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Caught by Arrogance

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A character (usually a villain) is caught because they can\'t resist taking credit for their actions

This work is a proposed Trope, Tropers can vote and offer feedback in the comments section below.
Proposed By:
Jordan on Jan 22nd 2012 at 10:58:22 AM
Last Edited By:
queenbri on Jan 23rd 2012 at 7:11:19 PM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

So, Alice and Bob are a Classy Cat-Burglar and Gentleman Thief who have cracked safes all over town. Eventually, the chief of police has someone announce that they have an unbreakable safe that would be impossible to break into, knowing that Alice and Bob cannot resist the challenge. Despite this being an obvious trap, the chief of police is right.

Compare with Criminal Mind Games, where a criminal consciously doesn't conceal themselves and Evil Gloating. For less sane criminals, this can play into why Sanity Has Advantages.

As a note, while the description mentions getting caught, there are some instances where the character still manges to escape or avoid detection. However, it's still true that in those cases that they could have avoided detection entirely, but chose not to because of the urge to show off. Examples:

Comic Books

  • The Riddler from Batman has a big problem with this. While sometimes, he's just playing Criminal Mind Games and wants Batman to "play", at other times, he isn't really intending to get Batman's attention, but ends up doing so, leaving clues because of arrogance or compulsion.
  • This strip from the Superdickery website shows Superboy being caught by Lex Luthor due to a Too Dumb to Live case of this.


  • While he's the good guy, one of the more famous Robin Hood stories has Robin demonstrating this, as his enemies throw an archery contest, knowing that as a great archer, Robin can't help but participate. Depending on the telling, Robin's reason might be exactly that, or at best, it's because he can't resist the opportunity to walk into an obvious trap and emerge victorious.

Live Action Tv

  • In the first episode of White Collar, Neal proves an art restorer is a forger by discovering that he surreptitiously signs all of his work, both legal and illegal, and notes that he (Neal) did the same with money he forged.

Western Animation

  • In The Spectacular Spiderman, Quentin Beck could have made his Mysterio Bots have anyone's face and personality under the mask, but could not resist making them look and act like himself when unmasked, because as a hammy actor, he couldn't imagine the idea of not being credited for his "performance".
  • I'm not sure if there's a good specific example, but in Batman The Animated Series and other works in that "verse", the Joker was often shown as arrogant and unable to deal with being up-staged. The best example that comes to mind was a Corrupt Corporate Executive who tried to pull an insurance fraud by creating a Joker-themed casino, knowing the Joker could not resist attacking it.
  • In The Boondocks episode "Thank-You for Not Snitching", something along these lines is Played for Laughs. Huey comments in his narration that while rappers are often big about snitching being bad, they sometimes get in trouble for "snitching on themselves" (i.e. boasting about their crimes in lyrics). Cut to Gangstalicious being hauled off by police in the middle of a song due to this.

Feedback: 10 replies

Jan 22nd 2012 at 11:37:15 AM

Needs A Better Description - is this trope specifically about instances where the good guys plant a trap designed to appeal to the bad guy's ego? Or is this a more general trope about the criminal's arrogance/ego/need to show off becoming detrimental to their continued freedom?

An example of the latter:


  • In Home Alone, the thieves are known as the "Wet Bandits" because they purposely leave the faucets running in the houses they rob. This proves quite useful to the police when they're finally caught.
    Officer: We know every house you hit...

This also seems related to the Real Life concept of a "signature" in criminal profiling, an element of a crime that isn't strictly necessary and that marks the criminal as an individual, like the Wet Bandits example above. It isn't always about claiming crimes or taunting the police - a serial killer who poses his victims' bodies may be expressing some emotion towards them as opposed to "marking" his kills - but depending on the circumstances it may often overlap with this trope.

Jan 22nd 2012 at 12:15:10 PM

Well, I do see there is a Calling Card trope already. I would appreciate help with improving the description, but what I was considering are probably lampshaded instances of a Calling Card/ calling attention to oneself being a bad idea as well as instances where people set a trap based on the assumption that the target will be drawn out because of this.

Jan 22nd 2012 at 12:19:11 PM

  • In Astro City, a supervillian was annoyed to hear people belittle his robberies, and so deliberately staged two and let himself be caught after the second. Then, in court, he sat back to listen with relish as the prosecutor laid out his cunning plan.

Jan 22nd 2012 at 3:42:36 PM

  • In Law And Order, they managed to catch several criminals (after profiling them as egomaniacs) by deliberatly posting false infomation in the papers to goad them into correcting them. Goren in Law And Order Criminal Intent was especially fond of the trick.

Jan 22nd 2012 at 8:02:59 PM

On One Episode of The Simpsons, Bob Sideshow gets elected as Springfield mayor, bart and lisa discover the election was rigged, and they catch him this way

Lionel Hutz: Mr. Mayor, is it true you rigged the election?
Shideshow Bob : No, I did not.
Hutz: [pause] Kids, help.
[the judge shrugs]
Bob: Oh, I don't mind. We want these children to feel justice has been served. That way they can sleep soundly tonight on their hard, feculent motel pillows.
Bob: Well Bart, I am.
Lisa: I have a plan. I think we can trap him.
they walk up; Lisa takes a sip of water)
Lisa You know, Sideshow Bob, I believe you when you say you're innocent.
Bob: Indeed I am.
Lisa: Because we all know you're a naive pawn -- puppet, if you will -- of the most diabolical political genius Springfield has ever known: Birchibald T. Barlow!
[Barlow stammers incoherently]
LisaYou don't have the intelligence to rig an election by yourself, do you?
Bart: You were just Barlow's lackey.
Lisa: You were Ronny to his Nancy!
Bart: Sonny to his Cher!
Lisa: Ringo to his rest of the Beatles!

Bob: Enough! Lies, lies, lies! I did it! I did it all![everyone gasps]There.
Bart: We want the truth!
Bob: You want the truth? You can't handle the truth. No truth-handler, you. Bah! I deride your truth-handling abilities.
Judge: Will you get to the point?
Bob: Only I could have executed such a masterpiece of electoral fraud. And I have the records to prove it! Here, just look at these -- [pulls out binders and floppy disks] each one a work of Machiavellian art.
Judge: But why?
Bob: Because you _need_ me, Springfield. Your guilty conscience may force you to vote Democratic, but deep down inside you secretly long for a cold-hearted Republican to lower taxes, brutalize criminals, and rule you like a king. That's why I did this: to protect you from yourselves. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a city to run.
Judge: Bailiffs, place the mayor under arrest.
Bob: What? Oh yes, all that stuff I did.

Maybe as an Abridged page Quote we can use this

Lisa Simpson: You don't have the intelligence to rig an election by yourself, do you?
Bart Simpson: You were just Barlow's lackey.
[...]Sideshow Bob: Enough! Lies, lies, lies! I did it! I did it all![everyone gasps]There.
[...]Only I could have executed such a masterpiece of electoral fraud. And I have the records to prove it! Here, just look at these -- [pulls out binders and floppy disks] each one a work of Machiavellian art.
[...]Judge: Bailiffs, place the mayor under arrest.
Bob: What? Oh yes, all that stuff I did.
The Simpsons, Sideshow Bob Roberts

Jan 22nd 2012 at 8:10:00 PM

I think if you want to limit this specifically to instances where a trap was set that appealed to the person's ego, you've got a good description. Maybe tweak the title to reference the trap - Ego Baited Trap maybe?

If you want a more general trope about someone's Calling Card or ego drawing unnecessary attention to him or her, then I'd say start the description with that - "Fictional criminals are often a proud bunch, taking pride in their skills and exploits... However, this can backfire..." and then bring in Calling Cards and other ways their egos cause them to draw attention to themselves. Hold off on mentioning traps until near the end - "The authorities may even set traps that appeal to their vanity, knowing they won't be able to pass them up."

EDIT: Another example would be the inspiration for the above scene from The Simpsons, the famous trial scene from A Few Good Men. A tense exchange between Navy JAG attorney Lt. Kaffee and Marine Col. Jessup, in which Kaffee questions the Colonel's leadership abilities ("If you gave an order that Santiago wasn't to be touched, and your orders are always followed... why'd he have to be transferred?") culminates in the following exchange:

Kaffee: Did you order the Code Red?
Jessup: You're goddamn right I did!

Jan 22nd 2012 at 9:10:15 PM

I really appreciate your comments and suggestions. Wonder about possibly splitting this into two tropes (the done in my arrogance and the actual trap).

Jan 23rd 2012 at 6:53:39 PM

  • The anime Mouse--the inept police detective attempts to set this up in the very first episode by declaring something "unstealable." The title thief is compelled to walk into the trap, but since he already knows it's a trap....

Jan 23rd 2012 at 7:08:17 PM

  • Truth In Television, at least according to British Public Service films about benefit fraudsters who get caught because they brag about it in pubs.

Jan 23rd 2012 at 7:11:19 PM

That reminded me, in the tv series Raffles, and also I believe in the original novels, Gentleman Thief Raffles does this constantly. In the very first episode, he makes sure to antagonize the future Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist in his own identity, and in subsequent episodes, he'll always approach policemen while in disguise, so after the fact, they'll know they spoke with the criminal. He also steals from the homes of people he knows socially and frequently steals famous jewelery and the like which is under a lot of scrutiny.

Fairly early in the series, a judge who is in a criminology club deduces that the same person has been committing all of the recent burglaries, and is able to make an accurate profile and attach that to Raffles, and invites Raffles to join the club as a trap. Raffles does manage to cast suspicion off of himself by making it look like a burglary was committed while he was under observation, but it's definitely the case that Raffles' actions sabotaged his original goal of being known for cricket and having no suspicion of burglary attached to his name.