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Good Angel, Bad Angel
aka: Shoulder Demons

"Don't listen to that guy. He's trying to lead you down the path of righteousness! I'm gonna lead you down the path that rocks!"
Kronk's Shoulder Devil, The Emperor's New Groove

When someone wrestles with a temptation, two miniature versions of himself, an Angel and a Devil, sit on each shoulder and try to pull him in different directions. The Devil will invariably be on the left (or sinister) shoulder. Sometimes, like in Full House ("The Devil Made Me Do It"), the Angel and the Devil are full people in the room rather than miniatures on shoulders.

Expect a female character's Devil to dress all Stripperiffic, to invoke Evil Is Sexy, Horny Devils and Sensible Heroes, Skimpy Villains. If a character is particularly bad, it's common is to give them two Devils (and visa versa for particularly good characters). Another is for the devil to kill, injure or incapacitate the angel, leaving only the devil as counsel (or vice versa). Sometimes the devil for males mentions that the Angel wears a "Dress". It is far less common for the angel to tell the devil to Please Put Some Clothes On. As the conversation among the three progresses, it may drift away from anything to do with good or evil which resembles a Seinfeldian Conversation involving Metaphorgotten or Sidetracked by the Analogy.

The technical, if somewhat dated, term for this is the Psychomachia ("Battle of the Soul"); in its original version, this implied a full-scale war between all of an individual's personified virtues (such as Humility, Chastity, Patience, etc.) against his personified vices (Pride, Lust, Anger, etc.).

To put in more or less psychological terms, what we have is a kind of Freudian Trio, with the Devil as the Id, the Angel as the Superego and the person whose shoulders they stand on as the Ego.

Compare Floating Advice Reminder and Ghost in the Machine. When an external character takes it upon themself to play the Bad Angel, they're The Corrupter. When an external character takes it upon themself to play the Good Angel, they're The Conscience. Consider Right Way/Wrong Way Pair.


Example subpages


    open/close all folders 

    New Media 
  • This article.
    "When it comes to talking about Microsoft Access, it seems that two tiny versions of me *poof* into existence, each sitting on a shoulder. The guy on my right wears a suit and always reminds me how great of a tool Access is because it empowers small organizations to develop productivity and information systems. The other guy, sporting a "l337 h4x0r" tee and cut-off jeans, screams in my ear that "Access is a complete abomination" and that the tools to create applications should not be put in the hands of laymen."

    Pinballs 

    Puppet Shows 
  • Used in an episode of Muppets Tonight, with Seymour and Pepe pretending to be Jason Alexander's good and bad conscience in order to convince him to do an act with Gonzo. And some other episodes.
  • The concept appeared in Sesame Street.
  • Spitting Image: Neil Kinnock has Michael Foot as his angel and Jim Callaghan as his devil while he wrestles over whether or not to reappear on The Tube. He compromises by saying that he can't as he is rehearsing for Last of the Summer Wine, which pleases them both.

    Tabletop Games 
  • One supplement for the Mystara setting included creatures called "blue imps" and "red imps", respectively resembling tiny angels or devils, which would covertly approach and pester young apprentice wizards, trying to persuade them to study either good or evil magics. Although such imps had an existence of their own, independent of the people they tried to influence, this trope clearly inspired the concept.

    Web Animation 
  • A series of short flash cartoons, entitled Dog, Buddha, Elvis uses the three title figures to represent a man's psyche.
  • Parodied in the machinima series The Strangerhood, where Griggs' Good Angel and Bad Angel get into a fistfight, then the other characters' Good Angels show up and throw a party.
  • The Homestar Runner cartoon "The Baloneyman" uses Strong Bad's good and bad angels together as a (neutral) personification of his brain, which he tries to "fool" into feeling refreshed by rubbing a baloney sandwich shaped like a popsicle on his head:
    Devil Strong Bad: You see this guy? Rubbin' a sammich on his head?
    Angel Strong Bad: I know, I know... just let it go. You gotta pick your battles.
It's probably worth mentioning that Angel Strong Bad is noticeably shorter than Devil Strong Bad.
  • In The Annoying Orange episode "Cruel as a Cucumber", Orange wants to get Cucumber to like him. Angel Orange and Devil Orange both pop up to give him advice, but both of them just suggest ways to annoy Cucumber. Angel Orange's suggestions are nicer, though.
  • In the Napster Bad short "Metallica Millionaire", James Hetfield has just one of these, a devil in the shape of Lars Ulrich.
  • In Chargesdotcomdotbr, there's one story with Corrupt Politician Paulo Maluf receiving visits from these angels. When Maluf stated there was no Money of his in any tax-free paradise, a good angel showed up and told him not to lie. Then a bad angel showed up to point out he's telling the truth. The money he keeps in Kayman Islands isn't his; it's the people's. Then Maluf claims that, if anything on his name is found, he promised to donate everything to Saint House. Upon the good angel's doubts, the bad one claimed he meant the house where Maluf lives with his saint family. Maluf also claimed the accusations are a consequence of the Brazilian Presidential elections of that time because he lead the run. The bad angel said it's just someone summon him for an oficial statement and he runs off to Paris. The good angel quit after that.


Gollum Made Me Do ItInternal Conflict TropesHeel Realization
Floating Advice ReminderExternalizing Internal MonologueInner Monologue
Good All AlongGoodness TropesGood Cannot Comprehend Evil
Female Angel, Male DemonAngelic TropesGood Is Not Nice
Girl Scouts Are EvilWebcomic TropesHalf-Identical Twins
Ghost in the MachineActing for TwoIdentical Grandson
Glove SlapDead Horse TropeGreat White Hunter
Going Fur a SwimJust for PunGood-Looking Privates
Gonna Need More XComedy TropesGood News, Bad News
Ultimate Spider-ManImageSource/Western AnimationSpongeBob SquarePants

alternative title(s): Shoulder Angels; Shoulder Demons
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