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You've been hiding one of the most advanced pieces of technology known to man
... so you can hang it in your living room
... well, when you say it like that, it sounds dumb. Washington:
That's because it is
So there's this MacGuffin
right—perhaps one that The Hero
and company must find
in order to stop the The End of the World as We Know It
, or maybe something that explains all they need to know
to solve some problem at hand. Somebody goes searching for it, looking under every rock, solving every puzzle, and maybe even going all apeshit on someone who might know where the MacGuffin is
. But eventually they find the MacGuffin
, and discover that this priceless, important, amazing artifact/object/spear/war-souvenir/whatever is being used...as a paperweight.
, therefore, is when said important and/or priceless artifacts or other objects are being used for ridiculously mundane purposes, like paperweights, footstools, or a pretty decor for their bookshelf. Oftentimes this is Played for Laughs
, usually by showing The Hero
's or some other person seeing the usage's shocked reaction to such a stupid way of using something so valuable.
Oddly enough, this is sometimes Truth in Television
, as noted by some examples below.
Compare with Grail in the Garbage
, Hidden in Plain Sight
, Mundane Utility
, Useful Book
, and Worthless Yellow Rocks
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Anime & Manga
- In Yu-Gi-Oh! Pegasus is shown via Flash Back discovering the Pharaoh's tomb during a journey to Egypt. His next move? Using it to make Egyptian God Cards to be sold to the masses. Then again, it's justified in this case; he was manipulated into making the cards by the tomb's protector spirit as a conduit to bring the tomb's Sealed Evil in a Can to the modern world. And, seen in the Battle City arc, he at least donated some of his findings to museums. The dub has Shadi state Pegasus can't tell anyone. Shadi gets very nasty if the rules surrounding the Millennium Items are broken.
- The Book of Darkness in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha is a powerful Artifact of Doom capable of granting world-destroying powers to any mage. When it landed in Hayate's possession, she took good care of it not because she knew what it was, but because it looked really pretty in her bookshelf.
- In Lupin III: The Pursuit of Harimao's Treasure: When Zenigata finds the bronze bear statue lying around Lupin's apartment, he isn't sure what to make of it. So he uses it to weigh down the lid on his ramen noodles while they steam! He doesn't realize that statue is actually part of a set needed to unlock the fabled Harimao treasure.
- One of the later story arcs of the anime Tsubasa Chronicle (after splitting off from the manga's storyline) involves a woman who has made a fan out of one of Princess Sakura's feathers, having found it on the street one day. She wasn't trying to make a powerful weapon of a fan, either — she just thought the feather was pretty and stuck it on.
- One of the early Power Rangers comics has Kimberly use her power coin as a coaster for her soda. She then forgot where she put it and nearly got the team killed for it when she couldn't show up for the Megazord activation.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
- In a Don Rosa story, "The Treasury of Croesus", Scrooge McDuck seeks to restore one of the lost Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, in order to decipher the location of the treasure-trove of King Croesus (who bankrolled the construction of the temple) from writing scattered across the columns. Most of the pieces of the columns were scattered across the world when invading Goths tore down the temple and carted off the pieces as trophies. So, Scrooge travels all across the world, seeking out the lost pieces in a Montage - finding several of them being used in mundane ways.
- Another example from Rosa's stories is in "His Majesty McDuck", where Scrooge finds a plaque and a document that proves the hill his money bin stands on was never a part of the United States, having been given directly to the founder of Duckburg by the Spanish. He declares it a sovereign country but this ends up causing him a lot of trouble (the city cuts off his electricity and the Beagle Boys invade and take over since police jurisdiction does not extend to foreign countries). In the end, Scrooge joins his country back to US and uses the plaque as a tray for bird seed.
- In Zits, by sheer luck, Jeremy's dad ends up with a guitar pick used by the lead guitarist of the most famous in-universe band. At the time Jeremy finds out, his dad had been using it to clean out his ears.
- In a relative example, one The Far Side comic features an elephant who had recently lost his foot to poachers. The elephant is understandably upset to learn that his foot had been turned into a novelty wastebasket.
Films — Live-Action
- One of Neil Gaiman's short stories, "Chivalry", involves the holy grail being found by an old lady in a thrift store. The ancient knight who comes in search of the grail discovers that she knows exactly what it is, and keeps it for no greater reason than because it looks nice on her mantle.
- The Prince and the Pauper, the court officials keep asking the false Prince, Tom Canty, about the whereabouts of the Great Seal of England, hidden by the real Prince Edward Tudor just before their escapades began. Despite repeating question the disguised Tom has no idea what they're talking about. In the end, Edward returns and proves his true identity by at once pointing out what it was. Tom admits he'd been using every day as a nutcracker.
- In Life, the Universe and Everything, the pieces of The Wikkit Gate have all been scattered throughout the galaxy and are mostly being used for mundane things.
- Inverted in The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha, where the main character takes genuinely mundane things for this.
- In Yahtzee Croshaw's novel Jam, Don is disgusted to find his hard-drive with the game that'll save his career on it being used as a drinks coaster.
- In Nomads of Gor, the (last) egg of a male Priest-King is hidden amongst the Wagon Peoples. Kamchak of the Tuchuks uses it as a footstool.
- In the Safehold series, the Wylsyn family has an artifact known as the Key, which was handed down to them by the Archangel Scheuler. It looks like a well-polished stone. Due to its unremarkable appearance, generations of Wylsyns have hidden the key by displaying it on their desk and using it as a paperweight.
- This is the solution to one story in the Hercule Poirot collection The Labours of Hercules. A priceless Renaissance goblet is stolen and then disappears for ten years. Why has it not come back onto the market? Poirot finds it in a convent, being used as an ordinary cup.
- In the Transformers: TransTech short story "I, Lowtech", the Corrupt Corporate Executive protagonist finds out his equally-corrupt rival keeps ridiculously powerful artifacts that have been both the start and end of dynasties and wars in multiple universes as decorations in his private office. Though the rival is well aware of how valuable it all is and does it precisely as an ostentatious show of his immense wealth.
- The McAuslan-series has the table service in the officers' mess, which consists of every valuable or interesting piece of swag a regiment's worth of larcenous Scots have picked up over the course of three centuries. As an example, the punch-bowl is in fact a solid silver chamberpot once owned by Napoleon's little brother Joseph. When a local resistance leader hands one of the lieutenants his knife as a token of surrender, it is immediately pressed into service as a cheese slicer.
- In Catherine Wells's Beyond the Gate, it is explicitly mentioned that one of the kukhoosh's of the university on Dray's Planet uses a crystal formation, noticed by a visitor as being worth "a small fortune" on earth, as a door stop.
- One guy in The Sarah Connor Chronicles finds an abandoned Terminator head and decides to hold onto it, apparently just because it looks cool. But then its body comes back looking for it and, yeah.
- This trope happens all the time with Kryptonite on Smallville, whether it's necklaces or class rings.
- In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jenny Calendar needed an Orb of Thesulah for a ritual to give Angel his soul back. A guy who sells magic supplies mentions to her that there isn't much call for them, since the rituals of the undead were lost, but he did sell a couple as new age paperweights last year. A few episodes later, Giles reveals that he has one in his office, where he's been using it as a paperweight. Apparently, he'd only just realized that it may, in fact, be a genuine Orb of Thesulah and not just a copy. Of course, in this case, without the rituals, it was just a paperweight.
- The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan's Island has Gilligan using an energy-producing MacGuffin as a lamp.
- The BBC show Cash In The Attic is basically this trope: people need money for some expense, and get the show's antiquarian to inspect their valuables for the occasional diamond in the rough. They tried the same thing in the States, but the show wasn't nearly as possible, most likely because America as a country isn't as old as the United Kingdom.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- Basic adventure IM3 The Best of Intentions. One of the magical artifacts the PCs need to acquire is being used by a giant bacteria to shield its underside from unpleasant drafts.
- In the setting Scarred Lands, the pantheon of Gods managed to slay the titan Kadum (a.k.a. The Mountainshaker). The mighty titan's source of power was his heart, so the goddess Belsameth (a.k.a. The Slayer) ripped it out... and has since used it as a footstool.
- In the Old World of Darkness, there was a Villain Sue named Sam Haight who just got mightier and mightier, until he at last died in a Mage adventure. When people started speculating that Haight would come back as a wraith, the publishers declared that he DID become a wraith, but was captured by the evil soul-eating empire. They recycled his soul for raw material, and used that particular unit of soulsteel to make an ashtray for one of their bureaucrats.
- GURPS Warehouse 23 mentioned that one of the powers ascribed to the Ark of the Covenant was that it would shoot lightning to kill the vermin on the Israelites' path, thus making it the Bug Zapper Of The Gods, and dared the GM to imagine a Secret Master decadent enough to use it only as such.
- In Superhero League of Hoboken, a few missions have you tracking down priceless artifacts from the "Before-Time". These include a diet book (priceless pre-end of the world knowledge!) and a Frank Sinatra tape. Two of the artifacts, however, are being rather mundanely used: George Washington's Museum's Souvenir Rack, which is made of gold and being used as an ostentatious coat rack, and a VHS video tape, which is being used to stabilize a wobbly table.
- At the conclusion of the "Firewalker" mission in Mass Effect 2, Shepard and his/her crew come across an artifact: a metallic sphere implied to be a data storage device of some sort. After confirming the artifact is inert and harmless, Shepard uses it as an ornament for his/her coffee table on the Normandy.
- The NES port of Ikari Warriors hangs an unintentional lampshade on this. A silver-colored Palette Swap of the hidden Gold item is named the "Paperweight". It's worth 5000 points just like the Gold.
- Frequently in Bethesda games such as Fallout 3 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Find a shiny, unique new weapon? Aww, too bad you didn't invest in the skills needed to use it effectively. However, with the rudimentary house decorating methods, that one-of-a-kind, several-thousand-plus worth plasma canon or demonic warhammer will look mighty fine as a decoration. Not to mention rare ammo and food types. It seems like a waste to drink a Nuka Cola Victory and since they can't be turned into bombs so instead you will turn it into a night light.
- The only thing you can do with Uber Loot in Evil Genius. Putting Excalibur in your control room, decorating your infirmary with a Million Dollar Bill, or placing a mummy's sarcophagus in your armory. All these items have an aura restoring minions stats (all pieces of loot restore loyalty).
- Dwarf Fortress not only has artifact furniture, but lets you mount artifact weapons on furniture to make amazing dinner rooms.
- The trope is discussed in a strip of Wapsi Square when Brandi mentions that the portal cloth they just acquired wouldn't make a very good table cloth.
- In Exterminatus Now, Eastwood swiped an object from Inquisition storage and used it as a bookend. It turns out to be an ancient Soul Jar sought after by Morth and his patron god.
- There's an old story about two boys in Africa who were found by explorers playing catch with a stone. Upon closer inspection, the stone was actually an enormous uncut diamond.
- Two Egyptologists found a 7th century Egyptian statue being used as a bike rack in a museum in Southampton.
- Mummies were once a lot more common in Egypt, since mummification had previously been a very popular form of burial. Before the world fully appreciated the scientific and historical significance of mummies, many of them were used to make medicine (not something they're good for). There are also stories of them being used as fuel for locomotives, but the jury's still out on the truth of that.
- The first gold rush in the United States was sparked when it was discovered that the Reed family was using a 17 pound gold nugget found on their property as a doorstop.
- Recently a pair of British siblings discovered that their late father's property included a small Chinese porcelain statue that had been just sitting around without any significance, that had the value of 50 million pounds!
- How (one of the) oldest examples of Chinese writing was found: a man bought some bones from a Chinese medicine peddler for an illness and noticed some odd markings on them. He then realized he almost ate priceless archeological artifacts.
- In Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!, Richard Feynman describes a room at Los Alamos where a ball of refined plutonium was kept. Due to being extremely difficult to produce, plutonium was (and is) extremely valuable. The doorstop to the room was also appropriately expensive: a ten-inch hemisphere of solid gold, which they had left over from earlier experiments with neutrons.
- This is how the only surviving example of the Fat-Man atomic bomb (the same type used on Nagasaki) was found. For years a second Fat Man (apparently constructed hastily in the time between the atomic bombings and japans eventual surrender) just sat in the basement of various storage facilities under the false assumption it was a pumpkin bomb, a type of conventional bomb designed to train pilots to use the Fat Man a-bombs. It wasn't until the Nimitz museum acquired the piece that anyone noticed it was the real deal. It is one of only a dozen displays of authentic (obviously demilitarized) nuclear weapons in the world on display.
- In the A&E Biography episode about Boris Karloff, Karloff's agent collected the Grammy he won for "Best Spoken Word Album" (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas) since he could not attend the ceremony himself, and gave it to Karloff next time he dropped by. According to the agent, Boris said "It looks like a doorstop" — and then proceeded to prop open the agent's office door with it. "It stayed there for many years", the agent added, "'cause I'm sentimental about guys like Boris."