The cart comes rumbling up to the gates. The Evil Overlord
's guards poke about, and find a jug under the seat. Fool peasant thought he could sneak some moonshine past them
. They take it, and the cart rumbles on — with the rightful king hidden under its cargo.
Infraction Distraction is when a conspicious but minor infraction — possibly not even illegal but merely disreputable — is made up or committed for the purposes of distracting authorities from something much more serious. (Usually a crime, but not always; a character can pretend to be distilling moonshine to hide that he's training with his new superpowers, for instance.) Not unlike a Kansas City Shuffle
, the guards in question know they're being tricked, but are wrong about what the trick is. If you actually confess, it's Confess to a Lesser Crime
, but you can also manufacture evidence against yourself or otherwise plant clues to the infraction, down to simply committing it. One common method is to plant an Incredibly Obvious Tail
— to distract from the skilled and subtle tail. Incredibly Obvious Bug
can also be used, but is less common.
Overlaps with Embarrassing Cover Up
if the decoy secret is disreputable as well as prohibited (or if the character is so Lawful Good
or such a Slave to PR
that being caught breaking even minor rules is an embarrassment in and of itself). Overlap with We Need a Distraction
is possible but rare, since it usually is not to enable further actions. If a character points out some other, unassociated character's wrongdoing, that's Go Look at the Distraction
. If a suspect is surprisingly quick to confess their Big Secret
, there's a good chance it's this. See also Hidden in Plain Sight
. A Censor Decoy
is this used in Real Life
to get crap past the radar
The opposite is Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot
Anime and Manga
- In the first chapter of Bloody Monday, Fujimaru (a teenager) tells his younger sister he's going to check out his porn downloads, just so she doesn't enter his room to catch him hacking. It's suggested that he also used porn video games as a cover for hacking jobs, though it's never denied that he played them.
- This is one of the many tactics employed by Light in Death Note to hide his possession of the titular book. When he realizes that his room has been bugged, he lets them catch him reading porn, in order to make it appear that his security-precautions were put in place to prevent his parents or sibling from finding his Porn Stash. Made even more awkward by the fact that his father is one of the investigators watching the tapes.
- Similarly, Madarame from Genshiken had some porn DVDs in a drawer to serve as a decoy to prevent the other club members from discovering something else in that drawer: photos of Kasukabe cosplaying.
- Golgo 13. In the anime episode "Pretty Woman", a Mafia boss finds that his mistress has secretly met someone in a hotel room. She 'confesses' that she slept with his underling (untrue, as she loathed him) to hide that she was meeting Duke there to arrange the boss's assassination.
- In Kurt Busiek's Astro City, downplayed. Marella Cowper, helping at the disaster scene, realizes that the people there think she has black market connections. Since she's really using the Honor Guard's teleportation system, she lets them.
- In the Death Note fic All You Need Is Love, Naomi confronts Light while he's busy killing criminals from her living room:
Naomi: What are you working on anyway, we both know you're Kira.
Light: I'm not working on anything.
Naomi: Then why the laptop?
Naomi: Wow, that is the most boring pornography I have ever seen. This is porn for you?
- Bonus points for referring to Light being bored by pornography in canon.
- In The Darkness Series, Harry conceals his knowledge of Dark magic and Parselmagic by pretending that his snake form is his animagus form.
- In My Friend Tom when Harry is breaking into Snape's office to investigate he carries dungbombs in his pocket in case he's caught so that Snape won't know he's onto him and will just assume he's just setting up a stupid prank.
- This joke (various local permutations exist):
Tuan comes up to the border between Vietnam and China on his bicycle. He has two large bags over his shoulders. The guard stops him and says, "What's in the bags?"
"Rice," answered Tuan.
The guard says, "We'll just see about that. Get off the bike." The guard takes the bags and rips them apart; he empties them out and finds nothing in them but rice. He detains Tuan overnight and has the rice analyzed, only to discover that there is nothing but pure rice in the bags. The guard releases Tuan, puts the rice into new bags, hefts them onto the man's shoulders, and lets him cross the border.
A week later, the same thing happens. The guard asks, "What have you got?"
"Rice," says Tuan.
The guard does his thorough examination and discovers that the bags contain nothing but rice. He gives the rice back to Tuan, and Tuan crosses the border on his bicycle. This sequence of events is repeated every day for three years. Finally, Tuan doesn't show up one day and the guard meets him in a noodles restaurant in Vietnam.
"Hey, Buddy," says the guard, "I know you are smuggling something. It's driving me crazy. It's all I think about..... I can't sleep. Just between you and me, what are you smuggling?"
Tuan sips his beer and says, "Bicycles."
- Here's a Snopes page with more variants on the "stealing bicycles" joke.
- And he gets a free upgrade on his old bags...
- Robert A. Heinlein loved this trope, not only using it but making it a piece of wisdom for the Mentor to hand on.
- In Starman Jones, Matt hitchhikes with a truck driver, who has him sleep in the bed and explains that he will be the off-duty driver all the time, with the driver with him driving longer than regulations permit without sleep. When they hit a checkpoint, the driver is caught not having his asleep partner having signed off, and explains to Matt that it kept the guard from digging deeper.
- In "If This Goes On....", Zach covers up Johnny's obviously guilty reaction to receiving a note from the Resistance by replacing it with one about gambling, because they won't believe innocence but will believe this.
- In Podkayne of Mars, the main character's brother makes a crack about smuggling drugs onto the space ship, thereby preventing the guards from discoving the bomb he hid in her luggage.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- Discussed in The Warrior's Apprentice when Miles and Co. are attempting to smuggle weapons to the Felicians past a blockade by the Oseran mercenaries. After Miles winds up capturing Captain Auson's own ship, Auson figures that Miles had to be smuggling something, particularly with the way that Miles was acting so cowed and meek in order to avoid suspicion. He wonders if Miles is smuggling the ship itself, then wonders who could possibly want such an old, outmoded transport.
- In Labyrinth, when caught trying to break into a genetic engineering facility, Ensign Murka quickly creats the story that he and his fellows were a bunch of horny soldier on leave who thought it was the brothel (the company is known for its bordellos). He was booted out with a warning and fine (i.e. the guards stole all his money), but no alarm was raised over a commando raid and Miles, overhearing the exchange, made a mental note to praise and reward the soldier for his quick thinking (In a following story, the same soldier returns as a now-promoted Lieutenant).
- In Mirror Dance, Miles tells a story about one of his Vorkosigan ancestors who used the "smuggling bicycles" version of the trope to smuggle horses into a besieged city. Though we do not see the mission itself, Miles was telling the story because they were about to do the same thing with warships.
- In Mary Steward's This Rough Magic, Godfrey admits to smuggling to distract from his actual attempts at destabilizing nations with counterfeit currency and attempted murder.
- In one G. K. Chesterton mystery, a murder is covered up as a death in a duel.
- In Codex Alera, Captain Demos lets a few port inspectors find some assorted contraband to keep them from searching too thoroughly for Varg.
- In A Deepness in the Sky, Pham Trinly pretends to secretly be an old slave-trader he knew once, letting the villain currently in charge 'discover' it and think he therefore has Pham squarely under his thumb. This "small lie to cover the big one" hides the fact that he is actually Pham Nuwen, the legendary trader, space navigator, and politician, and by far the most dangerous person in the fleet and easily the greatest threat to the villain's rule.
- In Terry Pratchett's Making Money, Moist uses Suspiciously Specific Denial to imply he's in bed with a woman, to cover up that he's the man who broke into the Post Office. What makes being in bed with a woman an example of this trope is the fact that his girlfriend was currently out of town.
- An interesting variation occurs in Pay Me, Bug!. As the Fool's Errand is about to be boarded and searched, Grif Vindh deliberately makes their cargo of fine whiskey easy to find. But, they aren't doing anything illegal besides smuggling whiskey, so there's no apparent reason for this. We find out later that they actually are smuggling something else: a supply of anagathics* that are way more valuable than the whiskey, and that nobody but Vindh knew about. Even later, we find out that the reason nobody on the crew knew about it is that the original plan was just to smuggle the whiskey, but the anagathics dropped into Vindh's lap during the pickup due to a freak traffic accident, so he ran with it.
- The Boy Who Knew Too Much by Roderic Jeffries. A youth breaks into an abandoned factory on a bet and finds himself pursued by masked thugs. He has trouble getting anyone to believe him, but a few days later the criminals steal the copper piping from the building, so the police think that's what it was all about. It's only when the boy remembers that he saw one of the men looking through a telescopic sight that the police realise the building overlooks a nearby prison, and the criminals are planning a jailbreak.
- This is part of the plot in The California Voodoo Game. Bishop tries to make everybody including his accomplice think he's trying to fix the Game, but in reality he's committing industrial espionage. Averted in that nobody believes for a second that's all Bishop is really up to, but subverted again in that, while they think he's trying to steal information, he's actually trying to find a way to circumvent the security system so that his handlers can steal anything they like in the future.
- There is a variation in Isaac Asimov's short story The Singing Bell, where a policeman mentions every crook tries to get caught and Probed for a pocket theft. Said Probe is a somewhat risky procedure, and no man can be subjected to it more than once. You do the math.
- In With One Stone, some Manticoran spies disposed of their espionage gear so that Havenite police wouldn't find it, then realized they now had some suspiciously empty suitcases to explain. They got away with it by packing the suitcases with valuables from their room, then pretended they had been caught Stealing from the Hotel.
- Paranoia: A few citizens have registered mutations they don't actually have, such as chronic runny nose (his real mutation was about to be reported, but citizens with multiple mutations are nearly unheard of) or temporary blindness (so he could take bribes from fellow traitors to look the other way).
- Done frequently in the Ace Attorney series - some villain or other will use a minor crime as a cover for a far larger one, in some manner or other.
- For example, in the third game, a villain arranges for himself to be caught on video committing theft, in order to give himself an alibi for a murder that took place at the same time.
- In Ace Attorney Investigations, another villain sets up a justified self defense murder to cover up a premeditated murder.
- Subverted in the first case of the first game, where the criminal committed murder, so they wouldn't go to jail for breaking & entering.
- Of course, killers always commit perjury on the stand, however apart from the three examples in which they confess to a smaller crime, these lies are intended to be that...lies, and so they expect people to not even know they committed a crime anyway.
- Done twice in Bob's Burgers:
- In "Lobsterfest", the kids try to convince Bob that they are looking at porn when actually, they are studying a pamphlet for the lobster festival - Which is something Bob is against, since seafood festivals take away attention from his burger restaurant.
- In "Hamburger Dinner Theatre", Linda claims that she's going to a stag party at a strip club. Actually, she's going to a dinner theatre performance. Again, this is something Bob is against, because watching dinner theatre performances makes Linda hammy. He even says outright that he would have preferred it if she was going to a strip club.
- This is the principle behind "deniable encryption" systems, designed to address the situation where someone in possession of encrypted files is coerced (by physical force or plea bargaining, say) into handing over the decryption key. These systems allow data to be hidden on several different "layers", each requiring a separate key to access the data - for example, someone could store their porn collection at the first layer, squickier porn at the second layer, and military state secrets at the third. The trick is that it's mathematically impossible for the interrogator to know how many layers are in use (and it is also possible to have more than one volume at the same layer, for example having two second- or third-layer volumes), since anything they haven't decrypted yet is indistinguishable from random garbage - so at any point the subject can plausibly claim that they've handed over all the keys they have, and the interrogator has no way to be sure whether they're dealing with an actual spy or just a very paranoid pervert.
- After 9/11, TSA employees were rigorously trained to catch the various items newly banned from airplane carry-on baggage. A test of the system found that the security officers would often spot a lighter - and miss the bomb parts in the same bag.
- If one is being almost caught doing something (be it porn or a Guilty Pleasure or something else), it's always better to have something else to be "caught" with, thus explaining both being flustered and avoiding the Awkward Silence that occurs when you are found staring at your blank desktop all the time with. As one YouTube commenter put it:
My mom walked in while I was watching MLP
. Luckily I managed to alt-tab to my porn.
- "Limited hangout" is a technique of attempting to defuse a scandal by admitting to some misdeeds in the hope of convincing people that you've come clean and there is nothing more to be discovered.
- This trick was used by an escaping Allied POW in WWII. The POW was stuck in a train station, unable to leave because a group of Nazi soldiers were guarding the exits and checking papers. Knowing that trying to bluff his way past wasn't going to work, he snatched the suitcase from the nearest commuter and sprinted straight past the guards out of the exit. Not interested in a mere thief, the Nazis didn't chase him.
- This Cracked article talks about some of the methods drug smugglers use. One method of keeping the smugglers' cars from being noticed is to have a "heat" car go barreling down the highway at full speed and get pulled over for speeding. While the police are detaining that driver, the actual smuggler drives by undetected.