Fiction Isn't Fair
In works of fiction, characters tend to behave in a way that is largely exaggerated. However, sometimes the behavior of antagonists can fail to take into account laws, rules, and social conventions that exist in real life to prevent said behavior — as well as simple logic. This is usually done to drive the story, and won't always be unheard of in real life (see also Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped and Reality Is Unrealistic), but the viewer is still left wondering why anyone would put up with this kind of nonsense, rather than going straight to the police and/or their lawyer (or, less idealistically, just popping the offender in the mouth). While some teachers clearly do get away with victimizing students and using abusive language, there are many instances in fiction in which said teachers would be treading on very thin ice at a lot of schools, particularly those in fear of litigation. Employment Law is a complex and tricky area, so you have to wonder how some abusive bosses are able to fire employees that just happen to disagree with them, and how some abusive employees have managed to keep their jobs for so long. This can get especially absurd in public services like the military. Judges on TV and in films seem to allow attorneys to act in a way that drives the narrative tension, even if their conduct in the courtroom should be contempt. Juries, meanwhile, seem to be persuaded by the cheapest of tricks. If anyone ever sat on a jury and heard a prosecutor cut off a defense witness who said "yes, he was there but..." just as she was about to elaborate on a key point, alarm bells would ring. And let's not even start regarding how people are traumatized beyond any recovery without a system of help or family network. Sometimes no one even disagrees with certain outlandish claims of superiority. Compare Refuge in Audacity, in which the reason the characters are able to get away with such blatantly outrageous behaviour is because, simply, their behaviour is too outrageous for anyone to believe. Compare also No Delays for the Wicked, and Never My Fault. Subversions could count as Reality Ensues, when unlawful/unethical/etc. acts committed by characters who regularly get away with it or are expected by the audience to get away with it are suddenly treated the way they would be in Real Life. Super Trope to Hollywood Law. Also compare the Bunny-Ears Lawyer — the accomplished and competent character whose behavior would be too eccentric to tolerate if s/he weren't so very good at what s/he does.
open/close all folders
- Ranma ½: The entire cast. Their regular actions include attempted murder and destruction of property, multiple characters engage in childrearing practices that could only qualify as child abuse, and the school principal is loony beyond question (he has a hidden dungeon in his office among other things).
- In Strawberry Panic!, sweet, shy, and cutesy Hikari has fallen in love with her older classmate Amane. However, as a result, she is being stalked, harassed, and almost sexually assaulted by a Psycho Lesbian duo who want to get Amane to join the Etoile Election by threatening to harm her. You'd expect Hikari and/or Amane to report these occurrences to either the school staff or the police.
- The villains in Yu-Gi-Oh! get away with hospitalization quite easily. The Abridged Series doesn't even bother to call it out after the second episode. In this case it probably had to do with the fact that few people are going to believe that playing a children's card game can hospitalize someone.
- In several episodes of Hell Girl the bad guy of the week would end up behind bars in five minutes if anybody involved acted in even vaguely rational manner. The cake goes to a teacher in the second season who started tormenting her student subtly in a manner that seems like bullying of another student, but then proceeds to trying to pour acid over the student, laughing maniacally!
- Happens in Code Geass when Ohgi leads the Black Knights to betray Zero. The moral here is supposed to be that Zero failed to trust in his troops. It doesn't really work out when the Knights are ready to betray Zero, a leader who has brought them years of victory, after a 2 minute speech from Schneizel, someone known in universe as a massively untrustworthy Magnificent Bastard.
- Compounding this is the fact that Zero is pretty much the only person that makes the Black Knights a pluralistic anti-Britannian Empire group, rather than just a Japanese nationalist army, which makes it even more odd that Diethard, a Britannian, is ready to betray Zero.
- In Fruits Basket, there is a staggering amount of child abuse and neglect. The series implies that the Sohma family hides most of it, explaining why half the family members haven't been carted off for various charges of abuse, assault, attempted murder, and so forth, but there's also Uotani's father (pretty much did nothing to care for his daughter, and now she looks after him), Kyoko (had a mental breakdown for an unspecified amount of time after her husband died, where it was implied she forgot to even feed her daughter), and Hanajima's classmates (they burned her with a match and forced her to eat a newt's tail). Not to mention, Haru completely destroys a classroom in a rage and all we hear of is the teacher talking to his mother.
- In Both Marvel Universe and The DCU, most supervillians are never really punished for their crimes, no matter how high a body count they rack up. They will always find a way to escape jail, or are rich enough to get out of court. Heck there are times that these people will be given positions in governments that they will surely abuse. The only reason they are even alive is so that authors don't have to think of new villains to make.
- The Marvel Universe.
- Some one like Jameson who's paper is 90% about how a menace Spider-Man is, even though he has spent his whole life protecting innocent people, and him on a daily basis. You think that his paper would have shut down, or gone out of business for all the bullcrap that it is, instead Jameson gets elected mayor of New York and bankrupts the city with his anti-Spider-Man SWAT team. Though he has recently been called to account for this (which included losing the Bugle), it's taken several real-time decades.
- In Back to the Future, someone put a "Kick Me" sign on George McFly's back. As he walks down a hallway, half of the students are kicking him and the other half are laughing at him. Principal Strickland chews out George for the whole thing.
- The Truman Show: Seriously, Truman was basically a slave his whole life. Completely unaware of his privacy being violated and never informed even after reaching the age when he would have to sign several forms to give his consent and there's no indication that he ever gets paid for them filming his life. They do mention that he was legally adopted by a corporation, but adopting a child means also allowing the child contact with the outside world.
- The courtroom scenes in Anger Management qualify. In reality, this could be considered false report of a felony, harassment, perjury and wrongful imprisonment. And once you reach the end of the film, you can add conspiracy charges to the list.
- In the movie Lemonade Mouth, the principal of the school berates a band for preaching a message against him, and threatens to discipline them severely if they ever sing or even hum at school again.
- In Trading Mom, all three kids get sent to the principals office and then grounded for the summer. Elizabeth for smoking, Jeremy for pushing down a bully who had pushed Harry down (the principal only saw Jeremy do it, and even told the bully he wasn't in trouble), and Harry for... No apparent reason.
- There don't seem to be any laws in the Harry Potter universe concerning libel and defamation of character, judging from the fact that journalist Rita Skeeter is able to get away with outright fabricating any number of slanderous articles, down to publishing direct "quotes" which she made up wholesale. In the final book, she openly admits to drugging an elderly woman with a truth potion so she could force out potentially damaging information on Dumbledore. "Openly admits" means she outright includes it in the article she published for all to see. This one especially makes no sense, as use of truth potion is said to be "subject to strict Ministry guidelines"-presumably gutter journalism isn't a legitimate use. Of course, the Ministry is also highly corrupt and incompetent too...
- A lot of Roald Dahl books revolve around this trope, such as the aunts from James and the Giant Peach or the Trunchbull from Matilda, all of which would've been reported to the authorities for child abuse far before they get to the point they're at in the story (though at least for the Trunchbull the issue is brought up, but nobody believes the children. As for why the staff don't take measures against the Trunchbull, it's likely because they're afraid of her-as Miss Honey herself says, no adult has yet gotten the better of her).
- In the Hush, Hush series, apparently Nora's school has nothing to say about her teacher forcing her to sit next to and work with a boy who harassed and humiliated her and, we'll later learn, was stalking her with an intent to murder. Nora even points out that the school promises all students the right to safety on the grounds, which the teacher laughs off because Patch contributes to class while sitting next to Nora (never mind that said contributions are blatant sexual harassment). The school also apparently is fine with hiring a therapist who is not much older than the students, and who goes insane and tries to kill Nora. One would think the school would offer some reparations for this, but it's completely swept under the rug. Not to mention, the second book brings up how Marcie constantly stole Nora's bra and hung it outside of the principle's office, yet there is never any mention of the principle or other teachers trying to put a stop to it.
- Kyle XY, in the episode "Free to Be You and Me". The school refuses to allow gay couples into the dance. Teaches a moral about tolerance of gays, but totally fails to consider that the likely result of such a policy would be for some parent to call up the ACLU, who would then go to court (indeed, that is exactly what's happened in Real Life cases).
- The whole Tritter story arc in House.
- Most of what House himself does qualifies. An established flaw of Cuddy, his direct superior, is that she turns a blind eye to the laws, policy, and safety regulations he breaks in literally every episode. Especially obvious after the third season when he is required to pick a new diagnostic team, and chooses his employees not based on merit but on how much they interest him. He tells Cuddy and the candidates this, to their faces. Unfair hiring practices are very illegal, especially in hospitals where unqualified workers regularly kill people by accident. Both House and Cuddy are rather fortunate to still have their jobs.
- It might be justified because of how House is often the last resort, for people/patients who would otherwise simply die. They might have insurance waivers that need to be signed before anyone could see him. House could justify his hiring practice easily enough.
- Cuddy mentions having a special fund for House-related lawsuits at one point early in the series.
- As Cuddy notes almost to the word in the pilot, House is a classic example of the Bunny-Ears Lawyer trope: "That sunovabitch is the best doctor we've got!"
- Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rather over-the-top in his freely-expressed hatred of students and the degree to which he openly and publicly gloats at the prospect of having them expelled. Possibly justified in that the Mayor of Sunnydale is a century-old evil sorcerer actively plotting to transform himself into a giant snake-demon, and the entire town was founded in order to further his evil schemes, so one can only assume that the Sunnydale School Board isn't likely to be very receptive to parental complaints.
- This is at one point subverted. After Buffy was expelled and Snyder refused to let her back Giles threatened to make a formal complaint. Snyder tells him to take it to the school board. Giles tells him he was thinking of the state supreme court. Snyder still refuses and only relents after Giles basically threatened to beat the crap out of him.
- How the teachers at the school behave towards the students, but don't get into trouble. One example would be in "iHave My Principals" where one of the teachers gives Gibby a detention for being too Gibby, and they introduce uniforms in about a day. And an elaborate surveillance system.
- How Sam has managed to not get expelled? This is at its worst in the early episodes where Sam is a major bully. In the later episodes, you have to wonder how she even manages to pass through the grades, considering Sam appears to fail every class, is lazy, never does homework, and actively aggravates her teachers. This is after being held back once already in third grade. An episode revealed she knew how to hack into the school's computers to change grades. At one point, she's seen changing a poor grade to a B.
- Speaking of Sam, one has to wonder why she hasn't been taken from her mother by Social Services by now. We discover that Mrs. Puckett, among other things, has driven to school while blind to pick up her daughter, doesn't do much of anything besides sleep all day, Sam mentions that her mom doesn't feed her (whether it's truth or exaggeration is never fully revealed, but she does eat at Carly's a lot), the police have been to her apartment numerous times to do searches... And Sam frequently mentions these things to Carly and Freddy, and within earshot of Spencer, who is a legal adult and should probably call the police! Yet absolutely nothing is done about her horrible home-situation.
- The last episode of Masters of Science Fiction (Watchbird), DVD-only and broadcast in the UK and Canada. A guy invents an artificially-intelligent mechanical bird that can fly around on its own and attack and even kill people who may be about to commit crimes. They get deployed. In the USA. The present-day USA. Anyone who tried that would be jumped on in a minute by all sorts of civil rights groups. The episode also heavily falls into Misapplied Phlebotinum territory (imagine what else you could use AIs for) and No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup (the system is designed so that only the one programmer and nobody else can reprogram the birds). Also, it's programming apparently didn't include distinguishing between criminal and legal uses of force and thus it shoots dead a police sniper who's aiming at a man who's taken hostages.
- The episode falls under both this trope and Society Marches On. The original radio play was recorded back in the 1950s, when civil rights groups weren't the powers they are today, and was a fairly obvious condemnation of technological gee-whizzery, and a somewhat less obvious condemnation of the surveillance state McCarthyites were trying to create.
- A skit on the 1980s updated version of The Mickey Mouse Club takes place in a supermarket, where an adolescent girl working at the checkout line is forced to deal with an item scanner endowed with a ridiculous level of artificial intelligence; the scanner has a Jerkass personality and keeps insulting shoppers in its obnoxious robotic voice (calling them fat, saying they have bad breath, etc.). The hapless girl gets blamed for all this rudeness (despite, you know, not actually being a robot), and is finally fired by her supervisor (although by that point she's almost happy to be fired, since she won't have to put up with the asshole computer anymore). It was obviously Played for Laughs, though.
- Malcolm in the Middle turns this into a Spoof Aesop during an episode where Reese decides to stop bullying and the entire student body falls into anarchy as the lesser bullies attempt to fill the power vacuum left by his absence. When Reese returns to his tyrannical ways, everyone cheers.
- Glee: When Sue becomes principal her methods of improving the school are ridiculous to dangerous. She releases dogs in hallway, sends a flying drone to watch students, and has a female inmate as a secretary. That last one should have gotten her removed, but she keeps her job because she got th school grades up, despite the fact she cares more of her own ambitions and personal pride than the school itself.
- From Calvin and Hobbes: when it comes to schoolwork, Calvin's bad luck frequently outmatches his good luck. Mrs. Wormwood assigns her students projects that would be more appropriate for a high school class (or at least a junior high school one) than a first grade one. Then again, Rule of Funny. Sometimes he also makes it hard for himself. Case in point, the leaf project:
Hobbes: Don't worry, Calvin, it's not that hard. You just need to collect three or four leaves a day.
Calvin: I'm not working on weekends.
Hobbes: All right, so you'll need five leaves a day.
Calvin: And my weekdays are booked solid until Thursday 7:00 P.M.
Hobbes: So you'll need 50 leaves an hour.
Calvin: See? It's impossible!
- No one in the Ace Attorney series seems to be particularly concerned by things like Manfred von Karma overriding the judge, his daughter Franziska attacking everyone in sight with her whip, or Godot throwing his coffee cup across the room to land on the defense's head.
- In Bully even though there are prefects, you can get away with beating up girls, kids and teachers for no reason with just a detention. Also, nobody minds that the school is obviously divided in cliques that constantly bully each other; the principal likes to call it "school spirit".
- The Grand Theft Auto series can either be extremely liberal or extremely oppressive compared to Real Life, simply judging by how society as a whole (law enforcement, violence and crime levels) works. Police can shoot you for driving drunk, but the penalty for going on a rampage and killing hundreds (cops and civilians alike) can be undone with a relatively small bribe. Then again, those games are decidedly Flanderisations of their real-life pondons.
- Doubled in the Saints Row series. Not only does a small bribe fix everything if arrested, but simply driving through a drive through confessional and forking over a few hundred dollars is enough to get the police to forget about you.
- In Sluggy Freelance Torg actually does try suing his talking, murderous pet rabbit Bun-Bun to make him leave Torg's apartment, or at least not be as much of a Jerkass. However, Bun-Bun manages to successfully counter-sue by having his lawyers claim Torg is an anti-rabbit racist and an anti-pain-in-the-ass racist.
- In Dominic Deegan, assault doesn't seem to be a crime in Callan. Siegfried assaulted Dominic multiple times and faced no consequences. And it's not even a case of a corrupt government protecting one of their own. Taz attacked a guy with a garbage can for saying his music sucked and he's a massive anti-authoritarian, while Melna, a despised ethnic minority, routinely assaulted Dominic and faced no charges. Taz has been shown as being bailed out of jail after he assaulted Dominic, but given the relative mildness of the assault, this may be Rule of Funny.
- In Survival of the Fittest, Danya managing to get away with extremely high profile abductions of hundreds of high school kids (including the child of a vice president, in one version), and keeping the game on the air for periods that can be upwards of two weeks without getting tracked down. In version two, the island was tracked down, but only just after the game ended. Equally, earlier versions had a couple of villainous characters who were insane prior to the game to the point that they most definitely should have been committed.
- In version one, some of said villains were committed and subsequently broken out by the terrorists or escaped on their own. However, the other three versions have drifted away from that with the narrower focus.
- Parodied in The Onion: "Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested"
- Angela Anaconda might be the worst offender here: the teacher regularly gives the class pet straight A's, even when she doesn't do what the assignment asks for (she once brought a tea set when she was supposed to make a volcano) and constantly gives everyone F's and D's. For some reason despite that fact that 99% of her class is, you know, FAILING she never loses her job or even gets called on it... except when it involved a school play; even then, the only reason Mrs. Brinks let Angela get what she deserved (in a good way) was because she was surrounded by parents and couldn't be seen to be hypocritical.
- The Simpsons:
- The episode "Homer's Enemy" revolved around how someone from "real life" might react to Homer Simpson's life.
- In the flashback episode that shows Bart first attending the school, Principal Skinner introduces some members of staff to the new students, including school bully Jimbo.
Jimbo: (making a punching gesture) I look forward to whaling on all of you.
- Heck, that entire episode uses this trope to justify why Bart hates school. He actually looked forward to it, until everyone and everything on his first day served to Break the Cutie in ludicrous ways — like the kindergarten teacher declaring him "not college material" simply because he threw in an extra clap while singing "Bingo".
- Another episode has Nelson talking about the proper way to prepare huckleberries-until Skinner walks past, when he starts telling stories about people he beat up.
- Snake is a repeat violent offender (having committed armed robbery multiple times in broad daylight in front of witnesses), and yet Springfield can't hold him. This isn't a case of Screw the Rules, I Have Money! like with Mr. Burns, or Screw the Rules, I Have Connections! like with Springfield's many celebrities and Fat Tony. Snake is a petty thug.
- Not to mention how Marge jokes that the punishment for shooting Apu (who's the victim in most robberies Snake commits) has been downgraded to "just a small fine now".
- Subverted in an episode of Daria: When the school alters Daria and Jane's poster, and then attempts to display the altered poster in an art show over their protests, they take action by destroying it. Principal Li calls Daria's mother, Helen, who, despite having earlier agreed with Li on the issue, gets an awesome Mama Bear moment:
- Helen: All right Ms. Li, let me make sure I have this straight. You took my daughter's poster from her, altered its content, exhibited it against her will and are now threatening discipline because you claim she defaced her own property which you admit to stealing? Ms. Li, are you familiar with the phrase: "violation of civil liberties?" And the phrase: "big fat lawsuit?"
- Another good example is the season five episode Fizz Ed in which Ms. Li effectively allows the school to be used as a cash cow by a soda company. Her antics continue to the extent that even Daria herself can't ignore it and makes an official complaint. Interestingly enough, the episode's An Aesop was somewhat centered around this trope, or rather, combating it. Daria was forced to admit that there were many things she perceived to be morally wrong in the world, but she never did anything about them, she just made sarcastic comments and it never solved anything.
- Danny Phantom has its protagonist undergo bullying that counts as physical assault. People get shoved in lockers, physically beaten, and the mascot is hung from the goalposts. Add in the blatant favoritism shown to the football players and popular kids by the school system, and Casper High is BEGGING for a lawsuit...
- In one episode, a teacher told Dash to get Danny into shape, and he replied "Is 'broken in half' considered a shape?", so it's not just that the teachers never see it.
- A SWAT team was called in to arrest every single teenager in town. That's bordering on parody. To be fair, earlier in the episode, all the students ganged up and nearly trampled the Stern Teacher to death had it not been for Danny. In his perspective, he didn't know they were all hypnotized.
- In addition, Vlad (through Jack) institutes several anti-ghost anti-teen measures, including a curfew, "confiscating" any handheld technology, excessive surveillance, escorts for all teens, et cetera.
- The South Park episode "Goobacks" involved people from the future traveling to the present and taking everyone's jobs because they were willing to work for 20 cents an hour. At no point does anyone even try enforcing minimum wage laws.
- So why hasn't Mr. Crocker of The Fairly OddParents been fired? Literally everyone in his class (except for AJ) is failing, he's thought to be mentally insane by pretty much everyone that doesn't have fairies (and even those that do still think he has issues), and he's known to be outright abusive to his students (when March 15th, the anniversary of the worst day of his life, rolls around you run). Also despite all of this, it's implied that he's got the highest salary he can get (it was used as a bit of a handwave to explain why he could afford his fairy hunting gear, but still!). This was handwaved in one episode in which he mentioned in passing that he had tenure. This was his justification for going on with an experiment that would kill a human subject, to prove that Timmy's "parents" were fairies.
- Not to mention that they have a "Mayor-for-life" just because that is what was on his ballot when he got elected more than thirty years ago. They did have a problem with this, until the Mayor-for-life brought up that they should've read the ballot in the first place. Still, you'd think at least one person would make a stand.
- Total Drama. No matter how sadistic or life threatening the challenges get, Chris still gets away with abusing several teens on international television. No law enforcement official ever steps in, nor do the kids' parents. Even when he's shown killing interns onscreen, no one seems to care. It was finally subverted in the finale of the fourth season when Chris was arrested for hosting a tv show in toxic environment.
- In My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, it's usually the heroes, their family members, and their neighbors who do most of the things that buck social convention and create a mess in the process and the worst consequences they have to face are a few extra chores and apologizing for going overboard. Then again, this is a series about magical talking ponies so heavy-handed punishments would be out of place.
- Taken Up to Eleven (like everything else on the show) on Drawn Together. One episode had two groups compete to see who would have all the food and who would starve. The first group had to put an egg in a pail. The second group had to find a low carb cure for polio. Considering that it's supposed to be like a Reality Show makes it even more insane.