Follow TV Tropes


Apathy Killed the Cat

Go To

"Apathy is death."

Remember that old saying, "Curiosity killed the cat"? It seems that many fictional characters have taken it so close to heart that it may as well be a pacemaker.

Whenever "normals" from the real world end up discovering they're in a Speculative Fiction and/or Supernatural world, they inevitably run afoul of some Applied Phlebotinum, Negative Space Wedgie or magical phenomenon... and show no curiosity as to how it works, why it's there, or any other thing that people would immediately wonder about.

Of course, in some cases, the characters are afraid of messing with something they don't understand. Most of the time though, they don't even ask the simplest questions that anyone would be dying to know; or, you know, might lead to them not screwing up things further. The plot cannot have that, however.

Specific instances of this outside technology also include alien societies in general, ignoring their discoveries in science, philosophy, art, culture in general, even local flora and fauna unless it's the deadly carnivorous plant variety. This often leads to (or results from) a Planet of Hats treatment. Other possibilities include the discovery of an afterlife (Judeo-Christian or not), the existence of souls and ghosts, the discovery of superpowers, and in general discovering a partial or full answer to one of the deep questions humanity currently wrestles with.

Then again, Curiosity Killed the Cast.

Compare Misapplied Phlebotinum and Forgotten Phlebotinum. See also It's Probably Nothing, and Bystander Syndrome. Contrast Achievements in Ignorance, for when this is necessary.


    open/close all folders 

    Comic Books 
  • A rule in most comic book universes where the Fantasy Kitchen Sink is prevalent and anyone can be Pals with Jesus. This is particularly bad in DC where much of Vertigo Comics deals with the supernatural. You'd think that there'd be at least some intersection between characters who know about the afterlife and characters willing to say "I have positive proof that Christianity is false because the afterlife you get is based on what you believe".
    • Problem is, as soon as you bring up the issue of whether any or all religions (especially the Judeo-Christian ones) are false, you run a real risk of losing sales.
    • It's canon in DC comics that the afterlife is pretty much whatever the heck you think it is. That is, until hell comes to Earth and starts eating people, which happens about twice a year.
    • The Sandman (1989)'s Death (who has become DC's official Anthropomorphic Personification of Death, give or take a few badly attempted retcons) has mentioned in some sources that she has no idea where people go after she takes them.
    • Which has been badly contradicted by numerous accounts, including The Sandman (1989) itself, which explicitly states that you go to Hell only if you want to, and that there are numerous other places to go, including Hades for those of the traditional Greek faith, the Dreaming for those whom Dream finds interesting, and reincarnation. The Judeo-Christian God is explicitly the creator of everything, but pagan gods exist and have power under him.
    • During Brightest Day, Lex Luthor asked Death why she did not interfere during Blackest Night. She answers that the Zombie Apocalypse did not really interest her.
    • One DC comic character was questioned as to how he could be an atheist in a world where divinity is manifestly real. His reply indicated that in a world with Superman, wizards, and multidimensional alien invasions, the mere presence of something supernatural did not prove it came from an all-powerful divinity.

  • Both Bruce Almighty and Evan Almighty run into this trope where the protagonist meets God and, even once they are convinced it is really God, do not ask any of the questions one might expect (in fact they ask very few questions of God at all).
  • In Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Gretel starts to question why their parents abandoned them in the woods and why witches' magic doesn't affect them directly. Hansel says he doesn't care.
  • Indiana Jones: Indiana has been presented with absolute incontrovertible proof of the truth of the Old Testament and the New Testament (and arguably the Bhagavad Gita). This seems to have had absolutely no effect on his lifestyle, career, or (dis)belief in the supernatural.
  • Invoked in Looper. Joe asks his future self about time travel and memories, but Old Joe shuts him down, pointing out how confusing time travel can be. "I don't want to talk about time travel shit. Because if we talk about it, then we're gonna be here all day, drawing diagrams with straws." Abe, who's also from the future, concurs: "This time travel shit just fries your brain like an egg."
  • Roger Ebert got into an amusing rant about the film Over Her Dead Body and the fact that no one seemed to consider the staggering theological implications a real live ghost (or should that be a real dead ghost) would mean. He had similar issues with Jack Frost, wherein Michael Keaton dies and is reincarnated as a snowman to help his son fight bullies. People can be reincarnated? As inanimate objects??? Oh, don't bother elaborating on that. Back to the snowball fight.
  • Invoked in Spider-Man: Far From Home. Quentin Beck’s deception of claiming to be a warrior from another dimension works because people in the MCU are so used to the surprise arrival of gods and aliens that nobody bothers to investigate him closely and discover he’s just a disgruntled Stark Industries employee with special effects.
  • Christopher Lloyd's character in Suburban Commando seems to have no questions or comments when it is revealed that his tenant is an alien bounty hunter. The most he registers is mild annoyance at the fact that he WAS FROZEN TODAY!
  • Teen Wolf: Nobody seems to be too interested in the existence of werewolves other than how well they can play high school basketball.
  • Turning Red: Most of Mei's classmates seem uninterested in finding out that her giant red panda transformation is linked to her emotions they only care that the form is cute and huggable. This attitude causes Tyler to become complacent and think bullying her won't have any consequences.
  • Discussed by Magneto in X-Men: The Last Stand as justification to have Worthington Labs' mutation cure destroyed on the grounds that while at first it would be played as a voluntary cure; Worthington and the other Humans would soon start rounding up Mutants and forcing Mutants like them to take the cure all the while the neutral Mutants would be talking about trying to get organized, form committees and talk to government representatives about raising Mutant awareness.
    Magneto: It is only then when you realize that while you're talking about 'Organizing' and 'Committees', the extermination has already begun.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • Various companions fail to question changing history, whereas some address the problems from the start (Barbara Wright). "Why do we need to save history? I come from the present, so I know history went right," or "If you can't change history, why could you save me? I'm history to you!"
    • This was lampshaded in the 1975 story "Pyramids of Mars". When they're in 1911, Sarah Jane asks the Doctor why they need to save the future when they've already been in 1980 and it didn't need saving. The Doctor answers the question by taking the TARDIS to 1980 and showing her that the Earth has been destroyed. Only if they set things right back in 1911 can the "real" 1980 be restored.
    • At least there's one odd thing they never fail to remark on: "It's bigger on the inside!"
  • The Good Place: Played for laughs. As Chidi explains to Eleanor that Janet can answer any question about history or the origin of the universe, Eleanor asks about an old crush. She then spends the rest of the series resolutely ignoring Janet unless she needs something. Presumably Chidi did ask all those important questions, but they aren't relevant to Eleanor's problems, so we never hear the answers.
  • In The Lost Room, a character gets a key that takes him into a hotel room that exists outside time and space. Walking out of the room takes you to any place in the world with a door. Why, why, why didn't he start experimenting with things like climbing out the window to see what happens? This is especially glaring considering that other characters do things like put things in the room, then close and open the door (making them disappear) and check if the room has electricity and running water (it does).
  • Star Trek is famous for not asking the alien cultures they visit about local laws and rules. Especially when they send crew members on shore leave; you would think it might be smart to ask about local laws and taboos just to make sure no one accidentally violates them. The notorious Prime Directive would give them an incentive to avoid asking those questions. The less they know about the culture, the less intentional their interference in it becomes, and the better excuse they can make for a court-martial.
    • In one episode, the planet they visit is described as being like the Garden of Eden and they arrive to see it as nice, relaxed and so are naturally put off guard about the possibility that there may be randomly applied death penalty for even a tiny infraction (though they do find out about it through casual conversation, albeit a little too late). In retrospect, it does make the initial comparison double-sided.
    • Most of the time, the blunders the crews make would not have happened in the first place if the aliens had said "by the way, we punish doing this by death — tell your people not to do this, okay?" And the fact that they NEVER make exceptions for ignorance of the local laws because these are offworlds... One example involves B'Elanna Torres of Star Trek: Voyager nearly suffering neurological damage because they were removing violent THOUGHTS, which are illegal on this planet (their hat being telepathy). B'Elanna is part KLINGON — violence is the brim on their hat.
    • There are multiple explanations for this, and they vary depending on the specific show you are watching. Kirk's Enterprise was an exploratory vessel, most of the places they were going were not explored or had very little known about them. The red shirts sacrificed are the people the (future) history books will cite when they say "Planet 56793-d: Breathable atmosphere, rocky terrain, salt vampires". Picard's Enterprise had this as less of an excuse, though they did encounter new territories and cultures. The ones they were even mildly familiar with were probably cataloged in the ship's computer and served as intercom messages before departing. Even so, laws change, and the files may be dated. And regardless of which ship you are on, the fact remains that if you go to a foreign country/planet, and break a law, "I didn't know" doesn't tend to work. Still doesn't explain why they don't ask for a copy of all local laws and have a computer program flag any capital punishment or where the punishment is two or more orders of magnitude harsher than Federation average. In some episodes they handwave this by saying they did a cursory review of local laws before beaming down but missed a vital point, which just makes the crewmen who did the review look incompetent.
    • There's also cases where something unexpected happens with their own technology as the impetus for the episode, and no one worries about the implications. Such as the episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where it's discovered that a partially reflected transporter beam caused there to have been two William Rikers for several years. When they do find the other Riker, they do ask a couple perfunctory questions, like which one is the real Will Riker. The answer to that is a half-assed "They're both real." No one seems at all concerned with the physical or metaphysical ramifications of their discovery, or even question whether the accident could be duplicated to effectively create clones of every living being in the Galaxy. They just spend the episode helping "Tom" Riker adjust to being back among civilization.
    • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "When the Bough Breaks", Wesley Crusher learns the Aldeans have no interest in learning how their own technology works or how to repair it. In this case, apathy really was killing them as their technology was the reason why they were sterile and slowly dying.
  • Just about everyone in The Prisoner (1967) apart from the main character. "Questions are a burden to others, answers a prison for ourselves". Brrr. They do have some incentive to avoid questions, what with the giant suffocating bubble lying in the wings.
  • In Warehouse 13, Pete hasn't read the Warehouse's manual, and even the characters who have are still finding out new things about the Warehouse - they were surprised to find an entire Bed and Breakfast inside, for example. Justified in that the Warehouse is impossibly large (stretching farther than the eye can see) and Artie doesn't like to share information.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The players, in any RPG, especially when they're looking for a hack and slash and the DM keeps trying to layer on mysteries.
  • This is a common survival tactic in Paranoia, where even the most innocent question could be beyond your security clearance and suddenly draw the attention of Friend Computer, IntSec, and/or your overeager teammates who are looking for an excuse to terminate you for being a suspected Commie mutant traitor.
  • Almost a policy in Warhammer 40,000, where you most likely don't want to know. "Only the awkward question; only the foolish ask twice."

    Video Games 
  • Notably averted in Final Fantasy X ... Tidus' questions about things that everyone knows or takes for granted is what begins to truly convince Lulu that he's not from Spira. It also ends up driving the whole plot since otherwise no one would end up questioning the system they are in. This is probably what the Fayth intended when they tossed Tidus out of Zanarkand into Spira; to ask the questions and start demanding better answers than "this is so" so as to kick apathy out of Spira.
    • That said the trope is played straight when Auron joins the party. Tidus knows for a fact Auron knows more than he lets on about what is going on, but rarely pushes for answers - nor does he ever question why Auron is being so secretive, mostly just dismissing that crucial piece of info as Auron being obstinate. He also never even makes it clear to Yuna and the rest of the group how much Auron has to know so they can help press him for answers. Auron of course has his reasons to play things close to his chest but the party never really confronts or asks any questions about why the man who clearly has all the answers isn't saying anything.
  • One of the arguments that Marche is a Villain Protagonist in Final Fantasy Tactics Advance is that he automatically assumes Ivalice is a fake world without asking a single question to test that idea. Babus Swain also calls him out on deciding that the only way to restore the real world is to outright destroy the fake one without even looking for alternatives.
  • Half-Life 2:
    • Gordon Freeman seems perfectly happy to join up with the first faction he meets without asking simple questions like "Who are you fighting?", "Why?" or "Do you have any kind of plan?". Or saying anything at all, actually. There is a bit of a Hand Wave in that said faction does consist largely of his former coworkers and friends.
    • The other faction also tries to kill Gordon before he's made any decisions at all. Which would tend to streamline the decision-making process tremendously.
    • The G-Man's comments at the end hint Gordon might be without free will, contracted to the faction he fought for by the G-Man.
  • "Apathy is death" is a phrase that gets repeated at you if you fail at a Vision Quest in Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords. To fail you have to turn your back on the fights and rivalries in your party, of which there are many. The lesson here is that you're the leader and you have to make everyone work together, despite their differences.
  • In Mass Effect, it's actually illegal to perform aggressive research (in other words, capturing or dissecting) the Keepers, the enigmatic species that runs the Citadel that galactic government is run from. This is mostly because there's not much to gain from trying, as the Keepers will self-destruct if interfered with and they are incredibly difficult to scan. After over a millennia of completely fruitless attempts to research them, the Council gave up. It's revealed in the game that they were actually engineered to run the Citadel by the Reapers and the whole structure is Schmuck Bait: a perfect space station to set up a galactic government from so that the Reapers can decapitate said government in their opening attack and seize all its records on military structure and populations. Fortunately, the last surviving Protheans figured out what was happening and figured out a way to interfere, giving the current species a fighting chance.
  • In Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, No character on Mother Base cared what happened to Paz after she fell out of the Metal Gear you built. Except an army of players, of course...
  • It's used to an extent in Persona 4 to pull out a surprise twist, should the player start questioning why the protagonist managed to obtain his persona-summoning abilities WITHOUT having to face his inner demons.
  • Justified in Rule of Rose. After being given a storybook by a strange boy, Jennifer inexplicably finds herself aboard a ghostly airship filled with nasty children. You'd think that she'd ask someone where she is and what's going on, but between the Unreliable Narrator and the Thirty Mind Screw Pileup, the player only gets a secondhand view of Jennifer's character. Hell, since the game is likely a hallucination, a dream or the afterlife, it's also possible Jennifer knows the answers already.
  • Silent Hill:
    • In Silent Hill 2, when James sees his first monster, he promptly whacks it with a board and wonders briefly what it is. After that, he never questions anything else about the decidedly messed up town he's in. Justified because he's completely nuts.
    • Subverted in Silent Hill 3. Like those before her, Heather assumes the monsters to be either demons or illusions, only to be rebuffed with the famous line: "Monsters? They look like monsters to you?" Of course, Vincent is a Manipulative Bastard of a psychiatrist/cult leader, so he may just be trying to mess with her.
    • Henry of Silent Hill 4 suffers from the same lack of reflection on the circumstances he's facing. Could be justified in that he's been through extended isolation, sleep deprivation, and malnourishment to the point that he could be prone to and apathetic to hallucination, but this is simply a projection of conditions only alluded to in the beginning, and never touched on through the story. Heck, the first person he runs into, a woman named Velasquez, assumes it's all a weird dream and comes on to Henry. Most of the other people who end up in the Other Side have similar confused and muted reactions, if at all, as the crackhead doesn't seem to even see the monsters.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: A major plot point is that everyone in Aionios suffers from this regarding pretty much everything not related to the Forever War. After the protagonists become Ouroboros, they start to notice that many details of the world around them are clearly very odd, especially the unknown reasons for the war, and yet they'd never thought to question any of it before now. This even extends to basic biology; the human races are all born from Uterine Replicators with no concept of natural birth, but it's only the party members who wonder how exactly animals and monsters can reproduce. Moebius turns out to be invoking this effect via the Flame Clocks, which are designed to dampen people's natural curiosity in order to make them focus on killing each other and keeping the world stagnant.

  • Fate/type Redline:
    • When Kanata Akagi starts vanishing from existence because his grandmother is being killed, Assassin is only mildly surprised before deciding he doesn't care.
    • Kaname Asama and her Archer find the magic hourglass that transported Kanata Akagi to their time period. She shows it to her superior, Major Magatsu, and says she can tell it is special and would like to study it and find out how it works. Magatsu says he doesn't care and berates her for wasting his time.
  • In Misfile, Ash and Emily meet with angels and learn of a Celestial Bureaucracy that can rewrite reality depending on how the files are arranged. They show no interest in this at all beyond their current predicament.
  • In a similar vein, the cast of Spinnerette have encountered a villainess who turned herself into a drider by performing a ritual to Lolth, and a Cerberus-girl charged with keeping damned souls in Hell. No one has any questions about the theological ramifications of this.

    Western Animation 
  • Blythe from Littlest Pet Shop (2012) somehow gains the ability to talk to and understand animals following a dumbwaiter accident. After a brief questioning of it in the first episode, the how and why of it beyond "dumbwaiter accident" is never brought up or pursued again.
  • Happens continuously within My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic whenever it comes to a foreign power or overlord invading Equestria to cause havoc. The biggest example of this happens when Changelings launched an all-out invasion of Canterlot during a wedding celebration at the end of Season 2, and later returned to capture the Political Leaders and National Heroes and replace them with their own Changelings at the end of Season 6. For well over four seasons, the Ponies, the Princesses, and the Royal Guards knew what sort of threat the Changelings posed to Equestria, but they did not seem to do anything at all to create any sort of anti-Changeling protocols in order to try exposing disguised Changelings that might be infiltrating their towns and cities. Thorax, a Changeling that had participated in the original invasion of Canterlot and had later defected to the Crystal Empire; the Ponies did not even bother to ask him where exactly the Changelings Hive was located at or even what kind of defenses the Changelings had employed to protect their territory.
  • Steven Universe:
    • The Crystal Gems deliberately hide a lot about gems and their history from Steven, but even then Steven tends to not ask questions when they would otherwise be very helpful.
      Steven: Why do I never ask follow-up questions?!
    • In a broader sense, the Crystal Gems, despite having made their lives' purpose for thousands of years to defend Earth, its living creatures, and humanity, have shown basically zero curiosity about any of them. To the point that what a baby is was unknown to them when Steven was born. While some of it made sense (there had been no union between a human and a gem before Steven so they couldn't be sure what capabilities baby Steven had and how much of Rose resided in him), a lot of stuff seen in flashback indicates they basically lived as hermits with no understanding of the society or species they charged themselves with protecting. It's only when they became responsible for raising Steven that this changed as their role as his caretaker now forced them to acquire this understanding.
  • In the final episode of Teen Titans, "Things Change", while the other Titans question how Terra is back to normal after being turned into a statue, Beast Boy is more interested in the fact that she is back rather than how she came back.
  • In Thunder Cats 2011, the Catfolk-populated kingdom of Thundera is largely confident in its Medieval Stasis, Kung-Fu Wizard Magic Knights and its magic-sword-wielding king. Technology, however, is nothing but a fairy tale for cubs, and anything for sale in the Black Market is obviously a fake crafted to take in the gullible. Naturally, the trope becomes exceptionally literal once a newly Higher-Tech Species pulls a Super Weapon Surprise on the Cats.

    Real Life 
  • College students often do this during lectures, including ones where they are outright told that half of the material is lies.
    • This also goes back as far as the 1st grade.
  • Some self-professed members of political parties, religions, scientific communities, etc. barely know anything about their or the opposing party's beliefs and are basically the reason the Strawman Political exists.
  • We live in a society filled with amazing technology of great power and sophistication. Use of these machines grants capabilities unimagined by our ancestors. Yet many people have no interest in learning how these things work, despite the fact that the answers are often listed in easy-to-understand guides available to anybody who wants them.
    • On the downside, documentation usually sucks. Too often it's rushed out by someone so familiar with the product that they're completely out of touch with how most people would want to use it.
  • "Magnets - how do they work?"
  • A trope is you! Do you know how your computer works? You might know it involves ones and zeros, maybe some HTML and Java, but that's it.
    • Averted! The majority who use computers are curious enough to gather a lay understanding, but believe it or not, just like automotive mechanics and the physics of the combustion engine, knowing the details are not crucial to your survival! Not knowing won't kill any cats.
    • However, it may kill your computer. The Windows OS gets such a bad rap because many people who use it refuse to learn anything about it, do not maintain it, introduce easily escapable viruses because they have no idea how easy they are to avoid, or screw Windows up because they do something they seriously should not be doing. The term "computer illiterate" was created by computer geeks to describe this very common problem.
      • Unless you get captured and interrogated by a Serial Killer who really, really likes computers and really, really hates cats.