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"Better if Not Born" Plot

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Everyone and anyone has heard of (or have used) the It's a Wonderful Plot storyline: an angel shows a suicidal or otherwise depressed person how much radically different and worse their loved one's lives would be without them in it and it inspires a newfound sense of hope and confidence in them that allows them to turn over a new leaf or at least soldier on.
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Then there's this trope.

The angel or another otherworldly creature shows the person, usually an Asshole Victim or other unlikable soul, that the world around them is doing just fine or is even better/beneficial without them in it. Obviously this does not forbade well for the person and it can go two ways:

  1. the person decides to commit suicide anyway since they truly don't have anything to live for or just do it to stick it to their "loving" survivors, or
  2. they decide to live, not necessarily just for themselves, but as a sense of revenge to make sure the people in their lives don't have a moment of joy in their deaths.

Sometimes, however, this could happen to one of the good guys or other sympathetic characters; they're shown that the lives of people would be better without them around. Perhaps they've been unintentionally annoying or even harmful to their surroundings. Perhaps they did some mistake in the past that changed the lives of people around them for the worse. Perhaps their parents didn't even mean to create them, in particular. Or (when Played for Laughs) perhaps they're just the Butt-Monkey whom everyone looks down on. They may either try to change themselves for the better, or atone for their mistakes, or attempt to kill themselves, or accept some kind of punishment, or at least leave the people's presence. If Time Travel is possible, they may want to kill their past self (causing them to die as well) or at least try to change them for the better.

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Closely related to Necessary Fail and Suicide for Others' Happiness. See also Asshole Victim and And There Was Much Rejoicing.

As a Death Trope, this trope will have unmarked spoilers. Due to the nature of the trope, adding real-life examples would be asking for trouble/impossible.


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics: In one story, an angel shows Cheryl Blossom what things would be like if she hadn't moved to Riverdale. It turns out that the other characters are much better off without her. Betty becomes a supermodel dating a prince, Archie is vice-president at Lodge Industries and Happily Married to Veronica, who is now much less selfish and even involved in all sorts of charity work, and Jughead is the mayor. In the end, Cheryl misses the point and decides that making their lives more complicated is her purpose in life, so she goes back to the life she has. And the angel gets demoted.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes: In the post-Zero Hour run, Brainiac 5 gets a vision of what the Legion would be like without him, and it turns out to be an idealized Silver Age-style world in which the other Legionnaires are just kids in a "hero club." After confirming that, yes, their lives are in fact better without him, Brainy chooses to go back anyhow in order to go on making their lives as miserable as they make his.
  • One "Monroe" story of MAD Magazine, had Monroe wish he wasn't born, and a guardian angel shows him how life would be different. When he shows parents being happy, and his friend being more popular, the angel says he has failed his mission, since everyone would be better off without Monroe, and assumes he would be willing to not come back for their sake. He assumes wrong, and Monroe tells the Angel that his mission did not fail, and he wants to come back, saying that if they made his life miserable, then they don't deserve to have happy lives without him.
    Film — Live-Action 
  • The director's cut of The Butterfly Effect ends with Evan, having made numerous abortive attempts to change the past for the better, deciding to use his Mental Time Travel ability to go back in time to when he was a foetus and strangle himself with his umbilical cord. The film then shows a "Where Are They Now?" Epilogue of the other characters, showing how their lives were immeasurably improved by his absence. Earlier in the film, his mother made an offhand reference to having had multiple stillbirths before successfully delivering Evan, implying that his dead siblings ultimately made the same decision as Evan.
  • 16 Wishes: Abby gets a wish that transforms her into an adult, causing her to see what her friends' and family's lives are like without her in them. She realizes she was such a brat and that everybody was actually better off without her, and promptly changes her ways after undoing the wish.
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    Literature 
  • Animorphs: One Megamorphs has the kids be made aware that they're living in a much-worse alternate timeline (genocide and slavery are commonly accepted facts of society, women who don't Stay in the Kitchen are sent to reeducation camps, the Yeerks are on the brink of victory thanks to a totalitarian government, Jake is a Small Name, Big Ego sociopath). They end up chasing the villain through time, and end up wiping him (or rather, his human host) from existence by ensuring his host's parents never met (as the host is aware of both timelines, he accepts the fate decided for him).
    Live-Action TV 
  • Dallas: The finale of the original series, "Conundrum," has J.R. contemplating suicide when he is visited by his guardian angel, Adam, shows him how several key people in his life – his parents, siblings Gary and Bobby, Sue Ellen, Cliff Barnes, Pam Barnes, Kristin Shepard, Callie Harper and Ray Krebs – would have turned out if he had never been born. Some cases are for better, some for worse. In the end, Adam (who reveals to J.R. that he's not a guardian angel at all) attempts to goad J.R. into suicide ... but it is revealed in a reunion movie (aired several years) later that he shot the mirror.
  • The 1989 two-parter Christmas Episode of Married... with Children had Al's guardian angel (played by Sam Kinison) show what would happen if he was never born, which shows Peg as a loving Housewife, Bud successful with women, Kelly a smart and chaste college student and having a charming and rich man played by Ted McGinley as their husband and father. This angers Al so much that he decides to live just to spite them for being the greedy and ungrateful bastards that they are.
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie: An important media mogul (a clear Anonymous Ringer for Rupert Murdoch) is about to throw himself off a bridge when his guardian angel appears to show him how the world would be without him. It turns out that without him, everyone lives together in peace and harmony, and people are well-educated and cultured since he wasn't able to create his media empire which would profiteer heavily on creating divisions in society through glorification of violence and spreading bigoted discourses against minorities. When they return to the bridge, the media mogul tells the angel that he wants to be brought back to life in this universe, because it is ripe to be exploited for his own profit. At this point, the guardian angel, realizing that he is a lost cause who will never improve, pushes him off the bridge himself.
  • Played for drama in an episode of Smallville: when Chloe and Clark discover that Brainiac has gone back in time to Ret-Gone Clark, much to Chloe's horror Clark is so despondent about all of the shit that he's had to endure so far (and in one way or another he's forced his loved ones to endure) that he refuses to do anything about it. Chloe has to literally beg Clark to snap out of it to make him go back in time and stop Brainiac.
    Radio 
    Video Games 
  • Played With in BioShock Infinite, which turns out to be a "Better If Not Born Again" Plot. It is revealed that the Big Bad Father Comstock is the Player Character Booker DeWitt from an Alternate Timeline where he had accepted a baptism, fundamentally misinterpreted what it meant, and embarked on a path of religious fanaticism (whereas the playable Booker rejected baptism and retained his jaded, but grounded personality in his timeline). At the end of the game, Elizabeth takes Booker back in time to the moment of his baptism where he lets her drown him, ensuring that Comstock is never "born" and all the suffering that he had caused never comes to pass.
    Webcomics 
  • Brawl in the Family featured a straight version of It's a Wonderful Plot for King Dedede, but the arc ends with Pit showing Waluigi how much better the world would be without him.
    Pit: If you never existed, the world would be bliss! Well, whatdya think?
    Waluigi: WAA! Waluigi hates this.
  • The webartist avogado6's work usually concerns people being objectively better off dead. "Regretless Life" has a man commit suicide and be shown that nobody cares (his "friends" just laugh, his coworker finds someone else to dump his extra work on, his mother never wanted him in the first place, and someone else adopts his cat). Rather than take revenge on them, the dead man is happy about this, as his only fear was that he'd make people sad at his passing, allowing him to go to the afterlife without regret.
  • Bug Martini: One of the Bug's irrational fears is that the world would genuinely be better without him in it.
    Web Original 
  • A Christmas Episode of The Nostalgia Critic showed him what life would have been if he never became the critic, which showed amongst other things Linkara as the owner of both Marvel and DC Comics, Angry Joe as President of the United States and Spoony as the Nostalgia Critic himself and beloved by all trolls, including Douchey McNitpick.
  • In Shane Dawson's sketch "Why was I born?", the notion that everyone would be better off without Shane is deconstructed by the fact that in a timeline where Shane was never born, he wasn't able to be friends with a boy named Robbie, resulting in the latter's suicide due to feelings of isolation. Shane's guide points out that whatever everyone else feels towards him, it's the people who do miss him who matter most.
    Western Animation 
  • The second half of Christmas special of Beavis and Butt-Head had a guardian angel actually trying to convince Butthead to commit suicide after showing him how much better everyone else was doing: Beavis was a nice and respectful young man, Stewart had confidence, Highland High School was a great school, Daria had trust in men and a boyfriend and Principal McVicker was not only happy with his school, his staff and his students, but also has a full head of hair.
  • The Fairly OddParents: In the rather infamous "It's a Wishful Life" episode, Timmy is feeling so underappreciated that he wishes he was never born. He gets poofed out of existence, and Jorgen proceeds to show him how everyone's lives are without him. Timmy assumes that at least one person's life must be worse without him around...but nope. Apparently, if Timmy were never born, his parents would be rich, his friends successful and happy, Mr. Crocker normal, Vicky no longer evil, the Cubs would win the World Series, etc. It's so bad that Jorgen actually refuses to reverse the wish because this is proof Timmy is a jackass not worth keeping around. After some struggling, Timmy manages to reverse his wish anyway and tries to be a better person as a result.
  • Robot Chicken: In a Popeye-themed sketch parodying It's a Wonderful Plot. Wimpy's guardian angel tries to deter him from committing suicide by showing him what would happen if he died. However it is then instead shown how much better the world is without his existence. Popeye has a full head of hair, he and Bluto open up their own bank, Olive Oyl has much sexier & curvier figure, Alice the Goon found a cure for cancer, there is no pollution or war, and hamburgers are free. After seeing all this, his guardian angel then kicks him off the bridge himself.
  • Hey Arnold! uses a variant where Helga dreams of what the world would be like if she disappeared in the present. Everybody celebrates that she's gone; Arnold, who caused her to disappear with a magic trick, is famous for it; and her parents' lives are much better. Eventually she wakes up and tries to fix all the bad things she did in that episode before falling asleep.
  • Beetlejuice "It's a Wonderful Afterlife" is a rare example of this and It's a Wonderful Plot being both played straight. Beetlejuice, after a series of incidents, grows depressed and wishes himself out of existence. A guide comes to show him what the Neitherworld would be like without him. Much to their surprise, his fellow ghosts are remarkably successful in their respective fields; they've just become self-absorbed jerks, because their success has gone to their heads without him around to keep them humble. There is one person who is miserable without him, however: Lydia. And that's all the reason B.J. needs to wish to return.
  • Johnny Bravo: One episode has an angel show Johnny what life would be like without him, despite his protests he wasn't interested in seeing it, and everyone is better off: Pop's Diner is replaced with an extremely chic restaurant, Carl is a martial arts master and a software millionaire (Pop claims Carl is the reason Aaron City is on the map), Bunny Bravo is the head of a spy organization, and Little Suzy... apparently became a terrorist. Even his angel confesses that his boss warned him Johnny was just a "hunk of meat with a mouth". The only reason he came back was because he had put his face in cement that morninghe believed his friends' success didn't make up for not having his beauty around.
  • Rugrats: Discussed by Angelica to Chuckie in "Chuckie's Wonderful Life" where after the latter feels guilty for blaming his friends for a toy of his getting lost (which the former had discreetly stolen), she then says that it would be better if he were never born. The resulting dream, however, shows just the opposite: without his voice of reason and cautiousness, Angelica would bully Tommy and his parents into giving her whatever she wanted, Phil and Lil would be destructive monsters and Chas would lose his mind.

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