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Call It Karma

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Homer: ...You're selling what now?
Apu: I'm selling only the concept of karmic realignment.
Homer: You can't sell that! Karma can only be portioned out by the cosmos! (slams door)
Apu: (beat) He's got me there.

This trope covers cases where the word or concept of "karma" is used incorrectly compared to the original meaning of the term; see Karma for the more traditional religious use of the term. Frequently paired with Reincarnation.

Karma is a complex spiritual concept whose disambiguation is perhaps best left not to TV Tropes or Wikipedia, but to actual religious study.

Originally, the term Karma was a Sanskrit word for a rather specific spiritual concept, but over the centuries the word has been borrowed by countless languages, cultures, subcultures, religions, works of fiction, and even video games. Over time the word has evolved to such an extent that many who consider it to be part of their everyday vocabulary are almost entirely unfamiliar with its original definition. In everyday terms, Karma has often been simplified as a direct cause-effect Equivalent Exchange reaction to a characters actions, both good and bad.

More generally, much like a sufficiently clever Ice-Cream Koan can seem like a perfectly executed Koan, the use of the word "karma" to describe something that isn't really karma as understood by spiritual teachings outside a work can look and seem like actual in-universe Karma, especially if done subtly rather than Anviliciously. While this may sometimes be a case of oversimplification because Viewers Are Morons or the author simply didn't know better, it can also be the result of the author looking for a term to borrow to use for their own concept, much as the authors of this site, seeing phenomena in fiction, seek to provide a terminology for it.

To illustrate, Call It Karma will have a beautifully poetic ironic death where a killer dies at the hands of a "victim" wielding his own knife... while capital K Karma would have him reincarnated into a lower caste of Hindu society. Therein lies the problem, whereas the former is significantly easier to be inserted in a narrative, the latter needs several specific elements to be present.

Compare Dude, Not Ironic.

On this very wiki, the term "karma" is used for several tropes of this nature:

  • Karma Meter: The use of a simple scale to track a Player Character's morality.
  • Karmic Death: Evil acts will bring about a character's certain and Irony-laden death.
  • Karma Houdini: An evil character shrugs off any bad karma he has and gets away mostly scot free with all the bastardly deeds he's done.
    • Idiot Houdini: A character gets away for doing incompetent things.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: An evil character who has eluded punishment has all their bad karma catch up to them. Variation: the evil character (or Lovable Rogue) tries to go good, but has all their bad karma catch up to them because they want to change.
  • Karmic Jackpot: One tiny good deed creates a cascade of overwhelming good fortune.
  • Karmic Protection: Not being overtly evil means the universe can't be overly bad to you.
  • Karmic Transformation: Detesting a group or species means you will turn into one of them.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Doing a bad thing will get you promptly and neatly whacked by celestial forces.
  • Neutrality Backlash: Choosing to be neither good nor evil will bite the character in the arse.
  • Sexual Karma: When being good gets you goodies, and being bad gets you... boned.

No relation to the Silverstein song of the same name.



  • In 2008, Melbourne's public transport brand Metlink threw an ad campaign to dissuade "fare evaders" (i.e. people who ride without buying tickets) by telling the tales of the Cool and Unusual Punishment suffered by various rule breakers, such as being forced to buy 97 boxes of girl scout cookies as well as wonderful windfalls happening to people who played by the rules. It even had a web page where you could point at people in a crowd, and a terrifying "Karma Llama" would pop up and tell you what happened to them as a consequence. In keeping with this trope, absolutely nothing were actual real consequences of their fare evading.


  • The Trope Namer is Ghostbusters (1984), where Peter Venkman is saying these 3 words when he, Ray, and Egon are booted out of Weaver Hall after the dean claims that their research is nonsensical.
    Venkman: For whatever reasons, Ray... call it fate, call it luck, call it karma, I believe everything happens for a reason.

Live-Action TV

  • The Amazing Race runs on Call It Karma.
    • In Season 15 of The Amazing Race, Zev & Justin explained Call It Karma to a cabdriver in Cambodia, who was probably laughing inside when comparing it with the real concept of Karma that he was probably raised with. Later in that same season, Brian even stated his opinion that the race is a game of who can collect the most Karma Points.
    • From the very beginning, many Racers have operated on the basis of "Cab Karma", the idea that attempting to screw over a cabbie (or even just not tipping one properly) early in the Race would lead to the team getting a bad cabbie or not being able to get a cab at all at a later point often in a situation where how good the cabbie was, or how fast the cab was gotten made the difference between surviving the leg and being eliminated.
  • Game of Thrones: After murdering the late king's bastard children in the previous episode (and his betrayal of Ned Stark before that), Janos Slynt is stripped of his rank and titles and banished to the Wall by Tyrion to make room for his own man. Soon afterwards, he is then executed for insubordination by the newly elected Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow—-Ned Stark's bastard son.
  • My Name Is Earl is all about Karma, a concept developed by Carson Daly, where every action is dictated by Karma which provides instant gratification to good deeds and equally opposite effects.
    • Lampshaded in "The Professor", where the titular college professor briefly explains genuine Karma to Earl, before admitting that she prefers his version.

Tabletop Games

  • The Magic: The Gathering card Karma. The flavor appears to be that because your enemy draws dark power from the swamp, they are cursed to be strangled to death by branches in the swamp. It's probably just best to think of it as a slow-acting Bolt of Divine Retribution.

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • From the Dan Vs. episode "New Mexico":
    Dan: Hey, you date a married woman, you get hit by a bus. Karma.
    Chris: I'm not sure that's how karma works.
  • Lampshaded in The Simpsons episode "Homer and Apu". After Homer causes Apu to be fired from the Kwik-E-Mart for selling tainted meat, Apu goes to his house. Initially Homer thinks he's there to sell something, but Apu replies that the only thing he's selling is "karmic realignment". Homer replies that karma cannot be sold, but "only be portioned out by the cosmos".