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The commercial for Sonic & Knuckles that came out around Christmas 1994. Supposed to be innovative, Santa didn't like the idea, so the elves who supposedly thought it up went and sold the game and its "Lock-on Technology" to Sega. They quote this trope at the end.
Ephialtes from 300—who, as far as Who's Laughing Now? people go, was treated rather reasonably by Leonidas, particularly in the comic (as what happened later in the movie seemed to put the lie to the idea of the Spartans' strength being the phalanx formation).
A second meaning makes it even worse: in name at least, Ephialtes has lived forever - known as one of the worst traitors in Greek history. To this day, the name "Ephialtes" in Greece carries the same connotations that "Benedict Arnold" does in the US.
It's worse in the comic. He tries to commit suicide after his rejection by jumping off a cliff but survives, in agony. He blames the gods for forcing him to live his torturous existence. That's what makes him renounce his Spartan heritage and the Greek gods in favour of one who actually appears to give a shit about him.
Spider-Man, in the crossover novel series Time's Arrow, muses on the phenomenon of Cut Lex Luthor a Check (and, indeed, the tendency of good people with powers to become vigilantes rather than making millions), and realizes it's not about the money—it's about showing up everyone who ever laughed at them.
In another issue, Peter Parker is at his old high school, trying to secure a teaching job when suddenly, someone comes in and starts shooting up the place. Peter changes into Spider-Man and takes the shooter out only to realise that he's just a kid who was sick and tired of being bullied by the other kids at the school. As he's hauled off to jail, Peter grimly reflects that he could have easily turned out the same way.
In the Skin Deep story arc Peter's former classmate, who was mercilessly bullied at school, gets superpowers and after he sees two of his former tormentors mocking at him on TV he goes and kills them. In the end Spider-Man got him frozen, probably for the rest of his life. And he is conscious. Although after One More Day it's probably not in continuity anymore.
In Ultimate Spider-Man, Peter often mocks the even-more-pathetic-than-he-is-in-main-continuity Ultimate Shocker before beating him up with almost no effort. When Shocker gets lucky and knocks Peter out, he ties him up in a warehouse and tortures him slowly, as payback for all the times he was mocked. Interestingly, even though the guy is trying to kill him, Peter genuinely apologizes for being such a jerk after hearing Shocker's surprisingly sad Breaking Lecture.
In The Savage Dragon, there was a boy routinely bullied and abused by his parents until he woke up one day with superpowers that actually made him the most powerful being on Earth. One Roaring Rampage of Revenge later, and after sweeping aside most of the other heroes, The Dragon manages to talk him down and convince him not to make himself a thing to be feared by the world. Ironically, one of many instances when the character realistically acts like a cop first, and a super-powered bruiser second.
The early 1990s Marvel series Sleepwalker featured a nerdy psychology student who was regularly made fun of by his Jerk Jock enemy, who teased him about being a "dateless bookworm." When he gains superhuman powers after an accident involving Sleepwalker, he immediately gets revenge on the Jerk Jock by conjuring a gang of murderous warriors from his book on Greek Mythology to kill him. Ticking time bomb, anyone?
One story in The Authority story involved a monster that turned out to be an abused kid that woke up with unlimited shapeshifting powers.
One Joker's Asylum comic highlights this as the Penguin's MO. At one point, it shows how the Penguin subtly uses his influence to drive a man to suicide, simply because the man was laughing, and happened to look in the Penguin's direction.
Dr. Light started out as the butt-monkey of the villain world, but then he rapes Elongated Man's wife. He was later retconned into always being that way.
In some Italian stories Donald Duck has a secret identity as Paperinik il Diabolico Vendicatore (Diabolico Vendicatore being Italian for Devilish Avenger). While he's sometimes portrayed as a more light-hearted superhero, other stories make clear it's actually about showing up everyone who laughs at Donald (he even conned Gladstone in thinking that Donald cursed him into being unlucky, and showed as Donald to get paid for taking the curse away), with the criminals fitting it due them taking the easy way in life (the very first story has Paperinik stealing Scrooge's mattress while he's sleeping on it because stealing the sacks of money in the same room would have been too easy. Just to make clear that if he ever decided to become a thief nothing and noone could stop him since the beginning).
Combined with Then Let Me Be Evil, this is very much the case with Harry in the AU fic Heir. After putting up with the Dursley's abuse (which is NOTPlayed for Laughs), and with a little goading from the voice of the Tom Riddle Horcrux in his mind, Harry decides to really give them all a legitimate reason to fear his powers.
Film Critique from Patch's Gaiden Story chose some of his victims because they'd laughed at him before he'd found the Shard of Laughter and went From Nobody to Nightmare. Of course, a lot of them were just innocent ponies he decided to bend to his will.
Set up to be the case in the ongoing Lost Girl story Change of State. After being abused and mistreated by the Light Fae for at least 7 years, Lauren is taken in by the Morrigan. She treats Lauren politely, and has another Fae slightly alter Lauren's memories/mind. This Fae (without ever outright lying) reminds Lauren of every time humans were needlessly cruel or ungrateful, how the Ligth Fae mistreated her (while reminding Lauren the Dark Fae haven't mistreated her), Dyson and Kenzi endlessly mocked and insulted her, and Bo constantly failed her. As a result, Lauren is just as brilliant, but is now a Torture TechnicianSocial Darwinist. At one point, she quite cheerfully comments to the Morrigan that she is capable of committing genocide.
This other Fae actually warns the Morrigan about this, saying Lauren wont take any abuse lying down. Which isn't to say Lauren is above having fun with it. After the Morrigan refers to Lauren as a dog once to often, she awakens the next morning restrained with a golden retriever (named Lauren Jr.) in her room, and peanut butter on her nether regions.
There are a lot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer stories out in fan fiction land which have Xander Harris be the Scooby the demons are most afraid of. Not Buffy, the Slayer's leader, nor Faith the Uncontrollable Slayer. Not Willow the all-powerful witch. Not Giles, who has an army of superpowered women at his command and is a sorcerer in his own right. The reason he's the most feared is two-fold: first, he has no visible means to power, yet survived fighting alongside the Slayer, so most demons figure he has to have some power, and that its very effective and difficult to detect. And second, its widely known that Willow once tried to destroy the world and it was Xander that stopped her. No one outside of the Scoobies knows how, and they aren't telling!
In Origin Story, this trope was basically Alex Harris's reaction to Tony Stark wanting to be nice and conciliatory after Alex put most of the Avengers and about a hundred SHIELD agents in the hospital.
Heroic example: Ash of Evil Dead makes good use of this trope during a chainsaw rampage, which includes cutting off his own possessed hand.
In A Room For Romeo Brass, after Gavin plays a prank on Morrell (tricking him into making an idiot of himself in front of Romeo's sister, who he is in love with), Morrell responds by threatening him with a knife, telling him he'll kill his family, and turning Gavin's best friend, the titular Romeo, against him. Later, after Romeo's sister rejects him, he not only turns on Romeo too, but unsuccessfully attempts to make good of his threats earlier in the film.
Subverted, however with Romeo's dad, who instantly sees the kind of guy that Morrell really is and immediately takes the piss out of him in their first meeting. Morell threatens to go 'dark' on him. Morell doesn't get the chance; later, when he's about to make good on his earlier threats against Gavin's family, Romeo's dad charges straight in, gives Morell a hiding he won't soon forget, and then sends Morrell (who is by this point crying like a toddler) away with his tail between his legs and the promise that if he ever shows his face around there again, then Romeo's dad really will kill him.
Kung Fu Hustle plays with this using the main character Sing. When he was a child, he tried to save a girl from bullies, only to be badly beaten up. As an adult, he intentionally becomes a thief and "tough guy" in an attempt to invoke this trope. Problem is, he's a horrible thief and everyone around him are Kung-Fu Masters, so he ends up as the Butt Monkey. When Sing manifests super-mega-Kung-Fu might however, the film subverts this. Rather then take revenge on everyone who laughed at him, as he claimed he was going to do throughout the film, he decides to be the good person he wanted to be as a child and becomes a gentle and forgiving man.
This is, in itself, the best revenge of all by dint of rising above the trope to live well.
Bound: Caesar both plays the trope straight and says the tag line almost verbatim. He also gets... ratheranimated while doing so.
Caesar: I'm a dead man, Johnnie? I'm a fucking dead man? Guess again, Johnnie. Who's the dead man? Who? Who's dead, fuckface? Who? Who? I can't hear you, Johnnie. Guess again. Take another guess, Johnnie. Take another fucking guess!"
The Running Man: This trope is invoked when the electricity-themed 'stalker' Dynamo, having been humiliated by Ben Richards and Amber in the game zone, has decided to get even by raping Amber when he comes upon her later. It's rather beautifully thrown back in his face:
Dynamo: Thought it was pretty funny back in the Zone, didn't you? What's the matter, bitch? Why aren't you laughing?
The horror film The Final is all about this: The bullying victims rounded up everyone who'd bullied them and put them through varying degrees of torture. Note that how poorly they were mistreated is open to interpretation. Emily, for example, hated the popular girls because they rebuffed her attempts at being friends. (And made some admittedly cruel jokes.)
The eponymous central character of Stephen King's Carrie was a nice girl who endured all of the abuse from her classmates and her mother until that incident with the pig's blood at her senior prom, at which point she promptly snapped and went on a telekinetic rampage that left the town of Chamberlain devastated.
Professor Snape plays with this, since he was bullied his attempts at revenge and betrayal ultimately lead him into remorse and to seek redemption. That said he spends his profession making the majority of Hogwart's pupils' studies hell.
Peter Pettigrew is another example, with Word of God confirming that his triumph over Sirius, whereby Faking the Dead he got Sirius locked up in Azkaban for years and framed him for betraying the Potters was this.
Another heroic example occurs in Flora's Dare. After having been through a series of harrowing misadventures, Flora learns that she had been played as an Unwitting Pawn by Lord Axacaya the whole time. What really sets her off though is when she gets bushwhacked by Springheel Jack, who intends to do all sorts of "fabulous things" to her.
Tweedledee, the diminutive Non-Action Big Bad of The Unholy Three tried his hardest thoughout his whole life to rise above the humiliation and bullying he received and be a good (even heroic) person in spite of it, but once he finally reached his Despair Event Horizon, he stopped caring, gave into his bitterness and his evil impulses, and - with his two friends - began a violent crime spree; this was all an effort to stroke his ego by convincing himself that he was capable of elaborate, grusome murders and was someone to be feared rather than mocked.
This is slightly downplayed in the Lon Chaney movie adaptations where Tweedledee - while still driven to a life of crime by mockery - is more interested in making money than in getting even with society (but is still more than willing to commit murder).
Luduschka the Ogre in Sukhinov's Emerald City tales. As a child, he was clumsy, lazy and dumb. Now he is using this image to trap people. He even gets back at Corina later on.
Captain Underpants: Professor Poopypants became a supervillain because he was sick of people making fun of his name.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Walder Frey claims this is his motivation for the Red Wedding, which results in the deaths of King Robb Stark, his mother Catelyn and most of their bannermen because everyone was always looking down on him, such as Hoster Tully calling him "The Late Lord Frey" after he showed up late to the Battle of the Trident and various people mocking him for his succession of wives, but the most recent slight was Robb marrying someone else when he had promised to wed one of Walder's daughters in exchange for their alliance. The TV series makes this especially obvious.
The 'Late Walder Frey,' old Tully called me, because I didn't get my men to the Trident in time for the battle. He thought he was witty. Look at us now, Tully! You're dead. Your daughter's dead. Your grandson's dead. Your son spent his wedding night in a dungeon... And I'm lord of Riverrun. Heh heh heh.
Arguably this could be Littlefinger's entire motivation for starting the devastating War of the Five Kings as a form of revenge for certain humiliating and traumatic events that took place during his childhood at Riverrun.
Raistlin Majere from Dragonlance has this as part of his initial motivation to make a Face-Heel Turn. He then outgrows these feelings and moves on to far greater plans and far bigger targets.
They laughed when I said I wanted to be a comedian. Well... they're not laughing now!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In one season 1 episode, a girl who was ignored by everyone in the school becomes invisible as a result, and decides to take revenge on Cordelia. Then she gets taken away by government agents and apparently becomes a government assassin.
Even early Spike counts in this category. In flashbacks to his life when he was human it is revealed that he was a total Woobie when he was alive. He was kind, romantic poet, and he was looking after his ill mother. He was also taunted by his peers and rejected by everyone else. After he becomes a vampire and Angelus and Drucilla influence him he becomes one of the most feared vampires out there. He even uses one of his peer's old taunts like "We call him William the Bloody after his bloody awful poems." "I would rather have a railway spike through my head than listen to that." In Spike's first episode in season 2 of Buffy it is revealed that He got his name Spike from torturing his victims with railway spikes, and "William the Bloody" came to refer to carnage he left in his wake. This is obviously a reaction to old humiliations.
Criminal Minds: The unsub in the episode "Elephant's Memory" is a badly bullied kid who snaps and goes on a killing spree of everyone who's ever wronged him.
Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: Obnoxious, Scrappy lab rat Stuckey has been catching hell all season by Stabler and his senior lab partnernote (yelling "we've got a dead body here!!", in public, where a child is buried, in Stabler's presence is edging into Too Dumb to Live territory), but it comes to a head after a small error allows a serial killer to go free and he gets mocked and yelled at by a bunch of people, including the killer himself. Stuckey then kills an innocent to plant evidence and get a second chance at the killer, then kills the lawyer, almost kills the judge, kills his lab partner and tortures Stabler for a bit. Were it not for the arrival of Olivia and Stuckey's feelings for her....
NCIS: Heroic example. In the episode "Deception," McGee chats with a teenaged Jerk Jock suspect about how much fun it is to taunt the geeks and nerds, giving them wedgies, shoving them into lockers, and making their lives a living hell. As the jock loosens up and starts laughing and agreeing, McGee reveals that he had been one of those geeks all through high school, and had always been tormented by the jocks, but guess what? McGee has the upper hand now.
The Office (US): Referenced when Dwight pepper-sprays Roy who is about to attack Jim. Unfortunately, Dwight ends up spraying not just Roy, but also Jim, Pam, and himself. With tears rolling down his face, he states that he was mocked for bringing pepper spray to work, but "who's laughing now?"
Revolution: In "Nobody's Fault But Mine", Tom Neville launches into this sort of speech with Aaron Pittman. He practically accuses Aaron of being a rich boy who bullied workers huddled in their cubicles. It's not clear if Aaron really was that type of person or if Neville simply equates every rich CEO with the Jerkass boss who fired Neville shortly before the blackout.
Suits: When Hardman makes Louis a Senior Partner, Jessica and Harvey try to woo him to their side. Instead, he lashes out at both of them for the past five years when he received only the most limited recognition of his accomplishments while the favored Harvey rose to Senior Partner first. When Hardman takes control of the firm, Louis becomes his attack dog and nearly gets Harvey fired.
Teen Wolf: Zig-Zagging Trope with Isaac and Erica. They don't seem to channel their anger at those who tormented them once they turn to werewolves. Then they reveal they DO have grievance they want to rectify, but only act on them opportunistically.
A song written by Parry Gripp is entitled Who's Laughing Now?
The Coheed and Cambria song Apollo II: The Telling Truth mentions this trope in the lyrics. It involves The Writer losing it and taking out his anger at his ex-girlfriend on the character he based off of her.
"So come on bitch, Why aren't you laughing now? You left me here to fend on my own. So cry on bitch, Why aren't you laughing now?"
"Superhero" by the band Trocadero (best known for the Red vs. Blue CD) includes the line "Your days calling me freak are numbered / Don't bother with surrender."
"Teenagers" by My Chemical Romance has: "The boys and girls in the clique / The awful names that they stick / You're never gonna fit in much, kid / But if you're troubled and hurt / What you got under your shirt / Will make them pay for the things that they did"
"The Future Soon" by Jonathan Coulton is about how the singer is laughed at now, but one day when he's grown up and it's the future take over the world with his legions of killer robots and show them all.
"Getting Scared" by Imogen Heap is from the point of view of a victim who's completely snapped and taking their nasty revenge.
Yeah you're getting scared now, piggy, Go ahead and squeal It sounds so nice from where I'm standing
"Lunchbox" by Marilyn Manson which is about a bullying victim who uses his metal lunchbox as a weapon on the playground:
The big bully try to stick his finger in my chest Try to tell me, tell me he's the best But I don't really give a good goddamn cause I got my lunchbox and I'm armed real well
Michael Jackson's "Bad" also seems worth mentioning. (Most likely sequencing "Beat It")
Eric Young's Face-Heel Turn in TNA in 2009 is a textbook Who's Laughing Now. Young was a comedy character for much of his run in TNA, and eventually began to perceive himself as the Butt Monkey of the company, especially when he joined the Front Line and dumped many of the comedy aspects of the character. Eric's inability to get title shots and opportunities for whatever reason resulted in him forming the World Elite faction, a group of Anti-AmericanForeign Wrestling Heels who believe their perceived lack of success and popularity is because they were not born in the United States.
Has happened pretty often in WWE in an attempt to give a comedy character a bigger push by making them "more serious" notably with Rikishi (went from dancing with Too Cool to running over Stone Cold), Gregory Helms (originally a superhero parody) and most recently with R-Truth (originally rapped his way to the ring). Nine times out of ten, it doesn't work.
Molly Holly in 2003. After spending 2002 as a Butt Monkey (thanks to WWE's insane idea that the best way to get her over as a villain was to have everyone call her "fat-ass"), she regained the Women's Championship, drafted Gail Kim to be her mook and unleashed hell on Trish Stratus, who initiated the verbal abuse in the storyline. Sadly, it didn't last. In 2004, she reverted back to her Butt Monkey status after getting her head shaved at WrestleMania 20.
Subverted with Santino Marella, who was a comedy face but was turned heel and still kept his comedy status. He got so popular they turned him back face and he Took a Level in Badass, even winning the Tag Team Titles.
The reaction of John Cena when Triple H thought it was finny to tease Cena about his failure at a rematch Randy Orton at the 2014 despite the “no interferences” cause, which only applied to The Authority not the group who did. However, is this so? Triple H forgot about the DQ rule still applied in the 6-man tag match against The Shield when it happened again. The twomen on Cena’s team.
In a meta example, in Warhammer 40,000, Imperial Guard players had this reaction after years of being a Butt Monkey in both the fluff and the game rules and getting some really good codices.
The Iron Warriors legion turned traitor because of this. They became amongst the most bitter and hateful entities in the franchise after being used during the most hellish sieges of the Great Crusade, or relegated to garrison duty - in some cases ten-man squads of Iron Warriors were expected to maintain order on entire worlds. During the Horus Heresy they sided with the other traitors, and took particular, vicious glee in dismantling the defenses of the Imperial Palace.
This is the primary motivation for Gretchin to volunteer for implantation within a Killa Kan - that, and not having actually witnessed the process. New Killa Kans tend to go on a rampage and take revenge on the Orks who formerly mistreated them. The rest of the greenskins find this hilarious, and the activation of a new batch of Kans tends to have a festival atmosphere.
Exalted: The Primordial War is Autochthon's one huge Who's Laughing Now? moment. After aeons of being the Butt Monkey amongst "fellow" titans, he eventually had enough and made the Exaltation to massacre the gigantic dicks. Moral of the story: don't piss off the shy genius.
This is the main reason why the Gruul Clans from Magic The Gathering are so violent. The guild was originally created to protect the environment of Ravnica, but after it was destroyed save for a few pockets of wild for the sake of city expansion, the members of the guild were no longer treated like citizens and instead are treated as slaves. This made the Gruul Clans vengeful towards anything that has to do with Ravnican civilization and more then willing to raid and destroy the city to reclaim land for the wild and themselves.
In BattleTech, the Urbanmech has long been considered to be one of, if not the worst canon Battlemech every made. In one book, it was given a variant that mounted an Arrow IV Missile Artillery variant that, it was immediately pointed out, was capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
In 8-Bit Theater, White Mage (after having her world view invalidated) tries to be evil before a couple panels. She turns back because, it turns out, she doesn't like hurting people. And she's really bad at it, unless the inflicting of pain is directed upon Black Mage, usually in response to one of his questionable come-on lines. On the other hand, Onion Kid manages to pull a Who's Laughing Now with a bit more success.
In Author Space, Cream the Rabbit was used as the Butt Monkey for a long time, until episode 100, where she went loose in a giant Ride Armor suit that seemed to be invulnerable to all damage. After they beat up Cream, she goes back to her prior status.
In Vexxarr, after the titular character manages to convince the vegetable-based AI that's been trying to kill him that he's their supreme leader, he gets some incredibly creative revenge.
Eridan Ampora in Homestuck, although this is not the only reason for his Face-Heel Turn. (Heel Even Bigger Heel Turn?)
Also, Xykon to a degree. In Start of Darkness, every time he encounters a wizard, they take a moment to state that as a sorcerer, he is inferior to them. (To compare, a sorcerer develops magic naturally while a wizard has to study for it, likening a rubber mallet to a finely tuned watch.) Xykon's response each time is to kill the wizard.
In Worm, this is subverted by Taylor, whose descent into villainy the local heroes are largely responsible for, due to a combination of neglect, arrogance, and covering for the crimes of Shadow Stalker in her civilian identity. In spite of this, Taylor considers her career as a villain to be mostly her own doing:
Skitter:I’d say you have nobody to blame but yourselves for the fact that you have me to deal with, but I’m willing to admit I’m largely at fault for the decisions I made. You guys… you just greased the wheels, I suppose.
Lee Phillips from KateModern is constantly bullied by Gavin and Tariq, which is played for laughs. However, Gavin goes too far in "Subservient Lee", and Lee runs off with the software Gavin and Tariq were developing in the following video, "The Leak". Lee only becomes an enemy of Gavin and Tariq, on whom he wants revenge; he remains amiable enough towards the other characters, and is portrayed largely sympathetically from then on.
The character codenamed Aries at the Super Hero School Whateley Academy, in the Whateley Universe. He was bullied as a chubby kid who wasn't one of the townies. Then he got superpowers and went to Whateley, where he was bullied there for being a farm kid. However, his superpowers made him tall and handsome, as well as super-strong and super-fast (for the Whateley Universe). After he stomped a group of bullies by himself, the Big Bad drafted him as the new bully. He's really enjoying it, as far as we can tell.
Recently, He's been mistreated by the bullies, causing him to ponder taking another route...Plus, he keeps getting recruited to aid the heroes.
Oh yes... As Fred Dagg said "If I ruled the world/Certain people would have to wake up their ideas"
The Columbine High shooters are sometimes falsely portrayed as this. Many other school shooters, both before and after, were this trope to a T. Most notably is the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter Seung Hui Cho. His videos that he mailed to NBC directly stated that this was his motive.
Countries often get a taste of this after being humiliated one time too many in the last war. Germany after WWI for example, was a broken nation, with the economy in shambles, the military in ruins, a new government forced upon the public, and national morale at an all time low. The victorious Allies were responsible for many of these, deliberately weakening Germany so that it could not rise up again like it did during the Great War. Unfortunately, the job was only half done, meaning enough to give cause for the German people to rally to gain vengeance, but not enough to actually cripple their ability to recover, and grow stronger than before. The results were, shall we say, unfortunate.
The only European state pressing hard for air strikes in Libya is France, which has no bitter memories of foolish support for the invasion of Iraq because France opposed that invasion. Who's a cheese-eating surrender monkey now, eh?
Before Sweden's game against England in the 2012 UEFA European Cup, the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet did a mock-up of the Daily Mirror's front page◊ anticipating a heavy England defeat. Predictably, the final score was 3-2 to England.
When Gaius Julius Caesar was a young man, he was once kidnapped and ransomed by pirates. During his captivity, Caesar told them that he will have them executed and they mocked him for what seemed a joke. However after being freed, Caesar assembled a fleet, captured the pirates and carried out his threat.
Italy had it bad before World War I and between the two wars:
Before World War I Italy was at the end of a series of humiliating defeats, namely getting their ass kicked by the Austrians in the Third Italian War of Independence (in the end Italy won because that war was merely the southern front of the Austro-Prussian War and the Prussians defeated the Austrians hard enough) and being the only European nation defeated by an African nation (technically, the British were too, but they came back and got even) during the Scramble for Africa. They then won the Italo-Turkish War to conquer modern-day Libya. This led to the collapse of Turkish power in the Balkans, triggered the two Balkan Wars and put Europe on the road to World War I. During that war, Italy attacked its erstwhile ally Austria-Hungary after its army had already been bled white on the fronts against Serbia and Russia, but suffered such losses that France and Britain had to bail the Italian army out; after the disaster of Caporetto (which brought Austria-Hungary back from the brink of collapse) over a quarter of a million French and British troops had to be brought to Italy to plug the gap. When the Austro-Hungarian monarchy was already unraveling and its high command was falling into chaos, Italy won the at first glance impressive victory of Vittorio Veneto (the Bollettino della Vittoria, the final war bullettin, even ends with the words "The remnants of what was one of the world's most powerful armies are climbing back in hopelessness and chaos up the valleys from which they had descended with boastful confidence" to invoke the trope).
Vittorio Veneto gave Italians a rather inflated sense of their own importance (they began to see Italy as a genuin major power), created a huge dissatisfaction with the results of the Paris Peace Conference and brought on a border conflict with its wartime ally Yugoslavia (formerly Serbia). Despite numbering among the victors and having expanded much further than could have been justified under the newly proclaimed principle of peoples' right to self-determination, they felt insufficiently appreciated by the major powers and thus began to act as if Italy was one of the losers of the war, which helped pave the road for the rise of Fascism and the establishment of a totalitarian regime a full decade before this happened in Germany or Austria. But people in Ethiopia and Republican Spain were definitely not laughing after being invaded by Italian forces...
During World War 2 Italy continued its pattern of either attacking small targets (Albania in 1939, Greece in 1941) or more serious ones when they were already down due to other powers (France and the British Empire in 1940, Russia in 1941) with disastrous results, soon being relegated to Nazi Germany's junior partner. Then in 1943 northern and central Italy was occupied and most of the Italian land forces were disarmed by Germany as soon as the Italian government switched sides. But for patriotic Italians this trope is still invoked by highlighting the role of the Italian Resistance, some getting so carried away that the way they tell it the actions of the Resistance (which bound about ten German divisions) were the decisive thing and the regular Allied forces advancing from the south and north merely a contributing factor. The trope is probably subverted, as even after the war the Italian armed forces of World War 2 tended to be looked down on by pretty much everybody outside Italy.
Machiavelli warned rulers against becoming victims of this trope. He wrote to never inflict "small injuries" against enemies because people will seek to avenge small injuries, but are unable to avenge large injuries. Kill or befriend, but never insult or humiliate. Similarly, his famous quote 'If one cannot be loved, be feared' often leaves off the last part of the quote, to 'avoid being hated,' to avoid what often happens when the people won't take it anymore.