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"You can't just waltz into the Central Bureaucracy! It's a tangled web of red tape and regulations. I've never been, but a friend of mine went completely mad trying to find the washroom there."
Professor Farnsworth, Futurama

When a character has occasion to visit a government office, it will be staffed by Obstructive Bureaucrats who are lazy, unhelpful, or even downright rude. And that's after the character is forced to Take a Number and stay Right on Queue in a labyrinth of stanchions for an eternity just to reach the counter in the first place.

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Sometimes, the Bureaucrat is of the Beleaguered variety. They want to be helpful, but are impeded due to being overworked, inadequately trained, disgruntled from constantly taking abuse from Unsatisfiable Customers, or provided with broken equipment. Expect them to be using The Alleged Computer.

The office is almost always the Department Of Motor Vehicles, which is the agency responsible for the registration of vehicles and issuing of driver's licenses in most US states. Since driving is the primary form of transportation for most North Americans, the DMV (or regional equivalent) is the organization that almost every citizen will ever interact with at some point in their lives.

If the shenanigans happen on the road as opposed to in the office, it falls under Driving Test. If their issues are a result of outstanding violation ticketsnote , see The Trouble with Tickets.

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For the darker, non-comedic version, see Intimidating Revenue Service— a government department which inflicts far worse than petty inconvenience. Also compare Soul-Crushing Desk Job, for occasions wherein the office mentally/emotionally destroys the workers, not the customers.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 
    Film — Animated 
  • The Twelve Tasks of Asterix: The eighth task is to retrieve Permit A-38 from a bureaucratic institution known only as "The Place That Sends You Mad", where every employee is entirely unhelpful, busy with something else or slacking. They also know very little about the procedures. This leads both heroes in an endless chain of visiting other offices and being ping-ponged between bureaucrats that keep sending them to other bureaucrats that also won't help and barely know. Asterix manages to turn the tables by asking for a permit that doesn't exist; since the employees themselves cannot be sure the permit doesn't actually exist, they throw themselves into their own loop of paperwork until they're all entirely insane, with one handing Asterix the real Permit A-38 just to get him out of there.
  • In Zootopia, Protagonists Nick and Judy need to run a license plate but the DMV is staffed by sloths. It takes an eternity for Flash, the DMV agent, to type the plate number into the system. But the Overly Long Gag becomes even more excruciating when Nick asks if Flash wants to hear a joke just as he is about to type in the final digit. It delays the interaction further.

    Literature 
  • Adrian Mole: A visit to the Department of Health and Social Security is described in detail in The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. Needless to say, obtaining money from the office is not an easy process.
    I sat down on the screwed-down chairs. Toddlers ran amok. Teenage mothers shouted and smacked. Everyone ignored the "no smoking" signs and stubbed their cigarettes out on the lino. About every ten minutes, a number flashed up on the screen, and someone got up and went through a door marked "private interviews". I didn't see anyone who went through the door come out again. This looked a bit sinister. My mother remarked "they've probably got gas chambers out there".
  • Johannes Cabal the Necromancer: The de facto first circle of hell is the entrance queue. Here, a damned bank clerk forces the "pre-damned" to fill out thousands of excruciatingly detailed forms and sends them to the back of the line for any error. The clerk isn't even malicious, just so cosmically anal-retentive that he created the system of his own initiative.
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    Live Action TV 
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Amy tries to file some forms to organize a block party. However, she runs into a legal error in which a form she must get approved can only be approved after getting another form approved that requires the original form to be approved. The women manage to get around the issue by exploiting another legal error. It allows them to get Hitchcock to reserve space for the party under the pretense of holding a women shaming event. This is due to the horribly misogynistic and archaic forms having never been removed from the system.
  • MADtv: Inverted when Miss Swan tries to obtain a replacement license after giving hers to a boy who wanted to buy beer. The agent isn't about to win any awards for their cordiality. But, it's Ms. Swan who engages in antics and dishes out the majority of the abuse.
    Agent: You know that's illegal, right?
    Ms. Swan: So is prostitution, but that didn't stop yo mama.
    Agent: That's just stupid. You didn't even know my mama!
    Ms. Swan: Neither did yo daddy.
  • M*A*S*H: The entire U.S. military often becomes this trope, with Radar needing to resort to judicious use of friend-of-a-friend contacts to make crucial (even life-saving) deals. The requisitions department in particular often fouls up along the show's run, sending bulk summer clothes and hammocks during a record cold and sending bulk orders of diapers to a front-line surgical unit.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Paranoia, both PLC note  and HPD&MC note  are enormous bureaucracies that Alpha Complex citizens dread dealing with:
    • In the adventure Send in the Clones, an actual flowchart is provided of a typical bureaucratic experience as the Troubleshooters attempt to find their "special mission equipment." It can take multiple game sessions (as in, real time hours) to work through.
    • In the adventure "Down and Out in Alpha Complex," the Troubleshooters are sent deep undercover. Unfortunately, their new identities were assigned jobs but nothing else (no quarters, no mess hall, no background, etc.) Once you "slip through the cracks" in Alpha Complex, getting back in requires bouncing around like a pinball between bureaucratic offices for asinine reasons. And turns out to be impossible unless you find a way to cheat.

    Western Animation 
  • The Amazing World of Gumball depicts the entirety of Elmore's city hall as this. Trying to get anything officially approved or legally changed means that you have to live by the their standards of time and reality. If you're not sure what line you need to wait in, you'll be told you need to go wait in the line to tell you what line you need to stand in. If you move around the line ropes, you create a literal insurmountable labyrinth of red tape. Physically shoving someone will result in a Delayed Causality where they won't feel it until they're up next for service.
    Paper Woman: This is the Kingdom of Bureaucracy. Everything happens in its own time. Usually too late.
  • Futurama: Hermes Conrad works for the Central Bureaucracy, a massive organization whose sole purpose seems to be to hinder businesses and governments. Their headquarters is an endless maze of filing cabinets and pneumatic tubes that can take decades to deliver messages. When Hermes sorts a huge pile of undelivered messages with two seconds to spare, he ends up getting demoted because "a good bureaucrat never finishes early."
  • Megas XLR: In the episode "DMV - Department of Megas Violations", the titular Humongous Mecha gets impounded and Coop has to go to the DMV to get a new driver's license since his current one was expired.

    Real Life Regional Equivalents 
  • From 1968 to 1988, the British government department that dealt with welfare payments was called the Department of Health and Social Security. To people who had to negotiate the bureaucracy, which was tailored to the prejudices of politicians and the convenience of civil servants, it was known as the Department of Stealth and Total Obscurity.

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