Villainous Demotivator

Intendant: Execute them! I think you'll find that random and unprovoked executions will keep your entire workforce alert and motivated.
Garak: I bow to your brilliance. Though I do hope your mood improves before we run out of workers.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Through the Looking Glass"

Bad guys have a lot of problems keeping a Nebulous Evil Organisation running. There's High turnover due to heroic raids, lack of professionalism in the Evil Minions, and motivating the surviving personnel. This last one is especially difficult because just as Evil Cannot Comprehend Good, it also can't understand positive reinforcement.

When a minion or even their Number Two (The Dragon) performs well, they won't so much praise their effort or reward their good results as warn them "do not outlive your usefulness". Kind of hard to go to work with a smile with that hanging over your head.

Another demotivator is the Big Bad's reaction when their minion(s) lose to the hero. Assuming they don't shoot the fellow then and there (which is, again, not exactly good for morale no matter what Machiavelli said) they will likely yell "You Have Failed Me!" and use their Agony Beam on the poor sap. After the poor minion is done screaming his guts out (hopefully not literally) their boss will say "Do not fail me again! For I shall not show you such mercy a second time." Whether they actually follow through depends on how dark the show is. In animation, even Team Rocket or the Quirky Miniboss Squad will get off with minimal verbal abuse, but others... not so much.

The Villainous Demotivator can be any threat that a Big Bad or The Dragon makes towards a lower ranking minion that they will be hurt or killed if they fail to perform their job. Assuming their skills will always be needed in his plots (and thus he would need to take the trouble of finding a replacement if he kills the Evil Minion), this makes sense as a negative motivational tool, and a nice little Kick the Dog that can fuel a Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal or a Mook-Face Turn. Other instances of this trope can happen without the villain ever meaning to demotivate their minions. He might do something so vile it reminds them of their ethics, or admit his plan will kill one of their loved ones.

May come back to haunt him as an explanation why a minion won't Give Me a Sword. Often results in Screw This, I'm Outta Here! or The Dog Bites Back.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime/Manga 
  • Deconstructed in Attack on Titan. Threatening to execute deserters for cowardice doesn't work if they're more afraid of getting eaten than getting shot. It's also heavily implied that any attempt to carry this out on the demoralized troops prior to the Trost counterattack (who are all on the verge of Screw This, I'm Out of Here!) would have started a chaotic bloodbath, which was the last thing humanity needed. Pixis instead opts for a more positive motivation: everyone is free to go if they want to, but only if they can stand the thought of their loved ones getting eaten and sharing their fear. All of them stay.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Lordgenome treats his Quirky Miniboss Squad in this manner. Most blatantly, when Adiane withdraws from a battle with the heroes to avoid harming Lordgenome's own daughter, he scolds her because said daughter had been abandoned - and when Adiane remarks that she was never TOLD that, he responds with even more threats. In fact, the only one of the Miniboss Squad who doesn't seem to be effected by this is Guame, who is assumed to be Lordgenome's Nonhuman Sidekick from his time as a Spiral Warrior. Guame was Lordgenome's Boota!
  • We don't see him threaten them, but Kimblee of Fullmetal Alchemist seems to have taken this approach with his chimeras. In fact, one of them claims there's no point in the heroes showing them mercy because of this. Doing so anyway works out rather well, since another of these chimeras is eventually responsible for Kimblee's death.

    Comic Books 
  • In Bone, the Lord of Locusts says this to the Hooded One.
  • In Black Panther: the Man Without Fear, Big Bad Vlad the Impaler tries to avert this, treating his minions fairly and giving even the ones that betray him a second chance (just the one, mind — if they betray him again, their ass is toast). It works pretty well for a while, but after Black Panther's interference with his business starts getting on his nerves, his patience for failure grows markedly shorter, hinting at his eventual Villainous Breakdown.
  • Judge Dredd: When the Dark Judges took over Deadworld and declared all life illegal, their idea of building morale among the mortal Judges was to incinerate, rip apart, or melt anyone who didn't assist in executing the population, only to kill their more agreeable minions when they had no more use for them.

    Fan Works 
  • A Crown Of Stars: Jinnai constantly threatens his subordinates with getting them or their families executed if they underperform or act in a way that is less than perfectly loyal to him. After learning that Asuka -whom he had used like a toy for two years- and Shinji got together he warned her that he had shot a traitor, raised a still smoking gun as citing "'Ultima ratio regnum', mm, Sohryu?", and shortly after he exploded and declared he would sell her into slavery for not pleasing him.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe
    • We find out exactly what the Emperor does to people who displease him, and it's no idle threat. He had Bevel Lemelisk, one of the original designers of the Death Star, killed horribly, resurrected in a clone body, and killed again each time he screwed up after that (for a total of 6), always ensuring that each clone remembers the experience of the last death. Horribly as in:
      • Eaten by piranha beetles, and then the clone was shown the remains.
      • Blown out an airlock
      • Lowered inch by inch into a vat of molten copper ("It was what the smelter used that day.")
      • Chained in a drive tube while the engine was slowly powered up
      • Among others. When the New Republic finally got a hold of him and sentenced him to death, his request to the firing squad was that they "do it right this time."
    • Beautifully subverted in the third Star Wars Expanded Universe novel, The Last Command. Grand Admiral Thrawn confronts the officer who failed to stop Luke Skywalker from escaping, and the poor sap expects a Vader-style execution like the ones quoted above. Indeed, an officer who'd failed in the same thing and then tried to pass the blame had been killed, so everyone believes this one is out of luck. Instead, Thrawn promotes him, praising his creative attempt even though it failed.
    [Pellaeon] stood there beside the newly minted lieutenant, feeling the stunned awe pervading the bridge as he watched Thrawn leave. Yesterday, the Chimaera's crew had trusted and respected the Grand Admiral. After today, they would be ready to die for him.
    • Darth Vader shows up several times in the novel Death Star; partly for this trope, partly to help ferret out actual saboteurs and discourage potential ones.
  • In 1984, anyone who spoke out against or betrayed The Party and Big Brother had a tendency to disappear without a trace, along with all evidence that they ever existed in the first place. One of the reasons for Winston Smith's rebellion is that he's one of the Party employees responsible for deleting the records, so he doesn't have the same ability to turn a blind eye as an average member of the population.
  • Harry Potter: Voldemort is about as much fun to work for as Darth Vader or Visser Three. He has no understanding of compassion and makes it no secret that most of his followers are expendable (Psycho Supporter Bellatrix is a rare exception). It's because of this that the Malfoys give him misinformation that Harry is dead, which leads to his downfall.
  • Played for laughs in Good Omens, when Crowley decides to keep a number of potted plants. Every so often, he would go over to the group of potted plants, notice that one was not as big or as green as its fellows, and deliberately pick up that one specimen, leave the room with it, and return with an empty pot, which he would then display for the other plants as an example. Needless to say, his indoor garden boasted the largest and greenest plants around.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Revolution: Monroe. He keeps losing good commanding officers. His habit of killing anyone (including families) who might have possibly betrayed him tends to leave people... uncomfortable. And dead. Episode 8 had him getting rid of Colonel John Faber. Episode 13 had Tom and Julia Neville packing up and running for it to avoid being killed off by Monroe. Episode 14 had Monroe kill off a captain who worked for Tom Neville out of paranoia. Episode 17 had Monroe kill off Captain Jeremy Baker because he thought the guy tried to assassinate him... only to find out later that he killed the wrong person. Episode 19 and the first season finale results in Tom Neville successfully becoming the new head of the Monroe Republic because he made an Exploited Trope out of this.
  • Star Trek: Pretty much every single officer in the Mirror Universe.
    • In the main universe, the Dominion have a fine line in this. While it at least makes a kind of twisted sense with the Vorta and Jem'hadar, who are pretty much programmed on a genetic level to view the Founders as gods, the Vorta and Founders then go on to apply this to Damar and the Cardassians, who are well aware the Founders are just shape-shifting aliens. Weyoun, in particular, manages to shoot himself in the foot quite impressively by sacrificing half a million Cardassians to tie up the Klingons, then berating and threatening Damar when he isn't particularly happy about this.
  • A Running Gag with Major Neuheim in Private Schultz.
    • "You should look upon yourselves as sewerage being recycled in the national interest. Naturally I want you to put your hearts and souls into this work for your country."
    • "I am most concerned for the welfare of your men...out of the way you swine!"
    • After Schultz returns from his spy mission to England. "How dare you come back alive!"

    Newspaper Comics 
  • The company in Dilbert. The strip has gone so far as to at times portray Catbert actually trying to lower morale on purpose, apparently just For the Evulz.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: Commissars have a very Voltairian way of motivating their men. But surprisingly, in gameplay terms it tends to work. And there's never any shortage of troops, since one thing the Imperium has in abundance is manpower.
    • Unless said men are from Catachan. The old Catachan list actually had a rule where Commissars had a chance of getting inconveniently shanked before the battle.
    • Ciaphas Cain, HERO OF THE IMPERIUM! refrains from this manner of motivation, citing a number of suspicious Commissarial demises. He prefers to lead his men by making them think he leads by example, and let the old human instinct for showing off take over. It has proven very effective. Of course, a large chunk of the readership (and a few characters in on the secret) think it's a big lie and he's a genuine hero. He does seem to "retreat" screaming, straight at the biggest and nastiest thing in the battle, a lot.

    Video Games 
  • Over the course of Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Joker will send orders over the loudspeakers to his minions, telling them not to screw up or he'll have them (and sometimes, their loved ones) killed. Of course, The Joker says most of these while the mooks are trapped in a room with Batman, so there's not much hope for them in the first place.
  • Late in Iji, high ranking aliens are threatening their men into killing (or better, capturing) the titular "human anomaly", with lines such as:
    "If you're more afraid of her than of ME, you're a traitor."
  • Used humorously in the game The Operative: No One Lives Forever. The Dragon has put a notice to the henchmen outside a minefield, asking them to please avoid crossing it, as finding suitable replacement henchmen is hard and annoying. He then mentions that he will personally execute any henchman that crosses the minefield and somehow survives as an example to the others on not disobeying orders.
  • Ishida Mitsunari in Sengoku Basara is so used to blind loyalty that he assumes the same from everyone else, and is rather poor at employee relations as a result. One of his attempts at reaffirming his stance with an ally (Saika Magoichi) involves baring a blade in her face and threatening her with a hundred curses should she betray him. And he likes her.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, during his ritual to release Demise from his seal 999 years early, Ghirahim summons a horde of Bokoblins and sends them screaming after Link, making it painfully obvious that he doesn't care if they bleed on the Master Sword so long as they slow him down. And then he caps it off with this line:
    "Don't fear him... fear my wrath if you fail me!!"
  • During The Curse of Monkey Island, one of the Zombie Pirate LeChuck's minions describes the series of motivational tools provided to the crew. The highlights include "Get back to work, or I'll beat you with your own legs!" and "Flogging the inner child". Or the provided audio-books, which can be "returned as often as desired; keep them all and live!"

    Western Animation 
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, Azula has this problem with keeping Ty Lee and Mai loyal. She initially pressures Ty Lee into leaving the circus by setting loose all the animals and setting her trapeze net on fire! Later on, when Mai betrays her out of love for Zuko, it's explicitly because spoiler:Mai loves Zuko more than she fears her. Of course, at this point spoiler: Ty Lee also betrays her upon seeing Azula threaten Mai with lifelong imprisonment, winding up to put a bolt of lightning into Mai for it. What gets worse is that this is how Azula treats people she likes.
  • In Stormhawks, this happened pretty much every episode one of Master Cyclonis' minions failed in their missions. She did eventually fire one of them, and does have ample Agony Beams to use on the rest though.
  • In The Simpsons, Burns puts a literal Villainous Demotivator ("Don't Forget, You're Here Forever") in front of Homer's workstation. Turns into a Crowning Moment of Heartwarming when Homer selectively covers it with pictures of Maggie until what's left is "Do_i_t For___ Her".
  • In the ThunderCats (2011) episode "Ratilla's Curse," Ratar-O abuses his minions as badly as they in turn abuse the cats they've enslaved. This backfires spectacularly when his right-hand rat finally questions why he was treated better at Lion-O's hands than his own master's and not only deserts him in his time of need, but tosses Lion-O the Sword of Omens so he can take Ratar-O down.