Normally when something bad happens to an individual you feel some degree of pity for them. But then when that person is a Jerkass, when horrible things happen to them it is less sympathy and more satisfaction. They may not be directly responsible for THIS particular misfortune, as that would be Laser-Guided Karma, but their behavior means something like this was going to happen eventually. This can range from the victim merely being a dick to being a far worse criminal than the person he or she is a victim to.
In other words, when a corpse-shaped or victim-shaped hole in the plot is filled with a character who is in some way sufficiently repugnant, the audience feeling bad about their death/victimization is unlikely.note
This trope can show up for a variety of reasons, but a common one is to make the criminal (or Non-Malicious Monster) into a Sympathetic Murderer. This is especially likely if the Asshole Victim's dickery is what motivated the criminal to commit the crime in the first place. This often occurs in works that feature an Anti-Hero or Villain Protagonist; their victims are such horrible people that the protagonist looks heroic by comparison, and/or Start of Darkness stories will have the protagonist's first victims be terrible people so they don't lose audience sympathy at the beginning of the tale.
Further, there are structural reasons for engaging in this trope: Given that, in many of these situations, the story requires either a Victim of the Week or an early death to make clear the stakes, putting an asshole of some variety in the corpse-shaped hole in your plot brings up less of the "Tonight, someone will be killed for your entertainment" Fridge Logic. Also, establishing that the victim was widely despised makes for a more challenging mystery because of the sheer number of suspects with motives, and obtaining a conviction harder, as the jury might sympathize with the killer. Indeed, murder mysteries with Asshole Victims are common enough to have their own trope: Who Murdered the Asshole?.
Compare Pay Evil unto Evil, where otherwise evil actions are portrayed as OK as long as the victims deserve it. Conversely, someone may protest If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him. Kick the Son of a Bitch is when the bad guy is genuinely malicious and without a sympathetic motivation in the slightest, but their victim just happened to be an asshole. The de facto target of the Vigilante Man, and by definition the target of the Serial-Killer Killer, the Wife-Basher Basher, the Karmic Thief, and those on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge.
While the Real Life violent deaths of certain dictators and certain kinds of criminals might qualify for this trope, which ones qualified and which ones didn't would be endlessly debated, depending on your perspective, so we kindly ask that you refrain from adding any real life examples.
All spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.
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- Esben and the Witch has Sir Red, who tries repeatedly to get Esben's brothers executed by lying that they told him they could fetch a wonderful or magical item (a dove with feathers of gold, a boar with bristles of silver and gold, a lamp that shines brightly enough to light seven kingdoms, a coverlet that is the most beautiful in the world, and if touched, sounds loudly enough to be heard in eight kingdoms). Sir Red is Hanged in the in end, "for his wickedness... and so he got the end he deserved." The brothers are assholes, but not victims; The witch's daughters are guilty of nothing more than being her daughters, and the thirteenth one in fact helps Esben, and gets baked for her efforts.
- Wicked stepmothers and stepsisters generally tend to be this, unless the heroine is kind enough to have them pardoned.
- "Goodbye, Earl" by the Dixie Chicks is about a woman and her friend murdering her abusive ex-husband.
- "Janie's Got A Gun" by Aerosmith is about a teenage girl who shoots her father after being raped by him.
- "I Remember Larry" by Weird Al has the eponymous Larry do all sorts of horrible things to his neighbor, who eventually snaps and leaves him for dead.
- Mercedes Lackey's filk "It Was a Dark and Stormy Night." The Countess, a talentless would-be musician, dies in a locked tower to which her husband has the only other key. But she was such an unpleasant person that:
And one fact most astounding to them quickly came to light—
That every moment of the Count was vouched for on that night.
The castle folk by ones and twos came forward on their own
To swear the Count had never once that night been all alone.
So though the Tower had been locked tight, with two keys to the door,
One his, one hers; the Count of guilt was plain absolved for sure.
- "38 Years Old" by The Tragically Hip is about a man imprisoned for murdering his sister's rapist.
- "Terror Starts at Home" by Beneath the Sky is another example of this. A man rapes his own daughter and she responds by cutting his penis off. The music video shows it in graphic detail.
- "Testicular Manslaughter" by Cattle Decapitation and "Blunt Force Castration" by Cannibal Corpse are also about a rapist being castrated.
- Alt-Rapper Jesse Dangerously's song "Outfox'd (When Pacifists Attack)" is about one getting what's coming to him:
In broad daylight, hey guys
- The girlfriend's father in The Police song "Once Upon A Daydream".
- Jimmy, from Devo's Smoothnoodlemaps, is an animal abuser, a Domestic Abuser, an Abusive Parent, liar, cheater, thief, Corrupt Corporate Executive, and made a living by "trashing others' lives", but now he's in a wheelchair and Devo don't care.
- Insane Clown Posse has the song "To Catch a Predator", which has Violent J hunting and torturing pedophiles. In the last verse, he chases one onto the lawn and drags him back inside in full view of his neighbors and mailman. Nobody says anything because they know what the guy was.
- Sublime's song "Date Rape", where a man who commits the titular crime feels the bad karma.
- Older Than Feudalism: In Classical Mythology this is a reoccurring theme.
- Ouranos and Kronos lose any sympathy points when they are brutally overthrown due to their treatment of their kids. The Olympians often punished mortals for being complete assholes, but were not limited to this.
- Hercules was known for his rages involving lots of death. What sets him apart from some other Greek heroes is the victim usually loses some sympathy by cheating Hercules or being a complete asshole. Herc usually accepted punishment when he was in the wrong.
- Norse Mythology is often very brutal with Grey and Gray Morality. The gods usually come off slightly better by the giants who were being massive assholes first.
In one version of one story, the gods make a bet a giant to build a wall for Valhalla under a certain time limit, and put Freya, the goddess of love, up for stakes. When they realize that his very strong horse is helping him enough that he's likely to win, they... don't actually do anything. But then the giant decides that he should get the sun and the moon as winnings too, and that prompts the gods to tamper with the contest, and they slay the giant after he loses the bet. (In another version the sun and moon were part of the original deal.)
- The Bible:
- Amnon and Absalom both fall under this heading. The former raped his half-brother Absalom's (half?) sister Tamar. Since his father David evidently felt his own philandering had undercut any authority he had to punish Amnon for this, Absalom eventually took matters into his own hands and had his men assassinate Amnon during a banquet. Drunk on his success, Absalom later rebelled against David, whose Token Evil Teammate Joab managed to catch Absalom at a vulnerable moment and kill him. As the final link in this chain of treachery and murder, David's heir Solomon, in accord with David's instructions on his deathbed, later put Joab to death at his earliest legal opportunity.
- Many later kings qualified, including (but by no means limited to): Nadab, Elah, Zechariah, Shallum, Pekahiah, and Pekah of Israel; Joash and Amon of Judah; Sennacherib of Assyria; and Co-Regent Belshazzar of Bablyon.
- Jehoram of Judah, whom God struck down with some kind of intestinal plague (possibly cholera). As noted in Chronicles, his death was "...to no one's regret..."
- The earlier books feature entire cities' worth of Asshole Victims, most notably Sodom, Gomorrah, and Amalek. In the case of the first two, the two messengers from God could only find six people among their populations who weren't complete scum.
- The Amalekites were a culture of bandits who followed behind the Israelites during the whole "forty years wandering the desert" thing and picked off the children and elderly for the heck of it. Later, their civilizations were reduced to skidmarks on the pavement (err, desert) by Israel.
- The Book of Esther doesn't tell us much about Vashti, except that she refused to obey her husband, King Ahasuerus, and thus lost her crown; we don't even know what happened to her, though most people assume that he had her executed. While this has invited sympathy and even feminist interpretations in modern times, the actual Jewish legends about Vashti paint her as a petty tyrant who forced her Jewish slaves to strip naked and work on the Sabbath. In some versions she refused to obey Ahasuerus' summons out of vanity, having been stricken by some sort of disfigurement as a divine punishment.
- Consul Karl Baumer in Margin for Error is a Nazi of the least likable sort. When Adolf Hitler is making a speech, he turns up the volume on the radio so loud that nobody hears the gunshot that kills him.
- Pirelli in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is a Snake Oil Salesman who passes off "piss and ink" as a hair tonic, beats Toby, and tries to blackmail Sweeney.
- Beadle Bamford snaps the neck of a bird Anthony wanted to give to Johanna, sends her to Fogg's Asylum on Judge Turpin's orders, and was responsible for the arrest and transportation of Sweeney himself back when he was Benjamin Barker. And Judge Turpin, the main target of Sweeney's vengeance, is an even bigger bastard, with his creepy lust toward both Sweeney's wife and his daughter kicking off the plot in earnest, as well as doing things like sentencing an eight-year-old boy to death by hanging while not giving a blessed damn about his actual guilt or innocence.
- And in the end, Mrs. Lovett thoroughly deserves her end for locking Toby in the evil basement so that she can have Sweeney kill him, and not letting Sweeney know that his wife was still alive — even leading him to believe that she was dead — because she wanted Sweeney for herself. And after every murder he's committed aside from Judge Turpin, Beadle Bamford, Pirelli and Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd himself also qualifies.
- The title character in Agamemnon tried to sacrifice his daughter to the gods, and ends up murdered by his wife and her paramour Aegisthus.
- Aegisthus himself qualifies as an Asshole Victim in The Libation Bearers. Oh, and by the way? Aegisthus also murdered Agamemnon's father, Atreus, for feeding Aegisthus' half-brothers to their father, Atreus' brother Thyestes. This family is one Asshole Victim after another.
- Played with in "The Cell Block Tango" in Chicago; all the ladies but The Hunyak swear up and down that they didn't do it but if they did, their victims were such bastards that they utterly deserved it. Whether they are to be believed is open to question (of course their flip-flopping makes it clear that they are obviously lying through their teeth. All The Hunyak says is that she didn't do it which makes her more believable.)
The Six Merry Mudresses: "[singing] He had it coming! He had it coming! He only had himself to blame! If you'd have been there, if you'd have seen it,..."Velma: "...I BET YA YOU WOULD HAVE DONE THE SAME!
- In Little Shop of Horrors, Audrey II's first live victim is the emotionally abusive father figure Mr. Mushnik, who's not much less of a jerk. Orin Scrivello is another one, for Seymour. Audrey II even uses the line "A lot of folks deserve to die" during the "Feed Me" number when talking about him.
- In Lizzie, the title character murders her father and stepmother. While her stepmother is ambiguous enough that it's hard to say whether she qualifies as this trope or not, her father absolutely does. An abusive father that's been molesting his younger daughter since her childhood? Yeah, ain't no one crying over this guy.
- Subverted in Nobilis: one example of play in the second edition rulebook involved an attack on the concept of Treachery that relied on warping reality so that a nice person who had been murdered by her boyfriend retroactively became an Asshole Victim. This would, apparently, have undermined Treachery by mixing in justice where it wasn't supposed to be, undermining reality itself. (Excrucians are frequently nice people, but one must never take that to mean they're good people.)
- A shroud's preferred victim in Anathema is almost certainly this, at least from that individual shroud's perspective. Especially considering that killing a preferred victim actually increases your will to live.
- A background paragraph in Warhammer concerns a duel between a Chaos Champion named Gharad the Ox and an Imperial Elector Count. As the Champion appeared to be winning, the townsfolk (mostly the women) started cheering him on rather than the Count. After his victory, Gharad left the town intact, feeling "obscurely pleased".
- There's a bunch of these in the book for Psionics: The Next Stage in Human Evolution.
- A racist bully is telekinetically slammed into a locker so hard he has to be hospitalized.
- An alpha bitch dies of an overdose.
- A manipulative bastard working for a shadowy government agency is pushed off the top of a stage.
- A child molester is burned to death.
- An entire building full of torture technicians is killed by the poor kid they were experimenting on.
- Someone who works for the same organization as said torture technicians is brutally maimed by an esper that they were trying to torture/brainwash into submission.
- In Warhammer 40,000, Slaanesh claims all unprotected Eldar souls upon death and subjects them to indescribable torments. It's a little hard to feel sorry for the Eldar Empire since it was their murderous depravity that spawned Slaanesh in the first place. The Craftworld and Exodite Eldar are sympathetic since they were the few Eldar who rejected the hedonism of the rest of the Empire. Indeed, their physical and metaphorical distance from that mess is the reason they survived the initial massacre when Slaanesh was born. The Dark Eldar on the other hand have sunk even further into depravity, placating Slaanesh with the souls and suffering of their victims just so they can have their cake and eat it too. If anyone truly deserved to become Slaanesh's plaything for eternity, it's the Dark Eldar.
- Pretty much anytime Chaos forces turn on each other is an example of this trope. The best example is the Battle of Skalathrax, where the World Eaters were fighting the Emperor's Children. The cold caused a lull in the fighting, until Kharn (later known as the Betrayer) of the World Eaters took a flamer and started setting both sides on fire. Before you start feeling bad about the Emperor's Children, they worship Slaanesh as well.
- Inverted in Kill Doctor Lucky. Dr. Lucky is stated to be a great guy that you all hate for petty reasons.
- In BattleTech one of the first worlds struck by the Clans were ruled by a pair of bandit kingdoms. The Barony of Strang who's leader is a descendant of a Rim Worlds Republic commander, and Santander's Killers who are a band of ruthless pirates who are a constant menace to the Inner Sphere. The Clans did everyone a favor in wiping them out.
- One of the cruelest canon fates in all roleplaying is accorded to Duke Rowan Darkwood in Planescape. Darkwood learns that he can use a specific soul trapped in a crystal as a weapon against the Lady of Pain, allowing him to take her place. It's a deception by the Lady herself; the spell actually traps the user's soul in a crystal and sends it back in time. Darkwood casts the spell, annihilating the soul in the crystal, and is catapulted back in time to endure centuries of torment ... torment that will only end when his past self annihilates his soul in order to trap himself in the first place. Although the text doesn't point it out, this is the Lady's little joke; Duke Darkwood constantly proclaimed himself a self-made man, so she provided him a self-made doom.
- Beast Wars: Uprising: The Builder Council, to a mech (save one who left early) get killed in the finale, by their own apocalyptic weapon. For extra Laser-Guided Karma, they were only in a position to be killed because they'd put themselves out in the open to gloat. And given the whole Crapsack World nature of the setting is almost entirely their fault... yeah, they got it coming.
- The Web Serial Novel Worm:
- The first people that the Slaughterhouse Nine (Superpowered Psychopaths) attack in the city are The Merchants, a gang of violent, drug dealing assholes.
- Bakuda is an unrepentant Mad Bomber. In her backstory she held her university hostage for giving her a less than perfect grade. She goes on to implant bombs in innocents and carry out an indiscriminate Brockton Bay-wide bombing spree. When she meets her end, no one weeps.
- Variant in Black Jack Justice: The Stopped Clock, where the wrongly accused killer is the asshole.
- Alex Kralie from Marble Hornets definitely qualifies as one. He murdered Jay, Seth, Sarah, Amy, and a man in Rosswood park, indirectly causing Brian's death, and attempting to murder Tim, Jessica, and Brian, yet he still was just another of The Operator's victims when you get down to it.
- All of Cody's victims in Angel of Death are criminals, and were killed in the process of committing crimes. In particular, he has stopped at least one rape and at least one mugging. Then again, the narrative doesn't really treat them like they had it coming, only like they're the best option available for Cody because killing them means saving someone else.
- While many characters in Survival of the Fittest clearly don't deserve getting killed, there are also many who are enough of a Jerkass to the point where it's hard to sympathize with them. Some of these border on Karmic Death, such as Anthony Burbank (who was repeatedly stabbed in the groin by the same cousin who he had bullied) and Philip Ward (beaten to death by Jimmy Brennan, a character he had previously beaten up in a hockey game in pre-game). A notable aversion, though, would be Monty Pondsworth of v4 pre-game. Although he was the most prominent Jerkass in pre-game, he did not make an appearance on the island, much to the disappointment of many handlers.
- Jeff the Killer: Jeff's first kills were Randy, Keith, and Troy, a trio of bullies who went around mugging kids and threatening them with knives. After Jeff beat the crap out of them, they got his brother sent to Juvy, and later attacked him at a birthday party to try and kill him, threatening to shoot anyone if they interfered.
- Discussed for laughs in an Outside Xbox Let's Play of Hitman (2016). At one point, Mike kills a security guard and is penalised, since the game deducts points when you kill anyone but the assigned target(s). Mike lamely protests this:
"Yes, non-target kill, but he was a bad man, I'm...fairly sure..."
- In Storm of Souls, no one is too upset when Brelith gets the dagger he just threw heated into molten metal and flung back into his face.
- In A World Less Visible, you can be forgiven for being upset Sima's death isn't horrible enough.