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The Revolution Will Not Be Vilified

All resistances are against The Empire. Only evil governments provoke rebellion. No matter their hold over information, striking against the authority will never be wrong. In the land of tropes, the revolution will not be vilified. It is always a force for the good, freedom, equality, freedom, justice, freedom, and democracy. And freedom. (For Great Justice, of course.)

This isn't necessarily an unrealistic trope, as rebellions and revolutions never happen for no reason at all. They're always the expression of real, preexisting problems and grievances, often founded on economic inequality.

Even so, that doesn't mean the rebels must always choose the most liberating tactics, as in historical examples where all-too-often the rebels, both historically and in fiction, utilize barbaric tactics and regularly commit war crimes. Frequently they are the 'bad guys', or they and their government both are. Depending on your political views, you can find examples everywhere: Che Guevara may have his fans, but the Cuban revolution was far from an expression of "workers' power", and the long-term results are debatable. Likewise, see China or anything called a Glorious Revolution or People's Revolution. On the other side of the political spectrum, ruling forces frequently use violent groups of extremists to maintain the status quo, or to reverse a recent upsetting of it. Whether it's terrorist cells in Miami, brown shirts in depression-era Germany, roving gangs in Latin America, or competing groups of fighters with a variety of non-neutral foreign backers in war-torn Middle Eastern nations, not all "rebels" are spontaneously born from the "masses' desire for freedom."

It goes almost without saying that things taking place in the modern day of the country they are made in are as likely to avert this trope as not - just ask Jack Bauer.

Contrast with The Remnant and the Dark Messiah. When the rebels are generally good but hampered by infighting, it's We Are Struggling Together. For the opposite, see The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized. For the case where the whole conflict really was "civilized" (for better or worse), see Velvet Revolution.

The title of this article is a pun on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised by Gil Scott-Heron, in case you didn't know.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The entire point of Genesis Climber Mospeada (which became the third season of Robotech) was an armed insurgency against the Inbits occupying Earth. Any Inbits that saw the error of their treatment of humans underwent a Heel-Face Turn eventually, while those that did not defect became progressively more genocidal in attempting to wipe out the human resistance.
  • The rebel group Katharon from the second season of Gundam 00 is basically fighting the good fight, standing up for the neglected (and sometimes downright oppressed) Middle Eastern countries and going against the oppressive Earth Sphere Federation.
    • The Anti-Earth Union Group from the earlier series Zeta Gundam fills much the same role, standing against the oppressive Titans.
    • And Terminal in Gundam SEED, who fights against Blue Cosmos which controls the Earth Alliance and the dogmatic army of ZAFT which plans to cull the Natural Population
    • The pilots in Gundam Wing attack OZ and Earth Sphere Alliance military bases in order to secure independence for the space colonies. But while the series makes it clear that war is a terrible thing, the pilots are treated as the noblest and most heroic characters in the show, While unpleasant, their actions are portrayed as totally justified, and the only people who refer to the organization that funds or controls the Gundams as terrorists are OZ officials when they're lying to the media. And the original plan was to deliver a Colony Drop and have the Gundams mop up the survivors, they opted for this option instead.
    • The League Militaire of Victory Gundam fights only to protect the Earth and space colonies from being taking over by the crazed bloodthirsty fanatics of the Zanscare Empire since the Earth Federation is no longer able to do so.
    • All these are an interesting reversal from the original Mobile Suit Gundam series, in which the antagonists are the ones looking for independence.
  • Mustang's rebellion in Fullmetal Alchemist has Mustang and crew trying to take on a good portion of Central Army without killing a single person to do it. Olivier Mira Armstrong mocks Mustang for this since her soldiers are at least willing to kill. Their opponent is The Empire who has slaughtered their own civilians, waged war since it was founded, and plans to sacrifice everyone in the country.
  • For all its attempts at down-to-earth gritty realism, the revolutionaries in Fang of the Sun Dougram are always portrayed in a sympathetic light.
    • Which makes it even more crushing when they are crushed
      • Not really. Deloyer does get its freedom, but Federation troops and Earth-based corporations stay though.
  • The AKB0048 are portrayed as an heroic rebel group dedicated to restoring to bringing back entertainment and cheap clean FTL drives for everyone against an evil Corporate Government.

    Film 
  • The Patriot plays it straight, in best Hollywood tradition. The noble Ragtag Bunch of Misfits shooting surrendering British soldiers is all but glossed over, and the various atrocities of the British army are actually fabricated much of the time.
  • The Galactic Empire in Star Wars is remarkably evil, what with the racist motives and the Earth-Shattering Kaboom. The Rebellion, on the other hand, wore halos. This was eventually fleshed out in the Expanded Universe with both sides kicking or petting the dog. However the Rebellion is still much better.
    • Ironically, the Confederacy of Independent Systems in the prequels is almost entirely shown as being a big business-backed attempt to rule the galaxy in the name of profit, with all of the big names fully aware of this. It's only the planets that revolt against the Republic in hope of receiving Confederacy assistance that actually believe in the moral cause beyond lip service. (If this ever came to light, it may have been what resulted in the Rebellion being looked upon so unfavorably in later years.) Also the fact they are dominated by dissident nonhuman groups no doubt helped Imperial propaganda, which doubtless is all part of the evil plan.
  • Pan's Labyrinth: A historical exception to the "If the revolutionaries are wearing brown, they're the bad guys" which tells us a bit about the Sorting Algorithm Of Political Ideologies: If you want the Dirty Commies to be the good guys, the bad guys pretty much have to be fascists.
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian subverts the usual roles of the evil Roman Empire and heroic rebels, as the various rebel factions spend too much time fighting each other to do anything about the Romans. "The Judean People's Front? Splitters!"
    "All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
    " Brought peace?"
    "Oh, peace - shut up!"
  • Played painfully straight in Black Mama White Mama. The government is a dog-raping bureaucracy that is really just another gang, and the revolutionaries are Big*** Heroes. It was the 70's though!
  • The Matrix is all about overtaking the machines and escaping this virtual paradise and living underground in a wasteland. All things considered the virtual world really wasn't that bad.
    • This one might be a subversion, though. Cypher points out that they are better off living in the virtual world and that "If Morpheus had told the truth, we'd have all told him to shove that red pill up his ass!" This was even his motive for his Face-Heel Turn. Also, the third movie ends with a truce between man and machine, the grounds of which being people will stay in the matrix unless they want to be free.
  • In Sleeping Dogs, though two members of La Résistance were revealed to have framed an innocent man (the main character, Smith) for a bombing, the guerrillas overall are portrayed being better by far than the brutal Special Police Force they fight.
  • The Battleship Potemkin and any other Soviet depiction of the Russian Revolution. For obvious reasons, Western depictions of the same never play this completely straight and will usually portray it as a Full-Circle Revolution.
  • Averted in a few films of Les Misérables made at points of anti-Communist hysteria, which portray Enjolras as a dangerous kook, and Marius as a wide-eyed innocent caught up in his overzealous mission.

    Literature 
  • Honor Harrington makes a caricature of the People's Republic of Haven at every opportunity. Its post-Revolution government is treated as more or less evil incarnate.
    • The second revolution, however, gets treated much more sympathetically. Of course, the ringleaders had spent the books immediately preceding that event being quietly subversive and sympathetic.
    • Since the political history of Haven is blatantly that of revolutionary France (the Robespierre analogue is even called Rob S. Pierre) this is heavily based on the behavior of the real-life Committee of Public Safety. And then things go Off the Rails with the Napoleon analog of the series.
  • In Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, of course the heroes of the French Revolution proper and the meager student rebellion of the book's later chapters are portrayed as heroic defenders of the common man, right down to the token drunkard. To balance the scale, however, the saintly and sympathetic Bishop of Digne is described as a once-noble victim of the Revolution of 1789, and early in the book has a debate with a dying revolutionary regarding who deserves more pity, the oppressed and hated poor, or the nobles who are murdered for a crime that is not their fault. The poor win.
  • Deconstructed and reconstructed in the Inheritance Cycle. Oromis challenges Eragon to explain why he opposes the Empire. Most of the Empire's subjects, Oromis points out, are decent people and a war would have negative consequences for them. Eragon counters that unless Galbatorix is overthrown, his rule will never end, so upheaval over a single time is better than an eternity of oppression.
  • Usually averted in the Star Trek Novel Verse. Rebel movements are often very ambiguous and/or complex. For example, the Silgov in Starfleet Corps of Engineers, though clearly victimized, are presented as questionable in some regards themselves, willing to victimize Koa in turn in order to get what they want. The X'Mari Resistance, meanwhile, are sympathetic, but clearly no saints. One of the best examples is in the novel Diplomatic Implausibility. On taD, while the al'Hmatti are indeed victimized by Klingon oppression, at least one Klingon overseer is genuinely upset to discover an al'Hmatti he thought was a friend was a terrorist/freedom fighter. His distress when the al'Hmatti in question turns on him is portrayed with great sympathy. Both Klingon and al'Hmatti are treated with respect by the author throughout. Finally, the Nachri rebels are questionable in conduct, too, although their grievances may well be legitimate.
  • Deconstructed in One Just Man, where the anti-hero deliberately sets out to wreck the criminal justice system on the assumption that whatever They are forced to replace it with Has To Be Better Than This, leading to a) the collapse of civil government under rampant crime and b) its apparent replacement by country-wide martial law.
  • Subverted in Mockingjay several times, most notably when the rebels fire-bomb Capitol children and their own medics in a False Flag Operation towards the end of the book.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm novel On the Razor's Edge, Gidula tells Donovan that his own attack, in his pre-amnesiac days as Padaborn, had killed many innocents, but they can stage a more effective one.
  • Subverted in Shadow Children: The Tyrannical Population Police have cut down on rations and are forcing people to join. When Luke saves and gives a gun to some citizens, they shoot the officer in self-defense as the first act of the revolution. The second involves them going up to a truck driver and executing him because he worked for the government (which many people were doing because they would cut off rations if one didn't). The final book explores this, while some rebels, like Mr. Talbot's group and the kids, fight for equality and freedom, others, like Otto, fight so they can gain control of the government, and even absorbs some of the former leaders of the group into his new government. Publicly, the revolution is always portrayed as a positive force, even as the new government is clearly making a power play and manipulating the press back against the shadow children.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Plays this trope straight. Not only is there the big resistance against President Clark, but Mars and Proxima 3 are also rebelling and generally seen as oppressed planets under the thumb of the increasingly fascist Earth Forces.
    • Some cells of the Mars Resistance do use terrorist tactics such as bombings that kill civilians (though they take place offscreen). Sheridan's forces tell them in no uncertain terms that this has to stop if they are going to work together. Since they have no chance of winning without coordination, it does.
    • Subverted later when rogue telepaths rebel against the Psi-Corps, as while the Psi-Corps are quite literally telepathic Nazi wannabes, the tactics used by the rogues make no distinction in their targets, making it all too easy for Psi-Corps to spin it as wanton terrorism.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor tends to end up allied with the resistance against the Evil Totalitarian Despot of the Week, and rarely is the resistance shown as being anything less than favorable.
    • In 'The Sunmakers', the 'resistance' — at least initially — are depicted as brutal, self-interested and venal criminals out for themselves rather than any higher purpose; it's only when the Doctor effectively takes over that he starts directing them to a better purpose.
    • Averted in 'The Power of Kroll'. While the human colonists are cold blooded and ruthless the natives are little better, threatening to murder the Doctor and Romana, as well as skewering the Big Bad with graphically bloody results. The ending offers little hope for improvement, as the Doctor cheerfully encourages them and the sole surviving colonist on the base to peacefully work out their differences, a sentiment coldly shot down as they prowl around him and ominous music plays.
  • Firefly:
    • While this show's revolution is already over and failed, despite the rather ugly mess it caused, it's looked back on rather favorably. We didn't get to see a lot of Alliance oppression before Serenity, but the Academy and the Blue Hands and what they did to River was pretty damned evil. There are some indications that the Browncoats were not all squeaky-clean, though; in "Bushwhacked" an Alliance officer implies that he personally encountered prisoners who had been tortured by Browncoats, and in the tie-in comics there were extremists known as "Dust Devils" who kept on fighting after the war ended, performing terrorist attacks on civilians and soldiers.
    • The implication is that, overall, the Alliance wasn't generally tyrannical. It's greatest fault was, as River Tam said in Serenity, that it is "meddlesome." Word of God has it that the Core worlds generally were more progressive than the outlying worlds, and the poor living conditions in the outer worlds were unnecessary. The formerly leading worlds of the Independents are the ones with aristocracy and slavery (though the connection isn't clearly drawn in Firefly). Malcolm Reynolds is an Antihero, but his desire for independence is set against the tendency of the Alliance to overreach, which could lead to disaster.
  • Politibongo: This German children's TV show cranks this trope up to 11. The revolution might be stupid and constantly messing things up which their contact on earth as to fix for them, but they never are evil.
  • Revolution: Played with. The Monroe Republic is a dictatorship that will terrorize and kill anyone who dares to stand up to them. A number of the rebels are genuinely good. Episode 2 shows that the rebels are considered traitors and terrorists by Monroe. Episode 3 shows that any rebel who sells out his comrades will be killed by the militia in short order, and the rebels will generally not have any sympathy for any member of the militia, former or otherwise. Episode 5 shows that the rebels have little teamwork between them, with one of them willing to blow up a train to kill off militia officers...and a civilian. Episode 9 shows that the rebels are willing to rough up Miles Matheson in interrogation and have even adopted military ranks...too bad they didn't notice that a mole had been in their ranks for years. Episode 11 has Monroe deciding to exterminate every single rebel in the Monroe Republic. Episode 13 shows that the rebels are not going to show mercy to any militia member they capture, but the militia is generally unsympathetic anyway. Episode 14 onward has the rebels and 200 Georgian soldiers working together to fight Monroe, making the number 300. Unfortunately, episode 17 has one drone strike kill off so many men that the number goes down from 300 to 30. It's not clear how many of those 30 men were rebels and Georgians. Finally, episode 18 has the rebel leader Wayne Ramsay killed off. All in all, you can generally root for the resistance, but they are certainly not angels.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Toyed with this trope with the Maquis story arcs. While generally portrayed as sympathetic (former) Federation citizens who are following their own personal consciences, the Maquis were known for using terrorist tactics (Major Kira even chastised one for still thinking like a Starfleet Officer trying to win a political victory) and escalating violence rather than diplomacy. While they never really cross the Moral Event Horizon (well, except for that time they used biological and chemical weapons to force the Cardassians to abandon several contested colonies), many Starfleet officers were left feeling betrayed when peers abandoned their oaths of loyalty and turned their back on the Federation they had sworn to protect. That, and they had a bad habit of actively stealing Federation weapons and supplies to support their war effort.
    • The whole situation is played very Grey and Gray Morality with both the Federation and the Maquis in the right but at odds with each other and neither happy about it (rather than the standard Star Trek pattern of both sides of the conflict being revealed to be in the wrong). The Maquis' greatest flaw is generally shown as being caught up in the cycle of violence and revenge, when they should have taken advantage of several opportunities to negotiate a peace settlement and end the conflict.
    • The former Bajoran Resistance also weren't unambiguously good, with Kira admitting that she was a terrorist, with one episode ("The Darkness and the Light") having her confronted by a Cardassian maimed from one of her bombings who had gone a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the members of her cell and complains that he was only a civilian worker in the building she bombed. She counters angrily by saying that all Cardassians on Bajor were guilty, military or not, and legitimate targets.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Subverted in the episode "Resistance". Instead of the usual selfless support of outsider Good Guys, the underground battling the despotic Mocra only help Voyager's crew in exchange for payment in medical supplies, and aren't the least bit interested in helping free Tuvok and B'Elanna from prison. As their leader points out: "If I could get people out of there, I'd free my own first!" In fact, Voyager effectively subverted this trope several times. The episodes "Nightingale" and "Flesh and Blood" both involve a crew member attempting to help a resistance group, only to find out the situation is more complicated than good rebels vs. evil empire.

    Music 

    Videogames 
  • In the Mega Man Zero series, Zero is found by the Resistance to Neo Arcadia, an empire that Zero's friend X (hero of the previous series) created with the best of intentions, only for it to go bad after he left. The Resistance is full of spunky, heroic types with French names, and they're always in the right — with one major subversion. Elpizo, the leader in Mega Man Zero 2, is zealous and aggressive; when his new methods fail, he goes nuts and becomes the game's Big Bad.
    • In Mega Man X: Command Mission, there's a Rebellion, and they're not very nice guys. But there's also a Resistance to the Rebellion, and they're swell. X gladly helps them fight the Rebellion... until the big twist, when it turns out that BOTH groups are basically good and have been manipulated by The Man Behind the Man.
  • Deus Ex initially seems to be subverting this trope, as the National Secessionist Forces (NSF) begin the game clearly portrayed as The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized, terrorists who blew up the Statue of Liberty and don't hesitate to threaten innocent civilians for their cause. As the game progresses, it turns out that the NSF really are mostly heroic, and were framed for the bombings by an evil government conspiracy, while the hostage situations were desperation tactics from panicked individual grunts.
    • Also the French Silhouette are portrayed like a bunch of young and relatively harmless idealists, who limit their action to information warfare. In the sequel they win and immediately join the Illuminati to introduce hidden authoritarian government.
  • City of Heroes both averts this and plays it straight with the Praetorian Resistance faction. On one hand, many Resistance Crusaders engage in acts of deliberate terrorism. While the Warden faction of the Resistance tends to be more heroic, the Crusader faction is far more visible than the innocent doctors and reporters trying to protect the people from Cole and his cronies (and on occasion their own comrades). On the other hand, Cole really is as evil as the Resistance makes him out to be, and by the end of the Neutropolis quest chains, even Responsibility Loyalists are horrified by his plans.
    • What Could Have Been: Issue 24 would have dealt with Calvin Scott's last gasp. Embittered by the revelation that his marriage to Aurora Borealis, the woman he founded the resistance to save, was just a delusion, Scott redirects his rebellious tendencies onto Primal Earth at the urging of the Council. The Moral Event Horizon is crossed when he drops a bomb onto the First Ward Refugee Island, nearly killing the people he wants to "save". The Resistance definitely isn't wouldn't have been blue skies and grannies anymore.
  • Subverted in Starcraft, where the Sons of Korhal rebel against The Empire, and eventually institute their own, equal or worse dictatorship in its place.
  • Played straight in Starcraft II, where Raynor's Raiders are trying to bring down the Dominion that they helped create in the first game.
    • Though YMMV on whether this is this trope or Protagonist-Centered Morality. Raynor's Raiders are exploiting the very real Zerg crisis, which has killed billions of people, in order to further their political cause while the main Dominion forces are busy trying to save humanity from Kerrigan. Their antics include unleashing a gigantic Mech of Mass Destruction on a rampage through a civilian city during a parade, and releasing some of the most violent psychopathic criminals loose on the sector.
      • Saving Humanity how? By leaving the Fringe World to fend for themselves as Mengsk pulls his forces to protect only the Core Worlds? Turning away refugees or killing them if they don't leave? Additionally, the release of the Specters may not necessarily equate to releasing psychopaths. Talking to Doctor Hansen reveals that there isn't anything psychologically wrong with them.
    • It would be more accurate to say that Raiders like Matt Horner and Prince Valerian want this to be the case, ones like Tychus and Gabriel Tosh want the opposite, and Raynor himself is stuck in the middle.
  • Also subverted in the first two Ace Combat games, where the player character is part of a mercenary squadron fighting against the revolution.
  • Played with in Yggdra Union. Yggdra and her army are unambiguously good people who believe that they're doing the right thing. Yggdra's enemies, Gulcasa and his army, are exactly the same. Both characters are revolutionaries—Gulcasa overthrew his country's corrupt government via coup d'etat; Yggdra seeks to reclaim her country from Gulcasa's invasion—but Gulcasa is a Well-Intentioned Extremist who believes he has to conquer the world to save the poor and weak, and Yggdra has been raised since birth to believe that she has an Omniscient Morality License. The body count by the end of the game includes almost every character who isn't in Yggdra's army. The narrative doesn't hesitate to call you out repeatedly.
  • Red Faction with 1 and Guerilla, Ultor and Earth Defense Force are absolutely evil tyrants who have NO redeeming personalities and the revolution rarely commits acts of genuine evil. 2 is slightly more ambiguous.
  • Subverted in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. The game starts with the player and some Stormcloak rebels ending up victims of the Empire (the player almost gets beheaded despite not being a rebel). This gives the player a positive view of the Stormcloaks. But as the game progresses, it soon turns into a Grey and Grey Morality situation as it's shown the Stormcloaks and the Imperials both have their flaws. The Stormcloaks' leader is racist and stubborn, but the Empire is oppressing a religion at the behest of the super racist Thalmor (it agreed to do so in a treaty, but the necessity of the treaty is questionable as it was one of the initial demands in the first place). Both sides are happy to kill the other and the civil war means that the Empire may be less able to defend itself against the Thalmor.

    Visual Novels 
  • Played with in Hate Plus. Many of the log documents you read through are from the perspective of the Mugungwa's government, who are corrupt, ruthlessly suppressing dissent to maintain the status quo on the ship. But at the same time, they're trying to do what's in everyone's best interests, not just themselves, even if doing so involves crackdowns on democratic protests or introducing blatantly corrupt laws that allow them to maintain a virtual oligarchy-dictatorship.
    • In the end, the revolution wins, and ends up regressing the ship's society to a totalitarian dictatorship even more brutal than the previous one.

    Webcomics 
  • Played with in Girl Genius, where the Wulfenbach Empire is the only thing that prevents Europe from plunging into the total bloody anarchy of not long ago, but the rather sinister revolutionaries just have to put on a good show and people cheer for them, in large part because of this very trope.
    • Well that and the fact that most of the ruling authorities are power-crazed amoral lunatics who are equally likely to Pet the Dog as they are to turn it into cheese For Science! probably doesn't help the dispositions of the common peasants said revolutionaries recruit from frequently.
      • Since said revolutionaries are just as likely if not more so than the current rulers to suffer from Science-Related Memetic Disorder, it's fair to say the common people are really faced with a choice of evil or...slightly less evil.
      • In Many cases the revolutionaries are the ruling authority that resent that the Empire won't let them go to war with their neighbors.
  • In Sinfest, Trike Girl obviously thinks she can pull this off.
  • In Homestuck, what little we've seen of Alpha!Rose and alpha!Dave's actions as La Résistance against Betty Crocker/The Condesce have been portrayed as completely justified and reasonable. To be fair, when your opponent is trying to enslave the earth and is accidentally killing everyone in the process, it's pretty hard to do worse. It also might help that all our information so far comes from Dirk, who looks up to alpha!Dave pretty heavily.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 


"Treason doth never prosper. What's the reason?
For if it prosper, none dare call it 'treason.'"

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alternative title(s): The Revolution Will Not Be Villified
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