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Eight Deadly Words
"I don't care what happens to these people."
A phrase coined by Dorothy Jones Heydt in a science-fiction based Usenet group in 1991 to describe an Audience Reaction to a work of fiction where the characters are so universally bland, unengaging or unlikable that the reader simply loses interest in their fate and, by extension, the work as a whole. This can happen with or without the presence of more objective shortcomings, but the most interesting examples tend to be those where this is a critic's main complaint, single-handedly dragging an otherwise well-made story down to where it's almost completely unenjoyable.
Note that "not caring about" a character is not the same as "not liking" them — some character archetypes, such as the Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist, are driven by the notion that watching horrible things happen to people that deserve them can be entertaining. In other words, even if you hate the character, you still care about what happens to them (because you want to see them get their comeuppance) so you'll still follow the story. This trope comes into play when even that fails to arouse sufficient interest.
Many Horror/monster/Disaster Movies try to avoid this by Developing Doomed Characters, only to make the audience hate the characters more for getting in the way of the slaughter they came there to see.
Also often stated with added emphasis as "I don't carewhat happens to these people".
See also Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy, where an excessively dark setting renders the protagonist's struggle so futile that the audience can't bring themselves to get invested in it even if the characters have some shred of likability.
Not to be confused with Seven Dirty Words.
Invoked in-universe in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Whenever one of the selfish children does something Too Dumb to Live that will clearly lead to their downfall, Wonka's response (if any) is almost bored: "Help. Police. Murder." after Augustus Gloop falls in the chocolate river, for instance.
Peter Bradshaw expresses this view of Lawless calling it "an empty exercise in macho-sentimental violence", describing the supposed heroes of the film as flat heroes and the villain as "a pantomime baddie".
Roger Ebert gave George Romero's Day of the Deadone and a half stars in part because much of the movie consists of "unpleasant, violent, insane" or ridiculously noble characters shouting at each other. And while he doesn't utter the eight words out right, he does say that in Romero's previousmovies "we cared about the characters."
Stargate Universe fell victim to this, with many early reviews stating something to the effect of "the only one of these characters worth caring about is Dr. Rush," who was by all accounts a bastard in his own right. They got better in season two, but proved to have happened too late as the series was not picked up after its second season.
10. They require that the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the "Deerslayer" tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.
Slacktivist's page-by-page review of Left Behind often notes how the main characters are far less likable than the villain - who, of course, is the Antichrist.
Made worse since the authors believe that You Can't Fight Fate in the real world, and wrote a story with two Author Avatar characters who also agree with the Biblical prophecies the authors believe in. As a result, they grumble a bit about the Antichrist, but don't do anything because everything is still part of God's plan. Even the characters themselves don't care what happens until Jesus comes back and kicks the Antichrist's ass.
These are books without heroes because they are set in a world without heroism — without the possibility of heroism. A world of inexorable prophecies and inevitable doom.
The WWE nearly screwed up their biggest PPV of the year in 2013 when this syndrome kicked in big time. Fans wanted Daniel Bryan to fight and win the world title after nearly six months of him losing and being tormented and repeatedly cheated out of the title by Randy Orton, Triple H, and Stephanie Mac Mahon. The storyline (plus HHH engaging in his usual narcisistic antics of burying wrestlers who are more talented and loved by fans than him to try and bury Danial Bryan) took a dastardly turn when Bryan was not featured in the Royal Rumble match and a returning Batista (who's first match back after a several year hiatus was the Royal Rumble) won it instead. With Batista set for the Wrestlemania world title match (and it circulating that Batista had it stated in his contract that he would win the belt at Wrestlemania as part of an arrangement to have Batista as champion while promoting Guardians of the Galaxy to get the WWE extra publicity) as well as Batista coming back out of shape and devoid of any character outside "generic good guy you are supposed to root for because we say so", and Bryan stuck in limbo with a low card match as his only option, fans full scale revolted, booing Batista and basically creating such a backlash, that with weeks to spare, the WWE had to rush to put Bryan back into the main event to prevent a catastrophe of epic proportions.
In a more general sense, this type of reaction towards any wrestler will result in that wrestler either changing their gimmick or being dismissed.
The Musical of Musicals, a play that parodies various... well, musicals, registers this complaint about the works of Stephen Sondheim ("Unlikable people with lives that are hollow / It's all food for thought, but a bit hard to swallow...")
Mother Courage and Her Children is a Bertolt Brecht work that is deliberately populated almost entirely by unsympathetic characters (Kattrin is the sole possible exception: she's mute and is victimized several times, but ultimately is killed during her futile effort to rouse sleeping villagers to the approach of the attacking army.) Even as each of her children are killed, the audience is discouraged from feeling any sympathy for Mother Courage; in fact, Brecht revised the ending following a production which he felt made Mother Courage too sympathetic to the audience.
Diabetus declares a variation in the Darkseed 2 Rongpurae, about the protagonist, Mike Dawson, who is suspected of murder.
Many a Caustic Critic have this mentality when they're supposed to fear for a character's life. Special mention goes to The Cinema Snob and Phelous, since they review exploitation and horror films, respectively, with Phelous spewing a lot of hate at the Hostel movies especially for this flaw.
The Annotated Series has this as a staple of comedy, as the annotators often cite not caring for any of the protagonists and instead paying attention to characters that aren't intended as significant or sympathetic.
Max-Vader, veteran of the the Project A.F.T.E.R. forum and sometimes co-host of The Other Side has this as one of his main reasons why he hates Sugar Bits by Bleedman.
"I could forgive a bad story or clichéd writing if only the characters were likable and interesting. You see, in order to give a shit about the story, we need someone we can relate to — a protagonist with human character traits. A good example would be Luke Skywalker. In the beginning we get to know him, learn about his hopes and dreams, and start to care about him. I can't stress this enough: Be sloppy with your writing when it comes to your protagonist, and you can kiss the slightest hope for quality storytelling goodbye. Bleedman doesn't give a shit. Emotional baggage, "tragic" pasts or Jerk Ass behavior do not make a likable, deep or interesting character."
Post-movie episodes of SpongeBob SquarePants that try to make the treatment of Squidward, Mrs. Puff and Plankton justified by having them act like assholes but do nothing to make SpongeBob, Patrick or Mr. Krabs sympathetic.