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Mental Handicap, Moral Deficiency

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A mentally handicapped person is portrayed as evil.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
AmbarSonofDeshar on Mar 9th 2018 at 9:59:54 PM
Last Edited By:
AmbarSonofDeshar on Mar 12th 2018 at 11:04:19 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

The intellectual counterpoint to the Evil Cripple and the inversion of Evil Genius, this character's morals are as repugnant as his mentality is limited. He might be diagnosed with a real life condition (however inaccurately) in-story, or it might be left deliberately vague, but either way, his intellectual disability and immorality go hand in hand.

There can be a number of reasons for this combination. Perhaps the character is so severely limited in his ability to understand what is and is not acceptable that he simply does not know any better. This can go double if he is surrounded by equally or even more malicious abled people who enable or encourage his behaviour. Perhaps he is angry at a world that ostracizes or rejects him because of his disability and lashes out because of this. Perhaps his evil and his handicap, at least in theory, have nothing to do with one another; you don't have to be a genius to be dangerous, and evil people come in all forms. Or perhaps the writer is simply "othering" people with nonstandard intellectual gifts; needless to say this trope, like Evil Cripple, can be terribly ablelist depending on how it's employed.

The trope can, and often does, overlap with Dumb Muscle, especially if the handicapped character is being manipulated or used by a relative, friend, or associate who does the actual planning. If this is the case, there's a decent chance that the smarter character in the Brains and Brawn duo is physically disabled in some way; writers enjoy pairing this character with the Evil Cripple. It can also easily overlap with Psychopathic Manchild, though the two should not be conflated with one another — Psychopathic Manchild is about a character who is emotionally stunted, while this trope concerns villainous characters with intellectual disabilities. It's not unusual for a character like this to also be portrayed as suffering some form of mental illness, and thus overlap with The Mentally Disturbed, Axe-Crazy, and Insane Equals Violent.

Compare Insane Equals Violent, Evil Cripple, Depraved Dwarf, Evil Albino, and Disability as an Excuse for Jerkassery. Contrast Evil Genius and Dumb Is Good. Should go without saying but No Real Life Examples, Please!.


Comic Books

  • Aquaman: For a brief moment in the early 2000s, longtime Aquaman nemesis and child murderer Black Manta was retconned into having a crippling case of autism. This resulted in the previously articulate and verbose Manta being reduced to a murderous drone who could only repeat the words "swim swim!" while trying to kill Aquaman. The writers actually went so far as to suggest that Manta's evil was a product of his autism, and that cured of it and his mental handicap, he might prove good. Aquaman proceeded to magically cure Manta, and was swiftly betrayed by the villain who revealed he'd always been evil—but the fact Aquaman thought it would work demonstrates that the King of the Seas apparently believes autism makes you a psychopath.
  • Arkham Asylum: Living Hell has Humpty Dumpty. A big, cheerful, affable man, Humphrey doesn't intend to be evil. Unfortunately, he is afflicted with a compulsion to fix anything that he perceives as broken, and decided that he learns best by taking things apart and then putting them back together, which resulted in him a destroying a train, an elevator, a clock tower, and eventually a vast swath of Gotham City's skyline before finally accidentally killing his abusive grandmother by trying to take her apart and put her back together.
  • Batman: Arkham inmate Amygdala is a gigantic man with the intellectual capacity of a five year old and tremendous brute strength, as well as a horrific temper. He's often manipulated into acting as muscle for other members of Batman's rogues gallery.
  • Superman: Bizarro was originally written as simply having an inverted sense of morality, and despite their broken speech patterns, the Bizarros of the Silver Age were often capable of feats that would require substantial intellect. In the modern era, however, Bizarro is more often than not written as a mentally disabled Superman, meaning well, but lacking the intellectual capability to follow through.

Film - Live Action

  • Friday the 13th: The scripts for the early Friday the 13th films present a young Jason Voorhees as a physically disfigured and mentally handicapped boy suffering from encephalitis. As an adult Jason, masking his condition with first a pillowcase and then a hockey mask, goes on to become a prolific serial killer and mass murderer.
  • The Hills Have Eyes (1977): Mercury, The Clan's lookout is portrayed as the mentally stunted "pet" of the family, speaking in a slow, thick voice, struggling with language, and generally being accepted as a source of amusement to his older, more competent, and more vicious brothers, Pluto (who courtesy of his actor's Hypohidrotic ectodermal dysplasia is physically handicapped) and Mars (the only one of Papa Jupiter's sons who isn't disabled in some fashion).
  • Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome has an antivillainous version in Master-Blaster a tag-team duo comprising the smart but dwarfed, Master and the hulking giant, Blaster, who suffers from Down's Syndrome and cannot survive Bartertown's ruthless society without Master's guidance. Blaster acts as Master's enforcer, enabling the two to rule Bartertown as tyrants, until Auntie Entity and Max spike their wheel.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Rictus Erectus, youngest son of Immortan Joe, is a towering seven foot giant with severe mental deficiencies that render him about intellectually equal to a prepubescent boy. He's also physically disabled, requiring an oxygen tank in order to breath, though this does not stop him from being an unstoppable fighter. As is often the with this trope, he's contrasted with his ill but mentally adept father, and especially his eldest brother, Corpus Colossus, who is highly intelligent but dwarfed due to brittle bone disease.
  • Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequels, spinoffs, and remakes have always portrayed iconic slasher Leatherface as intellectually disabled and submissive to his far more overtly malicious family members. He's mute save for his ability to make animal noises, communicates only by means of whichever mask he is wearing, and on at least one occasion is flat out described by another family member as "simple".


  • The Elenium: Adus is a physically disfigured and almost nonverbal killing machine, who suffers from berserk rages and enjoys killing and raping anyone he encounters. Despite the best efforts of his employer, Martel, Adus is barely literate, incapable of looking after his own hygiene, and utterly useless for any tasks that don't involve murder or immediate and straightforward violence. Alternately described as "frighteningly stupid," "barely human," and a "walking battleaxe", Adus is pretty clearly disabled in some fashion, even if the characters, living in a medieval Europe analogue, lack the language to describe him as such.

Live-Action TV

  • Criminal Minds:
    • Joe (no last name) from Season 3's "Damaged" was a mentally disabled killer who murdered the parents of one of his friends in a rage when the father struck him. Years after the murders he is arrested by the BAU when the carnival he works at returns to town.
    • Lucas Turner of Season 4 finale "To Hell and Back" suffered from both autism and "mild mental retardation" and was entirely under the thumb of his ruthless older brother Mason whom he'd accidentally crippled when they were younger. Kidnapping young women for the quadriplegic Mason, Lucas killed them with a hammer, then fed their bodies to the family's pigs while Mason watched.
    • Benjamin "Cy" Bradstone of Season 7's "Proof" was a severely intellectually disabled man who was also a psychopath and sexual sadist. Having been rejected by his sister-in-law after molesting her when they were teenagers, he stalks, disfigures, blinds, and murders women who remind him of her. He later graduates to not only blinding his victims, but taking away their senses of touch, taste, etc, with sulfuric acid, culminating in an assault on his niece that leaves her permanently mutilated.
  • Daredevil: In the comics Melvin "Gladiator" Potter was a mentally ill man who suffered from the delusional belief that he was a Roman gladiator and the Kingpin was his Emperor. In the show, Melvin was instead presented as mentally disabled, admitting to requiring help from his friend Betsy in order to tell right from wrong and living in fear of Kingpin, who had threatened to harm Betsy if Melvin didn't work for him. When Matt defeats Melvin in a fight and offers to save Betsy from Kingpin, Melvin, depicted as an Idiot Savant when it comes to clothing design, quickly switches sides and begins designing costumes for Matt.
  • Justified: Wade Messer, drug-dealer, drug addict, petty thief, and accessory to murder is described by Raylan as "a board certified imbecile" and his behaviour over the course of the show backs this up. His occasional confederate, erstwhile employer, and eventual murderer, alligator poacher and drug-runner Dewey Crowe, is in a similar boat, being scarcely literate, barely articulate, and unable to tell a good idea from a bad one even if it's explained to him at length. His cousin, Dilly Crowe, is even more impaired, and his brothers, Daryl Jr and Danny regard him as such an impediment to the family smuggling business that they eventually kill him.


Feedback: 23 replies

Mar 9th 2018 at 11:49:02 PM

Solid right out of the bat. Good job, OP.

  • Inverted with American Dad's Barry Robinson, whose normal self is an intelligent, manipulative criminal mastermind. He takes medications that retard his mind to prevent his evil side from coming out.

Mar 10th 2018 at 6:57:49 AM

^ I agree. Well done, OP. It does need some indexes, so I'll suggest a few:

Mar 10th 2018 at 8:05:54 AM

This looks like a solid and useful trope. Very nice.

Mar 10th 2018 at 9:01:26 AM

^^ Added No Real Life Examples Please to the description. Anybody else got any examples?

Mar 10th 2018 at 8:59:53 AM

Dumb Is Good fits better (Good Is Dumb is about heroic characters doing stupid things)

Mar 10th 2018 at 9:44:08 AM

  • Warhammer 40 K: Inverted with ogryn (Heavy Worlder subspecies of humanity) and the Unfleshed (the skinless result of a failed Chaos attempt to mass-produce Space Marines): both are hulking brutes with childlike intellects and personalities with unshakeable faith in the God Emperor and are firmly on the side of the Imperium. There are ogryn who've fallen to Chaos, but they're tricked into it by telling them the Emperor is angry at the loyalists.

Mar 10th 2018 at 2:14:06 PM

You might look at a previous YKTTW called Stupid But Dangerous Villain. It seems related, and it's possible the sponsor doesn't want it anymore.

Mar 10th 2018 at 3:09:16 PM

Mentally Evil Something...

Mar 10th 2018 at 4:29:14 PM

^^Not prepared to go there; let's not call the disabled "stupid".

Mar 10th 2018 at 5:09:48 PM

I don't remember all of what works were represented there; I just thought it might be helpful (for instance, it mentioned Doomsday while this YKTTW mentions Bizarro). I didn't mean to offend anybody.

Mar 10th 2018 at 5:21:10 PM

Also, regarding the Aquaman example, you may need to define carefully what you mean by "mental handicap" to differentiate this from Insane Equals Violent and other tropes of that nature. From what I understand, the autism spectrum don't necessarily indicate anything about one's intelligence, though it is said to make communication and interaction more of a challenge. This trope is about mental disabilities, seemingly ones that are separate from mental illness, so does the Black Manta example really belong here?

Mar 10th 2018 at 5:56:33 PM

I apologize if I offended anyone.

Mar 11th 2018 at 8:29:25 AM

^^...You just called autism an illness. Please don't do that.

Mar 11th 2018 at 10:58:14 PM

Comic Books

  • Played with in Arkham Asylum Living Hell with Humpty Dumpty. A big, cheerful, affable man, Humphrey doesn't intend to be evil. Unfortunately, he is afflicted with a compulsion to fix anything that he perceives as broken, and decided that he learns best by taking things apart and then putting them back together, which resulted in him a destroying a train, an elevator, a clock tower, and eventually a vast swath of Gotham City's skyline before finally accidentally killing his abusive grandmother by trying to take her apart and put her back together.

Mar 11th 2018 at 11:44:53 PM

^ Added, though it's not really playing with—as noted in the write-up, it's entirely possible the handicapped character doesn't know what is and is not acceptable.

Mar 12th 2018 at 4:36:28 AM

In case anyone is wondering, here is the Stupid But Dangerous Villain TLP. There doesn't seem to be any examples that mistake mental handicaps for stupidity.

A few more suggestions:

  • Mention Ambiguous Disorder somewhere, and/or pothole "deliberately vague" in the first paragraph to it.
  • Mention Hollywood Autism.
  • Add the "[[noreallife]]" markup to the page. Explicitly saying "No Real Life Examples Please" in addition to that is probably unnecessary (sorry about suggesting it in the first place — I seem to remember those disclaimers as more common than they actually are.)

Mar 12th 2018 at 6:34:46 AM

4x ^ I apologize for giving offense.

Mar 12th 2018 at 6:48:07 AM

Could it be 'a mentally handicapped person is portrayed as evil (or as being evil) BECAUSE of their disability' or something like that instead? Otherwise you run into the same problem that the Bury Your Gays page had, getting clogged with characters whose disabilities are unrelated to their moral choices. It's not good to assume bigotry on an author's part. Is 'he got killed off because the writers couldn't stomach having a gay character around' the same as 'he is gay and happened to get killed off'?

Mar 12th 2018 at 6:59:47 AM

  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2012 villain Ho Chan gained his supernatural powers when he tripped on a small rock and hit his head on a turtle. Historians also believe that the untreated head-injury is what turned him into a megalomaniacal, trigger-happy tyrant.

Mar 12th 2018 at 9:04:33 AM

^^You've missed the point of what makes Bury Your Guys problematic, and you've missed the point of what makes tropes like this one and its relatives (Evil Cripple et al) problematic. Things can be bigoted on their own, but they can also be bigoted in aggregate.

Mar 12th 2018 at 11:04:18 AM

Quick question: does the trope apply to "intellectual" villains or just brutish ones? Because Batman has a veritable minefield of those, with The Mad Hatter (usually a frail old man who uses mind-altering drugs) and the Riddler (usually a regular guy with gadgets setting death traps) both being implied, every now and then implied to be actually mentally ill (with Mad Hatter being schizophrenic and Riddler having OCD) and in dire need to medical help. Also within Batman there's Victor Zsasz, who's likewise vaguely schizophrenic, seeing all people as corpses trapped in life, and his killings as "freeing" them.

For a vaguer example there's Kraven in Kravens Last Hunt, who is strongly implied (and shows many traits of being) mentally ill in some sense, particularly given his recurring audiovisual hallucinations, constant feeling of alienation and detachment towards the world, volatile emotions and the Arc Words of "they said my mother was insane" (his mother having been interned in a psychiatric hospital in his backstory and later committed suicide).