"It was bizarre. You have to understand that there was a huge, roaring battle going on between my friends and the Hork-Bajir. And I was standing there, having just punched out a Leeran. But all the two Vissers seemed to care about was trashing each other.This is a powerful organization that could have a strong impact on the plot. Unfortunately, its members are too busy arguing to do anything. If the heroes take orders from them, their lack of a united front may prevent the protagonists from taking action. Even if there is a Reasonable Authority Figure among them, their voice rarely rises above all the bickering. The most interesting thing its members ever do will be using their fists in the debate. Sometimes, this is a result of The Mole or Les Collaborateurs actively trying to prevent the organization from taking action. In other situations, the problem is internal: faced with insurmountable odds, the group has given up, or simply decided the issue is not their problem. Certainly, there is no Leader. The group can range from an Absurdly Powerful Student Council that cannot agree what to do with a problematic bully to a version of The Alliance where every member country, from The Kingdom to The Republic, has a very different idea of how to deal with The Empire's war on The Federation. See We ARE Struggling Together and Divided We Fall, and Jurisdiction Friction if it's not one organization but several who are having trouble reconciling their differences. Compare Orcus on His Throne and Achilles in His Tent for individual cases of people who could strongly affect the plot but do nothing for various reasons. Also compare A House Divided, Hufflepuff House, All-Powerful Bystander. Contrast Omniscient Council of Vagueness, which is rarely seen doing anything but seems to have strong — if mysterious — impact on the plot. In the end, don't expect them to move their pieces in the Divine Chessboard at all, leaving themselves open to a checkmate by the villain's agents. Please avoid real life examples.
Politics. I guess it's the same everywhere."
Politics. I guess it's the same everywhere."
— Marco, The Escape
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Anime & Manga
- Axis Powers Hetalia depicts the Allied Powers of World War II in this way; each of the five (six if you include Canada) are so wrapped up in their individual agendas that they never seem to get around to actually stopping the Axis, despite the fact that they're perfectly capable. Particularly noticeable in that their arguments often have nothing to do with the actual war effort — more often they're about things like America's spotlight-hogging, England's bad cooking, or Russia's general creepiness.
America: No need to argue, 'cause I'm right!
Russia: I know my ideas are best because otherwise I kill them.
China: I'm only allowed to hear my own thoughts and those are the ones I like.
- In Dangan Ronpa 3 Side: Future, it's revealed the Branch leaders of the Future Foundation are this. They barely work due to Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, but seem to internally hate each other.
- Star Driver has Kiraboshi, the local villian organisation, whose single fractions seems to hardly ever get anything done in terms of cooperating. Slightly justified, since most fraction leaders (and lesser members) are overeaeger teenagers... except for a small bunch of adults, who absolutely aren't any better. Needless to say, their record of dealing with their problem (i.e. The Hero) is nonexisting.
- The Monitors from Countdown to Final Crisis, who spend almost the entire series arguing if they should do something or not. It's worth noting that later in the series the main characters have to decide if they should kill Karate Kid, annihilating his disease before it will kill him and turn into a pandemic, or look for another way to deal with it. Instead of doing something, they spend the entire time bickering at each other, until it's too late.
Linkara: (summarizing) "We should do something!" "Should we do something?" "We should do something!" "Should we do something?" "We should do something!" "Should we do something?" YES, YOU SHOULD DO SOMETHING, YOU BORING IDIOTS!
- In most versions of Superman, the Kryptonian council is at best unable to believe the planet is about to explode and at worst aware of it but incapable of doing anything about it, even when Superman's father Jor-El does suggest a solution. It's not uncommon for General Zod to have very good reason for overthrowing them.
- In Strange Adventures, the Weird has the powers of a god, and is using them to destroy the universe. Inside his head are echoes of six beings he has merged with. Together, they could stop him. Unfortunately, three of them think he should use the power for good, and three of them think he should abandon it. So they do nothing. Eventually one of them is convinced to change his mind.
- The "Illuminati" in Marvel (a secret group comprised of some of the most powerful heroes in the world), was formed so that they could pool their knowledge and head off major threats before they got worse. Black Panther, who was present for their first meeting, did not join because he saw this trope coming. The actual Illuminati were Professor X, Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Namor, Black Bolt of The Inhumans and Doctor Strange. Later, due to a disagreement concerning how to handle the Hulk, Namor left the group. During the Civil War, the group splintered over those who supported the superhuman registration act and those who did not; Tony and Reed supported it, Doctor Strange and Black Bolt did not, while Namor was neutral (he eventually sided with the anti-registration side) and Xavier was gone. The group reformed again, this time because of Black Panther, in order to combat multiversal incursions, the collision of other Earths from the multiverse. They... end up accomplishing nothing, and the group once again falls apart due to in-fighting and bickering.
- Also in Marvel, the "Council of Godheads", consisting of the leaders of all of Earth's mythological pantheons, fits this trope to a T. A group of immortals and near-immortals, all of whom possess vast mystical power, with some so powerful that they could pop the Earth like a balloon if they really wanted to. Needless to say they are completely useless and even when multiverse-threatening menaces loom they just stand around showing off their bling and rationalizing why they cannot do anything about the problem.
- In DC, the gods are hardly any better. The Quintessence was composed of cosmic powers Zeus, all-powerful wizard Shazam, Highfather of the New Gods, The Phantom Stranger, and one of the Guardians of the Universe. They tended to meet up to discuss major problems only to act to prevent another from acting since they could never agree on a course of action. The one time their longstanding enemy Darkseid contacted them, merely to request not to be bothered while he dealt with the Emperor Joker crisis, it turned out the Quintessence had already been reduced to babbling idiots by the Joker.
- The Mobian Royal Council in Sonic the Hedgehog. Comprised of former Freedom Fighters (Rotor Walrus and Sir Charles "Uncle Chuck" Hedgehog), Substitute Freedom Fighters (Dylan Porcupine, Hamlin Pig and Penelope Platypus), at least one mother (Rosemary Prower) with the current ruler being the tie breaker. The problem here is that the Substitute Freedom Fighters have varying views (Dylan is easily cowed, Hamlin's still steamed that he was ignored for so long that his choices are seen to be the "right" one in his view, and Penelope doesn't debate) and Rosemary is still suspicious of the crown thanks to her time in space. It got to the point where Rotor up and quit the Council when they voted to kick NICOLE out of New Mobotropolis for her involuntary involvement in the Iron Queen's rule, leading to his replacement, Isabella Mongoose (Mina Mongoose's mother), to step up to the plate and put people in their place... starting with getting NICOLE back after Rotor and his new team made a big chump out of current ruler Ixis Naugus.
- One Green Lantern story took place on Zilliph, a planet inhabited by a peaceful, extremely democratic species. When a Green Lantern is killed fighting an invading ship, one of them named Taa is given the ring as he dies. Taa shows the ring to the governing council, who spend days studying and debating while the invaders run rampant over Zilliph. The people vote not to use the ring, as "The self is to be subject to the many, that is the way." Taa decides "Well, the way sucks."
- Just like in canon, the Citadel Council in Fractured and its sequel Origins has this hat glued to their heads. They ignore pretty much every threat that comes up: the Reapers, a rather bloody warning about an Alien Invasion made possible by technological cross-overs, and the actual alien invasion itself, the Flood. The Home Galaxy Senate appears to run on this trope like its predecessor, being corrupt, incompetent, and bullied/bought off by seedier elements.
- Naruto definitely sees the UN this way The (Questionable) Burdens of Leadership of a Troll Emperor. According to him they still haven't stopped arguing over his empire mining the rest of the solar system years after he started. Naruto says he'll die of old age before they decide on anything and he's immortal.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series: Parodied (like everything else) with Marik's Evil Council of Doom, whose members spend more time bitching at and criticizing each other than actually carrying out their plans to defeat Yugi. The few times that they actually try anything, it goes hilariously wrong.
- The Child of the Storm universe has the Council Elite of Skyfathers, a gathering of the heads of all of Earth's pantheons. They only assemble during times of great crisis... and judging by what we see in Ghosts of the Past, they just spend all their time arguing.
- The Somewhat Cracked Mind Of Uchiha Itachi: Suna's advisory council mainly do nothing but bicker in-story. The only thing they ever agreed on was who they wanted to succeed Rasa as Kazekage (Elder Chiyo), but she hates politics and promptly told them "screw you", which they had to take as a decline. They made Baki acting-Kazekage instead, and while he's an effective administrator, he can barely do more than that as he lacks the power to permanently take the position, leaving him with little political clout. At one point Shukaku complains that the Konoha 12 (which consists of a bunch of preteens who are chunin at best) are more productive during their meetings, much to Gaara's amusement.
Films — Live-Action
- The United Nations in On Her Majesty's Secret Service seems to spend an inordinate amount of time debating whether to grant Blofeld's demand for amnesty from all past crimes and for his dubious claim to the title of count to be recognized which for a supervillain is fairly reasonable, to say nothing of the fact that he plans to unleash biological warfare if his demands are not met.
- The Entmoot in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers spends quite a long time yakking about what to do about Saruman, and the only answer they can all agree on is: nothing. It's not until Merry and Pippin show Treebeard the destruction that Saruman is causing to the forest that Treebeard decides to Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!, and the others follow his lead.note
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has the pirates holed up on an island with the English East India Company's fleet right outside. They can't decide on what to do so they have a vote to decide who becomes the pirate king despite the fact that every other time they had one, it ended in a draw because everybody kept voting for themselves. It seems to go that way this time, too, until Elizabeth sarcastically votes for herself — and Jack backs her up.
- A staple in the Star Wars universe. To the extent that it has led to allegations that the series promotes a Democracy Is Bad philosophy.
- The Galactic Senate in The Phantom Menace under the leadership of Chancellor Valorum. They respond to Queen Amidala's plea for help against the army invading her world which she herself narrowly escaped by proposing a commission to investigate whether there really was an invasion (that she saw with her own eyes). Helped by the fact that the Big Bad and architect of the invasion was a member of the senate and keeping it stalled, although it doesn't seem to take much manipulation on his part. By the end of Revenge of the Sith they finally agree on something... which is to vote themselves out of power.
- Roughly fifty years later, the galaxy still has not learned. In background materials for The Force Awakens it is revealed that the New Republic, having triumphed in the Galactic Civil War, subsequently proceeds to simply assume that their treaties with The Remnant, the First Order, are sacrosanct. Leia and others who had accumulated piles of proof that the First Order was actually engaged in a massive military build-up were dismissed by the Chancellor and most of the Senate as "warmongers". The current capital of the New Republic gets obliterated by the First Order's new Planet Killer while one of Leia's representatives is there lobbying the Senate to take the threat of the First Order seriously.
- The Jedi Council is supposed to be comprised of the best and brightest the Jedi Order has to offer, but unfortunately, this doesn't stop them from making several spectacular errors—most notably completely and utterly failing to realize that the Sith Lord they've been looking for has been operating right under their noses for years—which eventually leads to the rise of the Empire and the destruction of the Jedi.
- The dog council In Cats & Dogs. The setup looks like the UN, with dogs represented from each nation, to the point where the German representative (a German shepherd, of course) has a distinct accent and uses Gratuitous German. The argument over whether to hand over the cure to dog allergies to the cats in exchange for the captive human family turns into your typical barking match coupled with a few frisbees being thrown for good measure. The chairman requests a "pacifying tool" to be employed, which turns out to be an electric can opener, causing every dog to look at it in anticipation.
- There's a United Nations expy in Batman: The Movie that the unified gathering of the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Riddler seek to kidnap, capturing them by rendering them into powder. When they get there, they're all arguing. When an accident causes some of each other's powder to get mixed together, they end up switching personalities when they're restored, but they still keep arguing despite it.
- In Man of Steel, Jor-El is arguing with one at the beginning of the film. General Zod burts in moments later and overthrows them, citing that the Kryptonian Supreme Council does nothing but argue, instead of coming up with a solution to save the Kryptonian people.
- In much of ancient Greek literature, particularly The Iliad and The Odyssey, the gods behave like this. They could whisk Odysseus back home in an instant, but prefer to make bets with one another on whether he can make it home on his own.
- A villainous example are the Yeerk Empire's vissers in Animorphs. As the narrative goes on, it rapidly becomes clear the Yeerk Empire could have probably conquered Earth by now if the vissers weren't arguing and sabotaging each other at any given moment. And not just the Vissers; their bosses in the Council of Thirteen appear to lose a couple of members when trying to decide upon a verdict for whether the Vissers were traitors to their cause.
- In Fred Saberhagen's Book of Swords series, every time the gods gather in council they can't agree on anything and spend their time bickering and accusing each other, even when they are in peril from the swords they created.
- The gods in Percy Jackson and the Olympians tend to act this way, leaving it up to the heroes to get things done.
- Every other organisation in The Wheel of Time is an example of this, but a few specific examples deserve mention:
- The rebel Aes Sedai (female mages) all agree that their new Amyrlin Seat (think Fantasy Pope) is running the organization into the ground, but that's about all they can agree on. They finally decide to elect their own Amyrlin-Seat-in-exile, but because no faction has enough backing to push through its own candidate over the others' objections and because they are near-pathologically incapable of compromise, they finally settle on a candidate who isn't even a full Aes Sedai because they all think she'll be easily manipulated. Fortunately for them, she turns out to be The Chessmaster-in-training and a determinator, and plays the factions against each other until they all wake up and realize that she's become a political powerhouse while they weren't looking, and she is finally able to mobilize them into decisive action.
- The White Tower on its own is a great example; all of its full members are incredibly powerful, live for many times a human lifespan, and are so influential that even kings ask them for advice. They could be ruling the world, if they wanted to (and indeed, many people think they do)—if it weren't for the fact that they spent almost all of their time trying to one-up, manipulate or backstab each other, either to further their own personal—and often selfish—agendas (or mess up their colleagues'), or, even more tragic, to soothe their massive egos. Trying to fix this becomes a major headache for Egwene later on.
- The White Council of Wizards in the Dresden Files has severe and recurring problems with this, although sometimes the leadership fakes it to cover up their real plan.
- Turn Coat (book 11) reveals a key reason for all this— the eponymous turncoat (or at least, one of the people the name applies to in varying ways) was the secretary of the Council—and had been using subtle mind-control magic on all of them. In the most literal sense, they were letting the enemy set their agenda!
- The Clave from The Mortal Instruments. About partway into the second book, we can already sympathize with Big Bad Valentine Morgenstern for wanting to overthrow them since they seem to be more focused on hindering the good guys (which, in theory, includes themselves) than they are in stopping bad guys. Actual Lawful Good Shadowhunters frequently find themselves in To Be Lawful or Good situations simply because the Clave is hopelessly bogged down trying to figure out the most Lawful Stupid way of dealing with just about anything.
- In Katherine Kurtz' Deryni series, the Camberian Council (a Badass Crew when first founded) devolves into this trope over the centuries.
- In S.M. Stirling's Emberverse, Corvallis's Faculty Senate is contentious, divided, and often unable to come to a decision. The Protectorate attempts to manipulate their internal politics to keep Corvallis out of the War of the Eye. They only fail because a large number of Corvallans form a volunteer regiment and go into combat without waiting for a formal declaration of war.
- This is the type of legislature that Leia has to deal with in Star Wars Legends (formerly the Star Wars Expanded Universe). Despite her good judgement in the past, not to mention almost always being right about a potential threat, they never seemed to look at the problem with the proper attention it needed. Instead, they focused majorly on bickering with one another. Several characters suspect the Rebels only won the war because the Empire had most of its military wrapped up in preventing all its member states from trying to kill each other, and these same conflicts bring the New Republic to the edge of civil war several times. (As seen in The Force Awakens, this is very much still a problem in the new continuity. The more things change...)
- Humanity's Golgafrinchian ancestors in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe are such a bureaucratic cluster!@#$ that their invention of the wheel literally gets bogged down in committee pending market research on what color it should be. Justified in this case as they are basically exiles who'd been kicked off their home world for being completely useless. This is what happens when you let marketing executives form committees to find out what people "want" from fire, rather than just inventing it.
- As usual, the Honorverse has an example.
- The government of the Star Kingdom of Manticore tend to fall into this whenever they spend too much time in the spotlight. Based mainly on the old British government, it's an intricate collection of factions and groups, each with their own agendas and philosophies - and the Big Good can't do a damn thing if he can't rally a majority. Enter Honor Harrington, who is most definitely NOT a politician, and things are almost guaranteed to degenerate to the point where the hero's own government is a greater threat than the hostile superpower bearing down on her with a fleet of warships. The fifth book, Field of Dishonor, centers entirely around this - the fearsome People's Republic of Haven barely makes an appearance, and instead the time is spent trying to find a way to force a Declaration of War through the labyrinthine halls of a government filled in equal measure with Evil Aristocrats, Suicidal Pacifists and Xenophobic Isolationists.
- The Republic of Haven goes from an Attempted-Omniscient Council of Murder, Mayhem, and Spying to this trope after the Theisman Coup. Mission of Honor in particular shows that, like Manticore, the genuinely good government officials (Theisman, Pritchart, LePic, etc.) are hamstrung at every turn by the requisite selfish bastards (Giancola, "that snot" Younger). They spend most of said novel getting in the way of Eloise Pritchart's attempted peace treaty with Manticore, which spurs the President to cut the knot, shanghai most of her Cabinet, and make a mad dash to the Manticoran home system, where she offers the Queen said treaty in person. The treaty itself is therefore thrashed out by the two heads of state, Honor, and the sensible portions of Pritchart's and Elizabeth's Cabinets aboard Honor's flagship. It takes them three days.
- The Great Sanhedrin in The Kingdom and the Crown, mostly because Jews Love to Argue.
- StarClan in the Warrior Cats series. They're supposed to watch over and guide the Clans, but especially in the fourth series they tend to be bickering too much to agree on things.
- The Ruling Council of Krypton is depicted as this in The Last Days of Krypton. Most of the council are made up of old fuddies from the nobility who happen to have their heads up their asses, and any motion brought forward needs a unanimous vote, so even a single 'Nay' will be enough to keep things from going. Their general incompetence is such that Kal-El has no problems (initially) helping Zod take over after the Council is abducted along with the rest of Kandor by Brainiac and the other nobles prove to be no better.
- In Brotherhood of the Rose, the Big Bad uses this as an excuse for his Manipulative Bastard actions. As a young CIA agent he'd been told that those above him knew "The Big Picture" and this explained why so many orders seemed confusing and foolish. "Eventually I gained enough rank that I was one of the men in that room, and they were just as stupid and petty as they had appeared."
- Dave Barry Slept Here describes the two important functions of the very powerful U.N. Security Council: "(1) Pass sweeping resolutions intended to end bloody conflicts; and then (2) Veto, ignore, or walk out on these resolutions."
- The Reynard Cycle: The nobility of the series can't seem to get more than two of them into a room without this happening. Of the two major council meetings depicted so far, one third of the participants leave the proceedings dissatisfied. At one point, Reynard reflects that if the nobles could only put as much effort into fighting their enemies on the battlefield as they do with each other, they would be completely unstoppable. This is all justified by the fact that prior to the events of the first novel, a very long and very bloody civil war had been raging, and there is still a great deal of animosity between various factions and families.
- The Small Council of King's Landing in A Song of Ice and Fire are supposed to be not just the go-to advisers of the king, but the head administrators of the kingdom's equivalent of the arms of the civil service. When they aren't trying to backstab each other, other nobles and concerns... or the king himself (or queen regent, whichever), that is. At the start of the series it isn't too bad; the council members are masters in their disciplines, and the main threat is the King's own indifference towards their good advice until he dies for unrelated reasons. As the series goes on and they all start pursuing their own agendas in the newly chaotic situation, they get traded out as they leave the king's service or leave on other missions. By the fifth book the council has been completely replaced, and the new set are bickering incompetents (though they were deliberately appointed by Cersei to be that way so that they can't oppose her).
- It gets worse when the king is underage and the council rules collectively as regents (as opposed to a single regent with authority over the council). The regency council of Aegon III (who was 11 when he became king) constantly bickered with each other, to the point of one councillor having the queen killed in order to try and betroth the king to his own daughter. The king's sister-in-law was also besieged for more than 2 weeks after her family was accused of various things, and one of the regents was arrested and tortured for being allied with them. Eventually, King Aegon got tired of their shit and immediately dismissed them all the day he turned 16.
- In the Nightrunner series, the Aurënfaie Iia'sidra which governs the relationships between the various clans, as well as the external affairs, of the nation of Aurënen. As a fairly large country where a significant chunk of the population can use magic, Aurënen could easily be the dominant power in the region, eclipsing any or all of the neighboring human-ruled lands. But the many clan divisions along with the contentious politics and strong personalities of the clan heads sitting on the Iia'sidra tend to prevent the Aurënfaie from acting as a unified nation.
- In Midnight's Children, the Midnight's Children Conference eventually descends into this. Saleem tries to act as a voice of reason and galvanize them toward some abstract, philosophical purpose, but he can't overcome their own prejudices and the distraction of everyday troubles; they are, after all, only children.
- George Orwell, in one of his columns, parodied the furious inactivity of the United Nations shortly after the organization's founding (1946) by suggesting a new board game whose pieces would consist of "the proposal, the démarche, the stumbling-block, the stalemate, the deadlock, the bottle-neck and the vicious circle."
- In Discworld in two separate instances, one being simply a war between nations because of an island mysteriously appearing and second when some old heroes' plot would soon destroy the world, characters realized these councils would soon form. The only reasonable course of action, of course, would be to let them and lock them in a room with food and drink while they discuss what to do as the heroes actually do something to stop the events from spiraling out of control and things getting very much worse.
- In The Southern Reach Trilogy, Central is a powerful organization and has the appearance of an Illuminati-like entity, but it's riven by factionalism. Its priority is dealing with terrorism and ecological collapse, although what it knows about Area X is limited and has largely hit a wall regarding new data, especially with some of its members trying to accumulate power by withholding information.
- In Reaper's Gale, book seven of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, the Onyx Wizards of the Andara can't seem to agree on anything, detaining Silchas Ruin's party unneccessarily until he pulls rank and tell them where to stuff it. Decision speed isn't helped by them singing their arguments, in which they can't even agree on the tempo and — as far as Udinaas is concerned — they're probably arguing about the length of their robes, anyway.
- In the Heralds of Valdemar Mage Storms trilogy, the council appointed to deal with the problems of the mage storms and the Imperial army is this—between every possible group (up to and including dairy farmers) having a representative, half the representatives being more concerned with their own niche interests than the issue as a whole, and a hidebound xenophobic ambassador who stirs up no end of trouble by accusing the main character of being an enemy spy and refusing to entertain solutions that don't involve "kill all the Imperials", it's a wonder they get anything done. (They do eventually get better, but it takes a while.)
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
- The Watcher's Council. By the time of Angel, even Wesley shrugs off their violent demise without much grief.
- In Fray, whatever remnants of the Council that survived to the 23rd century have been reduced to a few insane zealots.
- Game of Thrones: The council in the Crownlands is more like outright snarking rather than bickering, really. However, with one Mad King, followed by one supremely uninterested king and then one brat king as the supposed head of government... is it all that surprising the ruling council is a divided, unsupervised mess?
- The Knights of the Round Table on an average day. That's what you get when you put a lot of Ditzes, Cloudcuckoolanders and Deadpan Snarkers at the same table. Arthur once manages to turn a heated discussion on Léodagan refusing to pave the roads in his kingdom by making a Rousing Speech that leads to a Misfit Mobilization Moment as the Knights of the Round Table, finally united in their Quest for the Holy Grail, set off... only for one to point out that they can't really get anything done near Léodagan's kingdom, seeing as the roads aren't paved... Arthur just slumps back down in his seat as the exact same argument starts again.
- The assembly of the Kings of Logres, once every four years, is even worse.
Hoël: [slamming the table] You're the worst bunch of slackers of the whole Celtic World!
Loth: I won't ever come back, let it be said, I'll do it, I'll stay home, shit, I've had enough...
Léodagan: [pointing toward Arthur] We already have one governing like a woman, we aren't going to start a collection, right?
Arthur: I'll give you fifteen days of hard labor, you'll see if it feels womanly!
- In Livre VI, the council of the "Ladies", even though they are divine beings, is shown to be just as bad as the mortals.
- Kamen Rider Gaim: Consider that the people running Ygdrasil Corporation are Mad Scientist, Bunny-Ears Lawyer, Dark Action Girl and Well-Intentioned Extremist. Now guess how long their alliance lasted. Just guess. If you thought around two third of the story, you are right. There was nothing holding them from tripping each other up after Takatora's supposed death and effectively tearing the company from the inside out.
- Doctor Who:
- The Time Lords in the classic series are depicted as this in "The Deadly Assassin", although later stories veered more towards Deadly Decadent Court. According to The Writer's Tale, Russell T. Davies made the Doctor the Last of His Kind in the revival because the other Time Lords tended to "spout bollocks" and not much else.
- In The Dominators, the ruling council.
- The "Deciders" are a pretty ugly case. A Running Gag involves these supposed wise men being unable to decide on anything.
- Babylon 5:
- The Grey Council slides into this every once in a while. The Minbari end up actually disbanding it for this reason, although this causes its own problems.
- The Babylon 5 Security Council as well. While they are not a single ruling council, the entire point of them being there was for the major powers to work together to resolve issues. Whenever one of the five powers was the cause of the issue, they could be quickly relied upon to grind the whole system to a halt. It didn't help that the most powerful member of the council typically preferred to take no part in the debate and abstained from almost all votes and council motions, seeing it as beneath their concern.
- Averted in Season Five, generally. Though Sheridan practically had to threaten the Interstellar Alliance with a gun most of the time to get them to act in their own favor. Case in point: the one time the ISA council comes to a swift, effective decision for their own benefit, Sheridan was conning them into making it.
- The Galactic Federation from The Tomorrow People, who will spend a lot of time talking about a problem but is reluctant to take action. Due to this, on two occasions Timus had to secretly enlist the aid of the Tomorrow People to deal with two specific problems. However at the end of the final story the Federation decides to chance this.
- The Xindi ruling council in Star Trek: Enterprise: the B5 security council on a smaller scale. The constant bickering, dithering and ineffectualness, however, was justified by the Reptilian and Insectoid Xindi going behind the other's backs to do their own thing (they themselves being led on by the trans-dimensional beings trying stop the Federation from being formed.)
- In the Stargate-verse, the International Oversight Advisory (IOA) is formed after the various nations of the world become aware of what happens in Cheyenne Mountain, so that they can have a say, which guarantees their silence. Unfortunately, Stargate Command quickly discovers that the only thing they are good for is for complaining and second-guessing every difficult decision they made, and laying blames on near-catastrophes they had to deal with. Eventually they have the brilliant idea of putting their inside man, Richard Woolsey (who is nominally a trained diplomat and bureaucrat) in command of the Atlantis Expedition. Faced with a difficult decision he decides to consult the IOA, which then proceeds to bicker and stall until he is forced to make a decision on his own. Only then he realizes why everyone else disliked the IOA.
- Most of the secret societies in Paranoia tend to spend more time bickering among each other than accomplishing any actual sabotage. Depending on the edition of the game, this may be deliberate, as some or all of the secret societies were founded by The Computer in the first place. In any edition the Humanists absolutely take the cake, positively delighting in meetings after meetings after meetings debating every pointless bit of minutiae in their planned revolution (one example is setting up a meeting to select a task group whose purpose is to decide what color the banners announcing the revolution should be).
- The Thirteen Lords of Decay — the ruling council of the Skaven race in Warhammer Fantasy — epitomize this trope. Like all Skaven, each council member is constantly scheming, plotting, backstabbing and breaking allegiances to further his own clan's ends and get one over on his rivals (not to mention treading on the ambitions of his underlings, who all want to overthrow him and take his place). Were they united in purpose then the Skaven would undoubtedly have overthrown the surface world long ago, but the vast majority of the council's resources are squandered in the internecine warfare that is the norm for their race.
- The High Lords of Terra in Warhammer 40,000 take this trope and run with it: Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering, Deadly Decadent Court, Obstructive Bureaucrat, Chronic Backstabbing Disorder, We ARE Struggling Together, the whole works. The only thing holding the Imperium together seems to be inertia and massive casualties. What really holds the Imperium together is that all of its institutions function independently from one another on most levels. So the Planetary Governors keep their own worlds stable, and if threatened by outside forces, they can call for intervention from the Imperial Guard without involving anyone over about sub-sector level. Only extraordinarily large crises call for the High Lords to actually do anything in a timely manner (and whenever that happens, you can trust the Inquisition Representative on the council to keep them on-task). Of course, at the local level, any kind of crisis tends to result in a big meeting being called between the local politicos, the Guard, the Arbites, the Administratum, the Mechanicus, etc. etc., which devolves into much bickering until the Guard declares martial law and threatens to shoot everybody (such as in Caves of Ice, when Major Broklaw of the Guard "calls a meeting to order" with his bolt pistol).
- The Realm Deliberative spends most of its time arguing rather than getting anything done. This wasn't much of a problem when the Scarlet Empress was in charge (she encouraged it, in fact), but when she disappeared...
- This is also how a lot of heaven works. The gods and Sidereals could make huge, sweeping changes for the better in Creation, but instead spend most of their time playing political games or arguing over what the best way to help Creation really is, with motivations running the whole gamut from genuinely well-meaning to utterly corrupt. The Sidereals, at least, have the Great Curse as an excuse. That said, the Sidereals manage to do quite a bit to protect Creation despite the constant factional politics, to the point that it's scary to think what they might be capable if they actually acted as a cohesive unit.
- The Old World of Darkness sees this a lot with their various supernatural sects:
- Mage: The Ascension has the Council of Traditions, an alliance of various traditionalist mages who all agree they should be fighting the Technocracy, reversing the trend of failing magic in the world, and ultimately allowing humanity as a whole to Ascend. Now if only they could come to an agreement on how to accomplish any of those goals. No wonder they lost the Ascension War.
- Vampire: The Masquerade has the Camarilla, which is mostly a court full of elders (and older) who plot and scheme against each other, regardless of whether there's bigger concerns they ought to be handling.
- The Circle Orboros in Iron Kingdoms strives to maintain the balance between civilization and the wild, and believes civilization has spread too far and needs to be destroyed. However most of the organization is too preoccupied with the circle's internal politics to really get anything done.
- In Magic: The Gathering the Obzedat, also called the Ghost Council of Ordhova, rarely acts but relies on their living servants to keep the organization running and coffers full. Once they're full members of the council they don't need to do anything to keep the position, and rarely do.
Aurelia: I once saw the Obzedat moved to action. Since that day, I've been thankful that they're mainly lazy, and dead.
- In Hamilton, one of the main points of contention in "The Room Where It Happens" is that Congress can't decide where to put the US Capitol, much to Madison's dismay. The bickering itself is represented by the entire cast shouting the name of a different town or city at once - and according to Lin Manuel Miranda, very often, cities that weren't part of the USA at the time, or even ever part of the USA get added as well, not that you'd ever be able to tell.
- Aaron Burr: "Congress is fighting over where to put the US Capitol-" [indecipherable yelling] "-it isn't pretty."
- In fact, Congress, Washington's cabinet, and politics in general being comprised almost completely of bickering and infighting is a recurring theme throughout the show, appearing as early as "Stay Alive" with the Continental Congress being unable to fund or supply the Continental Army, and strongly continuing in Act II, where Hamilton has to learn to compromise with Jefferson, Madison, and the other Southerners in Congress to get what he wants. The fact that the 2 cabinet meetings in the show are represented by insult-laced rap battles is pretty telling.
- The whole plot of 1776 is John Adams and his allies trying to get the Continental Congress to stop being this, and to officially declare the colonies independent of Britain.
John Adams: "You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve. Not one damn thing do we solve."
- The High Council of Democratus in Anachronox has incredible technology at their disposal, but almost never uses it due to their insistence on debating everything to death.
- When the planet becomes a member of the party (yes, the planet. It Makes Sense in Context, sorta), the player can use its Tractor Beam system to procure out of reach items. The mini-game to activate it plays a bit like Whack-A-Mole, with the player was the Only Sane Man (relatively speaking) on the council shouting down everyone who stands up to object to using the tractor.
- In fact, the one time in the game when they do come to a unanimous decision, it's treated as something of a Moment of Awesome.
- The Jedi Council (again) in Knights of the Old Republic I and II:
- In the first game it's fairly downplayed. They do debate with each other but have a leader and come to decisions fairly easily. The main naysayer is a Master Vrook who thinks the player character can't be trusted - which you might prove him right.
- In the second the bickering happened a while before the game and is partly the reason why there is no Jedi Council. You have to find them and bring them together - or kill them for revenge if you want. If you do reform the council there's no bickering, but they quickly lose the perspectives their time away from the Jedi gave them, and they start repeating the mistakes that led to their dissolution in the first place.
- The Sith Dark Council gets hit with this hard in Star Wars: The Old Republic, as most of its members are too busy trying to secure their own power/agendas to acutally come together as effective rulers. Strangely, a fair number of Council members themselves, such as Darths Jadus and Marr, explicitly point this out, but to no avail. This starts to change when Darth Marr really starts assuming control of things around the truce in Shadow of Revan, and changes BIG TIME when the Dark Council is dissolved during the time skip in Fallen Empire.
- The High Council of the Covenant in Halo 2 though a lot of it happens off screen.
- The novels pretty much show that most Prophets are cutthroat, power-hungry politicians to the point that their names (ie. Truth, Regret) are the exact opposite of their personalities. Truth ends up killing off the other two Hierarchs. Regret predicts this but he isn't fast enough.
- Used offscreen a couple of times in Tales of the Abyss, to explain why Reasonable Authority Figure Emperor Peony can't give the protagonists more help than he is.
- Mass Effect:
- Commander Shepard has very, very bad luck getting any governing body to believe their warnings about rogue Spectres, killer robots and genocidal sentient spaceships. The Citadel Council is infamously reluctant to take a proactive stance on anything, and the Alliance top brass doesn't come off as much better (excepting Hackett and Anderson).
- Surprisingly, in the third game, once the Reaper paste has finally hit the fan, it's the turian councilor (Mr. "Air-Quotes" himself) who turns out to be the most reasonable out of the bunch.
- The Commonwealth in Love and War, after three hundred years of rule over Terra, is shown to be on this road in a series of clever cut-scenes.
- The scientists from Fallout: New Vegas' DLC Old World Blues. This was, at least to some degree, inflicted upon them by Dr. Mobius. His justification for keeping the Think Tank locked in a mental loop is that they're relatively contained in the Big Mountain region instead of inflicting scientific horrors on the rest of the wasteland.
- The Council of Venice in The Secret World once held the power to control all of the various secret societies and powerful organizations. Unfortunately, as they centuries passed, they became more corrupt and out of touch, losing their power and falling into politics and infighting and letting the various secret societies take over, particularly The Illuminati. They still wield great power, but its almost entirely tied up by their corruption and bickering and its up to the benevolent conspiracies and smaller organizations to get things done.
- The Councillors in the backstory of Hate Plus ... at, least, before.
- In Worm, this is generally the result whenever multiple factions of parahumans attempt to cooperate, notably when Cauldron attempts to form an Omniscient Council of Vagueness between the Protectorate, the Thanda, Faultline's Crew, Dragon, the inmates of Birdcage, Moord Nag, Saint, and the Undersiders to combat the Endbringers. It turns out this is deliberate. The alien parasites that give super powers reproduce through conflict, and will influence their hosts to sabotage and betray each other whenever they can. In the end, it takes powerful mind control to get everyone co-operating.
- In Ben 10: Alien Force, Ben unlocks the power of Alien X — the most powerful alien in Omnitrix, who can bend reality to his will — only to find out he is composed of two beings that cannot agree upon anything, even simple things such as movement or returning back to Ben's human form. That's the reason Ben never uses him. When Alien X and its species the Celestial Sapiens appear in Ben 10: Ultimate Alien, this is shockingly averted when the beings inside Alien X notice Paradox. Thanks to a Noodle Incident in the distant past they have a restraining order against Paradox. Thinking that he's violated the arrangement, the two immediately agree to destroy him.
- South Park has many in-universe organizations that act like this, and portrays many real-life organizations as acting like this as well. Expect the phrase "Robble robble robble!" to come up with some frequency.
- Futurama has the Robot Elders, who constantly interrupt each other with a shout of "Silence!", even when they don't have anything to interrupt with, and they readily admit that their own corruption and incompetence are among the biggest problems their planet faces.