He had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it — namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to obtain.
A character (call him Bob) cons others into helping him with a tedious, thankless, or otherwise unpleasant task. Usually (though not always) Bob was meant to do the chore himself and runs this con to drop the work onto another's shoulders. The victim may or may not realize that he's been had.
How Bob pulls off this impressive social feat varies. Reverse Psychology
is popular, as is pulling a Bavarian Fire Drill
, or making a Chain of Deals
(but anyone with enough guile to do this usually has many tricks up his sleeve). If the "fence" is a dangerous or potentially lethal thing to "paint," Bob might appeal to the victim's sense of honor, pride
, nobility, or religion while simultaneously downplaying the risks involved.
Notable Fence Painting activities include being in a Mad Scientist
's experiment, any Deal with the Devil
or joining a war against a country you didn't even know existed. Or, you know, painting fences.
Based on the famous whitewashing scene in Mark Twain
's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
, where Tom not only tricks the local kids into doing his chore for him, he convinces most of them to pay him for the opportunity. This makes it Older Than Radio
Compare Stone Soup
and Wax On, Wax Off
. See Mundane Made Awesome
for when the writer pulls this trick on his audience.
Anime and Manga
- Naruto's genins give their lives for just the chance to be promoted to chunin because they were taught since childhood that being a ninja is the greatest thing ever! Ninja who don't feel like giving their lives for the sake of the Muggle nations are criminals.
- The same applies to the backstory of many shows that involve Tyke Bombs.
- In Urusei Yatsura, Lum and Ten are excited about seeing their first typhoon. Ataru convinces them to greet it properly by boarding up all the windows for him.
- Green Lantern Corps had a sub-plot about Kyle Rayner painting a large mural depicting the history of the Corps on the interior of a building. He spends the first days of work priming, and realizes it would take a very long time to finish. As numerous other Lanterns keep coming to question him about what he's doing - and since many of them are aliens who have never painted before - he gets them to prime the building for him. Guy Gardner even calls him out on using the "Tom Sawyer" trick, even though it was very much a labor of love for everyone involved.
- Monica's Gang had a story with this plot, in which Jimmy Five's dad chores him with painting the wall. He manages to get several children to paint in his place in exchange for stuff, but it's not long until things go wrong. It starts with Smudge painting an Elephant Monica, and ends with Jimmy's dad running into a gang covered in paint. Jimmy's friends run away, and his father now chores him with raking leaves. When Smudge teases him once more about having to work, he claims that he's having fun playing farmer and nobody can join.
- There's a short story by Italian writer Italo Calvino that plays with the idea in a weird way, where a man continues to shout the name Teresa at a building, and when she doesn't come out, people gather around and help him of their own volition, and eventually form a cohesive group. At the end, someone finally asks, "Are you sure she's home?" The original shouter says, "Who?" "Teresa." "I don't know anyone named Teresa." And everyone wanders off.
- The main character for The Great Brain books was pretty good at this.
- Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is the Trope Codifier, as mentioned in the description.
- This is at least Older Than Radio, if not older: It was the primary modus operandi of Anansi The Spider, the West African Trickster, for whom conning people into doing his hard work, or out of their hard work to his benefit, was practically an art form both used by him and turned against him by people wise to his game.
- There are two different examples in Kingdom of Loathing: The first involves literally painting a fence with white paint as part of a choice adventure, while the other requires you to paint a red door black in order to prove yourself worthy to ride a giant sandworm (your own character does a Lampshade Hanging on the silliness of it all).
- Subverted in The Next Big Thing. The task to be done is, in fact, a dangerous and untested Mad Scientist's experiment, so you would think you need to scam someone into testing it...but the Mad Scientist is more responsible than most, so he doesn't want you anywhere near the thing. In fact, he's only accepting volunteers who are aware it's a terrible idea, but are suicidal enough not to care, and who meet the standards he's set for being worthless to society. The scam is you need to convince the scientist that you're worthless to society, so you can test his experiment and abuse it for your own ends.
- Billy Vs SNAKEMAN has a recurring quest in which for one of your rounds of training under MC Stripeypants, you wash his car. This will take a while; newer players may need more than one real-life day. At the end, it turns out the reason was that he had a hot date and wanted his car clean. Your reward is getting introduced to a cat.
- South Park: Cartman manages to make a dying theme park thrive by telling people they aren't allowed in. This false scarcity creates booming interest in the park. This was unintentional, however; he originally wanted his own private amusement part but was eventually forced to let people in so he can make money to maintain it. Played straight by other businesses that capitalize on this phenomenon, though.
- In The Simpsons parody of Tom Sawyer, Bart (as Tom) tries this but Milhouse doesn't fall for it. So Nelson (as Huck) threatens him with physical violence, which works much better.
- From Futurama, when characters enter books to hunt down a giant brain...
- Camp Lazlo: In Bowling for Dinosaurs, Scoutmaster Lumpus tricks the Bean Scouts into clearing the space for his new bowling alley by getting them to dig for dinosaur bones.
- In the Mission Hill episode Hot for Weirdie they start a fake nightclub in an electrical closet with a 100% reject rate. Naturally, this makes all the hipsters in the neighborhood insane to get in.
- A recent trend among social media users is to post a message promoting a social/political/religious cause, then end the message with "93% of you won't repost this" or some similar vague and unsourced claim of scarcity, with the intent of daring readers to prove they're better than the common rabble.