When a character (primarily in dramas) is asked to go beyond their job and help with "a cause", the character sometimes refuses, and afterwards the other person asks, "What's happened to you?" or "Since when did you stop caring?" the answer sometimes comes down to the character saying, "I grew up," implying that the character "grew" from a Wide-Eyed Idealist to an embittered cynic. It's also often used by the Anti-Hero or Straw Nihilist to sneer at the idealistic methods and beliefs of the Ideal Hero and his ilk; such naive and childish wishful thinking has no place in the grown-up, random, cynical world that the Anti Hero lives in. Alternatively, a Retired Badass might have genuinely gotten too old or set in retirement to do what's being asked of them.
Considering that many shows and media that are on the idealistic end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism or are just plain Lighter and Softer with simplistic plots are primarily targeted towards children, while cynical media with more controversial plots are often targeted to adults or attract controversy from Moral Guardians, there can often be a tendency, especially among more cynical people, to associate idealism with childish or simplistic thinking, something to outgrow, rather than an actual, legitimate, motivating philosophy that adults can also make use of. This conditioned bias is a major reason for why many people believe True Art Is Angsty.
Sometimes the result of the character crossing the Despair Event Horizon. The Sour Supporter often expresses it, especially in the face of Least Is First. May be accompanied by a warning that Hope Is Scary. Subtrope of Jade-Colored Glasses. See also Silly Rabbit, Romance Is for Kids!. Could also overlap with Obstructive Bureaucrat, and Noble Bigot with a Badge.
Expect this phrase to be uttered in World Half Empty settings andReal Life. Especially by the more Machiavellian Real Politikers when they lecture idealists about the deceptive dog-eat-dog world of international relations.
Contrast Good Is Old Fashioned, where idealism is regarded as only for the children's grandparents. The intent is much the same: To imply that the good/idealistic person is unfamiliar with the here and now. The character may say that what they are dealing with is Above Good and Evil, and the idealistic character should not drag in such childish morality.
It's not all one-way, however; the idealist may fire a few shots back in return. The cynic may be dismissed as a 'sell-out' who gave up on doing the right thing for their own selfish gain. For instance certain characters just aren't willing to jeopardize their careers, and livelihoods just to change the status quo (Cynically this could be Truth in Television depending on how cynical, or "realist" one is). Or maybe he'll even be called a 'coward' and a weakling who gave up the good fight because he found it too hard and instead resigns oneself in wangsting about bad things. For those kinds of call-outs, see Silly Rabbit Cynicism Is For Losers. Of course, a true cynic would also be cynical about their cynicism.
Compare and contrast Knight in Sour Armor, who still hold ideals, just not as idealists. A converted holder of Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! views may turn into a Knight In Sour Armour, keeping to the appearance of cynicism while reluctantly pursuing idealistic goals. Also contrast Silly Rabbit Cynicism Is For Losers, for when excessive cynicism and pessimism turns out to be just as blinding as too much idealism or optimism.
A direct antithesis of Good Is Not Dumb. These characters could also fit under the Stopped Caring trope.
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Anime & Manga
Partially due to his Heroic BSOD in Season 3, Judai in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX developed a "Stop Having Fun" Guys mentality towards Duel Monsters during his journey into adulthood between Seasons 3 and 4, effectively losing the optimism that he had for two and a half seasons.
Oddly enough, before that he was big on 'It's a game, have fun!' Pretty big turn around.
In the final episode Judai duels Yugi and regains his passion for dueling.
Technically, he was supposed to have regained it during the pair duel that season, but then the writers said "screw it" and had him re-learn that exact same lesson for the finale.
Great Teacher Onizuka: Often a particularly jaded character (such like Urumi, Miyabi, Ms. Daimon...) will go in a rant about the rotting of the society, Adults Are Useless or abusive/perverted creeps, kids are delinquents, you can trust nobody or they shall abuse you or take advantage of you. However they sooner or later are confronted with the opposite trope and being told they are just blind cynics and that mindset is one of the roots of those troubles.
Mazinger Z: In a story arc of the Gosaku Ota manga alternate continuity Baron Ashura manages kidnapping Kouji Kabuto and tries to talking Kouji in joining him. When Kouji refuses, Ashura goes in a What Is Evil? rant, stating "justice" and "peace" are only meaningless, empty words invented by people because they are too coward and weak to accept the truth (Might Makes Right according him) and protect themselves, and then he taunts Kouji telling the only thing his idealism has got him are troubles and humilliations.
Subverted in Rurouni Kenshin. When the villains try to Break the Cutie Kaoru by saying that martial arts are for killing, the titular protagonist agrees.. but also says that he prefers the idealism over the truth.
To expand on it, Nozomu tells his class to write down their "Despairs for the future", essentially the students writing down their "Hopes for the future", what they are aiming at becoming, which Nozomu shoots down by saying "It's hopeless", and then giving them a Breaking Lecture on their unrealistic goals... And then Fuura Kafuka shoots HIM down simply by stating that no matter how unrealistic your goal is, as long as you do your best to achieve it "the possibility exists" that you'll succeed. *
Trivial note: It's later revealed that Kafuka's "Hopes/Despairs for the future" was to become "God, A Time Traveler, A Pororocian".
The Token Mini Moe in Heat Guy J gets in an argument with a Defective Detective, when he tells her that money isn't everything. In her world, where she and her mother barely have what they need to survive, money is everything, and she has become jaded. She tells him that believing in ideals like "money can't bring happiness" is all a fantasy.
Monster: Johan seems to be trying to teach this to Tenma, and toward the end says "The only thing humans are equal in... is death."
This trope is inverted in Black Lagoon when Takenaka, a Terrorist Without A Cause, attempts to interrogate Rock into giving up some info by convincing him that they're Not So Different. Rock refuses, and asks Takenaka why he keeps fighting for a cause he's already lost. Takenaka explains that he's long since lost any ideals about being able to do anything constructive with his actions, but "keeps preaching" because it's the only thing he finds meaning in doing.
Used in Tiger & Bunny to highlight the duality between Kotetsu and his partner Barnaby. Barnaby, a Punch Clock Hero who views superheroics as "just another job", finds Kotetsu's still-intact idealism and aspirations towards being The Cape to be childish and naive. The twist is that Kotetsu is at least ten years older than Barnaby, and seems to be holding on to the virtues of "the good old days" in an era where superheroes have become marketing mascots.
In his case, it turns out his mindset is based on the knowledge of what the Stern Bild idea of 'justice' actually entails. For much of the series the HeroTV heroes are ignorant of the the massive corruption and violence that lies behind the glitzy theatrics, giving another reason (if one were needed) why the others don't see where Lunatic's coming from. Hopefully time will tell what the reactions of them and NEXTs in general will be to Maverick's setup being uncovered.
In One Piece, when the Sun Pirates helps a young human girl (whom they had grown to cherish) return to her village, Arlong is quick to ruin their mood by stating that Koala will grow up to hate fishmen like any other human. It is unknown whether he was right about Koala, but he was at least right about the people of Koala's hometown, who repaid Fisher Tiger's kindness in returning the ex-slave child by reporting him to the Marines, who mortally wounded him, purely out of Fantastic Racism.
It's a trait of many villains in the series that they'll spout a line like this. Donquixote Doflamingo especially does it a lot, though it's subverted by the Big Bad Blackbeard, who actually believes in dreams and idealism in his own, twisted way.
Which makes sense considering he has the Will of D.
In DC Comics, Superman once battled the Elite (a pastiche of The Authority) a pack of super-anti-heroes who routinely killed. It was the Elite's point-of-view that Superman's boy-scout kid-gloves morality was a weakness, and that defeating evil required being just as bad. During their final face-off, Superman appeared to be going all-out, slaughtering his way through the Elite on live TV. But it was a fake-out — he was merely knocking them out in creative ways, trying to illustrate how terrifying superpowered killers can be. Manchester Black, the leader of the Elite, maintained that Superman's idealism was nothing but a facade until his dying day. (When Black realized that Superman honestly and sincerely believed and lived up to his ideals, it was more than Black could take and committed suicide.)
In fact, the very idea of idealism apparently screwed Black up so much that he eventually came back and tried to destroy the entire world to ultimately prove his point, in a large-scale prequel to the Joker's attempted demonstrations in The Dark Knight. Except with more Humans Are The Real Monsters and You Bastard thrown in. In the DC Universe, enough cynicism apparently leads to evil on an epic scale.
In another example, Clark Kent once came across a police officer he was acquainted with both as Kent and Superman attempting to beat a confession out of Pete Ross, who was suspected of being a supervillain at the time. When Kent confronted her about it, the police officer dismissively told him to 'grow up'. Unfortunately for her, then Superman confronted her — and snatched her badge from her with his superspeed, crushed it in his fist, and bluntly told her that she was a disgrace who didn't deserve to wear it. Not entirely surprisingly, having the Man of Steel deliver a What the Hell, Hero? speech to her was enough to prompt something of a moral crisis for her.
Overall lesson from all this — telling Superman that cynicism and maturity are the same thing is a very bad idea.
"Foolish old man . . . your refusal to kill got you nowhere in 1999 - - Where do you think it will get you now, in a world ruled by death?!"
In one of Marvel Comic's Thunderbolts mini-series, Baron Zemo accidentally goes back in time and encounters many of his ancestors via time-jumps, one of whom is in young love with a lady that history says he's not destined to marry. Zemo tells them to their faces that they can dream because they are young, and that the harshness of reality will eventually make them adults.
Of course he was right all along. He knew he would marry another after all.
Gemini Storm's Elizabeth Rose is very negative, to the point of berating her male companion when he yells at her for killing one of the monsters trying to kill them both.
Speedball's evolution into Penance. This trope plus a dump truck full of Wangst. He had amnesia at the time. He knew that he used to be a hero and that he'd done something bad, he just didn't know who or what.
The Comedian's speech at the "Crime Busters" meeting in Watchmen.
Jackie, the ex-wife of Detective Mercer from the film The Brave One. Detective Mercer asks Jackie for help and she replies, "I can't help. Besides, I don't do 'pro bono." When Mercer asks why, she responds, "I grew up."
The hero of Dragonheart starts off as this, a cold hearted mercenary who was soured by trying to instruct a king in the old code, the code of honour of the kingdom, who grew up heartless anyway. He later becomes something of a Knight In Sour Armour.
In the Lou Diamond Phillips film Extreme Justice, a lot of the Powers That Be appear to be this way when dealing with Knight Templar cops. Mostly due to the fact they think the ends justify the means, and the lower level powers that be are largely useless due to being in fear of losing their jobs and pensions. And Lou Diamond Phillips' character is mostly seen as naive by his co-workers because he's trying to expose the corruption that people seem to passively aggressively support.
Predator. Dutch finds his special forces team has been duped by CIA agent Dillon.
Dutch: What happened to you, Dillon? You used to be someone I could trust. Dillon: I woke up. Why don't you? You're an asset. An expendable asset. And I used you to get the job done.
"For the record, I don't like how this turned out any more than you do. But this is the world we live in. And justice does not always prevail. It's not the wild west where you can clean up the streets with a gun. Even though sometimes it's exactly what is needed... Bob Lee Swagger, you're free to go."
In a Deleted Scene from the fourth Harry Potter film, Moody (actually Crouch Jr.) tells Harry after the Second Task that "if you want to play the hero, I can find you plenty of playmates among the first years."
This is Somerset's attitude towards Mills in Se7en. Somerset's years as a cop have left him disillusioned, jaded, and borderline misanthropic. He scoffs at the younger man's more optimistic outlook on life, at one point even chastising him by saying "You can't be this naive!" When Mills finally succumbs to the darkness by killing John Doe, however, Somerset is clearly saddened to be proven right.
In Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line, Pvt. Witt is constantly taunted by his superiors for being an idealistic dreamer.
In World War Z, this is the viewpoint of many Jerk Asses in such interviews as the one with former White House chief of staff Grover Carlson. Asked about the response of the White House to reports of the walking dead, Carlson claims it was above and beyond, and brags that Phalanx, a supposed anti-zombie drug, was pushed through the Food and Drug Administration. When the Narrator points out that Phalanx didn't work, Carlson explodes and launches into a tirade that what mattered was that a panic had been avoided, ultimately telling the interviewer to "grow up":
"Can you imagine the damage it would have done to the administration's political capital? We're talking about an election year, and a damn hard, uphill fight. ... Oh, c'mon. Can you ever 'solve' poverty? Can you ever 'solve' crime? Can you ever 'solve' disease, unemployment, war, or any other societal herpes? Hell no. All you can ever hope for is to make them manageable enough to allow people to get on with their lives. That's not cynicism, that's maturity."
Given that this guy was personally responsible for a number of the dumbass decisions that led the world to ruin, he should feel lucky that his punishment is simply collecting manure for a biodiesel plant. Of course, his viewpoint is that his decisions kept society going long enough for the Redekker Plan to be enacted, therefore making him one of the world's unsung saviors. The reader is left hanging as to this.
Theo Bell has this exchange with his old friend Angus in a Vampire The Masquerade spinoff novel, not long after finding out Angus was the one who'd been repeatedly trying to kill him.
The Decembrist uprising of 1825 is described in such terms for all of Russian high society in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar; while "the people of the [eighteen] twenties" are generally idealistic if superfluous, impractical and hypocritical, the people who replace them at the forefront of high society after the failure of the Decembrist uprising are more pragmatic, materialistic and outwardly conformist (notably, both sides can be pretty cynical or the opposite regardless of this divide, just in different ways). And then there is the main character, Aleksandr Griboyedov, who is stuck awkwardly between the two groups and is very cynical and contemptuous towards both.
Animorphs. Jake's brother Tom (who is actually controlled by an alien Yeerk slug) sums the trope up when talking about morality in war:
"Honor and courage aren't what matters, not in real war. What matters is whether you win. After you win, then you start talking about honor and courage. When you're in battle, you do what you have to do. Honor and courage and all that? Those are the words you say after you've killed all your enemies."
Within the Animorphs themselves, Marco tells Cassie this a lot.
In James Stoddard's The High House, Murmur rebukes Duskin for wanting to join in the defense of the house; his father would have, but that was idealism of youth, which he never outgrew.
In Gene Stratton Porter's Michael O'Halloran, when Douglas rejects an offical position, he gets this.
"It is painful to a man of experience to see you young fellows of such great promise come up and 'kick' yourself half to death 'against the pricks' of established business, parties, and customs, but half of you do it. In the end all of you come limping in, poor, disheartened, defeated, and then swing to the other extreme, by being so willing for a change you'll take almost anything, and so the dirty jobs naturally fall to you."
When Sasha Monroe from Third Watch points out Tyrone Davis Jr's shady police tactics and how it contributes to innocent black men going to jail, he put his hand up to her face and says "Don't preach to me."
Amy Pond in the new series of Doctor Who met the Doctor when she was a kid and wanted to travel with him but circumstances delayed him until she'd grown up, where she justifies her (not entirely unjustified) skepticism of him and his claims with this trope. Being the Doctor, however, he has the perfect comeback:
Amy: I grew up. The Doctor: Don't worry. I'll soon fix that.
Ned in Pushing Daisies gives "I grew up" as the answer to why he no longer likes Halloween. He's lying, though.
Miss Parker from The Pretender, complete with the obligatory "What happened to you?" "I grew up" conversation in the first episode.
Law & Order loves to rub the viewers' face into the political version of this trope. Then there's Abbie Carmichael who is this trope personified.
When Captain Archer returned to Earth after the events of Season3, where he carried a team of Space Marines, resorted to piracy, killed unarmed aliens manning a listening post, lost several crew members, and went back in time, he has taken this attitude. The other members of Earth's Starfleet, who are bursting with Roddenberrian enthusiasm for space travel, are deeply concerned as he talks about the importance of better arming ships and warfighting over exploring. They are convinced he's simply cynical, but he can't help but think that being more cynical may have saved some of his crew. It does reminds Starfleet that there are civilizations out there who wants nothing more than to blow Earth up.
Sir Humphrey has managed to reduce this to a simple aphorism in Yes Minister:
"A cynic is a what an idealist calls a realist."
In Merlin, when the title character refuses to save Mordred's life because he's destined to kill Arthur, Gaius asks what happened to the young boy who first arrived in his chambers. Merlin replies, "He grew up. And learnt the meaning of duty."
Music example, slightly inverted: In his song "My Back Pages", Bob Dylan describes his angry-young-man cynicism of a few years earlier, and its gradual evolution into pragmatism, with the memorable (and confusing) chorus "I was so much older then / I'm younger than that now."
I believe I've passed the age Of consciousness and righteous rage I found that just surviving Was a noble fight...
Happened with pseudo-anarchist folk/punk band Levellers. Their early albums were all 'times are tough but if we work together we can get past Thatcher and have a time of peace and joy and happiness'. Now, twenty or so years later their songs seem to mostly be about how the world sucks and we're all screwed.
Green Day has at least two songs directly dealing with or referencing this, Emenius Sleepus and The Grouch. The former is about a friend who underwent the process, the latter, the narrator.
The Jam in "Burning Sky", though that was meant to be from the viewpoint of a character who'd embraced the capitalist system.
Both played straight and subverted with Avril Lavigne. Her first album, made when she was just a teenager, was a poppy, punky teen fest, and Sk8er Boi became a hit song among preteens. Two years later and she abandoned the "immaturity" for wagnst and cynicism. Three years after that, and she's a teenager again! But now, she's put out a soft rock/acoustic album, making this a Zig Zagged Trope.
In I Fight Dragon's 'No One Likes Superman Anymore':
Cuz no one wants to know the man who stands for things we outgrow He’s too noble and too blind We’re all older now and we don’t need someone to care about The innocence we left behind…
From RENT: "What happened to Benny? What happened to his heart, and the ideals he once pursued?"
Jean Anouilh's version of Antigone is a rare example of this being taken seriously as opposed to being scoffed at or framed as rationalization. The play is concerned with Antigone's willingness to die as a punishment for trying to ensure that one of her brothers gets a proper burial, which itself is a manifestation of her ideological opposition to Creon, the pragmatic ruler that's replaced her father. Her willingness to die for her principles is framed more as a symptom of youth. She can't appreciate how destructive and foolish dying for her cause might be and so winds up ruining the lives of everyone she loves and not accomplishing anything other than ideological purity. Anouilh regards her youthful lack of perspective as her hamartia.
In Vanities, Kathy learns the hard way, after losing her boyfriend and her nervous breakdown, that her idea of "an organized life" doesn't work well in adulthood. Then the cast as a whole finds out that their friendship "isn't what it used to be".
In Live A Live, the former hero Hash has this attitude; he despises people in general for forgetting him after he saved the day, and considers idealistic heroes like Oersted to be stupid. He recants his position at the end, though, and tells Oersted to keep fighting so long as any one person believes in him. But when the world curbstomps Oersted's idealism too, Oersted decides to get revenge..
Also worth noting is that Nicolette and Chad were really only fighting against Majestic-12, NOT The Illuminati as a whole, so they didn't go on to join the same group they were originally fighting (and their expressed goals didn't change as much as their methods did). If you speak to Nicolette enough in the original game, it becomes obvious that she's not entirely innocent even then (and that she sees her alliance with Chad and Silhouette through very cynical eyes - considering their value as a tool of the Illuminati just like her mother did). Chad, however, may have started out more idealistic, and does give a "I can't believe I was that naive" speech in the second game.
Fate/stay night's Archer is a very literal example. He is, literally, the grown-up version of the Wide-Eyed Idealist main character who followed his ideals and became a hero, gone extremely cynical over the fact that his path towards being a hero is littered with the corpses of those who had to die to keep that ideal.
In Devil Survivor, Keisuke winds up playing reluctant mentor to Midori; she refuses to listen to his warnings partly because he feels this way. Over time, he grows more desperate to convince her and more cynical, until he snaps and goes Knight Templar. This doesn't help convince her that he's right, mind you.
Completely inverted in Final Fantasy VIII. Squall starts off believing that his own cynical, antisocial viewpoints are the correct ones, but as the game progresses and Rinoa and the friends he makes help him both emotionally mature and deal with his mental trauma, he becomes more idealistic.
This article claims that, since The Legend Of Zelda Twilight Princess went with a realistic art style, Nintendo ought to have made Link more "realistic", namely, by turning him into an antihero. The author's argument hinges in large part on his assertion that people were "very disappointed" with Twilight Princess because the realistic art style supposedly ought to have been paired with a non-idealistic hero. The article became Hilarious in Hindsight because, a mere three days later, The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword was revealed with an art style that was decidedly less realistic than the one in Twilight Princess, with a Link who is just as much of a normal hero as both the one in Twilight Princess and every other Link.
In L.A. Noire, veteran Vice Detective Roy Earle says this to Cole Phelps when they discuss the crack down (or lack thereof) on illegal narcotics in the city.
Roy: Drugs are prohibited. Doesn't mean people don't want to take them. Limiting supply doesn't mean that we have limited demand. Cole: I understand that. I know that the average Joe needs to unwind a little, let his hair down at the end of the week. But morphine? Heroin? Roy: It's important to demonize hop, Phelps. Looks good in the papers. But when all's said and done, it's just another chemical like booze. A lot of people in high places think we are doing the city a favor by keeping the dope rolling into Central Avenue. Donelly certainly believes we need to keep them anesthetized. Cole: Better jobs and opportunities would go a lot further. Roy: Will you listen to yourself?
Subverted in Backyard Sports with pretty much every character in there. They may have grown up, but, fortunately they're just as happy as they were when they were younger kids (maybe even more.)
Protagonist: What could the teyrn hope to gain by betraying the king? Alistair: The throne? He's the queen's father. Still, I can't see how he'll get away with murder. Flemeth: You speak as if he would be the first king to gain his throne that way. Grow up, boy.
In God Of War III, Kratos has such an exchange with Pandora, telling her hope is for fools. She responds with a plea that hope gives people strength. Eventually, she proves to be right as Kratos is actually empowered by hope from Pandora's Box.
Cecil: Did Firion give you his answer? Cloud: Yeah. He says he has a dream...and that he'll keep fighting to make it come true. Cecil: Sounds like Firion, sure enough. Cloud: He told you? Cecil: Yes, although he was embarrassed at first. He said he wants to create a world where flowers grow in perpetual peace. Cloud: Sounds so...childlike. Cecil: Honest men have honest dreams.
Keeper, the boss of the Imperial Agent class in Star Wars: The Old Republic takes this attitude to Agents who make too many Light Side choices. Not so much that he disapproves in principle, but that he fears that idealism will cause the agent to burn-out.
In Starcraft II this comes up in the cinematic A Better Tomorrow, after the heroes have broken open a prison. Matt Horner claims that the victory was breaking out all the political prisoners. They are fighting to expose Mengsk as a war criminal, build a better tomorrow, and not act of vengeance. Tosh calls this naive saying that tyranny is only ever succeed by tyranny, and all you can do is fight against the current enemy. Raynor comments that the better future will come, but those fighting out of hate (like him and Tosh) will have no place in it.
Likewise Huey suffers a heavy case of cynicism towards society while Riley is too ignorant to care. In the comic strip, he had Cesar, who was similar to Huey but lacked his extremely jaded ideas. And MacGruder to make the comic even more cynical has Cesar moving away to deliver the final coup de grace.
When part of the Justice League is turned into children in the Justice League Unlimited episode "Kid Stuff", most of them enjoy it. Green Lantern's having fun conjuring up things, Wonder Woman's having a girly crush on Batman, and Superman's being a bit goofy. Only Batman remains focused and serious, barely changed, and he's the one who eventually wins. When they return to normal, Wonder Woman comments that it was kind of fun being a kid again. Batman responds "I haven't been a kid since I was eight years old".
That's an unfortunate bit of Truth in Television. People who lost a parent to death when they were children often describe it, as adults, as "My childhood ended then." This reaction seems to be most pronounced when the child was between about 7 and 12 when the parent dies.
Resident Emo Teen Zuko from Avatar The Last Airbender believes that Aang's ideas about peace, pacifism and forgiveness are childish. While he's proven wrong in the case of Katara's need to avenge her mother, and admits as much, the question of killing Big Bad Ozai is more complicated; Aang's ultimate non-lethal victory is only made possible by a discovery that some viewers consider a Deus ex Machina, before which even Aang's idealistic friends and his previous incarnations argued that killing Ozai would be a Necessary Evil.
The sequel comics also show that the world doesn't miraculously fix itself overnight after a hundred years of war, and that even with a Reasonable Authority Figure on both sides of an issue, there is still room for trouble and moral complexity.
Beast Machines had Silverbolt from the previous series return half way through. Much to Blackaraknia's dismay, however, he had turned rather sour after being reprogrammed temporarily by Megatron and at first outright sneered at anyone who brought up his past point of view
Silverbolt: "I was a fool then. I believed in things."
In American politics, supporters of third-party candidates aren't congratulated for participating in the democratic system and standing up for what they believe in. Instead, supporters of third party candidates like Bob Barr, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson along with idealistic candidates on both the mainstream parties like Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul, are often demonized by moderates on their side of the aisle and belittled by the media, with the justification that "compromise is better than idealism."
In return, the idealists would fire back that it is simply because the system is "too corrupt" to let anyone who is an honest person, an idealist or anyone that is not a Sleazy Politician to take office.
This being a classic real-world example of why the gap between idealism and cynicism is actually a grey area in which a lot depends on the outcome. A third-party movement that succeeds can be an improvement on either party, at least in potential, from the POV of the third-party voters. But if not enough people join in the net result is often to bring about victory for precisely the party that the third-party voters would consider the worse option. Republicans still seethe about conservatives who voted for Perot and effectively elected Clinton, and Democrats often say that the green in 'green party' stands for Get Republicans Elected Every November. Hence, third parties these days tend to be in favor of things like approval voting.
The mathematics work out this way because American elections work on the basis of a simple plurality. So if 3% of the voters vote for whom they perceive to be the best party while 48% vote for the second-best and 49% vote for the worst (again, labels are as perceived by the 3% and maybe part of the 48%), well, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
The trick here is that altering the election system would require the co-operation of the party or parties in charge, and it's always in their best interest to keep third-parties as shutout as possible.
A political cartoon in 2008 accused John McCain of pandering to the right wing in his Republican Presidential nomination campaign with his much less moderate views than he had promoted in his 2000 campaign. When asked what happened to the "Straight-Talk Express" McCain of 2000, the cartoon version of him replied, "He lost."
More than one Green Party has been torn between those who want policies that completely minimise our carbon footprint and those who want a chance at actually getting power to implement the lightest of said policies. Usually, the extremists have to break off and form a pressure group.
There's a saying in American politics: "A conservative at the age of twenty has no heart; a liberal at the age of forty has no brain." This was derived from a 19th century remark by a French politician: "A monarchist at the age of 20 has no heart; a republican [small r, as in "believes in a republic"] at the age of 40 has no brain".