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Weak Punishment

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Punishment that is weak compared to the crime committed.

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Fallingwater on May 13th 2011 at 3:33:23 AM
Last Edited By:
Arivne on Jun 14th 2018 at 3:20:31 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Smithers, for attempting to kill me, I'm giving you a 5% pay cut.
- Mr. Burns, from an Alternate Ending to Who Shot Mr. Burns

EDIT: This YKTTW was declared Up for Grabs by Madrugada, and I've decided to grab it. The former description (which for now I'll keep) seems to be more like a forum-post-esque description of an example than an actual trope description, so a counterpart for the latter is as follows.

An inverse of Disproportionate Retribution, this is when the punishment or retaliation is considerably milder than what one is being punished for.

Of course, whenever the punishment is different from the crime, whether it is disproportinate, a slap on the wrist, or almost equal is a matter of opinion, but stories stating in-universe, or even canonically, whether or not something is milder, are more than enough for this to be objective.

Former description is as follows.

While editing Altered Carbon, it came to mind that the most severe type of punishment in the books - that is, being frozen unconscious for decades - does not seem like too bad a punishment. Sure, you tend to lose most of the people who are dear to you, but once you're unfrozen - with no time for your mind to change - you can just go on rebuilding your life, maybe going immediately back to your evil ways if you so desire. Compared to actual prison, where you're actually conscious and alive for decades, it seems very weak.

I want to add this to the trope page (for that and other works that have similar situations), but I can't seem to find a proper trope for it. Suggestions? Do we really not have it?


Feedback: 37 replies

May 13th 2011 at 2:36:37 PM

Suggestion, rename this "Slap On The Wrist", for the Stock Phrase.

Note: We already have Death Is A Slap On The Wrist and Slap On The Wrist Nuke.

As for the punishment in Altered Carbon, it is a light long as there is no one else in the world you care about. Because they will be dead when you come back.

May 15th 2011 at 5:41:54 PM

I would, but I'd like to have a few more examples to add when/if I launch it. Any help? I can only think of Altered Carbon so far, but I imagine this happens fairly regularly in other works. If not, it's not deserving of a trope page...

May 15th 2011 at 9:21:06 PM

Harry Graham's Ruthless Rhymes (1900 and 1930) are fond of this, eg "Impetuous Samuel":

Sam had spirits naught could check,
And to-day, at breakfast, he
Broke his baby sister's neck,
So he shan't have jam for tea!

May 15th 2011 at 10:52:56 PM

Parody of Canadians in Lucky Luke. If memory serves, all the Daltons got for their robbery spree was a gentle scolding.

May 16th 2011 at 12:06:38 AM

Related to Karma Houdini

^ I'd have said subversion, but you're probably closer.

And since we have a trope for the inversion of this, making them Sister Tropes, a Snow Clone would be appropriate: Insufficient Retribution? Inadequate Retribution?

May 16th 2011 at 5:12:42 AM

Somewhat of a plot-point in DMFA, and the cause of much conflict between Beings (ordinary Petting Zoo People) and Creatures (monsters both humanoid and not, who believe that Might Makes Right), since any crime must be judged 'by a jury of their peers'. Resultingly, whenever a Creature commits some sort of unspeakable crime against Beings (such as EATING them, as they are wont to do, or destroying entire cities just to show off), their peers lets them off with a minor fine, and a nudge and a wink. This, meanwhile, is what gives rise to the burgeoning Adventurer-business - since Beings can't rely on justice, they instead rely on Badass Normal mercenaries or heroes to seek vengeance and stop rampaging Creatures.

May 16th 2011 at 8:42:44 AM

also agree with the "Slap on the Wrist" title

May 16th 2011 at 10:24:05 AM

Another vote for Slap On The Wrist. This would be a subtrope of Karma Houdini.

May 16th 2011 at 8:48:28 PM

Slap On The Wrist is a pre-existing term ... for precisely this.

May 18th 2011 at 12:58:08 PM

Slap On The Wrist sounds good to me. Slap On The Wrist Punishment might make it more clear though. YMMV.

May 19th 2011 at 3:17:09 AM

Slap On The Wrist is fine as-is, considering that it's a preexisting phrase and the connotations are obvious (i.e. "Despite how serious his crimes were, all he's getting is a...").

May 21st 2011 at 4:51:48 AM

Aaand here I come to ruin the consensus party. The Disproportionate Retribution trope doesn't quite match it's name; The phrase means 'A punishment that is not in proportion to the crime being punished'. That is, it should apply to both disproportionately severe and disproportionately weak punishments, but the trope only covers the first type. I suggest expanding Disproportionate Retribution to cover both things, instead of making a new trope for the weak kind.

May 21st 2011 at 7:41:43 AM

^ unless we're deciding to split it in two entirely. Trope Repair Shop discussion ahoy! This shouldn't be launched before the fate of DR is decided.

May 21st 2011 at 9:46:17 AM

Demolition Man has the worst criminals (and one cop) frozen until their eventual release.

May 24th 2011 at 2:45:26 PM

In one episode of The Brady Bunch Pete breaks a vase, but he's going on a camping trip and needs to escape punishment; so all the other kids take the blame instead. Mike & Carol realize what's going on, so in an Ironic Punishment Gambit they make Pete dole out the punishments - since he's the only one who didn't confess, he must not've done it, right? But the kids double-down on the parents by making up their own punishments, which turn out to be pretty lame, like Greg has to take Cindy to the zoo. Parents reject those punishments though so Peter has to make real punishments.

May 26th 2011 at 3:41:08 PM

Seems to related to Karma Houdini.

In the Ace Attorney series, Adrian Andrews is shown to have tampered with the scene of a murder and committed perjury during a murder trial, but seven months later you find that she has had a job for at least twenty days... as a security manager.

May 26th 2011 at 3:57:27 PM

  • The main character of Saw III, Jeff Reinhart, was pulled into Jigsaw's games because he couldn't let go of the death of his son. A large part of the reason Jeff couln't let go because the drunk driver that killed the boy only got a few months of jail time.

May 28th 2011 at 4:14:28 PM

  • 'Parodied' in real life. In England you can get community service for torturing someone. If they are disabled, anyway.

May 29th 2011 at 12:55:54 PM

No,, CAUP is basically about non conventional sentences one must do as a supposed punishment, wich may or not be pleasant for the "Punished" this one is about something that can barely count as punishments or that are not strong enough in relation to the commited crimes

May 30th 2011 at 10:00:21 AM

Additionally, Cool And Unusual Punishment is entertaining for the audience (hence the "cool" part of the title).

Jan 11th 2012 at 6:25:09 PM

Real Life

  • Adolf Hitler was convicted of high treason for attempting to overthrow the Bavarian government. However, he was given the minimum sentence of five years in prison, only one of which he served, and in a Luxury Prison Suite, too.

Mar 24th 2012 at 9:36:47 AM

Bumping. Can we run this to end.

Mar 24th 2012 at 9:55:17 AM

This is probably also related to Restrained Revenge as well.

This looks ready to launch, as long as the launcher tidies up the examples.

Jun 13th 2018 at 9:33:47 PM

^ that seems to be the exaggerated form of this, where the punishee actually likes the punishment.

Jun 14th 2018 at 1:22:15 AM

^ I thought so too, but people have talked in the forums that this can stand?

Jun 14th 2018 at 3:20:31 AM

Ciaphas Cain: Cain's first action as commissar of the newly-forged Valhallan 597th Regiment (made from the remains of two regiments with completely different specializations, not to mention genders) is to deal with the fallout of a Bar Brawl onboard a troopship that resulted in the death of several provosts, including one that was having a highly inappropriate affair with the ship's captain. Despite the captain wanting every one of them Thrown Out The Airlock, he manages to get most participants reduced to flogging and latrine duty (and they're actually thankful to him), but as for the actual killers, he has to settle for imprisoning them until there's a suicide mission in need of volunteers (as having them executed would have destroyed what little cohesion the regiment had left).