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Concepts Are Cheap

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♫Justice is what he claims to fight for, but it's a mystery — what does this "justice" mean? He hasn't got a clue!♫
Space Hunt Drake Redcrest's Theme (Vocal Version, English), Chibi-Robo!

Can't think of a convincing personal motivation for your hero? No problem. There are lots of useful words out there. Useful words like "freedom", "justice", "peace" or "mankind"! Or "love"! Or "hope"! Or "good"! Yeah! "Freedom" stirs up lots of warm fuzzy feelings in people. Better yet, any villains who oppose our freedom-loving hero must be, by definition, evil. Better than that, freedom is an abstract. If nothing specific is added, a reader can fill in the blank with whatever they want.

Concepts Are Cheap is the natural result of writers stuffing their narratives with lots of glossy one-size-fits-all words, rather than inventing motivations which emerge organically from the character's experiences. Like a cheap meal, it leaves you empty two hours after you've finished the work. Sure, the hero might have just told the villain that "freedom" is better than "tyranny" and then struck him with his laser sword, thus (violently) winning "freedom" for all "mankind". But why? Why did he care? Why should we care? And would anyone but a Card-Carrying Villain say that tyranny is better than freedom?

Values Dissonance can hit with some of these concepts. For Science! was a cheap concept in The '50s (positive or negative, depending on the sanity of the scientist), but there are enough people real and fictional who claim that taking a stand for it does mean something (again, for good or ill).

Compare Meaningless Meaningful Words, For Great Justice. Contrast Justice Will Prevail. Unrelated to High Concept.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Mobile Suit Gundam 00 skillfully uses this trope as a plot point. As season 2 begins, Celestial Being managed to end war by making themselves the entire world's common enemy, which is not what they hoped for, also everyone is being oppressed by the A-Laws who are an expy of the Titans from Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam.
  • This is a common criticism of Pokémon: The First Movie: the rather forced moral in the English dub is that "fighting is wrong", in a series all about fighting. (It Makes Sense in Context; the fighting in question is to the death and tied to Mewtwo's hatred of humans, while the series' regular battles are usually friendly and result in nothing more than Non Lethal KOs. Nonetheless, many fans agree that the film would have been better off with no such moral.)
  • The Claw in GUN×SWORD abuses this, constantly taking about "dreams" and "world peace" to refer to his plan, when it is more or less an Assimilation Plot. It got him quite a devoted fellowship.
  • In Concrete Revolutio: Choujin Gensou this is a recurring theme with Sword Phantom Claude, who has come to believe that while superhumans may claim to fight for peace, justice, and freedom for all mankind, it is impossible to be an Ideal Hero who truly fights for all three.
    Jiro: "You admired superhumans too! Those who do the right thing, not for themselves or their country, but for a single..."
    Claude: "A single what? Justice? Peace? Freedom? Defending my freedom disturbs the peace! Pursuing your justice violates my freedom! There is no single answer!"
  • In Dragon Ball Super, three fighters from the Second Universe, the magical girls Brianne, Kakunsa, and Rozie, contantly talk about how they fight for "Love," and "Love" is unbeatable. The Pride Troopers of Universe 11 also often talk about "Justice."
  • Explored in Vagabond, where much introspection is done about Mushashi's desire to become "invincible under the sun," what that even means and whether or not the lives he takes to get to that point are worth it.
  • Briefly Invoked and Lampshaded towards the end of Fullmetal Alchemist. Once Mustang's group takes over the central command center, Maria Ross gives a short speech over the radio about how they're fighting for justice. Breda then mocks her for using such a broad concept, but she replies that people will eat it up because it sounds cool.
  • The defining concept for the Marines in One Piece is "Justice", to the point that the kanji for "justice" is emblazoned on the backs of their uniforms. However, each Marine (aside from the corrupt ones who are simply in it for themselves) has their own interpretation of the concept, from the more heroic interpretations, to interpretations that justify committing genocide, or killing Marine POWs for being weak enough to be captured.

    Comic Books 
  • Angela: Asgard's Assassin: its main character Angela, and by extension all Angels of Heven (this is the in-comic spelling), says her culture centers around materialism and Equivalent Exchange. Justice? Honor? Family? All those big and important words they translate to Nothing or to put it more flowery:
    "Obey me for no reason, but pretty words, for no one's gain but my own."
  • Captain America: Periodically, Captain America will become disillusioned when he realizes that even he doesn't really know what representing "America" really means.
  • Justice League of America:
    • Villain Prometheus was designed as a sort of reverse Batman, whose parents were Bonnie and Clyde-like criminals gunned down by the police before his eyes. Why did he take on the Justice League? Because his parents' death instilled in him a deep and abiding hatred of justice. It's entirely possible it was meant to be as trite as it sounds, but most writers (and readers) don't treat it that way.
    • In the mini-series "Justice League: Cry for Justice", suddenly, every single major character spends the entire series demanding "justice" without ever bothering to define what it means or how it's different from what the other heroes are already doing. Their actions are also closer to that of another concept altogether. Prometheus himself is the villain of the piece, funnily enough.
  • Spider-Man: In lesser stories, "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility" becomes this. It was never really Peter's Badass Creed as later comics made it out to be. It was just a caption voiced by the narrator in Amazing Fantasy #15 in classic Stan Lee dated Purple Prose. But the attempt to make this Spider-Man's ethos often leads to much fuzziness about what powers and responsibilities mean, leading to much Informed Attribute. Peter fights crime for the grand glorious cause of Responsibility: he has the power to do it, so he has to do it. (It does spin out of his Backstory, but still.) This may mean that he was doomed to become a superhero no matter what: he was introduced as a young genius almost on par with the other super scientists of the time like Hank Pym, Reed Richards, and Tony Stark. Thus, he had great power, and thus, great responsibility.
  • Superman: Back in the day Superman spent a lot of time demolishing substandard ghetto housing, exposing political corruption, and standing up for the rights of immigrants and the little guy. He was a New Deal superhero! But politics is bad for sales, so Superman started to fight for the magnificent generality of "truth, justice, and the American way" (the last part added in the 40s for the radio program), and as long as he limits himself to hitting supervillains in the jaw, it doesn't matter. No two people can agree on what Superman "really stands for" anymore, but they all agree it's very heroic. "The American way" part is also often dropped in modern stories, although it's usually only Americans who complain about this.
  • V for Vendetta: V fights for "freedom" not in the form of a vague generality, but in the form of smashing the Norsefire regime and creating a state of anarchy that may or may not be an improvement.
  • Watchmen: Rorschach and Ozymandias, in very different ways and results, devote their entire lives to their ideals, at the cost of distancing themselves from the morality (and, in Rorschach's case, hygiene standards) of everyday folk. Ozymandias firmly believes that Utopia Justifies the Means and that a few million deaths to prevent the rest of the global population from dying is an acceptable sacrifice, while Rorschach believes that not even Utopia justifies the means, and that global extinction under the truth is better than peace through a lie.


    Films — Animated 
  • Parodied in Megamind with the "You can't trap justice..." riff.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Star Wars uses broad concepts to help inform the audience who should seem sympathetic or disagreeable.
    • Anakin is introduced as a slave: we don't see his performing any slave duties (working in a shop could just be his job for how he's treated), or the effects of slavery on him, or any motivations as a result of his experience, but it earns the tyke sympathy points.
    • The Sith are dangerous moral relativists, except when they're rigid moral absolutists, but in the end they only seem to be whatever term the story can hang off them to make them eeeevil.
    • The Republic is shown to be highly ineffective and almost comically corrupt, and their clone armies are effectively enslaved child soldiers that are led by an independent religious order not beholden to the government. They're the good guys though, because they say "freedom" a lot.
  • Evita: Late in the film, when Eva is dying, she and her president husband Juan start talking about how their "dream" may never come to pass. It's never really revealed what this dream was supposed to be, unless it turns out it was "Enjoy the perks of the Presidential office."note 
  • Braveheart speaks a lot about "OUR FREEDOM!" with only a couple of lines giving context they were fighting for ("beg forgiveness for a hundred years of theft, rape, and murder"note ). Although movie-Wallace's crusade just started out as an act of personal revenge against the man who killed his wife, then somehow morphed into "Freedom for Scotland".
  • In Moulin Rouge!, Christian spends the film chasing after abstract concepts. The movie does very little to explore what these ideas mean in the first place. He believed that because he and Satine believe in Freedom, Art and Love, the universe has to bend around them and that he never has to make any tough choices. Also, it doesn't ever seem to occur to him that these concepts aren't always compatible with each other. For instance, for his play to succeed, he would have to avoid falling in love with the investor's love interest. He also doesn't respect Satine's freedom to love someone other than him, seeing her attempt to break up with him as a result of being manipulated the whole time.
  • American Psycho: Patrick Bateman in The Film of the Book gives a monologue on the important problems that we need to face, eventually dissolving into a bunch of vacuous rhetoric. Naturally, he doesn't actually care about these things (being a shallow sociopath, a racist, and a serial killer), so his speech is just a huge Lampshade hung on the use of this trope.
    Bateman: There's a lot more important problems than Sri Lanka to worry about. We have to end apartheid for one, slow down the nuclear arms race, stop terrorism and end world hunger. We have to provide food and shelter for the homeless and oppose racial discrimination and promote civil rights, while also promoting equal rights for women. We have to encourage a return to traditional moral values. But most importantly we have to promote general social concern, and less materialism.
  • The Fifth Element: After the Big Bad Zorg is failed by a group of warrior aliens and forced to compromise on a deal, he launches into a monologue about his dislike for warriors and their causes.
    Zorg: I don't like warriors. Too narrow-minded, no subtlety. And worse, they fight for hopeless causes. Honor? Huh! Honor's killed millions of people, it hasn't saved a single one.
  • In The Dark Knight Trilogy much of the plot is about Bruce exploring, discovering and refining his concept of justice and his boundaries (for example, Lucius challenges him on his decision to implement a nigh-omnipresent security system throughout Gotham and Bruce decides to retire it after the current crisis).
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End falls into this. After two films of moral grey, it decides that the Pirates are heroic, and the East India Company are evil. Both sides have been shown doing awful things, but the Pirates fight for their 'freedom' to do awful things. Therefore, they're the good guys.

  • Discworld:
    • Remarked on in Interesting Times when Rincewind explains why he doesn't support "worthy causes". He says they're much easier to pick up than another chance at life is, so why would he lay down his life for a cause?
    • Night Watch, wherein a rant by Sir Samuel results in the rebels fighting for truth, justice, freedom, reasonably-priced love (as the seamstresses objected to the inclusion of "free love")... and a hard-boiled egg, because at least the egg can be had by morning. Not that he gets to eat it.
    • Reacher Gilt in Going Postal loves to talk about freedom, but he really means "freedom for me". He certainly has no intention of letting Moist be free to run the post office while he has anything to say about it. Moist reads Gilt's statement to the Times and is awestruck at how Reacher has made the Concepts be Cheap.
  • Don Quixote is a deconstruction of this trope: In the first part of the novel, he wants to be a Knight Errant serving no less an ideal than justice itself. In reality, he is The Hedonist and all his efforts are really guided to live his dreams, but he doesn't accept it because he is a hypocrite. In the second part of the novel, his motivation changes For Happiness. But this time Don Quixote is an honest man who must admit at the end of the novel that his efforts didn’t help anyone and his dreams of Chivalric Romance were ultimately shallow.
  • Discussed and invoked in Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel. Robophobic detective Elijah Bailey scoffs at the notion that law-enforcement robot R. Daneel Olivaw has a "justice circuit," saying that justice is too abstract a concept to be programmed into a robot. When asked to define justice, Daneel says "That which exists when all laws are enforced." While that would not be many humans' concept of justice, it is perfectly adequate for a law-enforcement robot to function.
  • The Sword of Good is dripping with this trope, as the protagonist Hirou wields the eponymous weapon and teams up with the Forces of Good to defeat the Bad Races led by the Lord of Dark. These are their literal, in-universe names. But as the Lord of Dark points out, the prophesied "Choice Between Good and Bad" isn't a matter of merely saying "Good", but of knowing which is which. The so-called "Forces of Good" only uphold the malignant status quo, which the so-called "Lord of Dark" is overthrowing for the benefit of everyone — the Sword only comes into its true power when Hirou realizes this.
  • Invoked in The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco wrote in his Postscript that the titular rose was chosen "because the rose is a symbolic figure so rich in meanings that by now it hardly has any meaning left", making it completely neutral. The last line, Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus ("Yesterday's rose stands only in name, we hold only empty names") substantiates this theme as well; words are symbols that obtain their meaning from the actual people, places, and events that formed them, but those things are inevitably lost to living memory and the words live on in a new context, eventually to the point where the only thing they are symbolic of is hollow symbolism.
  • Discussed in The Fall Of Supervillainy as part of The Supervillainy Saga between Gary Karkofsky AKA Merciless The Supervillain without MercyTM and Jack Hellraiser AKA the Trench Coat Magician. They are both anarchists but neither of them agree upon what that means. Gary doesn't mind being a Bourgeois Bohemian as long as he fights against the system while Jack thinks that you should live the punk life. They both also agree to work for the President of the United States because he's their friend, Ultragod.

    Live Action Television 
  • In Robin Hood, the main character would often use King Richard as his rallying cry, but opposed the Crusades. Therefore, the storylines ran on an odd paradox: King Richard was good, but his actions were bad. Many of the storylines revolved around trying to bring King Richard home, yet when the outlaws travel all the way to the Holy Land, Richard is revealed to be a rather weak, misguided King, raising questions as to why Robin was so slavishly devoted to him in the first place. The King even tries to have Robin and the gang executed, but by season three, everyone has reverted back to the mind-set of King Richard = good, peace, justice.
  • Mohinder's voice-overs at the beginning of each episode of Heroes can be summed up thusly: "Destiny, blah, blah, fate, blah, blah, life and all its mysteries, blah."
  • The Twelfth Doctor's Myth Arc in Doctor Who reconstructs this trope. From the beginning, he is concerned with the question of whether he is a genuinely good person. This is for several reasons: he's a Pragmatic Hero as previous incarnations often were, he has a major Guilt Complex about the less-than-noble things he's done for the greater good then and now, and he isn't particularly nice this time around. Seeing his first companion Clara Oswald, a Morality Chain who did think he was genuinely good in his previous incarnation, now have doubts because of his icier personality hurts him. Making matters worse, she's been with him so long that while she's braver and more self-sacrificing she's also more dishonest, reckless, oblivious to others' feelings, willing to endanger herself for the sake of adventure and accepting of the loss of innocent lives — and he knows it's his influence at work. In his adventures he's forced to recognize, or recognizes on his own, that he's often not that different from his adversaries, particularly Arch-Enemy Missy. However, with the help of Clara and others, in the end he realizes that while he is not a flawlessly moral Good Man nor a Nice Man, he wants to be and is a Kind Man who chooses to try to help everyone he can — no matter who they are or the risks he poses to himself (and those he cares about provided that they choose to risk their lives as well) in the process.

  • While Nickelback isn't among the most highly esteemed of bands, their song "If Everyone Cared" draws particular ire for its vague, feel-good message; what everyone's supposed to care about and do as a result is never explained.
  • Michael Jackson:
    • As popular as "Man in the Mirror" is, the "change" we need to make within ourselves that will "make the world a better place" for the homeless/poverty-stricken isn't specified, and the video makes matters vaguer by bringing up issues that aren't even discussed in the lyrics (nuclear war, pollution, etc.).
    • "Heal the World"'s vague message — "There are people dying/If you care enough for the living/Make a better place/For you and for me" — is reflected in the music video for it: kids go up to soldiers occupying some territory and give them flowers, which immediately convinces them to throw their weapons away. Huh?
    • "They Don't Care About Us" does such a poor job of deliniating who they and us are that its use of anti-Semitic slurs in the lyrics, which according to Jackson was not intended to be racist, was interpreted as exactly that! Another song on HIStory, "Earth Song", is at least much more specific about what needs to be addressed — environmental destruction and war — yet offers no suggestions as to how.
  • Eagles' "Desperado" comments on this trope somewhat, in how romanticized the concept of "freedom" is:
    And freedom? Oh, freedom, that's just some people talkin'
    Your prison is walking through this world all alone
    • And also from the jaded song "The Sad Cafe":
    We thought we could change this world
    With words like "love" and "freedom"

    Tabletop Games 
  • In third edition Dungeons & Dragons, clerics can choose to devote themselves to some broad concepts rather than a deity. This allows the cleric to act pretty much however he or she wants as long it can be said to not violate the concept rather than worry about how his or her patron deity feels. Of course, some deity’s concepts can be just as cheap as those of a patronless cleric, too.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Many Space Marines aren't too concerned with the minutiae of any particular war, fighting solely for the "honor" of their Chapter, their Chapter's Primarch, or just The Emperor himself. There are exceptions of course, like in Dawn of War II where the Blood Ravens are fighting for the survival of their Chapter, but they are few and far between. In the Chaos Rising expansion for Dawn of War II, the canonical traitor Avitus realizing that this trope is fully in play and that he was doing it for a Chapter Master that had gone full-blown Chaos-worshiping heretic shatters him as he realizes he can no longer justify all the horrors and killing he's done for the "honor".
    • Imperial Guard regiments are fighting for their lives most of the time, but any other motivation is usually limited to just obtaining "glory" for their homeworld: "For Cadia!", "For Valhalla!", "For Tanith!", etc.
    • Subverted with the Tau. You'd think that "For the Greater Good!" would fall head first into this trope, but it turns out the Greater Good is actually a highly defined social structure. Said structure involves a rigid caste system where every Tau is assigned a role they're expected to perform from birth to death, and puts non-Tau members at the bottom of the hierarchy, but it's the thought that counts, right?
    • The Imperium of Man and the Force of Chaos both over-emphasis high concepts (Daemons and the Chaos Gods basically ARE concepts given solid metaphysical forms) and encourage acting on them for their own sake. Naturally, both factions are ridiculously kill happy, anti-intellectual, fanatical, and short-sighted, unless they stray from dogma and adopt more practical ways.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout 3 gives us the DJ Three Dog who spouts off fighting the good fight while simultaneously being really really vague on what the good fight was.
  • This is enormously subverted in Fate/stay night, as the protagonist's dream is to become a superhero who can save everybody. He is confronted about the flaws of this in the Unlimited Blade Works route by Archer, who is his future self who followed this ideal to the bitter end and gained nothing in return but betrayal, misery, and disillusionment. He points out that the protagonist's ideal of being a hero is too vague; there is no reason for it, no feasible plan to accomplish it, and that it is not even his own ideal - only sacrifice and more conflict can result from it. There is nothing in that ideal, as it is one that can only save everybody in his sight - but as one cannot look at oneself, it can't even let him save himself in the end. Angst and turmoil all 'round in this one. Kotomine also points out how Shirou's desire to save everyone is inherently flawed; saving someone requires they be in danger, so Shirou's desire can only be fulfilled so long as people are in danger.
    • The trope is reconstructed by showing that while simply throwing the words around with no meaning is indeed cheap, the base concept of trying to save people is indeed beautiful. Shirou then decides to avert Archer's biggest flaw in order to not become his future self: Being a perfectionist. You can't save everybody, but trying isn't a bad thing at all.
  • City of Heroes (and its sister game City of Villains) love seeding Heroes and Villains with motivations no thicker than 'Justice' or 'Villainy', and sometimes gleefully rolls characters around in the stuff. With a few exceptions, the entire Longbow faction is essentially Democracy! The Malta Group want you to Beware the Superman and reinstate the Super Registration Act! The Crey Corporation is Capitalism! The Regulators, like Back Alley Brawler, say Drugs Are Bad, m'kay! Positron and Vahzilok are For Science!! Eventually subverted by a bunch of different characters, albeit mostly in the supplemental material.
  • Parodied in Grand Theft Auto III on the Chatterbox radio station. A guy by the name of "Jeff" calls in, advertising a rally at Liberty City Park. However, when the show's host asks what the rally's actually about, Jeff responds with an escalation of otherwise meaningless phrases and appeals, including "for justice" "for the future", and "for hope". The host continues asking, only to be met with more cheap concepts and pleas for attendance, until it turns out the guy doesn't know what it's about.
  • Wild ARMs:
    • Played with in Wild ARMs 3. Idealist Virginia is constantly harassed by Goldfish Poop Gang leader Maya Schroedinger, who demands to know why she keeps traveling and fighting. Although Maya ostensibly is only motivated by greed and jewels, in the end she claims that that ideal also includes the planet she lives on - a blue-green jewel.
    • In the original Wild ARMs, Calamity Jane refuses to accept that Cecelia and friends are fighting for some vague "save the world" mishmash and demands they solidify their reasons.
  • Metal Wolf Chaos has propaganda broadcasts from the Government Policy Promotion Department, making pronouncements like "A heart of Justice is a heart that loves Freedom." This is when they're not promising to execute everyone who's even tangentially connected to Metal Wolf.
  • Abraham Reyes from Red Dead Redemption gives speeches that have him throwing around rabble-rousing buzzwords such as "Freedom" and "For the people!" And while the people drink it up, it's obvious to Marston and the player that he's nothing more than a self-important blowhard. You only get to see how fake he really is in the epilogue, when a newspaper blurb spells out to you that he's become a dictator.
  • Metal Gear:
    • In Metal Gear Solid 2 The Patriots spend roughly a half-hour at the end of the game lecturing Raiden on the failures of "freedom" and how human beings don't deserve it. The Patriots bring up a lot of actually good points about crowd mentality and convenient self-deception, but they jump completely into the bad guy camp the moment they start talking about how bad freedom is.
    • In Metal Gear Solid 3 The Boss uses the word "loyalty" several times in the game to mean very different things, demonstrating her belief that because the friends of today may be tomorrow's enemies (and vice versa), "loyalty" as a concept is completely useless.
  • Pokémon Black and White: Long ago, a legendary dragon was controlled by twin brothers, until arguments between the two caused it to split into twin dragons of Truth and Ideals. In both games, one of these dragons teams up with the Anti-Villain N in order to change the world, while the other teams up with the Player Character in order to protect it. However, which person ends up with which dragon varies between versions. That is, the same conflict is described in Black as the player fighting for Truth in order to defeat a champion of Ideals, and in White as the player fighting for Ideals in order to defeat a champion of Truth.
  • Spoofed on Chibi-Robo! with Space Hunter Drake Redcrest, who claims to fight for justice, then admits he doesn't really know what it means. It even pops up in the vocal version of his theme song.
  • In Dynasty Warriors, Wei, Wu, and Shu, all like to go on about "Ambition", "Family" and "Benevolence" in all situations respectively, but Jiang Wei of Shu especially keeps talking up a "land of benevolence" while constantly waging expensive and futile wars.
  • In Dragon Age II, Isabela expresses this belief while discussing mage freedom with Anders.
    Justice is an idea. It makes sense in a world of ideas, but not in our world.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Cassandra wonders what the Inquisition will stand for after the Big Bad is defeated. The Inquisitor can remark that it's a little optimistic to be thinking about such matters when they haven't won yet. Cassandra's concerns are quite understandable, since she used to be a member of an organization that stood for justice and order that eventually became more concerned with its own power. Since said organization the Seekers was descended from the original Inquisition, her fears that the same fate might befall the Inquisition have merit. In the end the Inquisition either follows the same path as the original in becoming an arm of the Chantry or declares its success and disbands.
  • Danganronpa:
    • Makoto Naegi in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc genuinely believed in hope as a valuable concept, and it paid off in the final trial against the Big Bad's Despair Gambit. The second game's Ultimate Lucky Student, Nagito Komaeda, Naegi's Oddball Doppelgänger, seems intended to satirize the idea by using the word in the context of doing horrible things like arranging for a murder to occur or helping the culprit to see whose hope was "stronger" under the guise of fighting for hope in general (instead of some specific hope). All while proving again and again that the he's more infatuated by the idea of hope, rather than having any hope of his own; Naegi may have been a Humble Hero, but he never went around calling himself 'trash' the way Komaeda does, and while while he was always sure to Turn the Other Cheek by sending blame for people's misconduct towards The Mastermind, he never reveled in seeing followers of despair get punished.
    • A villainous version appears in the form of Monokuma and series Big Bad Junko Enoshima, who you can guarantee will say "despair" at least once per sentence during her villainous lectures regarding despair after she's revealed.
  • The BioShock games are against extremism and utopias but never quite defines coherently what particular ideas are utopian in relation to, or what ideas are extreme in relation with, mostly because it categorizes extremism as a separate notion rather than a point in a particular spectrum.
  • Both played straight, and often subverted, in World of Warcraft. The factions both have guiding principles that they claim to strive towards: like honor, hope, peace, freedom etc. But, much like real-world politics, it is not at all uncommon for characters to talk about these principles...while doing the exact opposite. On occasion however, characters absolutely will live up to the principles they talk about. Because of this, fans often spend a LOT of time discussing who is for real and who is blowing hot air. This is one reason why in nearly every expansion you'll see some segment of the fans saying "the writing is bad". Also, this trope is frequently lampshaded by NPCs (sometimes almost to the point of Breaking the Fourth Wall). The game is actually on the idealistic side though: with the caveat that sometimes the "good guys" are a bit less than perfectly good.

    Web Comics 
  • Brought up in the Oglaf page “Laridae”, when a young man wants to become a paladin and a champion of justice because a hook-handed man killed his parents. The gate guard points out that he's confusing justice with revenge, and should find a definition of justice that is more than just furthering his own needs and goals. Years later, after finishing his training, the now-paladin is no longer interested in vengeance upon finding the hook-handed man.
    Seagull Paladin: I think you might have killed my parents.
    Bogdan Hook-Hand: And now you want revenge?
    Seagull Paladin: Nah. I'm sure you had your reasons.
  • Parodied in Magick Chicks, where Tiffany forgets exactly how to be heroic more than once.
    Tiffany: VENGEANCE SHALL BE MINE! Wait, no, what's the one heroes get? Oh right—JUSTICE WILL BE DONE!

    Western Animation 
  • The Tick doesn't let the abstract concepts worry him, being an Idiot Hero. "Let's hang ten for Justice!" and "Spoon!" appear equivalent in his mind.
  • The Fairly OddParents!: The Crimson Chin uses "Justice!" as his vague but enthusiastic rallying cry.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold's version of Batman loves making pithy one-liners about "justice". This usually fits the show's comic tone, though it was rather jarring in the "Tornado Tyrant" episode where Red Tornado tried to explain good and evil to his son, when he could have just said "Evil people like stealing trucks and talking about crime, good people like punching those people and talking about justice, the end."
  • Also parodied in the Family Guy episode "It Takes A Village Idiot, and I Married One", where Lois runs for Mayor - she quickly learns that making rational arguments and fully-explained proposals makes undecided voters fall asleep or get angrily confused, and resorts to exactly these kinds of platitudes, including responding to completely unrelated questions with "Jesus" and "9/11".
  • Adventure Time gleefully plays this straight with Finn, who loves to boast about his defense of "honor" and "justice" without actually having any idea what those things mean ("I swear." "Swear to what?" "I swear to justice!") and fighting evil monsters 'cuz they're "evil". Character Development means he's a lot less prone to this in later seasons, but he still won't object to randomly punching monsters.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • The Avatar must bring "balance" to the world, but every Avatar (and their friends/allies) have their own interpretations of what balance is, and inevitably, some people disagree and try to resist them. Avatar Wan thought it meant keeping humans and spirits separate for their own safety, Kuruk interpreted balance as letting people solve their own problems and not interfering unless absolutely necessary, Kyoshi believed in ruthlessly enforcing peace, Roku wanted the four nations to maintain their own distinct identities, Aang eventually decided that balance meant accepting the changing world and encouraging unity and understanding between the nations, and Korra reopened the spirit portals and is trying to rebuild the Air Nomads to heal the world after the War.
    • Then there are the villains and their interpretation of "balance". For Sozin it was a Fire Nation led hegemony, for Amon it meant bender genocide, Unalaq believed in unified physical and spirit worlds ruled by him, Zaheer just wanted total chaos, while Kuvira sought complete control and subjugation under the guise of unity.
  • Gargoyles protect humans —even those that hate and persecute them— because, well, because it's what gargoyles do. It gets to the point that it feels like they do it because they have nothing better to do, as they don't have jobs.
    Demona: Is the only way to survive.
    Coldstone: Is that all there is for us? Mere survival?
    Demona: Isn't that enough?
    Goliath: No. Gargoyles protect. It is our nature. Our purpose. To lose that is to be corrupt, empty...

    Real Life 
  • More politicians than not, if not all politicians. See also The Other Wiki.
    • It doesn't matter whether you're talking to the National Rifle Association or Handgun Control Inc, the American Civil Liberties Union or an attorney general, everyone is for the protection of rights and has no problem with reasonable regulation; those phrases mean exactly nothing. The real fun starts when all sides claim that their politicians back up their meaningless soundbites with actual policy and claim that everyone else's politicians have nothing but soundbites.
    • The British satirist Simon Hoggart came up with a way of measuring the worth of any political statement; take the exact opposite of that statement and see how likely it is that anyone would say it. For example, a politician makes a statement that he is in favour of 'fairness'. Would anyone say that they are in favour of 'unfairness'? No, then why bother saying such a statement?
    • It is possible to figure out what politicians are all about by looking at what, specifically, they are planning to do if they get elected - and if you don't trust them to be honest about that (which most people don't), you can at least look at their track record so far. They just count (with some justification) on most voters not looking any deeper than those meaningless but nice-sounding sound bites.
    • While the invocation of "freedom", "justice" and "liberty" tend to be Americans' preference, European, politicians tend to make more understated speeches: they usually don't go further than "social equality" and "citizenship." However, when talking about other countries, "democracy" and "human rights" pop up very frequently. There was a fad with "change" to try to copy Barack Obama's vibe, but it settled very quickly. On that note, many of Obama's critics contend that his famous slogans of "Hope" and "Change" and "Yes We Can" were a little too vague. President Trump used "Make America Great Again," which is basically the Conservative version of the same thing.
    • In Britain the concepts are fairness and progressiveness. Every policy of the Tory party in government is fair and progressive. Every policy of the Labour party in opposition is fair and progressive. The only way to tell them apart is that the Tories will occasionally throw in "justice" for good measure.
    • After their overwhelming success in the 2015 elections, the Polish ruling party PiS (Law and Justice) went to work on a series of reforms and other operations under the common name of "The Good Change". Several loud anti-government manifestations and badly received reforms later, they still haven't dropped the name. Though it probably helps that polls show public support for the party did not decline, in fact, it rose above the support it received in election...
    • On the other hand, Julia Gillard's 2010 campaign tried to adopt the catch phrase 'moving forward'. Unfortunately, it was repeated just a little bit too often, and so it lasted less than a single speech before people were mocking it ruthlessly. Years later it's still parodied as a prime example of overused political vagueness.
  • During the bloody period of The French Revolution, the phrase 'for the people!' or 'for France!' was used to justify repression, mass murder, and ill-thought out wars that sent France's economy down the toilet.
  • Roman writers used Bread and Circuses to discuss the vagueness of many political actions, making this trope Older Than Feudalism.
  • John Stuart Mill supported freedom. G.W.F. Hegel supported Freedom. What is meant by freedom in each case is VERY different from the other. This sometimes leads to political Blue-and-Orange Morality between the two factions.
  • Quite common for terrorist organisations and freedom fighters; indeed the very act of naming yourself "freedom fighters" falls into this trope. Some cases are arguable, but others couldn't be more blatant. A good example would be the infamous Revolutionary United Front or RUF, who fought against the government of Sierra Leone. How did they try to do this? By killing villagers, raping women and amputating the limbs of their victims to keep them from voting.
  • If the documentary Michael Jackson's This Is It is anything to go by "It's all for love" was a mantra of his while he was working on his concert comeback, but what he specifically meant by that is never explained.
  • The basis for many a real life People's Republic of Tyranny. If you can't be bothered actually making your government democratic, then naming it so is the next best thing. Whether or not this actually fools anyone though is unknown. Arguably, some do a better job of this than others, for example, Democratic Kampuchea is often seen as one of the worst dictatorships of all time, while the People's Republic of China, for all its faults and failures, did not directly kill 1/8 of its population.