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The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People
Oskar Schindler: "I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don't know. If I'd just...I could have got more."
Itzhak Stern: "Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them"

In peacetime, certain characters are at best Shrinking Violets and, at worst, menaces to society. But when disaster strikes, they will take the lead, take control, be surprisingly effective, and maybe even be nicer than usual — or if they aren't, at least they don't seem so different from everyone else. They will seem different if any Fridge Logic gets applied. Part of the reason for this that in extreme situations, characters have more dramatic opportunities to be heroic then they would have as a 9-5 cubicle monkey. When daily survival means standing back to back with your neighbor to help pick off that morning's crop of zombies so they don't murder you for a can of chilli later, people can really develop that small-town sense of being decent and helpful to each other.

This sort of character is often forced into a Heroic Sacrifice or (for nastier peacetime examples) Redemption Equals Death. If the character does survive, and if things ever return to a semblance of normal, then they are as likely as not to return to what they had been before the disaster took place, whether anyone wants the jerk back or not.

If this trope leads to the reconciliation of a Romance Arc, you have a Relationship-Salvaging Disaster.

When said apocalypse happens in the Bad Future, this trope leads to Future Badass.

Compare Machiavelli Was Wrong. Contrast Apocalypse Anarchy.

Examples may contain unhidden spoilers, so tread lightly.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime & Manga 
  • Chad from Bleach.
  • In Stellvia of the Universe, a star going supernova devastates civilization. Humanity not only rebuilds, but creates a Utopia. It is also, however, implied that humanity would have ended up creating a Utopia regardless, only a bit later...
  • When the New Bloodline drove Tokyo to its knees in Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, it was Da Chief Naohiro Usui (who up to this point was a complete dick) who lead the police and Tokyo to band together to resist him.
  • Future Badass Trunks, compared to regular Trunks. Growing up in the shadow of constant apocalypse not only made him a far more powerful and effective fighter than he would otherwise be, but caused him to develop a strong sense of moral responsibility from an early age that regular Trunks lacks.
  • One of the main characters in Violence Jack was a slacker, high-school kid was compeltely pampered by his mother and sisters. Then his whole family died during the Tokyo earthquake and he got to keep living alone, becoming a Badass and the leader of all orphan kids in Kanto.
  • 20th Century Boys: Most of the characters are dissatisfied losers when we first meet them and become fulfilled badasses as the situation in Japan worsens.

     Comic Books 
  • The premise of Incorruptible. Notorious supervillain Max Damage turns over a new leaf when his archfoe the Plutonian goes insane and puts the entire world in jeopardy. The trope was eventually taken to its logical conclusion when Max thanked the Plutonian for going rogue, since it inspired Max to become a better person.

     Fan Fiction 

     Film 
  • The main character's case for sparing humanity in the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008).
  • The stuck up Ice Queen journalist in Deep Impact goes through this, defrosting including in front of her until then hated father, and ultimately gives up a place to safety to help a colleague with a baby and to stay behind, watching with her father the big ass tsunami wiping out everything.
  • Harlan Ogilvy in the 2005 film adaptation of The War of the Worlds.
  • Maruti from The Return of Hanuman is considered a naughty kid in the village. But when Rahu and Ketu and the volcano monster tries to destruct the village, Maruti turns into Hanuman to beat them up. Because Hanuman is a Hindu God, all of the villagers worshipped him.
  • The title character of Shaun of the Dead, in part due to his familiarity with Survival Horror games.
  • Although it's ultimately prevented from happening, this trope is the angel Gabriel's plan in the film Constantine.
  • Typically inverted in George Romero's Zombie films (X of the Dead). The Zombie Apocalypse always seems to bring out the worst in people, to the point of humans being their own worst enemy instead of cooperating to survive the undead onslaught.
  • This is the entire plot of Schindler's List.
  • In Train of Life a whole village of Jews works together on a big ruse to avoid being captured by the Nazis, leading especially the formerly useless 'village idiot' to become a capable hero. Except,it's all a lie.

     Literature 
  • Sam in the Gone series takes the lead during the FAYZ, despite being completely average during normal circumstances.
    • Taking charge when things get tough and attempting (not always succeeding) to go back to being a Ordinary High-School Student is an established character trait for Sam.
      • Even before the FAYZ, when he saved a busload of his classmates from going over a cliff.
      • Though, completely averted with other characters.
      • In most ways, this trope is Zig-Zagged among the main cast. Sam often states that he doesn't want to be a leader, mental breakdowns come more than Once an Episode, and more than one character has become a Heel-Face Revolving Door.
  • The Last Survivors characters.
  • Neville Longbottom in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
  • Harold Lauder of The Stand. For a while, anyway. Larry Underwood is a more straightforward example, changing from a hedonistic rock star type to a pillar of The Free Zone's community.
  • S.M. Stirling's Emberverse series revolves around this. While it contains a very tragic portrayal of what would happen to society if all modern technology stopped working, quite a few genuinely "good" people rally survivors to them and keep them organized and safe under extraordinary circumstances.
  • Most characters in Alas, Babylon are examples of this after nuclear war erupts between Russia and the USA. The main protagonist, Randy Bragg, goes from a lazy, failed politician living on his family's inheritance, to a strong and capable leader. Also, on a society-wide scale, the nuclear war causes an end to segregation, at least in the area where the main characters live.
  • In Alexandr Solzhenitsyn's history The Gulag Archipelago, a massive compilation of the horrors perpetrated by the Soviet Union upon its own people, there is a small amount of space given to the optimistic attitude that even the personal apocalypse of being arrested and sent to a work camp can still bring out good in people. Most prisoners relinquished their morals when they entered the camp and instead took up the aim of 'surviving at any price,' even if that price meant stealing the small daily bread allotted to another suffering prisoner. But there were indeed some people who avoided falling into this trap of despair and evil:
    Solzhenitsyn: And how can one explain that certain unstable people found faith right there in the camp, that they were strengthened by it, and that they survived uncorrupted? And many more, scattered about unnoticed, came to their alloted turning point and made no mistake in their choice. Those who managed to see that things were not only bad for them, but even worse, even harder, for their neighbours. And all those who, under the threat of a penalty zone and a new term of imprisonment, refused to become stoolies?
    Solzhenitsyn: As soon as you have renounced that aim of 'surviving at any price,' and gone where the calm and simple people go—then imprisonment begins to transform your former character in an astonishing way. To transform it in a direction most unexpected of you. And it would seem that in this situation feelings of malice, the disturbance of being oppressed, aimless hate, irritability, and nervousness ought to multiply. But you yourself do not notice how, with the impalpable flow of time, slavery nurtures in you the offshoots of contradictory feelings.... You are ascending.
  • Most of the Americans in the 1632 series are hillbillies from a small town in West Virginia, and had the town not been transported back in time to Germany during the Thirty Years' War, they would probably have remained a group of working class miners and locals from a small town in the early 2000's. Once they come to terms with their new universe, their future knowledge base and cultural attitudes give them an edge that propels some of them to grand positions on the world stage, and many of them find personal fulfillment in surviving in their new world that they might never have achieved in their original timeline.
  • Norma in Fannie Flagg's small-town novels is a very anxious woman under normal circumstances, but when disaster hits she helps a lot of people partly because she can imagine the worst so vividly that she's prepared and ready to act.
  • In the Codex Alera series, the Vord invasion causes the otherwise scheming Anti-Villain Attis Aquitaine (who has been an active villain for the rest of the series who only works with the protagonists against mutual enemies) to rise up and take command of Alera and lead the people as best he could. At the end, when he dies from his wounds, the very characters opposing him at the beginning of the series end up praising him for his heroism.
    • On a related note First Lord Octavian said the Vord invasion was the best thing to happen to Alera, by forging alliances with long-term enemies

     Live Action TV 
  • Most of the protagonists of Jericho undergo this with lead character Jake being one of the best examples.
  • Babylon 5:
    • G'Kar was an arrogant jerk when his people, the Narn, were on top. When the Centauri (aided by the Shadows) conquered and brutally oppressed the Narn homeworld, he evolved into a leader, a hero, and eventually, a prophet. Quiet Centauri aide Vir also discovered his inner hero after the conquest of Narn, using his position to smuggle a number of Narn to safety.
    • Londo gets worse at first, but then gets better when he realizes what working with the Shadows and Morden is doing to his people and to himself. He spends a good portion of the series working to mitigate the damage wrought by his earlier actions.
  • One episode of The Outer Limits has servant AIs cause an apocalypse (to the best of their ability) for the sole purpose of invoking this trope. It turns out the whole thing was set off by the opening scene, where the desk hologram sees an elderly woman collapse in front of her door, convulsing as she desperately tries to reach for her dropped medication. The hologram attempts to call her neighbors so they can come help but all of them are just mad at being bothered. The hologram realizes after she dies that his programming instructions to provide a social community living environment aren't being met if the tenants are hostile to the idea of even briefly seeing each other, and deliberately fries his systems to force the humans to cooperate in order to escape.
  • Summer Landsdown of Power Rangers RPM. A shallow Rich Bitch before the Robot War, she wandered alone through the devastated wasteland and saw her beloved butler die in her arms. By the time she got to the last haven of mankind, she was a Badass Biker Action Girl who truly cared for her fellow man, and quickly goes to the front lines as a Power Ranger. The series ends with the war, so we don't see if she regresses when she goes back to civilian life.
  • In the classic Doctor Who episode "Genesis of the Daleks", the Doctor cites this as one of the reasons why he feels he doesn't have the right to wipe out the Daleks before their campaign of genocide: several races had managed to set aside their hatreds and unite solely because of their fear of the Daleks.
  • Daryl Dixon of The Walking Dead started off as racist, hot tempered, selfish, and dominated by his even nastier older brother Merle. After a few months of dealing with the zombie apocalypse, being forced to work together with others to survive, and Merle's absence, he has become a much nicer (if still gruff and awkward), steadfast, reliable, useful, and loyal member of the group. When Merle returns, Daryl even calls him on his racist comments.

     Video Games 
  • In Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, Brenner is very proud to see that what's left of humanity after the meteors hit have banded together to form small communities and even enforce rudimentary laws among themselves. Lin scoffs at the idea that this is a reflection on humanity's kindness, instead stating that it's nothing more than survival and that everyone involved is really just looking out for themselves.
    • That said, Lin's theory is supported by the fact that even after the apocalypse, there's still a war going on. And tyrants like Greyfield rise to power.
  • Parodied in Dragon Age: Origins: right after Alistair is dragged into a petty feud in the middle of preparations for a major battle, he sarcastically tells the Warden "You know, one good thing about the Blight is how it brings people together."
  • Groose from The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword.
  • This is basically Paragon Shepard's view on the Reaper invasion in Mass Effect 3, in a nutshell. And given how many missions, War Assets, and side conversations involve old grudges laid aside, self-sacrifice for the cause, and just plain hope — s/he's got a hell of a point.
    • EDI becomes rather confused by this at one point. She tells a story the Resistance passed the Alliance from a Reaper concentration camp about the behavior of its inhabitants. Some became Quislings but others fed the Reapers false information about escape attempts. None of the actual attempts succeeded and the givers of the false data were executed. What confuses EDI is that according to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, the prisoners should be focused entirely on survival, which she interprets as every man for himself. The Paragon response can be paraphrased to the trope title, and EDI learns something about self-sacrifice.
    • You can overhear some smugglers getting into an argument. While one wants to take advantage of the situation, the other, a human, gets completely cheesed off at the idea of ripping off Alliance during this crisis and threatens her business partner if he tries anything.
  • Invoked by the Big Bad of Fate/EXTRA, whose ultimate plan is to grant power to war-profiteers like the Harway dynasty, so good people will always be helping each other in the constant war. Said antagonist claims to be a pacifist himself.

    Western Animation 

     Web Video 

    Webcomics 
  • Lampshaded in Freefall, when Florence acknowledges that she would never have known about Gardener In The Dark if Edge hadn't needed her help to save himself from it, and wouldn't have been able to stop its release without Sam's social engineering, infiltration, and sabotage expertise.
    All my life, I've been taught the value of being a good citizen... No one ever told me that when the chips are down, civilization really needs the rotten ones.

    Real Life 
  • While most certainly not the Apocalypse, the 9/11 attacks certainly banded up New Yorkers together to help firefighters and rescue workers during the aftermath.
  • Not exactly apocalypse, but it is often said that people are at their most united when they have something to fight against. This has unfortunately been exploited in war (e.g. many propaganda posters in WW1 and WW2 tried to get men to join the army by telling them they would have a great time with their mates in the army).
    • Sticking with WWII, the legendary "Dunkirk spirit" (volunteer rescuers) or "spirit of the Blitz" (Londoners) is an example of this trope.
  • Hell, take just about any war, disaster, or atrocity in history. Chances are, you'll find at least one shining example of humanity in the midst of it all, alongside with the exact opposite.
  • The Russian goverment - though not Tsar Nicholas II, who abhorred any kind of bloodshed - hoped to invoke this in the Russo-Japanese War when Japan attacked them seemingly out of the blue, this situation being the result of extremely poor collaboration between the Ministry of War and The Diplomatic Service (the former was actually quite okay with the Japanese having a decent share of commercial interests in Korea, but the latter didn't make that clear and so the Japanese got paranoid). It kind of worked, because hey - evil foreigners were attacking Russia. But most citizens got more than a little irritated when the peace-loving Nicholas II decided to end the war early rather than fight it out to the end and win (which Russia was certainly capable of doing) - because as far as they were concerned, what were the lives of another hundred thousand of them (of a population of more than 150 million) compared to National Humiliation? The decision to end the war prematurely added impetus to the great social unrest of the times and resulted in large parts of the countryside essentially boycotting the government/rebelling and the industrial workers in several urban centers rioting because they were out of jobs (they'd hoped that wartime industries would result in their employment despite the general economic depression of the times) and unemployment benefits didn't exist anywhere in the world at the time.
  • Not an apocalypse, but this is the premise of Rebecca Solnit's A Paradise Built in Hell, a study of mankind's behaviour in the aftermath of catastrophes. Solnit looks at the behaviour of communities following catastrophes like the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Halifax explosion during World War I, Hurricane Katrina, and the aforementioned 9/11 attacks and effectively concludes that this trope is Truth in Television. Solnit herself went though an experience along these lines after California's Loma Pietra earthquake.
  • Many European media outlets wrote with at least some amount of awe how Japanese people reacted calm and collected following major disasters. Specifically, it was noted that following the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake there were no riots or any other large-scale civil disorder coming from the earthquake or resultant tsunami. Then again, this is probably because their relief-efforts were actually well-organised. Compare the USA's relief efforts for Hurricane Katrina, which were renowned abroad for being extremely ill-organised and resulting in widespread looting by people who needed to steal to survive.

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