Algebra! Calculus! Geometry! Arithmetic! How can we even begin to describe these unspeakable horrors, guaranteed to strike fear, anxiety, nausea, paranoia, madness, and paralysis into the hearts and souls of all? Mathematics, most of all the advanced courses that delve in otherworldly chaotic theories, easily presents itself as torturous, mindscrewy, or just downright mind-rapinglyLovecraftian.
Irrational fear of the theorem of Pythagoras is inevitable. Even the most basic of long division is portrayed as mind-bogglingly difficult, especially for parents helping their grade-schoolers do homework. Usually when trying to portray math in this light, writers (particularly in visual media like film) will show a piece of paper/whiteboard/blackboard full of abominably complex equations; use of integral signs,Gratuitous Greekletters (particularly pi and sigma), daemonic occultist geometries, the accursed variables 'x' and 'y' and suchforth are prevalent. Any scene where mathematics is being taught will invariably result in children being bored, falling asleep, or in a few cases, succumbing to gibbering schizophrenia from the Cyclopean confusion of it all (thus the Mad Mathematician).
To those who practice it, higher math is an art form like any other. The average person can criticize it as incomprehensible, but so are many beautiful and acclaimed works of art and science. Mathematicians imagine a situation, often very simple (a triangle inside a circle, or a sequence of numbers) and then through imaginative and often esoteric application of very basic axioms, find out incredible things; the axioms are the mathematician's paintbox, and the situation in question is their canvas. Constructing a proof is analogous to writing a poem or painting a picture; math is actually more about imagination, intuition and game-like problem solving than about simply following learned formulae and methods. Unfortunately math education doesn't work like this; children are taught in bland black-and-white that a^2 + b^2 = c^2 or that sin(2a) = 2sin(a)cos(a) but will never, or rarely, be told WHY, or asked to prove it; merely to commit these methods to memory, regurgitating them onto a set of dry, uninspired questions and exercises as required.
Probably occurs because Writers Cannot Do Math. Alternatively, the boredom and hatred the writer had for math may causeWriters Cannot Do Math. Even more alternatively, people who show talent and interest for math tend to be drawn into lucrative math-needing careers, leaving the next generation of writers to be drawn from the set of people who Cannot Do Math.
See also: E = MC Hammer, in which writers who cannot do math try to represent it onscreen, and Mad Mathematician, in which people who do enjoy math are portrayed as utterly deranged.
Contrast Good with Numbers.
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Anime and Manga
When Yukari from Azumanga Daioh gets tired of being just a language teacher, she decided to teach math instead... for about five seconds; then she realizes she's not up to the task and switches to P.E., outdoors, in the cold. Even Minamo (generally the more competent of the two) is shown to be less than proficient in mathematics.
In the first episode of Cardcaptor Sakura, Sakura mentions that her least favourite subject is math.
Kamen no Maid Guy's Naeka has difficulties with math that are as massive as her chest. Exactly as massive, in fact, because the central gag of that episode is that math skills are inversely proportionate to breast size. (Okay, she doesn't excel at other lessons but math is the one made most prominent). On the flipside, Kogarashi taught at MIT. It's that kind of series.
Rikka in Chuunibyou Demo Koi ga Shitai! is frankly terrible at it. While she lucks out in the anime due to the class average being lower than usal, in the light novels she has to retake the exams at least thrice, and passes none, with her highest being 30/100.
Hilariously, Ed and Al in Fullmetal Alchemist find their math class boring, so they do alchemy-related math instead. They could have found the class too easy, or maybe they just don't like math that doesn't relate to alchemy.
It's revealed in Dragon Ball GT that Goku can't even count without getting nervous. This caused problems for a short while when he needed to pull off a synchronized attack with Pan on Luud.
The Star Wars Customizable Card Game gives us Brainiac.note His canon name is Pons Limbic, but who cares? Brainiac's destiny number is pi. And his power is sqrt(3(x-y)+2(a-b)+pi), where x is the cards in your opponent's hand, y is the cards in your hand, a is the number of Force icons on your opponent's side, and b is the number of Force icons on your side. And this in a game where life totals are always integers!
The fact that you're taking the square root makes this card effectively useless, especially if you're in the lead by an amount such that 3(x-y) + 2(a-b) < -pi; That gives him imaginary power.
The Bash Street Kid in The Beano who absolutely hates math. This trope is averted with Cuthbert though who absolutely loves doing hard sums.
Justified in the instance of Jubilee from the X-Men - turns out she has dyscalculia, the mathematical equivalent of dyslexia.
In Mean Girls, Cady pretends to hate math to fit in with everyone else, even though she actually enjoys it. She asks the boy she likes to tutor her, even though he's even worse at it than she pretends to be.
In Real Genius the main character is attending a high-level math class that is initially full. However, as the semester wears on, the students are increasingly replaced with tape recorders until eventually even the teacher is replaced by a reel-to-reel recording, leaving our hero to brave the terrors of calculus alone.
In Principal Takes A Holiday, the math teacher is shown constantly droning on in a monotone voice, refusing to answer any questions until the end of the lecture. Finally, when the new (fake) principal changes the rules in the formerly-uptight school, one of the students refuses to take this and demands to know "what is X?" This prompts the teacher to try to make his class more engaging and entertaining.
In Harry Potter, Hermione actually somewhat enjoys Arithmancy, the magical equivalent of math, but all the other characters find it fiendishly difficult and avoid it at every chance. (In one conversation, Hermione does acknowledge that she considers Arithmancy the most difficult subject in her class rotation, though it's another class that ends up as the lone E on her report card.)
Averted in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The narrator Chris is a mathematical savant, and finds mental calculations relaxing.
Bella in Twilight hates math; it's her worst subject.
In The Princess Diaries, Mia hates — and doesn't understand — math, be it pre-calculus or geometry. This makes it awkward when her mother marries her geometry teacher.
Adrian Mole noted that one of the benefits of joining his local Good Samaritans group is that he gets to miss math on Mondays.
Anne of Green Gables hates Geometry. Hates, hates, hates Geometry, even though she had to teach it. When she got married she tossed all of her textbooks in a truck and locked it with great gusto. If not for the great cost of books in those days, it stands to reason she may have burned them.
There exists a book called I Hate Mathematics! written specifically to deal with the Real Life examples.
The protagonist of The Confusions of Young Törless is actually quite intrigued by some mathematical concepts but finds his actual math teacher drab and disappointing.
In a non-fiction example, this trope helps explain why actress-turned-mathematician Danica McKeller(yes, Winnie Cooper from The Wonder Years) authored three books aimed at middle-school-aged girls to encourage developing their maths skills; "Math Doesn't Suck", "Kiss My Math" and "Hot X: Algebra Exposed".
Averted by Stacey McGill in the Babysitters Club series, who actually enjoys math and is very good at it. In opposition to the Mean Girls example above, she even makes herself appear SMARTER in math than she really is (or at least AS SMART as she really is, as opposed to dumbing herself down to attract a guy) to try and attract the attention of her Student Teacher Math Teacher, Wes Ellenburg. The BSC Series plays the trope terrifically straight with Claudia Kishi.
Honor Harrington has a mental block when it comes to math. She's actually quite capable when she has to make an intuitive, off-the-cuff course change in the middle of combat, but her performance anxiety in lower-pressure environments leaves her with a justified dislike of astrogation.
Sansa Stark from A Song of Ice and Fire is good at everything a lady ought to be good at—except for the math necessary to keep track of the household accounts.
Inverted in one of the Star Trek expanded universe novels. Wesley Crusher's roommate was "getting an 'A' in every class that counts," that is every class involving math, but was flunking most of the other classes that "counted" towards graduation.
Averted by Keladry of Mindelan in the Tortall Universe, who likes and is quite good at even advanced math. Tamora Pierce states this was to space Kel a little apart from her previous main characters, who were never stated to hate it but were disinterested at best.
In an episode of 3rd Rock From The Sun, Dick was severely disheartened to discover his students didn't actually like physics, and even more so when his least favorite student was the only one who did..
NUMB3RS plays with, inverts, and subverts this trope. Several characters, including lead Charlie Epps, love math, and those who don't love math are dependent on those who do. Which is spelled out in the opening narration:
"We all use math every day! To forecast weather, to tell time, to handle money. We also use math to analyze crime, reveal patterns, predict behavior. Using numbers, we can solve the biggest mysteries we know."
Deconstructed in The Wire. While most of the low-level criminals do think that math is boring, they do acknowledge its importance: Failing to maintain a proper count of his merchandise and income can land a drug dealer in big trouble with his boss. Likewise, detectives Freamon and Pryzbylewski show how to crack codes, detect patterns and track down the criminals' money using math. When Pryzbylewski pursues a career in education, he initially has problems keeping his class interested in math. He gains his students' interest when he shows how to use probability math to gain an advantage in gambling (which gets him in a bit of trouble when his superiors find out). And while drug kingpin Russel Bell puts his evening lessons in economics to good use during the day, his enthusiasm fails to rub off to his underlings or his partner-in-crime, Avon Barksdale.
In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Anya was an extremely powerful vengeance demon who got turned into a human girl. She was lamenting her fate with "For a thousand years I wielded the powers of the wish. I brought ruin to the heads of unfaithful men. I brought forth destruction and chaos for the pleasure of the lower beings. I was feared and worshipped across the mortal globe and now I'm stuck at Sunnydale High! Mortal. Child. And I'm flunking math."
Which may have been the one that really got her, because in later seasons, she was quite economically minded.
The title character of Everybody Hates Chris (as well as the other kid characters) are examples of this trope. This in itself is unremarkable, but the opening credits in some seasons depict a textbook cover that reads "Everybody Hates Trigonometry." Additionally, one episode of the series even bears the title of "Everybody Hates Math".
Bart: Do you know what that means? Bo: Yes. I'm having the luckiest day of my life, possibly of anyone's life, ever.
In Queer as Folk, after Ted (who's an accountant) has gotten a new job, Emmett calls him:
Emmett: Hey! I just called to see how it's going.
Ted: Oh, it's great, couldn't be better.
Emmett: So what's it like?
Ted: Glorious. I have a desk and a chair and a computer.
Emmett: What's the colour scheme?
Ted: Beigey grey. Or greyish beige, take your pick.
Emmett: Well, that sounds perfect, honey. Alright, just stay off youknowwhat.com. [hangs up] Thank you God, for making me bad at math.
Averted and played straight by in the Doctor Who episode "42". At his typical lightning speed, the Doctor solves a riddle involving happy primes and complaining about lax educational standards, commenting "Talk about dumbing down - don't they teach recreational mathematics any more?"
Played with briefly in "City of Death" with this exchange:
Duggan: What's Scarlioni's angle? Doctor: Scarlioni's angle? Never heard of it. Have you ever heard of Scarlioni's angle? Romana: No, I was never any good at geometry.
Averted with Ueda Jiro of Trick, who uses mathematics to expose tricks that utilize probability rather than sleight of hand.
In the Ten Little Murder Victims episode of Square One TV's Mathnet, the villain has purposefully picked his victims because they managed to overturn their convictions by using math, which he's convinced is cheating because he doesn't follow their explanations.
An episode of 7th Heaven involved Annie and Mary breaking down and crying about how much they hated maths.
Sam Cooke's "Don't Know Much About History" features this verse:
Don't know much about geometry Don't know much trigonometry, Don't know much about algebra, Don't know what a slide rule is for.
Humorist/songwriter/math professor Tom Lehrer's song "New Math" pokes fun at this attitude, especially the result of the 1960s attempt to introduce set theory in elementary school.
Hooray for New Math, New Math It won't do you any good to review math It's so simple, so very simple That only a child can do it!
Moosebutter's song "Uncle Earl's Hairpiece", which mostly contains lyrics about various bad things that have happened to the singer, contains the lyric: "My poor brain was pureed when I tried to do math..."
The stories about it at the time mostly omitted the word "class" from the statement, which is probably why there was such an uproar: "Math class is hard" means "This particular course is difficult." "Math is hard" was taken as implying "Girls are stupid."
In Exile / Avernum II, you and your party (which may include wise, bearded scholars adept in both forgotten lore and cutting edge magical research. People who have deciphered and learned complex spells from faded parchments buried in the ruins of ancient civilizations, written in tongues long dead) visit a sleepy little bed & breakfast owned by a farmer. While poking around, you discover books owned by the farmer's wife, full of horrifyingly alien texts and eldritch symbols detailing a strange magic none of you can comprehend. If you ask her about it, she tells you what they're about with a sigh: Algebra.
Inverted in The World Ends with You. Sho Minamimoto has an obsession with math, he interjects mnemotechnic anagrams for the three basic trigonometric functions or the operation order into his dialogue and screams out this same trigonometric functions in battle.
Some Old Horses Can Always Hear Their Owner Approach
His ultimate attack, a level i Flare, can hit anythingnote Level Flare attacks, in Final Fantasy, hit all targets whose level can be divided by their number. As i is the square root of -1, and when squared again, is 1, any number can be divided by it. Or it would, if Joshua hadn't sacrificed himself for Neku.
In Punch-Out!! Wii, Title Defense Great Tiger's Blinking Jewel Combo and Magic Rush greatly depends on how many punches you've thrown, along with division and prime numbers. If you don't know your math, you aren't going to get your precious OHKO. Unless you don't suck at the first Magic Rush.
The Calculator class in Final Fantasy Tactics. Everything depends on multiples and prime numbers. If that's not enough, good luck figuring out what "L? Spell" means in any other Final Fantasy game without a guide, and there are literally only four levels where it's safe to take on certain enemies in Final Fantasy XII, one of them being 1 (though because FFXII's battles are real-time and not turn-based, you can always just change your equipment to protect you from the effects - even when the enemy is already casting his spell).
Or you can lower the frustration by wearing armor that protects you from one effect and fighting at a level that protects you from all the others — but that's math again!
For those not familiar with the games, a spell like "L4 Stop" (written as "Lv. 4 Stop" in newer games) inflicts the Stop status only on characters whose level is a multiple of four. FFXII boss Zalera has "Lv. 2 Sleep", "Lv. 3 Disable", "Lv. 4 Break", "Lv. 5 Reverse", and "Prime Lv. Death", meaning that to escape every one of these attacks, your level should be nonprime, but have no prime factors smaller than 7. After level 1, the next such level is 49 (7x7) followed by level 77 (7x11) and finally level 91 (7x13).
Ran: Here, an equation of a thousand expressions. Aya: Ack! Ran: And here is the proof. Aya: Ughhhhh.
The talking teen Barbie is parodied in Kingdom of Loathing with the Apathetic Lizardman doll. "Math is kinda hard. But, y'know, it doesn't matter." Also in the "Hobopolis Zone," When you choose not to enter the Marketplace you get the message, "You don't feel like going shopping. Perhaps it's because you find math so easy."
Then again, this is the same game that requires you to convert numbers in and out of base seven to solve one of its optional puzzles...
A few Professor Layton puzzles can be solved by algebra instead of riddles, but the hints point out it won't be fun and you should figure out the riddle instead. It is also a common trick for a puzzle to make algebra an immediate source of an answer, but make the real answer quickly found by wording snag.
Other puzzles, however, do require mathematics to solve, such as trigonometry, calculating the area of a circle, and algebra.
Miki is the most blunt about it, but no one else in the cast especially likes mathematics. Hisao's teacher Mutou prefers science, as does Hisao himself, Lilly's main interest is in English and Rin and Nomiya have a passion for art.
In Vinigortonio, Vinicius seems like a calm guy until he comes across math, which turns him into an uncontrollable monster.
In Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, Joey derides math, then has trouble subtracting attack points from defense points. As Tea puts it: "It's official; you're an idiot."
At Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe, math is Tennyo's worst subject. She dreads her genius brother finding out. On the other hand, Phase is a freshman and is taking trigonometry with the juniors and seniors. And there are the Mad Scientist types who have already placed out of all high school math.
You're forgetting Carmilla who created a theory of mutant powers based on post-doctorate level mathematics. (Of course, this one's kind of justified by her having already had an not entirely uneventful adult human life before turning into what she is now. Adding the superhuman processing power of her new form to that can't have hurt.)
Possibly Adverted in Tankmen when they are running for their lives and challenge their enemy to a game of shoot between the buildings. When they miss one of the tankmen pop up behind them and declare "Should have used the Pythogrem Theorem, Bitch" and proceeds to attack.
The Geometric Simplification Act, which will reduce pi to 0 decimal places.
Especially problematic since his goal is to work for NASA/become an astronaut.
Averted in Batman Beyond; Terry actually does well in math and indicates that he enjoys it. He says his father made him memorize the times tables when he was a kid, and easily answers the subsequent math question his girlfriend throws at him. (Played semi-straight with her; she can do it, but she doesn't like it much.)
A Futurama episode plot involves a mind switching device that could only switch minds that haven't been switched before. Amy and the Professor try it first, but realize they can't switch back directly (since Amy and the Professor's minds have already been switched). In trying to figure out if they can switch back to their proper bodies with 4 or more bodies, the Professor announces that they'll have to use math to figure it out. Cue ominous music plays.
The writers themselves clearly averted it here - they went so far as to produce a proof showing that it can be done using two fresh bodies.
Beavis And Butthead, not surprisingly. Not only are they unable to do algebra, but they can't do any sort of math 99% percent of the time, even if chicks, money and nachos are involved. At one point, a teacher asked them what two plus two was. They were unable to answer.
Butthead: I'm, like, angry at numbers.
Beavis: Yeah! There's, like, too many of them and stuff.
Daria: Math, Jane Lane's least favorite and worst subject ever.
The edutainment short Donald Duck in Mathemagic Land plays this straight at the beginning, when Donald insists that math is for "eggheads". The Spirit of Adventure manages to convince him otherwise... by showing him how he can use it to shoot pool.
Applejack of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic accuses Big Macintosh of "using yer fancy mathematics to muddy the issue" in "Applebuck Season", when he tried to convince her "one pony plus hundreds of apple trees just doesn't add up" and that she should find someone else to help with the harvest instead of going it on her own. In "Suited for Success", she also has an apparent bit of difficulty counting to six.
Of course, despite it being the least popular subject in academics, this is generally deconstructed in Real Life. Even the very first civilizations such as the Sumerians, the Babylonians, and the Egyptians had to use some form of mathematics to progress their lives, and of course, every other civilization followed suit. Whether people like it or not, and while our numerical presentation of mathematics is definitely inferior to the real thing, it can't be denied that mathematical logic is an essential part of life and no society can truly advance without it. From the objects in outer space to the fauna up to our own bodies, everything runs on mathematical logic. To call for the abolition of it would be certifiably insane. Quoth Roger Bacon:
Roger Bacon: Mathematics is the gate and key of the sciences... Neglect of mathematics works injury to all knowledge, since he who is ignorant of it cannot know the other sciences or the things of this world. And what is worse, men who are thus Ignorant are unable to perceive their own ignorance and so do not seek a remedy.
It's worth noting that even mathematicians can sometimes feel daunted at really complicated math (not to be confused with Complex Mathematics, which is a typical University Freshman topic). This is the reason why so many supposedly "unsolvable" math problems end up solved years, decades, or even centuries after. Sometimes the mathematicians attempting to solve it before either Rage Quit, got sidetracked by other work, got too sickly or old, and so on to continue through to the solution, a process which can sometimes literally take the entire mathematician's lifetime.
A large part of this trope's prevalence in Real Life is due to the way in which math is taught in school. Math isn't actually boring, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anything engaging about it when your classes do the mathematical equivalent of teaching you English by going over individual letters, words, and grammatical constructs over and over again for years on end, occasionally reading and writing actual sentences. Sentences which are so obviously contrived to force you to recognize and apply the subject of today's lecture that they more closely resemble Dick and Jane or "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" than anything an actual human being would say. Never once do you read an actual book, so you can see what the point of all this is. On top of that, mathematical books will often spit out a variation of the formula being taught that hasn't been explained at all, and expect the student to solve it without guidance from the teacher.
Not all teachers necessarily make it boring. One professor explained the negative binomial distribution using a story problem that sounded like the setup for H. C. Andersen's "The Little Match Girl".
This trope might be justified due to pragmatism and a lack of practice most people have at complicated math. In everyday life you really only use adding/subtracting and multiplying/dividing on a regular basis, so you soon become very practised at simple arithmetic early on, but not higher maths such as algebra, unless you work in a profession such as engineering which requires the ability of complicated math. This results in adults and teenagers using the A Degree in Useless defence to justify their hatred of mathematics. They may have done well in mathematics at school but have forgotten most of it, or are out of practice and slow at it.
In England you pick four or five (usually four) A Levels to study at 16, as opposed to maths being compulsory in some form until age 18 as in America. As a result 90% of kids take no more maths qualifications and leave education with a standard of maths that is (by international standards) simply woeful.
Massively averted in Ancient Greece, where the study of mathematics could greatly increase your status and lead to lucrative teaching careers. Pythagoras even formed a cult, the Pythagorean Brotherhood, that revolved around the most recent math breakthroughs. According to legend, one acolyte discovered irrational numbers and this disturbed Pythagoras so much that he ordered him to be drowned and the secret to be forgotten forever.
Archimedes is said to have been slain during the invasion of Syracuse by the Romans. He was so focused on drawing geometrical figures in the sand that when a legionary arrived and interrupted him, he ignored him so rudely that the soldier struck him down with his sword.
Stephen Hawking was advised by his editor that every equation in a book cuts the sales in half, so he included only one in A Brief History Of Time.
A popular mathematicians quote is, "Mathematics is hard. If it isn't hard, you're not progressing fast enough."
This is true of sufferers of the learning disability dyscalculia, which can easily be described as "dyslexia with numbers."
There's also a joke among snipers that a lot of people join sniper school because how awesome being a Cold Sniper seems... then drop out when they find out the sheer complexity of the math involved.
Actually, there are many professions people take up in the hope of never seeing math again - only to be stumped when the good old friends of numbers come around. Sometimes it's just confusing how people think that economy or business administration won't include mathematics. On the other hand, some subjects, such as psychology, come as a surprise here.
Because of changes in math over time, including increasingly fancy calculators, math is a subject that parents can find difficult to help their children with.
People who prefer the arts to math and science are called "right-brained." People who prefer the reverse are "left-brained." In reality, lateralization of brain functions can vary depending on your native language, your gender, which hand is your dominant hand, etc.
However, expertise in some forms of math is actually associated with the "right-brain", not the "left-brain".