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Elephant in the Living Room

Peter: The healthiest thing we can do is just ignore this and pretend it doesn't exist. Just like we do with the squid.
(Giant squid knocks vase, cups, and cloth off table)
Lois: Uh, earthquake.
Peter: Eh, truck going by.

Also rendered as the elephant "[...] in the corner" or "[...] on the sofa", the Elephant in the Living Room is a large topic or issue which should be obvious to everyone but which is deliberately or conspicuously avoided. In most cases, this is used to create comedic tension; for example, when a character has a Big Secret he must struggle to divert conversation away from. In stark contrast, some cases of the trope create a tragic vibe, with an Elephant so awful that nobody can bring themselves to raise the topic.

For cases where there is a subject within the series that simply cannot be questioned, or else the whole premise will fall apart, it's a case of why they don't Just Eat Gilligan. If a subject is addressed with some form of implausible explanation, that is most often a Hand Wave or A Wizard Did It; when the subject is simply verboten, it is the Elephant in the Living Room.

In politics, this trope is known as a Third Rail Issue, after the third rail in a subway or light rail system which is held at high voltage to provide power to the trains that run on it (and hence would be unpleasant, if not suicidal, to touch). It refers to an issue where the electorate both feel strongly about, and are sharply divided on what to do about it; therefore, a compromise solution is unlikely to satisfy anyone and will just make everyone angry. As a result, no one attempts to do anything.

In Anime, this trope is known as a Pregnant Ranma Problem, based on the following anecdotal discussion between the author/artist of Ranma ˝ and a random fan at a convention:

Random Fanboy: What would happen if Ranma got pregnant as a girl, then changed back to a boy?
Rumiko Takahashi: I don't think about that, and neither should you.

Which just about sums up 90% of these examples. Cheers!

Based on the poem the Elephant in the Room by Terry Kettering.

See also Unusually Uninteresting Sight, The Disease That Shall Not Be Named, Ignore The Disability, Suspiciously Specific Denial, Talk About the Weather

Examples

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    Advertising 
  • One public awareness commercial has a man walking into an office accompanied by an elephant, with the nametag of "AIDS." Certainly a very effective message.
  • Ads for AXA Equities invoke this trope by having as a spokesperson the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, reminding people to invest for retirement.
    • Which is a bizarrely mixed metaphor. The proverbial 800-pound gorilla represents the ability to do whatever you want because nobody dares to stop you...
      Where do you invest your money when there's an 800-pound gorilla in the room? Anywhere he tells you to.
  • An ad shows a couple's living room and points out new things, whenever the curtain is pulled back. The third time this happens a huge fluff dinosaur is standing behind them - the announcer points to a small cactus on the coffee table.
  • A PSA about drinking and driving shows a party where the guests are drinking alcohol. One of the guests puts down his glass and grabs his car keys. The hosts ask him if he is OK to drive. He says that he is fine to drive which triggers a large inflatable elephant to inflate in a manner similar to a car's air bag. The message is not to ignore drinking and driving like the proverbial elephant in the room.

    Anime and Manga 
  • One of Kousaka's major character traits in Genshiken is that he has absolutely no awareness that the elephant in the room is supposed to be hiding. As a result, he says what everyone's thinking without hesitation. A key example is when the rest of the club is unsure of whether Ohno and Tanaka are dating; as everyone else vacillates, he just yells, "Hey! Are you two going out?"
  • The big one from Ah! My Goddess, eventually brought up in a recent Light Novel for the series: what will happen to Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship as Keiichi grows old? Interestingly, Keiichi and Peorth did have a rather evasive conversation about it. Keiichi's biggest concern, to Peorth's surprise, was how it would hurt Belldandy.
  • Precisely the same in Kanokon. The female lead is some 25+ times older than the male. That means, by the time he dies of old age, she'll only just have got out of adolescence. Yet no-one mentions it, ever. In the manga, Kouta does angst about it a bit. Also, there is a chance that his ability to fuse with Chizuru and increase both of their powers may very well turn Kouta into a youkai himself.
  • In Cromartie High School, no one but Kamiyama and Hayashida seem to realize that Mechazawa is a robot, and even they never directly say it.
    • This and the general weirdness is lampshaded in the last scene of the anime: Hayashida and Maeda ask Kamiyama what they're going to with their lives. Kamiyama then points out the window to Mechazawa, Freddie, his horse, and Gorilla, stating that's whatever the three of them might do doesn't interest him nearly as much as what those other guys might do.
  • In Detective Conan, Conan's increasingly noticeable failure to act as a normal little boy arouses suspicions from just about everyone in the cast not privy to his secret, yet nobody really thinks of just sitting the kid down and asking him just how on earth does he know so much, rather preferring to harbor vague suspicions relatively forever.
    • Considering a lot of the information Conan spouts is related to weapons, death and chemicals, they just might be scared that he'll kill them if they point something out. After all, there are plenty of people who've seen him kick that soccer ball at someone with all the force and accuracy of a heat-seeking missile.
    • People who seen him shoot a handgun from 20-someodd yards with perfect form and accuracy, those who have seen him drive planes, cars, and boats, and the one person who was there when he successfully defused an elevator bomb with no outside help or instructions. No one in their right mind would confront a kid like that.
      • To be fair, all but the last of those examples are of questionable canonicity.
    • Except for Takagi. When he and Conan were once stuck in an elevator, and Conan was trying to defusing a bomb and they seriously thought they were going to die, Takagi asked him "Who are you?" To which Conan responded that he'd tell him in the afterlife.
  • In Bleach it's revealed that Captain Komamura, whose face was concealed up to that point, has the head of a fox. Some characters are surprised by it, but literally no one questions why he looks like that.
    • This might have more to do with the he's a captain, very intimidating in appearance and looks like he might eat you.
    • Of course, nobody asked why he had a freaky wooden box over his head either. For that matter, nobody in the show seems aware of the numerous wacky character designs.
    • It's (much) later revealed Komamura comes from a clan of fox-like people, so maybe the residents of Soul Society knew about that clan and were just surprised by the fact that one of them would become a Soul Reaper.
    • In one filler arc Ichigo indignantly demands to know how the members of two noble clans didn't figure out that the others were noble in spite of using their distinctive clan names. Rukia hastily convinces him to ignore the issue.
  • Code Geass: Villetta Nu is one of the people who informs the Black Knights about Geass. The Black Knights do not put her to task for her connections to Britannia or her secret tryst with Ohgi, who isn't questioned for the latter either, or threatening to gun down Kallen along with Lelouch on suspicion of being Geassed, or jumping to conclusions regarding Lelouch himself. (Then again, neither is the fact that Schneizel is the most notorious of the opposing royals, in the case of R2 19.)
  • Kishimoto rarely, if ever, touches upon the largest Elephant in the Living Room for the Naruto series: The subject of Child Soldiers. Late into the manga though there's some talking about it.
  • The anime of Ore Imo doesn't touch upon the Brother-Sister Incest aspects of the series, especially compared to the manga and light novel.
  • In Attack on Titan, during his Rousing Speech, Commander Pixis states the awful truth that everyone knows but refuses to talk about: that they are fed and alive today because thousands were sent to their deaths five years ago to "reclaim lost territory from the Titans". He goes even further and says all of them bear the weight of that sin and that things will get worse for humanity if Wall Rose falls as well. This harsh realization is what motivates everyone to stand their ground.

    Comic Books 
  • In Fables, the protagonists rarely talk about much of their pasts, even if it was full of abominable deeds. Which, considering they're all old-school Grimm storybook fables, can be extensive indeed. The in-story explanation is they were all given amnesty when they entered the mundane world. This doesn't keep them from being wary of each other, nor from falling back on old habits.
  • Despite the fact that Marvel Comics's version of New York City has been the site of multiple alien invasions, a demonic infestation, has suffered through every kind of cockamamie plot imaginable, and is routinely targeted by supervillains of every stripe, there has never been any sort of mass exodus or serious damage to the economy in spite of all the upheavals. (Probably because Damage Control repairs everything so efficiently.) When 9/11 rolled around, it portrayed the Kingpin, Magneto, and Dr. Doom as sincerely moved. Problem is, the Marvel universe has had much worse. Magneto was actually killed in such an attack, on Genosha, which killed 16 million people. 9/11, by MU standards, was actually a low-impact event. Furthermore, while the Kingpin might be moved by love for his city, there is no real reason why Dr. Doom would care either way. All comics publishers were in a bind there, because with New York as the home of the Fantastic Four and The Avengers, or the X-Men in the same state, or Superman on Earth, it's hard to believe it could still happen, but would have been seen as disrespectful to ignore it. It gets worse. Juggernaut was seen there crying. Juggernaut, in the past, has actually knocked down one of the two buildings himself and laughed out loud about it.
  • Similarly, Batman's home town of Gotham City never suffers from any long-term economic damage or loss of population, even though a number of psychopathic supervillains routinely use the city as a stage for their grisly "performances" (the Joker), a giant petri dish for their scientific experiments (the Scarecrow), or a base for their environmental crusades (Poison Ivy). Ignoring them, the city has long been a Wretched Hive of endemic police and civic corruption and mob activity, making it curious that anyone would willingly choose to live there.
    • In Shadowpact, it is implied that the ancient entity (who later takes the name "Dr. Gotham", after the city that's been built over him) sleeping beneath Gotham City for untold ages has been influencing the dark trend of everything in the city.
    • In Stormwatch, city-speaker Jack Hawksmoor has a tęte-a-tete with the personification of Gotham, who is shown as a demented goblin/gargoyle.
    • Averted in The Question on the same topic. Hub City was so crime-filled that the honest citizens eventually evacuated the place and abandoned it to the gangs.
  • This issue is actually addressed in Astro City: people continue to live in the eponymous city in spite of the constant super-crime because of the sense of community fostered by having to work together to rebuild after battles. And because having a lot of superheroes around is cool.
  • Mini Marvels parodies this trope with Elephant Steve. He really hates this expression, by the way.
  • Judd Winick's Pedro and Me has a sequence where he compares living with cameras filming your every move to living with elephants. You just feel the need to point them out.
  • An old example is the way white people are overrepresented in golden-age superhero comics. We the readers know that this is because that's how you made superheroes comics back then, but it's very strange how nobody in-story ever notices the lack of super-powered non-whites.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Spider-Man's secret identity becomes this among Peter Parker's group of friends. Eventually lampshaded by Kenny "Kong" McFarlane:
    What, you want us to have some kind of secret code? "Oh, if only Spider-Man were here and could go after our friend!"

    Fanfiction 
  • While there are tons of explained randomness in My Immortal that should at least raise some suspicion amidst rational people, Ebony doesn't find it the least bit strange that characters from the 80s know about future events. Granted, we do get some sort of explanation via Tom Satan/Bombodil/Andorson being actually future!Voldemort, but it is never explained why "Lucian" and "Samaro" know that their kids will be named Draco and "Vampire", or that they'll be friends/lovers, and Ebony still doesn't bring that up.
  • Many of the poorly-written The Conversion Bureau fics love to paint the ponies as morally superior to the "brutish humans" while ignoring the existence of the canonical Jerkasses like Trixie and Flim-Flam brothers, snooty and boorish Canterlot nobles, Rainbow Dash's Cloudsdale bullies, historical arseholes or, God forbid, King Sombra. The existence of hostile Equestrian races, refuting the common conceit of Equestria-as-Mary Suetopia, is also often swept under the carpet.
  • In The Stalking Zuko Series addresses the how the Gaang try to leave Aang ignorant of the fact that he unintentionally violated his own Thou Shall Not Kill beliefs by letting the Ocean Spirit possess him and drowned the invading fleet. Shot down when Arnook gleefully tells Aang of all he had killed by drowning.
  • In the Teen Titans story The Measure Of A Titan the Titans meet and take into protective custody a metahuman teen named David Foster. This usually would not be a bad thing, but it happens mere months after Terra's betrayal. They are too unwilling to even discuss her with David for him to get why everyone's always walking on eggshells, which the Big Bad uses for his own ends.

    Films — Animated 
  • Ice Age The Meltdown features a literal example. Ellie is supposedly a possum. Who's 10 feet tall and weighs 7 tons. And has huge tusks. And is otherwise basically a mammoth. Her "brothers" Crash and Eddie, actual possums at that, don't seem to find this odd, except for her lacking the ability to sneak around. Ellie herself is in complete denial about possibly being a mammoth, in spite of Manny, Sid and Diego trying to convince her otherwise, and still tries to hide, even though no tree can hold her and no bush can cover her.
  • Kung Fu Panda:
    • The question of why a panda has a goose for a father is completely ignored by all of the characters. Roger Ebert initially speculated that in this universe, it may be normal for members of one species to give birth to another — but this was shot down when the sequel turned it into a major plot point. It was already implied in the first movie.
    • While all of the characters are technically Chinese, almost none of them speak with anything even resembling a Chinese accent, instead ranging from American to British to French. This is never addressed.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • There's a subplot in Freaks in which Roscoe the clown, who is engaged to Daisy Hilton, is introduced to the fiance of Daisy's sister, Violet, and the line "You must come over and visit us some time," is used. At no point does anyone explicitly mention the fact that Daisy and Violet are joined at the hip. The whole thing is going to be very awkward.
  • Most of the cities in Japan but especially Tokyo in Kaiju movies, especially those starring Godzilla.
  • A literal and classic example appears in the play (and later film) Billy Rose's Jumbo. Jimmy Durante's character is attempting to "sneak" an elephant out of his failing circus as the creditors close in. He and the elephant are of course promptly confronted by the sheriff and the repo squad:
    Sheriff: Hey! Where are you going with that elephant?
    Durante: (Pauses with the elephant looming directly behind him, looks left, looks right) Elephant? What elephant?
  • In A Simple Plan, starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, hunting buddies find a crashed plane full of money. By the end of the movie, two out of the three are dead and the remaining one had to burn the money so he wouldn't be found. The ending narration mentions that he and his wife never mentioned the money again and tried to live a normal life, but the fear and greed and loss prevented them from ever being happy again.
  • The Party uses a literal example. The guests at a Hollywood party try to ignore the elephant brought home by the host's hippie daughter and her friends. This becomes harder when they give the elephant a bubble bath in the pools spread throughout the house.
  • Beautifully played in Nicole Kidman's The Others. Throughout the movie there is the palpable sense that something has happened in the house and that everyone knows something that they're not talking about - but what it is remains a mystery to each character and to the audience until the conclusion.
  • The page image is a Banksy piece, featured in his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
  • In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Champ declares his love for Ron whilst the news team is in the car. Extreme awkwardness ensues as Ron and Brian concentrate very hard on ignoring him.
  • In the live action Yogi Bear movie. Like Scooby-Doo almost everyone knows Yogi and Booboo are talking bears but no one cares that much.
    • Well, the movie does imply that in-universe there is a species of bear that talks. (Albeit a very rare one)

    Literature 
  • Terry Kettering is the Trope Namer if not Trope Maker with his poem the "Elephant in the Room".
  • A fairly common interpretation of King Arthur's actions in Le Morte Darthur is that he knows that Lancelot is sleeping with Guinevere, or has at least heard the rumors, but refuses to address the issue because he knows the damage it will cause. The rest of the court seems similarly inclined, because even while they circulate rumors they never address the king with their suspicions. At least not until Agravain decides he wants more space in the room.
    • The Once and Future King is more explicit about King Arthur knowing about the affair but staying silent. There are some very good scenes with the three of them carefully not mentioning it.
    • The alternative theory (which the RSC theatrical adaptation implies) is that he's become so oblivious to Guinevere as a person he barely notices what she's doing most of the time.
    • Later in the final book, Arthur is actually said to be willing to forgive Lancelot for all of this, but Gawaine won't let him because Lancelot accidentally killed Gareth
  • Twilight: Stephenie Meyer invoked this when a fan asked why Bella never seemed to menstruate, then got pregnant with demon spawn after having sex once. Or if she did menstruate, why didn't her vampire boyfriend eat her? The author seemed to be disgusted by the entire idea, though some people still think the question was an excellent point.
  • In the Discworld novels, one of the Canting Crew is a beggar named Duck Man, for the very simple reason that he has a duck on his head. Most people don't mention the duck out of politeness, and those who do bring it up will be met with the response "What duck?" It's mentioned that he used to be quite normal "before everyone else started seeing ducks".
    • Another member of the Canting Crew is Altogether Andrews, who has several split personalities, none of which is named Andrews. This is never brought up.
    • To a lesser extent, Shawn Ogg's parentage is this. His father is publicly accepted to be Sobriety Ogg. The only problem with this idea is that Sobriety Ogg died some ten years before Shawn was born. Most people avoid the issue (probably out of fear of Nanny) and are quick to silence outsiders who try to mention it.
    • Death himself is visible to all inhabitants of the Discworld, but he is so frightening in his appearance that most people unconsciously choose not to notice anything strange about him to preserve their sanity, even when having a conversation with him.
    • Dwarves don't identify themselves as male or female and never even discuss in public that there are female dwarves. When the more progressive Ankh-Morpork dwarves start ignoring this taboo, it takes multiple books to avoid a civil war. It's mentioned that mating rituals among dwarves mostly involve attempting to surreptitiously verify that the dwarf you're talking to is indeed a different sex from yourself.
    • There's also the Librarian of Unseen University, who is an orangutan due to a magical accident. People found it odd at first but now barely think about it. It's been said that if someone told the staff that there was an ape on campus they'd go ask the Librarian if he'd seen it.
  • Kim Newman's novel The Quorum follows on from his short story "Organ Donors", and references it a few times, including the characters of private investigator Sally Rhodes (and her child, conceived in "Organ Donors") and Derek Leech, satanic media magnate who uses black magic to advance his cause. Sally discovers Leech's nature in "Organ Donors" but has forgotten by The Quorum, even though she mentions a major event from the story. Newman admitted there's no reason for this beyond it breaking the story.
  • The Douglas Adams novel Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency features a man at a university with a very long nose. He never speaks, and is never spoken to because people are too startled by the sight of his nose, and don't want to bring it up. He also constantly taps his fingers and makes other odd gestures, and nobody asks why due to their reluctance to speak to him. Finally one character ends up addressing him after accidentally knocking on his door. The man stops twitching and calmly announces that nobody has spoken to him in almost two decades (quoting the exact time to the second). Apparently all the gestures were him counting the seconds.
    • The sequel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul features the Norse god Thor. He complains to the female protagonist, Kate Schecter, that even though gods walk among humans, no one notices them.
    Thor: If I walk along one of your streets in this... world you have made for yourselves without us, then barely an eye will once flicker in my direction.
    Kate: Is this when you're wearing the helmet?
    Thor: Especially when I'm wearing the helmet!
  • Another of Douglas Adams's novels, Life, the Universe and Everything, uses this as a form of Invisibility Cloak, called the "Somebody Else's Problem Field", which relies on "people's natural predisposition not to see anything they don't want to, weren't expecting, or can't explain". This renders Slartibartfast's spaceship, which is described as resembling an Italian bistro with fins and engines, invisible to bystanders.
    • It's perfectly visible to whomever the "Somebody Else" in question is, however; in this case, it's Arthur Dent.
  • A more serious example can be found in Invisible Man, in which characters do their very best not to bring up the subject of race relations.
  • The Ernest Hemingway short story "Hills Like White Elephants" follows a couple talking at a train station, with the man attempting to convince the woman to have an abortion. The actual nature of the operation he's pressing, however, and the reason for it are conspicuously never mentioned.
  • Heartbreakingly Played for Drama in The World According To Garp; after the car accident, the reader gradually notices that while we know what happened to everyone else, no-one's mentioned Walt. It's eventually revealed that he died, and his parents are too distraught to talk about him.
  • The old variation in which the elephant-in-the-living-room analogy is used in reference to the obviousness of drug addiction/alcoholism is addressed in two different books of The Dark Tower. In one Stephen King says that the reaction loved ones of the addiction have upon discovering the elephant (addiction) was there is usually, "Oh, I'm sorry, was that an elephant? It was there when I moved in! I always assumed it was part of the furniture!" In the other King makes the analogy: that the reason the addict himself/herself doesn't see the "elephant in the living room" is because this elephant isn't just any ordinary elephant; it is like The Shadow in that it has the hypnotic super-ability to cloud men's minds so as to appear invisible to them.
  • In a brief scene in the first Percy Jackson and the Olympians book, the existence of the Judeo-Christian God is treated like this. All that Chiron is willing to say is that it's a "metaphysical" debate and that the existence of the Olympians is a "much smaller matter".
  • The presence of the Judeo-Christian God and His Son Jesus Christ are treated like this by the Only Light subsect in the Left Behind book Kingdom Come, when people in the Millennial Kingdom would have to be complete idiots to ever think They don't exist.
  • In the Dragaera series, Dragaerans who are the offspring of two or more Houses are the objects of prejudice, pity, or mistrust by the vast majority of the Empire's nobility, who regard such inter-House miscegenation with contempt and disgust. Yet nobody ever mentions that Sethra Lavode is older than the Houses, so she's not a pureblooded member of any House.
    • Most contemporary people don't know how old she is; she's currently a somewhat mythical figure. And as the Houses antedate the bloodlines (they're mostly a recognition of the wildly varying species which were all engineered into biologically similar and interfertile Dragaerans), Sethra comes closer to being pureblooded than the current generations. Whether she shares a bloodline with House Dzur or one of the tribes which died out before the Empire is unclear; she herself simply doesn't seem to care.
  • The In Death series: Roarke finds out in Divided in Death that the Homeland Security Organization was monitoring Richard Troy, Eve's father. They knew that she was with him, and that he was raping her, but they sat back and did nothing. Roarke tells Eve that he intends to hunt them down and make them pay for this. Eve wants him to leave it alone. So they try to ignore it and focus on other matters. Later, he brings it up, and Eve can only think "Here it was. The big glowing elephant in the room that she hoped to ignore. And it was trumpeting."
  • In Sharon Creech's The Wanderer, Sophie is blacking out any and all notions that she is adopted, and her biological parents are dead.
  • In Watership Down, there's one rabbit warren that lives in uneasy peace with the human whose land they live on. Rather than chasing the rabbits away, the human leaves food out to make sure the rabbits are well-fed—and he occasionally sets a single trap out, then cooks the rabbit that gets caught. The rabbits, at some point in the past, decided this was an acceptable trade-off. So they live there, and they never talk about the traps.
  • In Shades of Grey, the state of Chromatacia is governed by Munsell's Rules, which also specify what does and does not exist. If you see something with your own eyes, something that should not exist according to Munsell, then you just pretend you didn't see it. If you absolutely must refer to it (say, to warn others about speaking of it) then you call it "apocryphal". The town of East Carmine has an apocryphal man. He regularly steals food from others' houses in broad daylight, and no one will stop him for fear of breaking the rules by acknowledging his existence.

    Live Action TV 
  • In Dead Like Me there are grim reapers, in public. The living interact with them like normal people, but when on the job they aren't noticed as extraordinary even when arguing with ghosts.
    • Popular theory among viewers is that when Reapers are...er...reaping, they turn invisible to normal people. Which then raises the question of what people think when the Reaper suddenly disappears.
    • Possible homage to Piers Anthony's "Incarnations of Immortality" series, where Zane/Death is described as "socially invisible"?
    • At some point during the first season, it's mentioned that people just sort of ignore Reapers while they're on the job. They don't disappear so much as stop being interesting.
    • Another slightly less obvious elephant is that everyone, everywhere is touched by another person moments before their demise. This isn't weird until you wonder A) what happens to people who die alone, say by falling off a cliff in the middle of nowhere? and B) how often do people you don't know touch you for no good reason in public? Wouldn't somebody pick up on the pattern?
    • Not if the witnesses were dead.
  • Not subverted, but occasionally addressed in Battlestar Galactica. While the remains of humanity are on the run after the destruction of their homes, and shower vitriol on the Cylons for it, no one talks about the reasons for the Cylons' hate of humanity. Only Commander Adama points out that, "We deserved what we got for enslaving our creations; we were terrible parents, do we deserve to survive?" (Paraphrased) The question is occasionally brought up to reinforce that humanity is not blameless in the show's Back Story, and needs to atone.
    • Adama actually directly asks Athena why the Cylons hate humanity so much in one episode. She replies that during Galactica's decommissioning speech during the pilot episode, Adama asked whether humanity deserved to survive. Then she adds "Maybe you don't."
    • In one episode, "The Captain's Hand", Roslin finally addressed an Elephant that had gone ignored for a while- whether or not humanity even could survive with their current rate of deaths vs. births. It turns out that Baltar had run the numbers long ago and knew exactly how long it would take for humans to go extinct (18 years), but apparently no one else was ready to deal with it.
  • In a Sci-Fi Stargate SG-1 special, a letter had one viewer asking why all the aliens speak English. The reader, David Hewlett, simply laughed and playfully stated that he couldn't believe the audience caught onto that.
  • Averted in Top Gear: When Richard Hammond returned from an accident that left him with a serious brain injury, the three presenters took an episode to deal with it by thanking the emergency responders on the scene, showing the crash footage, and cracking jokes about Hammond's driving skills, together with an ounce or two of heartwarming. It was a masterful way to take most of the awkwardness out of a potentially painful situation.
  • In the Doctor Who episode "The Unicorn and the Wasp":
    Doctor: She'd just discovered her husband was having an affair.
    Donna: You'd never think to look at her. Smiling away.
    Doctor: Well, she's British and moneyed. That's what they do. They carry on.
    • In "The Beast Below", everybody knows that something's off about the ship (It's basically an entire nation compacted into a starship), and are afraid of what happens, but they don't talk about it, ever. (Except for the Doctor, Amy Pond, and the Queen aboard the ship. And even the half-human half-smiler characters talk about it to a limited degree. Though, the general public refuses to talk about it.)
    • Amusing reference in "Amy's Choice":
    The Doctor: There is an elephant in the room.
    Amy: I'm having a baby, I have to be this size!
    The Doctor: No, not that... Rory... has a pony-tail. [Turns to Amy] I hold him down, you cut it off!
    • In "Gridlock", everyone in the traffic jam from hell knows that they haven't seen anyone from the surface government in decades, but they can't bring themselves to admit it. Turns out there isn't a surface government, thanks to a super-plague that wiped out the rest of the planet.
    • "The Idiot's Lantern": the faceless grandmother in the upstairs room. This trope literally runs through the series, even from the beginning (Susan's behavior in "An Unearthly Child" is a good example of this—the episode marks the point where Ian and Barbara do something about it.)
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Sunnydale's vampire problem seems to be treated this way, as several episodes make it obvious that the Muggles know what's going on (especially after season three), they just try to ignore it and get on with their lives.
    • This was made especially obvious during the prom episode: when giving out the various class superlatives, Jonathan announces that everyone knows there's something weird about the town but don't know what, only that Buffy is involved with it and seems to help stop it. As a result, the class gives her a special "Class Protector" award.
  • Nobody in Degrassi talks about the unusually high rate of horrible things that happen to its students. Despite the school shooting, stabbing, rape, attempted rape, STD outbreak, and umpteen teen pregnancies, which in the real world would make Degrassi the most infamous school in all of Canada (oooh!), everyone still thinks that it's a fabulous school and nobody moves away to find a safer one.
  • In an early Dexter episode, after an... awkward moment with his girlfriend who had been abused by her ex-husband, and Dexter is also a serial killer and psychopath who has trouble with intimacy because he is unable to have human feelings, he says, "There's an elephant in the room and its name is sex."
  • In LOST's fifth season, John Locke mentions this trope by name while talking to Ben Linus. So, what's the elephant? John's death. At Ben's hands.
  • Played for horror in the Twilight Zone episode "It's a Good Life", where the residents of Peaksville, Ohio have to pretend that everything is fine and perfectly normal, to avoid angering the all-powerful mind-reading child who controls their lives. To openly admit the horror of their situation leads to madness and/or a horrible death.
    • That one is parodied in a halloween special of The Simpsons, though it's a dream of Bart. Bart has that power and it goes pretty much like the original, only naturally less horrible. Then Bart gets therapy to get over whatever they called what he was doing (the forcing people to be happy, not the being all-mighty), which he does and develops a sane relationship with Homer. In the end they hug in sign of friendship, and then Bart wakes up, screaming in terror.
  • A common Alternate Character Interpretation in Merlin is that Arthur is aware of Merlin's magic, and simply choosing to ignore it. This is sometimes extended to Gwen and Morgana, or even to pretty much the entire castle except, obviously, King Uther.
    • Or even to Uther. It's backed up by A Remedy to Cure All Ills, in which Merln uses magic to save Uther while he is unconscious... but Edwin specifically said a few scenes earlier than Uther would be awake and aware while he was dying, suggesting that, maybe, Uther heard everything but is letting Merlin live as a reward for saving him.
    • Gaius having once been a former sorcerer. Becomes a Wham Line in one episode when Uther begs Gaius to save Morgana with whatever it takes, even it means using magic! It's implied that because of Gaius' Undying Loyalty to Uther and his talent as a physician is the only reason that he's still alive.
  • Gets a huge Lampshade Hanging in Outnumbered. The Brockmans have a papier-mache elephant head in their kitchen. Pete calls it "the elephant in the room" and says that they don't talk about it.
  • The name of the trope is brought up in the E series of QI, where contestants would receive an "Elephant in the Room Bonus" for spotting the elephant as the answer to one of the questions during the episode.
  • The Mad Men episode "The Summer Man" has a Visual Pun on this expression, when Don brings a stuffed elephant as a present to his son's birthday party. (The elephant in question represents... a lot of things.)
  • On The Closer, when Brenda and Fritz are house-hunting, they never, ever, ever come out and directly discuss the possibility of having kids. Fritz approaches the subject obliquely, musing aloud about whether they should consider the quality of schools near a potential home, and Brenda circumspectly points out the advantages of a house that's got a pool and other perks, but only one master bedroom.
  • Referenced in an episode of Criminal Minds where the DNA of a dead man was found at a crime scene.
    Rossi: Do we have parachutes on [the jet]?
    Reid: Standard-issue on all federal aircraft.
    Rossi: Then let's use one on the elephant in the room, get him out of here.
  • Mark Evanier relates a hilarious story of the time when he worked as head writer for the infamous sketch variety show Pink Lady And Jeff, and was inspired to ask the producers for a live elephant to use as a gag in an infomercial skit. The joke was that the announcer (Jeff Altman) was supposed to deliver the whole commercial without noticing that there was an elephant on the set until the end. When it came time to film, however, the elephant made the skit a lot funnier by doing some, shall we say, unscripted improv on the floor. Read the story here.
  • The 2011 revival of Pop Up Video didn't openly discuss Ricky Martin's homosexuality in the treatment for "She Bangs" (he didn't come out of the closet until about a decade after the song), but they did acknowledge that particular elephant in the room, mentioning the trope by name in the process.
  • Stephen King's Kingdom Hospital: the source of the near-constant earthquakes; the checkered pasts of the doctors (especially Stegman) and the hospital itself also qualify.
  • The Big Bang Theory features Stewart and his comic book store, which for some reason never ever seems to stock any Marvel comic books, or anything Marvel related.
    • Not necessarily. In one episode in season 2, Penny asks them to get some Spider-Man comics for her nephew's birthday. Sheldon asks her what series of Spider-Man. Since Sheldon is...well, Sheldon, if the store didn't have Spider-Man, he would've told her they didn't have Spider-Man.
    • And in one episode, he had an Iron Man helmet signed by Robert Downey, Jr..
  • Parodied in Sherlock with a noodle incident involving a case with a literal elephant in a room.
  • This trope is referenced by name in one episode of Joan of Arcadia. The elephant in question is the fact that the car accident that put Kevin permanently into a wheelchair was Kevin's fault, and not the fault of the other driver.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Parodied by Pearls Before Swine in one strip:
    Rat: You know, every time someone discusses these issues, they always like to conveniently avoid the elephant in the room.
    Goat: You mean Social Security?
    Rat: I mean the elephant in the room.
    Tiny (the elephant): I like to discuss issues, too.
  • In Alley Oop, the character Oscar Boom went straight so many decades ago that many current readers weren't aware that he started out as a crook, and that he had never gone to trial or served jail time for his crimes. Recent storylines have finally addressed this.
  • A literal one from The Far Side, in which a detective accuses the butler of goreing and trampling the victim, ignoring the elephant in a trenchcoat next to him.
    • Another strip has the elephant hiding behind a fairly small piece of furniture while the homeowners search for him.
  • A The New Yorker panel featured an elephant lying on a psychologist's couch, complaining, "I'm right there in the room, and nobody notices me."

    Video Games 
  • Final Fantasy X beautifully displayed the tragic variant in that nobody can bring themselves to say out loud that Yuna will die as part of the final summon until Tidus finds out himself and calls the rest of the group out for not telling him.
    • A non-story example is that, since the game has voice acting but also allows you to rename Tidus, the other characters always find some way to avoid ever saying his name.
  • In the Mass Effect series, the quarians and their robotic creations, the geth, fought a brutal war which resulted in the quarians being kicked off their homeworld and forced to travel the stars in a massive migrant fleet. The geth also attempted to destroy the Citadel with the aid of an Eldritch Abomination, and generally kill any living creatures they encounter. They aren't well liked. In Mass Effect 2, you can freely bring a geth to the quarian migrant fleet and the Citadel; the quarians will initially resist, but with a bit of charm or intimidation, let it on, while the entire Citadel will simply fail a spot check.
    • The player can get into a completely optional little argument with an official on the way in; it's pretty clearly lampshaded when Legion says that the "geth do not infiltrate", the customs clerk (whose job currently includes making sure no geth gets onto the station) tells you to keep your "personal attendant android" off the shuttle, as they're not allowed on anymore.
    Legion: beat ... Geth do not intentionally infiltrate.
    • Anderson calls Legion a "trophy bot", so it's possible people just think Shepard's got a cool toy.
  • Pandora's Tower: As if Mavda wasn't nearly enough of a paragon of creepiness already, she constantly carries around on her back what appears to be the skeleton of an old man, bigger than she is, for pretty much the entire game. Nobody appears to find this weird, despite the fact that the damn thing is sentient and can talk (albeit unintelligibly, though Mavda can apparently understand him just fine.)
    • You can ask her about it, but she answers you in a "You Should Know This Already" tone of voice. Apparently, she's her business partner, or something along those lines. Huh.
  • In VVVVVV, there is a literal giant neon elephant that takes up four rooms that will make Captain Viridian sad if he stays with it for a while.
  • Played for laughs in the radio news broadcasts in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, where a government official being interviewed about certain mysterious black helicopters responds with just "Helicopters? What helicopters?", with the spinning helicopter rotors clearly audible in the background.
  • Pokémon has long made implications that Pokémon can pose physical harm to humans (hence why you aren't allowed to run outside of town without one of your own to fight back), but very rarely makes it explicit (the anime touches on it in the first episodenote , but afterward makes them incapable of doing lasting damage). The Donphan does get into the open in both Pokémon Special (humans getting attacked by Pokemon, including during Trainer battles, is a regular occurrence) and the Orre based games (the Darker and Edgier Gamecube titles), but is still absent in the rest of the franchise.
    • Though it is briefly touched upon in Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, when some Starly attack the hero and Barry, and they're forced to take the Pokémon from Professor Rowan's briefcase to defend themselves.
    • Similarly in Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire Professor Birch is attacked by a Pokémon and the protagonist has to grab a Pokémon from his bag to rescue him.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable: The Battle of Aces, after the second to last stage of Hayate's story mode, the Wolkenritter note that Reinforce, despite having survived the end of the series in this continuity, will fade away relatively soon. They then note that Hayate and Reinforce both know this but don't admit it to each other.
  • The Mage-Templar War in the Dragon Age series is the culmination of this. Due to the Chant of Light saying that "Magic is meant to serve man and never to rule over him," the mages of the setting are kept isolated in various locations surrounded by armies of magic-nullifying templars. While this does have a point (mages are normally victims of Demonic Possession or can go power-mad without demonic intervention) from the Chantry's point of view, shockingly most mages don't appreciate being locked up in a tower with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. This comes to a head at the end of Dragon Age II, which proves to be the catalyst of the war when the Templar order in the city (which has begun ruling it with an iron fist by making mages Tranquil for the slightest of reasons or no reason at all or other such things) fails to prevent an uprising and their Knight Templar (pun intended) commander declares a Rite of Annulment (basically "kill every mage in the place") over the actions of one mage. The Player Character can decide whether to support the mages or the templars, but the damage to the rest of the world is done.

    Visual Novels 
  • People in A Profile make damn sure not to mention track to Masayuki or even hint about Kaine's sex to him. Everyone knows, but mentioning it just won't turn out well. The first is subverted in the second route, however.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, Hisao invokes this trope by name in the early part of the game and, true to its theme, deals with the "elephant" throughout the game.

    Webcomics 
  • In Abe & Kroenen, almost nobody mentions the fact that Kroenen was and is a Nazi assassin. For some reason his presumed Nazi beliefs never actually make an appearance, probably because that would be a good way to lose a lot of viewers.
    • His Nazi affiliations are addressed in small ways, like claiming that V is so cool it almost makes him want him give up Nazism, or giving Abe a speech about staying strong, or else the sub-humans will over-run the earth, and no glory will be brought to the Fatherla—and then he wisely shuts up.
  • This Sinfest comic plays this trope as a Literal Metaphor — still terribly appropriate.
    • There is a Sinfest example. Seymour. No one, including himself, ever seems to notice that he just plain doesn't look like anyone else. Yes this is a world where anthropomorphic pigs and Devilpeople are common but no one looks like Seymour.
  • Another direct reference to the phrase is found here.
  • Jonny Crossbones is either an undead creature or wears a skeleton suit all the time. No one has noticed so far.
  • This strip of Penny and Aggie.
  • Referenced in this Irregular Webcomic! strip.
  • MS Paint Adventures has the Running Gag "What pumpkin?", where the "player" mentions the pumpkin on the "game screen" and by the next scene it's gone or replaced, often with the phrase "What pumpkin?" or the narrator acting as if the player has asked for the object that just replaced the pumpkin.
  • A literal example in this Kevin & Kell comic.
  • A literal example in this page from Girly.
  • In El Goonish Shive, despite there being a masquerade, the ability of females to summon hammers is accepted as normal and not thoroughly investigated to exploit its mechanism and neither is the existence of the ability remarked upon by anyone besides the main characters once the ability is lost.
  • Referenced in this strip of The Less than Epic Adventures of TJ and Amal.
  • In Something Positive it was a very long time before the fate of Monette's baby was addressed.
  • Penny Arcade at least twice, first in one strip where nobody mentions that Tycho is inexplicably a giant radish and then one where Tycho and Gabe are sitting on a giant Xbox playing with giant controllers (a jab at the original Xbox's enormous size).
    • The radish strip has a real-world explanation (the artist/"Gabe" was screwing with the author/"Tycho"); most fans assumed that since the strip was about the guys confronting Div over his alcoholism, it was a representation of how drunk he was.

    Web Original 
  • The Nostalgia Critic's review of The Neverending Story 2 is interrupted by a literal elephant in the room, who makes Doug mention that Johnathan Brandis, the film's star, committed suicide and prompting him to explain that he wasn't insulting the actor, but the poorly-written character.
    • He briefly returned in another review featuring Johnathan Brandis as a main character again, but since the Critic had already explained Brandis's suicide, he told the elephant to piss off.
    • And then he returns in the second list of the Nostalgia Critic's Fuck-Ups, who makes him mention that he made a joke about autism in a review (though the joke was edited out of that review because Doug didn't really think that joke was all that funny anyway).
    • Nowadays the Elephant In The Room is a gag of general use in That Guy with the Glasses. It appeared in CR's Familiar Faces: Baby Doll (A crossover with the Critic) to mention then-recently deceased Gary Coleman, who suffered from the same condition that the character did. And it appeared again in Iron Liz's review of the Tabletop RPG Iron Claw to mention that she was basically talking about a game of Furries.
    • In the Nostalgia Critic's review of Ponyo the elephant resurfaces again when the Critic notes that part of the movie Japan is underwater, clearly a sign of Too Soon with the earthquake/trunami/nuclear disaster of 2011.
    • In his Top 11 Simpsons episodes he mentiones a certain Simpsons-related outrage caused by his fans.
  • The YouTube 'celebrity' Hannah Minx is considerably more "blessed" than your average woman, practically to the point where her videos have become less of a personal vlog and more geared towards direct Fanservice. Perhaps to deliberately invoke this trope, she never talks about her body in her videos, and the interviews she's done gloss over it as well. The only people who do mention her body is the video commenters, and they do it in almost every single comment in every video she makes. Is there a trope for From The Mouth Of Fan Dumb?
  • The diary in Dragomirs Diary is constantly depicted as having a simple, smiling face, and its expression changes as much as those of the human characters. It has also demonstrated the ability to move on its own, and has done so in front of Dragomir himself several times. Despite these oddities, most of the characters view the diary as a normal book, never questioning its silent personality. Now, if they were ever to find out that it can also write in itself...
  • In Ultra Fast Pony, the (pony) cast know about humans, but are afraid to directly mention them. It starts off rather subtle, with knowledge of humans merely implied by the characters not following the Hold Your Hippogriffs and Flintstone Theming that characterized the canon series. Then, in the episode "Purple Party Pooper", the issue accidentally gets brought to the forefront by Twilight and Rarity, who panic before agreeing to just pretend the conversation never happened.
    Twilight: You don't have time for that? You, of all people?
    Rarity: [gasp] You said "people"!
    Twilight: There's nothing wrong with "people". It's "human" we're not allowed to say.
    Rarity: You said "human"!
    Twilight: Oh no! Oh, wait, so did you!
  • Welcome to Night Vale has the Shape in Grove Park That No-One Acknowledges or Speaks About. When the Shape was to be removed from the park by the city council, local historians protested on the grounds that it was an important historical landmark. However, since the historians refused to either acknowledge or speak about the Shape, their protest consisted entirely of a series of gestures and grimaces.

    Western Animation 
  • The Rugrats episode "Chuckie is Rich" deals with Chuckie's father winning the lottery and moving them into a new life. When everyone goes to visit he has purchased a large glass elephant for the living room. They would rather talk about that than the fact he became a snob. But everything works out.
  • The basis of a long-running introduction to an episode of The Far Side animated series. Probably.
  • It was a Running Gag in The Oblongs that everyone avoided directly referencing the fact that Bob doesn't have arms or legs.
    • Although, in the episode "Bucketheads", Tommy Vinegar does call him a Weeble.
    • And in another episode (the one where Helga gets her parents back, I think) Bob goes to play the piano, which leaves Milo embarrassed and the people shocked. I wonder what they could be alluding to...
  • The City of Townsville, hometown of The Powerpuff Girls, is cartoondom's equivalent of Metropolis, Gotham City and Marvel Universe New York rolled into one. You'd have to wonder why people want to live in a city where the criminals only take a break from their activities whenever they need to run away from the giant-sized monsters that are regularly rampaging the city.
  • Scooby-Doo can talk...and no one cares (though it was lampshaded in that movie with the aliens...)
    • Also lampshaded in the crossover episode with Tim Conway.
    • This one has evolved into a running gag with the latter movies, where someone would exclaim "Oh my gosh! A talking dog!" and Scooby would answer "Rog? Rhere?"
    • And a joke in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated where Velma calls Shaggy... "Scooby, put Shaggy on... Because you're almost impossible to understand over the phone."
      • They do actually address the issue, if obliquely, first showing that talking animals are rare but not unique, and actually giving an origin for them.
      • And a sub-elephant brought about by the finale: now that the world has been retroactively "normalized," Scooby may be the only talking animal left in the world.
    • In "Bravo Dooby Doo", Johnny Bravo is surprised that the gang understands Scooby.
  • Family Guy has Brian, a talking dog. Who interacts with everyone, has human girlfriends, drives a Prius and so on. Yet no one ever questions it.
    • Unless it's funny. Like when Peter is suddenly shocked to hear Brian talking... in the middle of a conversation, after having known him for years. Or when Brian goes to visit the farm he was born on:
    Farmer: Which one were you again?
    Brian: Uh. The one who could talk.
    Farmer: Brian!

    Real Life 
  • Politics and religion. It's probably why The Powers That Be on this wiki removed the Real Life sections from Complete Monster and Religion of Evil, among others, and why Jack Chick's page has a lengthy Rule of Cautious Editing Judgement disclaimer. And that is all we will say about this.
  • Basically any disaster everybody knows is going to happen but is either unable or unwilling to do anything about - basically everybody knows that a major earthquake will hit Tokyo or Southern California, but it doesn't stop people from going about their lives.
  • ...
  • Any situation wherein someone has undeniably let out a huge, smelly fart in the midst of polite company.
    • Especially if it's inside an elevator.
    • Same thing goes for if someone has a bad case of BO.
  • In general, whenever couples have to see each other after a tough split, even if it's only a few seconds when handing off kids.
  • It is said that after The Wave occurred, it was so scarring that no one at the school even talked about it for three years.
  • The Ryugyong Hotel was possibly the most literal example of this trope. Made in North Korea, it was said when it was completed it would be the largest hotel in the world. However, after spending an obscene amount of money on it (2% of the nation's entire GDP) construction stopped and the government pretended it didn't exist, even though it dominates the skyline of the city. Construction has been picked up by an Egyptian company who wants to make it the first cell tower in the nation, now they happily talk about the achievement it will be.
  • When someone passes away and there are children around, oblivious, adults would likely try to not talk about the death.
    • Similarly, details about a crime may be suppressed when the children can hear.
  • When friends fight and nobody wants to pressure anyone to do anything
    • When one person estranges from another and they see each other after 6 months of distance!
    • When there is a fight in the center of a group and nobody picks sides or speaks on problems.
  • This article examining the growing ubiquity of Michael Jackson tributes, impersonators, and even a Cirque du Soleil show (Michael Jackson ONE) in Las Vegas points out that all of these productions paying tribute to his artistry and humanitarian goals ignore the lingering question of whether he was a child molester or not.
  • Attorney General Eric Holder says it's race. Basically stating that people are cowards when it comes to discussing racial issues.
  • As shown in the page image, Banksy once put a literal elephant in a living room.

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alternative title(s): Elephant In The Corner; Elephant In The Room; Pregnant Ranma Problem; Third Rail Issue
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