Smash The Symbol

Suppose people agree that symbol X represents Y, where Y could be a person, or a group of people, a place, or a group of places, or perhaps Y is just some abstract idea. Whatever Y is, the point is that while some may be more fond of Y than others are, people agree that symbol X represents it.

However, attitudes can change over time. Often, a way to express that attitudes towards Y are tending further towards contempt is to symbolically destroy at least one version of symbol X.

In real life, this was a major aspect of the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and of the toppling of statues.

Insignia Rip-Off Ritual and Monumental Damage are both subtropes of this. See also It's All Junk, where something that once had sentimental value to a character is destroyed by them to signify it losing it.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a crowd pulls down the enormous statue of Kamina during a period of social instability caused by the impending destruction of Earth. This is likely a reference to the Lenin-statue-toppling example from real life.
  • In Fairy Tail, at one point during the "Lucy vs. Flare" fight in the Grand Magic Games arc, Flare adds insult to injury in the eyes of the Fairy Tail mages watching by threatening to burn Lucy's hand in such a way as would disfigure her guildmark. This bites her hard later on because it constitutes insulting Fairy Tail in front of Laxus.

    Comic Book 
  • V destroys the statue of Justice in both the comic and film of V for Vendetta.
  • This Superman cover is a villain-against-hero example.
  • In the middle of Knightfall, when Commissioner Gordon finished an inconclusive and frustrating argument with the Anti-Hero Substitute Batman, he struck the Bat-Signal out of anger, leaving it cracked but not destroyed.
    • Sometime before Knightfall, Gordon's wife Sarah gets into a heated exchange with Batman on the station roof. After he leaves, a livid Sarah pulls out her gun and puts a bullet square in the center of the Signal (though as with the above example, the bullet didn't shatter it).
  • In a Superman story arc where he is trapped in four different time period realities, the Superman of the Golden Age era smashes a giant Nazi symbol after he had saved it from toppling right on top of the crowd during a Nazi rally headed by the Atomic Skull.
  • In an Elseworlds story featuring the Green Lanterns set in a Nazi-controlled world, John Stewart upon gaining control of the Green Lantern ring destroys a Nazi symbol on top of a building and replaces it with the Green Lantern symbol.
  • Earth 2: Issue 20 features the parademons destroying places of worship all over the world. A building labeled "SCIENTOL—" (the panel cuts off the rest) is included in the destruction. Rather conspicuously, this panel is the one that features a line from Superman calling religion "fiction".


  • The opening scene of The Mask of Zorro has a peasant climbing a flag pole during a riot in order to rip down a Spanish flag.
  • The page image is from towards the end of The Dark Knight, when the bat-signal was smashed with an axe. This moment is after Batman said he would take the blame for Harvey Dent's murders; it's implied that people are smashing the bat-signal to symbolize their increasing disapproval of Batman. This is a somewhat unconventional approach to this trope, seeing as how rather than portraying it as destroying the symbol of a villain, it is instead destroying the symbol of a hero who is (willingly) being mistaken for a villain.
  • In the finale of Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks are using stormtrooper helmets for percussion. in the Special Edition, we get a view of Coruscant where a statue of the Emperor is pulled down.
  • At the end of This Is England, Shaun takes the St George's flag given to him by the nationalist gang leader and hurls it into the sea following his Broken Pedestal moment.
  • V destroys the statue of Justice in both the comic and film of V for Vendetta.
  • The Sound of Music - at least in the film adaptation, Captain von Trapp starts tearing up the Nazi flags hung outside of his house once he's decided that he doesn't want anything to do with them.
  • The climax of the Trucking strike in F.I.S.T. is when F.I.S.T. tears down the Consolidated Trucking sign.

  • In Sewer, Gas & Electric, Dufresne's eco-pirates have a hideout in a replica Nazi submarine base hidden under the Statue of Liberty (long story). When they took possession of the site, Jewish techno-genius Morris Kazenstein blew the swastika out of the clutches of a giant eagle statue, using a magnetic rail-gun that fires kosher salami.
  • Geralt's drifting away from the Witcher ideal of a True Neutral monster hunter throughout The Witcher saga is underlined by the (involuntary) loss of symbolic items that identify him as a Witcher: his steel and silver swords are lost during the Thanedd coup in The Time of Contempt and his silver wolf medallion is accidentally melted by magical fire in Tower of the Swallow. He does get another medallion towards the end of Lady of the Lake and a new pair of swords in the video game sequel.
  • In The Two Towers, when some of the protagonists leave Isengard after Saruman's defeat, they ride by the huge White Hand, the symbol of Saruman's realm, and see that it has been broken.

    Live Action TV 
  • In The Twilight Zone episode "The Little People", an astronaut finds the race of tiny people, and forces them to build a life-sized statue to him. After his karmic demise, they topple it.
  • A minor example, but well-timed in its execution and subtle implication. In season 3 of Babylon 5, Captain Sheridan is forced to declare Martial Law. Meanwhile, there is a general riot in the Zocalo as station residents fight back against the oppressive Nightwatch. Then, just as Sheridan finishes the declaration, a thrown chair smashes one of the monitors displaying him: like a nonverbal Precision F-Strike against the order.
  • In the Lois and Clark episode "Super Mann", Nazis disable Superman and take over Metropolis. After the Man of Steel has recovered and stopped them, he heat-visions a swastika flag, revealing the Daily Planet globe behind it.
  • The Firefly episode "Jaynestown" ends with Jayne toppling the statue of himself after the ugly truth about his "selfless" act after which the town has been named comes to light.

  • In the Book of 2nd Kings from The Bible, Jehu after slaying the Baal worshipers in the northern kingdom of Israel proceeded to destroy the temple and turn it into an outhouse. Later on in the same book, the Babylonians come and destroy the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.
    • In the Gospels, Jesus tells His disciples that the Jewish temple that was standing during the time of His first coming would be destroyed.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2 has its scene of rebels pulling down a Breencast monitor.
    • Gordon also inadvertently causes this during his narrow escape from Nova Prospekt. Attempting to leave via teleporter, they are interrupted and attacked with Combine dark energy weapons. This evidently backfires and destroys much of the facility, which La Résistance takes as its cue to rise up and begin open warfare.
  • The "People's Ending" of Republic: The Revolution features a crowd smashing the statue of Novistrana's now-former dictator.

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • When the White Lotus members take Ba Sing Sae back from Fire Nation rule, they pull down a statue Ozai had had put up of himself.
      • In the same scene, Iroh burns a Fire Nation flag that had been hung over an Earth Kingdom symbol.
    • When King Bumi reclaims Omashu on the day of the Eclipse, he defaces an Ozai statue with smiley face bits of stone and then pulls it down.

    Real Life 
  • Again, this is big-time Truth in Television, though the toppling of statues is an especially prominent subset of examples.
    • A subset-within-a-subset is the toppling of statues of dictators in particular; such as Lenin, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, or Hussein, after the end of his regime.
      • The toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue may be a subversion, as some sources claim it was staged by American Marines, not the Iraqis themselves.
      • Not so much a subversion as an Analogy Backfire. The symbol was still smashed to represent disdain for what it represents, but that it was smashed by American Marines reflects on how, much like Hussein's regime itself, it was toppled by the Americans, who were not "greeted as liberators" to the extent that the Iraq War's advocates predicted.
      • Though it was hardly the only statue Saddam had of himself. Several of them actually were brought down by Iraqis. And beaten with shoes. And decapitated. And urinated on.
  • The destruction of the Stalin Monument in Budapest was one of the iconic moments of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
  • Flag desecration and burning effigies, especially during street protests.
  • The destruction of Catholic imagery in churches by Protestants both during the English Reformation in the 16th century and the Civil War in the 17th century. In fact, outbreaks of iconoclasm (as it's called) can be found in many religions. The Taliban blowing up ancient statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, mentioned on Monumental Damage, is another instance.
  • Destroying a swastika­.
  • And of course, the especially historical destruction of the Berlin wall.
  • The tale tells that in World War II Soviet pilots were instructed to avoid aiming at big black crosses on their foes' planes. Yep, it was the greatest crosshair bait ever — but Germans knew this too and usually tried to not paint these over anything really important.
  • Arab-Israeli Conflict: After Jordan conquered part of Jerusalem and what is now usually known as the West Bank, they destroyed dozens of synagogues, and used Jewish tombstones to make urinals and latrines.

Alternative Title(s):

Break The Icon