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Deliberately Bad Example

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

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.


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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.
  • From the Tournament Arc in Fairy Tail, Sabertooth is this to the Fairy Tail guild after they force Yukino to strip before kicking her out for losing a fight. And then you see Raven Tail who makes Sabertooth look like a mild case of Good Is Not Nice in comparison, initially.
  • Seo of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun is hired by sports clubs because she has zero sportsmanship, and as a result it reforms their teamwork and such.
  • 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, thereby getting 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, 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.
  • 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.
    • 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, 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Deadpool (pictured above) is this for a lot of characters in the Marvel Universe.
  • 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 loking bad.
  • 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.
  • Venom started out as an antagonist for Spider-Man, hoping to kill Spidey for losing him his job, 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.

    Fan Fiction 
  • 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.

  • 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, aany 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.

  • 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 Designated Villain 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.

    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.
    • 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 most Strawman Fallacy characters, Ian's positions aren't presented as wrong, but the arguments and logic he uses to defend them are.

    Western Animation 



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