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Crapsack Only by Comparison

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This world is actually quite okay, at least by standards that can be expected by the audience. However, it is very much a matter of perspective whether a certain world is a Crapsack World or a Utopia. And thus, sometimes a character or cast of characters are faced with a world that is awful for them without being particularly bad in itself.

These characters might come from a world where boredom, lies, poverty or even death itself simply doesn't exist. When they encounter a world just like ours (and a rather kind version of it at that), it looks horrifying in comparison. In some cases, they learn to appreciate this new world after awhile. In others, they remain repulsed by it.

If the character is unbalanced enough, this could possibly lead to him wanting to Put Them All Out of My Misery.

Compare Appeal to Worse Problems, Humans Are the Real Monsters and Life Will Kill You. Deliberate Values Dissonance and Culture Clash are bound to come into play.

Needless to say, this is Truth in Television. Any real life examples would therefore be redundant.


Examples

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     Comic Books  

  • The Adventures Of Oliver And Columbina features two worlds: The rosen dream lands, and reality-where-you-get-bored. The latter is simple and unproblematic for the readers, but incomprehensible for the characters.

     Film  

  • The characters in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home find themselves as Fish out of Temporal Water in The '80s, and Doctor McCoy in particular is horrified by modern day medical practices, angrily comparing them to "the Dark Ages" and "the Spanish Inquisition". Since it's a rather lighthearted film, the whole thing's treated as comedy rather than serious criticism.
  • In the 1987 Masters of the Universe movie, Teela and Man-at-Arms have their first taste of Earth food. Teela curiously asks what the white sticks in the middle are for, and she's instantly rendered nauseous when she's told that they're rib bones and she's eating a dead animal. Man-At-Arms, meanwhile, doesn't seem to mind.
  • Pan's Labyrinth plays this straight for a few minutes, as the problem with our world is claimed to be that it has bright sunlight and cold. Strongly averted for the rest of the film.
  • Enchanted sends Giselle to a place where True Love doesn't exist and there are no happy endings... New York. Giselle spends most of the movie wanting to return to the brightly colored, musical, and happy land of Andalasia. The movie itself ends up not condemning either place — New York, for all the dirt and cynicism, is ultimately celebrated.

     Literature  

  • Vonda N. McIntyre's Thieves' World short story "Looking for Satan". A group of people come to Sanctuary and find it appalling. This is not so unusual (Sanctuary is a Wretched Hive after all) but the reason is that the place they come from is idyllic: everyone lives together without jealousy or greed and with a Free-Love Future orientation.
  • H. G. Wells' Men Like Gods (1923). As the result of an interdimensional accident a group of English citizens find themselves in another world. The people there are perfect by human standards, and Wells uses their comments on the visitors' attitudes and values to criticize English society of the time.
  • Inverted & played with in The Giver and Gathering Blue: Jonas at first thinks that he's in a utopia, but it's actually more of a Crapsack World. The town of Gathering Blue thinks itself a utopia, but it really isn't. Messenger implies that both towns genuinely get better with time.
  • Inverted in Interesting Times, with a traveler who considers Ankh-Morpork to be not crapsack because his own homeland is so much worse. Rude and obnoxious guards are celebrated for not torturing random innocents to death, and so on.
  • This trope, or possibly its inversion, shows up in The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin. The protagonist, Shevek, goes from an anarcho-syndicalist utopia on the planet/moon Anarres to its planet/moon Urras (it's a double-planet system, and the two bodies aren't too different in size), which is dominated by the capitalist parliamentary republic A-Io and the totalitarian socialist Thu (if this reminds you of anything, it should), both of which have rigid class structures. After encountering the way the lower classes live and then being forced to take refuge in the embassy from a post-apocalyptic Earth, he says that the planet seems like hell to him; the ambassador comments that, compared to the way things are on Earth, it looks like heaven.

    The Dispossessed has a subtitle: "An Ambiguous Utopia;" LeGuin takes pains to portray the problems of an anarcho-syndicalist system in practice,note  and Shevek frequently has his doubts about his own society.
  • In Brave New World, John the Savage views the "utopian" world of London as amoral, unnatural, and pointless, while Lenina sees John's home on the savage reservation as backwards, uncivilized, and barbaric.
  • The Number of the Beast by Heinlein has our protagonists run into several such worlds. One of these, merely described, indicates abrupt Earth Drift.
  • Most citizens of Xanth (magical realm) who travel to "drear Mundania" (non-magical rest of the world, in other words modern-day Earth) feel that way about it.
  • Gulliver's Travels would constitute a Trope Codifier in that Swift was using the fantastic societies Gulliver encounters to viciously lampoon British society at the time.
  • The central conflict in Dies Irae is between the conflicting ideologies of Heljanita the Toymaker and Darkscar of Despair. Heljanita thinks the time he comes from is terrible due to stagnation and tedium; Darkscar quite likes that society, and is terrified of what Heljanita will create.
  • In Nausea, Antoine the lugubrious, Woobie, protagonist laments his own infuriating hopeless extreme melancholic and pessimistic take upon the world and is viewed via the contrast of other people's happiness. He deconstructs in twain their glee and joy to his own level of woe. This trope plays out by Antoine being the "Crapsack World" and the rest are the comparison.
  • Covenant, the setting of Greg Egan's short story "Oceanic", is a pretty clear example of this trope. The narrative goes to great lengths to set it up as a Bad Future, but all of its flaws (religious fundamentalism, charlatans taking advantage of the uneducated, etc.) are also present on Earth right now. That said, its population is descended from a society that used advanced technology to make themselves immortal, and the fact that most of the people follow a new religion instead of one that actually exists in real life implies that society collapsed at one point and they had to discover science all over again, so it's a bit more understandable that the narrator has a less-than-positive opinion of his own time, especially since his mother dies halfway through the story from an exotic disease, which could never have happened in a society whose knowledge of medicine is so advanced that no one ever dies.
  • Brandon Sanderson's The Reckoners Trilogy has Calamity, the being that gave humanity their powers, come from a world where they are basically intellects, and so our world with its bright lights and sounds seems shockingly terrifying and therefore evil.
  • A big part of George Orwell's classic Nineteen Eighty-Four is the idea that the entire world in the book has been Conditioned to Accept Horror. The world is only an utterly nightmarish totalitarian dystopia to the reader; to an Oceanian citizen, this kind of horror world is all they really know. Even if the Party was ever overthrown, the world order would stay as-is because political and intellectual freedom have long since ceased to exist as concepts in the human psyche. In other words, the only real solution to the world's problems is likely an Exterminatus.
  • In Eliezer S. Yudkowsky's Three Worlds Collide, the second alien race - known as "The Super Happy People" - are consummate hedonists who believe that experiencing and sharing pleasure (especially sexual) is the most important thing, ever. They are profoundly saddened when they realize that humans cannot share their thoughts during moments of intense pleasure as they do (in fact, their only method of communication is through sex), and believe that we live a dreary existence devoid of love and happiness. They are then horrified (to the point that most of their crew have a hysterical breakdown and have to be temporarily relieved of their duties) when they discover that we allow our children to experience pain. They think that children should just not experience bad things until they are mature enough to deal with it responsibly, and therefore inhibit their ability to do so. The fact that we don't is essentially viewed as allowing senseless cruelty to happen.

     Live Action TV  

  • Doctor Who
    • It appalls the Silurians, who appear in several eras of Doctor Who, that evolved apes (humans) have, millions of years after their time, taken over Earth.
    • Control, an alien who appears in "Ghost Light", considers Victorian London a nightmare. (We might think, too.)
    • The episode "Amy's Choice" has the Doctor trapped (possibly) in a dream world where his two married companions are in a humdrum rural town that is incredibly boring. The Doctor asks, "So, what do you do to stave off the self-harm?" Apparently the Call to Agriculture is a death knell to him.
    • An earlier episode, "The Girl In The Fireplace", has Madame de Pompadour briefly visit the 51st century, seeing the inside of the space ship that has the unexplained windows into her time. This, combined with whatever she saw in the Doctor's mind, has her firmly convinced that she is better off staying in 18th century France.
  • Star Trek is consistent in its negative portrayals of 21st century life over several different shows. This is especially prevalent in any episodes in which the cast is sent back into time. You can often expect characters to reference the 21st century as barbaric, ignorant, greedy, or hateful this despite the fact that the 21st century has seen far less war, illiteracy, poverty, or genocide than any era preceding it.
  • The Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams episode "Real Life" shows us two version of a future: one that is only slightly ahead of us (most things look pretty much the same, but some tech is more advanced), and one that is the stereotypical "flying cars and holograms" distant future. The distant future turns out to be the real one.

     Music  

  • SPOCK's song "Beam Me Up", (surely inspired by Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home) sums up our world with the words "Beam me up, there's no intelligent life down here where I am".
  • Similarly, Eric Bogle's "Beam Me Up, Scotty" declares "I'm stuck here in a place I do not care for" and "There must be intelligent life out there, I hope so, there's not much down here."

     Tabletop Games  

  • Warhammer 40,000: In the grimdark grimdarkness of the grim, dark future, there is only grimdarkness! Er, war. Except that the Imperium of Man (and to a lesser extent, some of the other factions) must have a vast agricultural/industrial base to support their colossal war machine, and some of the licensed novels show the places that aren't right on the front lines (especially the Ciaphas Cain novels). Presumably, it's possible to live a pleasantly uneventful life among the trillions on agri-worlds and forge worlds that doesn't involve being eaten by tyranids, chopped up by orks, enslaved by dark eldar, annihilated by necrons, executed for heresy by the Inquisition, having your soul ripped apart by Chaos, and so on and so forth. But it doesn't make a good story, and certainly doesn't work for a tabletop wargame.
    • In one of the Eisenhorn novels, Eisenhorn makes his escape...on a first-class luxury train operating on a route that has been in service for nearly 1000 years, crossing the equivalent of the Rocky Mountains for several days. Of course, stuff eventually blows up, but for a few days you have the characters simply enjoying a wonderful time on a massive luxury train. Unsaid is that even after stuff blowing up, this train is going to keep operating thereafter as well (probably with a few new cars, however).
    • Even forge and agri-worlds aren't exempt from this; in general, forgeworlds are cramped and terminally polluted and the Adeptus Mechanicus is not exactly concerned with the well being of its workers. Agri-worlds are supposedly better off, but even they will be subject to the occasional Chaos incursion/Tyranid invasion/Exterminatus.
    • It should be noted that most of the worlds in the Imperium are what is known as Civilian Worlds, which are mostly on par with present day Earth in terms of living conditions, but since they're not GRIMDARK they're rarely mentioned unless they're being attacked.
    • Worth noting is that even the nice planets in the Imperium have laws where things like questioning the government and failing to follow the state religion are at least theoretically punishable by death, the Secret Police have unlimited authority to torture and kill whoever they deem necessary on the rare occasions one shows up, and hours are long and pay bad for the vast majority of citizens. Just because you're not actively being burned alive at a specific point in your life doesn't mean you're not in "the cruellest and most bloody regime imaginable" (as GW's official marketing blurb would have it).
    • The Tau have a tendency for using concentration camps, forced sterilizations, mind control and orbital bombardment to bring people into the fold of "the Greater Good." In any other setting, they would be considered the bad guys; IN THE GRIM DARKNESS OF THE FAR FUTURE, THEY ARE TOO OPTIMISTIC AND TRUSTING.
  • In Invisible Sun, this world and existence are Crapsack since they're a diminished, twisted shadow of a magical realm called the Actuality; the only reason any magic users came to it in the first place was to flee a horrific magical war in their own realm. The other Suns, where magic is normal and only limited by the imagination, are far more imaginative and interesting (though not necessarily nice) places.

     Video Games  

  • Star Trek Online is this compared to hard canon, especially compared to TNG. It's almost half a century later, the Federation is at war with the Klingons and newly commissioned officers are being fast-tracked to their own full commands because of losses incurred, Romulus and Remus have been destroyed, the New Romulan Empire is largely trying to make a new home for its people but is wrought with internal conflict, the Borg are making a new incursion, most of this has been set up by Species 8472 infiltrators, the Iconians are researching how best to break the various species when they come back and are hinted at manipulating Species 8472 into manipulating the conflicts into existence to soften everyone up... it's much bleaker than even DS9 at the height of the Dominion War. It's still Star Trek, though, so most civilizations, certainly Federation members, are still post-scarcity and despite the various conflicts going on, it's paradise compared to any actual Crapsack World.
    • It's especially nice compared to the Crapsack World shown in-game. One storyline shows what would have happened if the Enterprise-C from the TNG episode Yesterday's Enterprise hadn't made it back to correct the timeline; the Federation lost the war with the Klingons,note  a resistance movement got going, but then the Dominion invaded and crushed all opposition (and the Tholians cut a deal with the Dominion and now has a greatly expanded territory and large amounts of humanoid slaves). The cutscene when time changes shows the player's character going from captain of their ship to captain of a run-down freighter, with some of the player's bridge officers living dreary lives elsewhere.

     Visual Novels  

  • Several of the main cast members in Sharin no Kuni live under extremely harsh legal restrictions which they have mostly come by undeservedly, and the main character was put through a nightmarish training program in order to become qualified to oversee and rehabilitate such individuals. However, the legal system of the setting, which is explicitly intended to prevent crimes and socially destructive behavior, rather than conferring fair and proportionate punishments on the guilty, is stated to result in much lower crime rates than our own, and such restrictions are implied to be very rare compared to imprisonment in Japan, which already has low crimes rates by real world standards, such that a town which is considered to have an unusual concentration of social unrest has a grand total of three residents living under restrictions.

     Webcomics  

  • In one Bob the Angry Flower comic, Bob dies and goes to heaven; he realizes that everything up there is so awesome that people still living on earth are in agony, relatively speaking. He then jumps down to earth, saying "I've gotta kill everyone!" (doubles as a cruel parody of Damaged Soul).
  • In Sluggy Freelance, the Perfect Pacifist People of the so-called Dimension of Lame are rather disturbed by being visited by someone who's willing to use violence in self-defence and swear, which definitely implies they couldn't handle his world either. It kind of works the other way around too, because they're doing okay there before the demonic invasion, but Torg from "our" world gets really fed up with such a conflict-phobic and wussy dimension. This is an inversion, since the world is too nice for him.
    Torg: "Why the BLEEP does it smell like flowers down here?"
    Alternative Zoë: "It's a sewer, silly!"
    Torg: "I hate this dimension!"
    • Their world is so utopian, they don't even understand the word "evil" - they use the expression "rather nice" to describe anything less than utopian.

     Web Original  

  • In Fine Structure, characters from universes with high numbers of spacelike and timelike dimensions, where intelligence arises spontaneously everywhere, land in our universe of 3+1 dimensions, where the laws of physics are limited and intelligence is barely tenable at all. It's compared to a kind of hell.

     Western Animation  

  • Steven Universe: Zig-zagged all over the place. The Crystal Gems are permanent residents of the Earth, and have been for a good while now. On the one hand, Earth's a far cry from their own Homeworld and they're not very impressed with humans. On the other hand, they're also more than willing to protect both the planet and its inhabitants, up to and including starting a war for their sake, because Homeworld seems to be The Empire and their initial interest was to bleed the earth dry...
    • However, as time passes, this is revealed namely to be Pearl's issue. Amethyst was born on Earth and was closer to humans than anyone else except Rose. It was just her natural attitude tends to be whatever. Garnet meanwhile has her future vision and being leader to occupy her time. Pearl meanwhile tended to look down on humanity the most (which is painfully ironic given how Pearls in Gem society were made to just stand and be pretty or occasionally as secretaries.) Though the massive reveal that Pink Diamod was Rose Quartz means that Pearl serving her meant she had a bit of a higher status than her fellow Gems. Furthermore, thanks to Steven, the Gems grow fonder of their newfound home, with Amethyst rebuilding her old friendship with Vidalia and the Gems interacting more with humans.
  • The Tex Avery cartoon The Cat That Hated People is about, well, a cat who hates people. The cartoon starts with an alley cat complaining about his miserable life, how humans throw boots at him, hit him with brooms, and even shoot at him. He complains about how he doesn't get along with children (who tie paper bags onto his feet) babies (who flail him about a playpen), and housewives (who hit him over the head with broomsticks when he scratches their furniture). As he complains on the sidewalk, his point is proven by people who step all over him, the last one kicking him for good measure. He finally decides to leave people forever by hitching a ride aboard a rocket and flying to the moon. However once there, he finds the moon is a crazy place, full of weird creatures who assault him in bizarre ways. (For instance, a lipstick applies itself to his mouth, then a giggling pair of lips gives him a wet smacker; then a living diaper, safety pin, and bottle of baby powder chase him, then diaper him and shove a bottle in his mouth; he has a tantrum, and his head is diapered too). Realizing this place is worse than Earth, he golf drives himself back, and is happy to be back. Even though he's no better off than he was before, with people still stepping on him, he has a newfound appreciation for his home.


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