A Windmill is a quite different creature from its distant cousin, the Strawman
Whereas a Strawman is a dumbed-down effigy of a real enemy or similar, a Windmill is not a real target at all. There is no real threat, and it might not even be capable of returning the animosity. The windmill doesn’t even have to exist to be efficient; much less does it have to consist of actual human beings. On the contrary: If they don't exist, then they can't deny the vicious accusations you raise against them.
There are at least three kinds of characters who are likely to lead the charge in a battle against windmills, but for very different reasons:
- Windmill Crusader, who believes his windmills to be actual threats. In the Ur-example, this is the belief that literal windmills actually are literal gigantic hostile humanoids. However, it’s normally meant metaphorically.
- The Manipulative Bastard who pretends that the windmill is a real threat. He does this to scare people into giving him power, to trick them into rewarding him for “keeping them safe” from something from which they don’t need protection, or to divert their attention from his own foul schemes.
- Any fanatic who needs excuses to make his beliefs socially relevant. This may be an overlap between the first two alternatives, since the fanatic is likely to honestly believe everything that doesn’t fit his narrow worldview to be actual threats as well as being hypocritical enough to lie and tell himself that it’s the only way to make people see the truth.
Compare Gravity Is Only a Theory
and Dead Unicorn Trope
. Contrast No Mere Windmill
for something that is not a windmill but gets mistaken for one. Compare and contrast The Scapegoat
. This character gets wrongly blamed for a real problem, while a windmill gets blamed for a problem that isn't real in itself—but might be used to explain away a real problem.
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Anime and Manga
- The "Cannon Fodder" short in Katsuhiro Otomo's Memories shows a society whose sole apparent motivation for life and development is to attack an unseen enemy using cannons.
- The creation of a Windmill Political is integral to the plot of Watchmen.
- While also playing it straight sometimes, Dilbert is famous for a deconstruction of this trope: Dogbert openly advises people to pick a harmless person and make him seem like a threat. Then destroy him, and have people reward you for saving you from the "threat". (The deconstruction part is that Dogbert is completely open and public with his cynicism, thus defeating the purpose.)
- In Ernie (also known as Piranha Club), Uncle Sid makes a lot of money selling insurance against black holes. (And no, the comic doesn't feature space travel or immortality, merely regular people living on Earth.)
- In Pearls Before Swine, the cynical Rat invokes this trope by campaigning against rainbows.
- In the Bone comic series, Phoney Bone does the Manipulative Bastard version of this: he convinces the people of Barrelhaven that they need to be protected from the (actually harmless) dragons, and capitalizes on his new role as the Dragon Slayer to win a bet.
- Parodied in Astérix in Spain, when one man the Gauls talk to charges, weapons ready, whenever windmills were mentioned.
- A boy walks past his neighbor's house and sees his neighbor spraying chemicals on his lawn. The boy asks his neighbor what the chemical is, and the neighbor replies, "Dinosaur-killing spray." The boy says, "But dinosaurs don't exist; they haven't existed for sixty-five million years." The neighbor retorts, "Well, then, the spray worked, didn't it?"
- Another joke in a similar vein: Jesus promised the end of all wicked people. Odin promised the end of all ice giants. I don't see many ice giants around.
- "Why do you use so much garlic in cooking?" "To keep vampires away." "I've never seen any vampires in the neighborhood." "Well, there you are!"
- Don Quixote is the Trope Namer as well as the ur-example. The main character mistakes literal windmills for literal gigantic hostile humanoids. Even when he is a deluded fanboy and not a politician, this trope really applies to Don Quixote. At Part I Chapter I, Don Quixote praises the giant Morgante, because he is the only good giant he has encountered in his chivalry books. All other giants are evil because “the giant breed which is always arrogant and ill-conditioned” Therefore, for a Knight, is perfectly honorable to attack giants without provocation, kill them all, and rob them of their possessions. The fact that Don Quixote at Part I, Chapter VIII, gets caught in one of the windmill sails could be interpreted by the reader as a funny event, a tragic failure, or the deserved fate of an HeroicSociopath wanabe.
At this point they came in sight of thirty forty windmills that there are on plain, and as soon as Don Quixote saw them he said to his squire, "Fortune is arranging matters for us better than we could have shaped our desires ourselves, for look there, friend Sancho Panza, where thirty or more monstrous giants present themselves, all of whom I mean to engage in battle and slay, and with whose spoils we shall begin to make our fortunes; for this is righteous warfare, and it is God's good service to sweep so evil a breed from off the face of the earth."
- In the YA novel The King of Dragons, the hero's father is a severe PTSD case of Windmill Crusader. His PTSD from military service causes him to believe that the government is out to get him and that terrible things will happen if he and his son are found by the authorities, so he gives the boy Survival Training from Hell. At the end of the book, the father is recovering, and tells his son, "I mistook molehills for mountains, but I taught you how to climb mountains."
- According to The Bermuda Triangle Mystery: Solved from 1975, the danger of The Bermuda Triangle is a simple hoax. There is no special danger associated with traveling in that area.
- In Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix, Harry and Dumbledore are assumed by the Ministry of Magic to be using this trope regarding Voldemort's return. As a result, this trope is ironically used against them in response.
- In Animal Farm, Farmer Jones, his spies, and eventually Snowball are all accused of being the source of all the farm's problems, long after Jones has apparently left the farm for good. The literal windmill, however is not.
- In 1984, Goldstein and the Brotherhood are known as La Résistance against the Party, but O'Brien suggests that they were invented to keep more control over the population and to identify dissidents.
- On the other hand, the same is true of Big Brother.
Winston: Does he exists as you and I exist?
- More than that, Oceania is perpetually at war with one of two other superpowers, and the populace is taught to hate and scorn whatever enemy they're currently opposing. Since the war never ends, it's implied the three nations have a gentleman's agreement of sorts to keep from fully beating each other, purely to keep the populace in line.
- In A Feast for Crows, Cersei Lannister becomes convinced that her new daughter-in-law Margaery and her family are plotting against her. Ironically, her attempts to destroy Margaery backfire spectacularly, resulting in her being imprisoned by the very same forces that she tried to sic on Margaery.
- In the BIONICLE novel Island of Doom, the villainous Piraka, use a Type 2 example in order to convince the Matoran that they're really the good guys, by using their powers to create a fake monster which they then "defeat."
Live Action TV
- In the Mini Series Remake of The Prisoner, Number 2 convinces the Village that black holes appearing everywhere are because people do not have enough pigs to provide stability, and encourages villagers to buy more pigs.
- Babylon 5:
- A heroic example. In a fourth season episode Sheridan creates an imaginary threat in the form of mysterious aliens who are invisible to all but the White Star fleet. He does this by, among other things, denying the existence of said invaders, and having Ivanova state on her news program that nothing at all happened in a particular region of space that day. All this serves to amp the alien ambassadors' normal paranoia Up to Eleven. Note that this isn't done to gain personal power, but rather to get the alien races to allow the White Star fleet to patrol their respective territories (and thus protect them from real threats), something they would never do normally because the afore-mentioned paranoia could cause them to assume ulterior motives.
- A more typical malevolent example also existed in the show, in that the Clark regime used various alien conspiracy theories as justification for their increasingly tyrannical policies.
- A Spitting Image sketch has the United States declaring war on broccoli because George H.W. Bush said he hates broccoli (and because the U.S.government was desperate to have some, any kind of enemy they could unite the American people against). Interestingly, Bush himself is portrayed as the Only Sane Man, objecting to the stupidity of it all. Then the whole thing is subverted when a broccoli suicide bomber smuggles itself into the white house.
- In Paranoia:
- The Commies started out this way; they'd disappeared long before Alpha Complex was built, but The Computer mistook civil defense files from 1957 as being up to date. Then some citizens became so fed up with The Computer that they decided to become the thing It hated most, even knowing nothing else about it.
- The International Workers of the World were founded by Troubleshooters who had been sent to infiltrate them, after several previous groups of Troubleshooters had been summarily executed for failing to find proof of the non-existent group. The Wobblies continue to be run entirely by Troubleshooters sent to infiltrate the organization.
- In Star Control, the Spathi live in fear of the Ultimate Evil. A race of beings so sneaky, they always stay just outside detection range of the Spathi's best scanners. This is clearly proof of their sinister intent.
- 90% of the bad stuff Loghain Mac Tir does over the course of Dragon Age: Origins he mentally justifies to himself as Shooting the Dog to protect Ferelden from an Orlesian invasion. Too bad Orlais just isn't that interested anymore, as opposed to the giant Darkspawn horde on his doorstep.
- Word of God states that Loghain's paranoia about Orlais isn't quite just a windmill. However, the Darkspawn were a more immediate problem.
- As the third game is apparently going to feature the machinations of Orlais, and how they are affected by both the way the first game featured the near-breaking of Ferelden before being saved by the Warden AND the fallout of Kirkwall's Templar/Mage civil war (which was also influenced by the events in the first game, namely the thousands of refugees displaced by the Darkspawn horde he let in), it seems like Loghain's overall fears became reality thanks primarily to his own actions.
- In this strip of DC Simpson's I Drew This, as shown in the page pic, some random moron firmly believe that broccoli is part of an evil plot to put a lawn gnome in the White House. Somebody disagrees, but a third party decides that since both positions have been presented with a straight face they must be treated as equally valid.
- In Kevin & Kell, a group of predators try to disguise the fact that they're controlling a Rabbit Council candidate by convincing rabbits that the real threat is rabbits whose ears point in the opposite direction.
- Congressman Arthur Bennett of But I'm a Cat Person tries to paint himself as tough on the threat posed by Beings. It's complicated by the fact that only about a hundred Beings exist in the world, and they're all incapable of harming humans. No wonder the only scary incidents he can point to are the ones he himself secretly caused.
- Al Gore's portrayal in South Park, in which he insists on the terrible threat Manbearpig (half man, half bear, half pig) poses to mankind — a biting satire, of course, of the real Gore and his activism against Global Warming. To this day, you can't mention him to anyone under thirty without hearing "MANBEARPIG" in response.
- In the game South Park: The Stick of Truth, you ultimately have to fight him after he finally goes off the deep end and thinks you are Manbearpig after spamming your Facebook with no answer. After you defeat him and his entire three-man Secret Service team, he ultimately returns having taken on the guise of Manbearpig in a bid to finally take you down.
- From The Simpsons:
Lisa: By your logic, I could claim this rock keeps tigers away.
Homer: How does it work?
Lisa: It doesn't work. It's just a stupid rock. But I don't see any tigers around. Do you?
Homer: Lisa, I want to buy your rock.