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Authority in Name Only

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Yes, folks, he really existed.

"Now, despite rumors to the contrary, I did not just buy a crown at the costume palace and ask people to start calling me the King of Town. I earned my title the same way I earned a free combo meal—by purchasing one of equal or lesser value."
The King of Town, Homestar Runner

Authority in Name Only is when someone claims to hold a title, but that title is a sham. Either it is a purely symbolic function with no actual power, or the title itself is made up, and it has no genuine authority over its "subjects". As such, most characters of this trope have no one (except for the occasional Yes-Man or Professional Butt-Kisser) who actually respects their non-existent authority. May often be referred to as the Pretender to the Throne or claim he's Still the Leader.

In terms of the ranks of Authority Tropes, the next steps up are The Caligula, The Good Chancellor, and Evil Chancellor, Standard Royal Court, and Decadent Court.

Contrast Mayor of a Ghost Town, where the person is a recognized authority figure, it's just that there's no one left to rule over. Also contrast Just the First Citizen, where the figure doesn't claim a grand title but holds the real power nevertheless — the diametric inverse of this trope. For characters who actually do wield tyrannical control over some place, see I Own This Town. Can overlap with Kicked Upstairs if the title is actually bestowed by someone else who does have real authority, often specifically to appease the victim or move them out of the way. For characters who genuinely do hold a seat of power but aren't actually the ones in charge, see Puppet King. Vice President Who? is another example. Caligula's Horse is a subtrope when an animal or nonsentient being is placed in a position of authority with the tongue-in-cheek expectation that the appointee's lack of communication faculties, intelligence, and/or awareness of the position they hold will keep them from actually exercising their role. For someone who holds legitimate authority but can't or won't properly exercise it, see The Alleged Boss.

Another important point about your average one of these: as long as you don't do anything to shake their delusions of authority too badly, they'll be so busy enjoying said delusions of authority that you can put them through all sorts of mistreatment that real people wouldn't even begin to take. So even if nobody likes them, they can be useful to have around as a sort of idiocy sink (like a heat or hate sink, but for stupidity).


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  • Rimba Racer: Despite his position as the organizer of the RGP, Mr. King answers to the Ringmasters who are truly running things. As punishment for his failures, they force him to be more answerable to one of their reliable agents: Meika.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Code Geass, the position of "Sub-Viceroy of Area 11 (formerly Japan)" was created for Euphemia by Cornelia. However, the position is basically just a figurehead's job, which several characters mention during her tenure. Even her creation of the Specially Administrated Zone of Japan was the result of her going to Schneizel for help.
    • This is Played With in the Novelization where it's spelled out that Euphemia may be a figurehead, but she's a remarkably accomplished figurehead. Due to Cornelia's tendency to dump all the social appearances required of the Viceroy on her little sister, like galas, inauguration ceremonies, charity events and the like, Euphemia soon became The Face of the Britannian government. That together with her non-discriminatory nature, and actions like Knighting an Honorary Britannian (i.e. a Japanese man), made Euphemia very popular among the Japanese, which took a lot of popular support away from the Black Knights. Later on, her good rep also helped to sell the idea of the Special Administrative Zone to the population, a political gesture that could have spelled the end of the Black Knights and forcing Lelouch to plot his half-sister's downfall — something that backfired horribly right.
    • Turns out that Nunnally, when appointed as Viceroy, has even less power than Euphemia had as sub. Gino even has to remind Lohmeyer, ostensibly said Viceroy's personal assistant, of who is supposed to be Viceroy.
    • C.C. claims her time as Director of the Geass Order was this, saying she didn't have any real power like V.V. and Charles did.
  • At the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds, Jack Atlas was known as the King of the Riding Duels. He didn't know that his title meant nothing. He was a puppet being manipulated by Rex Godwin to entertain the people of Neo Domino and maintain the illusion of a utopia, and a lot of his victories, like the one against Dragan, were rigged without him knowing. Bommer even called him out on this during the Fortune Cup, calling him a "poor king" (and when Jack tried to hit him for the insult, knocked the punch aside as if he didn't care). (In Jack's defense, after Godwin's fall, he would later prove during the WRGP that he was capable of defeating Dragan in a fair duel when the two faced each other again. Although, to be honest, this was after Jack had acquired Burning Soul, an ability he didn't have the first time.)
  • In The World is Still Beautiful, Nike's father is the duke of the Rain Dukedom but doesn't actually hold any power, and even admits as such to Livius. Instead, the power is held by Nike's grandmother.
  • Bleach: The Soul Society eventually dubs Ichigo Kurosaki a Substitute Shinigami and gives him a badge. Later, when Ichigo runs into the Shinigami Zennosuke Kurumadani, he realizes his title is useless when Zennosuke doesn't recognize his badge or title.
  • Dragon Goes House-Hunting is set in an RPG Mechanics 'Verse where every non-human sentients are officially subject to the "Demon Lord". However, it is explicitly stated that the "Demon Lord" is just a figurehead, since most non-human races are quite autonomous, and interracial disputes are handled by other offices. Heck, they actually use lottery to determine the title holder instead of any serious elections, and Dearia, the current Demon Lord, spends most of his time working as an architect/realtor agent than do any sort of ruling.
  • In Kenko Zenrakei Suieibu Umisho, Ikamasa is supposed to be the captain of the swim team, but Orizuka is clearly the one in charge despite being only vice-captain, to point where she bosses him around as much as anyone else. Though, this could be because Ikamasa doesn't take his duties seriously, while Orizuka does.
  • K-On!: Ritsu Tainaka became president of the Light Music Club by default by joining when it had no members. She's the second-silliest member after Yui, never fills out the required club forms on time, and rarely tries to get the club to seriously practice, with that duty falling to Mio or later, Azusa. The times she does try to direct the club, it's often more because she's one of the most boisterous members and only nominally because she's the president.
  • Kondou Isao is the figurehead of The Shinsengumi in Gintama. His Number Two, the “Oni no Fukuchō”/Demon Vice-Chief Hijikata Toshirō, does all the managerial work and makes most decisions in the organization with an iron fist.
  • Fruits Basket: Played With in regards to Akito Sohma. As head of the Sohma family and God of the Zodiac, she does have the genuine loyalty of the maids, but it's made clear that the other Zodiac members only stay with Akito and follow her orders because their curse forces them to. The point is proven when Momiji is freed from the curse; unlike Kureno, who ultimately couldn't bring himself to abandon Akito even after his curse broke, Momiji doesn't hesitate to rebuff Akito's pleas and leave her, calling her weak and pitiful while wondering why he ever let her dominate his life in the first place.
  • Animal Crossing: The Movie: Tortimer, in a sense. He's a huge egotist and constantly worries about the results of the upcoming election (of which he's the only candidate), but he doesn't actually perform any mayoral duties. In fact, it's revealed at the end of the film that the election had only one ballot; Tortimer, who voted for himself.

    Comic Books 
  • Inverted with Reed Richards of Fantastic Four, who legitimately holds doctorates in several fields, does not use the title in his heroic name, choosing to be called "Mr. Fantastic".
  • Zigzagged with Doctor Doom, who has legitimate authority as the ruler of Latveria, but who doesn't hold an actual doctorate despite his title. Of course, with all his power he probably gave himself one, and in terms of intelligence he's more than qualified (for example, he built a device that can cure all maladies, including cancer).
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police aren't police officers at all, being little more than vigilantes. (Sam does have some skills that would be useful in actual detective work, but he doesn't always use them right.)
  • King Loki is the self-proclaimed ruler of Midgard in a possible future. Too bad King Loki is also an Omnicidal Maniac and got the title by virtue of killing off the entire population so there is no one to be the king of.
  • New Gods has Izaya the Highfather, a rare example of this trope being framed in a completely positive light. Despite being regarded as a very important figure, his actual lawful authority is mostly nonexistent—his duty is more of a religious or ceremonial one, that being to interpret the will of the Source. In his first appearance, he even points out to Orion that if he doesn't want to follow Highfather's request, there will be no repercussions for him if he refuses. People follow what Highfather says not out of duty or fear of punishment, but because they personally believe that what he says is the right thing to do. This is to contrast him with his rival Darkseid, who rules with an iron fist and answers a refused request with immediate disintegration if he's feeling merciful.
  • In The Flintstones, the people of Bedrock finally get fed up with their mayor Clod the Destroyer's Warhawk tendencies and mismanagement of funds, but they don't have a way to remove him from office. So Wilma and Clod's secretary work together to trick Clod into spending all his time in a fake office with no connection to the outside, while actually competent people run the town.
  • It's revealed in the backstory to IDW Publishing's Transformers comics that the title of "Prime" has lost its political significance by the time of Sentinel Prime. While the Prime still has a religious function as the bearer of the life-giving Matrix of Leadership, the real power is held by the corrupt Senate. Political power is ironically restored to the title of Prime thanks to the Decepticons, as Zeta Prime succeeds Sentinel following his defeat and death at the hands of Megatron and organises the Autobots into an actual army to fight them.
    • Zig-zagged in More Than Meets the Eye when as part of Megatron's Heel–Face Turn, he is Kicked Upstairs (and effectively exiled) by being named "co-captain" of the Lost Light, much to the consternation of the other (now co-)captain Rodimus. While hypothetically equals, Rodimus sees it as a demotion for himself, as he must now share authority with someone older and more experienced than him, who quickly begins impressing people. But it's hardly a picnic for Megatron either, as it's an Autobot ship and everyone on it hates him for good reason. It becomes clear early on that while the crew are willing to listen to Megatron when he comes up with good plans, they actually like Rodimus, and if push ever came to shove they'd gladly kick Megs into the nearest supernova.

    Comic Strips 
  • Zigzagged with the King in The Wizard of Id. Officially he's an absolutist ruler who can put people on the rack and imprison them for life (poor Spook). Despite all this the citizens don't respect him at all, causing him to become a Phrase Catcher for "The King is a fink!"

    Fan Fiction 
  • All Assorted Animorphs AUs: In “What if Ax joined the team in the first book?”, Ax is ‘officially’ promoted to Prince by Elfangor just before his death, but quickly realises that he doesn’t have the training or personality to be a proper leader. As a result, Jake becomes the leader as in canon, but Ax retains his title as ‘Prince Aximili’ and acts as the leader when talking with other Andalites until the war ends.
  • Subverted with Hades Izanami in BlazBlue Alternative: Remnant. As the end of the Great War saw the powers of the kingdom's ruler divided by the council, she should be this and only a figurehead for Mistral. In actuality, it's made clear she has far more control of her kingdom than anyone realizes.
  • Vegeta in Dragon Ball Z Abridged keeps calling himself "the prince of all saiyans". But as Bulma points out at one point, it doesn't mean much when there are only two Saiyans left in the entire universe.
  • Nav dismisses Cadance as this in Diaries of a Madman, but she eventually turns into a competent leader.
  • As Emperor Lelouch’s personal Royal Guard and knight, Suzaku in My Mirror, Sword and Shield is second to the Emperor in authority. In practice Suzaku has no power whatsoever as everyone that’s not Lelouch, his sisters, Jeremiah and his future parents hate him for being Japanese and don’t listen to him. Suzaku’s not even sure that he gets paid.
  • The Elements of Harmony fall under this trope in the first season of RainbowDoubleDash's Lunaverse, since the exact nature of their position in the Night Court hierarchy is never defined. This is fixed at the end of the season finale, when Princess Luna officially decrees that the Bearers of the Elements of Harmony (both current and any future) will hereafter hold the rank of Knights of the Realm, with all powers and privileges appertaining thereunto. In addition, they also get the Right Of Approach, which means that if they want to talk to the Princess, only the Princess can turn them away. Her secretaries, her staff, her Night Guards, they have to let them see her.
  • In A Spark of Ice and Fire, Agatha Heterodyne taunts Queen Cersei because while Agatha's become a national hero through hard work, Cersei doesn't actually do anything other than sit and look pretty.
  • Lost in Camelot sees this applying to Bo (Lost Girl) and/or Uther Pendragon (Merlin (2008)) depending on the perspective of others. While Uther is the official king of Camelot, from the perspective of the fae Bo has claimed Camelot as her territory as the first fae to actually take up residence in the kingdom. In reality, Bo has no interest in actually ruling Camelot, but she will defend it from any fae who attempts to attack the kingdom directly. When dealing with fae visitors of uncertain agenda, Bo claims that she 'lets' Uther think he's still in charge so that he can deal with the administrative side of ruling Camelot while she retains her own position.
  • Lost in the Woods features the Enterprise-D (Star Trek: The Next Generation) sent into a parallel universe by Q, where their only choice for local knowledge is to make contact with the passing Serenity (Firefly). As part of Mal Reynolds' initial contact with Enterprise, he requests that Inara act as the ship's ambassador, to the extent that Mal introduces her to Captain Picard as such. While Inara quickly clarifies that she's only the ambassador for Serenity rather than for the Alliance as a whole, she is able to spend her time on the Enterprise living up to the title by mingling with the various alien races on the ship, and greatly enjoys the experience.
  • Discussed, although not explicitly stated, in the Lucifer/Chilling Adventures of Sabrina crossover "Morningstar Family Values", where Sabrina is Lucifer's daughter. Maze in particular refers to Sabrina as 'Princess', and Sabrina and other parties have referred to her as the Antichrist in various contexts, either joking or with genuine fear, but Lucifer has made it clear that he has no intention of causing a full-on Apocalypse and Sabrina's status as his heir to the throne of Hell is basically academic given his current 'retirement'.
  • The Chosen Six makes reference to a minor example of this; when Harry is taking part in his first Quidditch match, Fred and George note that their brother Charlie let Oliver Wood make the pre-game speeches the previous year despite Charlie being captain, as Charlie himself was a good player but bad at inspiring others.
  • Two different versions of this feature in The Confectionary Chronicles;
    • It is revealed that Slytherin students tend to have such low respect for Dumbledore and other teachers that the Slytherin prefects don't hold much "power" in their own house, with each year choosing a particular student as its respective "leader".
    • While Draco Malfoy was considered basically a definite choice for the leader of his year when he arrived at Hogwarts, he is swiftly undermined by muggle-born Hermione Granger, who demonstrates exceptional magical skill (unknown to most, this is due to her status as the priestess of Loki). While Hermione defeats Malfoy in a duel, she makes it clear that he can have the leadership position if he wants so long as he and others leave her alone, but Draco is left aware that he's only the "leader" of his year because Hermione doesn't care enough about the politics of the position to fight for it herself.
    • On top of the aforementioned, this initially applies to Hermione, considering that she is a priestess of Loki but just performs the rituals for herself alone, until Fleur asks to join her in a ritual, essentially expanding Hermione’s ‘flock’.
  • In Contact at Kobol, President Adar of the Twelve Colonies finds his authority being undercut by religious extremists and anti-Tau'ri factions in the Quorum so often that any effort he makes to de-escalate the war with Earth is doomed before it gets off the ground.
  • The Lucifer (2016) fic "Gift to the Devil" sees God send Chloe and Trixie to Hell so that Chloe can be with Lucifer when he didn't return to Earth as God had predicted, God simultaneously "marking" Chloe and Trixie as Lucifer's bride and heir respectively. While demons treat Chloe and Trixie as the Queen and Princess of Hell, Lucifer notes that the demons would still defer to him over Chloe even if they would obey her orders, and he doubts she would be able to take charge on her own if something happened to Lucifer as only a celestial can truly rule Hell.
  • In What You Already Know: Resolutions, after Sam Carter is promoted to the leader of SG-1 following Jack O'Neill taking command of the SGC, she observes that she arguably isn't the 'leader' of the now three-man SG-1, as Daniel and Teal'c are technically civilians who aren't obligated to follow her orders. That said, she explains to General O'Neill that she feels the new team dynamic will work by allowing her, Daniel and Teal'c to decide who gives the orders in the field depending on whose expertise will be most relevant in the current situation.
  • Fates Collide is a High School AU. Several characters like Gilgamesh and Nero hold titles like "King of Heroes" and "Empress of Roses", but only they take them seriously.
  • The Raven's Plan:
    • Robert Baratheon. While he's still the official king of Westeros, only the Crownlands and the Stormlands still respect his authority after the Remembering. Everyone else has pledged themselves to House Targaryen, more specifically Jon, making him both the rightful and actual king. The only holdout is Dorne, who's not inclined to side with either side thanks to Elia Martell, and is currently too embroiled in their own internal Civil War to be anyone's concern. And since everyone is avoiding contact with King's Landing, Robert is completely unaware of this. He doesn't even become aware of Jon's existence until one of Hoster Tully's bannermen secretly betrays him, and by that point there's no hope of him swaying any of the other kingdoms back to his side.
    • Ned Stark. Officially, he's the Head of House Stark. In reality, only Catelyn, Robb, and Rickon really listen to him. Bran and Arya do what they want, while Sansa only takes orders from Jon. Jon, while raised as a member of House Stark, is actually the head of House Targaryen, and his orders therefore supersede Ned's since he's king.
    • Catelyn Stark as well. Officially, she's returned to being the Lady of Winterfell. In reality nobody trusts her anymore thanks to her disastrous mistakes in the previous timeline, so Sansa has taken most of her duties instead. To make it official, Sansa is named an emissary by Jon after he departs from Winterfell for the Wall, putting her above Catelyn in status.
    • Robin Arryn is the current Lord Paramount of the Vale and the Head of House Arryn. However, as he's currently a child who's nowhere close to his majority, all the power is in his new regent and caretaker, Bronze Yohn Royce.
  • Bequeathed from Pale Estates: Theon Greyjoy has been Lord of the Iron Islands since at least the end of The Plague, but everyone in Westeros, including him, were completely unaware of it, because no one thought to check the region over after the Iron Islands ceased all communication with the rest of the continent. This is partly because Theon's title is effectively meaninglessThe Plague took out one third of the population (including Balon and Asha Greyjoy), inciting the smallfolk and thralls into revolt. All that's left is a group of small warring states, who are more likely to kill Theon than accede to his claim on the Seastone Chair.
  • The King Nobody Wanted: Stannis dislikes and distrusts Pycelle, and while he lets him keep his office as Grand Maester, tends to interrupt him whenever he's giving advice, while assigning his own Parental Substitute Maester Cressen to carry out tasks that would normally fall under Pycelle's jurisdiction, like a medical examination of the queen.
  • In the Heroes/Twilight crossover "Dark Days", after the Volturi are devastated by an attack by an insane vampire infected with a variation of the Shanti virus, when Aro attempts to order that Peter be changed or killed when the Cullens come to help, Emmett bluntly points out that the Volturi don’t have the authority to enforce their laws any more considering that they’re down to about seven members, five of whom were cowering in a chamber and another two hidden in a tower after the rest were either killed by the infected vampires or fled the castle in fear.
  • Earth's Alien History: As the Fringe Colonies are officially part of the United States, nominally the US President is their head of state. In practice, however, their unusual quasi-independent legal status note  means that the actual leader of the region is the First Senator elected by and from the local population.
  • What is a promise worth?:
    • Robb Stark is all of eight when his father dies and he becomes the new Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. That means all the actual power is in Catelyn's hands until he's of age.
    • Much like in canon, Joffrey, except even more so because Cersei and him were never able to get solid foothold into the court thanks to Kevan. When his grandfather arrives, all pretense of him being in charge disappears, and he's frequently sent to his room like the errant, spoilt, whining child he is.
  • The 2 Broke Girls fic "Unexpected" diverges from canon when Max and Caroline meet before Martin Channing's arrest and Caroline is able to start the cupcake business straight away. Since Caroline signed over the bakery and all relevant details to Max from the start, Max retains the bakery even after Martin is arrested, but immediately invites Caroline to stay with her even when she assumed she'd be losing everything. After a few months of living with Caroline, Max reflects that she is essentially this trope as far as the bakery is concerned, as Caroline is the one dealing with bills, advertising, and "literally everything else their bakery needs aside from the food", and Max just has her name on the building and makes the cakes.
  • What It Takes: After Malcolm is killed during the nuclear attack on Nanda Parbat, Thea is by default next-in-line to succeed him as Ra's al Ghul. Since the attack killed everyone in the League not lucky enough to be somewhere else at the time, the title is effectively meaningless because there's barely any members left. People find it ridiculous that Athena and her followers are trying to kill Thea for an empty title, and eventually decide to tell Talia about them so she can either absorb the group or crush them if they refuse to heel.
    Sara: Tell Athena to get lost. The League’s dead, and so is H.I.V.E. You all can go get a real life.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to come from the same political school as President Skroob. Indeed, we could say that Jack Skellington is the real leader of Halloween Town:
    Mayor: Jack, please, I'm only an elected official here, I can't make decisions by myself!
  • The Boxtrolls has Lord Portley-Rind and his fellow White Hats. They appear to be the ruling body of Cheesebridge but are obsessed with cheese and their hats to the point that they neglect their duties to the city... and in Lord Portley-Rind's case at least, their families.
  • Arthur Christmas, the current Santa Claus, Malcolm, only gets to deliver presents while his son Steve and his elves do most of the hard work. Lampshaded in the movie where he's called a figurehead.
  • The tiny King of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland seems to try to enforce some authority, but he's never taken seriously and he always has to remind the White Rabbit to announce him, despite nobody cheering for him. Of course, all the power resides with his wife, The Queen of Hearts.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • A Fistful of Dollars: Don Miguel may be the leader of The Rojos on paper. But his brother, Ramon Rojo is the real Big Bad and clearly the brains behind their operation. Ramon is even shown giving orders more often than Miguel.
  • President Skroob of Spaceballs is an incompetent twit whose purpose seems symbolic, at best, with Dark Helmet the closest thing to an actual authority figure on Spaceball One. "I can't make decisions! I'm the president!"
  • In Woody Allen's What's Up, Tiger Lily?, there's this exchange.
    High Macha Of Rashpur: Good afternoon. I am the Grand Exalted High Macha of Raspur, a nonexistent but real-sounding country.
    Phil Moscowitz: Uh-huh.
    High Macha Of Rashpur: Yes. We're on a waiting list. As soon as there's an opening on the map, we're next.
  • Thirteen Days:
    • A major plotline of the movie is just how much (or little) control over the complex system known as the United States government President Kennedy actually has. This is most apparent in his dealings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, best summarized by this exchange (Kennedy has just been informed that SAC has gone to DEFCON 2, when he only wanted to elevate the DEFCON level to 3):
      General Max Taylor: Technically, SAC has the statutory authority-
      Kennedy: (slams hand on desk) I have the authority! I am the commander-in-chief of the United States, and I say when we go to war!
    • Another example is the US continuing to test both nuclear weapons and missiles in the midst of the crisis (due to the White House neglecting to put a stop to it), making the US seem like the aggressor.
      President Kennedy: Well, who the hell authorized this missile test?
      Robert Kennedy: Who do you think? God knows what this is gonna communicate with the Soviets!
      Kenny O'Donnell: Communicate with the Soviets? We can't communicate with the Pentagon, and it's just across the goddamn river!
  • In Kenau, the women of Haarlem make their own (highly successful) plans to protect Haarlem, without approval from the city council. The previously most timid of them, makes clear exactly what she thinks of the council's authority.
  • Licence to Kill shows that Franz Sanchez is the true dictator of Isthmus, and the guy who has the title of "El Presidente" is just a figurehead. Lampshaded when Sanchez reminds him, "You're only president for life".
  • In Animal House, Hoover is the chapter president of Delta. However, it's the more charismatic Otter that everyone actually follows.
  • In My Big Fat Greek Wedding 3, when the Portokalos family return to Gus's old village, their initial guide Victory is revealed to be essentially the mayor of the town. However, it's then explained that Victory basically voted for themselves in an election with only one voter, so the other villagers just go with it because there are so few of them left and none of them can be bothered taking the job themselves.
  • In The Death of Stalin, as in real life, Georgi Malenkov. As the Deputy General-Secretary, he is technically second in command of the Soviet Union and next in line after Stalin. In actuality, Stalin only gave him that position because he's too weak willed and ineffectual to actually lead, and therefore wouldn't be a threat to Stalin's power; when Stalin dies, Malenkov quickly becomes a Puppet King to the other members of the Presidium, who jockey with each other to get him on their side so that they can give their respective factions in the power plays legitimacy.
  • In Knives Out, this is a source of contention for Walt Thrombey as he and his family are very aware that his role as head of the publishing company means pretty much nothing. Walt's duties are primarily being a glorified middle man between his father Harlan and the bookstores and any attempt Walt makes to take the initiative are quashed by Harlan.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail: Arthur Pendragon gained the sword Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake and declares he is King of the Britons, but nobody except for his knights takes him seriously. One peasant even points out just because he got a fancy sword doesn't mean they have any obligation to follow him.

  • The Redemption of Althalus: The ruler of Wekti is the Natus, meaning 'father', who has no authority whatsoever but believes himself to be the complete ruler of Wekti. The real ruler is Exarch Yeudon, the leader of the Church.
  • David Eddings
    • In The Elenium, the King of the Rendors is so ineffective that most of the other heads of state in the region can't even be bothered to learn what the man's name is. Prince Regent Avin Wargunson of Thalesia was almost as bad (he was too annoying for people to forget his existence, but nobody really obeyed any of his commands). The ultimate sign of how well regarded Avin was came when he was drowned in a barrel of wine and the people mourned the fact that it was a vintage year.
    • Then subverted in The Tamuli, Emperor Sarabian of the Tamuli empire is just a figurehead... who stages a coup to really be in charge. When accused of treason; it's asked "against who?", and the accuser is temporarily speechless at the semantics required.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Zaphod Beeblebrox is the former President of the Imperial Galactic Government. The position's purpose is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.
  • Zigzagged in The Robots of Dawn. The Chairman of the Legislature of Aurora is officially the head of the state. He was intended to have purely ceremonial power, and is even supposed have a vote only in case of a tie. However, the Aurorans' dislike for political conflict eventually gave the post a lot of real power - as a mediator in case of political disputes.
  • In The Wheel of Time, King Ailron of Amadicia holds no power whatsoever. Pedron Niall, commander of the Children of the Light, is the true ruler of Amadicia.
  • Part of the overall plot in Sisterhood of Dune and Mentats of Dune is the relatively weak Emperor Salvador Corrino. It's mentioned several times that his father Jules Corrino would never have allowed the likes of Manford Torondo (the leader of the fanatical Butlerians) and Josef Venport (the CEO of what would eventually become the Spacing Guild) to hold so much power in the Imperium and even dictate terms to the Emperor. Meanwhile, Salvador's brother Roderick is much more competent but is also fiercely loyal to his brother, even stopping a Sisterhood conspiracy that would leave him in power over his inept brother. While it's true that both Manford and Josef hold enormous power (Manford through his ability to incite mob violence, and Josef through having a monopoly on spice mining and a nigh-monopoly on foldspace shipping), it's also made clear that part of that lies with Salvador's previous policies that turned the Imperial military into a shadow of its former self by assigning command posts based on political motives rather than by merit. Roderick understands this, but Salvador is insistent on playing politics.
  • Discworld
    • In Pyramids, Pteppic may be the ruler of Djelhibeybi, but all real authority lies with Dios, the High Priest. Every time Pteppic tries to use his alleged authority, everyone ignores him and waits for Dios to declare what the pharaoh's decision is (Which usually has absolutely nothing to do with what Pteppic had said). He can't even choose a dinner menu without the High Priest casually overruling him in the name of tradition.
    • This is why Astfgl gets "promoted" from Demon King to Life President of Hell in Eric. He is completely unaware of this, but vaguely concerned that there doesn't seem to be anyone on the other end of his speaking tube.
    • Downplayed with the Archchancellor of Unseen University, who is definitely in charge of the college (once the squabbling has died down), but whose claim to be the leader of all wizards is a bit more iffy, given that many wizards from outside the Ankh-Morpork area have never even heard of him, and would be unlikely to be led if they had. It's a plot point in The Last Continent, and even more so in Unseen Academicals, that Ridcully believes he should have the authority to stop other Wizarding Schools calling their top man "Archchancellor", or at least insisting on a small "a".
    • In Jingo, the D'regs are a race of desert-dwelling warriors renowned for their ruthlessness in combat. It is explicitly noted that D'reg's don't expect their leader to do much besides give the order to charge, and the job is fairly ceremonial.
    • in The Science of Discworld, Rincewind is made the Egregious Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, but mostly so the other wizards have an excuse dump him into Roundworld. It's made abundantly clear at the end that in no way does his post mean he can teach classes or even get paid. However, he is allowed at meal times provided he eats very quietly. As Rincewind wants to avoid being interesting, and therefore a target, he loves it. Later books have even more meaningless titles dumped on him.
  • In Journey to the West, one of the many, many attempts on the part of China's celestial bureaucracy to deal with Sun Wukong is to acquiesce to his demands to be named "Great Sage, Equal of Heaven." Since it's a title Wukong made up, he's not actually taking over anyone's job, nor does he gain any new powers or responsibilities as a result of having it, and since Wukong doesn't actually want to do any work, it's not like he'll notice either way. Hence, they create the job title of Great Sage, Equal of Heaven, and refer to him as that from now on, but don't treat him any differently. This actually works for a while, until Wukong realizes he hasn't been invited to a big party.
  • Grand Vicar Erek in the Safehold novels is theoretically the supreme ecclesiastical authority on the planet Safehold. In practice, the only thing he ever does is the traditional annual Address (Basically a State of the Union speech). All real power (Including deciding what Erek says in said Address) is wielded by Chancellor Trynair, to the point where people joke that Erek demonstrates his independence from the Chancellor by deciding what shoes to wear in the morning. It eventually gets to the point where an coup breaks out in the holy city and the fate of the reigning Grand Vicar isn't even mentioned beyond the fact that someone else ends up with the title. Over the course of the series Trynair also transitions into this as the Inquisition grabs more and more power.
  • Actually subverted in Angel in the Whirlwind. The Commonwealth of Tyre is a constitutional monarchy and therefore King Hadrian, while commander-in-chief of the military, has much less legal power than Parliament... in peacetime. In wartime, however, Commonwealth law grants him absolute power, rather like the classical Greek "tyrant". This provision of the War Powers Act has never actually been activated before (because the Commonwealth has never had to declare war before), and Hadrian fully expects it to be amended after the war is over.
  • In the apocalyptic military thriller Victoria, General Wesley and his military government eventually become this, after most of their remaining troops desert them. They're still the (semi-)legitimate government of the United States—it's just that the United States no longer exists.
  • A balance of this is struck in the Empire of Azir in Edgedancer. Lift is in Tashikk, and when the local government gets word from the Emperor to follow her instructions they do so, even when her orders include referring to her as "Your Pancakefullness". Right up until a massive storm unexpectedly rolls in and they ignore Lift to deal with the disaster. It seems that for the most part the local government will follow the Emperor's orders as long as said orders aren't interfering with something more immediately important.
  • The Fifth Season: It's common knowledge that the Sanze Empire is ruled by the capital city's Leader caste and that the emperor is a figurehead — almost literally, since the imperial quarters are in a gaudy amber sphere atop the capitol building. Several characters refer to the ancient days of the Empire, when the Emperor had real power.
  • In I Own The Racecourse by Patricia Wrightson, Andy is conned into believing he has bought the local racecourse. While his friends try to work out how to break this to him, the employees at the course take pity on him and humour him; pretending that he is their boss.
  • Star Trek: In the novel "Probe" by the 23rd century the Emperor of the Romulan Star Empire was a powerless figurehead. His legate also possessed no actual power despite being the official second in command of the Empire. The actual power rested with the Praetor and the Senate.
  • Star Wars Legends: The reference work Dark Empire Sourcebook introduces the character Ederlathh Pallopides, who supposedly is a great-niece of Palpatine. Imperial Admiral Betl Oxtroe reaches out to the New Republic with a proposal to turn the Galactic Empire into a constitutional monarchy with Pallopides as a figurehead Emperss. The plan goes nowhere as Oxtroe is assassinated not long after making the proposal.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Jaime is officially made the Warden of the East following Jon Arryn's death. This theoretically gives him command over the Vale's armies, which is enough to make Ned Stark worried about what would happen if Jaime also got his father's position as Warden of the West. In practice, since the position's always been given to an Arryn, the Vale lords are suspicious about what role the Lannisters might have played in Jon Arryn's death, and Westeros is going through a civil war, he has absolutely no control over the Vale and the Lannisters are forced to give the position to Robert Arryn to win his mother's official loyalty.
  • The Cinder Spires: Spirearch Jeremiah Addison is, in theory, the absolute ruler of Spire Albion. In practice, power has devolved to various ministers and bureaucrats, leaving the Spirearch as a slightly useless figurehead. That's the official line. In reality, the Spirearch is a shadow government onto himself, subtly manipulating the politics of Spire Albion from behind the scenes as The Man Behind the Man, in spite of also being The Man.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, Gob is installed as nominal president of the Bluth Company as Michael is suspected of being an accomplice to George Sr.'s "light treason". He actually does have some power early on as he manages to charm the board of directors. However, his manifest incompetence and unwillingness to do any work, not to mention his extremely rude and abusive behaviour towards employees, means he quickly loses everyone's respect and becomes a meaningless figurehead; to the point that when he tries to fire Michael, security removes him instead.
  • Boardwalk Empire: Ed Bader is the Mayor of Atlantic City. On paper, that is. Everyone knows he's just Nucky Thompson's puppet, and laugh at his attempts to appear otherwise.
    "Let's get something straight. Nucky Thompson does not run this city! I do!"
    [beat; all of the assembled reporters immediately burst into laughter]
    Reporter: Yeah right!
  • Buffyverse: When Wesley first appears in Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 3, he's meant to replace Giles as Buffy and Faith's Watcher. Of course, Wesley also proves to be a bumbling, cowardly idiot who's no use in a real fight; thus, Buffy and Faith routinely overrule him, and when a Watcher's advice is needed, they ask Giles instead. He Takes a Level in Badass in the spinoff Angel, even taking over leadership of Angel Investigations for a brief time; of course, even during that time of leadership, Angel himself is often in charge and leads several of their missions over him.
  • In an episode of Bridgerton, the family's formidable housekeeper Mrs. Wilson finds the second daughter Eloise going through her things. Eloise (an adult by the standards of the time) tries to claim that she has a right to as she is technically Mrs. Wilson's mistress. Mrs. Wilson (an Old Retainer who played a large role in raising her) has none of it and scolds Eloise like a little girl, even addressing her by her first name. Eloise just shamefacedly takes it, knowing she has no actual power over Mrs. Wilson, who answers to Lady Bridgerton.
  • Emmit Stussy becomes this in Fargo: Season Three as a result of taking out a loan from Narwhal, who aren't interested in being repaid in cash even once he has it.
  • Game of Thrones universe:
    • Game of Thrones:
      • King Joffrey may have his arse plonked firmly on the Iron Throne, but Tywin Lannister royally emasculates him and has no problem implying to His Grace that he is the sole reason that Joffrey continues to keep the throne, something which is obvious to everyone.
        Tywin: Any man who must say "I am the king" is no true king.
        (and shortly after to Tyrion)
        Tywin: You're a fool if you think that boy is the most powerful man in the seven kingdoms.
      • Littlefinger, Lord of Harrenhal, is mocked because his title amounts to nothing while the Northern army occupies the Riverlands. Subverted since the title itself is all he needs for his current plans.
      • When Tommen takes over as King after Joffrey's death, he quickly learns that he has no real authority when he tries to give orders to rescue his wife Margaery after she was imprisoned by the Faith Militant, but no one obeys.
      • Cersei's title as Queen Mother only holds weight before Joffrey, and later Tommen, were officially wed. Despite sitting in on Small Council Meetings, Cersei technically has no real authority. Her title as Queen Cersei, first of her name, also counts as this since she only gained this position after killing most of her political enemies and usurping the position for herself and she has no allies to speak of apart from Jaime and those at King's Landing. And even those are under extreme question at this point. In the Season 7 premiere, Jaime even brings this up.
        Cersei: I'm the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
        Jaime: Three kingdoms, at best. I'm not sure you understand how much danger we're in.
    • House of the Dragon:
      • The King of the Seven Kingdoms over Dorne, which in this era maintains some de-facto independence and has not yet submitted to the authority of the Targaryens, who in reality are ruling six kingdoms.
      • King Viserys I is effectively powerless by the final days of his reign, his medical conditions having reduced him to a half-dead emaciated corpse, bedridden and in need of being constantly drugged to deal with the pain, leaving him a figurehead that his wife Alicent Hightower and the Small Council (now mostly stacked with Hightower loyalists) claim to be acting in the name of. That being said, when he does manage to rally his strength for one final appearance in court to protect his grandson Lucerys' claim as heir of Driftmark, no one is able to publicly deny his authority.
  • Gilmore Girls's resident Control Freak Taylor is technically Town Selectman, and is only briefly voted out of office before his replacement becomes sick of all the small-town residents' endless complaining and quits.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: Tar-Palantír's the King of Numenor, being too ill to leave the bed, his authority is entirely symbolic to keep the peace in the kingdom, while Miriel rules as Queen Regent in his stead.
  • Love and Destiny: The Shanling State Master. She's never had any interest in governing and has no idea of how to do it. Jing Xiu does all the work for her. The country falls in days after she arrests him.
  • Mr. Show featured a sketch that was opened with a ribbon-cutting by the Mayor of Television.
  • Star Trek:
    • Captain Christopher Pike becomes this in Star Trek: The Original Series after the accident on a J-class ship renders him mute and confined to a wheel chair. In "The Menagerie" Pike is still on the active duty list because none of his fellow officers had the heart to remove him from the active duty list.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • In the episode "Rightful Heir", Worf convinces Chancellor Gowron to give a clone of Kahless (the legendary founder of Klingon culture) the vacant position of Emperor, just as a symbolic function for the empire to rally around.
      • Lwaxana Troi liked to introduce herself with a handful of titles, most notably Guardian of the Sacred Chalice of Riix and Keeper of the Holy Rings of Betazed; it was never explained what any of these titles meant in terms of importance. It can be assumed that they were legitimate titles but that they held only ritual significance. Deanna once said that the Sacred Chalice of Riix was a moldy clay pot stored in her mother's closet. The Expanded Universe novels stated that the primary duty of being Keeper of the Holy Rings of Betazed (implied to be a set of bracelets that used to be ceremonially important for some reason) is to take them out of a shoebox (stored on a shelf in the closet next to the Sacred Chalice of Riix) and polish them every now and then.
  • The Office (US). Dwight Schrute may well be the only middle-management example of the trope. Although he's very proud of his title, "Assistant to the Regional Manager," his supposed authority is wielded over people who barely respect him enough to acknowledge that he's the same species they are. In one episode Michael admits that it isn't even a real position, he just made it up one day to keep Dwight quiet; Dwight takes this very hard. In a later season, Dwight purchases the building that the branch operates out of, which does give him the ability to control things like temperature, lighting, and the ply of the toilet paper, but this doesn't really give him any actual power (other than a higher-than-average degree of job security, of course).
  • This trope is played straight at the beginning of the second season of Dan for Mayor. Dan got elected to be mayor of Wessex on a fluke and everyone in the city government is trying their hardest to make sure that he has no real authority. When he figures this out, he tries to become relevant and Hilarity Ensues.
  • King Uther in the first few episodes of the fourth season of Merlin is still king in name, but Arthur and to a lesser extent, Agravaine as The Mole, are calling the shots since Uther is broken and half mad.
  • Andy on Cougar Town is elected mayor, which is mostly a ceremonial position. His duties consist of attending a meeting every six months and be present at ribbon cutting ceremonies - the first of which is for a bicycle rack, and no one attends.
  • Red Dwarf Arnold Rimmer is the highest ranking crewmember remaining on the ship after the accident, despite being dead. Lister doesn't take him particularly seriously and didn't even when the ship still had a crew to speak of — though he did try and qualify as ship's cook so he'd outrank Rimmer on paper, mostly just to piss him off — and the others aren't in the chain of command anyway. The books make a point of establishing that nobody else took Rimmer's alleged authority all that seriously either; he was a glorified janitor with delusions of grandeur and more ambition than competence.
  • One multi-part story of Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers ended with Master Vile forming an army of monsters - all of them previously appearing as Monsters of the Week led by someone named Professor Longnose; kind of hard to believe he was any sort of academic type. (Of course, maybe this was a case where the title was simply inappropriate. Since he led an army, "General" might have been better.)
  • In Fraggle Rock, the Gorgs (fat, furry, ogre-like creatures who stand about fifteen feet tall) claim they are the King and Queen of the Universe. (Well, the husband and wife do; Junior never says anything like this, although his parents do claim he's their heir.) In reality, they seem to be nothing more than a family of simple farmers with a rustic house and garden patch.
  • All local government in Deadwood, except possibly the Sheriff, seem to be this. Most notable is Mayor E.B. Farnum, who called dibs on the title during a meeting and nobody objected.
  • Jennifer Evans, one of the winners from the third My Kitchen Rules, is labelled as "Princess" in the show, but in no way does she actually hold any position of power and authority. note 
  • The Wire: Police Commissioner Ervin Burrell is seen as a "hack" by Mayor Clarence Royce, who plans on ousting him and replacing him with Deputy Commissioner Bill Rawls if he's reelected. Tommy Carcetti defeats Royce in the mayoral race, saving Burrell's job. Due to Burrell's failure to bring the matter of a murdered state's witness to the Mayor's attention before it became a campaign issuenote , Carcetti asks Burrell to resign. Burrell refuses and tells Carcetti that he would have to fire him and that if he leaves, he will not go quietly. Carcetti at the same time can't fire Burrell without having ready an African-American replacement due to the fact that Carcetti himself is a white mayor in a city with a majority black population. Finding a replacement is further complicated by a lack of ranking African-American officers in the department besides Burrell. There is only one African-American Deputy Commissioner named Hawthorne, who is over 70 years old, and no African-American officers over the rank of Colonel. The next highest ranking African-Americans in the department are Majors and Lieutenants, most of whom such as Major Reed are loyal to Burrell and his methods of policing. Carcetti decides to strip Burrell of his power as Commissioner and give all decision making up to Rawls, while leaving Burrell as a figurehead for the press and ministers.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: In the first season, Rip Hunter recruits a team of misfits in an attempt to defeat Vandal Savage, stop a Bad Future, and save Rip's family. While the team agrees with his goals, they also spend most of their time ignoring him and doing whatever they think is best. The only exception is Gideon, the ship's AI, who is hard-coded to obey him. After Rip disappears early in season 2, Sarah steps up as captain, and does a much better job corralling the team than Rip ever did, something he himself acknowledges when he returns later in the season, eventually stepping down as captain to let her take over officially.
  • Both the Mayor, "Fitzy" Fitzgerald, and the police officers, Davis and Karen, qualify for this in Corner Gas. Davis at one point comments that practically everyone in town has at least one unpaid parking ticket and that's it's "no big deal"; by the time of The Movie, they don't even bother to issue tickets anymore.
  • LazyTown: Milford rarely does any actual mayor-ing, and when he does, Robbie is quick to exploit it in some manner.

  • Jables and Kage of Tenacious D become these after overthrowing the horribly oppressive City Hall in the aptly-named song "City Hall". They fail spectacularly.
  • In Hello! Project, the Leaders and especially Sub-Leaders of groups sometimes act as peacekeepers if there's a falling out between members of their group and on game show appearances they may pick who competes if appropriate.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Subverted by Jerry Lawler, the King Of Memphis, who earned the title because he sold more tickets than Elvis Presley, "King" of Rock N Roll, rather than because he ruled anything. Lawler did wear a crown though, it's not a subversion if you don't think it's going there for a second after all.
  • Stevie Richards as the self-proclaimed general manager of Sunday Night Heat, ahem, Stevie Night Heat and owner of Stevie Corp.
  • In 2005, manager...ahem, Goddess Athena gained a new client through whom she would conquer the PGWA: Passion, the champion of Southern Yugoslavia.
  • Booker T after winning the King Of The Ring on Smackdown, which crosses over into Napoleon Delusion, as he really thought of himself as a king, the fans as his "peasants".
  • Francisco Ciatso, the king of Florida, or "self proclaimed" king as he was billed in Ring Warriors. He did have one subject in Sir Pete Cannon.
  • Just how much control Billy Blade has over Vendetta Pro Wrestling is not exactly clear, but the commission, board of directors and other officials generally treat him as a nuisance who thinks he's more important than he really is, that assaults potential business partners, harasses employees and generally creates bad PR for the company while the rest of them do the real work...although they were forced to refer to him as champion, if not owner/founder/boss, when he won their heavyweight title belt.
  • Jennifer Cruz, after winning WSU's Queen and King of The Ring, thankfully without the Napoleon Delusion of Booker though.
  • Jeff Jarrett as "The King Of Mexico" in AAA

  • Our Miss Brooks: Oliver Munsee, Vice Principal of Mrs. Nestor's Private Elementary School. He's the brother of Winona Nestor and (later) of Ruth Nestor. He has no authority, and, by his own admission, is the "most useless vice principal in the country".

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The Dread Emperor is an incredibly powerful magic user and megalomaniac who claims to rule the world. He actually lives in isolation (with the exception of the children he keeps chained to his armor at all times), but when he leaves his home on business and meets someone who tells him that he doesn't rule the world, he'll kill them regardless of how many bystanders get caught in the crossfire. (Given how weak his build is even before taking the heavy suit of armor that he's not proficient with into account, the fact that he's using children as hostages is the only thing that makes him anywhere close to a level-appropriate threat).
  • In the Ravenloft campaign, this is sometimes the case with whoever claims or thinks he rules a domain. (Or both.) Not all the darklords rule their domains openly (although some do) and some are unseen or even unknown by the common folk, but they are, without exception, the true rulers. Examples of realms that are like this include Lamordia (the apparent ruler is Baron Vilhelm von Aubrecker, but even he doesn't know that Mordenkainen's monster Adam is the true ruler) and Dementlieu (believed to be ruled by Lord-Governor Marcel Guignol, who is actually a puppet of the darklord, the master hypnotist Dominic d'Honaire).
  • Overlord Mishima of Mutant Chronicles is nominally the undisputed ruler of the Mishima corporation, and as such one of the six most powerful people in existence. In reality, he's been Kicked Upstairs to being Mishima's representative in The Cartel, and even there doesn't actually have any power to negotiate since his immediate subordinates, the Lord Heirs, will ignore any deal he makes they don't like. The only people who actually obey him are his ten-thousand or so personal retainers.
  • Exalted gives us Regent Fokuf, an inept figurehead filling the throne in the absence of the Scarlet Empress. He's most known for his harmless (if blasphemous) perversions. Although filling the throne only in a technical sense; the one time he actually seated himself upon the Scarlet Throne, it growled menacingly at him (you know you've got no actual authority when the symbol of office hates you).
  • In Yu-Gi-Oh!, there's Brron, Mad King of Dark World, who is supposedly, as his name suggests, the ruler of the Dark World Fiends, and he is portrayed as such in the anime. However, as the Master Guide 2 claims, Brron is actually subordinate to Goldd, Wu-Lord of Dark World and Sillva, Warlord of Dark World, who in turn report to Reign-Beaux, Overlord of Dark World. And even he likely answers to Grapha, Dragon Lord of Dark World. To make this even more complicated, the anime version of Brron suggested that the ultimate ruler of Dark World was someone called "Colorless, Chaos King of Dark World". Basically, Dark World's government is kinda screwed up.
  • In Ironclaw the High Kings of House Rinaldi have pretty much fallen to this level in recent centuries, with the Guilds of the capital gaining more and more influence and the other Great Houses getting more ambitious. And one of the first adventures takes place shortly after the latest king's murder and a brewing Succession Crisis.
  • The king of Meridiana in Mirham in The Dark Eye is openly controlled by the nobles of the city of Al'Anfa and reduced to signing their decisions. For centuries, the kings did their best to distract themselves from the fact through a life of luxury and drugs. The only reason, the charade is upheld at all, is because many ancient privileges of the state are based on the structure of the monarchy.

  • Cora Hoover-Hooper in the musical Anyone Can Whistle. She demands being treated royally despite having achieved a 0% Approval Rating.

    Video Games 
  • Bomb Club inverts this. Despite the club claiming to be a "horizontal organization" with no leaders, in practice Ian writes and enforces all the club rules, and the others defer to him when there is trouble.
  • Mayor Pirkle of EarthBound (1994) fame not only lets a kid handle the problem of the Sharks, but also hands Ness the key to the shack on the condition that Ness not hold him responsible for anything that happens there.
  • Kirby:
    • King Dedede claims to be the ruler of Dream Land, but the most it gets him is a castle for our pink protagonist to storm through once per game. He seems to have vast independent wealth, but that's about it. Later games imply a Becoming the Mask element to his royalty — Kirby Star Allies states that he wishes to save his people and clean up his image. Reflecting this, his title has gone from a "self-proclaimed king" to a "self-made king."
    • The anime version makes more of a show of it; he even has a Prime Minister (Cabinet Minister) and the dubious loyalty of Meta Knight, but his rule seems to be even more dubious. In one early episode, he actually plants archaeological evidence that his ancestors were royalty. Meanwhile, the actual Mayor seems to be the legitimate authority figure, while the Prime Minister doesn't seem to ever do anything beyond being the father of the Kid with the Leash.
  • Mayor Bo in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is among the more competent examples of the trope. On the other hand, in a village populated by eight adults, two teenagers, and five kids, it's hard to imagine there's a lot of competency required.
  • Mayor Dotour in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask mostly just sits around saying "uhm...well" while the Captain of the Guard and the lead carpenter argue the issue of whether they should evacuate. Though he does resolve the issue if Link wears the Couple's Mask to the meeting... by saying "Screw it, the world's ending, do what you want." It is heavily implied that his wife, Madame Aroma, is considered a bigger authority than Dotour himself, to the point that if the issue isn't solved before the third day, Chief Carpenter Mutoh convinces Dotour to not cancel the carnival by threatening to get Madame Aroma involved.
  • Final Fantasy VII
    • Palmer. As a Shinra corporation executive, he has a massive salary and an impressive title. However, his department, Space Exploration, hasn't received any funding in years and fired all of its employees. He doesn't actually have to do anything except show up for the occasional board meeting and tag along with the President whenever he goes to Rocket Town, the site of the failed launch of the Shinra No. 26 rocket and the place where all the ex-employees of the Space Exploration department live.
    • Played more literally with Mayor Domino of Midgar, who has no actual power to speak of since Shinra runs everything. Mostly he hangs around the Shinra building being useless. He actually ends up helping AVALANCHE during their raid on the building just because he's bored. In the Remake, he's still powerless but also grew into a revenge-obssessed, unhinged lunatic possessing an undying hatred of Shinra for stripping out of his authority and reducing him into a glorified paper pusher. He's actually AVALANCHE's "man on the inside", helping Cloud and Co. as long as it hurts Shinra.
  • Lars' position as the leader of Bladehenge and the resistance in Brütal Legend is mostly symbolic. The man rarely ever takes charge and he doesn't seem to have much clue about what he should be doing when he does. Eddie actually leads the troops in battle, forms strategies, and does pretty much everything. This suits Eddie fine though, as he's a roadie, and a roadie's job is to make someone else look good.
  • Disgaea's Overlords rule over realms of afterlife called Netherworlds...traditionally. Disgaea 5: Alliance of Vengeance features two characters who have the title of Overlord despite not ruling over any actual territory. One is Goldion, the Great Demon Fist, whose mastery of the Ultimate Demon Technique — a martial art focused around cleansing the evil from others' hearts — led him to become the Overlord of the "Netherworld in his heart", but nonetheless he's treated with great respect and fear by other demons much like other Overlords are. The other is Zeroken, one of his two pupils; he learns the Ultimate Demon Technique (albeit from fellow pupil Killia rather than Goldion) and achieves the same status during his Character Focus arc. Killia masters the Ultimate Demon Technique as well, but he averts this trope due to already being the Overlord of a tangible Netherworld himself.
  • Dragon Age:
    • The Warden in Dragon Age: Origins starts out this way. Thanks to You Are in Command Now, they are technically the Warden-Commander of all of Ferelden... but there's only one other Grey Warden in Ferelden, and the Warden is only in charge because the other guy doesn't want the job. Even so, being a Grey Warden is normally enough by itself to grant a person a certain amount of clout and respect - but the problem is that in Ferelden, the king has been killed and the bad guy is spreading the word that the Wardens are the ones who did it. Over the course of the game, the Warden has to spread their influence sufficiently and gather allies in order to transition from this trope to Asskicking Leads to Leadership.
    • In Dragon Age II, Viscount Dumar should be the most powerful man in Kirkwall, but the word on the street pretty much says Knight-Commander Meredith's the one with the real power. And all around him, extremist clerics, taciturn Qunari and who knows what else threatens his already delicate rule of the powder keg that is Kirkwall and he is unable to do anything about the problems that crop up except to turn to you. A shame, really, since he's the one of the Reasonable Authority Figures in the blighted place.
    • Grand Cleric Elthina is played up as being a majorly respected power and master of negotiation, but in practice nobody seems to listen to her and she in fact has very little control over what her own clerics do. If pressed on the matter she'll flat-out admit that she doesn't actually have as much direct authority as people think, but in practice her very resignation to that fact has reduced her to a figurehead who refuses to use any authority at all.
    • While we haven't gotten to see the place in the series yet, the king of Anderfels has been said to be this trope, with the Grey Wardens having more power. This is apparently a result of Anderfels being one of the most Darkspawn-infested regions even when a Blight isn't in progress, combined with the Wardens being headquartered in the country.
  • Fallout 3 lets you play as one in a couple situations. Upon entering the settlement of Big Town, you're confronted by a guard, who obviously has no idea what he's doing, who asks who you are. One option is to tell him "I'm the king/queen of the wasteland, what's it to you?" Later you can talk to him again, demanding a new greeting speech that acknowledges your title as royalty.
  • In Fallout 4, being named General of the Minutemen is effectively this- none of the other Minutemen in the game ever acknowledge your position, they mostly just snark at you or send you off to go kill some ghouls on the far side of the map.
  • Tortimer in Animal Crossing doesn't seem to do much besides hand out goodies at special events. In New Leaf, you become the mayor of your new home-town, and can either play this straight by goofing around or avert it by approving (and donating to) the construction of new decorations and new buildings.
  • Borderlands:
    • Nisha in Borderlands 2 has no legitimate claim to the title of Sheriff of Lynchwood, having just showed up one day and taken the whole place over. Deputy Winger (who doesn't know Nisha's real name and may not have even been a cop before she deputized him) thinks it's best that everyone just do what she says, because she has a ton of enforcers and is always looking for an excuse to hang somebody. It also helps that she's the girlfriend of Handsome Jack, the most powerful figure on Pandora and thus has the backing of the Hyperion corporation and a dangerous gunfighter in her own right, being a former Vault Hunter.
    • While Mister Torgue might have started off as the founder and head of Torgue Corporation, by the "Wattle Gobbler" DLC he's simply a spokesperson after having sold his shares for $12 and a high-five.
  • From the early days of Touhou Project, there's Kotohime. She's listed as a princess in her profile and Leitmotif, but in her ending she claims to be a policewoman disguised as a princess, and generally weirds out or confuses everyone she meets. The implication is that she's a Sheltered Aristocrat who isn't supposed to be running around, and the most we can say for sure is that she owns a police officer's uniform.
  • In World of Warcraft, Gunther Arcanus is an undead necromancer who is so admired - and feared - by the other Forsaken that they credit him as a Lich (which is a title in the game) even though he isn't one. Of course, Gunther may well deserve such nomenclature, seeing as he was able to break free of the Lich King's control via nothing but his own willpower. Complete the quest where you convince him to join the other Forsaken and he may well become their actual leader, given how he says he plans to teach them necromancy. (Indeed, if Necromancer ever becomes an actual class, he'd likely be a central NPC for it.)
  • Axe, of Dota 2, crosses this with Mayor of a Ghost Town when, after a particularly bloody campaign, he declares himself general of an army of which he is the only surviving member.
  • West of Loathing features Emperor Norton, loosely based on the historical figure. This version is a full-on villain, albeit a mostly-ineffective one.
  • Street Fighter V introduces G, a mysterious man resembling a mix between Abraham Lincoln and Emperor Norton. He's the self-appointed President of the World, and intends on bringing all people and nations together as one. He goes campaigning around the world recruiting people to his cause, while also showing off how strong he is and broadcasting his fights on FooTube. He claims to have benevolent intentions, although there's definitely something off about him.
  • Sunless Skies:
    • The ministers and MPs of the Floating Parliament still pass bills all the time, but no one does even care about them, especially not Her Renewed Majesty which had the Parliament severed from London, sending it drifting away at the ridge of Albion. Should you bring a new law to her, it will be torn, burned and stomped (and the Parliament would be overjoyed since laws usually do not even come this far).
    • Eleutheria's Cypress King is the 'king' of the anarchist city of Pan, and as a result the king's power starts and ends with being the last-ditch mediator of any matters their 'subjects' can't sort out on their own first. The Cypress King is also selected by the citizens of Pan, meaning no power is needed — indeed, it's probably required — in order to become Cypress King in the first place. This is intended; Eleutheria and the concept of authority don't get along in the least.
  • Yes, Your Grace:
    • Thanks to how the game works, Conscription isn't an option for the Player Character Eryk despite the fact that he's a King. He hence finds himself making alliances with other Kings who have armies ten to sixty the size of his own and subordinate lords whose armies are closer in number to his, but still skew towards "more men than Eryk" in terms of numbers.
    • A plot point for King Beyran, who is only really seen as King by his own followers and is hoping that King Eryk will make good on his old promise to let him marry his daughter so his title can become more official.
  • In Zwei: The Arges Adventure, the prequel to Zwei: The Ilvard Insurrection, the Grand Duke of Arges is a rich guy who built a mansion on the island of Arges and declared himself its overlord. He spends most of his time talking about what a great job of ruling he does, not noticing that the population of Arges is so small that it basically runs itself without any need for an official government, and as such everyone ignores him.
  • Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines: Prince Sebastian LaCroix was set up to be the ruler of Los Angeles, but at the time of the game the Camarilla has not had a presence on the Western seaboard in over 60 years, and the resources he was given were woefully inadequate. His realm is under constant attack from the Sabbat in the south and the Kuei-Jin shipping in from the Far East by the boatload, and possibly also a werewolf pack. Most vampires in LA (who were there long before he breezed into town) refuse to pay him even lip service and are surreptitiously gearing up for a turf war, and the ones that do are more or less openly plotting against him. The only thing that stops his reign from being a complete punchline is that he somehow has managed to gain the loyalty of an ancient African vampire that serves as his enforcer.
  • In Mass Effect 2 after usurping the role of the ruling crimelord of Omega, Aria T'loak chose to keep her predecessor alive as an "advisor" with little to no actual power seemingly as an act of Cruel Mercy. She even gave him the new title of "The Patriarch", which coming from a member of the all-female Asari is itself representative of his current position: important-sounding but completely meaningless. Shepard can either choose to kill some assassins for The Patriarch to give him some level of actual authority or convince him to face the assassins himself for the sake of an honorable death.

  • 8-Bit Theater:
  • Girl Genius: Burgomeister Zurken of Mechanicsburg's only job is to be officially in charge in the eyes of the Baron and tourists. All real work involved in actually running the city is done by the von Mekkhan family (now known by their pseudonym, Heliotrope), hereditary seneschals to the Heterodyne family. This fake ruler arrangement is necessary because the von Mekkhans officially died when the Other attacked Castle Heterodyne, and they don't want Baron Wulfenbach to learn otherwise.
  • Homestuck: While it's left fairly unclear what precisely His Honorable Tyranny is supposed to in Alternian courts, the implication is that he's mainly a figurehead. The prosecutor does most of the work in deciding whether the defendant is guilty or not; His Honorable Tyranny's task, by contrast, is mainly to "submit grim approval".
  • Nukees has King Luca. At the start of the comic, nobody is sure what he is king of, just that he wears a crown and a fur-lined cape and insists that he be called King Luca. Eventually, his backstory is revealed, and he does actually own a tiny kingdom of sorts: a tiny tract of land with a swing set on it next to the orphanage he grew up on.
  • The Order of the Stick: All of the figureheads that Tarquin and Malack have served under over the years. The official ruler actually changes every couple of years, but Tarquin and Malack remain the true powers. The same is apparently going on in the Western Continent's other empires, ruled by their four other old companions.

    Web Original 
  • Not quite the king, but the Emperor of The Town is a nudist lech who does no ruling, and is, currently, completely vanished.
  • The King of Town, the former Trope Namer in Homestar Runner, is treated as a rather loopy old relative who isn't going to let go of his delusions. He does own and live in a castle, but he rarely shows any signs of having any kind of authority. In the "Strong Badia the Free" episode of Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People, however, he imposes a retroactive e-mail tax, and no sooner does Strong Bad find out about it than he is put under house arrest for failing to pay it. Strong Bad and several of the other characters get fed up with him and secede from his rule, addressing him as "The Of Town".
    • While he doesn't hold any actual power, he is the actual employer of The Poopsmith, who is also his sole enforcer for The Municipality, the KoT's armed riot police. So, in essence, his authority extends as far as The Poopsmith and anyone who's on the far end of The Poopsmith's billy club. "Strong Badia the Free" actually lampshades the fact: Strong Bad is in the middle of answering an email, telling the writer that the KoT is pretty much harmless since he's too old and demented to do much damage, when the King barges in, Poopsmith in both riot gear and tow, to inform Strong Bad that he's delinquent on his taxes.
    • In the end of that chapter of SBCG4AP, Strong Bad discovers that not only was being the King of Town more stressful than he thought, but the King orchestrated Strong Bad's rebellion just so he wouldn't have to be King anymore!
    • Strong Bad himself is sort of an Authority In Name Only over his micronation Strong Badia. In this capacity he does minimal damage, because his subjects consist of a small array of inanimate objects, and anyone willing to put up with him for an hour or so while they hang out on a small patch of tilled ground that Strong Bad rents from Bubs (that's right, rents).
  • President Critic of Kickassia, following the takeover and renaming of Molossia (see Real Life section).
    • The Critic is also this to the Channel Awesome site too. He tries to reassert his authority, really he does, but he will nearly always get walked over and then give up.
    • Donnie from Demo Reel. Being 42 and the director he's technically in charge of everyone, but because of all his trauma, he acts far younger and has to be looked after.
  • The Mayor of Ink City presents himself as an Ultimate Authority Mayor, but is generally viewed by the residents as this. It doesn't help that he tends to keep to himself and not interact with anyone unless they manage to hit one of his Berserk Buttons hard enough. When he lies low during the World Split crisis, he gets called out hard upon his reappearance.
  • Once an Episode with Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation. In the Credits Gag it will always title him as something different, such as 50,000,000th in line to the throne.
  • Donut from Dusk's Dawn really isn't a royal guard of Celestia, but claims himself as one.
  • The Knights of Fandom have one of these as their leader/founder. There is absolutely no real authority involved in her rank, either as Knight-Commander or as Empress (a nickname she was given which started the whole thing); it's all very symbolic, and mostly respected out of affection.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The King Of Ooo is not the rightful monarch of anything, much less the entire land of Ooo. Anyone who supports his claim of kingship is a Horrible Judge of Character, since he is clearly a Con Man trying to cheat his way into power.
    • By winning a "barely yet fully legal" election he becomes Princess of the Candy Kingdom, usurping the throne from Bubblegum. He proves himself a greedy, corrupt, incompetent tyrant. The candy citizens overthrow him.
  • Arcane: Despite being officially the head of the Council, Heimerdinger's one vote carries the exact same weight as any other member. Combined with his total lack of political acumen and preference for focusing on science, Mel easily has more actual influence on the direction the council goes.
  • Doug: Principal Buttsavage is never seen and rarely mentioned. It's implied he is on vacation or something. All actual power over the school is held by Vice Principal Bone.
  • Futurama's Professor Farnsworth is a professor, but he only teaches one class, on a subject he made up. Fry's the only one to sign up for it, and the Professor's pretty upset. "I don't know how to teach, I'm a professor!" He does, however, have at least enough authority to serve as a graduate advisor for Amy Wong. At any university with a graduate program, it's more or less Truth in Television that some professors don't teach classes, they do research and/or supervise grad students doing researchnote  (they may occasionally teach a class on their particular specialty, and they generally have a lot of latitude on the subject matter). Several of the writers for Futurama hold advanced degrees, and they're writing what they know. The only really startling thing to anyone familiar with graduate schools is that Fry is able to sign up for the class; they're usually closed to undergraduates without special permission from the instructor.
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: In "Over the Moon", K'nuckles declares himself to be 'the Moon King' and starts giving orders to the moon.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 3's Stalker with a Crush King Sandy isn't king of anything. In fact, it's very likely that he and his three cousins simply Cannot Tell Fiction from Reality. Saying that he's only a pretend king is a good way to cheese him off, though ("The King does not pretend!!").
  • In The Simpsons, in Captain McAllister's first appearance, Lionel Hutz accused him of not being a real Captain, and McAllister sadly admitted it. However, Depending on the Writer, McAllister is sometimes seen commanding ships now and then.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender, the Earth King came to power at age four, so naturally his advisers handled most of the government work. Unfortunately, one of them, Long Feng, manipulated events so that the Earth King remained ignorant and powerless even after he reached adulthood. He eventually reasserts his influence, only for his capital to be quickly conquered by Azula.
  • Principal Victoria in South Park often appears as something of a figurehead compared to Mr. Mackey, who seems to handle most of South Park elementary's rule-making and discipline. She almost never appears without him standing close by, in fact. This is averted when she is replaced by PC Principal.
  • In the season four finale of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Twilight Sparkle feels this way, being a princess with no actual royal duties. By the end of the finale, she gains her important duties.
  • Although Patrick acted like a bigshot in the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Rule of Dumb", after it was revealed he inherited a throne, everyone walks away wondering why they let themselves be talked into giving their stuff to Patrick once Squidward told them that Patrick had no real authority to demand tribute.
  • King from The Owl House is the self-proclaimed "King of Demons", a dubious claim as he is high-strung, childish, and very short in stature. No other demons seem to respect his authority, and he has none of the powers one would expect. As of Season 2, it's heavily suggested that he may indeed be the offspring of a very powerful demon, but their reign seems to have been so long ago that even historians no longer remember it. "Edge of the World" reveals that he's a baby Titan (gigantic creatures whose corpses form the landmasses where demons and witches live), and is most likely the Last of His Kind.
  • Brandy & Mr. Whiskers: Gaspar claims to be ruler of the jungle, but other than a bunch of thuggish monkeys who enforce his demands no one really takes him seriously most of the time. Brandy herself brings this up in a few episodes, which really frustrates Gaspar (especially since he can't refute her).
  • The Princess Ponies of the original My Little Pony don't actually rule Ponyland, they just possess wands that keep the land's magic in balance.

    Real Life 
  • His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico. He was essentially little more than a broke former businessman, walking around the streets in an old dress uniform, but his proclamations of royalty were so grandiose that he became something of a local celebrity. By all accounts, he was a rather friendly, if pompous sort, and so people saw little problem with playing along with him, even sending him new clothes when his uniform started to wear out and accepting his "Norton scrip" currency. When one police officer was concerned about his mental health and recommended he be institutionalized, the Chief of Police vouched for Norton, saying, "that he had shed no blood; robbed no one; and despoiled no country; which is more than can be said of his fellows in that line".
    • Norton did have a certain amount of moral authority, which he used to attempt to stop anti-Chinese riots in San Francisco. For all that he was a crackpot, he did have some respect from the community.
  • Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia. Here, there's an interesting twist: Molossia is incredibly small, consisting primarily of various properties owned by Baugh, meaning that not a lot of competence is required. Still, he does his best to cultivate good relations with the United States, which completely surrounds Molossia, sending them "aid" every April 15.note  Unfortunately, none of this protects him from film invasion.
  • The Mayor of Hollywood. Hollywood is officially a neighborhood of Los Angeles, so technically the mayor of LA is the "mayor of Hollywood", but the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce created the position to supposedly represent the entertainment industry. The main focus of the job is to appear at Walk of Fame ceremonies and to arrange for lavish yet tacky floral arrangements to be placed on the stars of recently deceased honorees. (Attendance at funerals is also part of the job.) Created in 1942, a number of notables have held the position, including Betty White, Charlton Heston, Steve Allen and Monty Hall. In 1980, radio personality and TV producer Johnny Grant was given the title, and basically made it his full-time gig, holding it for the next 28 years. In lieu of pay he had all of his (admittedly modest) needs supplied. The position has been vacant since Grant's death in 2008.
  • The Roman Catholic Church
    • In some larger or more dioceses the church needs auxiliary bishops to help the primary bishop oversee the diocese. The church also requires that certain positions in the Vatican administration be held by bishops. But a bishop is supposed to be the head of a diocese, and a bishopric in a real diocese is a full-time job. The church instead assigns bishops intended to work in the Vatican or as auxiliary bishops to a "titular see", which is a diocese that's no longer extant. (A fair number of them are located in the Middle East or North Africa, areas that were wholly Christian before the advent of Islam. In modern times titular sees are named after dioceses that have moved from one city to another, abolished, or combined with a neighboring diocese. note ) The best-known titular bishop might be Nicolaus Steno (aka Neils Stensen), the Titular Bishop of Titiopolis, a geologist and the subject of an essay by Stephen Jay Gould.
    • Nominal dioceses over areas lacking active Christian congregations have been also been used as a means to reassign bishops to Antarctica, particularly if the bishop in question has unusual opinions and/or criticizes Church policy but hasn't actually broken with Church doctrine.
  • South Korea, which claims to be the rightful government of the entire Korean peninsula, appoints governors for its Northern "provinces". Nobody's sure what they actually do (the closest estimate being the "North Korean defector resettlement office"), but reportedly the offices are quite busy. (Incidentally, North Korea makes the exact same claim, but there's only one authority up there.)
  • Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of KFC, was not a Colonel in any military sense. Rather, he was a Kentucky colonel, a title of honor in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, given by the governor and the secretary of state to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state, or the nation. Sanders was given the honor twice for his work in the food industry. More info on it here. Further played straight later on in life: Sanders continued to be the face of KFC well after he sold most of his stake in the company and decried the declining quality of its food.
    • Other notable colonels include Hunter S. Thompson and Johnny Depp. Thompson also acquired the title of Doctor from the Universal Life Church.
    • Similarly, Elvis Presley's manager Colonel Tom Parker's title was an honorary one for the Louisiana State Militia, given to him for helping out with Jimmie Davis' successful campaign for governor in 1944. Parker was a military vet, having served two years in the US Army.note 
  • Ugandan dictator Idi Amin Dada had a few of these, the most infamous to movie goers being The Last King of Scotland. His full title was "His Excellency, President for Life, Field Marshal Al Hadji Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of All the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Seas and Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular", among other dubious claims.
  • Most monarchies have been slowly transitioning towards this over the centuries, with most of the official duties of the crown being ceremonial, and the remainder being things they technically only do when the elected government asks them to do it. For example, the British Monarch is the only person with the authority to name a Prime Minister, and theoretically has the authority to name whoever he/she chooses, whenever he/she chooses, but in practice the Monarch always selects the leader of the party or coalition of parties that controls the House of Commons, and does so only when the party leadership or control of the House of Commons changesnote .
    • The Emperor of Japan is weird as it was a figurehead monarchy all the way back in 1192 CE. From 1192 through 1868, much of the real imperial power rested with the Shogun, who was de jure the Emperor's general, but de facto were the actual rulers, particularly after Tokugawa Ieasu siezed power in 1603, going so far as to move the capital from Kyotonote  to Edonote , pointedly not moving the Emperor from Kyoto along with the transfer. The Shogun's power itself waxed and waned, going from having complete dictatorial power to barely being acknowledged by the various clans of the islands. The Emperor's power was briefly restored under the Meiji restoration, although gave up much of his formal power under the Meiji constitution, and all power (both real and even theoretical power of constitutional monarchs) was removed after World War 2.
      • The Japanese take this "no Imperial interference in politics" thing rather seriously. When the Cabinet (or one of their ministers as needed) finalizes some document that requires Imperial consent, the Emperor is expected to sign that off on the same day, because they consider even delaying by one day is effectively an interference (the document enters effect one day later than expected). This is why Emperors need to nominate a proxy (usually his heir) when they're out for state visits or will be under general anaesthesia; an Imperial authority needs to exist 24/7/365 since they're expected to sign paperwork off whenever the government wants them to.
    • Parliamentary republics work in a similar way, except that they have ceremonial presidents instead of monarchs.
  • In theory Canada has the British King as head of State, and he is represented by a Governor General who is allowed to exercise most of the monarch's power on their behalf, including the power to appoint anyone to be the Prime Minister. Of course in practice, the Governor General simply appoints the leader of the party with the most seats in Parliament and the Governor General is appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister (read: he tells the King who to pick), which means the powers of both positions are mostly symbolic.
    • This is actually true of most Commonwealth Realms (Commonwealth nations that recognize the British monarch as their head of state). However, Canada did it first—it's the oldest (and biggest, in every sense) Commonwealth Realm.note 
  • Many African republics are home to a number of "traditional rulers" and tribal leaders who are referred to as kings or some equivalent title (e.g. emir). The national government typically offers some official recognition of their status, but they have no actual legal power. Examples include the King of the Zulus and actual Nigerian princes. Subverted in that they can wield significant local power, even if they don't get a say in how the state is run.
  • Due to complications involving a farming co-operative's tax dispute and the government simply forgetting to file certain paperwork (seriously), a small area of land in Australia has technically seceded from the nation and become Terra Nullius technically owned by the co-operative, making the area a literal Company Town. The board members of the co-op have total authority there, although with a relatively tiny spit of farmland to their name there's not much to be done with it. While they have printed their own currency (mostly as a joke) it's valued 1:1 with the Australian dollar, which is also accepted there. The Australian government likes to pretend this never happened, having quietly changed the long-obsolete law that allowed it, and treats the area as a single corporate entity that doesn't pay taxes.
  • When Aslam Maskhadov was elected as President of Chechnya following the First Chechen War, his authority was undermined by his field commanders who had turned into warlords and held the real power and influence in the country. By the time of the Second Chechen War happened, Maskhadov was just one of the many warlords with their own militias and they wouldn't answer to anyone but themselves individually.
  • Arguably, the entirety of the United States' Continental Congress and its successor, the Congress of the Confederation (officially called "The United States in Congress Assembled"), which was designed to have as little authority as possible. (This also applied to its president; unlike the office as defined by the Constitution, he simply presided over meetings without exercising any real authority.) It lasted from September 5, 1774 to April 2, 1789 (by which time the new constitution had been ratified and George Washington elected president). At its last meeting, only two people attended: member Philip Pell and the Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson. According to the last entry in the Journal of the Congress of the Confederate States of America (what the Continental Congress was called at the time, not that Confederate States Of America): "The hour of 2 o'clock having arrived, the Speaker announced that the House stood adjourned sine die" (Latin for "without day", i.e. "indefinitely".) Washington was inaugurated the next month, and Thomson handed over the Great Seal and resigned as secretary that July, which officially ended the Continental Congress.
  • There have been various cases of very small towns nominating a domesticated animal (mostly a cat or dog) as mayor, the perhaps most well-known being Stubbs the cat. Being animals, these obviously don't have any actual political power, and exist mostly just to serve as tourist attractions in places that are so small they don't even warrant having an actual mayor.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): King Of Town, The King Of Town


I'm Going To Sit Here And Sulk

Tigerstar II realizes that his mother is more respected in ShadowClan than he is, so if she decides to go off on her own with his wife and son, there's very little that he can do about it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / AuthorityInNameOnly

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