Under penalty of law this tag is not to be removed except by the consumer.
— part of the text legally required on all mattresses, pillows and comforters sold in the U.S.
These tags seen on mattresses and pillows are the subject of numerous gags. Most commonly they involve a goody two-shoes character who accidentally or intentionally removes one, and then assumes he's in danger of going to jail and ends up on the run. Note that in modern times, that part "except by the consumer" means that it doesn't even apply to those who are so worried about it. Even if it did, it wouldn't be nearly so much of a crime as people say it is. (Even if the authorities didn't have bigger things on their plate, like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking
, how would they know?) However, in the past, this phrasing wasn't there, making the worries slightly more legitimate.
The reason there is such a warning tag is that the tag lists such information as the materials used in making the mattress (especially, that they are "new material only" — because of historical problems of things being stuffed with disease-ridden rags) and the country of origin. Thus, it is illegal for the seller
of the mattress to remove the tag, in order to protect the consumer. The words "...except by the consumer"
have been there since at least the 60s, making this a Discredited
, Dead Horse Trope
Can also cause bafflement
to people from nations where such tags aren't put on mattresses.
Can overlap with Poke the Poodle
, Felony Misdemeanor
Oh and if you remove it you void the warranty.
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- In the Illuminati: New World Order Collectible Card Game, the "Crackdown on Crime" card has a picture of a SWAT team menacingly training their laser-sights on a man who's halfway through tearing off a mattress-tag.
- Judge Dredd used this in a non-humorous (well, kinda; no-one was joking but it was still funny) manner. After they realize their hunch was wrong and they have raided the wrong house, in order to avoid paying compensation, the Judges find an alternate charge and give the householder a caution for "removing the safety tags from his soft furnishings".
- The short-lived Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure comic-book has their arch-enemy DeNomolos releasing several evildoers (and an crooked accountant) from Hell, including "Alan! Murderer! Arsonist! Pillow tag tearer!"
- A Bonkers comic in Disney Adventures has an especially epic example of this. After a character accidentally tears one mattress tag off — which reads "Removing this tag is a federal offence. Go directly to jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do not collect $200" — and promptly goes off on a crime spree trying to ensure he can get away with this. Hiding it under a truckload of cherries, he crosses paths with Bonkers and Fall-Apart Rabbit when Rabbit's nose falls off and seemingly gets mixed in with the cherries. Believing they know about the mattress, he drives off with Fall-Apart Rabbit, moving up to kidnapping in addition to ripping off the tag and later attempting to burn the evidence.
- Referenced in a comic strip which has the engineers giving technical advice to marketing about the accuracy of an advert, then seguing into criticising its humour and suggesting very old jokes in its place, including "something about the warning tags on mattresses".
- In another strip, Dilbert enters a stand up comedy competition which has the mandatory categories "Dan Quayle, Flatulence and The Warning Labels on Mattresess".
- Happens in one Hägar the Horrible comic strip.
- An early Lio strip.
Films — Live-Action
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure: Mickey, the fugitive who first picks Pee-Wee up, claims to be on the run from the police for that very reason to keep from scaring Pee-Wee; it's strongly implied that he really did something a lot worse than that.
- In horror movie parody Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday The Thirteenth, the characters are shown to have thrown a man hit by their car into the sea, but interpret threatening notes about it as being for other minor misdeeds. This ends with a girl accidentally pulling off a mattress tag in the middle of sex. With the local priest.
- When a woman catches reporter Fletch searching her bedroom, he tries a few bluffs, including, "Mattress Police. Where are the tags on these mattresses?"
- Greek Myths: Western Style by Barbara McBride-Smith inserts this joke into the myth of Pandora's box.
- Bart Simpson's Guide to Life recommends the use of these tags as a last-minute Show And Tell.
- The story "Above the Law, Below the Box Springs", in Woody Allen's book Mere Anarchy.
- The Warning Label Book by Joey Green, Tony Dierckins, and Tim Nyberg claims that the tags are there to cover up damage the retailer may have accidentally done to the mattress.
- This was one of the many rules broken in the music video for Green Day's song "Warning".
- A classic National Lampoon cover, "The Crime Issue," done in the style of an old crime-pulp magazine cover: A shadowy room; in the background is a woman pressing her back against the wall and cringing in fear; in the foreground is a man's leather-gloved hands bending up the corner of a mattress and about to rip off the label: "This tag is not to be removed under penalty of LAW"!
- In 1984, MAD published a special issue entitled Mad 84, featuring previously-unpublished material. One piece was "The Mad Reader's Sex Survey", by Larry Siegel, illustrated by Bob Clarke. One multiple-choice question showed an orgy scene from a porno film (which can be seen here, sans text, in the lower right corner of the page) and asked the reader for his reaction, with the joke being that the answer choices were all pedantic, detail-oriented observations having nothing to do with sex (i.e. "A. Doesn't the man with the whipped cream know it's not kosher to mix dairy with meat?"). One of the answer choices is "That guy in the dress is going to be in big trouble if he rips the tag off that mattress."
- Used in an issue of Cracked for an article titled "You Might be Gullible If...". One entry was "...you believe those tags that say do not remove under penalty of law" and showed a SWAT team kicking down the door just as man ripped the tag off the mattress.
- In Llamas With Hats, "Caaaarl" claims to have caused a nuclear explosion by ripping off the tag of a mattress
- In one Looney Tunes short, Daffy Duck accidentally pulls the tag off of a junked mattress, and — believing himself to be a criminal — goes on the run. When he checks into a motel, he just happens to end up sharing a room with a wanted bank robber. Hilarity Ensues when the police shows up...
- On one episode of Garfield and Friends, where Wade's imagination gets ahead of him, he envisions bank robbers (maybe serial killers?) terrified at the prospect of sharing a cell with a pillow tag remover (him, no less!).
- The reason why he removed the tag? He thought it was Orson Pig's paper!
- In the Ed Edd N Eddy episode "Stop, Look, and Ed", Eddy torments Edd by ripping the tag off a mattress.
- In an episode of Darkwing Duck set in a potential future where Darkwing has gone mad and imprisoned anyone who commited even the most minor crimes, he rants about how he hates criminals, ending with, "Especially those people who tear the tags off of pillows, I really hate them."
- An episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ends with the villain of the moment being thrown in jail for a variety of crimes, ending with mattress-tag ripping.
- An episode of Men In Black: The Series features an alien race that's downright obsessive about law and order, complete with an ultra-brutal gulag for housing the many, many lawbreakers they round up. How strict are they? When Jay finds himself in the prison, he asks a fellow inmate what he's in for, and, well, it turns out they take their mattress tags very seriously.
- In the episode Born to be wild of Sponge Bob Square Pants. SpongeBob asks about Squidward of when he has overreacting, one of the things was accidentally removing a mattress tag.
- An episode of Johnny Bravo features Johnny jokingly tearing off the mattress tag, only to have a helicopter arrive seconds later and pursue him. However, the helicopter pilot only did that to invite him to the Police Department bake sale.
- In one episode of Chalk Zone, Snap pulls the tag off his mattress and gets sent to "label prison". He and the other inmates escape, and the guards end up in one of the cells... which has no bars and no door, but has a huge sign above the doorway that says "NO EXIT".
- An episode of the Earthworm Jim cartoon did it dead straight, identifying a sofa as EEEEEVIL because someone had removed the sticker. (The sofa was evil, but not for that reason...)
- In the movie-parody episode of The Fairly OddParents, Timmy is trying to find out who "kidnapped" Wanda, and going through suspects like a detective. His dad, who for some reason desperately wants to be seen as a suspect in Timmy's mind, keeps doing harmless crimes, one of which is ripping off a bunch of mattress tags.
- One of the LarryBoy chapter books had this listed as one of Awful Alvin's crimes.