They Just Don't Get It

The floating sign unnerves me. I'm not sure why or what it means, but I look forward to learning in class tonight!

A character, or more often a whole group of people, has something elementary and basic explained to them, but for some reason, they just aren't getting it.

They aren't being deliberately obtuse and stupid. They simply do not understand the rather obvious implications of what has been said to them. To the character trying to do the explaining, and to the audience, the train of thought is painfully easy to make work logically, but the target simply isn't getting it. Usually this is because the concept is so foreign to them that they cannot grasp it. This is not a case of What Is This Thing You Call Love? where an alien species has no concept of the idea, but rather a case of a greedy character not understanding the concept of charity, or someone with a Complexity Addiction failing to grasp a Mundane Solution.

Sometimes this is because of Selective Obliviousness or Obfuscating Stupidity, but only rarely does the audience know this at the time.


Anime & Manga
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series movie, when Yami finally confronts Anubis, he asks him why he wants to destroy the world. Anubis doesn't understand the question, even as Yami exasperatingly repeats that he surely must have a reason for destroying the world, considering all the trouble he went to to do it.
  • This happens pretty much every single time someone tries to explain something to Naruto.

Fan Works
  • In A Very Potter Sequel, when Lucius Malfoy explains the evil plan he had just choreographed to travel back in time and kill Harry Potter, the other Death Eaters just don't get it:
    LUCIUS: "The Dark Lord would have survived, had they never met."
    DEATH EATER #2: "So you're saying that he wouldn't be destroyed?"
    LUCIUS: "He'd be alive, what don't you get?"
    DEATH EATER #3: "Still not understanding..."
    • Ironically, it's not until he explains it in a more convoluted way that the lightbulbs go off and they all suddenly get it.
  • Rupert and Earl, villainous aliens from The Calvinverse, believe Calvin is the Earth Potentate solely because Galaxoid and Nebular told them. They steadfastly hold this to be true, and dismiss and evidence to the contrary (including Calvin himself straight-up telling them). Retro Chill finally subverts this when they get their hand on a guide that tells them that the Earth does not have a Potentate.

  • This happens in Mystery Men when one of the characters realizes that Captain Amazing is just Clark Kenting. The other characters don't understand the way this train of thought works, since without glasses, Captain Amazing would not be able to see.
  • Idiocracy. Joe Bauers encounters this problem in every scene where he tries to explain something to someone, or tries to be subtle about something, because everyone in the future is Too Dumb to Live. The most notable instance is when he is explaining to the Cabinet his plan to use water on crops instead of Brawndo. He has to pretend that he can talk to plants before they listen to him.
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, during a discussion of Austin's teeth.
    Vanessa: And then there's this. (shows Austin a dental hygiene kit complete with floss, toothpaste and toothbrush)
    Austin: Let me guess. The floss is garrote wire, the toothpaste is plastic explosives, and the toothbrush is the detonation device.
    Vanessa: No, actually. Since you've been frozen, there have been fabulous advances in the field of dentistry.
    Austin: What do you mean?
    • Cleverly inverted in the scene where Scott Evil wonders why they are going to all the trouble of putting Austin and Vanessa into a deathtrap.
    Scott Evil: I have a gun. In my room. You give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here. BOOM! I'll blow their brains out!
    Doctor Evil: Scott, you just don't get it, do ya?
  • In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Cal Naughton Jr. just doesn't seem to understand why his friendship with Ricky Bobby should be affected by something trivial like Cal sleeping with Ricky's wife.
  • In The Last Samurai, when the samurai Katsumoto learns the story of General George Custer and Custer's Last Stand, he admires him as a warrior who fought to the bitter end without fear of death. Algren tries to tell him that Custer was an arrogant fool who needlessly got himself and all his men killed and not a man to be admired at all, but Katsumoto fails to see Custer's faults.

  • In the Discworld novel Sourcery, Rincewind doesn't understand that he can just leave the growing wizard problems behind if he stops being a wizard, which would be easy for him since he can't do magic. Subverted later when he finally does get it, but says that he can't just stop being a wizard since it's more than just the ability to do magic.

Live-Action TV
  • One sketch on All That has Superdude, played by Kenan Thompson, being confronted by an impostor played by an 11-year-old Amanda Bynes wearing a copy of his costume. The townspeople, incapable of determining the fraud based on physical appearance, are further unable to distinguish the difference in Power Levels when they see Superdude bending a giant pipe and the impostor tearing up a piece of paper.
  • Russell Hantz still has no idea why he lost Survivor twice in a row, despite everyone from interviewers to fellow contestants, to Jeff Probst himself explaining that you just can't piss off the people who will be casting the votes that decide whether or not you get the million. Instead (like some of the Hantz Nation), he's going with the theory that the game is flawed - especially since the two girls he lost to beat him by being less reprehensible than himself. Even Parvati was seen as the lesser of two evils in Heroes vs. Villains (and received three jury votes).
    • He and his allies also didn't realize why he was evicted from Redemption Island so early despite that unlike the first two times he played, people knew who he was, and he had made no visible effort to change his game. (There is more or less no excuse outside of having never seen the show before for not knowing Russell's game by now.)
    Jeff, in a sneak preview for Redemption Island: "He still doesn't get it! He still thinks that everybody loves him."
  • Red Dwarf has this exchange from the episode "Stasis Leak":
    Cat [to Rimmer]: What is it?
    Rimmer: It's a rent in the space-time continuum.
    Cat [to Lister]: What is it?
    Lister: The stasis room freezes time, you know, makes time stand still. So whenever you have a leak, it must preserve whatever it's leaked into, and it's leaked into this room.
    Cat [to Rimmer]: What is it?
    Rimmer: It's singularity, a point in the universe where the normal laws of space and time don't apply.
    Cat [to Lister]: What is it?
    Lister: It's a hole back into the past.
    Cat: Oh, a magic door! Well, why didn't you say?
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer's fifth season, the fact that mild-mannered doctor, Ben, is actually part of the Big Bad, Glory (they morph into each other) is concealed from anyone who finds this out by means of a spell which makes them instantly forget it. When several of the Scooby gang actually see Ben morph into Glory in front of them they cannot comprehend what they saw, even when directly and repeatedly reminded of it by Spike, who is immune to the forget spell. This, of course, drives Spike to utter distraction.
    • Particularly when the spell no longer works:
      Xander: Wait, guys... I think... Ben IS Glory!
      Spike: Well, look at the big brain on you! I've only been saying that for the last two weeks!
  • One sketch on That Mitchell and Webb Look featured a young doctor working in a Carry On-style saucy seventies hospital, where everyone communicated in sexual Double Entendre and he responded by offering to get his cock out. He was ultimately fired after failing to understand the difference.

  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2013 musical), Willy Wonka sings the I Am What I Am song "Simply Second Nature" when he realizes that the adults in the Golden Ticket tour group don't understand why he created the beautiful but largely "useless" Chocolate Room — he simply loves to create beautiful things. The lead-in dialogue is as follows:
    Mr. Salt (a businessman): Look here, Wonka, the waterfall makes sense, but what's the point in all the rest of this stuff?
    Willy Wonka: The point?
    Mr. Salt: Well, what's it for?
    Willy Wonka: It's my creation.
    Mr. Salt: How does it make money?
    Willy Wonka: It doesn't.
    Mrs. Gloop (a Fat and Proud glutton): It's a little cupboard of treats for a midnight feast.
    Willy Wonka: No, madam.
    Mr. Beauregarde (a showbiz Shameless Self-Promoter): You use it for photo shoots.
    Willy Wonka: Certainly not.
    Mrs. Teavee (a Stepford Smiler housewife): It's therapy.
    Willy Wonka: No.
    Mr. Salt: Well if it isn't for anything and it doesn't make money then why on Earth does it need to exist at all?
    Willy Wonka: You really don't see, do you?

Web Comics
  • In this strip of Ctrl+Alt+Del, a man is confused about the phrase "Exit Mech" while playing the demo for Titanfall. Another man explains that its for when you want to leave the giant robot suit, however the man playing the game claims to hear only gibberish when the other man talks about anything other than piloting the suit.

Web Original
  • Dream High School opens with a floating sign telling you you're dreaming. Your response?
    You: "The floating sign unnerves me. I'm not sure why or what it means, but I look forward to learning in class tonight!"
    • Readers could have voted on an option to invoke this trope again immediately: "I pinch myself."
    • You even quote the sign on Page 5 and still don't get it.
  • Shown in many Not Always Right stories.

Western Animation
  • The centerpoint of the Chicken Boo sketches on Animaniacs is that the Only Sane Man is trying, and for most of the sketch failing, to explain why Chicken Boo, who walks like a chicken, clucks likes a chicken and looks like a chicken is, in fact, a chicken.
  • This happens pretty often in South Park, where one of the kids tries in vain to explain the facts of the situation to the adults, and the adults either just don't get it or else get it horribly, horribly wrong. For example, in two separate episodes, Stan and Kyle (respectively) try to demonstrate that psychics are fake by explaining their methods. Both times, they are revered as psychics themselves.
    • Another episode has a moral equivalent to this when Butters is arrested for toilet papering a house when the main characters were the ones who really did it. Cartman cannot understand why the others think this is a bad thing, since he's a sociopath who simply does not care about other people in the slightest.
  • In Archer, the titular character was simply unable to grasp the notion that a rigid airship filled with non-flammable helium was considerably safer than, say, the Hindenburg.
    • Lampshaded at one point:
    Lana: What part of that aren't you getting?
    Archer: Obviously the core concept.
    • Archer is, in fact, unable to grasp a number of basic concepts related to his job. He's competent, but also an idiot.
    Mallory: Most secret agents don't tell every hooker from here to Hanoi that they're a spy!
    Archer: ...then why be one?
  • In Family Guy when Peter is trying to help Mort get more business for his pharmacy he explains the concept of sales and selling things at a discount, however all the stereotypically Jewish Mort can hear is gibberish. He understands just fine when Peter talks about sales at others business's, just not his own.
  • The Veggie Tales silly song "The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything" features Pa Grape singing about never steering ships, Mr. Lunt about never swabbing poop decks, and Larry about never throwing his mashed potatoes up against the wall. Pa and Mr. Lunt try to explain to him that "we're supposed to sing about pirate-y things", but get sidetracked into a debate on whether Pa looks like Cap'n Crunch. Larry sings another gleefully un-piratey verse and Pa shakes his head and proclaims "you just don't get it" before the song ends.
  • Averted in an episode of Futurama. The Professor shows everyone a complex equation. Amy gasps as she realizes it describes the impending end of the world. Then Hermes reacts as he realizes what it means. Fry just says "Don't wait for me."
  • Homer Simpson more than once, most famously when the doctor was trying to tell him that he needed a coronary bypass/heart surgery, and Homer continually asking him to use simpler terms until Hibbert said: "Were going to cut you open and tinker with his ticker," in a slow and deliberate fashion as though talking to a child.
    • Homer still asked him to dumb it down.
  • On Sheep in the Big City, this is frequently the case between the Angry Scientist and General Specific.
    Angry Scientist: We are not needing a plan! We simply go having to the house of Little Lisa Rental!
    General Specific: I see. And she knows where Sheep is?
    Angry Scientist: She has Sheep! She has Sheep! What she calls a dog is really Sheep! The dog is Sheep! Can I be making it any clearer to you!
    General Specific: Perhaps. Do you have any charts? I love charts!
    Angry Scientist: The dog is Sheep! The dog is Sheep! The dog is Sheep!
    General Specific: I'm finding you hard to believe without any charts.
    Angry Scientist: AAAAAAAAAAARRRRGH!
  • Phineas and Ferb has Dr Doofensmitz, who is atleast mildly competent at the whole Mad Scientist bit if it wasnt for the fact that he just cannot grasp that Phineas and Ferbs pet platypus is in fact his arch nemesis Perry The Platypus. As long as Perry doesnt wear his fedora, Doofensmitz is simply incapable of recognizing him, even if he changes right in front of him.

You still don't get it, do you?