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Anonymous Ringer

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Sometimes, an Invisible President or a Banana Republic just doesn't work in the context of a story an author is trying to tell. Note that we're not just talking about government officials, it may be necessary to refer to some famous person or group. The world the story unfolds in is meant to be the real world, and the people in it should be real people.

Enter the Anonymous Ringer — a character or place transparently meant to be a recognizable real-world figure, but never explicitly mentioned by name. This device allows an author to write about England being invaded by "a country to the north", the US being driven to war by "the president", or a riot at a concert of "a popular rock-and-roll band", without having to worry about Scots, whoever the current president is, or the Rolling Stones firing off a cease-and-desist letter.

Compare Roman à Clef, Historical Domain Character, Lawyer-Friendly Cameo (which is not so vital to the plot).


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    Comic Books 
  • In the Justice League Elite mini the resident spymaster has a phone conversation in which he suggests to an unseen clueless world leader to have his daddy and his uncle Dick explain things to him.
    • Of course, back when Reagan was President, he appeared in the comics a lot. Both Batman and the Martian Manhunter impersonated him on separate occasions. The Phantom Stranger punched out Reagan's evil double. No, really.
    • There was a Captain America comic where Reagan was transformed into a lizard-man that attacked Cap. He got changed back by sweating out the poison during the fight. No...really.
  • Marvel Comics, which has always liked to root itself in the real world more firmly than DC, does have appearances by President Bush and other real politicians (especially Ultimate Marvel, wherein Air Force One gets attacked by supervillains). Their portrayal is usually as unbiased as possible — see Marvel writer John Jackson Miller's comments on this Peter David blog post. The big exception is Secretary of Defense, a position which has been held by two major Marvel characters in the last few years: the Red Skull and Iron Man.
    • Marvel also had Gordon Brown appear as British Prime Minister in Excalibur, save for the fact that he was blond rather than dark-haired. This was seized upon with much amusement by the British press, as their respectful treatment of him contrasted with how he was being universally lambasted at the time. Combine this with the Comic Book Age Ghetto for a certain kind of person to find "SuperGordon" incredibly funny.
    • This has been going on for a while. Then Canadian PM Trudeau appeared in Alpha Flight #1, for example.
    • LBJ reunited Sgt. Fury's Howling Commandos for a Vietnam mission.
    • This has the unfortunate effect of making Comic-Book Time more jarring, though.
  • The long-running comic book series The Authority played with this trope. One issue had Jack, the leader, tell off a hologram of Bill Clinton, telling him to watch himself. Later, a generic President is thrown through a portal into Iraq, after claiming that he, the President, was only a figurehead. Then Jack takes a turn as President, which falls apart after Washington D.C. is nuked flat (the radiation is magically removed). The Authority makes sure good elections happen and we are back to generic presidents. Later, characters accuse The Authority of making an ex-President vanish.
  • Comics, particularly DC ones, from 1939-41 (when WW2 was going on but the US was still neutral) often had foreign villains from anonymous Germany and Japan (or sometimes named fictional analogues).
  • The Blake and Mortimer story "SOS Meteors" is about a plot by a hostile superpower in Eastern Europe to destabilize the West and invade it. Said superpower's agents have Slavic-sounding names and boast about the superiority of their ideology. But at no point in the story is the Soviet Union mentioned by name.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Battle Royale 2, many references are made to "that country" and "that country"'s willingness to bomb the hell out of any problems it faces.
  • Downplayed in Children's Party at the Palace. While Elizabeth II actually makes full-blown appearances in this film, as being the hostess of the garden party attended by both children and literature characters, she is only ever referred to with both "The Queen" and "Her Majesty".
  • James Bond:
  • At the end of Taxi 2, the eponymous souped-up taxi ends up taking part to a military parade the French president organized in honor of the Japanese Minister of Defense who's on an official visit. The French president is never named, but his silhouette leaves little doubt that it's Jacques Chirac (who was president at the time). Plus, there's Didier Gustin's famous Chirac impersonation voice.
  • Top Gun: The movie never clarifies which country the enemy planes belong to. Said planes are a fictional MiG variant, so they probably belong to a Warsaw Pact country or an allied country that would buy MiGs, but that's as specific as things get. The film's climax is stated to be set in the Indian Ocean, which probably narrows it down to South Yemen.
    • Top Gun: Maverick: Like the first movie, this one never clarifies who the bad guys are. In contrast to the first movie, there are more obvious clues this time — the enemy nation's use of Sukhoi jets (and F-14 Tomcats), the unsanctioned uranium enrichment plant that the heroes are targeting, the red star on the enemy jets — that imply the bad guys are Iranians or North Koreans, but nothing specific is said.
  • Transformers (2007): While the President's face was never shown, nor his name ever given, during the scenes on Air Force One in the first film, his accent is clearly meant to be that of George W. Bush. The trope is averted in Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen, in which President Barack Obama is mentioned by name and his staff is villainized.
  • In 2012, an Austrian-accented California governor mentions his past career as an action movie star during a press conference - a clear reference to then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

  • Jack Ryan:
    • In Tom Clancy's early novels, ostensibly set during the Reagan years, the president is referred to only as "The President". His background (a lawyer) is different to that of Reagan though. Later novels introduce a string of fictional presidents, including one who appears to be a strawman liberal interpretation of Bill Clinton. Saddam Hussein and Indira Gandhi are likewise referred to only as "The president of Iraq" and "The prime minister of India".
    • Taken to its extreme in Patriot Games, wherein Prince Charles appears as a major character and even assists Jack Ryan in a gunfight against the IRA; throughout the novel, he is referred to only as "the Prince of Wales".
  • Very similar approach in Patrick Robinson's technothrillers, set 20 Minutes into the Future, in which again "the president of Iraq" is obviously Saddam.
  • A sort of anonymous ringer appears in Harry Turtledove's In the Presence of My Enemies, an Alternate History set in 2009 Nazi Germany - the Fuhrer, "Kurt Haldweim", is a blatant stand-in for real-world Austrian president, and UN Secretary General, Kurt Waldheim, who in real life would die in 2007.
    • The Timeline-191 books are pretty bad when it comes to this trope thanks to Turtledove's de-emphasis on geopolitics. Except for a few mentions of Churchill, leaders of countries other than the USA and CSA are only referred to by title ("the Kaiser", "the Czar", etc.).
      • Actually, most of these character's names are spoken at least a few times. "The Kaiser" is used in a ton of speeches, but when only one man on the planet has that particular title, it's just easier to refer to him in that way. US and CS leaders both have the title of President, so if you wanted to refer to Jake Featherston (Confederate Hitler) instead of Al Smith (US Neville Chamberlain, though Smith was also a real historical figure) you had to use both name and title.
  • Exception: Robert Ludlum used real life terrorist mastermind Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez, a.k.a. "Carlos the Jackal", as the Big Bad in his Jason Bourne novels, and even killed him off at the end of The Bourne Ultimatum. (In real life, Carlos faded into obscurity and was eventually captured in 1994.)
  • Another aversion: Stephen Coonts's 1990 thriller Under Siege (not to be confused with the Steven Seagal movies) featured an assassination attempt on George Bush, with V.P. Dan Quayle forced to assume the acting presidency. Notable for incorporating real political figures while they were in office—and for making the book extremely dated as a result.
  • The BFG has "The Queen". Although she's only referred by that title, the illustrations depict her as Elizabeth II.
  • The Prime Minister's Brain by Gillian Cross is one of many British stories from the 1980s that referred to "the Prime Minister" but avoided mentioning said character's sex.
  • Mephisto by German author Klaus Mann did this to the extreme. The protagonist and theatre attendant Hendrik Höfgen is a copy of the real-world Gustav Gründgens among others. Other Weimar entertainment figures receive similar treatment, including a person who leaves Germany to pursue a film career. Also the important figures of the Nazi regime are only referred to as "the dictator", "the pilot-general", the propaganda-minister" and so forth. This strategy however didn't stop West-German court from prohibiting publication of the book until much later.
  • In the 1980s science-fiction novel Voyagers, some real-life SETI astronomers are mentioned, but they never show up, even though they would have reason to appear, because the book is all about a signal from space.
  • One of the vignettes in World War Z describes a group of celebrities holing up in a Long Island mansion to wait out the Zombie Apocalypse. The narrator declines to name names for fear of legal action from the survivors or their estates, but Paris Hilton, Bill Maher, Ann Coulter, Ruben Studdard, and Larry the Cable Guy are all identifiable from their descriptions. Several politicians get the treatment as well - the wartime president and veep are clearly Colin Powell and Howard Dean, the pre-war president's chief of staff is Karl Rove, and Vladimir Putin apparently declares himself Czar.
  • Used blatantly in Area 7: the President is a main character, but he's only addressed as "Mr. President" and referred to as "the President" during the narration.
  • Charles Stross's The Merchant Princes Series: This story takes place during the second Bush administration, and the descriptions of the president and vice president's past and personality clearly indicate that they are G.W. Bush and Dick Cheney respectively, but they are only ever referred to (or addressed) as BOY WONDER and WARBUCKS, their supposed CIA code names. This may be due to the fact that BOY WONDER dies in a nuclear attack on D.C. partially orchestrated by WARBUCKS.
  • Several Salman Rushdie novels feature characters based on prominent politicians - Midnight’s Children mentions a female prime minister with Cruella DeVil hair - a reference to Indira Gandhi's distinctive hairstyle. One chapter of The Satanic Verses centers on "the Iman", a Persian extremist expatriate obsessed with water and cleanliness, obviously based on Ayatollah Khomeini's exile in France. The Golden House's Gary Gwynplaine is based on on Donald Trump, in the years before his election.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In season 2 of 24, "three Middle Eastern countries" are accused of complicity in an attempted nuclear attack on the US.
    • Again in Season 5, where "Central Asia" becomes a euphemism for Chechnya.
    • In Season 6, Fayed's home country. (Obviously Lebanon, based on maps shown on-screen.). It is painfully referred to dozens of times as "his country", "the country" etc.
  • In "Dead and Buried", an episode of The Bill (a show that usually names countries), the plot involves a diplomat from an unnamed Eastern European country. It also has a character mislocate Prague as Western Europe ("Central Europe" is the more accurate term).
  • Doctor Who
    • In "The Christmas Invasion", Harriet Jones, Prime Minister (Yes, we know who you are) refers to "the President" and then makes an Iraq War comment:
      "Use these exact words — 'He is not my boss and he is certainly not turning this into a war'."
      • Which becomes somewhat ironic when her course of action in the end is to wait until the aliens have surrendered to the Doctor and then kill them all as they leave. Well, a war it wasn't, anyway.
    • She also mentions jokingly in "Aliens of London" that she is "not one of the 'babes'", referring to the so-called "Blair's Babes", a term used to refer to the high-profile women that Tony Blair gave favour to at the beginning of his administration.
    • In "The Sound of Drums", a US "President-Elect" (which Russell Davies thought was just the longer official title of the president) would actually be shown on screen. While the president in this case is a fictional character, he has some similarities to George W. Bush. And is killed by the Master (he even stays dead when the Reset Button gets pushed at the end of the series, his death being the last event before it takes effect).
    • In "Extremis", the US President briefly appears in an episode, but he is a brown-haired male although this was actually happening in a simulated reality with minute differences from the original. The next episode has companion Bill Potts refer to the President as being "orange".
  • Maid in Akihabara: The president of the US (only seen from the back, with Asian skin tone, a blond dye job, and Gratuitous English) is comically a fan of maid cafés.
  • In Pennyworth, which is set in an alternate 60s version of England (the UK is apparently not more), the Queen is never named and apparently not married, so it's left ambiguous if she's Elizabeth II or not.
  • Stargate SG-1 had two sitting Presidents over its ten year run. The first was never shown or mentioned by name, but a Brainwashed and Crazy Martouf/Lantash tries to kill a decoy that looked like then-President Bill Clinton. The second was the entirely fictional Henry Hayes, with equally fictional antagonist Robert Kinsey as Vice President. Kinsey is forced to resign at the end of the seventh season, but his replacement is never mentioned or shown. Mitchell does make a quip about a "Vice Presidential duck hunt" in the tenth season, suggesting Kinsey was replaced by then-Vice President Dick Cheney.

    Video Games 
  • Averted and played straight in different versions of Bad Dudes. The home console versions all have you rescuing "The President", who is never mentioned by name (though at the end he resembles George H.W. Bush). The original arcade game, however, specifically asks if you're a "bad enough dude to rescue President Ronnie", and the image at the end is clearly Reagan.
  • In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the Middle Eastern country where Khaled al-Assad stages a violent coup is never named. The geography tends to be "all over the place" with pinpointed areas including land in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran (specifically Khuzestan), and Kuwait. But Al-Assad refers to a "monarchy" that was replaced by al-Fulani during in a revolution. Saudi Arabia is the only monarchy in the region, neither Iraq nor Iran nor Yemen having monarchies. Kuwait could qualify, being an Emirate but unlikely (not to mention, Kuwait is too small for the campaign to take place in). Gaz refers to al-Assad as "the second-most powerful man in the Middle East", so presumably whatever country he's in charge of is the second most powerful in the region, which combined with him speaking Arabic (so it can't be Turkey or Iran) basically narrows it down to Saudi Arabia or some fictional country that integrates multiple real-world ones. Also, while the map markers show multiple different countries, the marker for the city identified as his capital is definitely placed at where Riyadh is in reality.
    • It seems to be a combination of Saudi Arabia and Syria. The name of its ruler, its close relationship with Russia, its military being armed with Soviet-made military equipment (from AKMs to T-72s to Hinds), and the relatively secular nationalist movement that takes over are all cribbed directly from Syria rather than Saudi Arabia, which has no notable generals or politicians by the name of "Assad", has been anti-Russian since the Cold War, uses almost entirely American-made weapons, and has no notable nationalist movements, with the main opposition to the government being more extreme Salafists. All of these points also apply to pre-2003 Iraq (except for the leader being named "Assad"), which could be another inspiration (and as noted some of the map markers do pinpoint locations in Iraq).
  • Resident Evil 4 takes place "in a rural part of Europe", though a character mentions he used to be a cop in Madrid and the currency collected is in pesetas. In yet another case of RE's infamous voice-acting quality, the characters speak in Mexican dialects instead of Spanish ones. One might argue this was to make the game's setting harder to pinpoint, but then the Separate Ways side-story starts off with Wesker viewing a satellite image of the location in question... and it's smack-dab in the middle of Spain.
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is set in the last years of Japan's Sengoku period, but the faction menacing Ashina is only identified as the "Interior Ministry" and "Central Forces". However, anyone familiar with Japanese history can guess that the Ministry is the Tokugawa clan since they had already conquered most of the country by the early 1600s. In fact, the Interior Ministry soldiers who appear in the final assault on Ashina Castle wear emblems with floral designs suspiciously similar to those on the Tokugawa family crest.
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas has CJ cheekily ask if The Pope defecates in the woods (a humorous if not obscene mashup of the idioms "Does a bear shit in the woods?" and "Is the Pope a Catholic?"), most likely referring to Pope John Paul II given the game's 1992 setting.

    Web Original 
  • Largely averted in the webfiction Whateley Universe. There are two created countries run by supervillains (Wallachia in Eastern Europe and Karedonia in the Caribbean), but other than that, real countries are named and real people are used.
    • Furthermore, both countries are small, and very explicitly have no real-world analogues. (Wallachia is a real location, but it hasn't been a separate country since the mid-19th century: it's the main province of Romania, and was the bit that Vlad the Impaler ruled back in the day.note )
  • Academia is never explicit about its setting, but the buildings are all modeled after the University of Toronto and its surrounding neighbourhood.
  • Chubbyemu presents a fictionalised account of the life and death of Ron "Pigpen" Mc Kernan of The Grateful Dead in "A Man Drank 3 Liters Rum Everyday Since Age 13. This is What Happened To His Liver", envisioning how the liver disease that killed him in 1973 might have been curable using modern medicine available in the late 2010s.

    Real Life 
  • Interestingly, two separate techno-thrillers (Firefox and Clancy's Red Rabbit) feature the real-life (at the time) KGB head Yuri Andropov. Like Vladimir Putin, Andropov would later lead his country.
  • In Steven Bach's Final Cut, the story of the making of Heaven's Gate, a group of studio executives spend several pages discussing how much to bid for the rights to a novel whose title and author are never mentioned. But it is mentioned that the author's first novel had been made into "one of the top-grossing pictures of all time" and was about sharks. That narrows it down quite a bit.note