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Captive Audience

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Statler: Do we have time to go to the bathroom before the next show?
Waldorf: Of course not, you fool! We're bolted to the seats!

Pretty much what it sounds like. A character or group is Forced to Watch an event occur, often as a punishment. They may be physically restrained, or maybe there's nothing else on, but either way, they have to watch this. Often Played for Laughs as the character has to watch someone's terrible violin performance, but is just as often Played for Drama when they're forced to see something like the execution of a loved one.

Compare Do Not Adjust Your Set.


Comic Books

  • Several DC villains are prone to taking over TV stations or theatres and executing their plans in front of a live audience. The Joker does this fairly often, but it's especially common for The Flash villain Abra Kadabra, who has a pathological need for applause (which he will force out of his audience, if necessary).
  • Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Queen Clea likes to force captives to watch the bloody executions of their fellows in her arena before their own. This works out poorly when she tries to force Diana to watch Steve Trevor's death by giant beasts, since not only does Steve kill all of them but when she has her archers loose a volley on him to kill him anyway Diana leaps in and keeps any arrows from reaching their target.

Fan Works

  • The Legend of Total Drama Island has a downplayed example using the business definition (see "Real Life" below). The first-day orientation includes a stop at the Tuck Shoppe, essentially an on-site convenience store. Chris informs the contestants that the Tuck Shoppe can provide various things to make their lives a little easier, but warns that they'll have to pay captive audience prices for those luxuries. In other words, everything will be expensive.

Films — Live-Action

  • In A Clockwork Orange, main character Alex is strapped into a chair and forced to watch scenes of violence that are set to classical music as part of his reeducation.
  • In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, after having lured a bunch of intelligence-deprived guards into a trap by performing a fan dance, resulting in their being surrounded by Kirk and his armed escorts, Uhura makes a joke about always wanting to have performed for a captive audience.
  • In The Dark Knight Rises, Bane locks an injured Bruce Wayne in a cell with a television screen showing a news program on Bane's reign of terror on Gotham City.


  • In The Hunger Games, the impoverished districts, despite not having enough resources for food and medicine, are forced to watch their children fight to the death on televisions in their own homes.

Live-Action TV

  • Our Miss Brooks: Anytime there's a school event or assembly, Mr. Conklin makes it mandatory for students and teachers to attend. The fact the event is happening outside school hours is rarely an excuse, especially for Miss Brooks.
  • Joel/Mike and the bots on Mystery Science Theater 3000.
  • Used in a very sinister manner on Criminal Minds. Several UnSubs have forced one victim to watch the torture/rape/death of a fellow victim before their own demise.
  • Taken to ludicrous extremes in a Saturday Night Live sketch where a movie audience was trapped in the theater and forced to watch preview after preview, interspersed with cheery jingles which made light of their no food/no water/no bathroom status.
  • The entire Guild in Jam and Jerusalem, every time Pauline gives one of her talks.



  • After Shredder beats the Turtles in the second act of Coming Out of Their Shells, the Shredder locks all the doors to keep the audience from escaping (while demanding that they get out) and then starts riffing on the audience.

Video Games

  • In Portal 2, GLaDOS tells Chell that after Chell killed her, she was forced to watch the last moments of her life over and over again.
  • In Paper Mario: The Origami King, the boss of Shogun Studios and keeper of the Blue Streamer, Rubber Band, has nearly every Toad in the park strapped to the chairs in the park's theatre with, you guessed it, rubber bands.
  • In Super Lucky's Tale, the boss of Gilly Island, Lady Meowmalade, has taken over the resort's dance hall and its occupants with her Mind-Control Music. Greg the Mailgolem even namedrops the trope once you talk to him after you got enough Clover Pages to unlock the fight.

Web Original

  • The Jolly Roger Telephone Company is an Internet-based company which designs bots which are designed to waste the time of telemarketers and other unwanted callers. Oftentimes, the callers end up being this, particularly if they are, in fact, telemarketers. They may want to hang up, but may be working under a rule that they're not really supposed to unless the person being called says something which is obviously abusive, which the bots won't do. In some cases, they may be using a computerized system that does not even have a method for them to easily hang up, as it's expected for the person being called to end the conversation. As such, they may have to get a supervisor involved before they can hang up. This is regarded as a big win, since it now means that two people are tied up with the bot.

Western Animation

  • The chicken on Robot Chicken
    • And in Season 6, the mad scientist has changed places.
    • And, in Season 8, they've traded places yet again.
  • In Phineas and Ferb, Doofenshmirtz ambushes a TV executive at a Fan Convention and forces him to listen to his pitch for an action series starring characters based on Perry the Platypus and himself. Funnily enough, the executive actually likes the idea, but when he politely suggests that Perry's character have a love interest, Doof winds up feeling insulted and infuriated and storms off. The executive ends up making a Writing Around Trademarks version anyway that Doof admits really is better.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, the Joker has a whole studio audience captured and forced to watch Batman as he is electrocuted by a chair powered by the laughs of the audience. He uses his gas to get them to laugh.
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures, during a student animation film festival, Shirley reveals that her cartoon is 17 hours and 34 minutes (and this was after she was forced to cut the running time), causing Bugs, Daffy and Porky, who were supposed to be the judges, to bolt for the door, only to find that Shirley had it electrified.
  • In the Gumby episode, "The Witty Witch" and later in the 80s Gumby episode, "Witch Way", a clever witch uses this ploy to help debunk the Evil Witch stereotype, with the help of a piano that throws a banana cream pie at her when she opens it.
  • One episode of Garfield and Friends had Garfield, Jon and Odie discovering to their chagrin that they're attending a screening of "Kung Fu Creatures on the Rampage 3". They try to get up only to encounter an audience full of kung fu creature aliens, and are left with no choice but to sit down and watch the movie.

Real Life

  • According to some sources who have been to North Korea — such as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof — every apartment and public space in the country is rigged with loudspeakers that can't be shut off. They are actual propaganda machines that broadcast into every occupied space in the country. North Koreans don't need alarm clocks. The speaker starts blasting "news" and music every day at 6 a.m.
  • Other dictatorships have been known to have propaganda loudspeakers in public spaces.
  • The business definition is a downplayed example. In the business world, a "captive audience" is one that comes to the business location for some purpose other than to patronize the business. Restaurants located in airports or shopping malls are good examples of businesses that cater to captive audiences. For various reasons, businesses tend to charge higher prices to captive audiences than they would elsewhere.
  • Movie Theatres are another downplayed example. Since it's not known beforehand when a movie will actually start, moviegoers often have to sit through half an hour of trailers for other movies, ads, and public service announcements before seeing the movie they've paid to see. Think you can just show up late to compensate? You might have to struggle to find a seat in the dark - and if you're watching a movie on the one day that the theatre decided to skip the previews and just show the movie, you've just missed the first part of the movie. And that's before we consider the overpriced refreshments...
  • Mobile versions of websites often have an ad that plays before the user can view the site that the user can't exit (or has a minimum wait period before this option is available).


Video Example(s):


Toad audience

The Toads are tied to their seats and forced to watch the show.

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