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Corrupting Power Equals Corrupted Use

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A character is unable to use Phlebotinium for the benefit of mankind because said Phlebotinium is portrayed as being harmful or sinister.

This trope has been Nuked
Proposed By:
CelestiaCadenceLuna on Jan 1st 2018 at 2:50:18 PM
Last Edited By:
CelestiaCadenceLuna on Jan 17th 2018 at 6:53:18 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

When seeing an amazing power or technology in media, we often think how could it be used either for profit, to better mankind, or both.

The problem?

The author doesn't see it that way.

In this trope, said technology/power is constantly described and/or depicted as a corrupting, malevolent force, and thus the author wants us to know, loud and clear, that everyone is better off with it gone, regardless of the potential good uses the character could give it.


Anime and Manga


  • In The Tommyknockers, where alien probes enhanced the intelligence of several people in a small town. The enhanced geniuses could potentially improve several different fields (physics, biology, chemistry, engineering), but the newfound intelligence is consistently described in the book as a sinister, malevolent force.

Western Animation

  • In Adventure Time, the Ice King Crown could be used to either improve the field of medicine, or take care of harmful weather and natural disasters. It's even more potentially useful if you take into account the After the End setting. However, the Crown induces dementia-like madness on whoever wear it.

Feedback: 24 replies

Jan 1st 2018 at 3:31:28 PM

that is a terrible name.

Jan 1st 2018 at 4:16:04 PM

I know, I know.

I can't think of a better one.

Jan 1st 2018 at 5:02:59 PM

For the name, how about Arbitrarily Corrupting Power? It displays all the defining aspects of the trope, and is the play on Power Corrupts, which is probably a supertrope to this one.

Jan 1st 2018 at 6:45:39 PM

I found a better name for the trope.

It was The Tommyknockers that inspired me to try and launch this trope, hence why I originally launched it as "Stephen King Bounced Your Check".

"Arbitarily Corrupting Power" doesn't quite convey the point of the trope ("Cut Lex Luthor A Check is enforced because the power itself is depicted as too malevolent to be used for legal profit").

Jan 2nd 2018 at 12:37:56 AM

  • Corrected punctuation (added periods at the ends of sentences).
  • Examples section

Jan 12th 2018 at 9:06:35 AM

Using magic often runs into this problem in settings where Magic Is Evil.

Jan 12th 2018 at 10:04:05 AM

The Tommyknockers example needs rewritten to remove extraneous information.

Jan 12th 2018 at 11:21:22 AM

(Can't remember if this scene is in the book or just the movie.)


  • In The Fellowship Of The Ring, Gandalf balks at the suggestion that he take the One Ring from Frodo. He says he'd be tempted to use its power (which, him being Maiar like Sauron, would be far greater than mere invisibility) to do good, but the Ring would inevitably twist his intentions.

Jan 12th 2018 at 9:46:27 PM

In Universe example in Warhammer 40 K: One of the biggest debates in the Inquisition is the use of the Warp against the enemies of Man (the Radicals favor it, the Puritan are against it). Using psychic powers, daemonhosts and possessed weapons gets results much faster, but the user inevitably falls to Chaos. A similar but lower-scale debate revolves around the use of alien technology (viewed as heresy by the Adeptus Mechanicus) which can also lead to problems, not just with differently-minded Inquisitors but the device's original owners.

Jan 13th 2018 at 2:11:58 AM

Ok, I don't think you are quite getting the point of this trope.

This trope is meant to be a direct derivative to Cut Lex Luthor A Check. That's why I honestly like the old name, "Stephen King Bounced Your Check", better.

You need to approach this trope the exact same way you approach Cut Lex Luthor A Check...thinking of ways the Phlebotinium could be used to improve mankind. Not just "let's use this bad power for good".

Look, here's an example of what I'm talking about:

Supervillain: Delegates of the United Nations! I, Doctor X, bring you an ultimatum! Declare me supreme ruler of the Earth, or I shall unleash...THE TOFU RAY! Capable of turning anything into tofu at any range! Even as we speak, my superweapon has turned the Great Pyramids of Giza into tofu!

UN Representative 1: Egad! The Egyptian ambassador confirms it! The Pyramids are now tofu!

UN Representative 2: That much tofu will feed million of famine-stricken Africans for decades!

UN Representative: 3: Doctor X has ended world hunger!

Supervillain: No, wait! My inventions must not be used for good!

...this trope is when the tofu turns people into zombies, or disintegrates their internal organs, or it attracts a race of tofu-hating aliens who attack Earth.

So, Doctor X has no choice BUT to use his tofu ray as a weapon.

The Warhammer 40k and The Fellowship of the Ring examples are generic "use this for good" examples, not practical ways of using phlebotinum to improve mankind.

Jan 13th 2018 at 5:40:32 AM

^ So in this trope, is the thing used by the bad guys MUST be 100% bad that any good potential on using it is shot down automatically?

Jan 13th 2018 at 2:55:16 PM

Hitler Ate Sugar is "X topic of discussion is associated with a controversial real-life figure (usually either a criminal or a dictator), therefore X topic of discussion is bad or wrong".

This trope is "Cut Lex Luthor A Check is enforced because the Phlebotinum is written in a way that makes it unable to be used to help mankind".

Hitler Ate Sugar: "Jared Fogle was the spokesman for Subway, Fogle was convincted of molesting children, and that's why I think Subway sandwiches are wrong."

This trope: "With DC's Venom Formula, you could improve the world of sports, or at least give sickly people healthier bodies. Too bad Venom is usually written as eroding your mind to the point of losing your sanity and/or intelligence."

Jan 13th 2018 at 3:11:00 PM

^ - So, it might have some connection to Fantastic Aesop?

Like if there's in-universe reasoning to slant a thing negatively, but which may render any obvious moral or something, irrelevant?

Jan 13th 2018 at 3:26:17 PM

Look, this was made using The Tommyknockers as a linchpin.

Mainly, how my usual thought when the subject of the book comes out is "Man, the enhanced geniuses could use their newfound intelligence to revolutionize several scientific fields. Too bad said intelligence is portrayed as an insanity-inducing virus by evil alien conquerors".

It's not related to Fantastic Aesop since I doubt Stephen King wanted to have a "intelligence itself is evil" Aesop.

Jan 13th 2018 at 4:05:48 PM

^^Fantastic Aesop is when the Aesop only works in-story because of Speculative Fiction elements.

^In that case this is honestly just Writer On Board But More Specific, with a side dose of complaining. There IS the germ of a more general trope here about corruptive powers, though.

Jan 13th 2018 at 6:15:26 PM

^ Guess this is the case of "this can be written in an alternative way, but the concept itself is sound".

@ OP: What you described as Hitler Ate Sugar just confirms that it's an opposite of this trope. That trope says that anything good used by the bad guys is perceived as "bad" regardless of how bad it actually is, while this trope says that anything used by the bad guys is automatically bad.

Jan 14th 2018 at 6:18:05 AM

OP also doesn't understand what an Enforced Trope is. That's when out-of-story concerns lead to a trope being used, e.g. you get a Green Aesop because studio execs wanted to hang a fundraiser for Greenpeace on the episode.

Jan 14th 2018 at 4:53:14 PM

Cut Lex Luthor A Check is just as much of an Enforced Trope.

I don't see why so many people have issues with this trope as opposed to Cut Lex Luthor A Check.

This was meant as "Cut Lex Luthor A Check, but with an in-story explanation about WHY the villain doesn't use the technology for profit".

Jan 14th 2018 at 7:42:09 PM

^ You probably want to mean Justified Trope (or Invoked Trope) rather than Enforced Trope.

Jan 14th 2018 at 9:32:52 PM

Note that on The Tommyknockers a side-effect of the super-intelligence is that it turns people into having a Hair Trigger Temper (the titular aliens have blown up entire planets in their Disproportionate Retribution).

Jan 17th 2018 at 6:53:18 AM

Can we get a mod discard? This is at-best contentious and was made by a ban-evader.