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Deliberately Bad Example

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You should see what Deadpool does to little old ladies...

"And one racist character who is so cartoonishly racist that other racists will watch this movie and say, ‘Well, at least I’m not that racist.’"

Sometimes, especially when writing a story or a script about a highly unusual situation, you find that you've just loaded up your protagonist or some other fairly important character with lots of potentially Unfortunate Implications. Alas, trying to have your character explain to everybody why this is Not What It Looks Like is likely to ruin the flow of the plot, and will probably just make your audience even more suspicious. What can you do?

Fortunately, there's an excellent — if not perfect — solution to your problems: the Deliberately Bad Example. The Deliberately Bad Example is everything your morally wholesome and upstanding protagonist is not. If you present this depraved buffoon's perversity comically enough, you won't have to say anything about your protagonist's motives at all. Your viewers will understand that since your protagonist is not at all like this Deliberately Bad Example, he must not be a bad guy.

There are lots of variants. For example, rather than the protagonist, the Deliberately Bad Example may be serving as the backdrop to an important secondary character. Pointing out the differences or similarities between the behavior of the two characters may also serve to raise suspicions rather than allay them. (If the Jerkass doesn't behave like the worst kind of villain, how do we know he isn't really a closeted warm-and-fuzzy type? If he does, how do we know he isn't The Mole?)

Deliberately Bad Examples do of course tend to be rather one-dimensional in their usual roles as the Butt-Monkey or worst villain, but need not always be so. Quite often, if a story lasts long enough and they get enough face time, they may go on to develop personalities of their own and maybe even become a Breakout Character.

This is a sub-trope of the Foil. Compare the more PSA-oriented version of this character-as-a-device, the Anti-Role Model, where the character's purpose is to be an example of what the people in the audience aren't supposed to do. Often a trait of the Card-Carrying Villain. The Wrong Way in the Right Way/Wrong Way Pair may be this, especially if the "right" and "wrong" ways are being contrasted morally. See also Black-and-Gray Morality and A Lighter Shade of Black. Contrast Anti-Hero Substitute (when the writers provide the viewers with an allegedly "Darker and Edgier" and thus "cooler" version of the story's regular protagonist and let things run their course), as well as Parody Sue (a Deliberately Bad Example of a usually moral and upstanding character, in order to better show off how realistically flawed the protagonist is).

A deliberately badly executed example (to glamorize the alternative) would be Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Mori Kouji and Toufukuji from I My Me! Strawberry Eggs, of course. See how these guys behave? Amawa Hibiki is nothing like them!
  • Love Hina's Shirai and Haitani are definitely this to Keitaro, though all the girls in the dormitory fail to see the difference.
  • Odagiri from Koi Kaze: he's the raving pervert with a fetish for high school girls who's pining away for a younger sister, not Koshiro.
  • Parodied with the character Matagu from Please Teacher!: although he's definitely Hot for Teacher and has always wanted to marry a space alien, he's not really necessary. It's already pretty well established from the beginning that the protagonist Kei is nothing like him—which doesn't stop Kei from getting jealous and bad-mouthing him to Mizuho anyway.
  • s-CRY-ed is practically littered with examples. Many of Ryuhou's associates from HOLY serve to emphasize that he really does believe in what he's doing as a Knight Templar by showing what people with less noble motives might do with their powers. The way a number of Kazuma's fellow alter-users behave also indicates that his noble behavior as the Anti-Hero is more the exception than the rule out where he lives.
  • Fairy Tail:
  • Seo of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is often asked by the basketball team to train with them because she has zero sportsmanship and is a prime example of how not to play fairly. As a result, training with her helps them to work on their teamwork and learn how to deal with problem players like her.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, the unnamed slayer seen in the Natagumo Mountain arc, who specifically abandoned his colleagues to leave them as meat shields, to potentially tire Rui, the leader of the Spider Demon Family, out; that dishonorable slayer claims he wanted to be the one who killed Rui for the sole purpose of rising through the slayer ranks and get a better salary, the guy is then quickly killed by Rui with no effort as he finishes speaking his motifs. Other than turning into a meme, that unnamed slayer's sole narrative purpose is to be a bad example of how a Demon Slayer is supposed to be, he has no name, no backstory and no one is there to mourn his death, all other honorable slayers are dedicated men and women who are out to kill demons and save lives without ever prioritizing their personal gain, like prestige and money or even their own lives.
  • Space Battleship Yamato 2199: Herm Zoellik is a General Ripper of such brutality that even his underling, Gremto Goer, looks downright subdued in comparison, in addition to being a ruthless Starscream who made an assassination attempt on Dessler. The one time he squared off against the Yamato, however, his ruthless tactics outed him as General Failure when his clustered fleet wound up blasting each other to pieces in their attempt to hit the Yamato. His assassination attempt also didn't work and he would be shot and killed by his own subordinate, Goer.
  • Rosario + Vampire: Nagare Kano, a perverted Camera Fiend who stoops to such lengths as blackmailing and stalking Kurumu, is a living example of how perverts in the series shouldn't act.
  • Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School: Both arcs have a "leader" character that shows how the franchise's archetypal protagonist shouldn't act:
    • Future Arc has Kyosuke Munakata, who frequently takes matters into his own hands, doesn't double-check his convictions, and decides his verdicts violently.
    • Despair Arc has the Hope's Peak Student Council President Soshun Murasame, who despite being designated leader has no charisma to keep his fellow council members in line. When the game begins, he's all but forgotten about following his introduction.
  • In Accel World, Taku's "parent," the person who introduced him to Brain Burst, is this to Kuroyukihime, who's Haru' parent. Taku's parent pressured him into making choices that ended up being bad ideas, resulting in his duel avatar becoming a Master of None, and ultimately used him to test out a backdoor program, presumably hoping that he'd hunt down Kuroyukihime for the bounty on her. The latter offense got him kicked off Brain Burst by his Legion head. By comparison, Kuroyukihime is much more considerate of Haru's interests, making her a better parent to him.
  • In Bloom Into You, President Kuze apparently delegated most of his tasks to his subordinates, making Touko look better by comparison when she was a student council officer in her first year, which in turn helped her win the election in her second year. Touko ends up being more proactive as president, although Ichigaya claims that he always thought student council presidents tended to hand off tasks to others, especially Touko's sister Mio, who he worked with when she was student council president.
  • In Pokémon: The Series, Butch and Cassidy were intended to be this to Jessie and James. They had none of the sympathetic or humorous qualities Jessie and James did, and were treated as the more "serious" members of Team Rocket, to the point that Jessie and James would often team up with Ash and his friends to defeat them. However, as time went on, their own portrayal became less threatening, and eventually they were phased out of the show, with their very last appearance in Pokémon Journeys: The Series being officially retired from Team Rocket.
  • In Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online, a few of the teams qualify in varying ways. Some end up making the protagonist LLENN, who starts out as a newbie, look competent by comparison, while others serve as fodder for the rival teams.
    • Team ZEMAL loves firing fully automatic weapons without any regard for tactics or stealth, so they end up easily getting taken down by Team Narrows. Surprisingly, they become more competent over time, to the point of actually winning the fourth Squad Jam, by virtue of being the only team left standing after LLENN and Fire are taken out at the end.
    • A few unnamed teams who get eliminated early on in the first Squad Jam count. One nameless player gets lured into a trap by another player calling out to his teammates, forgetting to check his team status (which would have showed that his teammates are dead). The player who killed him smugly gloats about his victim's incompetence before being gunned down by an enemy he didn't notice.
    • Team RGB brings enemy weapons into battle, despite said weapons being extremely impractical against players, who have shields to protect against them. They end up easily getting defeated by Team SHINC, who'd placed second in the first Squad Jam.
    • Team DOOM consists of players who converted from other games, resulting in them having high stats but no GGO experience. They specialize in suicide bombings, which cause massive explosions that cause the death of the bomber, and are a terrible idea in Squad Jam, in which the last team standing wins. LLENN manages to take out most of the team by herself, since they'd rather not waste their explosions on a single small and nimble target and manages to avoid the last one's self-destruction when he tries to take her down with him.
  • In Shirobako
    • MusAni, the protagonists' company has its ups and downs, producing two relatively good hits — Exodus to Tomorrow and Third Aerial Girls Squad — on the heels of the massive failure Jiggly Jiggly Heaven, and while most of its employees are competent, there are a few exceptions. Some of Hiraoka's former employers are seen in a flashback, and you can see that the employees and freelances are lazy and/or verbally abusive, and one studio was responsible for a poor adaptation of a manga by the creator of Third Aerial Girls Squad. MusAni may not be perfect, but it's far better than Hiraoka's other workplaces.
    • From a meta standpoint, Chazawa is this compared to Tarou and Hiraoka, the other two characters who cause most of the problems in the show. Tarou is full of himself despite his bumbling but is nice enough to befriend Hiraoka, while Hiraoka has understandable reasons for becoming as jaded as he is. Chazawa, however, is simply lazy with no Hidden Depths or sympathetic qualities, and became the most hated character on the show while Tarou and Hiraoka managed to redeem themselves in the viewers' eyes.
  • In Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee, Lag and his dingo Niche face two rivals when he takes the Letter Bee exam. Richard Belzaris BB Becktratus Jr. is an Upper-Class Twit with his similarly ludicrously named dingo Rubemius Bregiuroa Banjorelo the Second, an armored lizard-like creature. Richard's performance in the exam- dropping out in shame after Niche uses her Prehensile Hair to cut off his dingo's tail- is so pathetic that he ends up being Adapted Out of the anime. As for Macky, he seems friendly when speaking to Lag, but quickly falls apart when he encounters a Gaichuu while delivering his letter for the exam; he can't even get a single Shindan off, his Dingo flees and he drops his letter in the mud. He ends up slipping off while Lag fights the Gaichuu and tries to forge his letter, which results in him failing when he gets caught.
  • By the end of Bokurano, thousands of innocent people are dead in collateral damage caused by the Humongous Mecha fights, not to mention all of the protagonists and the inhabitants of over a dozen other universes, but according to Koyemshi, it could have been much worse. According to him, in the universe he came from, the person responsible for picking pilots made the mistake of choosing extras, resulting in no small amount of anguish as the candidates desperately hoped they wouldn't be picked. The group was plagued by distrust and infighting, with some of the members attacking the others. By the end of Koyemshi's group's battles, hundreds of millions of people were dead.
  • Spy X Family: We have <Daybreak>, the Unknown Rival of <Twilight>/Loyd Forger. He really wishes to be a well-known spy, and is an absurdly Overt Operative in his search to achieve this goal. He is also a complete fool who gets by on sheer dumb luck (which he has plenty of) and actually makes Loid yell at him in their first encounter about how much of an idiot he is. The other spies in the plot may be vile, and Yor is lacking in espionage skills because she is an assassin (and good at it), but none of them are this incompetent.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: One if the major plot points of Knightfall is Azrael becoming this to Bruce Wayne. He is Batman with the mentality of The Punisher, created by a brainwashing Knight Templar cult, and even when Bruce is often portrayed as a jerk he's never stooped so low as to try to kill his allies because they are getting in his way.
  • Deadpool (pictured above) is this for a lot of characters in the Marvel Universe.
  • Judge Dredd: Judge Dredd is an authoritarian Judge, Jury, and Executioner, but his arch-nemesis Judge Death is the same type of Judge, Jury, and Executioner who reasoned that since crime is only committed by the living, life itself must be punished with death. Yes, even for someone as ruthless as Dredd, there is a far worse alternative.
  • Thunderbolts: An in-universe version occurs with the "Cagebolts" era, when Crossbones is put on the team, so that if any of the less sincere members trying anything, they'll have to face the possibility of siding with Crossbones, and none of them want that.
  • Venom started out as an antagonist for Spider-Man, blaming Spidey for ruining his life, but when he became more of an Anti-Hero he was given his own "worse version" in the form of Carnage, who possesses the same powers as Venom, but bonded to the mind of a sociopathic Serial Killer.
  • Rorschach was intended to be this to the other superheroes in Watchmen as Alan Moore's idea of what a "Batman in the real world" would be like, including stunted social skills, bad hygiene and odd vocal patterns from disuse of his voice. To Moore's shock, he became one of the most popular characters instead.

    Comic Strips 
  • In the long-running strip "Goofus and Gallant" in Highlights for Children magazine, Goofus is always a perfect example of how not to behave in any situation. A prime example of this trope, and its long existence and the sheer amount of parody around it make it a good candidate for Trope Codifier.
  • MAD has several parodies of the Right Way/Wrong Way Pair, including Melvin and Jenkins. One parody has Donald Trump as a second such bad example, with him engaging in behavior that is at least as socially unacceptable as Goofus' behavior, but often is more careful about not looking bad.

  • In Girls und Panzer- International War Games, Edo is this in comparison to the boys who fight alongside the girls. While the rest of the boys have borderline sexist views of the girls, particularly in being reluctant to let the girls train them in operating tanks, or even thinking of them as cowardly for fighting in armored vehicles, Edo is much worse. After he runs into Suzuki, he calls her a "stupid whore," claims she doesn't know what real combat is, and punches her when she insults him. This gets him kicked off the team, and forces the boys to realize that they need to get along better with their female counterparts.
  • The Stalking Zuko Series was written by a Zutara shipper who loathes Kataang. So how does the kiss between Katara and Aang at the end of Avatar: The Last Airbender come about? Katara, having been convinced that her only choice as a Southern Water Tribe woman is to marry well and that she can't marry Zuko, realizes she must choose between Aang (the Avatar) and Hahn (a high-status man in the Northern Water Tribe who'd been engaged to the chief's daughter). While Aang had been portrayed as a Dogged Nice Guy and Katara is bitter about him not killing Ozai, Hahn is a racist, sexist Jerkass, so Aang looks like the better choice.
  • In Panzer und Uni, Isla Sato, the commander of Miho and Nicholas's college tankery team is a Jerkass and The Neidermeyer who throws her weight around, kicks Mako off the team for low blood pressure (despite Sato missing required medical checkups herself) and ultimately crossing the Moral Event Horizon by firing on Nicholas's sister Darjeeling's tank while she was in the process of saving Hana's boyfriend, a member of Sato and Nicholas' team. She's essentially designed to pave the way for Nicholas and Miho to take over and do a much better job.
  • The Mountain and the Wolf: Just about everything the Wolf says and does seems calculated to piss off the people he's talking to, including his allies. It's even worse when he clearly and obtrusively approves of what they do, causing them to reconsider just to spite him or avoid being seen as agreeing with him. Note that the Wolf is the Villain Protagonist.

  • In Assassins, the villainous hitman Miguel Bain's rather indiscriminate slaughter of bystanders along with his targets helps establish that although the protagonist Robert Rath is also a hitman, he's a lot more restrained and professional, making his role in the story as a Hitman with a Heart somewhat more believable.
  • Wild Target follows Assassins' lead, making the vicious hitman Dixon a Deliberately Bad Example in order to make his colleague Victor Maynard more sympathetic.
  • The Replacement Killers: The titular assassins are this to Hitman with a Heart John Lee, who Wouldn't Hurt a Child (which is the reason he's on the run from the Triad) and is precise with his hits, while they just unleash More Dakka and kill their target, anybody unlucky enough to get in the way, any cops that try to stop them, and have no problem killing a kid as long as they get paid.
  • While Dirty Harry tends to act more like a gunfighter than a police officer (the way a lot of the TV cops these movies were parodying did), a band of lawless vigilante cops in Magnum Force whose idea of community service is coldblooded premeditated murder of the accused (and anybody unlucky enough to be in the way) helps demonstrate that he does at least have some scruples against vigilante justice.
  • Footloose: Principal Dunbar to Reverend Moore, regarding the "no dancing & rock-and-roll" law. Moore is showcased extensively to be a Well-Intentioned Extremist with a sympathetic reason for the "Jumping Off the Slippery Slope" point of view he harbors against these things (he lost a kid to a drunken driver accident). Dunbar, however, is a fascistic fundamentalist jerk that has started to remove other things he deems "unsavory" from town now that the law has given him the necessary toehold to do so.
  • In Ender's Game, Bonzo Madrid exists as a demonstration of how not to lead a squad, being overly obsessed with controlling his squad, putting down anyone who questions his leadership, and winning matches within the parameters, rather than actually thinking about the larger point of the matches (i.e. encouraging cadets to think tactically). Contrast this with Ender, who succeeds by treating the matches as actual combat and by surrounding himself with subordinates who are encouraged to contribute their own ideas.

  • Dolores Umbridge is introduced as such for Snape in the fifth Harry Potter novel. If Severus Snape really were a monster rather than a particularly unkind Anti-Hero, this is who he'd be.
  • In Rafael Sabatini's novel Captain Blood: His Odyssey, Isterling and l'Evaser are both portrayed as monsters so that Peter Blood can retain the image of a noble pirate.
  • In Alexander Pushkin's The Captain's Daughter the author made use of one of these to avoid censorship: The hero Grinev is friends with the anti-Czarist rebel Pugachev, yet remains a positive character, which could have led to the book being banned in Czarist Russia. So Pushkin introduced Shvabrin, a spineless, unscrupulous traitor who sells out everybody; in comparison to this, the hero seems quite loyal and patriotic.
  • The way John Simpson is used in the mass meeting in Grantville in 1632, where the time-displaced Americans for the first time gets to know what has happened and what they will do about it. Basically, he was used to set up one way to react that Stearns could target, and thus quickly be established as the leader. Written that way simply as a halfway realistic way to avoid lots of tedious discussion and drawn-out wrangling. Later in the series, Simpson got more screentime and lots more nuance.
  • Subverted in Lolita of all places. Clare Quilty is a pornographer who has ruined the lives of many young girls, but it's very hard to say he's objectively worse than Humbert Humbert.
  • In The Rising of the Shield Hero, Naofumi's antiheroic qualities and Hero with Bad Publicity status may be tough to deal with, but he acts nothing like the other summoned heroes, who are all varying degrees of Jerkass and dumbass.
  • In the Pig the Pug series, Pig is rude, sloppy, and mean. Everything Pig does is the wrong way to act, contrasting Trevor, who the audience is meant to be more like. Pig also always gets his comeuppance in the end thanks to his actions.
  • Leaving aside the personal moral qualities of the heroes of The Belgariad (lying, stealing, drinking, mostly-offscreen wenching and murdering), they are consistently show bullying their way through the world, even their ostensible allies and family members, treating every attempt to deny their requests as a mortal insult, with the response ranging from momentary humiliation to mental torture. But the other side practices puppy kicking on an industrial scale, with mass human sacrifice, constant betrayals and no consideration for the lives of their soldiers, so it's fine.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Office: The main character usually aggravates his employees with his antics, but he's at least better than the eccentric Dwight Schrute.
  • The Punisher (2017): While he is a Plot-Irrelevant Villain otherwise, Lewis Wilson and the mayhem he raises are there to provide proof that Frank Castle is actually worth rooting for, showing standards, honor, a drive to prevent innocents from being hurt, and having a list of targets that definitely deserve a violent death.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Age II has Meredith Stannard of the Templars, an extremely radical member who will attack and imprison mages at the slightest provocation. She basically serves as a personification of every wrong approach to regulating magic. Her presence makes Hawke's sometimes morally dubious actions seem more sympathetic and justified regardless of what side Hawke takes, because Hawke represents the best available alternative to Meredith's tyrannical and unhinged leadership. Even if Hawke sides with the Templars during the endgame, Meredith still becomes the Final Boss of the game.
    • Ser Alrik is this to Meredith among the Templars. He wants to make every mage in the city Tranquil, a Fate Worse than Death reserved for dangerous mages, so even Meredith comes off as reasonable by comparison.
    • Similarly, Sister (later Mother) Petrice, who instigates a war with the Qunari in the city because she sees them as a threat to the Chantry. This is in contrast to Grand Cleric Elthina, who's a Reasonable Authority Figure, although she's a bit too passive.
  • Homefront: Although John Milius is, by his own admission, something of a raving nationalist, he specifically wrote some very nasty survivalists into the game to demonstrate that his being decidedly right-wing doesn't mean he automatically favors every cause considered to be right-wing just because it supposedly matches his alignment.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, there's an NPC in the Gerudo Highlands region who is a Lethal Chef because she insists on putting monster parts or ancient Magitek parts in all her cooking. Her campground is covered in massive piles of burnt and disgusting-looking "food" being swarmed by flies. This serves to demonstrate to any players who haven't yet figured it out that this is always a bad idea. However, using her specific recipes does make failed food that restores more hearts than usual.
  • The main factions of Fire Emblem: Three Houses are neck-deep in Grey-and-Gray Morality with many characters having their own moral failings, miscommunications, and blood on their hands participating in warfare. Those who slither in the dark by contrast are a group of racist supremacists who engage in deadly eugenic experiments, enact genocidal campaigns, and actively help to start a bloody war as a means of ruling the devastated continent. Each of the lords end up looking like saints compared them, story route be damned.

    Web Comics 
  • Amical of morphE is one for the morality and mannerisms of the mage community. Normally in the New World of Darkness a mage would not be able to operate as publically and callously as Amical without facing repercussions. The seedlings do not know this, however, and only have him as a role model.
  • Two of the Troll dancestors from Homestuck are based off of Tumblr's social justice blogs. The rude and petulant Kankri is an extremely hypersensitive, over-the-top Jerkass convinced that Everything Is Racist, and is strongly hinted to be a massive Holier Than Thou Hypocrite. He's clearly meant to be evocative of everything supporters of various worthy social causes shouldn't be. He is regularly contrasted to the level-headed, polite, and understanding Porrim, whose milder manner represents the way to promote these social causes properly.

    Web Original 
  • The web series Philosophy Tube occasionally uses a persona called "Ian Drivel" whose purpose is to make intentionally bad arguments to show how to not do philosophy and logic. Unlike the average Straw Character, Ian's positions aren't presented as wrong, but the arguments and logic he uses to defend them are.
  • The Twins (2022): Lucas sets up Lake to be the bad example to his perfect example of what a polite, rule-abiding young boy should be to make himself look better at school by always tattling on Lake to the teacher for every little mistake he makes.

    Western Animation