Dog Poo: I think I deserve to take Kenny's place the most, because, I've been hanging around these guys for like five years and I never get to say or do anything. Eric Cartman: ...Yeah, I've only seen that kid in class, but he never does anything. He's more like a prop.
There's the Recurring Character, appearing more or less often beside the main cast. There's the poor Red Shirt, who is usually introduced only to get killed off in the very same episode, and the Mauve Shirt, who survives longer or at least gets a token amount of characterization before dying. There are the Hero of Another Story and the Bridge Bunnies, who get to actually run the place from time to time while our heroes boldly go where no man has gone before.
Then there are those kinds of recurring characters who don't actually have any involvement with the plot except as Padding, and whose only purpose is to create a certain sense of stability (after all, you wouldn't expect the bartender to be a different person every single time you visit the same bar, unless they all happen to have George Jetson Job Security) or to fill seats that would reasonably always be occupied by the same people (your classmates will remain the same throughout the school year.)
They have very few spoken lines, if any at all — it's usually along the lines of "Hot or iced?" or "All systems ready, Captain." If this is noticeable or stretching realism they are Ghost Extras. Most of the time they just stand there in the background, as if they are a permanent part of the scenery that might as well be a living prop. Sometimes, however, they will be subject to Lampshade Hanging about their dedication to their one job, and if this trend continues, they may even transform into a proper Recurring Character, sometimes with their own subplot. Compare and contrast Unknown Character, for a character with plot relevance who was never shown.
They might also have been a Chekhov's Gunman the entire time. Or even something more.
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Anime and Manga
The reporter from Tokyo Mew Mew actually got into the character popularity poll for the manga, despite having no character and only showing up in a few panels to cover the Magical Girls' exploits on the news.
In Keroro Gunso, starting with episode 63, the 24 nameless students of Fuyuki's classroom receive unique designs which are carried over in any classroom scene after that episode. They even appear sometimes outside of classes too. A new extra was added in the 3rd season without any formal introduction. They're never credited or named, even when one of them actually gets a small active role, and, although Fuyuki has mentioned his school friends a few times, he's never shown actually hanging out with any of his classmates.
In Mai-HiME, Mai's class consists of a few named characters and a bunch of stable living props. Interestingly, the nameless girl with blue hair who sat in front of her for the whole series ended up being one of the main characters of the sequel/Elseworld, Mai-Otome. In a Mai-Otome picture drama that takes place in the Mai-HiME universe, she lets Arika and Erstin stay at her apartment after they find her cat, Nina.
Naruto has a rotating selection of about a half-dozen jonin which have occasionally fought, but most spend their time doing incidental tasks like guard duty and mostly exists just to show that the jonin are in limited numbers.
WORKING!! has Maya Matsumoto. She is seen doing her work and appears in the OP, but has no interaction with anybody from the main cast. She's suspiciously absent during staff meetings and doesn't even seem to talk to her direct superior. That's some job independence there for a waitress, but it seems like there had to be at least one person who actually focuses on the main business. Then in the final episode we learn she is obsessed with being "normal", thus goes out of her way to avoid all the abnormal people she works with.
There is also some kitchen staff which never gets any mention.
In season 2 of K-On! class 3-2 consists of distinct, individual characters, who can be seen in various scenes of the classroom and in the opening sequence. Several of them have even gained their own fanbase, like Tachibana Himeko, previously known as "The Girl Who Sits Next To Yui".
Emiri Kimidori is a living prop in the anime of The Melancholy Of Suzumiya Haruhi. The only thing she does in both seasons and the movie is ask for help from the SOS brigade once. She then promptly goes back to being scenery.
Marron and Bra in Dragon Ball Z. They serve no other purpose than to show the audience that their parents were Happily Married after long time skips. Marron isn't even credited under her own name in the Japanese version, she's listed as "Kuririn's Daughter." Bra progresses to an extremely minor Satellite Character in Dragon Ball GT, but it's pretty clear that the only reason they're around is because the writers couldn't very well get rid of them.
In Gakuen Babysitters, it's almost as if Midori exists purely to show that Usaida is not a complete Lazy Bum and can take care of at least one of the kids. Granted, a lot of this comes from the fact that she's a baby who can't communicate amongst a group of toddlers with basic speech skills, but even the one chapter that's ostensibly about her is actually more about her mother.
Invoked in the first Lupin III manga chapter. Lupin has disguised himself as one of the guests in a mansion. Zenigata (and the reader) spends most of the chapter trying to figure out who Lupin is, only to find out at the end that he was that glasses-wearing background character who had, like, two lines of dialogue up to that point.
In the Pokémon anime, there are many minor background characters who go on to make appearances throughout the years, or seemingly minor one shot guests that can be seen in the background of later episodes. This happens even across entire regions. There's a long haired male trainer with a hoodie and a baseball cap who appeared in episodes from the original Pokémon anime up to Black & White, and he was even in the first movie and the later Mewtwo tv special. All that without ever receiving a name or interacting with the show's main cast.
In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, there are a lot of kids in Madoka's class, but most of them don't even have lines except for indistinct background chatter. One of them, however, is nicknamed "Poorfag" for being seen without a laptop in a scene where everyone in the class had their laptops out, and has an entire book's worth of Fanon about her.
In Weiß Kreuz, Momoe, the little old lady who supposedly owns the shop the four protagonists work at. In most episodes, if she even appears, she sits quietly in the background, never moving from her rocking chair, petting a cat that's curled up on her lap. She's apparently an agent for Kritiker, as she plays the "deaf old lady" role to the hilt and never responds to questions about where her employees are, even at gunpoint, except to discuss her store's stock.
In Legend of Galactic Heroes, due to its massive cast, some characters inevitably end up with this role whose sole purposes were to avoid creating the impressions of an Oddly Small Organization. A good example would be the group of officers in the Yang Fleet who were always present in its high level strategic meetings but rarely (if ever) raise any comments.
Sykes in The Intimates is technically a main character, but he's a walking vegetable who never talks. This is due to the Null Field that contains his powerful psychic abilities, which has the side-effect of dampening his thought process.
Monsters, Inc. had Sulley and Randall's co-scarers on their scare floor. Similar to the Foster's example, all of them were eventually profiled for the DVD release. We can't say the same thing about their scare assistants (besides Mike, obviously), though...
Yasha Mousekewitz, the baby in An American Tail, is an example of how baby characters can often become living props. In the later DTV sequels she's hardly ever even shown awake.
Stephanie, Phil's wife in The Hangover and its sequel, has one line in each film & is never named on screen. This applies even more so in the sequel where she spends her brief screentime hovering silently at Phil's shoulder, and her one line comes amids several characters speaking at the same time when Alan runs a speedboat aground & everyone is checking to make sure the guys are okay.
This is a by-product of Todd Phillips' complete inability to write or direct women. Every one of his movies features at least one actress playing a living prop. In fact, almost every female character in The Hangover is either a living prop or depicted as a shrew.
Ethan, in the 2007 I Am Legend movie. He is not a speaking role (or an emoting role), but he's there for the second half of the movie, always in the background or foreground. He doesn't do anything, he needs rescued a couple times, and his only real reason for being in the movie is so he can watch Shrek shortly after appearing on-screen. No, really.
Wes Mantooth: What, you guys can't say one thing? Even the guy that can't think said something. You guys just stand there? Come on!
W: In the autobiographical film of George W. Bush, There is a scene where Bush is berating U.S Army commander Tommy Franks for not finding WMD's. Sitting next to Franks is a British officer (Presumably representing Air Marshal Brian Burridge, head of UK Forces) who shifts awkwardly in his chair and looks as if he is going to speak a few times. But he says nothing.
Sleepless In Seattle has a particularly notable one, where the living prop is on two different planes from Seattle to New York in the same day.
The abbreviated six-episode first season of The Office featured several background characters in addition to the speaking cast. By Season 2 the extras were gone.
Walter Harriman in Stargate SG-1. Originally nicknamed "Chevron Guy" because his only role in the series was to announce Engaging Chevrons, he got a proper name and some involvement in the plot in later seasons.
And once Walter started becoming a real person, they introduced Sylvester Siler to be the Prop guy in the background. And then Siler got a name and lines and characterization.
Also from DS9: Morn, the silent, morose-looking alien extra perpetually stationed at the far end of Quark's bar, who seemed so profoundly dedicated to doing nothing at all that he actually became the center of fan attention.
Morn even got his own episode ("Who Mourns For Morn?") and was still an uncredited extra with no lines! The Running Gag being that when Morn is not on camera, he's the life of the party. The viewers just never get to experience it.
Voyager has Lt. Ayala, a regular extra who appeared in all seven seasons. Formerly one of Chakotay's Maquis crew, he can often be seen filling in for Tuvok or Harry. We know a fair bit about him, but not from his mouth — in 115 episodes, he had only four lines.
The silver-haired detective in The Shield. Never got a line, but he was acknowledged when he got a round of applause for being the first person to use the newly-fixed men's toilets in season four (they broke just before the first ever episode of season one).
JAG: Petty Officer Jason Tiner, the Admiral's yeoman, slowly transisted from this state to a recurring character during seasons 2 to 5.
The Bill calls such characters "Totally Reliable Extra Veterans" (TREVs).
In Friends, Gunther the barista started as one of these, but was elevated to a side character due to jokes based on his crush on Rachel.
Lieutenant Leslie in Star Trek: The Original Series. So much a prop that in one episode, he is killed off and later reappears in the background under the assumption that no-one would notice. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, he has his own fan site. Leslie appears in more episodes than Sulu or Chekov, though you could count the number of episodes he has lines in on one hand.
Lt. Galloway also fits. Galloway has also kinda sorta returned from the dead; the writers remembered his death in time to change the character's name to "Johnson" at the last minute, but when he appeared again in the final episode, he was credited as Galloway (though not named on camera).
There's also Lt. Hadley, who appeared in 62 of the series' 79 episodes (usually filling in for Sulu or Chekov when one of them was unavailable) but never got a single line of dialogue.
The regular customers at Cheers whose names are not Norm, Frasier or Cliff. Some of them (such as Paul) were eventually promoted to Recurring Characters. In fact, Cliff was one of these for the first few episodes.
The tattooed pilot was a particular fan favourite.
Scrubs has a collection of doctors that regularly appear on screen but (mostly) do not talk. For example, Colonel Doctor (called that because he looks like the Colonel Sanders), Dr. Beardface (It's Be-ARD-fa-SAY!), Dr. Mickhead, and Snoop Dogg Intern.
Sorry. Snoop Dogg Resident.
It's Snoop Dogg Attending now. He got promoted.
They actually start showing up rather frequently and get jokes in. Several one-shot characters often become minor characters after positive reception. These characters are third tier while the doctors that don't get jokes would be living props.
The staff (and several customers) of Cafe Nervosa in Frasier. While no waiter lasted the full 11 years of the series, they did tend to stick around for a few of them. Similarly many of the extras portraying customers stayed there for many years.
Some of the minor staff (orderlies, nurses and others) in M*A*S*H probably count as examples.
The names "Nurse Able" and "Nurse Baker" are used, but not with any consistency. That is, "Nurse Able" will be one actress in one episode, and a different actress in another episode, even if the first actress is also in this one.
Though Able and Baker are also part of the military alphabet at the time meaning Nurse Able and Nurse Baker may have been as much shift titles as anything else.
On 30 Rock, most of the TGS writers. Only Liz, Frank, Toofer and occasionally Lutz have sizable parts.
Another writer is lucky enough to have the recurring name of Female Writer.
Who was eventually given the full name of Sue LaRoche-Van der Hout when a joke called for someone to be offended in French and Dutch at the same time.
Because the Doctor Who production team used the same stuntmen repeatedly in those days, you would get a recurring group of silent uncredited redshirts. Pat Gorman was one who got bits of dialogue and graduated to credited status near the end of the UNIT era, but even then he was still known as "UNIT Corporal" or "Soldier." One of them, Max Faulkner, appeared in a small capacity as a redshirt UNIT soldier in 1970, but by his next appearance in 1975, had gotten a rank and a last name "Corporal Adams."
All of the other members of the Sweathogs' class in Welcome Back, Kotter. They were there simply because a high school class of only five students, especially in Brooklyn, would be unbelievable.
In the early seasons of LOST, the survivors camp consisted of about eight main characters and forty living props. Eventually, a Mauve Shirt lampshaded it by complaining about how clique-ish the main characters were. Regardless, the fans refused to accept the premise that Nikki and Paulo might have been Ascended Extras.
They made a great effort of keeping the show's background cast consistent throughout the years. While some faces inevitably came and went, many people kept appearing among the crash survivors for 5 or 6 seasons without any impact on the plot whatsoever. In addition, background cast of more seldom appearing groups (The Others, The Tailies, The Ajira folk) remained consistent as well, people were called over season-long gaps to reprise their brief non-speaking roles.
Until they all got killed by random flaming arrows in a season 5 time-jump...
The writers referred to these remaining un-ascended characters as "socks," and were happy to be rid of them, freeing them up to focus the remainder of the series on the main cast and their nonsensical endgame.
When The Mary Tyler Moore Show was about to be canceled, the staff writers completed a script that was intended to be the very last episode of the series, but which was ultimately not used. In this script, a mad bomber leaves a series of bombs in Minneapolis, and various clues indicate that the bomber is someone in the WJM-TV newsroom. The regular characters all start suspecting each other. The bomber turns out to be one of the dozens of faceless Human Props who were seen along the back wall of the newsroom throughout this series.
Brad the Pianist on Glee. He does nothing but play the piano for the kids. Has received several lampshades.
Santana: I went through that "Rumours"-album and found that best song that expressed my feelings for you. [beat] My private feelings.
Brittany: [Gestures to Brad] What about him?
Santana: He's just furniture. Sorry, no offense. (Brad shrugs)
Matt Rutherford and Mike "Other Asian" Chang count as well, at least in the first season. They were generally two of the most skilled dancers on the program, but neither spoke more than a line or two. They ended up going in opposite directions; Matt wasn't named until after several episodes, and then Put on a Bus in the second season, whereas Mike's dancing was featured more and more and eventually became a recurring character and Tina's romantic interest in season 2. Tina herself had become this due to lack of development and complete solos, addressed as a major plot point in an episode aptly titled "Props".
The Jazz band. They are always around when needed for a song. In one episode, two of them got to perform in Sectionals on stage with the New Directions. They still did not get any lines, though.
Sienna Cammeniti (played by model and 2006 Miss AustraliaErin McNaught) was added to Neighbours for the sole purpose of sexing-up the cast and helping boost ratings. It didn't work.
Lisa Hayes seemed to exist for the sole purpose of getting dumped by Lucas.
In Earth 2, seventeen people crash land on G889, and for the entire series, three of them are never given lines. These three are also never or almost never mentioned by name, with the exception of one, whose death is a major plot point in the finale.
The Time Tunnel had four or five people in white lab coats, standing way in the background of Mission Control, endlessly checking the same painted-on gauges or fiddling with the same dials. This trope was unintentionally underlined in one episode, when one of the regular characters shouted at them to evacuate in the face of a Negative Time Wedgie that threatened to destroy the base. Only two even reacted, seemingly out of surprise, before returning to their 'work'. (Another character immediately covers by voicing their desire to stick with the project 'till the bitter end.)
Most of the fraternity and sorority members in Greek were this. Very few were given lines, and most of these were in the three main houses of the series; the rest were lucky to get one member with lines.
Jeff, Louie's assistant on Taxi, and sadly, the only black character on the show. Nick At Nite once chronicled his rise from just lurking in the background, to getting a couple of lines here and there, to having the occasional subplot and a single episode in the limelight.
Non-fiction example: On Great British Menu, each competing chef is provided with an assistant to, uh, assist. These assistants are on camera throughout the cookery scenes, but are never referred to, and the only time you ever hear them speak is to say "cheers" when the winning chef shares the champagne at the end of the week.
Dad's Army: the seven main characters make up only about a third of the troop. The rest are just props. One of them, Private Sponge, gets a few lines and ends up being the Colonel Makepeace of the series.
The students in Justin's delinquent class on Wizards of Waverly Place that aren't Alex, Felix, or Nelvis. They never speak and are not credited for their appearances.
Big Brother 13 had cast eight completely new people. You would not know this by watching the series.
Likewise, Survivor has also had this happen in seasons with verypoorediting. In Samoa and One World, the season winner could have been called a Living Prop.
Infamously, Survivor: Nicaragua contestant "Purple" Kelly Shinn was virtually invisible for half the season despite finishing in eighth place out of twenty. She did quit the game instead of being voted out normally, but that doesn't excuse the fact that other quitters have been edited more favorably.
Most of the other Greenshirts and Nerd Herd staff at the Buy More on Chuck are effectively Living Props. Although a few get lines and names, (Skip, Fernando and Bunny) they rarely get significant characterization or screen time. There are nonetheless several who appear throughout the series. This is Lampshaded in season 4, when the CIA gets the idea of Invoking this trope by buying, rebuilding and fully staffing the Buy More with CIA agents to take advantage of the anonymity of big box chain store employees. Unfortunately, the CIA agents end up standing out instead, but that's what you get for expecting people to believe Olivia Munn, Summer Glau, and The Man Your Man Could Smell Like would actually work at the Buy More...
In some episodes of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Debra's kids come off as living props. There often are entire episodes where they have no lines. Even when they do have parts in the show, they usually only are to start the main plot with the adult cast.
In The Inbetweeners Carli D'Amato's best friend is a girl name Rachel who plays a small part in one episode and gets one line in the movie ("stalking you abroad") but who otherwise simply hovers silently at Carli's side to show she actually has a friend.
In Mission: Impossible an in-universe example - when Phelps needed to introduce the mark to a phony place of business or hospital, he would often recruit the Hartford Repretory Players to serve as background workers or doctors.
In Dale Messick's comic strip Brenda Starr, most of the scenes in the newsroom featured a lot of anonymous characters in the background while Brenda was the center of attention. For several years, Messick included in background panels a female staffer with a distinctive topknot and glasses, but this character was unnamed and had no dialogue. Abruptly, Messick wrote a continuity in which this character — suddenly identified as Lucy Fixture — won a fortune in the sweepstakes and had an adventure of her own before vanishing from the strip.
A Jobber will often be this. Most jobbers will only be around to get beaten by more prominent wrestlers and add bodies to huge fights. A jobber that fits this rarely if ever say anything and will only win a match if they're either facing another jobber (in which case, the promotion will definitely not bother televising that match) or if they're getting a push.
The Poopsmith in Homestar Runner is usually a Living Prop. Though he has taken a vow of silence and shovels crap for a living, so it's understandable why he isn't all that important.
Also, in the 20X6 mock-Japanese 'spin-off', Pan Pan and Cheatball. Pan Pan really only serves to show that 1-Up isn't a loner, and Cheatball really is treated as a prop!
Several of the background members of Tagon's Toughs spend most of their time as this. In the background but rarely having a major impact on the story but many of the non-humans are instantly recognisable due to their distinct profiles. Some of them (Andy, Legs, Elizabeth) are more Recurring Characters but default back to this between their times in the lime light.
Downplayed in Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Every resident who isn't in the main cast is a living prop, yet the creators of the show take the time to name them all, even going so far as to write a small paragraph about a dozen or so of them in the Season One DVD.
Many main cast's classmates in South Park. Some characters, like Butters, used to be Living Props before becoming major players.
And Butters was promoted to a major character to replace Kenny, who the creators recognized was just a Living Prop whose interaction with the other characters was limited at best.
Several people from Kim Possible, like the blond guy with spiky hair and Ned from Buenos Nachos. Or the girl with a blue shirt that appears like everywhere anytime. In the Grand Finale she even appeared twice in the same screen, thus making Fanon speculate that she has a twin sister.
One background character who fit the stereotype of a butch lesbian earned the Fan Nickname "Alex Sapphic." Eventually she was seen standing with another random extra, deemed her girlfriend "Leslie Bean."
Freakazoid! has Emmitt Nervend, a strange guy who shows up in odd places and just stands there. Most likely the ultimate living prop. Except for that one time where he's a salty dance hall chanteuse.
Not surprisingly, The Simpsons has a few. Wendell Borton—the pale and queasy kid in Bart's class—rarely has lines, much less an impact on the plot (though this may more be a case of Demoted to Extra, as they had a few lines early on). Policeman Eddie is mainly a prop too. Most of the police business is between Chief Wiggum and Lou.
This was lampshaded in an episode where Chief Wiggum becomes commissioner:
Chief Wiggum: "Lou, you're the new Chief. Eddie, you're the new Lou."
Eddie: "Who's the new Eddie?"
Chief Wiggum: We don't need an Eddie."
The example of Bart's classmates is also lampshaded at one point when even he can't remember which kid is which.
Those two guys at Moe's bar. No, not Homer and Barney. And no, not Lenny and Carl either, those other two guys. For the record, they're called Sam and Larry. Sam (cap) gets a few lines in early episodes, Larry (balding)... not such luck.
Most of the students in Casper High in Danny Phantom are usually the same students that randomly waltz around the school to keep its consistency. At times, a few will barge in and deliver one line before pushed to obscurity once more.
Lampshaded as the main plot of two episodes of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law, in an ironic effort to draw attention away from a small blunder he made, Harvey points out the fact that one of the jurors was in some of his previous trials. This not only forces a mistrial, but it soon leads to Judge Mentok noticing that the ENTIRE jury was in every single episode, so Harvey's entire legal career has to be done all over again.
SpongeBob SquarePants uses many of the same background characters, but except for a few, like the surfer fish, they have a different voice every time.
In Spider-Man: The New Animated Series (the short-lived CGI MTV series), the budgetary limitations forced the animators to reuse certain character models as extras over and over again, sometime in very different context. Lampshaded in the DVD extras.
Tim from The Magic School Bus, even by The Generic Guy standards. He usually just sits or stands around, occasionally drawing what he sees (which is even more superfluous than it sounds), making very few useful observations, and never "learning" anything from his experiences.
A Walrus and few of his friends from Camp Lazlo have also been in the background. There is an episode that lampshades this and gives the walrus a day in the limelight.
There are a number of such characters in Arthur, mostly recurring townspeople and the students in D.W.'s class. Like a pair of rabbit kids who've been in Arthur's class since season 1, but are not as developed as their classmates (in 14 seasons, the male one has only talked twice, and the female one never!). MacFrensky had a class list with the names Alex & Maria on it, but some fans refuse to believe those are their names, since Arthur has had several other one-shot classmates over the years (never mind that the two rabbits were the only other two kids besides the already named regulars shown in class in that episode).
Arthur also deserves special mention for having promoted some of their former Living Props to actual named, voiced characters. Fern, George, and Jenna have all been present in Arthur's classroom since the beginning. This trope was retroactively justified by all three turning out to be shy, introverted, or both. In George's case, it's even lampshaded by the others having only ever known him as "that shy, goofy kid with the big horns."
When the Justice League expanded in Justice League Unlimited, many of the new additions were essentially living props. Characters like Sand, Obsidian, Hourman, and Nemesis did little but hang around in the background and participate in battle royales.
Codename: Kids Next Door has several kids that are seen often in the series, but rarely they serve other purpose than to be victims of the episode's villain. There are exceptions, like Eggbert who becomes class president and Leona who is Really 700 Years Old.
A number of the show's supervillains also fill that role. Examples include the Iguana, Bright Idea, and Teen Tornado.
The Number Nine Guy in Futurama has a number of background appearances in the series until he finally has an actual role in the fourth DVD movie.
The tendency for familiar faces to show up in new settings has not gone unnoticed by the fans. When the main cast visit the frontier town Appeloosa, half of the locals are regular Ponyvillians in big hats. After Trixie had her reputation destroyed by the Ursa Minor incidents, the images she shows of her later attempts to reestablish herself imply that Bon Bon (a fan favorite background pony) followed her all over Equestria to make fun of her at every opportunity.
The Venture Bros. has a ridiculously small stable of civilian background characters, leading to many of them popping up in places that make no sense in context with the last time we saw them. The number of villainous background characters is similarly small, leading to a lot of familiar faces whenever a main villain throws a party or show up to an event. Publick and Hammer spend much of the commentaries bemoaning this.
Winx Club has the fairies of Alfea that are learning there. They are used for classroom and big battle scenes, and not much else. Some of them, such as minor character Amaryl, are apparently still attending Alfea years after they should have graduated.
Moral Orel: When Orel is shown hanging with friends such as Doughy, Tommy or Joe, there's this one unnamed kid who's essentially there to take up space. The fact that his name is unrevealed and he's not especially distinct is a Running Gag.
The other village leaders besides Raanu in BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn are just there to show that the other villages have leaders who attend arena matches too, but Raanu's the only one who does anything. In fact, Tajun's supposed leader doesn't even react at all to the news of his village's destruction.
Invoked in Japanese theatre. The stagehands in western theatre would normally be offstage most of the time, only showing up if there was a Special Effect Failure or serious accident. In contrast, Japanese theatre had the stagehands be visible a lot more, and they would dress in a black suit and wear a mask that only showed their eyes...sound familiar? Thus, the audience was trained to ignore the people in black suits...and then would jump in shock when one of those living props draws a weapon and "kills" one of the characters.
Interestingly, there is a tendency for people to ignore uniformed personnel when they don't need to interact with them. This is why it can be easy to go some places without being noticed so long as you look like you belong there or why you never look at the security guard sitting at his desk unless you're feeling guilty.
Visible stagehands, as an aside, have also started to occur in Western theatre and opera. For example, they might exchange on-stage props furniture at the end of a scene. However, they are usually costumed.