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Underling With An F In PR

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A character who doesn't care about how his deeds reflect on his superiors or allies.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
Chabal2 on Oct 8th 2018 at 8:52:37 AM
Last Edited By:
Chabal2 on Oct 19th 2018 at 7:24:43 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: trope

(alt title: Underling With An F In Public Relations)

An underling or ally (usually for a Villain with Good Publicity, Hero with Bad Publicity or other Slave to PR) who does not get that his boss' orders are meant to be carried out with secrecy and subtlety, that the pretense that the boss is good/reformed needs to be upheld in front of witnesses, or that just because the underling is Card Carrying Evil doesn't mean the boss is. Often prone to Stupid Evil, Euphemism Buster and Idiotic Partner Confession. Very likely to be the cause of a Beleaguered Boss.

A subtrope of Cringe Comedy. Often seen in conjunction with Instantly Proven Wrong (where the underling inadvertently contradicts his boss), Number Two for Brains or Overzealous Underling (where this is a result of the character's idiocy/overenthusiasm), Poisonous Friend (who will do dirty deeds behind their friend's back in order to support their cause), and Liar Revealed (where the underling's indifference to the need-to-know policy reveals his boss' machinations). The more intelligent villains may point out that At Least I Admit It when told off for not using code. Leave No Witnesses may ensue, depending on how many people heard the incriminating words.

Compare From the Mouths of Babes and Innocently Insensitive for characters who can use age as an excuse.

Sister Trope to Minion with an F in Evil and Hero with an F in Good where characters fail an important moral aspect of their job.

Examples:

Anime and Manga

  • Overlord (2012):
    • Ainz' underlings in general have great difficulty in being even remotely friendly towards humans (as all of them are heteromorphic species, "no humans allowed" being one of the basic rules of the guild), which goes against Ainz' dream of peace and cooperation between the many races of the new world. And while he no longer has the means to directly change their personalities, he's also loath to order them to act nice, because they aren't responsible for the personalities their creators gave them (and as some of their creators were going through an edgelord phase, quite a few of those personalities have serious issues).
    • He even tries to get them to play an RPG as humans to better understand how they think... and all it does is confirm their view that humans are worthless creatures barely fit to serve Nazarick.
    • Narberal Gamma, chosen by Ainz to accompany him in his adventurer guise as she's the most human-looking of the Pleiades combat maid squad, turns out to be incapable of referring to humans as anything other than some kind of insect or arachnid, finding a different species to use every time. The only human she shows the slightest hint of respect is Enri, and only because she expressed her admiration for Ainz out loud.
    • Ainz himself is all-too-well aware that he's improvising his "impossibly wise and powerful lich" schtick and secretly watches Emperor Jircniv to see how he does it (which does wonders for the Emperor's mounting paranoia). However, he seems blissfully unaware that a skeletal lich whose first public action was to singlehandedly slaughter more than 180,000 people with a single spell might be at odds with the friendly image he tries to project, and doesn't understand why the Emperor roots against him during a gladiatorial match.
    • The Katze Plains massacre is perhaps the best illustration: Having met Ainz in person, Jircniv knows that allying with him is a temporary measure at best, and that other nations must witness Ainz' power firsthand in order to see the threat he poses and ally against him, so he asks Ainz to use his most powerful spell during the annual battle during the Empire and the Kingdom (using Ainz' territorial claims as the casus belli). Ainz dutifully casts Dark Young, a spell that eliminates three quarters of the opposing army by first instakilling 70,000 soldiers and uses their deaths as fuel to summon five Eldritch Abominations that stomp on the soldiers who didn't flee in time. Jircniv's reputation takes a dive as it's widely believed he knew what would happen and made a Deal with the Devil, meaning other nations view with with suspicion and not a little horror. Ainz, of course, is completely unaware of the implications: the reason he used such a flashy and overkill spell was to attract the attention of any other people Trapped in Another World like himself, he could just as easily have won the battle with the 500 Death Knights he'd brought along.

Comic Books

  • Astérix: In Asterix in Corsica, the Roman governor is planning to pull a Screw This, I'm Outta Here! with the year's taxes (and leaving the garrison to their fates) when the Corsicans inevitably attack. Unfortunately, the one soldier he uses as his co-conspirator for his idiocy also shouts out the plan unprovoked when two other Romans talk to him, leading to the garrison demanding an explanation, rebelling when they find those explanations unconvincing and putting him in the (very) front line against the Corsicans.
  • Tintin: In Tintin: The Red Sea Sharks, Captain Haddock finds himself in charge of a cargo ship full of black Muslims. When the villains' buyer (who think Haddock is substituting for the usual captain) comes aboard and starts examining the passenger's muscles and teeth, Haddock angrily tells him the man isn't a slave, and the buyer rebukes Haddock for using the "s" word instead of "coke" in front of witnesses. Haddock goes ballistic, bellowing insults at the fleeing slaver even after he's out of hearing range.
  • Subverted in Preacher, where a young Starr is tasked with eliminating two journalists who managed to get info on the Grail and are currently being held in a mental hospital. Starr justifies his blowing up the entire hospital by pointing out that killing just the journalists would posthumously prove them Properly Paranoid .

Film

  • Hellboy: Hellboy is a Big Red Devil who's part of a secret government agency charged with eliminating supernatural threats before the public gets wind of them. Hellboy apparently didn't get the memo on that last part, because he enjoys having his picture taken with people, much to the director's chagrin. Note that in the comics, his existence is in no way a secret, and in fact nobody ever bats an eye at his appearance.
  • In Casablanca, when Louis Renault closes Rick's Cafe early, his underling Emile undermines his stated reason for shutting the establishment down:
    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
    Louis: I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!
    Emile: [handing him a stack of bills] Your winnings, sir.
    Louis: Oh thank you very much. [shouting to casino patrons] Everybody out at once!
  • The Patriot: Colonel Tavington, the field commander of the British dragoons, adopts extremely harsh policies towards the Americans, having wounded enemy soldiers gunned down and setting fire to the homes of non-combatants who sheltered them. General Cornwallis berates Tavington for his savagery, calling it unbecoming of An Officer and a Gentleman and reminding him of the King's wishes that there will be a reconciliation with the colonists (their fellow countrymen) after the rebellion is put down. He later rightfully points out that Tavington's cruelty has directly motivated men like Benjamin Martin to take up arms.
  • Played for Drama in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture sets up an underground arms dealing ring. One of his coworkers, Jackson Brice, unwittingly draws attention to the organization by demonstrating their weapons out in the open, getting Spider-Man on their case. Adrian is furious at him, but Jackson doesn't change his stubborn, loose-cannon ways, and it ends up getting him killed.
    Adrian: How many times have I told you not to fire them out in the open?
    Jackson: Hey, you said "move the merchandise."
    Adrian: Under the radar! Under the radar! That's how we survive!

Literature

  • Tricky Business: The Big Bad Wannabe's Brainless Beauty secretary (hired on the basis of her bra size) is ordered to inform the Media Scrum outside that he's not here. She does this by announcing "He says he's not here!".
  • Soul Music: Ridcully and Stibbons are trying to study the "music with rocks in" phenomenon, which they do by trapping the music in a box. Unfortunately, Cut-Me-Own-Throat Dibbler (the biggest and least successful conman on the Disc) sees them, and Stibbons starts explaining what they're doing "with the undirected excitement of the true discoverer and idiot", despite Ridcully stomping repeatedly on his foot.
    Ridcully: Never give a monkey the key to the banana plantation.
Sure enough, Dibbler is next seen trying to replicate the wizards' experiment, but since he's using a crappy Garage Band instead of the actual rock players the results are disappointing.
  • Brother Cadfael: In "The Rose Rent", Miles' mother starts boasting about her son's generosity in front of the sheriff, going on about how he gave a pair of his old boots away to a man (who was later found dead). Miles desperately tries to stop her, but by then it's too late: Cadfael and Hugh were wondering why the dead man (and presumed culprit) owned boots that didn't fit and whose distinctive prints were found at the site of the first murder, identifying Miles as the story's culprit.

Live-Action TV

  • Kaamelott: In "La Revolte", Arthur and Leodagan are negotiating with peasants on strike, in a brilliant display of Leodagan's inimitable take on diplomacy.
    Guethenoc: And how do you explain that nothing ever improves?
    Leodagan: Because we've got more important things to deal with!
    Guethenoc: What!? Revolt!!! We'll burn everything down, no need to ask where that came from!
    Leodagan: I'm going to sic the guards on your asses, we'll see how fast it takes to get the harvest in!
    Arthur (aside to Leodagan): I'm going to negotiate by myself for a while, if you don't mind.
    [...]
    Guethenoc: Just to feed the nobs, we work 20 hours a day! We spend our lives freezing our asses off! Feet in dung from morning to night! We carry so much crap that at 25 we're half-dead! And what do we get out of it?
    Leodagan: A good kick in the nuts!
    Arthur: Will you shut UP?!
  • In Game of Thrones, Roose Bolton's hopes of uniting the North by marrying his son Ramsay to Sansa Stark fall apart because Ramsay rapes and abuses Sansa, which only makes the rest of the North, which is intensely loyal to the Stark family, hate the Boltons even more. When he tries to curb his son's behavior, Ramsay murders him and kills off his wife and child.

Video Games

  • Mega Man X4: The leader of the Repliforce, called General, announced their intent of exiling into space to give themselves a new home, supposedly without violence. As Repliforce is supposed to be an army that answers to the government to deal with Maverick threatsnote , this is met with much suspicion, with the Maverick Hunters (our heroes' group, who, until this point, was Repliforce's ally) declaring the whole Repliforce to be Maverick. Then several elite Repliforce members are dispatched to defend themselves from the Hunters... and 2 of them, Jet Stingray and Storm Owl, would go on to terrorize cities to distract their attention, basically making their "vow of non violence" moot and justifying their Maverick branding.

Web Comics

Web Video

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons'': One episode has Mayor Quimby remember he forgot to deliver Chief Wiggum's bribe for the month and give it to him... in front of most of Springfield's citizens.
    Chief Wiggum: And when you break the law, you gotta go to jail.
    Mayor Quimby: Uh, that reminds me, er, here's your monthly kickback.
    Chief Wiggum: You just... you couldn't have picked a worse time.

Real Life

  • The "balloon boy" hoax was busted when the kid was asked why he didn't come out of the attic when called and revealed that his parents told him it was for a TV show.
  • The Zimmermann telegram was a secret German proposal to ally with Mexico during World War I, promising to return the 1838 borders in exchange for Mexico declaring war on the US (preventing them from sending supplies to Europe). As the US could not say how they got the telegram without revealing that the British had cracked German codes, the telegram was accused of being a British False Flag Operation... until Zimmermann (the man who'd written the telegram in the first place) helpfully told everyone that it was very much real. The US quickly went to war with Germany, who'd started sinking American ships, while Mexico made no attempt at reconquering its territories (being in the middle of a civil war at the time).

Feedback: 21 replies

Oct 8th 2018 at 12:22:28 PM

Oct 8th 2018 at 11:25:35 AM

Under Web Original:

Oct 8th 2018 at 1:08:08 PM

The laconic has to specify "underling", too.

Compare Poisonous Friend, who will do dirty deeds behind their friend's back in order to support their cause.

Oct 8th 2018 at 1:45:09 PM

Not really sure about the laconic or the description, I put underling because it's usually a subordinate, but it can also be someone of equivalent rank/social status (as in The Simpsons).

Oct 8th 2018 at 1:49:42 PM

Just making sure. This character needs to be related to someone who is a Slave To PR right? That should probably be in the laconic, as it sits the laconic reads as someone who is an aversion of Slave To PR.

Maybe instead of underling you could use cohort or lackey.

Oct 8th 2018 at 7:16:24 PM

Compare Not Helping Your Case.

  • Mega Man X 4: The leader of the Repliforce, called General, announced their intent of exiling into space to give themselves a new home, supposedly without violence. As Repliforce is supposed to be an army that answers to the government to deal with Maverick threatsnote , this is met with much suspicion, with the Maverick Hunters (our heroes' group, who, until this point, was Repliforce's ally) declaring the whole Repliforce to be Maverick. Then several elite Repliforce members are dispatched to defend themselves from the Hunters... and 2 of them, Jet Stingray and Storm Owl, would go on to terrorize cities to distract their attention, basically making their "vow of non violence" moot and justifying their Maverick branding.

Oct 11th 2018 at 11:01:25 AM

Wouldn't "Baghdad Bob" (Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf), Saddam Hussein's PR flack during the invasion of Iraq, qualify as a real life example?

Oct 11th 2018 at 11:20:34 AM

Was he doing it of his own initiative? From what I know he was more a case of Instantly Proven Wrong or I Reject Your Reality.

Oct 11th 2018 at 12:44:55 PM

Film:

  • In Casablanca, when Louis Renault closes Rick's Café early, his underling Emile undermines his stated reason for shutting the establishment down:
    Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
    Louis: I am shocked, shocked, to find that gambling is going on in here!
    Emile: [handing him a stack of bills] Your winnings, sir.
    Louis: Oh thank you very much. [shouting to casino patrons] Everybody out at once!

Web Video (or Fan Works?):

  • Ultra Fast Pony: In "Batshy Crazy", Apple Bloom accidentally spoils Applejack's attempt to say she wasn't trying to kill Fluttershy.
    Twilight: And since Fluttershy is our friend, we're going to help her out of this problem, instead of just killing her.
    Applejack: Well, of course, Twilight! I wouldn't dream of doing it any other way.
    Apple Bloom: Hey, Applejack! I found your shotgun that you said you wanted to murder Fluttershy with, just like you specifically told me!

Oct 11th 2018 at 7:22:11 PM

Live Action TV

  • In Game Of Thrones, Roose Bolton's hopes of uniting the North by marrying his son Ramsay to Sansa Stark fall apart because Ramsay rapes and abuses Sansa, which only makes the rest of the North, which is intensely loyal to the Stark family, hate the Boltons even more. When he tries to curb his son's behavior, Ramsay murders him and kills off his wife and child.

Oct 11th 2018 at 7:31:43 PM

This seems like it would have a lot of overlap with the relatively recent launch Overzealous Underling.

Oct 11th 2018 at 7:47:22 PM

^ This trope doesn't always happen because of the underling's overzealousness. He might just be stupid.

Oct 12th 2018 at 12:32:43 AM

"A subtrope of Cringe Comedy."

This trope isn't always played for comedy, though.

Oct 12th 2018 at 3:24:33 AM

^^^ It can be the cause, yes.

^ Most of the examples are.

Oct 12th 2018 at 5:32:16 AM

^ that doesn't mean this trope is about comedy in itself.

Oct 14th 2018 at 5:29:56 AM

What's new, exactly?

And my example is totally non comedic for one.

Oct 14th 2018 at 5:57:51 AM

  • The Patriot: Colonel Tavington, the field commander of the British dragoons, adopts extremely harsh policies towards the Americans, having wounded enemy soldiers gunned down and setting fire to the homes of non-combatants who sheltered them. General Cornwallis berates Tavington for his savagery, calling it unbecoming of An Officer And A Gentleman and reminding him of the King's wishes that there will be a reconciliation with the colonists (their fellow countrymen) after the rebellion is put down. He later rightfully points out that Tavington's cruelty has directly motivated men like Benjamin Martin to take up arms.

Oct 15th 2018 at 2:33:56 PM

Film - Live-Action

  • Played For Drama in Spider Man Homecoming. Adrian Toomes/The Vulture sets up an underground arms dealing ring. One of his coworkers, Jackson Brice, unwittingly draws attention to the organization by demonstrating their weapons out in the open, getting Spider-Man on their case. Adrian is furious at him, but Jackson doesn't change his stubborn, loose-cannon ways, and it ends up getting him killed.

    Adrian: How many times have I told you not to fire them out in the open? Jackson: Hey, you said "move the merchandise." Adrian: Under the radar! Under the radar! That's how we survive!

Quote markup doesn't seem to work here, but hopefully this helps.

Oct 16th 2018 at 5:09:27 AM

Compare Hypocrite, when it's the main man himself who's bad at PR.

Oct 16th 2018 at 6:43:31 AM

Real Life

Oct 16th 2018 at 12:08:21 PM

Moved the Film section up because it was out of order alphabetically.

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