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"The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming
Dreaming of you."
Something awful is happening. The world is ending, the economy collapsed, there's an earthquake, and rioting in the streets is commonplace. Everyone's in a panic — except this guy.
They're still reading a book, listening to music, browsing this site
, whatever. Maybe they just don't care
, or they approve of what's going on. On the other hand, maybe they figure that if they're going to die, they might as well go out with quiet dignity
rather than in a panic or with Rage Against the Heavens
. If combined with Dissonant Serenity
it might have heroic or stoic
The trope is named after Roman Emperor Nero, who is purported to have been singing and playing his lyre (not what we call the "fiddle" despite Pop-Cultural Osmosis
) while Rome was ravaged by a massive fire (though there are no detailed accounts of the fire from contemporary historians, thus there is debate about how true that is), and as such implies an authority ignoring the pleas of its subjects, or simply not caring enough, although it has broadened to mean simply carrying on as normal when the whole world falls to pieces around you.
Compare with Holding Out for a Hero
, Refusal of the Call
, Achilles in His Tent
, Cosy Catastrophe
, and Slept Through the Apocalypse
. If the survivor seems to be actively enjoying the destruction, see Dancing in the Ruins
. If it's more an example of heroically attempting to avoid letting nasty situations get you down, it's probably Screw the War, We're Partying
. If someone tells them This Is No Time for Knitting
, whatever they're doing is likely an attempt to save the day. Not to be confused with Stiff Upper Lip
. Opposite of sorts of Watching Troy Burn
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Anime and Manga
- Played straight in One Piece. Sabo hears a rumor that the slums of his city will burn from a planned arson fire and thousands of citizens will burn. Sabo decides to go around the upper class area of the city to investigate. He sees that the rich nobles are calm and happy, so concludes that the fire won't be happening, until the nobles calmly mention it. Sabo is confused, wondering why no one is in a panic like he is. He talks with a wealthy elder, who confirms that the slums will burn and people will die, but the nobles don't care. Infact some nobles want the poor to die because 'they don't deserve to live if they aren't rich'. The old man actually warns Sabo NOT to save the citizens.
- In X1999, Seishiro and Fuuma stroll through Nakano Sun Plaza eating ice cream and chatting amiably. It all seems well and good until you realize that as they're doing this they're actively destroying the place.
- Kasumi Tendo, of Ranma ˝, is known for doing this as various crazy things happen in her house. Honestly, who can blame her? Considering the commonplace shenaigans of their lives, she may well have reached the point where the stability of getting dinner ready after the rampaging Interpretive Dance Ninja is dealt with was comforting. Or she's just cool like that.
- In Neon Genesis Evangelion, as the latest powerful Angel draws close to bringing about the Third Impact and the annihilation of humanity, Kaji Ryoji is found watering his watermelon garden. He explains that since he can't pilot an Eva, there's nothing he can do to make a difference, so he might as well spend his final moments calmly doing something he enjoys.
- In the anime film Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, Marcus does this a LOT.
- Happens in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny: as fragments of Junius Seven bombard the Earth and massive destruction is being shown, Lacus Clyne sings a gentle song to calm some kids in her shelter, also providing epic Soundtrack Dissonance.
- In Future War 198X, Laura still sits behind the piano at the underground jazz bar in Tokyo after hearing that enemy jets are inbound, playing a mournful tune while thinking of Wataru. Michael heartbrokenly sings "Eidelweiss" to himself while looking at the white flower his dead girlfriend once wore in her hair after blasting the nuclear warhead and shaking the whole war.
- Sora No Woto. You just found out that your superior officer, whom you held hostage at gunpoint after he found an enemy soldier you were sheltering, has escaped, and plans to assault your fortress in ten minutes to execute said soldier in a big display so the ongoing peace talks are ruined. What to do? Think it over a cup of tea and cake.
- Toward the end of Speed Grapher, Suitengu seals up a majority of members into the club with intent to demolish it, if the JSDF doesn't do it first. Relatively few of them are shaking at the barred entrance in panic while most continue indulging in Hookers and Blow.
- Sekirei has Natsuo Ichinomi who is the Ashikabi of the feared Disciplinary Squad. He combines this trope with Dissonant Serenity as he explains key info to Minato while a battle rages around them. They are almost killed and he resumes the conversation as if nothing is happening. None of the chaos caused by Sekirei Plan bothers him because he no longer cares what happens to him or the world.
- In Anatolia Story, one of Nakia's plans to discredit Yuri involved hiring a pretty peasant girl to pretend to be her. Said peasant girl proceeded to lounge around in luxurious clothing, demand high-class foods and constant entertainment, and basically make life hell for everyone waiting on her, causing them to think "Ishtar" was just another spoiled noblewoman. As she performed this charade, meanwhile, most of the people outside her palace were dying of a plague. In a later chapter, Yuri is none too impressed to find a fortress she broke into was basically having an orgy while they were being invaded.
- A rather chilling scene in the DC Comics miniseries 52: In Superman's absence (due to power failure), Lex Luthor has started a program to give ordinary people superpowers, and soon Metropolis is swarming with self-styled superheroes. But Luthor becomes obsessed with a new hero, Supernova, and to call him out, on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, during a huge rally for the new "heroes," he switches their powers off. Luthor spends the next few moments waiting for Supernova's arrival chatting casually on a cell phone as hundreds of helpless people fall out of the sky and onto the pavement.
- The funniest part is when one of them is about to fall on top of him while he's on the phone. He excuses himself, walks out of the spot and continues talking as the guy plummets just behind him.
- Watchmen: while millions of people are dying from a monster in downtown New York, Ozymandias, its creator, enjoys a nice dinner. The arrival of the heroes hardly deters him.
- Quo Vadis: Pictured above is the scene from 1951 Hollywood Film of the Book. And in the more recent 2001 Polish version, Nero is a Extra Large Ham.
- In the The War of the Worlds remake, Tom Cruise's neighborhood mechanic ignores all the ominous signs of the impending alien invasion in order to rush-fix a Dodge minivan. He keeps ignoring the aliens while Tom Cruise steals that same minivan, up until they shoot him in the back with the death ray.
- Jenny from the film Deep Impact ends up spending her time at home with her dad as a huge comet approaches the Earth. A minute later, as a huge wave is destroying New York, we see a man on a park bench quietly reading a newspaper just before he's swept away. One wonders what could have possibly been in the newspaper.
- Wallace Hartley, the ship's bandmaster who along with his colleagues plays uplifting music on the chaotic shipdeck as the tragic vessel sinks, culminating in a final, emotional performance of "Nearer My God To Thee." His final words being, "Gentlemen. It has been a privilege playing with you tonight." The band really did stay on deck and play serene music for the doomed passengers. All eight of the men went down with the ship.
- Thomas Andrews, the ship's architect, and Captain John Smith. Andrews stands in the first class lounge, calmly watching the clock tick away, and Captain Smith remains at his post on the bridge.
- Averted, however, with Bruce Ismay, who refuses to do the gentlemanly thing and go down with the ship, getting into a lifeboat at the last minute. Made all the worse because the movie makes out the accident to be partially his fault.
- The two Dawn of the Dead movies are effectively this, they hide away in their own little paradise while the rest of the world is destroyed by the zombies. Hell, in the remake a man starves to death just across the road while they're making lattes. They do care though.
- Well they do try to send him food, they just fail miserably and eventually the entire mall is overrun with zombies.
- The original has another great example with the "Hunting Parties". While in the first film they are doing an effective, if indiscriminate job of clearing the countryside, by this point it is evident that they are likely going to fail, so what we see is a bunch of soldiers, cops, and assorted rednecks grilling, getting drunk, and doing there damnedest to enjoy their last hours of life.
- In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, there is an old lady sitting at the street side table oblivious to or uninterested in what's going on around her while the world is being destroyed. This is Douglas Adams's mother. The director didn't give any acting directions to her or anybody else in the scene for what they were supposed to do, to simulate chaos, so she just sat there reading a newspaper.
- Con Air depicts the increasingly chaotic results of a bunch of convicts hijacking a prison transport plane. Toward the climax, while the plane is rapidly descending on the improvised landing strip and the surviving passengers flail about in a state of panic, Steve Buscemi's character sits unperturbed in his usual seat, cradling a Ken doll and singing "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."
- Der Untergang, or Downfall, features quite a few scenes of drunken revelry as high-ranking members of the Nazi party await the inevitable as the Allies close in on Berlin. In one scene, a dance party comes to a halt when an artillery shell blasts down a wall and fills the room with dust and smoke.
- In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, there is a scene where British officers calmly go about their business as African aboriginal warriors brutally slaughter the troops in camp.
- In Fight Club the ending scene features the main character kissing his romantic interest while watching various skyscrapers explode and collapse to the ground throughout the city.
"Let's all watch the world go to the devil."
- The Day The Earth Caught Fire. As the Earth hurtles towards the Sun all water is rationed; we later see teenagers high on drugs having water fights in the streets.
- During the sequence in Superman II when Superman and the Kryptonian villains are destroying half of Metropolis in the wake of their fight there is a crazed hobo in a telephone booth who laughs and talks to no one on the other end while the booth gets blown sideways down the street by super breath.
- Batman Returns: As his Red Triangle Gang riots in the streets mere blocks away, Gotham City mayoral candidate Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin) goes for a stroll in Gotham Plaza. Batman eventually makes his way to the plaza and demands to know what Oswald is up to. "Touring the riot scene. Gravely assessing the devastation," Oswald replies with mock seriousness.
- The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame has an almost literal version of this; "while Paris burns" to be precise. Frollo threatens to burn down all of Paris, and manages to burn down a considerable portion of it, but while Quasimodo and the gargoyles are looking out at the fire, they're discussing (and eventually singing about) whether or not Quasimodo might have a chance with Esmeralda after all.
Hugo: Paris, the city of lovers, is glowing this evening. True, that's because it's on fire but still there's l'amour.
- Well, it's not as if Quasi is in a position to do anything, since he's been forbidden by Frollo to leave the bell tower - and the one time he disobeyed this order, things didn't go at all well for him.
- Shaun of the Dead plays it for laughs. The protagonists are too inattentive to notice the zombie apocalypse has already started around them.
- In Mean Girls, after the female population of the school has descended in to madness over the Burn Book, Regina stands at the top of the stairs and admires her handiwork as people run past and debris flies through the shot.
- It's small and easy to miss, but in Meet the Robinsons, Lizzy can be seen smiling evilly as she watches the chaos that ensues when Lewis' invention malfunctions.
- In Fish Story, a comet is on a direct collision course with earth. The full effect is somewhere from Societal Collapse to Total Extinction on a planetary scale. The streets are abandoned, people having fled to higher ground. On the other hand, there's a record store that isn't going to open itself, and so the proprietor goes about business as usual, insistent that everything will be fine. He's right.
- As depicted in A Tale of Two Cities, Madam Defarge and the rest of the tricoteuses sit beside the guillotine and knit furiously while people are executed to show support for the Revolution and its Reign of Terror.
- The Masque of the Red Death. They shut themselves in a tower to avoid a plague and hold a party. The whole point of the story is to give them a massively karmic death, a red death. The source tale, The Decameron, did not kill off the characters. It's just an excuse for a frame tale that shuts people in a room so they'll tell stories to pass the time.
- Stephen King's Cell has the 'Sprinters', people who steal the most expensive/fast looking vehicles they can find and drive them down the street after the Zombie Apocalypse renders their owners either dead or insane. On the two occasions when specific Sprinters are mentioned, they manage to get themselves either injured or killed spectacularly.
- Averted in The Roman Mysteries: Rome literally burns, but the characters are certainly not indifferent or distracted by irrelevancies.
- Subverted in the Kim Newman short story "Soho Golem", in which an investigation into a supernatural gangland murder takes the heroes to a very decadent party being held by a local porn baron. However, while there's certainly plenty of hedonistic fun being had, it's not being had by any of the people who are potentially involved or are potential future victims of the killer — all of whom, the heroes note, look very, very worried.
- In Eclipse, Edward reads a newspaper article about how countless people are dying and disappearing in Seattle. He notes that it's the work of a newborn vampire...and then helps Bella fill out college applications. Later, when Alice finds out that an entire army of newborns is coming to kill Bella, she insists that they still go ahead with the graduation party she planned for Bella.
Live Action TV
- Band of Brothers had an interesting example that happened after the disaster. The opening of one of the episodes showed a quartet of German violinists playing somber music as their fellow villagers were working to clean up the rubble from their ruined town.
- The Day of the Triffids remake. A man is shown playing the violin while panicked policemen who've lost their sight gun down civilians. After he's finished playing, the man calmly walks to the balcony and throws himself off.
- In The Outer Limits (2002 series) episode "The Human Factor", commander Ellis Grover sabotages the colonization project he was in charge of after finding out his superiors started a nuclear war that killed off most of humanity including his family. This is after he spent the entire episode trying to stop his Robot Buddy Link from doing the exact same thing out of the belief that Humans Are Bastards. Having come to agree with Link in the end, he reactivates him. When Link notes that Grover's sabotage leaves them with about two hours before the base is destroyed, Grover decides they might as well play one last game of chess. They spend the last scene setting up the chessboard while the base and all hopes of humanity's survival fall apart around them.
- In the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO, Kosei Kougami indulges in his hobby of singing "Happy Birthday" and baking birthday cakes while the city outside is gradually being devoured by a monstrous construct out to absorb everything, and the building he's in grows increasingly damaged.
- While Rome doesn't burn, there's an orgy in Cleopatra's throne room as the army of Octavian closes in, and an emissary demands unconditional surrender. Cleopatra pleads with Antony to flee or come up with some clever military trick.
Antony: I'm not a fucking magician. Look around us, woman. Whores, hermaphrodites, and lickspittles. This is our only now.
- The song "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" from Ultravox is about a man driving home from work and hearing that a catastrophe (presumably a nuclear war) is on its way. He then goes home to his wife, they get drunk, make love to their favorite music and the last verse ends with "it's time, and I don't think we really care."
- "De Bom" ("The Bomb") by popular Dutch band Doe Maar revolves around this trope: "Just let it fall / it'll happen anyway / it doesn't matter if you run / I've never known you / I want to find out who you are / find out who you are"
- It's the end of the world as we know it...
- Prince's "1999".
- Jars of Clay has "Goodbye, Goodnight", which was inspired by the aforementioned string section playing as the Titanic went down. "Strike up the band and play a song, and try hard not to cry/And fake a smile as we all say goodbye."
- Steve Taylor's "Smug" lambasts Christians who take sick pleasure in thinking the rest of the world is going to hell. "Rome is burning, we're here turning smug."
- Weird Al's "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" has shades of this.
- "It's Christmas at Ground Zero", if taken more seriously, also sounds exactly like this.
- The video for Mythos & DJ Cosmo's "The Heart of the Ocean", a techno version of the main theme from Titanic, features a dance party on a sinking ship.
- "We dance to the sound of sirens, and we watch genocide to relax."(Covenant, in "Theremin")
- More recently, there's "Last Dance".
- The song Accordion Player by Voltaire is about an accordion player who refused to take part in a war in his country, even when the fighting came to his town. The song ends with the musician declaring repeatedly "I want to die playing", the music becoming more frantic and impassioned as sounds of battle rage around it.
Mythology and Religion
- The feast of Belshazzar in the Bible.
- In Dino Attack RPG, there's a mass evacuation of LEGO City just before the Final Battle, which absolutely reduces the city to ruins and ashes as the Dino Attack Team and their allies battle the largest army of Mutant Dinos they've ever faced... while Walter, Dude, and Donnie decide to go bowling in one of the city's abandoned bowling alleys.
- The second act of You Can't Take It With You ends with a lot of fireworks exploding offstage and a lot of people wildly shouting and rushing about onstage. The imperturbable Grandpa, however, just says "Well, well, well!" and sits down. "If a lot of people weren't in the way," the script suggests, "you feel he'd like to throw some darts."
- In Les Misérables, as Paris recovers from the tragic deaths of the students and soldiers who fought on the barricades, Thenardier and his gang cheerfully go about grave robbing the corpses.
- Rose has roughly two minutes to save John from being killed by an incoming meteor. She spends the first forty seconds playing a violin refrain. The game sarcastically compliments the player's time management skills.
- More figurative use of the trope would be when Dave and his Bro battle it out on the rooftop, with Houston being obliterated in the background. The battle itself is completely pointless.
- Dave also seems perfectly fine continuing to update his absolutely awful webcomic, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, even though the world is ending.
- Gunnerkrigg Court has a flashback to the great fire of Rome. The entity who will eventually be known as Jones is there, watching, completely unconcerned. Not even her dress catching fire can make her act.
- In Penny Arcade, Tycho and Gabe are so addicted to Titanfall that Gabe thinks that the game crashing is a good thing since he'd never be able to stop playing otherwise. Tycho's house is burning down around him and he still won't stop playing, though he hopes the game crashes soon. He is already on fire too.
- Survival of the Fittest v3: A particularly notable version occurs where Carson Baye plays on his DS while a gunfight is starting around him.
- The song "Distraction" from TGWTG film To Boldly Flee is all about this. In-universe, it was written by the Kryptonians after learning that their planet was coming apart, basically using this song to enjoy their lives a little longer, ignoring the imminent disaster until it actually comes. Granted, this doesn't play any part in the film other than as a nod to how one of Doug Walker's characters that plays a part in it is a parody of General Zod, and the lyrics serve as a perfect lampshade to how the characters who were singing it were doing so as part of a distraction.
- In the season 4 finale of The Batman, Alfred and Lucius Fox watch helplessly from a balcony on Bruce's mansion, drinking tea as ash falls like snow around them, before deciding that they're not that helpless. It's possibly the best scene in the entire series.
- Played for laughs in an episode of Justice League. While the rest of the population of Vegas has fled because of Joker's bomb threats, a single old lady continues feeding coins into a slot machine.
Joker: I love this town!
- Subverted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Swarm of the Century". Pinkie takes one look at the crisis of the day and rushes off in search of a tuba. Everyone dismisses it as Pinkie's usual harmless psychosis, and sets about trying to get the parasprites out of town, while Pinkie passes through periodically asking if anyone's seen yet another piece of the polka ensemble she's been diligently assembling. Just when it looks like all hope is lost and the parasprites are going to be the end of civilization, Pinkie marches by strapped into a one-pony band, and the parasprites follow her in Pied Piper fashion. It's implied throughout the episode that Pinkie's dealt with parasprites before, but couldn't communicate this fact to the others because they have trouble with the idea that Pinkie is capable of lucidity.
- In one episode of Darkwing Duck, Negaduck used a magical artifact to steal the powers of the other four members of the Fearsome Five, which made him grow to giant size; he then proceeded to flood St. Canard and use electricity to heat the water to the boiling point. As Darkwing wracked his mind to think of a way to bring him down, the four powerless villains were doing nothing but sitting down and sadly drinking weak tea. (Of course, this is a Zigzagged Trope, because they were doing it because they were too depressed at what had happened at the moment to help.)
- Trope Namer: According to legend, Emperor Nero played the fiddle (or lute, or lyre) while Rome was burning down. Supposedly, his men actually helped set the fire. This story was more likely than not circulated by those who disliked/despised him. All actual evidence found suggests he wasn't even in the city at the time and quite possibly wouldn't have been in any position to help. It is quite certain that he didn't have a fiddle (as he's often portrayed in cartoons) since they weren't invented until a thousand years later.
- According to Tacitus, he rushed back to Rome when he heard of the fire and funded the relief effort.
- Nero may not have done it, but there is little doubt that he benefited from it; the section of Rome that burned, Nero had had plans to raze it to build something. This fact probably contributed to the suspicion that he deliberately set the fire.
- Lou Henry Hoover did this a lot when stranded in China during the Boxer Rebellion. One time she was playing solitaire when an artillery shell crashed through her front hall. She kept on playing.
- According to a letter written by his nephew, Pliny the Elder took a nap in Stabiae near Pompeii... while Mt. Vesuvius was erupting. Even though he was there in part to assist in the rescue of the villagers. He suffocated for being too close to the epicentre. Other accounts more generously point out that he was somewhat advanced in years, and had been doing sterling work up until that point.
- Controversy surrounded George W. Bush when he chose to continue reading a children's book about a goat to a grade-school class after being informed that the 9/11 attacks occurred. Though a somewhat more generous interpretation is his not wanting to scare the kids, who would have plenty to worry about later; he was told during the event "A second plane hit the second tower. America is under attack."
- At least one other source, had him be straight-out told, "Keep reading."
- Bush was also captured on film playing a guitar on a California Naval base the day after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
- President Obama reacting to the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico by focusing like a laser on... his golf game.
- A similar PR disaster struck the unpopular and gaffe-prone Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was heavily criticised for continuing to play a round of golf after hearing the news of the collision between the Ehime Maru and the USS Greenville.
- In fairness to the above three examples, high-ranking politicians and their accompanying security detail create no end of extra work for local law-enforcement and emergency responders at the scene of major national emergencies, far outweighing any morale benefits their presence may bring.
- English soldier Jack Churchill started playing his pipe while waiting for the Germans to capture him. Since he is also the guy who fought with bow, arrow and a claymore (the sword, not the anti-personnel mine) in WWII, we shouldn't be surprised.
- Another famous example is Archimedes keeping on working on mathematical diagrams during the fall of Syracuse. He was killed by a Roman soldier who had come to arrest him. As the soldier approached, Archimedes was drawing some mathematical figures in the sand and shouted at the soldier, "Don't disturb my figures!" He believed that he was too valuable to simply murder, but he didn't count on the short temper of a random foot soldier.
- Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon is now being compared with Nero after admitting that she went out to dinner with her husband and two friends on the evening of the Black Saturday bushfires, in spite of being warned of the likelihood of an high death toll shortly before leaving.
- There are many stories about high-ranking Nazis who were still in Berlin as the Soviets were entering during the closing days of World War II, engaging in hedonistic parties and orgies.
- Though this seems more likely to be an "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we get massacred by the royally pissed-off Red Army" than the total lack of concern that this trope normally implies.
- So many people during the Black Death died, some people knew that they were likely to get it and die, so what did they do? Party! Similar things are apt to happen during any large-enough scale disaster.
- An apocryphal story tells that even as Constantinopole was on the verge of falling, the elders of the Byzantine Church ignored the threat and busied themselves discussing theological trivialities. Modern day Turkish politicians occasionally bring the story up as a metaphor to criticize the hijacking of important debates by irrelevant non-issues.
- During the Siege of Sarajevo, the Serbs would shell the city every night. It was under this backdrop of shelling that cellist Vedran Smailović would play Christmas songs in the middle of the town square while the city was being shelled around him! He said he did this to prove that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place. According to The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this act of bravery/craziness was the inspiration for their song Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.
- Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August characterised Nicholas II as a grotesquely incompetent, apathetic leader, stating that when Nicholas received a telegram informing him of the Russian fleet's annihalation at Tsushima, he read it, put it away and then went on to play tennis.
- During a World War 2 air raid, guests of the Savoy hotel were entertained throughout the night by an impromptu cabaret hosted by Noel Coward to lift their spirits. He later joked that it was every entertainer's dream: a captive audience.
- As mentioned above in the Film section, the 8 musicians of RMS Titanic, who kept playing to calm the passengers as the ship sank. They eventually sank with it.
- On May 19, 1780, a cloud of darkness (a combination of forest-fire smoke and heavy clouds/fog) spread over New England. Some members of the Connecticut state legislature, fearing that Judgment Day was at hand, proposed adjournment; legislator Abraham Davenport convinced them to stay:
I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I move that candles be brought, and we proceed to business.