Follow TV Tropes


Acceptable Hard Luck Targets

Go To

A subset of Acceptable Targets. These examples deal with targets that are often just very unlucky. These are things that could happen to just about anybody.

In a way, these might be even worse than other Acceptable Targets. While many people do show pride in their culture, ethnic group, nationality, etc. - people generally (with few exceptionsnote ) don't show pride in a disability, illness or whatever hardship that they have. It's usually considered bad enough that they have the disability, illness, or any other hardship - that being discriminated for it would add insult to injury, so to speak.


Of course, in some cases, there's some circular logic here — they're only unlucky because they happen to be Acceptable Targets.


    open/close all folders 

    Disabilities and disorders 
The Mentally Disturbed



  • The treatment of albinism in fiction is startlingly harsh. The condition seems to have been declared officially creepy with Moby-Dick (although the whale in question only had a white hump). There are no ordinary people who happen to be albino; instead there are an assortment of insidious operatives and psychopathic killers. There is a sense of albinos having some kind of otherworldly powers, when all they can really claim is poor vision and susceptibility to skin cancer.

People with speech impediments

Common speech problems such as the lisp, stutter, pronunciation of "r" as "w", or even funny accents, are still regularly used for comic effect. This can even extend all the way up to damaged vocal cords requiring the use of an external electronic voicebox, or complete loss of speech, which usually results in jokes about people having to write down everything they say. Most Looney Tunes characters had "amusing" speech impediments, but the classic examples have to be Michael Palin's portrayal of Pontius Pilate in Monty Python's Life of Brian, and Peter Cook's Impressive Clergyman in The Princess Bride.


  • Foreign/unusual accents and dialects are also typically considered speech impediments, and therefore become subjects of mockery. Examples include Borat, Inspector Clouseau, Ricky Ricardo, "Fes," King of the Hill's "Boomhauer," etc.
    • It's hard to classify Boomhauer because nearly every character in the show can understand him perfectly, even if the audience can't. Though in one episode he accidentally ends up in another town and is quickly thrown into a mental institution because nobody can understand him so they assume he's crazy and saying gibberish (and also because he's walking around in a Speedo), so it seems only people in Arlen can understand him, presumably because they're used to how he talks.
    • Boomhauer is also kind of a special case in that he's pretty clearly at least as smart as any other regular on the show, and arguably better adjusted to boot. He just has a strong Appalachian accent compounded by a Motor Mouth.
  • Essentially the entire point of The King's Speech, in which George VI is humiliated by his stutter.
  • Spoiler alert! In the movie Chinatown directed by Roman Polanski. Used and then subverted. A Japanese gardener refers to the "grasses" but the detective (along with the audience) only identifies the gardener's bad grammar and so dismisses him as a humourous red herring with nothing valuable to offer. Later, the detective returns and comes to realizes an essential clue from the gardener, who wasn't saying "grasses" but "glasses". The error wasn't in grammar, but in pronunciation: the 'r' and 'l' being commonly mispronounced by those Japanese who attempt to speak English. Shame on the detective for being so quick to dismiss an unsophisticated foreigner, eh?
  • Another Michael Palin example, in A Fish Called Wanda, in which his character stutters like crazy, but only the villain makes fun of him for it. Palin based this aspect of the character partially on his father, who had a stammer. There now exists, in London, the Michael Palin Institute for Stammering Children.
  • Worth noting that the actor who played the stuttering public attorney in My Cousin Vinny actually had a speech impediment in real life for years and only recently beat it before signing up for the role. He thought of his character having a speech impediment as a "sick joke."
  • Subverted in Pan's Labyrinth and used for horror, when the character who stutters is told that he will be set free if he can just count to three without stuttering. He can't, and is tortured.

Live-Action TV

  • Averted in The Big Bang Theory. Kripke is a jerk to the main characters, but they never pick on his rhotacism. Of course, it's still pretty clearly intended.
    • Played with in the episode "The Discovery Dissipation", in which Kripke mercilessly mocks Sheldon over his retracted paper, calling him "The Wetwactor". Sheldon eventually tries to retaliate by mocking Kripke's speech impediment, much to the horror of everybody else present. Sheldon apologises and takes it back, only for Barry to triumphantly conclude, "Of course you do! Because you're the Wetwactor!"
  • The Roman emperor Claudius stuttered due to cerebral palsy, and in I, Claudius, his family is presented as very cruel because of the way they shun him for this. He is able to overcome this impediment through a lot of training, although he continues to pretend to stutter prior to becoming emperor to preserve his public image as "poor Claudius".
  • Played with in M*A*S*H, when a wounded soldier with a bad stutter treated as an idiot by his commanding officer. However, the normally snobbish and rude Charles was very sympathetic and mentions that many very intelligent people also had stutters. At the end of the episode, it was revealed that Charles's sister also has a stutter.


  • Japanese musicians are often mocked for their accents (especially by racists or other haters, but occasionally even by fans) even if the musician is not a vocalist and the accent only shows up in interviews or at most stage patter. A sad example here is the hate Yoshiki Hayashi gets for his accent — while he does interviews on behalf of the band and talks/yells doing stage patter, he is a drummer, pianist, and occasional guitarist, none of which are affected by what remains of his accent, and his English is actually native-level for the most part.

Web Animation

Western Animation

  • As mentioned above, dang ol' Boomhauer, man.
    • Boomhauer doesn't seem to actually have a speech impediment in the usual sense of the word. He mumbles and slurs his words together in an exaggeration of an Appalachian accent (Mike Judge based it off of an irate caller complaining about Beavis And Butthead, but the general impression he gives is that he just doesn't bother to try to enunciate better, not that he can't.
      • Inverted in the "Rashomon"-Style episode. During Boomhauer's version of the events, he enunciates clearly and is perfectly understandable, while everyone else mumbles and slurs the way he normally does. Which might explain why he talks that way if that's actually how he perceives everyone else.
  • Looney Tunes. Almost all the characters have some type of speech impediment or verbal tic.

People with 'mild' disorders such as ADHD, OCD or Anxiety

For the most part, people with Anxiety, ADHD, OCD, depression, etc. will get smacked from two angles. On the one hand, they'll be portrayed as stupid, incompetent, and foolish - the traditional way to do it. Then, they'll get attacked from the opposite angle - that they're actually perfectly fine and are either whiny or suffer from Special Snowflake Syndrome. Drama queens in other words. Or that they're just trying to get special advantages on tests.

There is a grain of truth here, like there is in a lot of things that gain public traction. There has been an over-diagnosis of various disorders over the years, with ADHD probably being the most notorious, which means people are even less likely to believe people who legitimately have the disorder(s). In addition, ADHD medicine often gets abused by people in high schools and on college campuses in order to stay up and study later. That said, people who actually have ADHD are often just as troubled by this behavior as everyone else, if not more, since the medicine that they actually need is at risk of being stolen and abused (not to mention the fact that it's really friggin' expensive and there are frequent shortages). In addition, the attitude outlined above often stops many people from getting the supports they need.

Autistic people

Autistic people are subject to a wide array of stereotypes and misconceptions about their disorder. First, there's the misconception that being autistic means being stupid or lacking intelligence, even though people on the spectrum can have average or above-average intellects. Autistic people are also stereotyped as being boring, annoying, or even creepy.

People may assume that autistic people are inherently introverted, even though their issue may not be that they don't want to socialize, but that they don't fully know how to, or perhaps are rejected by their neurotypical peers (especially if this gives rise to the belief that they are antisocial, leading to further rejection, leading to reinforcement of the initial belief, etc.). There is also the misconception that autistic people lack emotions or compassion, which stems from outdated research.

Twice-exceptional people (who are gifted but are also autistic/neurodivergent in some way such as ADHD, learning disabilities/have disorders such as an anxiety disorder) have their own layer of prejudices and misconceptions. Some may think they are "smart but lazy" or "smart but not trying hard enough." Others may not see their strengths at all, instead seeing them as "slow" or "just average." Still others may view them as Insufferable or Ditzy Geniuses.

Tourette's Syndrome

The "swearing disease", despite the fact that swearing tics occur in maybe ten percent of the cases. Pretty much whenever a character has Tourette's on TV, they'll have the rare swearing tic due to the Rule of Funny.

Western Animation

  • Played With on South Park's "Le Petit Tourette", in which Cartman fakes the ailment in order to cuss all he likes with no repercussions. However, the syndrome is portrayed realistically within the counseling session, with most characters having physical tics rather than verbal ones, and Cartman himself starts losing the ability to censor anything he says as a result of no longer having to consciously filter it, revealing things he'd much rather not blurt out. Meanwhile one of the lead characters Thomas, who has the swearing tic, is portrayed sympathetically and is shown to resent his condition.


Live-Action TV

  • Subverted in JAG, wherein major character Bud Roberts gets a leg amputated as result of stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, yet he's ultimately able to fully recover (with the aid of a prosthetic leg) and to live a happy family life.

People in wheelchairs

People with allergies

Especially ones that cause them to develop cold or flu - like symptoms from plants, animals, dust, etc. Like overweight people, their suffering and awkwardness is often just plain funny. It's often depicted as just one more indication that the character isn't Mr. or Miss Right for the protagonist. However, if a secondary protagonist is a Loser, an allergy sufferer rejected by The Hero may be his last hope for wedded bliss. There's also a tendency to give nebbishy characters allergies in order to reinforce their wimpiness.

Food allergy sufferers (as well as the lactose intolerant) are also stigmatized in a similar way. Furthermore, they are often accused of faking their allergies for attention or as an excuse to be a picky eater; this accusation can have deadly consequences.


  • Walter, Annie's fiance from Sleepless in Seattle, has many allergies including some foods. While he's not unsympathetically treated on the whole, it is presented as if it's a nerdy and less-than-sexy trait.
  • Daniel Jackson in Stargate, on top of other nerdy traits, spends about half the movie sneezing because he gets allergies when he travels. This is done to make him stand out as different from the soldiers in the movie. This trait was dropped in the show, aside from a brief Shout-Out in the first episode.
    • One or two other episodes make passing reference to his allergy medication (including being an essential plot point in at least one episode) so it seems the trait stuck around but lost relevance.

Western Animation

Web Comics

    Physical traits 
Fat Comic Relief


You must be dumb. End of story. Or lazy. Or greedy. Or gluttonous (in some TV shows fat characters never appear in a single scene without shoving food into their mouths). Or low-class trailer trash. Or a slob. Or sweaty, stinky, or otherwise sub-human. Especially if you happen to be a woman, in which case you'll likely be an Abhorrent Admirer. Or, in an inversion, if you're American you must be a disgusting fat slob. Or, if you're fat, you're American.

People with non-disabling deformities

Especially with the increase in the availability and use of plastic surgery, people who have noticeable disfigurements that are not actually disabling (or at least don't appear to be, regardless of whether they actually are) are subject to ridicule, if they're ever shown on television at all.


  • Red Dragon was about a man teased all his life for his cleft palate, and eventually driven to become a Serial Killer. However, the few chapters about his childhood make him extremely sympathetic.
    Graham: As a child, my heart bleeds for him. As an adult, he's irredeemable.


  • In Harry Harrison's Eden trilogy, Armun has a harelip which she covers with her hair, as it makes her a target for insults from her tribesmates. She becomes the Love Interest of Kerrick who was raised by the reptilian Yilanè and so isn't bothered by her disfigurement.
  • In Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Gilderoy Lockhart actually justifies putting a Memory Charm on a witch and taking credit for her work just because she had a cleft lip. Averted in that Lockhart is making himself out to be a horrible person to the reader.

Western Animation

  • An episode of Family Guy at one point featured Stewie having a recollection about a man with a cleft lip, who he referred to as a harelip - an offensive term for the condition.
    • Not to mention Jake Tucker and his upside-down face.
  • Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender (the main villain of Season 1) has a nasty burn scar on his face, which was given to him by his own father. He does get a Heel–Face Turn in Season 3, though.
    • Zuko is an interesting example, as his scar doesn't prevent him from being Mr. Fanservice.

Males with small penises

Guys with a Teeny Weenie. As the popular perception goes, Bigger Is Better in Bed, and a large penis is symbolic of virility and all-around masculinity. Those that have smaller-than-average "equipment" are usually perceived as weak, pathetic, and not truly a man. This main perception is the core reason why Compensating for Something is widely considered an insult and why it's called "compensating for something".


  • The Lily Allen song "Not Big". After her boyfriend breaks up with, the protagonist responds by saying she's not upset because he was sexually inadequate.
  • The infamous One-Hit Wonder "Short Dick Men" by Gilette, back in the mid-1990's. The bowdlerized version changed that part of the lyrics for "Short Short Men", which not only misplaced the singer's complaint to another Acceptable Target (men of small size), but also because the "tiny weenie" lyrics weren't edited out the target became "short men with small equipment".

People of short stature

People of smaller-than-average height, especially males, face discrimination in several facets. Physically, they are smaller, so they may be seen as "small" in other ways due to the Halo effect. Mentally, their personality is considered weak no matter what it is; if they are timid, they are weak all-around; if they are aggressive, they must suffer from the Napoleon Complex. Sexually, men in particular face serious difficulties in the dating arena; studies have shown that height matters more to women on average (as polled through dating sites) than money, fitness, or personality. This general sentiment means they will often be cast in sexually unappealing roles.

Western Animation

People with physical features that some just don't happen to personally find attractive

If someone finds a person unpleasant for any reason, it's not uncommon for the complainer to, while ranting about this person they find unpleasant, also throw in "Oh, and they also have a big nose/a weird chin/creepy eyebrows/chubby cheeks/are fat/too hairy/etc".


  • Naruto has Gai and Lee, who are frequently made fun of for their Big Ol' Eyebrows and their oddly shaped eyes and lashes, in canon, fanon, and just the fandom in general. The jumpsuit, haircut and poses are all their own choices, though, so those don't count.


  • Roxanne is a modern adaptation of Cyrano De Bergerac starring Steve Martin. Instead of a knight, he's a firefighter. Since it takes place in the modern day where you can find dozens of plastic surgeons in even the smallest town in America, his current condition is justified in that he's allergic to anesthesia. But he does go to therapy.


  • The entire driving plot of Cyrano de Bergerac is that despite being a smooth-talking literary genius who has a way with words, he couldn't get a girlfriend to save his life because he has a big nose. We're not talking a slightly-larger-than-average Roman nose. We're talking about an epic schnozzola that has defined the very real former Gascogne knight and playwright for over 300 years.

Crazy Homeless People

Mouth Breathers

It's always used to describe people who are dumb in some way. Admit've heard it used to describe that Jerk Jock or that big-ass bully with more muscle than brain in high school, those stupid customers who ask stupid questions, the slovenly basement dwellers talking shit on message boards and online games, or that big fat motherfucker of a bouncer with a squashed, bulldog-like face that you just know was caused by him getting his nose smashed one too many times. Some of us have to breathe through our mouth because we have a cold, sinus infection, the flu, or really bad allergies (and we all know 90% of Allergy Medications don't work). OI!


  • Marvel's Weasel is a mouth breather, and a creepy nerdy loser criminal on top of it.


  • Uhura calls Kirk one in Star Trek (2009), although considering her talented ears, it may just have been an accurate descriptor - breathing through your mouth is of course quieter, and he was trying to hide.


Live-Action TV

  • Jack Donaghy of 30 Rock is liable to call you one if he thinks you're stupid. He's called Kenneth a mouth-breather at least once.
  • Jaye's supervisor is nicknamed this by her and her family on Wonderfalls. He doesn't take kindly to it, telling Jaye that it's due to an undeviated septum, but this doesn't stop her from using it. It should be noted that she rather dislikes him anyway, due to being younger but promoted over her, and for being annoyingly upbeat at their retail job.

Men Who Can't Get Laid

There's something about sexually unlucky men that makes people think they deserve what they get (or not get, as it were). To a male audience, such men are not "real men." And as for the female audiences, it is worth noting that Loners Will Stay Alone. Plus, men who try to improve their lots in love through pickup artistry come across as fake to both men and women (and often downright creepy to the latter).

Visual Novels

  • Brutally deconstructed with Dennis in Double Homework. At first glance, he’s just a stereotypical nerd. Under the surface, he’s a misogynist who creates fake nudes of the girls around him, catfishes his classmates and teachers into giving him real ones, and plans to blackmail or manipulate his classmates into sleeping with him.

Perpetual Poverty

There's usually a good reason for it in Real Life, but in sitcoms they're often depicted as lazy, ignorant, etc., or else the Butt-Monkey/Cosmic Plaything. It's really interesting when the lower-class (usually) guy falls for the Rich Bitch and has to deal with the vast ocean of differences between the social classes. Hilarity Ensues. This stigma is attached to welfare or state benefit claimants around the world - the default position is that they are parasitical wasters trying to cheat the system who are living off your taxes. note 

Male Sexual Harassment Victims

Did you know that Sexual Harassment can actually happen to men too? Or that women can actually commit Sexual Harassment...and actually do it to a man and not another woman? Or that men can actually commit Sexual Harassment against other men? Most places don't actually realize this and force men who are targets of harassment to "take it like a man" and that anyone who tries to do something about the harassment is "PC Bullshit" or "a wimp." See also Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male.


  • Averted in What Did You Eat Yesterday?, the lawyer protagonist took a case in which a big guy is abused by his small girlfriend, it is portrayed realistically.


  • The treatment of Dale (played by Charlie Day) in Horrible Bosses zig-zags this. On one hand, his friends don't seem to think that his problem—his sex-crazed and very hot (played by Jennifer Aniston) boss constantly hitting on him at work—is all that bad. On the other hand, the creators go out of their way to make her seem insane and kind of creepy, and make him seem like a really nice guy happily engaged to his fiancee and not in the least bit interested in any other woman—which accentuates the horror.

Live-Action TV

  • An episode of What Would You Do? tested peoples' reactions to abuse by different sexes, by having two actors playing a couple alternate being abusive. When the man was the one yelling and being rough, more often than not people stepped in to stop it. When the woman was the abuser, most people did nothing — in fact, several women who saw it happening looked satisfied, including one who did a little fist-pump after she passed them. When asked her about her reaction, she said she assumed he had it coming.


  • Pretty much the whole message of Michael Crichton's Disclosure and the MacGuffin for the book. He also waxes at length on the (presumably correct for the time) statistics and what they mean.

Western Animation

  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Hank Hill's reaction to being told he can sue for "Male on Male Sexual Harassment" is... "BWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!" followed by his shocked expression. The other person he shows it to also is too afraid to admit it. It's amazing how real it can be.
    • Another episode had him being borderline-stalked by a female cop with the hots for him, which wasn't shown as being the least bit acceptable. Yet still played for laughs.
  • An episode of Family Guy had Peter being sexually harassed by his boss, to the point that she demanded he come to her house and have sex with her. While she was clearly shown as being in the wrong, the whole thing was Played for Laughs, and Lois outright refused to believe that a woman could sexually harass a man (mostly because All Men Are Perverts). Later on, the boss tells Peter she's a virgin because she was too ugly to get laid, itself an Acceptable Target.
  • Deconstructed in the South Park episode "Miss Teacher Bangs a Boy", in which Ike begins a very physical relationship with his attractive school teacher. Kyle, understandably horrified, goes to the police. They take the case seriously until he reveals that the perpetrator is a woman and not a man (or an unattractive woman). Then Kyle and Cartman team up to take her down themselves.

Minimum Wage Employees

Anyone who works a low-paying job. Bonus points if it's "menial" labor or customer service. See also Burger Fool. Overlaps with Acceptable Professional Targets.

Silent Majorities

To many, the term "Vocal Minority" doesn't exist, they forget it exists, or they are too ignorant to say it exists. If there is a "Vocal Minority" in your group causing havoc to society, oftentimes much of everyone else will lump you and the other innocent people in your group and you will be lambasted for your group's Vocal Minority regardless if you were never apart of it or were even against it. This goes double for fandoms, triple if it involves politics, race, nationality, and/or religion. For example, if you are American, you are a stupid fat slob who disgraces society. If you are an American who is smart, slim, and nice, you do not exist to these people. No exceptions.

Kids in Summer School

In North america, "Summer School" is used to refer to when someone has to attend classes in summer. (The off season for North American schools) It carries a certain stigma about it - that these people are idiots, troublemakers, lazy, or generally no good at anything. However, there exists a Double Standard - if you are taking summer classes in College or University (Which still have yearly breaks) you're often seen as hard working and often self sacrificing. (This is because college is not compulsory nor is there ever a threat of being Held Back in School or having to go to summer school) Related to below:

Kids who were held back

Almost NEVER portrayed positively. They're always portrayed as The Bully, usually almost Always Male. (Because girls are better at school.) They are not just Book Dumb, they're almost always dumb. They're always bigger than the rest of the kids in their class (due to being older) and almost always mocked and teased for it. If it's portrayed sympathetically in fiction, expect it to be seen as a shame.

Live-Action TV

  • Red Dwarf: Subverted. Arnold Rimmer is desperate to find out what break his Alternate Universe counterpart Ace Rimmer got that led to him becoming... well, The Ace, and Arnold becoming the spineless, gormless, neurotic, whiny, back-stabbing, ass-kissing piece of human refuse that he is. It turns out Ace was held back a year in school, hit rock bottom and decided that if he was going to get anywhere in life he was going to have to apply himself and build his skills. Arnold Rimmer, who did not receive this much-needed helping of Humble Pie, instead relied on his father pulling some strings.