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Condescending Compassion

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"The sympathy extended to a victim is deceptive. People love the victim only when they can feel superior to him or her. [...] It is a human reflex that makes you feel better about yourself when you can help someone weaker, a victim. That works as long as the roles are clearly defined."
Natascha Kampusch, in the epilogue of 3,096 Days

Condescending Compassion is when a person feels magnanimous enough not to hold someone's 'faults' against them openly. They can't help being a commoner, idiot, mutant or simply wrong, so it would be rude to treat them badly because of it. Instead, they resort to the much better idea that they should be sympathetic or even friendly to that lesser being, but of course, they won't really take them seriously. In a way, the condescension or even pity is likely well intentioned, but if the target of this attitude realizes it (and they probably will) then they're naturally likely to be quite insulted or hurt.

May factor into Black-and-White Insanity or Windmill Political. Can be a rare trait for the Anti-Hero. Often runs in the background of White Man's Burden or Save Our Students plots, which explains why some viewers find those stories offensive and others find them inspiring or heartwarming. The phrases "You Are a Credit to Your Race" and "Not Like Other Girls" frequently ties into this worldview.

See also The Victim Must Be Confused. For characters who respond to sincere help when they are in legitimate trouble with anger or offense, see Complaining About Rescues They Don't Like and Ungrateful Bastard. If those offering the help or doing the rescue can't do so without insulting the people they're trying to help or asking for a reward, see Hero with an F in Good and Wants a Prize for Basic Decency. For characters who are too self-righteous or oblivious to recognize that they are this trope, see Knight Templar. If they immediately realize they misspoke, it's Open Mouth, Insert Foot, and may lead to Digging Yourself Deeper.

This trope is also Truth in Television, as many people belonging to minority groups frequently encounter this, but that's everything needed to be said about it, so No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Comic Books 
  • Common in the works of the German cartoonist Ralf König. A good example is a show-within-a-show-within-the-comic. The protagonist is a film critic with a Condescending Compassion bias. He shows the audience a movie where this is built into the narrative. The comic starts with the film critic ranting about how movies these days are naive and shallow when it comes to homosexuality, making horrible mistakes such as portraying gays as capable of happiness and meaningful lives. Then he shows his own favorite movie. It's about gays getting beaten to death and falling in love with each other as they lie dying in the hospital. After the movie, he feels so sorry for the poor, poor little homos that he has a nervous breakdown.
  • In one strip of The Feeling Prince Charles Had, a heterosexual character talks to a homosexual and holds a little well-meaning rant about how he thinks it's okay to be gay, ending with his wondering when we will ever get rid of homophobia and start treating homosexuals as equals. The reply: "Maybe when you no longer feel you need to give me permission."
  • The Ultimates: Jan told Hank that he was amazing and brave during the fight with the Hulk. Hank knows that he was taken down with little effort in the start and did not help at all from that point on, and tells her that he hates patronizing.
  • Morning Glories: Zoe accuses Casey of doing this with Hunter, telling him not to pine for someone who thinks she's doing the geeky kid a favor by being nice to him.
  • Love and Rockets: In the story "An American in Palomar'', the titular American is a photographer taking pictures of the townspeople in order to show others "the beauty of their lives." Luba correctly points out that what he's really doing is making them look like sub-human savages in order to get rich.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Hermes decides to play hero for a while, since he finds humans fascinating, but he manages to be condescending at best in all of his interactions with them. When people try to point out what a self-entitled jerk he is, he won't listen since he thinks his fascination with humans is no different than respect, but when Julia manages to ream him out for his behavior and the ichor in his veins starts turning to blood his horror at the prospect of turning human seems to clue him in at least temporarily.

    Comic Strips 
  • This comic Strip from Joaquin Lavado (Quino) is titled "They are Just Like Us." Here comes a translation:
    This "globalization" issue allows us to realize that the people of other races and cultures fall in love, Just Like Us.
    And, like us, make love, and children are born of that love. Children that they love and care about, just like us.
    And they need music to express themselves, dance and have fun, just like us.
    And they weep in sorrow with tears like our own, and laugh with joy with loud guffaws, just like us.
    They even rent the same movies that we see and eat the same fast food with the same soda we drink here.
    What does all of this demonstrate? That they, though seeming so different, are just like us!
    It's so easy to say, "They are just like us!" How long will it take for us to even begin to say "We are just like them"?
  • In one of Spaceman Spiff's adventures, he decided to Mercy Kill a blob which he felt was so stupid that it could only stare blankly ahead. In reality, it was Calvin shooting spitballs at Susie.

    Films Animation 
  • Antz: Muffy, the snobby WASP who takes incredible pity on the "poor, dirty, smelly" Z and Bala when they ask a simple question of how to get to the food wrapped in plastic at a picnic. She couldn't be more condescending if she tried.
    Muffy: Darling [husband], they're poor, they're dirty, they're smelly. We have to help them...
    Chip: Ugh, please, Muffy, not another Crusade.
    Muffy: Chip, we have social obligations to help those less fortunate than ourselves.
    Chip: [rolls eyes]
    Muffy: I know you laugh at my hobbies, but this is important to me. [nearly stomps on the ants she claims to want to help]
  • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has Claude Frollo speak very condescendingly to Quasimodo when he finds out that Quasimodo has been helping Esmeralda. He says that someone so misshapen and ugly couldn't help but have lustful feelings for someone as beautiful as Esmeralda. In this example, there is no compassion in the slightest and ironically it's Frollo who gives in to his feelings despite an entire musical number that details he knows what he is doing is wrong. It ultimately culminates in him giving her the option of being his or being burned alive.
  • Metro Man from Megamind shows signs of this, particularly when he refers to the "helpless" citizens of Metro City. Subverted, as he turns out to be less contemptuous of them, than fed up with their expectations of him.
  • South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut: A potential example with Cartman and Kyle.
    Cartman: All those times I said you were a big dumb Jew, I didn't mean it... you're not a Jew.
    Kyle: [irritably] Yes I am! I am a Jew, Cartman!
    Cartman: No, no, Kyle, don't be so hard on yourself.
    • The reason this is a questionable example is that the film takes place within the early seasons of South Park where Cartman was more of an Expy of Archie Bunker (whose racism was due to being oblivious and from an older time) rather than The Sociopath Manipulative Bastard he is more well known for being nowadays. In this case, Cartman may legitimately think and believe that calling someone Jewish is an insult without actually understanding it what it means.

  • Nanne Grönvall's song "Fördomar" (Prejudice) plays this for laughs. The whole song is about the protagonist bragging about how she's perfect and does not have any prejudice whatsoever. The first verse is simply about how great and open-minded she is in general. The second verse is the Alice of this trope, expecting gratitude from gays for not despising them. The rest of the song goes downhill from there with blatant racism (against blacks and whites), sexism (against men and women), ageism (against young people and old people) and so on.
  • The narrator of "I Thought I'd Lost You" is annoyed by various well-intentioned people acting like her loss wasn't important.
    Nobody listens to me
    Don't hear a single thing I've said
    Say anything to soothe me
    Anything to get you from my head...
  • A popular Christmas song, "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid has an equally large amount of people who dislike it and accuse it of playing this very, very straight. It was written in 1984 to raise money for famine relief in Africa and was re-recorded in 1989, 2004, and 2014 for similar causes, but its lyrics play into the insulting Western stereotypes of the continent of Africa as a desolate place full of miserable and ignorant people, with many arguing the song did more harm than good for the people it tried to help. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph in 2010, even one of its writers, Bob Geldof, called it "[one of the] two worst songs in history."
  • Kesha's "Praying" is absolutely filled to the brim with this sentiment:
    Oh, sometimes I pray for you at night
    Someday, maybe you'll see the light
    Oh, some say, in life, you're gonna get what you give
    But some things only God can forgive
    I hope you're somewhere prayin', prayin'
    I hope your soul is changin', changin'
    I hope you find your peace
    Falling on your knees, prayin'
  • Three Days Grace's "Misery Loves My Company" rebuffs Condescending Compassion:
    I don't need your condescending / words about me looking lonely
  • John Lennon's "Imagine" is sometimes criticized for falling into this trope, not helped by the fact that the music video has Lennon singing lines like "Imagine no possessions, I wonder if you can..." while sitting in a mansion. Notably, during the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020, several celebrities participated in a virtual group performance of the song and they were swiftly derided as being tone-deaf during a time when many people were losing their jobs and/or homes.

  • In the third episode of The BBC radio drama Trust, about Yvette, the headmistress of East Salford Academy, a struggling school that's been taken over by an Academy Trust, the head of the Trust's flagship school, Lodestone Academy, starts off complimenting Yvette on how well she's managing in the circumstances, including saying that yes, Lodestone's modern dance troupe might have won the Trust's talent contest, but East Salford's brass band coped very well with the trombone falling apart. As it becomes apparent that Yvette doesn't buy her act for a minute and suspects nothing about Lodestone adds up, she becomes more overtly hostile.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons: This is noted to be a common flaw of the Always Lawful Good metallic dragons. While they won't hurt humans and other sapient beings unless in self-defense or for a very good reason, they also don't take them seriously, instead considering them like humans would consider a puppy or a kitten — they are going to be friendly and kind to them, but they won't consider them as anywhere close to their equals. Only silver dragons consistently escape this trap.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Defining characteristic of the Tau attitude toward other races. Depending on the Writer this may be presented as a marginally better alternative to the Absolute Xenophobe Imperium of Man, or much, much worse because at least the humans are honest about how much they hate you.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Bretonnian society is so ridiculously stratified that commoners are literally seen as a different (and inferior) species than the nobles. This view leads this trope being common amongst the more "compassionate" of lords and knights. For example, a lord who mistreats his peasants may see several of his neighbors band together to depose him. This isn't because they actually care about the welfare of the peasants, but because abusing poor defenseless peasants is conduct unbecoming of a Brettonian noble that makes the noble class look bad. Conversely, anyone who simply dismounts and fights alongside the peasant levy on foot is seen as an exemplar of humility and compassion.

  • RENT includes a scene where Mark intervenes when two cops try to bully an old homeless woman away from the street by filming their encounter. When the cops give up and leave, the homeless woman then lays into Mark for using her and her struggles as a mere prop for his art and to make himself feel like a progressive radical resisting the system rather than doing anything practical to help her — tellingly, when she asks him if he has a dollar he can give her, the result is merely awkward silence. It particularly has bite since it's heavily implied (in both play and film) that Mark has less reason than most of the other characters to live in poverty but chooses to do so for reasons of what he considers to be artistic integrity.
  • Wicked: The entire song "Popular" is this.

    Visual Novels 
  • Saul from Daughter for Dessert, with his annoying politeness and his show of sympathy for the business owners he buys out, has shades of this.
  • Katawa Shoujo plays with this trope in a few ways. Being a game about disabled love interests, it's easy to fall into this, and is the cause for some bad endings. Especially Hanako's. Interestingly enough, the "sympathetic bigot" part of the trope played out in real life during the development of the game. Not knowing led to ignorant pitying, but once the creators actually began researching and talking to people they developed a more nuanced portrayal of the people involved (for example, the main obstacles in the characters lives are rarely their disabilities but their emotional/psychological problems — which can stem from their disabilities but don't necessarily have to).

    Web Animation 

  • Homestuck:
    • Cronus believes that one of his best qualities is how he doesn't nearly make as big a deal about the fact that he's a seadweller as he could and that the others should be thankful he's such a progressive guy. After all, he could lord it over them, but he actually stoops to their level to see them as equals (and reminds them of it constantly)! What more could they possibly ask for?
    • Kankri also has a tendency to fall into condescension, even though he expressly argues against that kind of thing.
    • This in general is Beforus's hat. It's a culture that is based around babying those with "lower" blood colors like they're helpless.
  • Never Satisfied: How Lucy interprets Broom Girl inviting them to the potluck with the other contestants.
    Lucy: She patted me on the head! Like I was some sort of dog!
    • It's also how they interpret her choosing to let them go instead of shooting them while they're immobile.
  • In Something*Positive, Dahlia (who is wheelchair-bound due to spinal damage) often has to suffer the well-meaning 'sympathy' of people who constantly pity her for her lack of legs, especially people who seem to think that just because her legs do not work she must also be mentally retarded.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Downplayed. Emil and Lalli have an Odd Friendship that runs on a platonic version of Language of Love. In addition to the Language Barrier, Lalli has an unspecified mental disorder that makes him come across as much less able to take care of himself in a dangerous situation than he actually is to people who don't know him well, including Emil. This results in Emil's general acceptance of Lalli's quirks coming hand in hand with sometimes being more protective of him than necessary, considering the fact that Lalli is the one with more field experience by several years.

    Web Original 
  • From the News Parody website Babylon Bee during COVID-19: "Inspiring: Celebrities Spell Out 'We're All In This Together' With Their Yachts"
  • A Cracked article, "5 old-timey prejudices that still show up in every movie", argues that this attitude from white people is why there are so few non-white protagonists in blockbuster movies. And especially not in a relationship with a white female character.
    Again, we can blame the studios all we want. But they've learned from hard experience that for the most part, if they don't play to our prejudices, we simply won't go see their movie.
  • In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, Captain Hammer's song "Everyone's a Hero" is a combination of this and Metaphorgotten.
    Captain Hammer: "Everyone's a hero in their own way / everyone's got they villains they must face / they're not as cool as mine / but folks, you know it's fine to know your place."
    Captain Hammer: "A hero doesn't care / if you're a bunch of scary alcoholic bums."
  • Invoked in Todd in the Shadows' "Best Hit Songs of 2017" episode, regarding "Praying" by Kesha:
    "It is a song about forgiveness, but the really condescending forgiveness that Southerners like to use to remind you that you're a loathsome piece of shit."
  • Discussed in The Tuesday Zone's review of Call Girl of Cthulhu, specifically as it relates to the protagonist's Nice Guy Syndrome.
    First of all, the main character — who we are 100% meant to sympathize with and support — just referred to women as things. Second, note that the main character desperately wants sex and only interacts with two women before this conversation: his roommate, whom he condescends to because he could only have sex with someone he loves, unlike her, and the titular call girl, whose line of work he disrespects but attempts to tolerate. He paints prostitutes, apparently reflecting on how he respects their bodies more than most clients or some hogwash like that, but doesn't realize that he's judging them and their line of work in a snobbish way as a result. He thinks he knows what their bodies are good for better than they do.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Pitying Perversion, Condescending Pity


Vanitas Hates Roland

When Roland learns that Vanitas is a human associating with a vampire, he thinks Vanitas is being held captive for his powers and tries to help him. But Vanitas doesn't take too kindly to his pity or his unsolicited hugs to the point where he intentionally scratches his face to get him to see that Vanitas is no damsel in distress. It doesn't work.

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Main / DontYouDarePityMe

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