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Dog-Kicking Excuse

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"I have two rules I follow," Saren explained. "The first is: never kill someone without a reason."
"And the second?" Anderson asked, suspicious.
"You can always find a reason to kill someone."

Sometimes, a character just can't bring themselves to Kick the Dog. Maybe their target is a Friend to All Living Things, painfully cute, comically Wrong Genre Savvy to the point of being pathetic, or so obviously helpless that even a Card-Carrying Villain has a pang of conscience over attacking them.

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So they look for something about the target to get mad about.

This can be shown as either something the dog-kicker is saying or doing beforehand while actively looking for an excuse, or after the fact, as part of the internal monologue of an Unreliable Narrator or a justification given to someone else. In most cases, the excuse is a flimsy one; the person wants to kick the dog for reasons unrelated to the dog itself but feels bad about targeting someone undeserving of being kicked.

Can be a subversion of a Pet the Dog moment, by setting things up to show that they aren't without decency - but then they undo that by finding the excuse and kicking the dog anyway.

Conversely, the would-be dog-kicker might be a nice person, but have reasons to think they should want to Kick the Dog, or at least act like they did. The Dog-Kicking Excuse tries to assuage their guilt at doing something to the dog that they know the dog doesn't deserve... or more dramatically, which they deserve because of their past actions, but which have been overshadowed either by atoning for their sins, or because they have won their dog-kicker's heart.

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Compare Give Me a Reason (where the character wants to lash out so badly that he goads and provokes the target into providing the excuse), and Caper Rationalization (when an author wants to write a "kick" scene and shapes the plot to get there).


Examples

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    Fan Works 

  • Dirty Laundry: Goldtooth, in the short amount of time this short takes place, is shown to be a vicious gangster who will use any flimsy excuse to do something terrible. When first introduced, when one of his prostitutes has apparently forgotten to pay him, he rapes her as punishment; moments later, he catches a kid and tells him he can either run drugs for him, or risk getting beaten or killed. When the kid refuses, Goldtooth grins and says "I was kinda hopin' you'd say that." before he and his thugs begin manhandling the kid.

    Live Action Film 

  • Halloween Ends: Most of the townspeople who bully Corey are just using Jeremy’s death as an excuse to channel their cruelty at an easy target. Even Jeremy’s father mentions that they took his son's tragic death and made it about themselves. In particular, Terry uses it as an excuse to physically attack and torment Corey regularly, and as Corey implies, distract himself from his own daddy issues.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe
    • Iron Man 3: Aldrich Killian's whole schtick with his faux Mandarian conspiracy. After being snubbed by Tony Stark over a decade prior to the film, Killian has held onto this grudge ever since. Acting as part of the conspiracy, Killian tries to sell the Mandarin as a Knight Templar out to punish America for it's corruption, as justification for various terror attacks. When Killian takes President Ellis hostage, he sums it up thusly.
    Killian: "Ever hear of an elephant graveyard? Well, two years ago, the elephant in the room was this scow."
    Ellis: "This is the Roxxon Norco."
    Killian: "And, of course, you'll remember that when she spilled a million gallons of crude off Pensacola, thanks to you, not one fat cat saw a day in court."
    Ellis: "What do you want from me?"
    Killian: "Uh, nothing, sir. I just needed a reason to kill you that would play well on TV."
    • Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness: When Steven is tried by the Illuminati on Earth 838, this worlds Baron Mordo, who was made sorcerer supreme after 838!Steven was executed, ostensibly fearing that 616!Steven will repeat their Steven’s mistakes. It's revealed 838!Steven used the Darkhold to defeat 838!Thanos, accidentally causing an incursion that destroyed another universe. As Mordo becomes more insistent on killing Steven, Steven notes Mordo's ego, distracting him by claiming that Mordo was jealous of 838!Steven's position, suggesting Mordo was glad 838!Steven caused the incursion, allowing Mordo to kill and usurp him. Steven even suggests that Mordo gave his Steven that Darkhold in the first place, hoping it would come to that. Mordo doesn’t deny the accusation, and it gets under his skin enough that he attacks Steven on the spot.
  • Scream 3: Mixed with Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse. When Ghostface - Roman Bridger - reveals their sad past of being rejected by his mother for being a product of her rape and a reminder of her trauma, Roman goes on a rant about how he's a tragic victim lashing out at the world. His half-sister Sidney, whose life was uprooted by Roman orchestrating the original Ghostface killings, has had enough of hearing these killers self pitying rants, and angrily tells Roman to his face that he (and the other killers) are responsible for their own choices. If anything, Roman just enjoys killing and is just using his sad past an excuse to do so. This prompts Roman to go on a vitriolic Villainous Breakdown, as his delusions shattered, and he and Sidney fight.
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    Literature 
  • In one of Aesop's Fables, "The Wolf and the Lamb", a wolf comes upon a lamb and wants to eat it, but is struck by its innocence and feels he has to have an excuse for the killing. He therefore shoots off a number of accusations, which the lamb disproves one by one. The wolf then decides it doesn't matter if he doesn't have an excuse and eats the poor lamb anyway. In the Russian adaptation by Ivan Krylov, the wolf finally comes up with the now memetic "You're guilty by virtue of me being hungry!". In any case, the moral of this particular tale is "tyrants need no excuse."

    Live Action TV 

  • Game of Thrones
    • Ramsay’s whole act with Theon. Throughout season two, Theon betrays House Stark at the behest of his father, a deed that sees Theon murder two innocent boys to pass off as Bran and Rickon. Following his downfall, Theon is filled with regret and self loathing over betraying his adoptive family, for which Ramsay takes Theon as a hostage. Ramsay tortures him throughout season three through various means such as flaying his fingers, to castrating Theon, and leaving him a mentally broken wreck, slavishly devoted to Ramsay. Initially, Theon is under the impression that Ramsay is someone seeking to punish him for his crimes, which Ramsay briefly plays along with. Ramsay quickly admits to not caring about Theon's sins or remorse, and he's simply torturing him because he’s enjoys it.
    • In season four, following Joffrey's assassination, all eyes are on Tyrion as the prime suspect. Despite Tyrion's obvious innocence, he was very unpopular among the Lannisters and Kings Landing, and thus is used a scapegoat. Thing is, virtually no one liked Joffrey (save for Cersei) and the Lannister patriarch, Tywin, is no exception. However, Joffrey was still the king, and Tywin also made his disdain to Tyrion obvious his whole life. As Tyrion is subjected to a Kangaroo Court, it becomes clear that Tywin is just using Joffrey's death as an excuse to get rid of Tyrion. Jamie, one of Tyrion's few supporters, tells Tywin this to his face.
  • Teen Wolf: In season two, Gerard Argent invokes Avenging the Villain for his daughter, Kate, declaring the hunters code forfeit and that all werewolves in Beacon Hills will be hunted and killed; ignoring that Kate was supposedly killed because she broke the code on multiple front, on his orders. Throughout the season, Gerard commits several feats of cruelty to that end. In the season finale, we learn that Gerard's real agenda was that he was dying from cancer, and was looking to become a werewolf himself to cure it, as well as become an alpha. With all that, it's all but spelled out Kate's "death" was just an excuse for him to do so.

    Music 
  • Lee Ann Womack's song "I'll Think of a Reason Later" is about a woman wishing she had a more justified reason to hate her romantic rival and excuse her "childish" spite antics like drawing a mustache and horns on a photo of her.
  • Carla Ulbrich's "Please Do Something Stupid" is about a woman trying to find a reason not to date 'the perfect man' at a time when she is trying to focus on other parts of her life.

    Video Games 
  • Far Cry 4: This is something Pagan Min admits too. While he was already a murderous dictator, he genuinely fell in love with Ishwari Ghale, even fathering a daughter with her named Lakshmana. When Lakshmana was murdered by Ishwari's husband, Pagan became more of a murderous warmonger ostensibly to avenge her death. However, over time Pagan realized he was using Lakshmana's death as an excuse to do whatever he wanted.
  • Grand Theft Auto V: In one mission, Steve Haines has Trevor torture Ferdinand Kerimov, a man connected to Tahir Javan, who is suspected of having ties to a terrorist organization. Despite Kerimov's obvious innocence and willingness to cooperate, Steve does not let up on the "interrogation", sometimes even interrupting Kerimov before he can give any answer. After Steve tells Trevor to kill Kerimov, Trevor sneaks Kerimov to the airport, during which Trevor tells Tahir that the Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique is bullshit.
    Trevor: "The media and the government would have us believe that torture is some necessary thing. We need it to get information, to assert ourselves. Did we get any information out of you ?"
    Kerimov: I would have told you everything!
  • Life Is Strange 2:
    • In episode one, Hank Stamper initially acts like a concerned citizen when he finds the Diaz brothers at his gas station. This quickly goes out the window when Hank knocks out and kidnaps Sean. While Hank's going on about Sean putting his brother in danger, and both brothers being suspected cop killers, Hank also shows his racism towards Hispanic people, and indicates that his racism is his reasoning for attacking the brothers, more so than his civic duty.
    • In episode four, Sean accidentally finds himself on the property of two hillbillies, Chad and Michael. If they were annoyed he was on their property and forced him to leave, that would be one thing, but Chad uses it as an opportunity to racially, verbally attack Sean, as well as humiliating him or beating Sean senseless.
  • Saints Row:
    • In the first game, mayoral candidate Richard Hughes has plans to redevelop and clear out the slums of Stillwater, which is met with criticism as her would be displacing the poor and low class within the city. However due to the gang wars, and the Saints coming up on top, Hughes is thankful for their actions, as it now means he can spin his plans as dealing with a hotbed of gang and criminal activity.
    • Saints Row: The Third: The STAG initiative is an organization of militant extremists, sent in by Senator Monica Hughes to deal with the rampant gang activity in Steelport. Throughout the game, STAG's leader, Cyrus Temple, keeps advocating for the use of the Daedalus, a warship that would raze all of Steelport to snuff out the Saints. Hughes keeps shooting down these plans out of pragmatism. Soon, STAG to go behind her back and set up a mass suicide bombing to frame the Saints for domestic terrorism, forcing Hughes to finally permit the use of the Daedalus. In the non-canon ending, Cyrus' sarcastic taunts to The Boss during their fight indicates he was in on the plan. 

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe: Madcap, a ditzy wannabe supervillain whose main power seems to be re-activating power items that had lost their mojo, raided a convention of superhero/supervillain fans which had a large selection of such items on display. Needless to say, several ex-villains figured out that she would be drawn to something like this, and arranged for their old toys to be on the roster, with the plan that they could get them back. One of these, Plunderlord, was so exasperated with Madcap's incompetence that he couldn't bring himself to rob her, so he prodded her into saying "something stupid or obnoxious" so he could feel better about it. Unsurprisingly, she obliges, and he takes it.

    Western Animation 
  • The Boondocks: In Stinkmeaner 3: The Hateocracy, the titular group are, like their ostensible friend Stinkmeaner, are a group of bitter and hateful elderly persons who like to torment people and cause mischief for its own sake. Following Stinkmeaner’s death, they soon go after the Freeman family, with the apparent goal of Avenging the Villain. Towards the episodes end, when Robert gives a sincere apology for killing Stinkmeaner, not only do they reject the apology, they admit they don’t care that much about Stinkmeaner himself, but are using his death as justification to torment and try to kill the Freemans.
    Rufus Crabmiser: Hell, y'all just gave us an excuse. If it wasn't you, we'd probably just pick someone random and ruin they life.
  • Halloween Is Grinch Night: Grandpa Josiah says that the noise of the animals disturbed by the Sweet-Sour Wind riles up the Grinch, but given that the Grinch is actually disappointed when the wind dissipates, it seems likelier that terrorizing Whoville is just something he likes to do and he uses the noise as an excuse.

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