts, given that a one-inch gap under a door is roughly equivalent to a five-inch hole in the wall. Residents were also issued gas masks as a secondary defense and were advised that in spite of aggressive sealing, a conventional room cannot be made airtight enough to accidentally suffocate the occupants.
Ever wonder what to do when your $200,000 stock car needs fast, fast repairs to its bodywork that you spent hours in a wind tunnel getting just right while staying within your sanctioning body's rules on body form? Huge pieces of what's essentially duct tape. Likewise "speed tape," the FAA-approved emergency aircraft repair material that's basically aluminum sheet with extremely high-grade adhesive backing. Duct tape turned Up to Eleven, if you will.
Scientists wearing hazard suits will often keep pre-cut lengths of duct tape on their legs and arms in order to make a quick patch job in an emergency.
Ever seen a picture of "the gadget" (the implosion-type plutonium fission device used in the first nuclear weapons test)? The device — it could not properly be called a "bomb," since it could in no way be used as a weapon of war — was held together with, among other things... you guessed it.
Prom dresses. Apparently this is a common event, as one school has a yearly scholarship for the best duct tape dress.
Corsets and bondage gear made mainly out of, or at least covered by, duct tape are commonly seen in Goth/Industrial nightclubs, and are a staple of fetish fashion.
Wallets and purses. You can buy these pre-made or easily download instructions on making your own.
Silk tape (Durapore in the US), which has a fairly heavy fabric base and much stronger adhesive than paper or plastic tapes, is the healthcare professional's answer to duct tape, with the added bonus of being nontoxic and hypo-allergenic. Go to any hospital and I guarantee you'll see at least one IV pole, vital-signs monitor or bed control that's been "repaired" with carefully applied silk tape.
NASA's policy for if someone goes crazy in a shuttle is to have them Bound and Gagged with duct tape. The Associated Press gave a report on 2/23/07 about the NASA documents with written procedures which involve "duct tape around the wrists and ankles, tying them down with a bungee cord and injecting with tranquilizers as necessary".
Similarly, when engineers came up with a system for doing CPR in space involving harnesses and what have you, astronauts balked, said it was too complicated and that they could do it with duct tape.
The US military has a stronger version called "100 mph" or "high speed" tape; both because it's said to be able to hold a part on a Jeep at 100 mph, and because "high speed" is Army slang for excellence. Army duct tape is typically olive drab or medium brown in color instead of silver, for obvious reasons.
Except that a government-issue Jeep wouldn't be able to reach 100 mph unless it was pushed out of the back of a plane. I think the reason it go the name "100 mile-an-hour tape" is because it had a test strength of 100 pounds, combined with the aforementioned "high-speed" description.
One common explanation for this appellation (and the similar "500 mile an hour tape" term in the USMC ) is that the sound of pulling a strip off the roll sounds like a vehicle going past at a high rate of speed.
Possibly related to the above, submariners are quite familiar with duct tape on steroids called "EB Green", so named for its supposed origin with Electric Boat, who built a lot of US submarines. A probably apocryphal accounts credit it with withstanding pressures to test depth, in excess of 400 feet (the "official" test depth stated to the public by the US Navy, for security reasons).
Yup. EB Green is some good stuff. We have regular duct tape underway too.
Anti-contamination (Canary) suits for entering the Reactor Compartment during a shutdown, the gloves were sealed on using... yep, EB Green, which is not green anymore but a dull grey. The stuff is about 20x more flexible that duck tape and 3x stickier.
The frequently cited usage of duct tape as improvised bandage is generally a bad idea, though. The sticky surface of the tape typically harbors large amounts of harmful bacteria and the water-resistant surface of the tape prevents wounds from draining. Lastly, when the tape is removed, it's likely to also remove much of the scab and healing skin.
It's a bandage, not a dressing - you use a bandage (or duct tape) to hold a dressing in place against the wound. Improvised dressings are another matter.
Duct tape makes for AWESOME splinting material. If you get two nice straight sticks, you can use duct tape to immobilize the limb beautifully.
On that note: An old tale among family physicians concerns a patient who came in with warts. The surgeon wants to excise them with some newfangled technique costing thousands; another specialist wants to freeze them off, costing hundreds; the family physician says, "Put duct tape on the warts for a week, then take it off. You'll be fine."
Its usage has even made it to philosophy: just like Occam's Razor is the principle that says you should make as few assumptions as possible when solving a problem, Occam's duct tape is a logical fallacy in which someone makes a ridiculously huge number of assumptions when approaching a problem or discussing something.