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Contractual Genre Blindness

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"You're a supervillain. Your efforts are supposed to be foiled by your ambition and hubris. Failure is the surest sign of success."
The Green Grocer's henchman played by a black pawn, Terror Island theorem #092

For every complicated villain with abandonment issues that has a chance to redeem themselves, there are ten Card-Carrying Villains out there who are just in it because they love being villains.

But what happens when you have a villain who understands that to be a good villain, you have to have Genre Blindness? You're left with a villain stricken with Contractual Genre Blindness. This is the baddy who captures the hero and uses overly complicated Death Traps, not because it's the smart thing to do, but because it's what a villain is supposed to do.

While usually reserved for a Card-Carrying Villain, this trope does reach out into the realms of the Affably Evil, the Punch-Clock Villain, the smarter Harmless Villain, Spies trying to keep their job secret from their spouse, Cartoonish Supervillainy and the Deadpan Snarker who gives up and "plays along."

Slave to PR to the extreme. If a villain, usually a Mad Scientist, has a mental handicap which forces them to act like this, even when they know better, that's Science-Related Memetic Disorder.


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  • In this GEICO commercial, the Only Sane Woman asks why they don't just get in the running car and escape, only to be shouted down by her Too Dumb to Live companions, who suggest they all hide behind a bunch of hanging chainsaws (where, of course, the killer is hiding).
    Voiceover: If you're in a horror movie, you make poor decisions. It's what you do.

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • In Empowered, the bad guys do this as a survival mechanism. Smack around the hero and leave him (her) tied up and escape with the diamonds? Good show, whatever. We'll get you next time! Shoot the hero? Every other hero will be after you. Unfortunately, there are villains who simply don't care and are powerful enough that the prospect of being hunted by every other hero doesn't worry them.
  • When Doc Seismic from Invincible captures many of the world's superheroes but doesn't attempt to kill any of them, Atom Eve wonders why not; Invincible suggests that he's "old school".
  • Captain Cold alluded to this during "The Rogues' Revenge" storyline following Final Crisis. When your foe is The Flash, a man capable of finishing any fight before you even think of defending yourself, you keep your crimes light and theatrical and hope he responds in turn.
  • This is the Riddler's whole shtick. Of course he'd be a more successful criminal if he didn't leave puzzle clues behind. He knows that; he's crazy, not stupid. But he's got a psychological hang-up (sometimes identified as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder) that just compels him to go about it this way.

    Films — Animated 
  • Megamind: Megamind appears to accept that defeat is inevitable in his conflict with superhero Metro Man and operate accordingly. To the extent that he begins winding up his latest plan under the assumption that it's failed without actually checking to see that it has failed; when it turns out it's succeeded, he's as astonished as everyone else. Even after Metro Man is defeated, this type of thinking persists. Megamind realises that to be evil, he needs to have a hero to fight. He needs to base his actions on what's the "most evil". And eventually, when he begins to fall in love, Minion points out that he's not allowed to get the girl.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He criticizes his son for being practical, saying he's just not nearly as evil. Take, for example, Dr. Evil putting Austin and Vanessa into a Death Trap:
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: For toons, it's very hard if not outright impossible to jump away from the "role" they've been created for. (Roger tells Eddie that he wouldn't ever be capable to murder because "My whole purpose in life is to make people laugh!"). Double Subverted with Judge Doom, who is able to repress his basic toon urges to maintain his human disguise, but can't fight his villain "role" and places the heroes in an overly-dramatic and slow-moving Death Trap which eventually causes his own demise.
    • A good example of this is when Roger and Eddie are handcuffed together. Eddie finds himself trying all manners of ways to get him and Roger uncuffed and, after a tense moment with the Weasels, Eddie finds a way to get them uncuffed... just as Roger reveals he could pull his hand out easily. When Eddie chews out Roger over this, Roger explains he can't do this any old time; it has to be for an ironic comedic value.
  • The Devil in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny is pissed when the main characters challenge him to a rock-off, since the "demon code" prevents him from declining. He has never lost before, but he is still reluctant to accept. In the end he exploits a loophole; they never said who gets to judge it...

  • In Discworld, Contractual Genre Blindness is more akin to following The Laws and Customs of War, because as long as you play by the rules and aren't too great of a threat, you can expect the other side to do so too. Being an effective and dangerous villain will just make sure that when your enemies defeat you, they'll go to great lengths to make sure you don't show up again.
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the old Count de Magpyr explains that it's better for a vampire to display a sense of fairness (having big open windows with heavy drapes, items that can easily be turned into holy symbols. and easily breakable furniture in your castle) and get let yourself be killed every so often, than to become a hated tyrant and have people actually trying to get rid of you in a more long-lasting way. (This gets discussed near the end of the book; while the villagers are polling for suggestions on how to permanently remove the new Count, and family, from the Disc, they openly state that the old Count provided regular adventure and exercise, and aren't even bothered that he's just come back from the dead... again.)
    • Evil Harry Dread in The Last Hero is constrained by the Dark Lord Code of Honour, later defined in this Pyramid article.
    • One last note: in much the same way that Cohen and the Horde are the "Last Heroes", Harry is the Last Dread Lord - he always stuck to his end of the code, but the other side didn't. "The first thing they do these days, they block up your secret escape tunnels."
    • Also, the dragon who became the King of Ankh-Morpork killed, burned, and demanded a virgin to devour, simply because that's what dragons are expected to do. The fact that humans do it to each other and call it 'morality' was apparently beyond even its standards.
  • The main cast in Haruhi Suzumiya, sans the titular character, are forced to constantly jump between this trope and Genre Savvy, since it's required to maintain the Masquerade. Haruhi is a Reality Warper, and if she expects a trope, that trope will manifest; however, if she ever becomes aware of this, there's a very real risk of... consequences, so her friends have to juggle playing dumb with using their own knowledge of tropes to fix whatever damage Haruhi has caused.
  • Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman:
    • Villain Dr. Impossible does many things because that's what villains are supposed to do, but with a lot of realistic consequences. Dr. Impossible dons his supervillain costume to impress the C-list villains at a local hangout, gets beat up and thrown out, and has to change out of his costume in nearby bushes before getting on the local Greyhound bus to go home.
    • In other instances, he manages to stop himself just before pulling a classic supervillain move. In one scene, he's being laughed at by some prison guards, which gets him so annoyed he begins to retort by saying "You won't be laughing when I..." Then he stops, and chides himself for always giving away his master plan.
    • This is all because he suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder. He knows his actions are irrational, and most of his struggle in the books are with himself, alternately denying his problem and pitying/hating himself for it.
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A rare heroic example; Tom Sawyer insists on breaking Jim out in the most elaborate, difficult way possible because "that's how it's supposed to be done." Given all the trouble this causes, you can tell Mark Twain had gotten sick of Tom Sawyer by the time he wrote Huckleberry Finn. One step of it involved moving a boulder into Jim's cell (don't ask). The two boys aren't strong enough to move it in themselves, so Jim helps them. That's right, Jim walks out of the cell and goes back in voluntarily. And then lets himself be locked back in again. Poor Jim. Jim is legally already free; Tom Sawyer just refused to tell him until he had 'broken him out' first. Additionally, only after this stupid escape attempt does Tom reveal that Jim is a free man, since his owner has willed it after her death. So the whole thing wasn't even necessary.
  • In Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds the Duke of Ch'in does this out of fear: tough as he acts, he's still confused and frightened, so he mimics the villains in fairy tales rather than think on his own.
  • In John Moore's Heroics for Beginners, the evil overlord mentions trying to foreclose the mortgage on an orphanage and chase down puppies to kick because that's how one becomes an evil overlord. This is an interesting case, as the overlord manages to be a stereotypical villain while still being smart. The only reason he's ultimately defeated is because the hero doesn't use conventional "heroic" methods.
  • In Worm, this is known as the Unwritten Rules. Both heroes and villains have reasons for not wanting to fight full force (heroes are more organized, villains are more numerous, and both sides have to work together against Endbringers), so they generally don't try to kill or unmask each other, or to take the fight to a Cape's civilian family. Failing to abide by this will make you everyones target. The only Capes who don't bother with the rules are villains powerful enough to fight off most attackers and evil enough to genuinely not care about the Endbringers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Classic Doctor Who's the Master fell into this a lot. New Who manages to make him Contractually Genre Blind and Genre Savvy at the same time.
  • Pearl in Mystery Science Theater 3000 attempts at first to get accredited by, and then follow the rules of, the Board of Mad Scientists. She is perpetually annoyed at following the mad scientist rules when she knows there are easier ways to do things, but it's "illegal to rule the world if you're not board certified" so she just goes with it.
  • In early series of QI, Alan Davies gave the forfeit answers because he was genuinely trying to get them right (and fell into the traps as a result). Starting around series D, Alan had wised up to the format, but was still obligated by the producers to give the "wrong" answers often, even when he knew they were wrong. Sometimes, other panelists will do this, either because they've already racked up a low score (as Jo Brand did a couple of times), or just for the heck of it (as Robert Webb did in his appearance on the show).
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: In "Real Me," when Harmony and her minions kidnap Dawn as bait to lure Buffy into a trap, and she repeatedly orders them to simply leave Dawn be until Buffy showed up. Eventually, her own minions get sick of it, turn on her, and decide to simply eat Dawn and kill Harmony, but Buffy shows up at that moment, and mass vampire death ensues, with Harmony fleeing in shame.
  • A nearly literal example occurs in the Community episode "Cooperative Polygraphy". When Pierce dies and subjects the study group to a polygraph, Jeff points out that he is using this as an opportunity to mess with them again, but as Pierce left his inheritance to whoever has done the least evil things they keep playing anyway.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Blackjack from Dick Tracy is like this because he's basically playing at being a "Dick Tracy villain." He's Dick Tracy's biggest fan, and so decided it would be the coolest thing in the world to join Tracy's Rogues Gallery. He feels honored when he gets arrested, and then breaks out of prison to do the same thing again. He's happily insane.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Exalted, arguably most raksha would fit into this, although it would be quite possible for them to be wrong about what genre they're in. Also, the Infernal Exalted have Acts of Villainy that they can use to lose limit. These include telling their opponents their evil plan, leaving them in a deathtrap, and forcing people into marriage.
  • Most of the point of Better Angels, in which the player characters are supervillains forced to hatch evil plans for their demonic masters. (They also play the demons controlling other PC's) Fortunately, demonic masters don't understand this trope, leaving the characters free to deliberately build weaknesses and vulnerabilities into their plans in order to exploit them. Rebellion, after all, carries with it worse punishment than failure.
  • Discworld Roleplaying Game: A core stock feature of Discworld stories (see Liteerature above), but formalised here in game mechanics; an optional rules allows dark lords (and barbarian heroes) to get a few points off the cost of some of their character advantages if they take appropriate character disadvantages — but if they fail to play to the disadvantages, they lose the advantages.

    Video Games 
  • The entire gameplay of Evil Genius is designed around this trope. Your Elaborate Underground Base has an easily-visible entrance with doors that can be accessed by any agent smart enough to quickly slip past it when your minions use them. Additionally, your minions will never attack them unless each enemy is tagged. While Why Don't You Just Shoot Him? is averted for regular enemy agents, super agents cannot be killed by normal means. Attempting to execute them while they're in your cage results in their escape. Evil Gloating has the same result. Additionally, all doors are unguarded. The only way to have your minions guard a door is to set it to security level 4, but that also restricts its use to your evil self, meaning it's useless unless it's a location that your minions don't need to visit (and most locations need to be visited by them). Of course, some Genre Savvy players have learned to exploit this behavior by creating a dummy entrance on the other side of the mountain that leads to either nowhere (running out the clock on the agent) or into a series of traps.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Xykon, though he's actually not so stupid. He is, however, very lazy. It's justified since as a sorcerer (dependent on charisma) and a egotist, Xykon is as invested in the performance as the result. That playing to the rules makes it a little more challenging to win only makes it more fun. Therefore Xykon goes far out of his way to make sure he does villainy "the right way", such as keeping the Monster in the Darkness out of the action (and literally in darkness) until he can "properly" reveal him, even doing a rehearsal to get it right.
      MitD: Can I at least get out of these dark concealing shadows?
      Xykon: Didn't I just say I wasn't going to reveal you?
      MitD: But... there's no one here but us!
      Xykon: HEY!! Who's the arch-villain here? I know the drill, the bad guy always keeps his secret weapon cloaked in the shadows until the climax! They can do a cutaway to us at any moment....
    • Nale is Elan's equal and opposite. However he gets bit in the rear by the fact that he thinks he's Magnificent Bastard material, which just isn't the case.
    • Nale and Elan's father Tarquin takes this so far he loops back into Genre Savvy. He's running an evil empire fully aware that many stories have such empires toppled and their leaders slain. He doesn't mind the possibility that such will be his fate if it means he gets to run an evil empire for a few decades. He's even happier to go along with genre conventions after finding out his son Elan has become an adventuring hero; rather than dying at the hands of some random schmuck, he will be defeated in an epic duel with his own son. He seems more excited at the prospect of losing than winning — winning just means he'll get to rule a bit longer, while losing will make him a legend since the villain is always more memorable in such tales. He sums it up quite nicely to Elan: "Here's to us Elan. We're going to tell the best story ever."
    • Elan uses this trope by displaying surprise at the revelation that Nale was alive when he never actually SAW him die. Naturally, Elan knew that Nale was probably still alive, but knows that the hero never expects the villain to return. Nale gets a headache trying to parse how Elan could be surprised by what he expected to happen.
      Nale: I think I'm giving myself a migraine trying to understand the level of willful ignorance that requires!
      Elan: First blood: ELAN!
  • Casey and Andy: Lord Milligan is textbook evil, with many jokes and lampshade hangings on it. When asked about the benefits, he points out the ability to use the Standard Female Grab Area.
  • Cucumber Quest: A rare heroic example: even before the initial Big Bad collects all 8 Disaster Stones to awaken the Nightmare Knight, even when they get a legitimate chance to prevent said awakening, everyone except Cucumber takes You Can't Thwart Stage One for granted as unavoidable. His sister actually drives the point home by freely GIVING the last Disaster Stone over to the enemy because she thinks that preventing the crisis anticlimactically, rather than having a long and epic quest culminating in the defeat of the Nightmare Knight in an epic battle, is just a terrible idea and totally boring.
  • Narbonic: Every Mad Scientist acts in a given manner, even though they know it's going to bite them in the tush, precisely because of the insanity. Played with a bit, as it's not entirely clear how much of it is forced on them by the resident Science-Related Memetic Disorder, and how much of it is a coping mechanism against the insanity. There's evidence for both.
  • Terror Island: The Green Grocers henchmen give said Card-Carrying Villain advice in how to be a villain.
    Henchmen: You're a supervillain. Your efforts are supposed to be foiled by your ambition and hubris. Failure is the surest sign of success.
  • Jump Leads: General Gray, the villain of Issue 5. He already has taken over the world once, but found actually running the world pretty boring, so he abdicated. But he still loves trying to take over the world. So for the past thirty years he's been coming up with outlandish, easily thwartable (and increasing ill-defined) world domination plans.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Dr. Steve, though some of that may just be him being completely, batshit insane.
  • Bob and George:
  • Goblins : The Goblin clan have strict traditions on keeping all magical weapons in a poorly locked chest in the middle of their war camp, rather than using them in battle. Later subverted; Complains steals the gear from the chest so he can do battle with Minmax (and gets banished from the clan as a result), and the goblins start training as adventurers when they realise they're tired of being fodder for low level adventurers.
  • This Basic Instructions comic advises supervillains to explain their plan to assassins sent to kill them.
  • In Leftover Soup, during a roleplaying session, Max has the party split up voluntarily despite common wisdom, because they're roleplaying Scooby-Doo.
  • Pet Foolery: One strip (about a Jurassic Park expy) has one dinosaur coaching another how to act when one is around the hero of the story, such as going for the Jump Scare rather than the killing move and tripping over every obstacle in the way rather than running him down.

    Web Original 
  • The reviewers of Channel Awesome are well aware of this trope.
    • In Spoony's review of the Dragonstrike video board game he pointed out how painfully obvious it is that the king's jester is the Big Bad and suggests just stabbing him then and there. Of course, the characters in the video miss this and just go off on the adventure anyway.
    • In the Three Year Special Suburban Knights, all the characters have to get dressed up into fantasy costumes and start Becoming the Mask. Lupa is Snow White, so she knows that she's contractually obligated to be horrible in battle.
  • In Melee's End, Zelda gets kidnapped. She then simply waits to be rescued, even though she's a perfectly competent fighter, and the dungeon she's in has no doors or guards. When Mewtwo wonders why she hasn't tried to escape, she says that that's not how getting kidnapped works.
  • Lindsay and Jenny in Human Centipede: The Musical tend to dismiss any suspicions that would hinder the plot.
  • It basically comes with the job of being a Let's Play creator, but even though Helloween4545 frequently calls out games for using cheap tricks of foreshadowing and jump scares, he eventually complies with what the games demand. But not without making fun of it. Pretty much his most used catchphrase is "Well, this seems legit."
  • Justified in Flander's Company; the idea behind the setting is that villains and heroes alike ended up realizing fighting each others without rules would only result in high mortality rates on both sides, so villains agreed to work according to this trope in exchange of being paid for it.
  • In the Scott The Woz episode "It's Awesome Baby!", The Supreme Leader falls for Jeb's Look Behind You trick, even though he knows that he's lying, because he doesn't want to take any chances.

    Western Animation 
  • Kim Possible: Señor Senior Sr. took up supervillainy as a hobby and has since adhered to Contractual Genre Blindness. He considers it to be good form; so much so, that whenever his son, Señor Senior Jr., asks "Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?", he always loudly wonders if he has maybe failed as a father. In fact, it's a tradition followed both by the villains and the heroes. So much so that when one villain refuses to follow the rules, the title character remarks that he's breaking some serious traditions.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • Most supervillains are members of the Guild of Calamitous Intent — a Weird Trade Union whose bylaws obligate them to behave in this manner. It's suggested that the Guild enforces this as a protection measure for both their members and for society at large. An episode where JJ does not play along has Brock Samson warning him that a psycho with a private army, flying machines and so forth needs to be indulged if only to keep him away from committing real crimes.
    • Baron Undherbeit and The Monarch are both try to kill Dr. Venture at the same time. After coming to an agreement to combine their forces, Undherbeit asks if they should run the decision by the Guild first. After a brief pause, they both laugh at the suggestion and decide to 'screw protocol'. However, by the time they have finally decided upon this, all of their henchmen have been massacred by one of Venture's specially built robots.
  • Jack Spicer of Xiaolin Showdown runs on this. He once goes so far as to stop one of his allies from killing the protagonists right away because he insists they need to do a villainous monologue first.
  • Dr. Doofenshmirtz of Phineas and Ferb. In "No More Bunny Business" we see that he actually writes a script for his latest encounter with Perry the Platypus (presumably Perry goes Off the Rails, though.) When Perry is reassigned to other villains, he finds the new villain and helpfully tells him where he's doing it wrong and commends Perry for his methods. He also regularly resorts to Missing Steps Plans even though he is aware of their obvious flaws.
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles always wanted to try his hand at cliche villainy. Played with, as his inevitable defeat was all part of the plan.
  • In his second appearance, the Justice League version of Gorilla Grodd brings up the concept of propaganda. According to him, just killing Earth's greatest heroes won't make humanity bow down to him—he needs to kill them publicly in an utterly humiliating fashion to prevent further resistance. This means that he gives up two opportunities to kill some or most of them easily in favor of a traditionally villainous scheme, and while he plans for most of the potential pitfalls, the premise of the show necessitates that he accidentally miss one.
  • The reason Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat in Wacky Races. He admits to Muttley in the unsold pilot for Wacky Races Forever that he's a Card-Carrying Villain who can't just win fair and square. No, he has to go out of his way to screw over the other racers.
  • Bravestarr was once forced into a deal with his enemy Tex Hex. Bravestarr went along with it because he knew Tex was such a compulsive backstabber that there was virtually no chance he'd keep his end of the deal, which would free Bravestarr from having to stand by it, either. Sure enough, Tex broke his word.