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Screw the Rules, I Make Them!
"Well, when the President does it that means that it is not illegal."

Simply put, it's when an enforcer of the rules thinks that he/she is actually exempt from those rules, but is not at all.

Just as some think they are above the law because they can buy their way out of it, some think they are above the law because they enforce the laws. Through influence, political power, being in office, or sheer force, they believe that the law does not apply to them, or will allow them to do as they please. This is especially done by or in reference to the kinds of things that the laws are intended to protect against - corrupt policemen, politicians, gang leaders and the like. They can also said to be "a law unto themselves".

Often expressed by the comment, "I am the (insert governing body here)!" (but saying it is not enough, there has to be some authority the character has). Probably inspired by "L'Etat, c'est moi" (I am the State.) from Louis XIV (although he may not have actually said it).

To count as this trope, it needs to meet these points:
  • Bob is charged with enforcing the rules.
  • Bob does things not even he is allowed to do, because he now feels he is above the rules.

What this is not:
  • Abuse of authority that one actually has.
  • Being granted permission to be above rules most other people must follow.

Screw the Rules, I Have Connections! is when a friend or relative takes advantage of people who follow this trope.

Compare, of course, Screw the Rules, I Have Money!, Appeal to Force, The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard, My Rules Are Not Your Rules, Because I Said So and Loophole Abuse. Railroading, when done in defiance of the rules as written, qualifies too.

Contrast Forgot I Could Change the Rules (someone is empowered to change the rules, but forgets that power at first).

A possible sub-trope of Straw Hypocrite.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • In G Gundam, whichever nation is hosting the Gundam Fight (namely, the winner of the previous fight) has the right to change the Official Regulations as they see fit. Neo-Hong Kong's prime minister Wong Yunfat takes advantage of this to a ludicrous degree, first rescinding the Thou Shalt Not Kill rule and then setting Domon up in matches specifically with the intent of killing him. One fight has Domon contend with a comically large electromagnet that pins his Gundam to the ground, and another has him forced to fight an ally in a cage match where the ring is full of time bombs that will kill them both unless they fight for real.
  • Maximillion Pegasus of Yu-Gi-Oh! is an interesting example. He doesn't technically break the rules (nowhere in the rule book does it forbid using an enchanted piece of Egyptian bling to read your opponent's mind, but he certainly abuses his position as creator of Duel Monsters, stacking his deck with rare and dangerous cards, several of which were never released to the public because Pegasus himself felt they were too powerful for general circulation. Given that he constantly calls people like Keith on their own cheating, it's pretty hypocritical.
    • Filler Villain Noah Kaiba does the same thing. As the ruler of the Virtual World, Noah is able to enforce all of his Deck Master rules, frequently calling out his henchmen, The Big 5, when they either a) cheat in duels or b) attempt to leave the Virtual World without having first won a duel. Yet during his matches against Kaiba and Yugi/Yami, Noah cheats repeatedly, using Kaiba's brother as a shield against his attacks. When he's actually beaten by Yami, he steals Mokuba's body despite not having won a duel, and tries to escape into the real world, something he himself forbid The Big 5 from doing.
      • Though when The Big 5 take over Tristan's body, Noah does let them cheat. While there's nothing saying you can't fuse your Deckmaster with another monster, The Big 5 fuse all their own Deckmasters together, despite only being one player.
  • Tsunade of Naruto, having founded the medical corps, has a specific set of rules for them that boil down to "heal your friends, don't get in fights that might end in you dying". The only exception to this rule is if the medic has mastered the Byakugo technique. A technique which only she possesses.
  • At the beginning of the Sora Unchained arc of Ah! My Goddess, Chihiro assumes full control of the challenge competition over whether or not Sora can refuse her appointment to be Keichii's successor as head of the Nekomi Motor Club under Article 26, Clause 5 of the Motor Club rules, which places said authority in the control of the President Emeritus (Namely, her). When Belldandy points out that Article 26 only has four clauses, Chihiro grabs the rulebook and a pen and adds clause five on the spot. Nobody even tries to call her out on this.
  • One Piece overlaps this with Diplomatic Impunity. The World Nobles use their position as descendants of the Twenty Kings who originally founded the (highly corrupt) World Government to do as they please whenever and wherever they go, and anyone who tries to interfere with or touch them in anyway will face the full force of a Marine army. They're even allowed to shoot people in broad daylight without punishment.
    • This becomes especially evident when it's revealed that Donquixote Doflamingo, the most psychotic member of the Seven Warlords of the Sea, is a former World Noble. He may have left them, but it still leaves him with enough power to outright deceive the entire world into believing that he had abdicated his position as a Warlord just to trick a mere ten people, something that would've been impossible otherwise. This becomes Fridge Horror when you realize that Doflamingo, a strong and influential pirate outside of his status as a World Noble, technically has dominion over the Admirals.
    • And if that isn't enough, during the battle of marineford, Doflamingo gives a speech about how the ones with the most power get to decide this, and that Marineford was neutral ground due to the fact that everything is Written by the Winners.
  • Combined with Screw the Rules, I Have Money! in Beelzebub. Himekawa and his friends are playing an online game. Their opponents start cheating using magic to give them unbeatable abilities. Himekawa buys the whole gaming company so he can have the code altered to allow his team to become zombies to beat their opponents.
  • Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness: Kuyo, the head of Yokai Academy's Student Police, regularly exploited his authority to make the other students' lives as miserable as possible... until Tsukune and co. give him a well-deserved ass-kicking.

     Comic Books 
  • Both Presidents from Transmetropolitan have said that "If the President does it, it's not a crime" to justify their actions. While The Beast was being somewhat ironic, his successor was apparently dead serious. This was a reference to a certain President Richard Nixon, who famously said something similar.
  • Averted by Judge Dredd, despite his catchphrase of "I am the law", which would usually be a dead give away. He is ruthlessly strict about adhering to the laws of Megacity One, and the conflicts this sometimes cause with his sense of justice have provided some of the series' richest Character Development. In Dredd's case, this catchphrase refers to his absolute authority to punish violations of the law as he sees fit, not to making his own laws. On the contrary, in one storyline where he is authorized to make law on the spot to achieve the government's goals, he's very uncomfortable about it. The idea of the law being consistent and not playing favorites is very important to him, after all.
    • Of course, Chief Judges have been known to play it straight, particularly Cal, MacGruder, Silver and Sinfield. Though even then, there are still some laws even they can't arbitrarily change. The Law of Gravity, for example.
  • The Roarke family from Sin City: a Catholic cardinal, a senator, a surgeon general, and a serial killer. They're considered the most powerful family in the city... and possibly the country.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Death Note AU Those Who Stand For Nothing Fall For Anything when no one comments when Light lights up a cigarette in a hospital room he takes that as "proof that the civilised world has laws for the masses and laws for me."
  • In How I Became Yours, Fire Lord Zuko is called before the Fire Nation Senate to discuss his marriage with Katara, the "Princess" of the Water Tribe. His response is to essentially remind them that he established the senate, and then dismiss the meeting.
  • In chapter 5 of Savior Of Demons, Goku, in trying to understand why Frieza is the way he is, asks him why he couldn't just change the rules - after all, he's so strong, nobody could tell him no, right? Frieza tells him that it would be suicidal, even for him, suggesting that he's not the biggest fish in the galactic pond, at least in terms of influence.
  • In What Hath Joined Together, the noble unicorn Orion hoped tried to make Princess Twilight Sparkle invoke this. He went to Twilight Sparkle to ask her to overturn the laws forbidding his marriage to an earth pony, knowing that Twilight has the authority to do while hoping she was progressive enough to allow it. Unfortunately, Twilight's upbringing meant she never questioned "the Order's" necessity and respects Celestia far to much to go around her back, and things get worse from there.

    Film — Animated 
  • In The Prince of Egypt, Ramses tells Moses he can do this for him after Moses murders an Egyptian. Moses doesn't care.
    Ramses: I am Egypt. The evening and the morning star. If I say day is night, it will be so.
  • Madam Mim in The Sword in the Stone. She makes the rules for the Wizard's Duel just so she can break them. And break them she does.
  • Scar In theLion King as he says I am the King I can do whatever I want.

     Film — Live Action 
  • The Matrix uses an odd example (Before the story completely spiraled to hell in the sequels, anyway). The Agents are a part of the system and thus can bend the rules of reality itself, giving them super strength and speed. However since they are made to enforce the rules of the system they still can't straight-out break the rules, meaning the freed humans have the potential to be far stronger than the Agents.
  • Underworld: Viktor, along with the other vampire elders, drafted a law forbidding vampires from feeding on humans, but Viktor, according to Kraven, "never could follow his own rules" and thus gorged himself on human blood regularly. Selene's family were among his victims.
  • Mad Max:
    Aunty Entity: You think I don't know the law? Wasn't it me who wrote it?"
  • Councillor Dupont from Equilibrium, the former leader "Father" died and Dupont has been pretending to be him ever since and just started making up any old laws he pleased. He's also a "sense offender", breaking one of the major laws their society was built upon, one he enforces as severely as possible putting people to death without trial while ignoring it himself.
  • As Denzel Washington's character Alonzo Harris in Training Day put it, "I am the police! King Kong ain't got shit on me!"
  • General Deveraux in The Siege plays it straight, bellowing "I AM the law! Right here, right now, I am the law!" at Denzel Washington when he tries to arrest him for murder, which was not covered under the martial law he had been tasked with. It's worth pointing out the Willis' General had actually protested against being given authority under martial law as being a bad idea in the first place, although it appears his perception and self-assessment disappeared once he was given it. Alternatively, it could be seen as Briar Patching, that he was against it simply so that he would be in charge of it once it was approved anyway.
  • The entire point of Lakeview Terrace is that the deranged neighbor that cruelly harasses the protagonists is a cop, and the other cops are more likely to back him up in a "my word against his" situation.
  • Famously uttered by Palpatine in Revenge of the Sith. Mace Windu confronts Chancellor Palpatine in his office in order to arrest him for being a Sith Lord and tells him that the Senate will decide his fate, to which Palpatine replies, "I AM THE SENATE.", in a low and intimidating voice. Palpatine now revealed as Darth Sidious kills three of the Jedi's best swordsmen (under Yoda, Anakin, Windu and Obi-Wan of course, but still celebrated swordsmen) in mere seconds and is climactically "defeated" by Windu in time for Anakin to arrive and "save" him. Darth Vader is born and Palpatine's plan to kill the Jedi is validated by the Senate under the pretense that the Jedi tried to assassinate him.
    Darth Sidious: I will make it legal.
    • This is also literally true of Palpatine. Because the Senate granted him emergency powers, his boast is one he is quite within his legal rights to carry out.
  • Given the name of the movie, it should come as no surprise that Steven Seagal's debut film, Above the Law, is about government officials with this exact mindset. The beginning shows the past of Seagal's character (which looks very similar to Seagal's own past at some points...), which culminates in a scene in Vietnam where high-ranking officials torture a POW far more than the Geneva Convention could possibly allow. The movie then shifts to the main plot, a tale about top dogs in the CIA smuggling drugs and plotting to assassinate a Senator just to make sure their operations in Central America go just as planned.
  • A sweeter-natured one came about in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. After the prince has refused his Arranged Marriage, gone to America to seek a bride, and endured all sorts of comedic trials to win her, his parents are left scratching their heads. She's a nice girl and all, but she's American and definitely not royalty. As the king is pointing this out, the queen invokes this trope. Cut to the massive royal wedding of the prince and his American bride!
    • In this case, it's not so much the rules that the king is reluctant to break but tradition. Since this is a monarchy, tradition is a big part of its culture.
  • The main character in The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. You'd be amazed at what one dope fiend can get away with just by flashing a badge.
  • Frost/Nixon recreates the interviews that produced the page quote
    When the President does it, it's not illegal.
  • In the movie Conspiracy, a group of Nazi bureaucrats debate the planning for the Holocaust. The wholesale extermination keeps interfering with the established racial laws as defended by Dr. Stuckart (mostly because he wrote them himself). His opponent Dr. Klopfer eventually retorts that they'll just change them — since most of the men present are trained lawyers, they can create basically any law they like so long as it confers with Hitler's directives.
  • A heartwarming use in A Knight's Tale. When William is revealed as a common yeoman impersonating a knight, he's put in the stocks. Then Prince Edward, to whom William twice showed kindness during a joust, turns up and knights him, declaring:
    "He may appear to be of humble origins, but my personal historians have discovered that he is descended from an ancient royal line. This is my word, and as such it is beyond contestation."

    Literature 
  • In Brave New World World Controller Mustopha Mond, responding to Bernard's shock that he owns banned books, explains that "As I make the rules, I can also break them. With impunity, Mr. Marx, which I'm afraid you cannot do."
  • In the Deryni works, Edmund Loris was Archbishop of Valoret and Primate of All Gwynedd, but in the aftermath of the schism in High Deryni, he was stripped of his office and imprisoned in a monastery. On his escape, he simply takes up where he left off, calling himself Primate when he first confronts Istelyn and takes him prisoner in The Bishop's Heir. So far as he's concerned, Cardiel, Arilan, Istelyn and the rest are the traitors to the Church, and he Loris is the only one who can bestow that label. (Naturally, Istelyn doesn't agree; in a subsequent argument after Dhugal's escape with Sidana and Llewell's capture by Kelson's forces, Istelyn reminds Loris that the bishops deprived him of his office and its authority.) When the new Primate Archbishop Bradene sends a writ of excommunication against Loris, Judhael, Caitrin, and their followers, Loris claims it has no force. In response to this, Loris strips Istelyn of his office as priest and excommunicates him (on the basis of his old authority) expressly so Istelyn can be executed (hanged, drawn and quartered) as a traitor.
  • This is more or less the whole point of The Illuminati in Duumvirate.
  • Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter. When a student calls her out for violating her own arbitrary rules, she simply gives the student detention - which in her case involves Cold-Blooded Torture.
    • And similarly, Minister Fudge with his "Laws can be changed!" when he clearly is circumventing the legal lawmaking process.
      • Which was actually hilarious, because the invoked law was necessary self-defense. So Fudge meant that he could change the law so that when you're attacked in Muggle territory, it would be illegal to defend yourself!
    • Arthur Weasley could also be this as he enchanted a car because of a loophole in the law he made himself.
  • Lord Vetinari, the Patrician of Ankh-Morpork in the Discworld novels, can say this, although he prefers not to. Anyway, he has established legal precedent going thousands of years on his side, namely "Ego sic dico."
    Vetinari: The law must be obeyed, Miss Dearheart. Even tyrants have to obey the law. [Beat] No, I tell a lie, tyrants do not have to obey the law, obviously, but they do have to observe the niceties. At least, I do.
    • Subverted (most of the time) by Sam Vimes, because he knows where breaking the rules it would sometimes be convenient to break would lead. He's seen people go there. He's not going.
  • Subverted in the Corean Chronicles. When Mykel's wastrel brother Venicet shows up in Tempre and expects to be given a cushy court position just because he's the brother of the newly declared Lord Protector, Mykel flat out tells him that he couldn't provide his brother with a steady income unless he was willing to take a steady job, as this was the rule he had laid down for everyone else, and as ruler he couldn't decree one thing and do something else. Then he gave his brother what pocket change he had on him and showed him the door.
  • A twist in The Warlock In Spite Of Himself by Christopher Stasheff: Queen Katherine insists that the law says captured rebels must be executed, and therefore she cannot pardon them. It's her wiser advisors, realizing that the circumstances of the rebellion mean mercy would be the better ploy, who tell her, "The law of the land is the Queen" — setting a very bad precedent, but executing these rebels would cause major and possibly worse problems.
  • A more benign version occurs in the fifth Safehold book, How Firm a Foundation. Empress Sharleyan has arrived in Corisande to pronounce sentencing on the traitors of the Northern Conspiracy. However, while the law is clear on their guilt and their punishment, Sharleyan uses her royal perogative to pardon those who were blackmailed, threatened, duped, or just too angry or foolish to realize what they were getting into.
    • The Group of Four are the more traditional example. Zaspahr Clyntahn in particular is perfectly willing to write dispensations for the very technological advances he condemns for the specific purpose of making sure those advances can be used by the Church to crush the heretics.
  • In Animal Farm, the dictator pig Napoleon rewrites the original constitution of Animal Farm multiple times to make his actions legal (since most animals are dumber than pigs, they didn't realise the secret rewritings). Eventually all the laws on equality and freedoms are reduced to one, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."
  • In The Hunger Games, the Gamemasters bring up the possibility of two victors in the normal There Can Be Only One challenge, only to revoke it when that possibility actually becomes reality. They didn't count on the survivors trying to commit suicide to spite them, so they flip-flopped again to prevent the two from becoming martyrs.
  • Many of David Weber's villains have this attitude. Along with the Group of Four of Safehold mentioned above, the Honor Harrington series features the People's Republic of Haven's Legislaturalists and later the Committee of Public Safety, the Star Kingdom of Manticore's High Ridge Government, and the Solarian League's "Five Mandarins." All these cases consistently make the same blunder in overestimating just how much the people they rule over are willing to put up with and continuously trying to game their respective systems when it's abundantly clear they're making terrible mistakes.

    Live-Action TV 
  • "The Bank Shot Job" in the first season of Leverage centers around a corrupt small town judge who totally believes this trope will save him. It doesn't.
  • Doctor Who:
    • At the end of the episode "The Waters of Mars", the Doctor (who up until this point has refused to save some humans whose deaths are part of history) breaks down and realizes that since he is last of the Time Lords, this trope applies to him: "Do you know who that leaves? ME!! It's taken me all these years to realize it, but all those laws of time are mine. And they will obey ME!!! ". It...doesn't end very wellTime is more resilient than he realizes, and the woman he rescues commits suicide moments thereafter, preserving the integrity of history and sending the Doctor into a Heroic BSOD over his arrogance. It's actually rather interesting to realize that in fact, he is virtually repeating, verbatim, what a certain friend of his has been saying for quite a while now....
    • Next episode we learn that the entire race of Time Lords had reached a similar conclusion, and that's why the Doctor had to wipe them out in the first place.
  • Gene Hunt's last line in Life on Mars.
    Sam: I should do you in for speeding! You're not above the law, you know!
    Gene: What are you talking about, Tyler? I am the law!
  • Averted in the Babylon 5 episode "Atonement", when Delenn goes to her clan council to hear the verdict on her marriage even though she is the most powerful woman in Minbar. On the other hand she seemed to be willing to make Minbari policy practically by herself earlier. Perhaps the discrepancy can be Justified by saying the one was an unusual security crisis and the other was just a personal matter. Also these were her kin after all.
    • Knowing Delenn, she would have found some way of getting past an unfavorable decision no matter what. Fortunately, there was a convenient way of justifying her engagement to Sheridan.
  • Law & Order: SVU's characters do this sometimes. Elliot Stabler does this almost constantly. He regularly uses questionable or outright illegal interrogation techniques (Like threatening to break a suspect's neck,) uses his badge to try getting his daughter Kathleen out of trouble (At one point saying that her breaking into someone's house is a "harmless prank,") and generally fails to actually follow 90% of the rules that police officers are supposed to be following.
    • If it wasn't for his 97% closer rate, it is pretty clear he would have had the Turn in Your Badge speech a long time ago.
  • King Uther on Merlin in "The Crystal Cave". He has magic banned, yet orders Gaius to use it to save Morgana.
    • The reason why and how King Arthur marries Guinevere in Merlin. The fact that she's a servant girl in this version is only brought up a couple times, and poses virtually no obstacle for Arthur. He wants to marry this woman, so he does. No arguments.
      • When his father was king, in contrast, Arthur and Gwen had to keep their relationship secret.
  • Airwolf has this with Archangel giving a subordinate a lesson in Firm rules.
    Archangel: You tried to kill me!
    Subordinate: I was Just Following The Rules. "If an agent becomes a threat to the Firm or the country, they are to be killed."
    Archangel: Don't you DARE quote the rules to me! I WROTE THEM! You can bet there's going to be an amendment that clearly states that that rule DOES NOT APPLY TO ME!
  • Horrible Histories' English Civil War song:
    King Charles I: I am the king, I can do what I like!
    Start up a war, or a big tax hike!
    Got a French wife, she's a Catholic...
    Roundheads: Oh Lord!
    Really, King Charles, we're not quite sure...
    Charles: Insolence! Is that how you talk to the crown?
    I am the king, I'll just close parliament down!
    Roundhead: I think you'll find that's in breach of due process.
    Cavalier: Here's what we say to that: Pffft! Now, clear out this mess!
  • Scotty gets a great one in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, "Relics". He and Geordi are attempting to repair a beat up old rustbucket of a ship and tells Geordi to shunt some fuel to an auxiliary tank. Geordi protests that the system specs say doing so will blow everything up. Scotty, being the author of said specs, admits that "a good engineer is always a wee bit conservative, at least on paper" and that the procedure will work.
  • Scandal: Olivia: "We don't vote, we take her."
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: Professor Crumbs gives full Wizard status to both Justin and Alex, despite the fact that there's a rule saying that only one wizard per family can be a full wizard. This is so Justin can take over his position as headmaster of Wiz Tech. The only reason he could possibly be allowed to disregard the rules in this manner is because he is the head of the governing body that created them.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • I'M VINCE MCMAHON, DAMNIT!
    • The heel General Managers aren't much better...and usually once they screw the rules too much, they're in line for a firing or a major beatdown from the face wrestler they've likely been feuding with for the past few months.
    • There have been matches where the Heel was allowed to alter the stipulations of the match, during the match, as many times as they want.
    • A running theme in pro wrestling is the claim that no one, not even the owner, can override a referee's decision. This is countered by the fact that the owner or GM can change the rules of the match, even retroactively. So the referee's ruling of a disqualification, for example, isn't overridden, it's just that it no longer matters because it just retroactively became a no disqualification match.
  • In the WWE, when Paul Heyman was a general manager, his first act was to put one of the faces into a match. Then no less than 4 times during the match, he'd grab a microphone and say "I'm Sorry, I forgot because it's my first day. This match is actually..." and he'd add another stipulation to the match.
  • A particularly egregious example would be the match between Chris Jericho and William Regal at Backlash 2001. Because Regal challenged Jericho to a "Duchess Of Queensbury Rules" match, and Jericho accepted without knowing what that was, it turned out that Regal was allowed to change the rules whenever he was about to lose. Possibly the worst pro wrestling example of Calvinball ever.
  • Today, we have Triple H, the leader of the Authority.

    Religion 
  • One of the major themes of the Problem of Evil (used in "God Is Evil" plots) asks whether God is allowed to do something that goes against his own code of morality. If he is, can he still be considered omnibenevolent? And it he can't, can he still be considered omnipotent? Usually the responses either 1. Yes, God has every capability to do actions against his morality, but he has no reason to. His power is such that he can solve any problem with benevolence, whether or not evil can do with malice. 2. Morality is defined by the dictates of God, so the question is meaningless. Plato would have a problem with this line of reasoning, but then again, he never thought his gods were omnibenevolent or omnipotent to begin with, or 3. Go away kid, ya bother me.
  • Invoked without all that bothersome morality by the classic philosophical question, "Can God create a boulder so large that He Himself cannot lift it?" In essence, "Is God bound by the rules of logic, or does He transcend them somehow?"
    • If God is Lord over all creation, why would He not have authority over His creation? Or to put it another way, "It's His universe, we're only the creations living in it."

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Solar Exalted of the Exalted setting were the rulers of the world in the First Age. As the Great Curse laid upon them by their vanquished foes, the Primordials (titans) started to corrupt them more and more, their rule became more and more tyrannical and cruel. Note that within his domain, a Solar had the right to set almost anything that doesn't threaten the rule of Solars in general as a law, which resulted in some pretty horrible places to live, as well as some pretty... bizarre laws and customs (a whole region in the North where people acted like they lived in a musical!).
  • The player characters have this role in Dogs In The Vineyard — as they are commanded to represent the word of the Book of Life, they basically interpret what it means and enforce it as they see fit. Often with guns.
  • Paranoia makes a particular effort to encourage this attitude. Game Masters are encouraged (if the need arises) to roll the dice in plain view of all the players and deliberately ignore the results just to hammer the point home.
    • Happens a lot in universe too. Ultraviolet clearance clones are assumed to not only be above suspicion by the Computer, but also be the people who program the Computer and tell it what to think. (They've installed automatic safeguards against blatant "all the other Ultraviolets are traitors" programs, but that's about it.)
  • Similar to the above, a quote attributed to Gary Gygax goes something like "D Ms roll dice because they like the sound it makes."
  • Referred to as Rule Zero in most P&P RPGs: The DM makes the rules.
    • Although most RPGs encourage the DM to be consistent about the rules.
  • The Golden Rule of Magic: The Gathering is "Sometimes a card contradicts the rules; if this occurs, the card text takes precedence."
  • Inquisitors in Warhammer40,000 are supposed to uphold the Imperial credo, hunt down daemons and aliens, and eliminate heretics. Does this stop many of them from happily and repeatedly violating said Imperial credo, summoning daemons and using alien technology, and turning to Chaos to further their own agenda? No. No it does not. Fortunately, Inquisitors who go rogue get the Inquisition on their tails pretty fast.
  • Warhammer's Malekith, the Witch King of Naggaroth, frequently makes laws, customs and rules for his Dark Elf subjects that he flaunts himself (such as his ban on male sorcerers, and for a long time his proclamation that nobody else be allowed to ride in a chariot). His mother Morathi has a similarly dismissive approach to following her own rules (as with her treatment of the Cults of Pleasure, which she outlawed, despite being a High Priestess of herself). To all the other Dark Elves their behaviour is a clear case of this trope, though Malekith and Morathi think it's a justified perk of being in charge. Whether Malekith and Morathi really do have the constitutional authority to behave in this fashion is a vexed question, given that "constitutional authority" to Dark Elves means "power to exercise one's tyrannical wishes when one wants".

    Theater 
  • Creon makes this argument to Haemon in Sophocles' Antigone. Naturally it all ends in tears, what with him forgetting that the Gods are more important than kings.
  • This is Nero's response to Seneca when the latter attempts to dissuade him from divorcing his wife Ottavia and marrying his mistress, in Monteverdi's L'incoronazione di Poppaea.

     Video Games 
  • Privately-run servers in video games are very prone to this trope.
    • Even some of the retail servers allow game-masters and moderators to screw the rules of the game...whether this counts is a bit more debatable, as they're usually not used to win anything, just to moderate.
    • A part of MUDs, where the people making the rules would often screw them.
    • Servers of games where you are kicked from hacking by moderators and administrators who are hacking themselves.
  • Officer Tenpenny in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Pulaski even more so.
  • In Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, Godot frequently dictates the rules as he sees fit ("It's one of my rules."), even though he's technically a rookie prosecutor and this is his first case. The Judge goes along with it, due to Refuge in Audacity.
    • A running theme in Ace Attorney Investigations. The Phantom Thief Yatagarasu deliberately goes after people who put themselves above the law through money or political power. This is usually businesses, but it extends quite easily to Cohdopian ambassadors.
    • Redd White in the original game is said to be in such a position and he does attempt to flex his influence to ensure he gets his way in court but it fails miserably (can't use your influence to stop someone from using solid evidence to show you're a heartless liar).
  • In Oblivion: The Shivering Isles, at one point a guard will tell you that "Only Lord Sheogorath is above the law here." Of course, when you become Sheogorath, they'll still fine you/send you to a dungeon. Typical.
    • There's also Auden Avidius, a Imperial Watch Captain that is using his position to extort money from a few people, and if you call him out on it he'll put a 1000 gold bounty on your head. Getting Avidius arrested is one of the quests in the game.
  • Benevolent example in Breath of Fire II - a Wyndian with black wings is prophesied to bring about the ruin of their civilization, so all children born with black wings are put to death. When the king's daughter was born so, he vetoed this, imprisoning the one person who knew the secret and sending the child to be raised in a faraway town. Nina has strong black magic, but remains completely benign and a whole-hearted party member throughout the game.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has Colonel Volgin. When Ocelot expresses his disgust at his methods after he killed Granin during a torture session, Volgin explicitly says that he's in command and doesn't need Ocelot's approval.
    • As far as chain of command goes a Colonel does have command authority over a Major so he was the one calling the shots over that operation. His argument does kind of fall apart when you consider that he is a villain who just got through killing a brilliant scientist who created Metal Gear, the titular mecha of the series, when he had no solid evidence that he was a spy and tortured him to death on a whim. Not to mention wanting to start a war with the United States and toppling the current Russian Government, he may have been the one making the rules but those rules were still corrupt.
      • There's also the small fact of Volgin being an absolute psychopath, and that questioning his orders would be a good way to end up dead.
  • A rare positive example, courtesy of Modern Warfare 3, when the head of the SAS Captain MacMillan goes outside of the law to help Captain Price and Soap, because no one will can tell him that he can't, because he's head of the SAS.
    • A more typical example comes from the next game, Call of Duty: Black Ops 2. During Menendez' playable segment in the mission "Odysseus", you're given the option to shoot Admiral Briggs. If you shoot him in the head, Salazar reprimands you, saying "you said no unnecessary killing!" Menendez responds to this by claiming "I decide what is necessary!"

    Webcomics 

     Western Animation 
  • In Danny Phantom, this is Walker's attitude with his "rules". In his Establishing Character Moment, he arrests Danny, THEN makes what Danny was doing at the time illegal.
  • Peter Griffin's song in "E. Peterbus Unum" (the episode where he builds a micronation out of his estate) could be "Screw The Rules I Make Them", the anthem:
    Peter: AH, AH, AH, can't touch me!
    Juh-juh-juh-juh-just like the bad guys from 'Lethal Weapon 2''
    I've got diplomatic immunity
    So Hammer you can't sue!
    I can write graffiti even jaywalk in the street
    I can riot, loot, not give a hoot
    And touch your sister's teat
    Can't touch me
    Mayor West: What in gods name is he doing?
    Can't touch me!
    Cleveland: I believe it's called the worm.
    I'm a big shot
    There's no doubt
    Light a fire then pee it out
    Don't like it? Kiss my rump
    Just for a minute let's all do the bump
    Yeah do the Peter Griffin bump
    I'm presidential Peter
    Interns think I'm hot
    Don't care if your handicap
    I'll still park in your spot
    I've been around the world
    From Hartford to Bombay
    It's Peter go Peter I'm Peter yo Peter let's see Regis rap this way
    Cant touch me!
    *Beat*
    Peter: Except for you, you can touch me.
  • Stavros Garkos and his brother Spiro Garkos in Hurricanes.
  • Cad Bane in Star Wars: The Clone Wars: "I'm in control. I make the rules now." Of course, he is speaking as a hostage taker, not as an authority figure.
    • More conventionally, Moralo Eval sets up an elaborate challenge for a bunch of bounty hunters recruited by Dooku. Obi-Wan, disguised as bounty hunter Rako Hardeen, keeps screwing up his death traps by teaching the participants to get around them with a higher survival rate than he wants. Fed up, he sets up a sniper challenge (Hardeen's specialty). Obi-Wan's force-guided reflexes are ably to easily pass it... were it not for the fact that Eval only gave his rifle enough charge to shoot four of the five required targets (a fact he doesn't mention until Hardeen fails). Cad Bane saves Hardeen, since he considers such flagrant cheating unsporting.
  • At the end of Aladdin, our hero is revealed to be a poor "street rat" and hence by the law of the land, not eligible to marry Princess Jasmine. Seeing how miserable she is, the Sultan shows the first sign of backbone we've seen in the entire story, and decrees that henceforth a Princess can marry "whoever she deems worthy."
  • Chris McLean is this trope. Not only does he often change the rules to "make things more interesting" (read: dangerous and/or life-threatening), he does so with a great amount of sadistic glee.
    • Real World Example: During the U.S. finale of "Total Drama: Revenge of the Island", the voting polls were open to decide the winner of the season (Zoey, Lightning, or Cameron). When the finale aired in the U.S., the network ignored the votes, and decided to go with Lightning as the winner, even though Cameron was in the lead in the polls and won in literally every other country that the show aired.
      • It's very likely that the network had no intention of ever following the poll. After all, Zoey was used as an option even though she was eliminated the episode before the finale. Had she gotten the most votes, making her the winner would have required a complete remaking of the final episode. Chris even lampshades this by saying that having a Cameron-Zoey final two would be a snooze-fest.
  • Batman almost always averts this in terms of the rules he sets for himself, but when he captured the Sewer King (who had been using children as slave labor), he said, "This time, I'm sorely tempted [to break my own rules]!"
  • Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog: In one episode, Robotnik decides to demote Coconuts after he himself is tricked by Sonic even though Coconuts wasn't even there at the time, because, as he puts it, "I'm the boss! I can blame whoever I want!"
  • Family Guy: In the episode "Cool Hand Peter," Peter, Cleveland, Joe, and Quagmire run afoul of the Corrupt Hick Sheriff Nichols in Georgia who acts this way. First he accuses them of having a taillight and turn signal out, and then smashes both of them himself. When Joe shows him his police badge, Nichols promptly disposes of it before deliberately planting a bag of marijuana in the trunk and sending them to prison for two weeks, which he somehow manages to extend to thirty days. When the boys escape, the sheriff and his deputies chase them all the way to Quahog, but Joe anticipates this and places a call into the Quahog cops, who surround Nichols and his crew. Joe quickly gets in a little revenge by smashing up Nichols' car and then shoots him in the leg, before telling him that just because he's a cop doesn't mean that he can do whatever he wants and forcing him out of Quahog.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender : The episode "Avatar Day" features an anti-Avatar celebration in Chin Village because Avatar Kyoshi killed Chin the Great, which leads to Aang, Kyoshi's reincarnation, taking the heat for it and being tried in a Kangaroo Court that led to him being sentenced to being boiled in oil. However, when a Fire Nation squad invades the village and goes on a rampage, the terrified mayor quickly changes Aang's sentence to community service to allow him to fight the Fire Nation off.
  • In Gargoyles, at one point Oberon decrees that his magic will no longer affect Goliath's clan. However when they later come into conflict again, Oberon uses his magic against the gargoyles indirectly, such as by summoning freezing rain or gale-force winds. When Goliath calls him out on this, Oberon replies "My decrees are mine to interpret!"

    Real Life 
  • Anyone who is a parent. However, using this too often will cause your children to simply stop obeying you. Why should they, when you could change the rules at any time?
  • In real life, this trope is the reason why Constitutions exist. Basically, a Constitution is a set of rules that cannot be changed without an incredibly long and difficult process, even by the people in charge of making the rules.
    • Yet, Charles Evans Hughes supposedly said, as Chief Justice of US Supreme Court, "we live under a Constitution, but Constitution is what judges say it is."
  • Article 1 Section 5 of the US Constitution gives each chamber of Congress to set up their own rules as they see fit. This can lead to strange politics when Congress subverts its own rules by making new ones.
    • For example, the rule governing filibusters in the US Senate requires a two thirds majority (67) to invoke cloture, not even a sixty vote majority. Recently, Senate changed rules on filibuster in some cases with just a bare majority. (51)
  • Martin Luther King Jr. was quoted with saying, "Never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was legal." Never was this Trope more true than it was in that case.
    • Though from a certain perspective, technically it's not true. The 'constitutional' basis for Nazi laws was the 1933 Enabling Act, which gave Hitler, as Chancellor, the power to make laws and change the constitution without consulting the Reichstag. However, technically he still had to actually make the laws. There was no law that permitted the Night of the Long Knives, for instance. Though this is largely nit-picking.
    • Actually there was eventually one - approved by the cabinet the day after the Night of the Long Knives ended. Ex post facto law in area of criminal legislation of course violated every hitherto accepted principle of German law, but from Nazi point of view this made the killings perfectly "legal".
  • The Trial of Louis XVI of France in 1792 produced some interesting arguments. Pretty much everyone agreed that Louis was guilty, but why he was seemed to be more important than whether he was:
    • Jean-Paul Marat, despite generally being considered an enthusiastic advocate of execution in the rest of the revolution, took a surprisingly limited stance - Louis was only guilty if he had violated the constitution of 1791 (which of course Marat believed he had).
    • Louis-Antoine Saint-Just and Thomas Paine, among others, argued that while the trial was necessary, it was making the wrong charges; simply having been King was in itself a crime and enough to make Louis guilty, despite the fact that Louis' kingship had been legal by the laws in place at the time.
    • Maximilien Robespierre largely accepted the aforementioned argument by Paine and Saint-Just, but took it even further; he argued that the trial was not even necessary because the very act of dethroning Louis and declaring France a Republic, already made him guilty: putting him on trial meant accepting there was some possibility, however small, that Louis might be innocent, which meant putting the legitimacy of the Republic in doubt, and they could only hold a trial if the Republic was legitimate.
  • Richard Nixon effectively said this in the interviews with David Frost (see the page quote). Note that he didn't get away with it when he tried, and people were rather shocked when he said it (or more accurately, that he said it so bluntly; people weren't terribly surprised to learn that "Tricky Dick" was a paranoid autocrat, but that he would say so out loud...).
  • During one sack of the city of Rome, a Gaul general named Brennus offered to ransom the city in return for a payment of gold by weight. When some of the Roman tribunes noticed that the Gaul-provided weights for determining the ransom were fixed and dared to tell him this, he responded by unsheathing his sword, throwing it upon the scale as well, and telling them (presumably through a translator) "Vae victis" or "Woe to the vanquished."
  • Regulatory capture often combines this trope with Screw the Rules, I Have Money! and Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!.
  • Similar to the Coming to America example above, the Byzantine senator Justinian fell in love with Theodora, an actress. It was totally illegal for senators to marry actresses, who were seen as very much the dregs of humanity. Justinian, however, happened to be not only the nephew of the Emperor but his most trusted advisor, so the law was promptly changed and he married Theodora. (Later he succeeded his uncle as Emperor and, when faced with a rebellion, Theodora was the only person who advised him against fleeing. He defeated the rebellion and reigned for decades more, and is known to this day as "Justinian the Great.")
  • Moderators and Admins on message boards sometimes - though not necessarily always - engage in this behavior, similar to the above example of people running video game servers.
  • A lawsuit filed on July 3, 2013 alleges that the Henderson, NV police, after being denied usage of Anthony Mitchell's home for surveillance purposes, opted to instead take it by force. Simply put, it's the first time the Third Amendment has been invoked on the grounds of "Quartering soldiers" since the late '70s. Per the official report: "It was determined to move to 367 Evening Side and attempt to contact Mitchell. If Mitchell answered the door he would be asked to leave. If he refused to leave he would be arrested for Obstructing a Police Officer. If Mitchell refused to answer the door, force entry would be made and Mitchell would be arrested."
  • Any Rules Lawyer incarcerated in prison who quotes local laws (i.e. the US Constitution), court cases, the Geneva Conventions, etc. will get this response from the prison guards (bonus points if it's a Hellhole Prison). That is, unless the guards reply with silence or a strike across the face.
  • Countries with leaders that do this either have massive protests, riots, or outright civil wars on their hands.
  • There was a rulebook laying out the expected behavior for Alcatraz that contained 53 rules. The last rule? "If you do something we don't have a rule for, we will make a rule up on the spot and punish you for it."

Screw the Rules, I Have Supernatural Powers!Screw This Index, I Have TropesScrew the Rules, I'm Beautiful!
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!Morality TropesSelf-Disposing Villain
Risking The KingAuthority TropesSham Ceremony
Screw the Rules, I Have Money!Crime and Punishment TropesScrew the Rules, I'm Beautiful!

alternative title(s): Ptitlej2qa66yo; A Law Unto Themselves
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