Nothing gets in the way of a politician's smile before a camera.note
"But remember, me not Veggie Monster. Me still Cookie Monster. Just for record. Me got reputation to think of."
catch onto their roles quickly — one wants to Take Over the World
, one wants to save it; one wants to Kill All Humans
, one wants to protect them. But for all their differences, once they choose a side, they have the same problem: they're a slave to Public Relations.
To both Heroes
, reputation is everything
. Actions don't determine your rep; rep controls your actions. If their reputation is ever at stake, they must act according to their role to reinforce their image.
Heroes always have to maintain a Good
reputation. They have to Save the Villain
, can never Shoot the Dog
, must modestly declaim their own greatness
, and above all, Thou Shalt Not Kill
. It's the reason they stick around to help an Untrusting Community
rather than leaving when they're obviously not wanted and why it hurts when you can't please everyone. On the flipside, once wronged a hero is perfectly justified
in getting some amount of comeuppance, since it's only "fair".
Some villains also want a Good
reputation. If they're not a Knight Templar
who completely believes they are good, they'll be a Villain with Good Publicity
to do good. They'll secretly pour all their investments into a Kill Sat
to cause The End of the World as We Know It
, but they'll do it all under the radar (or control the radar
) or tell people that it'll change the future
. This good rep gives them a token Karmic Protection
against a hero just barging into their homes to arrest them, as well. Some of them will even expend the effort on Bread and Circuses
to actually do
Nowadays, though, a great majority of villains are going for a 0% Approval Rating
. Evil Is Cool
and Good Is Boring
, and the Noble Demon
and Card-Carrying Villain
will do everything in their power to earn their Bad
reputation and cover up their Hidden Heart of Gold
. A hero could Blackmail
them for life just by taking a snapshot of them being Licked by the Dog
. Conversely, the villain will hit a hero where it hurts and complicate their life by orchestrating a frame up.
This public relations mindset doesn't do much for the old "Be Yourself
, do the right thing, and don't care about what others think about you" Aesop
. It even gives the Big Bad
some extra leverage. A Diabolical Mastermind
doesn't have to shoot that meddling hero
to get revenge for foiling that armored car robbery, just give some incriminating shots
of him trespassing to save someone falling from a burning building to the local paper. And if that Cape
is a real pain in your neck, if you frame them for a crime, you can count on them not trying to break out of prison since they're bound to follow all the rules. It's dangerous being a Slave To PR. They should have become an Anti-Hero
Nothing solidifies the Hero/Anti-Hero
line better than this trope. Anti Heroes do what they have to do
, not what looks right. They do their own thing, whatever serves their purpose, and couldn't care less about what their reputation is. The town hails them as a hero for killing that drug dealer? They don't care. The cops are crying for their head on a pole for starting that street rumble? They don't care. They've been locked in jail while there are serious criminals out there waiting to be taken down? They'll break out. In fact, they'll often clash with the Designated Hero
over this difference.
Mind you, Anti Heroes do
prefer a fearsome, rebellious reputation, but that has more to do with appearing brave and tough than good/evil.
See Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid
for when this is taken to its extreme. Compare Contractual Purity
. Contrast What You Are in the Dark
Real-life actors and movie industry workers are slaves to this, too. It's Selling The Show
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Anime and Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: In two simultaneous Sword over Head scenes in the same building, Hell Kaiser and Edo admit that even though they would like to show their enemies mercy, as self-appointed antiheroes, they can't, and deliver the fatal blows.
- Subverted late in the second season of Code Geass. Lelouch is actively trying to make his publicity worse, not because he wants to be bad, but because he needs to look bad for his plan.
- Natsu Tanimoto from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, a male Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who tries very hard to maintain his image as the school's Ace.
- Being about a group of people in a city of corporate superheroism, none of the heroes in Tiger & Bunny can escape the insistence of their sponsors and director on the importance of creating a spectacle and raising ratings. Karina is expected to be the 'sexy' Ms. Fanservice to the detriment of her esteem and crime-fighting ability, Kotetsu is openly mocked for being an idealistic Destructive Saviour, and Ivan's Shrinking Violet personality doesn't go well with the theatrics of HeroTV. Barnaby comes across as very media-friendly, although the reasons why turn out to be suspect.
- Explored by Samaritan in Astro City, where he forces himself to make public appearances and accept awards so that the public, and possibly himself, do not think he's aloof and uncaring, thus complicating his efforts. He's also painfully aware that he could very well use the time and his Super Speed to save lives.
- Subverted by Gail Simone in Secret Six, where the team decide that being "villains for hire" doesn't mean they can't take more "heroic" jobs if the money's right. This is lampshaded as being an unusual decision in The DCU.
- In the world of comic book Madame Mirage, the technology that allowed people to become superheroes and supervillains was outlawed, as were the superheroes and supervillains themselves. Dutifully, the heroes all turned themselves in - and, in gratitude, were arrested and thrown in prison. The supervillains, of course, merely opened up legit front organisations and carried on being evil.
- Another comic book example: In Miracleman #14, innocent young Johnny Bates, in order to stop the other boys at his group home from raping him, reluctantly says the word that transforms him into the mad Kid Miracleman. Having dispatched all of his assailants, Kid Miracleman is about to spare the life of the one nurse who had been kind to him. He then says, "I'm sorry. They'd say I was going soft, wouldn't they?", and punches off the top half of her head.
- In the comic book Superstar: As Seen on TV, due to the nature of the title character's powers, the more popular he is, the stronger his powers are. As a result, even though he hates the whole celebrity game, he continues to play it because it's the only way for him to stay an effective superhero.
- Harvey Comics Black Cat is described has having become a super hero not for any kind of moralistic call to action or desire to pursue justice, but rather out of boredom from the restricted cage from her celebrity lifestyle.
- This ends up kick-starting the plot of Mystery Men. With his world lacking a Cardboard Prison and all his villains either locked-up, executed or reformed, Captain Amazing has fallen out of favor with the public and his sponsors, driving him to release his arch-enemy from prison to have a supervillain fight for the publicity.
- The main reason why Emperor Commodus doesn't simply have Maximus killed in the film Gladiator. Because the Romans love Maximus, his gladitorial prowess, and his willingness to defy the Emperor, Commodus can't do anything overt without risking the loss of the popular support of the people.
- Stardust: Captain Shakespeare works hard to maintain his reputation as a terribly fearsome pirate. When his Camp Gay secret finally comes out, his crew tells him they knew it all along.
- It should be noted that his fearsome act was more for his crew's benefit then his actual reputation. He wanted to be a high-class villain, showing mercy to Tristan while still doing a pirate's work, but his crew were more stereotypical and so maintained a rough-and-tumble attitude outside his quarters. His own name was for pure personal enjoyment of hearing his crew cheer "Shakespeare! Shakespeare!", knowing they had no idea as to the writer the name alluded too, but enjoyed the passion that they put behind it.
- In Schindlers List, there's a scene where in order to tone down his sadistic cruelty, Schindler tries to sell Goeth on an ubermensch kind of idea that showing mercy is something the strong can do. As a result, Goeth spares a slave who had made a mistake. Then, he looks in the mirror and realizes he can't live with himself if he's not a murderous psychopath, and he goes back and kills the slave.
- In The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts is a carefully-maintained persona of wealth and cruelty, secretly played by a succession of men.
- Played With in Hancock. The eponymous superhero has a "devil-may-care" attitude when it comes to being a superhero, and often causes as much (if not more) damage than what he fixes while trying to help the citizens of Los Angeles, which has led to his terrible reputation. It takes an ordinary citizen (a PR executive who wants to help after Hancock saved his life) and an intensive "12-step program" (which includes admitting his past mistakes, voluntarily going to jail and adopting a new catchphrase) for Hancock to realize he can keep his good reputation if he plays by the rules and remains mindful of the environment he lives in.
- In Mercenary Fighters, an African nation wants to modernize by building a dam, but numerous local villages would be flooded out as a result. When the protagonist questions why they don't simply go ahead with their plan, the answer is "We can't! The press!" Instead, the government goes with the much more PR friendly route of hiring mercenaries to massacre said villages before proceeding.
- Just to further confound things, they outright mow down a British journalist in the process. So much for "the press" being an issue.
- Dean Gladstone from Neighbors has an extremely high regard for "good headlines".
- Taken as standard behaviour in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series; where Whitemailing-"Threatening to reveal a mobsters anonymous donations to charity", is listed as an Anti-crime alongside "Proffering with embarrassment" and "Breaking and redecorating."
- Come to that, just about every other thing in the Discworld seems to be affected by this trope in some way or another - people's expectations and beliefs frequently affect, at the very least, the aspects of supernatural entities not affected by the morphic field attributed to being human-shaped â€” a mistake on the part of a very inept sculptor resulted in the Ephebian Goddess of Wisdom carrying around a penguin instead of an owl; an entire separate timespace exists so the Hogfather can deliver all his presents in a single night; and Death's domain has a black-on-black, skull-and-bones motif because, quite frankly, it's expected.
- Commissar Ciaphas Cain quite literally blundered his way into becoming a Hero of the Imperium, a reputation that he could do well enough without when it ends up getting him into trouble (as it almost inevitably always does). However, as running away at the first opportunity would disgrace him in the eyes of his followers and cost him the benefits of said reputation (as well as possibly his life), he is often forced to act against his own self-preservation instincts in order to keep up appearances.
- However, the possibility that Cain simply doesn't give himself enough credit is also left open.
- It's possible that this is the only thing restraining Randle P. McMurphy. He's perfectly willing to fleece you of your money, but he wants you to like him while he does it. Being put into a Bedlam House was one of the worst things that could have happened to him, since the respect the other inmates have for him is directly related to how much he rebels against the Head Nurse, and he'd rather be their hero than escape the brutal punishments that result from defiance.
- A very powerful recurrent theme in The Hunger Games. Katniss quickly becomes aware, before the Games begin, that if she makes herself into a memorable, likable persona, she'll be more likely to earn sponsors. The love story that she builds between herself and Peeta makes the ratings of the Games soar. This theme only gets stronger as the books go on: the fabricated engagement, marriage, and expected child between her and Peeta is a dominating theme of Catching Fire, and it culminates in Mockingjay when it is strongly implied that the rebels bomb a town square full of children, in a hovercraft labeled as the Capitol, in order to convince everyone in the nation that the Capitol is evil. PR is possibly the most powerful weapon in The Hunger Games.
- Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash. 'Tis something, nothing, 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he who filches from me my good name steals that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.
- Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry's second Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, from Harry Potter. He set up quite a name for himself with his good looks and books about his fantastically badass exploits fighting magical creatures. Too bad he never did them. He just wiped the memories of the people who actually did them to take credit for them. Eventually he tries to wipe Harry and Ron's memories after they find out, but the spell backfires on him.
- In Firefly, resident Bad Boss Adelei Niska is obsessed with maintaining image and reputation, to a point where he tortures and kills anyone who fails to do a job for him, including his own wife's nephew.
- Alternatively, he's just a bastard.
- On the other hand, Zoe was confident she could walk in and out of his lair with a large pile of cash without being robbed and murdered, based on Niska's need to uphold his albeit twisted code.
- Played for several laughs in Married... with Children, most obvious in the "Reverend Al" episode, where Marcy single handedly crushes Al's "Church of NO MA'AM" by showing the congregation pictures of Al and Peggy at her birthday, eating in a restaurant, watching a performance of Cats (with all the proceeds going to the Chicago ballet) and disappearing into a motel, all the while being lovey-dovey with each other.
Marcy: There you have it. Your leader. On a date! With his wife! Deeply in love!
Disgusted church visitor: Reverend Al! Tell us you were with a hooker! Or at least a guy dressed like one.
Al: I have sinned! <crying> I have consorted with my wife! <people booing and leaving>
- In an episode of Hannah Montana, Hannah appears multiple times on a morning Talk Show (a paper-thin parody of Live With Regis And Kathie Lee) to be interviewed, and her every answer to a question leads to her fanbase slavishly imitating her, much to her embarrassment and annoyance. This leads Hannah to finally explain to the kids on the talk show that they don't have to do anything or not do anything Hannah does just because she does or doesn't do it.
- In Babylon 5 the Minbari are so much this that one can stop a civil war with ritual suicide.
- This gets invoked several times in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The episode "Sex, Lies and Videotape" involves the villain trying to bring Superman down by...accusing him of sleeping with a married woman. Another episode, "Whine Whine Whine", involves Superman being sued for slightly injuring a man whose life he saved. With other people thinking this is a swell idea, Superman is stuck with hiring the only honest (if not particularly successful) lawyer in town, because his image and personal feelings prohibit him being represented by a slimeball.
- The Palace explored the relationship between modern royalty, the media, and the public in every episode of its short run.
- In Scandal President Fitzgerald Grant is a Republican president with a rather liberal agenda which makes him disliked by plenty of people in both parties. The only way he can accomplish his goals is to maintain high public approval which means that his various sins and indiscretions have to be swept under the carpet. His public image of a devoted husband and family man requires him to hide the fact that he is in love with Olivia and he started to despise his wife.
- In The Wire (as, arguably, in Real Life) the Baltimore Police Department are slaves to crime statistics, arrest rates and public opinion of their efficiency and the political power games involved in maintaining their image makes it near-impossible to do any meaningful investigation. Ineffectual investigation methods, charging major criminals with minor crimes, relegating prodigious detectives to meaningless posts, ignoring connections between drug dealers and politicians are all used to maintain the illusion of effectiveness. Similarly, the Drug Kingpins themselves are shown to be equally hamstrung by their need to be feared by competitors.
- Dick Roman in Supernatural is one. Having taken the identity of a CEO, Roman's one policy to his monster underlings is to stay off the news. Unfortunately, this backfires when Dean walks right up to him in public, knowing that Roman will be unable to do anything.
- JAG: A very common trope for this show. The protagonists work for the Department of the Navy and although they are primarily concerned with the proper functioning of the military justice system, the overall PR and public opinion ramifications are never far away from their minds or actions. The news media, congressional people or other groups often play up various incidents. PR considerations are often hinted at by superiors (usually the SECNAV) and are often talked about behind closed doors (to avoid the appearance of unlawful command influence).
- The Pilot Movie features an exchange between the CNO, Admiral Drake, and the JAG, Rear Admiral Brovo, where it's made clear that the mere appearance of things (the ongoing Seahawk murder investigation and an upcoming Navy strike mission) are more important to consider than the actual facts.
- Exploiting this trope is how the titular character of USA Network's Rush makes his living as a doctor. His clients are primarily celebrities who for various PR reasons cannot go to the hospital and Dr. Rush makes house calls and is extremely discreet. A movie producer does not want the tabloids to know that he broke his penis while having sex so he is offers Rush $40,000 to treat him. A star baseball player likes to beat up his girlfriends so Rush is called in to treat their injuries. When Rush finally has enough at the end of the pilot and beats the jerkass baseball player with a bat, the victim claims to have fallen down the stairs rather than let the cops and the public know what really happened.
- Gaming fans of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars refer to this as "Lawful Stupid" and "Chaotic Stupid" when one's alignment rules force them to do something obviously detrimental. This often depends on one's interpretation of the various behavior codes.
- The Sourcebook Book of Exalted Deeds, based around the Good alignments, devotes sections of its first chapter to avoiding the Lawful Stupid trap. The first lesson: when the villagers tell you "A dragon is attacking us!" it does not ding your alignment to ask, "How big and does it have friends?"
- However, the book also establishes that performing an evil act to save a lot of innocent lives is still ultimately a victory for evil, and that a hero may end up in a situation where they can't avoid doing an evil act. But since good and evil are actual forces in DnD, this makes sense. And the book stresses that the forces of good are forgiving, though heroes must pay a price to make up for what they did.
- Paladins (the character class) in the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game must be Lawful Good and follow their chivalric codex of tirelessly slaying evil, upholding good, protecting the innocents... lest they fall from grace and lose all their abilities. Some dungeon masters take this to vindictive extremes, punishing the character (and by proxy the player) for even the slightest transgression. (The worst variety of DMs deliberately engineer no-win situations where the Paladin is practically forced to break their code.)
- Sometimes not even a transgression. You can fall for evil deeds performed inadvertently (this can technically include furthering a villain's Evil Plan), evil deeds performed while being mind controlled and evil deeds performed by other members of the party, though most non-vindictive DMs will allow for a little leeway in this regard. And paladins do options for atoning for whatever evil deeds caused them to fall, thus regaining their powers.
- Conversely, blackguards must be evil.
- Blackguards and Paladins have it easy compared to the variant Paladin of Slaughter, who must be Chaotic Evil. You must disrespect all authority figures that haven't proven their physical superiority to you, refuse help to those in need and sow destruction and death at all opportunities. All opportunities. It seems quite likely that if this paladin is ever given the watch for the night, someone will die. Horribly.
- The Paladin of Slaughter is also forbidden to associate with anyone who's not of Evil alignment, and forbidden to have henchmen, followers, and cohorts of any alignment other than Chaotic Evil. That's right, the Chaotic Evil paladin variant has the strictest rules about about who they can work with. Somebody seems to have forgotten what "chaotic" means.
- And don't even begin to think about what it means to be a Paladin of Freedom. Chaotic Good. You must disrespect authority and sow freedom at all opportunities. Good luck figuring out what that actually means. This is especially difficult to understand given that an earlier book had contained the Holy Liberator, who was very similar in nature to the Paladin of Freedom except that the code of conduct was basically "Help people and fight evil, and beyond that it's silly to try to give a strict code to a chaotic class."
- 4th Edition changed this, so now there is a single Paladin class who can be any alignment, but the alignment must be the same as the god the Paladin dedicates himself to. They retain their powers no matter whatnote , but if a Paladin strays too far from his god's tenets, his compatriots will hunt him down and drag him back to be judged by that god's followers.
- Exalted plays around with this trope a lot, on all sides of the equation. The main protagonists, the Solar Exalted along with the Lunar Exalted, are both hailed as "Anathema" by two thousand years of propaganda, which is one of the main obstacles in their work to save Creation. Of course, once they grow powerful enough they can simply make people love them anyway. That goes for pretty much everything in the setting except mortals, actually.
- The most infamous example would be the First Age Solar Desus, who personally invented a Charm that made everyone see him in the best light. Whatever he did, it was Good, and if it wasn't Good, it was for the Greater Good, and he's an even bigger hero for taking up that burden. It says a lot that general consensus is that he was one of the lesser monsters amongst the First Age Solars. note
- In Fate Of The World the player is this. All the time. Some policies will improve your standing with a region, others will hurt it. Neglect a region too badly and your standing will suffer. Get a 0% Approval Rating, and you will be kicked out of the region for a couple of decades, which by the time they do let you back in will probably have more problems than before you got the boot. Wonderful.
- Iji has a unique take on this with the Komato: the council does what the general population wants, and the general population wants genocide. However, much of the council members are Punch Clock Villains, including the leader of the fleet in charge of finishing the job, and really don't want to do it. In other words, the leaders want to be good, but they also need to maintain an arguably evil reputation.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend the reputation of the noble Le Bel family is neither heroic nor villainous, though like a good noble Sakuya would argue that it transcends heroism. It's basically all about ostentatious presentation, general nobility, and high, expensive quality. In Holiday Star, Yuuya and several other characters are able to manipulate him by bringing this up. Hiyoko gets him to try a kind of cafeteria food just by talking about its supposed aristocratic appeal.
- Teru of Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side 2 practically has a Split Personality due to this trope. He's very curt and snappy to the heroine, but if she reminds him that other people are watching, he immediately switches from Ice to Sugar so fast it'll make your head spin.
- Ratchet & Clank: Captain Qwark was initially a Villain with Good Publicity who only cared about getting fame and recognition. As of the third game, he's more moral, but still enjoys his publicity.
- Politics, Dating, Sports... Even in the real life, a good reputation is really important. However, we don't want examples, partly it would only be asking for trouble and partly because we don't want this section to be larger than the rest of the wiki.
- Pretty much why Nonviolent Resistance and protests works today in the modern era thanks to press being widely available where its most important for governments and other organizations to protect their image and reputation.
- This is actually what the concept of honor used to mean, and what it still means in many cultures.