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Pen-Pushing President

For all the talk of men coveting the Emperor's throne, Ivan had never heard of anyone speak of coveting his desk.

Who didn't dream of one day becoming President of a country, executive of a big company, or leader of a big organisation? You can give orders, have a pretty life, and have the most important and spotlight-earning jobs! You can be a hero and a model!

And now that you have won the election, here is a pen and a stamp: warm up your arm, 'cause from now on you will use them a lot. Apparently, the main activity of people in charge is to spend their days with a desk and giant piles of papers as only company. Of course it is Truth in Television to some extent (notably in law-related responsibilities), but naturally, in fiction it tends to be exaggerated to the point of torture. Expect some secretary to occasionally show up in the office with an additional pile, to the dismay of their boss. Usually Played for Laughs to show a less glamourous side of leadership. May be Played for Drama if the effect is to make the character wish they'd never sought or accepted the job in the first place.

Despite the title, it can apply to "Presidents" but also to any job involving some kind of important leadership.

Can be the reason for someone being Kicked Upstairs. May result in Trash of the Titans if disorder comes on top of quantity. Compare Vast Bureaucracy, Beleaguered Bureaucrat, Obstructive Bureaucrat and Corrupt Bureaucrat. May be a Badass Bureaucrat.


Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • King Enma in Dragon Ball, as the man in charge of deciding who will go to Heaven or Hell in the entire universe is usually shown chain-stamping files without so much as looking at them, while complaining about his insane amount of work.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Simon has this kind of life in the second part of the story, as President of all humans on the surface. Well, before shit happens at least…
  • Hanaukyō Maid Tai. In one episode Taro finds that one of his daily duties as head of the family is going through a huge pile of paperwork and signing documents.
  • The Hokage is sometimes portrayed like this in Naruto, including Tsunade after she assumed the role. They are by definition one of the strongest fighters in their village, but their job is mostly to assign missions rather than go on them.
  • Etna from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness becomes this in the anime after becoming Overlord. It's hilarious considering her normal personality

Comic Strip

Film
  • In Bruce Almighty, when Bruce is made God for a Day, he is suddenly confronted with the prayers of a significant chunk of the Buffalo area, which are presented in one scene as a massive layer of "Post-It" notes covering every wall and surface in his home. He then clears the clutter by instantly converting them to an e-mail format on his computer ("You've got prayers!").

Literature
  • In Rainbow Six, John Clark laments that he's a bureaucrat and not an elite counter-terrorism soldier like his men. Rainbow jumps out of helicopters and trains to put bullets between eyes with perfect accuracy, Rainbow Six sits at his desk and has to justify the dollar value of each bullet.
  • Sam Vimes spends a few Discworld City Watch books lamenting the piles of paperwork he's obliged to deal with as its Commander. Eventually averted when he recruits some secretarial help, first from the Gooseberry-imp and then from A.E. Pessimal.
    • When Sergeant Colon becomes Acting Captain in Vimes' absence he just throws it all in the fire. Including the pay dockets. The Watch goes on strike as a result, which actually lowers crime- criminals know that Mr. Vimes will not be happy when he returns, and the last thing they need is draw his attention to them.
    • Averted by Archchancellor Ridcully, who just lets the paperwork pile up on his desk, periodically bins it, and assumes that if anything is really important someone will start shouting soon enough.
    • Lord Vetinari himself is usually seen at his desk, looking at some kind of paperwork, especially when he wants to put visitors on edge. Sometimes, it's just the newspaper, but once it was "the report from last night's secret meeting of the Thieves' Guild inner inner council. Another, he had a certain number of files with just the names sticking out. The names of the citizens he was talking to.
  • The one dictator in Foundation who inherited the post from his grandfather (who was brutal but able) and father (who was brutal and nothing else) and is essentially a born pencil-pusher who happened to inherit absolute power.
  • Emperor Gregor in Vorkosigan Saga.

Live-Action TV
  • The Stargate SG-1 episodes "Zero Hour" and "Lockdown" played this for laughs as Jack O'Neill settled into his new job as commanding officer of Stargate Command. Both episodes featured an instance of sorting through piles of reports and memos to find something.
  • This is the basic concept of Yes, Minister and sequels.
  • In NewsRadio, when Lisa is given Dave's job of News Director she has this experience.

Video Games

Visual Novels

Western Animation
  • In Ren and Stimpy, when Ren becomes president of Stimpy's fan club, this is all he does (specifically, answering Stimpy's fan mail), and it leads him to have a mental breakdown.
    • There's a similar use of the trope in "Pixie King," in which Ren works to become King of the Pixies only to find that rather than absolute power and authority, he has the responsibility of acting like a queen bee and producing eggs forever.
  • Commander Nebular from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command, due to being the Space Ranger's commander, is forced to constantly do paperwork by his robotic desk.
  • The Simpsons Movie: The President is dissapointed that, instead of leading the country, he is forced to spend his days signing papers and approving motions.
  • In one episode of the eighties Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, the turtles find themselves stuck in an alternate world where they never existed and Shredder rules all. After spending the whole episode dodging his henchman and trying to figure out a way back home they finally meet him—and he begs them to take him back with them. Turns out that running the entire world is a massive pain in the ass.

Real Life
  • In the military, this is often mockingly referred to as a "Chairborne Ranger", a high-ranked officer who spends his days behind a desk in a cozy office yet pretends to know how life is on the frontlines.
    • Also delightfully and colorfully known as a R.E.M.F.—Rear Echelon Mother Fucker.
    • While there are quite a few military personnel whose primary duties involve office work, anyone who stays in long enough will eventually get Kicked Upstairs and find more and more of their time spend doing administrative work. Even the grunts in the field.
  • Franz Joseph I, second-last emperor of Austria-Hungary. As the story goes, he would sit for many hours at his desk and even correct punctuation mistakes in the papers he worked at. The people nicknamed him "old Prochaska", as if he were a small clerk.
    • "Prochazka" (very common as a surname for Czech-speaking people) meant "walker" and he got the nickname after his picture appeared in newspapers walking alone through Prague in 1901. The nickname outlined his modest appearance.
  • Vladimir Putin, then-Prime-Minister of Russia, quipped in September 2009: "Yesterday was the day for signing papers - four suitcases of documents".
    • At press conference 14 February 2008 he also said that he worked like a slave at the galleys for straight 8 years. Due to a lucky typo this caused some Memetic Mutations: namely, "like a slave" was mangled into "like a crab", making "The Crab" a nickname for Putin in certain Internet circles.
  • Speaking of pens and presidents, President Truman started the tradition of using multiple pens to sign a bill and giving the used pens to the people who helped pass the bill. Presidents will often go through twenty to thirty pens when signing landmark legislation. Lyndon B. Johnson used 120 pens to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


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