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Why We Can't Have Nice Things
"My mom was one of those angry moms that gets mad at absolutely everything. Once when I was little I knocked a Flintstones glass off the kitchen table and my mom said, 'Well, DAMMIT, we can't have nice things!'"
Paula Poundstone

Imagine things are just going great. Maybe the world is at peace; there are no warring factions. Everybody gets along and there is No Poverty or disease or anything else that sucks. Then some asshole has to come along and ruin it for everybody else.

This is why we can't have nice things.

You've probably heard your mother say this once or twice. This Stock Phrase turns up whenever clumsiness or stupidity once again wrecks something, especially something monetarily valuable or precious. It can also be applied to plans, historically significant things, or emotionally significant things. It's not limited to tangible objects, however.

This trope refers to the act itself and not the perpetrator, however in most cases the "crime" needs to actually have a sentient perpetrator in order to qualify. Crappy situations which are inherent and are naturally occurring with no definable source of blame on an entity or a group of entities do not count; it needs a scapegoat. Usually the destructive saviors belong to this trope because after every battle what used to be full of objects now looks like a wasteland.

A few common scenarios when it comes to Why We Can't Have Nice Things that aren't limited to tangible objects:

1) The perpetrator is selfish and/or malicious, with the full intention of ruining everyone's fun.

Example: Everybody always goes out on Friday night to have fun with their friends. Bob, however, does not have any friends and is extremely jealous. Bob decides to commit vandalism and general mayhem, which in turn causes the enactment of a curfew for everybody.

2) The perpetrator is selfish and/or malicious, but largely ignorant of the full extent of damage their actions will cause.

Example: Vampires and werewolves are at peace with one another. Bob the werewolf is dating Alice, the princess of vampires, but one day decides to have an affair with Carol the werewolf. Alice, the beloved princess, decides to commit suicide in a fit of despair. I'm sure you can guess what happens next.

3) The perpetrator is either ignorant of the outcome or innocent, instead thinking they are doing what they consider to be the right thing. This largely depends on perspective, as you'll see in the example — because what is considered fun or nice to one person, may not be felt the same way by another. In fact, this disruption might be a godsend.

Example: Bob and Alice routinely make fun of Suzanne behind the teacher's back. Carol notices and decides to tell the teacher, who in turn punishes Bob and Alice and prevents future occurrences that are at Suzanne's expense. Bob and Alice's fun has been ruined.

Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things is a subtrope, when the "nice things" in question are relationships with the artist. See also Bloodstained Glass Windows, Rushmore Refacement, Broken Treasure, Priceless Ming Vase, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, What the Hell, Hero?, Status Quo Is God, Monumental Damage, Watch the Paint Job, and The Precious, Precious Car. Might overlap with Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Tends to lead into Cycle of Revenge.

Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • One of the Japanese Transformers incarnations had an archaeologist beg Optimus to avoid destroying the digging site. Guess what Optimus and the others did to it.
  • Averted in One Piece, wherein the Archaeologist Lady of War Nico Robin refuses to fight in a ruined city so as not to damage anything, and has to flee to a safer place as a result. When the leader of the enemy Mooks traps her into such a confrontation, thus triggering one of Robin's very few Berserk Buttons, it gets... ugly.
  • During his introduction episodes, Death the Kid ended up destroying an entire pyramid by accident. It was symmetrical, but the pharaoh living there, on the other hand...
  • Shigure can't even have a door.
  • The Phantomhive house staff in Black Butler, excluding Sebastian, often does more damage than they're supposedly worth. The maid constantly breaks things and mixes up wood and shoe polish, the chef can't do anything but burn food and cause explosions, and the gardener frequently mixes up fertilizer and herbicide. There's a reason Ciel keeps them around, though...
  • In Dominion Tank Police, Buaku and the Puma Sisters break into a museum vault to steal a priceless painting kept there temporarily. The painting's owner has hired a merc squad to protect it. Said mercs apparently see no problem with using automatic weapons in an enclosed space filled with priceless artifacts.
  • In the .hack series, the Crimson Knights used to regulate Player Killing by hunting down infamous PKers and punishing them, sometimes working with CC Corp to punish PKers that killed players by cheating. When the Crimson Knights fell apart, PKing got so ridiculously out of hand that CC Corp was forced to remove the mechanic entirely (paving the way for a lack of PKers in the first video game quadrilogy), making it an odd in-universe example of Why The Fandom Cant Have Nice Things.

    Film 
  • The Trope namer
  • Godzilla has the habit of destroying various landmarks in Tokyo, both historic and modern.
  • James Bond
    • Bond fights a bad guy in an Italian glass museum in Moonraker. There had been a tour through the museum earlier, just to establish exactly how priceless each piece was. It goes like you'd expect.
    • Averted in Dr. No: "That's a Dom Perignon '55, it would be a pity to break it."
  • Jackie Chan has subversions in several of his movies. Somebody tosses a Priceless Ming Vase at him. He knows it's priceless. And so he spends the entire fight beating up the bad guy while doing aerobatics with his own body and the vase so it doesn't break. It's a martial arts prowess Dish Dash, essentially. And when the fight is over, he puts the vase back. And, in a Double Subversion, it gets shot.
  • Inverted in The Da Vinci Code, where the heroes escape from the Louvre by holding a priceless painting hostage.
    • In the screen sequel Angels and Demons, Langdon and Vetra are out of time, and rip out a page of the priceless Diagramma to take along with them.
  • Mars Attacks!! has the aliens destroying Earth's landmarks for giggles.
  • Played with in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Henry Jones inadvertently brains his son with what appeared to be a Ming dynasty vase. He was initially more concerned about the loss of the artifact than the damage to Indy's skull (hey, he is an archaeologist), but on closer examination was relieved to discover it was a fake.
  • Parodied in Team America. The titular team blows up all sorts of important landmarks every time they face off against the villains.
  • In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage has to steal the Declaration of Independence to prevent the villain from getting his mitts on it. Throughout the movie, he treats the document with due respect and at the end of the movie returns it to the authorities, none the worse for wear. There's an awesome scene where he's holding the Declaration, in its frame, and the bad guys break in and seem him just about to get in the elevator. Shaw shoots him in the chest. Luckily, as previously mentioned, the Declaration is under bulletproof glass, and Ben gets into the elevator, smirking.
  • In Iron Man, during one of the rocket boot tests, Tony ended up landing on one of his very nice cars. Everyone with a remote interest in cars cringed.
    Stark: OK, this is where I don't wanna be. Not the car, not the car!
    • Later in the movie, he overestimates the structural integrity of his house's roof after coming home from a successful Mk 2 suit flight test, crashes through the upper floor, through a grand piano, through the lower floor, and butt-first right onto the car he singed earlier during his boot/gauntlet flight test. After one of his barely competent helper bots sprays him down with fire retardant, he just slowly lays his head on the wreck out of tired exasperation.
  • In the rebooted The Pink Panther film, Clouseau is questioning a wealthy casino owner named Raymond Laroque in his home. He asks to look at Laroque's vases and accidentally gets his hands stuck in them. Just before leaving, he asks Laroque if they're real. Laroque tells him they're worthless fakes. Satisfied, Clouseau tries to smash them on a table, breaking the table. As he leaves, a horrified Laroque mumbles that the desk was priceless.

     Literature 
  • In Red Phoenix, the Ace Pilot and his civilian Love Interest are sightseeing in Korea, and they visit a centuries-old fortress, which is marked with damage from being used as a defensive position in the Korean War. The woman laments that such a historic place had to be damaged in such a way, and the pilot points out that was pretty much the fortress's designed purpose.
  • The point of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Only instead of the selfish people being villains, it's the unselfish. It plays out like this, all the great inventors of the story have had socialist types try to restrict how they spent their inventions, or force them to share profits with those who did no work. What do they do? They leave, letting those people try to run things without them.
    • Except they don't just leave, they take everything they built with them. They designed the railroads, the factories, everything we need for civilization, and they destroy it when they leave. No, the villains of the story are the selfish people.

     Live Action TV  
  • The Doctor in the Doctor Who serial "City of Death", with a big black marker.
    • Subverted in the same serial when Duggan is about to smash a chair over the butler's head.
      "Duggan, what are you doing? Put it down! For heaven's sake, that's a Louis Quinze!"
  • In the Angel episode "Disharmony", vampire Harmony rips a page out of an ancient book to dispose of her gum, causing Wesley to flip out.
    Wesley: What are you doing?!?! This book is 12 centuries old!!
    Harmony: Okay, so it's not like I messed up a new one.
  • One of Harry Hill's sketch shows has the Brigadier from Doctor Who bringing a cut-crystal bowl to UNIT HQ, only for a Cyberman to blunder into him and smash it: the Brig complains "You can't have anything nice around here."
  • Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined)
    • The final episode of the first season features a shootout between Starbuck and a Cylon in a museum on Caprica, destroying plenty of priceless artifacts in the process. This is made even worse by the fact that due to the fact that Caprica's been nuked to hell at the beginning of the series, this might be the only museum of its kind in the entire world that's still standing.
    • Through the early seasons, Captain Adama was working on a model sailing ship, but after an incident, he took out his anger by slamming his fist into it. The problem was that this was an ad lib by actor Edward James Olmos, who thought it was just a prop they provided him. It turned out to be a relatively valuable model lent to the production. Thankfully, it was insured.
  • This line is used occasionally by MythBusters after they've blown up a car, or any other expensive machinery they've gotten their hands on. Considering that it's implied they often have to go to great lengths to acquire certain vehicles (for example, when the only snow plow they could find for a myth was one that was broken and a nightmare to fix), it's surprising this isn't said more often.
  • Martial Law, created by and starring Jackie Chan's friend and frequent director Sammo Hung, once had the main character, who has a Jackie Chan-inspired fighting style, pose as an art fence trying to to sell a Ming vase. Da Chief is with two detectives outside in the van, and he points out that the suspect is going to be able to tell it's not a real vase. The two detectives say it is a real vase, and Da Chief goes Oh Crap as he realizes what might be about to happen. They all rush inside to save the vase, but a fight has already started. At the end of the scene, Sammo tosses the vase to Da Chief with a jaunty "See? No damage!" (Outtakes where the actor flubbed the catch reveal they had a crew member on the floor for just that possibility.)
  • For Jon Stewart, Barbie dolls potentially being used by pedophiles.
  • In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Robert get into a hilarious fight that involves Bugles, an ugly sweater, and a lamp at Frank and Marie's house. Said parents walk in in the middle of the fight. Marie notices the broken lamp and quotes the trope.
  • In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pearl quotes the trope after she has a couch temporarily moved into the Satellite of Love, only to watch Mike and the 'bots bounce around and squeeze juice boxes on it. The film for the episode — Hobgoblins — is how she punishes them.
  • And in Outlaw of Gor, Mike, Crow and Tom are good-naturedly "roughhousing", until Mike throws Tom up in the air, he gets stuck in the ceiling and crashes to the deck. Gypsy says "This is why we can't have nice things" and moves off.
    • In The Movie, while watching This Island Earth, a character complains about blowing out some electronic components, and Mike quips "Oh, we can't have nice things!".
  • For the first five seasons of Canada's Worst Driver, the creators received hundreds of letters from fans begging the show to stop destroying classic cars in the weekly trials. For the sixth season they destroyed a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. Cue the tears of a nation of car lovers.
    • They drove the point across even further by introducing the car at the beginning of every weekly challenge with zoom-ins and beauty shots of the progressively worse shape of the car, torn-off bumpers and all.

     Newspaper Comics  
  • In one Get Fuzzy cartoon, Bucky breaks a baseball player figurine presumably owned by Satchel. In typical Bucky fashion he wasn't even being clumsy; he just knocked it over because he didn't like the way it was 'looking at him.' Satchel is clearly upset. Rob tells the cat and dog that "See. This is why we can't have nice things."

    Theatre 
  • The characters in the musical On the Town (and its somewhat different film version) take a trip to the Museum of Natural History, which ends with them demolishing a dinosaur skeleton.

    Video Games 
  • The final shootout in Mafia happens in an art gallery (the whole level is actually called "Death of Art"), and a cop whom the protagonist later tells about this actually goes ballistic about how many art pieces were destroyed in it.
  • In Fallout 3, there are two related quests. Both involve going into the ruins of the Museum of American History to recover artifacts. You can either sell them to a group of slavers who have taken over the Lincoln Monument (and want to destroy them, so they won't be used to help rally slaves) or you can kill the lot of them so a group of former slaves can move in (they will also buy the artifacts off you, and enshrine them instead). Notably, one of the pieces of equipment you can find is Lincoln's Repeater, which is a pretty useful gun.
    • Also, in a way, the town of Megaton is the subject of this in "The Power of Atom" quest. The city of Megaton is a ramshackle, yet functional, bastion of humanity in the wastes, and is a monument to human survival, as it is a city built in the crater of an unexploded atomic bomb. And then you can decide to blow it up, and kill everyone in the town, for land magistrate Allistair Tennpenny because he finds it an eyesore, which just becomes even more petty once you realize that it's barely discernible in the first place.
  • The Chicago History Museum mission in John Woo's Stranglehold is all over this trope. Everything from dinosaurs to terracotta statues to lost pieces of architecture gets blown to hell by gunfire as Tequila fights to save Billie but she is killed on her father's orders by Tequila's former partner, Jerry.
  • In God of War Kratos gains experience for smashing things. This includes a lot of vases. The game is set in Ancient Greece. In his defense, they're not priceless antiques to him. On the other hand, he'd probably act just the same if they were.
  • They are priceless antiques in Tomb Raider: Underworld. That does not stop Lara casually kicking them to pieces to show off her legs in hopes of finding power-ups.
  • In the beginning of Uncharted 2, Nathan sneaks into a museum to steal an oil lamp containing a map to the next Plot Coupon. The first thing he does upon getting said lamp is smash it to pieces on the ground.
    • Humorously Sully says this phrase word for word during the ending of Uncharted 3. The nice thing that couldn't be had in question? An entire lost civilization.
  • In The Legend of Zelda series, the average player doesn't think twice about countless pieces of family heirloom pottery Link destroys in order to take people's money, as exemplified here.
  • In the first Medal of Honor game one of your missions takes place in an old salt mine where the nazis have stashed art and scultptures they've looted. Have fun wrecking them, the very thing you're supposed to be preventing the Nazis from doing.
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game, even more so than the movie series it's based on. Especially so in the Museum level, where the Proton Packs threaten to destroy priceless historical artifacts (unless the museum owners cunningly switched those artifacts with worthless replicas).

    Web Original 
  • In the sixth episode of Echo Chamber, Tom wears a Fun T-Shirt that says this, and depicts the Hindenberg crashing into the Titanic.
  • In one of the earliest stories in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, a team of supervillains invades the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History intent on stealing a crystal sculpture that had been dug up in Equador. Naturally, the battle between the bad guys and the good guys destroyed lots of irreplaceable artifacts, and ended with the leader of the villain team, an alien being called Shadowspawn getting away with the sculpture while his teammates were all captured. As soon as he could, Shadowspawn shattered the sculpture in order to free up the base, which was a powerful magical artifact and his target all along.

    Western Animation 
  • In a James Bond parody episode of Jackie Chan Adventures, Jackie presses the button to open the suitcase that transforms into a mini-plane so they can get away from the villain's evil lair, only to accidentally send it flying onto the air, alerting the Mooks to their presence.
  • The Critic. Franklin delights in destroying priceless art with a monster truck.
    Franklin: Take That Guernica!
    Franklin: Take That Birth of Man!
  • In an episode of Justice League, Superman punched his (invulnerable) opponent right through the Great Pyramid of Giza.
  • In the original Ben 10 in the course of the series — a single summer vacation: Ben and his family managed to destroy priceless artifacts in a Washington museum, burn that boat stuck at Niagara Falls, and blow up Mt. Rushmore. And wipe out an entire Mayan pyramid.
  • Kim Possible "Oh No Yono": When Monkeyfist breaks into a museum, he has his monkey ninja throw and attempt to drop valuable artifacts so that our heroes will have to catch them and he can get away.
    • Almost said word-for-word by Drakken when Shego and Green-Skinned Space Babe Warmonga got into a fight that resulted in a giant screen getting smashed.
  • Futurama:
    Mayor: Thank you, mysterious heroes! The value of the Gemerald you saved is slightly greater than the cost of the damage you caused to this museum: A net gain for our great city!
  • Taken seriously for once on Teen Titans. In one of Robin's nightmares, he fought Slade to prevent him from destroying several statues. He managed to subdue him, but Slade wasn't unhappy about it—"Everything you care about, you destroy." Robin looked around at the ruins of the statues, which suddenly bore the visages of his friends, then pulled off Slade's mask and saw his own laughing face.
  • Carefully averted by the Gargoyles. Demona flung a vase at Goliath, who caught it carefully, set it down, and then gave chase.
  • In the opening scenes of DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, Launchpad manages to land his plane without crashing (though it is upside-down). However, in doing so, he utterly demolishes several ancient ruins.
    Launchpad: Coulda been worse. It coulda been something new!
  • In a episode of Fairly OddParents, Timmy's Dad constantly says "Why can't I have nice things?!" after seeing all the stuff Timmy wished up from Wal-Mart the Wall-to-Wall Mart. He then starts saying this about everything else.
  • In Archer, episode "Job Offer", Malory Archer throws a hissy fit when her son leaves ISIS, breaking all the nice things in her office. (Pam: "And that's why she can't have nice things." Cheryl: "Either that or I steal them.") They use the line again at the end of the episode, and in the next one, Dial M for Mother, when Archer bleeds on the carpet.
    Malory: This is why we can't have nice things.
    Archer: Why? Because you keep shooting them?
    • The exact phrase was used as a running joke in Frisky Dingo. When the line cropped up again in Archer, a show with the same creators and writers, it may have been a cross-over gag. Not that it wasn't still funny.
  • In The Simpsons, Lisa uses the exact phrase when Homer decides the grammar robot she built for her science fair would like some beer.
  • In The Legend of Korra "A Leaf in the Wind", in a fit of frustration, Korra blows up a 2000-year old device for teaching airbending. Tenzin is appropriately horrified.
  • On Transformers G1, an idyllic meadow where wildflowers bloom and butterflies flutter is devastated when the Autobots and Decepticons start brawling over possession of a pool of electrum one of them discovered there.
    • Beast Wars Optimus Primal has a similar reaction to Rattrap's behavior:
    Optimus: I swear, I can't take you anywhere!
  • Lampshaded by Mikey himself in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)
    "You know I can't be trusted with nice things!"

    Webcomics 
  • Lampshaded and averted in this comic from the superhero arc of Dragon Tails, where Lemuel looks around the museum for something to throw at the heroes to slow them down while he runs away.
  • In the first installment of the "Journal" series in xkcd, someone remarks that "This is why we can't have nice people," after hearing about Black Hat Guy's latest work of evil.

    Real Life 
  • Part of the reason why photos of Osama bin Laden's corpse will not be released to the public is because of fears that it will be used as Garbage Post Kid bait.
    • The more internet savvy or just internet-visible have long been struggling to keep both good and bad material related to themselves off the internet due to GIFT. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't.
  • There are many people who own large stretches of wilderness, which they leave open to the public for outdoor activities... until one too many people leave big piles of litter, have loud parties late at night, tear up the ground with four-wheelers, etc, and next thing you know the NO TRESPASSING signs are up.
  • The September 11th terrorist attacks are the reason why security at airports and other major travel venues are so jacked up that the process of getting on board the plane can take longer than the actual flight.
  • Conflicts like World War II left a lot of this kind of thing.
  • Teachers in many schools may sometimes reward their class (candy, no homework, etc.) if the entire class is on their best behavior. There will usually be one or two children that misbehaves (usually out of ignorance and not ill will), causing the teacher to revoke the reward for the entire class, which also causes the class to now scowl at the troublemakers for screwing everyone out of the reward. This method of reward versus punishment tend to be very difficult to implement on very young children since they do not fully grasp the concept of consequences or how their actions can affect other people.
    • This one got a bit rougher when the crusade against bullying was in full-swing. Since the troublemaker ruined the chance for the entire class, if they weren't the bully themselves then often they'd be bullied for screwing it up. The natural shockwave of this was for most teachers to stop handing out class-wide rewards entirely.
    • This form of discipline is common enough in the armed forces as well, especially in training, leading many to make the cynical observation that the military takes a group of motivated adults, tasked with the responsibility of fighting to the death for their nation's interests, and treats them like a classroom full of schoolchildren. At least in the military, the reasoning can be made that one person's mistake (whether in combat, or while representing his unit or country when dealing with civilian populations) can cause widespread problems for everyone else, even without a reward at stake.
  • Ordering food on the internet (whether it's take out or groceries) is extremely convenient, but some people have abused online ordering by ordering only one item, like a stick of gum or one serving of french fries. In order to save on money being spent for gas, many establishments now impose a minimum delivery total to ensure that people order at least a few items so that time and gas isn't wasted.
  • Fast food restaurants used to be able to serve absurdly large serving sizes (for example, McDonald's's infamous Super Size) until people started to sue the fast food corporations for making them fat. Many eateries now don't go beyond the size of "large".
  • Food stores and supermarkets tend to give out free samples of a food product to entice the customer to buy said product. Usually, there is no limit on how many samples one person can take, so there will always be at least one guy that takes most or all of the samples for themselves and/or friends while leaving nothing for the next customer. The store responds by either cutting back on samples or stops giving them out completely in order to save on costs.
  • Areas and buildings that are historical are usually allowed to have tourists take a look at them for educational values. All it takes is one person to do something stupid, like defiling a piece of art or scribbling doodles in a 3000 year old Egyptian pyramid, that causes the staff to clamp down on how close people can get to the historical artifacts.
  • Midnight Rider, an infamously Troubled Production, may meet this fate due to the on-set death of Sarah Jones by train. Even Gregg Allman doesn't seem to want to share his story with moviegoers anymore due to the incident, which has been labelled an act of criminal negligence on the part of the filmmakers.

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alternative title(s): Why We Cannot Have Nice Things; Ptitle3w5au79hb9tv
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