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Doomed Supermarket Display

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Insert canned laughter here.

Calvin: Can Hobbes and I come in the store with you, Dad?
Calvin's Dad: No, you stay in the car.
Calvin: Sheesh. Knock over one lousy display stand, and pay for it the rest of your life.

Rather than the shelves that are standard practice in real life, fictional shopkeepers seem to prefer to display their wares in rickety, ceiling-high pyramids stacked in precisely the place a runaway shopping trolley is likely to crash into them.

Their other major vulnerability is to someone (often an oblivious young child) taking an item from the bottom level, thus causing the rest of the pyramid to collapse spectacularly.

Some supermarkets do have displays like this, but generally they consist of non-fragile items and are held up by cardboard support structures.

A common variant is to see someone just finish compiling the large stack only to have something bad happened to it. This tends to result in an "oh man" response from the stacker.

The reason the stack has to be knocked over is due to The Law of Conservation of Detail. Unless you're watching a four hour slice of life documentary on the daily life of a grocery clerk, it's unlikely a production will focus on something mundane like a clerk stacking cans, unless it's a set-up for something funny that's about to happen to those cans.

Commonly seen in a Grocery Store Episode.

For other things that are almost certainly likely to be destroyed when they appear, see Ashes to Crashes, Priceless Ming Vase, Exploding Fish Tanks, Doomed New Clothes, Fruit Cart.


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  • An advert for Marmite showing how much people hate the stuff has a trolley (cart) running into a display made out of Marmite jars. Which are made out of glass. And Marmite is sticky.
  • One advertisement for Discover Card's "5% cashback" commercial ended with a soup can tower display that had already been knocked over.
  • One commercial for Wilkins Tea has Wilkins as a vendor at a supermarket next to a pyramid with Wilkins Tea on top and the other leading brand on the bottom. Wontkins pulls out a can of the other leading tea, and the pyramid collapses on top of him.
    Wilkins: Another man who thinks for himself!

    Anime & Manga 
  • During JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders Joseph is affected by Bast, a Stand that turns him into a magnet. As he chases down Bast's user, all sorts of metal objects cling onto him. This includes a pyramid of mango cans being displayed on the street outside a market.

    Comic Books 
  • The 1955 MAD feature on "Supermarkets" shows a malfunctioning shopping cart crashing into a pyramid of soup cans.
    And then you realize... although a thing is new, it is not perfect... although a wagon has wheels, they may not turn... although a head is hard, canned chicken soup is harder!

    Comic Strips 
  • Invoked in the title panel of this Garfield strip.
  • In one Fred Basset strip a passing shopper pets Fred and his wagging tail knocks over a pyramid of boxes.
  • Refrenced in a Calvin and Hobbes strip
    Calvin: Knock over one lousy display stand, and pay for it for the rest of your life
    • In another strip, we actually see him knock over one of these when he's pretending to be a Tyrannosaurus, with his mother bemoaning that she can't take Calvin anywhere without him causing trouble.
  • One Dennis the Menace (US) strip has Dennis knock down a pyramid of cans by rolling a grapefruit at it, much to Alice's shock. Dennis then says "But in bowling, that would be a strike!"

    Fan Works 
  • In Three Lives Relived: Time Turners & Unforgivable's Harry trips and knocks over a canned food display while he and Hermione are shopping.
  • In The Coven of Albion Harry deliberately knocks over a can pyramid with wandless magic to distract supermarket employees from his and his friends' shoplifting.
  • In Snape's Little Brother after Sirius steals Harry's Mice Pop, Harry pushes Sirius into a Gambol and Japes display, breaking a large number of potion bottles.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Spanish feature-length Katy, Kiki and Koko had the same problems with the ants' food hoard.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Big Ben Healy's sporting goods store in Problem Child has an enormous glass display box filled with tennis balls that reaches up to the rafters. No points for guessing what Junior plows into when he steals Little Ben's car.
  • Raising Arizona has one of the messiest examples, with the displays in question getting blown apart by a double-barreled shotgun wielded by none other than the grocery store's butcher.
  • A variant appears in RoboCop (1987): a thug walks into a small convenience store and demands the owner empty the cash register and open the safe. The owner protests they don't have a safe. The thug kicks a large pyramid of beer cans, which collapses to reveal the safe.
  • In the 1962 Disney film Sammy The Way Out Seal, a female shopper faints backwards upon seeing the titular seal sliding by in the supermarket. Luckily, her fall was cushioned by a pyramid of Corn Flakes boxes. It happens a second time, just as a store employee is about done reassembling the stack.
  • In Stuart Little it is stated that Stuart's birth parents (who are mice) were killed in a grocery store incident where a stack of soup cans fell over and crushed them. The bodies had to be identified by their dental records.
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: Veruca Salt uses a trolley to knock over a pyramid of gift-wrapped chocolate Easter eggs during a fit of pique in "I Want It Now."

  • The book Just Stupid has the story "Busting". In it, a boy having a Potty Emergency knocks over some tin cans on display and is forced to re-stack them.
  • Mr. Men: Mr Clumsy sees a pyramid pile of cans of soup, and he takes a can. Not a can from the top of the pile. Oh no, not Mr. Clumsy!
  • In the Tim Wildmon book My Life as a Half-Baked Christian, Tim tells about taking his daughter into the grocery store with him. She causes a lot of chaos, including knocking down a tower of soda bottles.

    Live Action TV 
  • One time on The Bob Newhart Show, Bob and Howard went grocery shopping. Howard took something (possibly a jar of pickles) from the bottom of a food pyramid and the stack didn't fall over, flummoxing Bob. Then a few more people did the same thing. Finally Bob took something off the top, which made it fall all apart.
  • In the Everybody Loves Raymond episode, "The Sitter", Debra tells Ray that she didn't get the grocery shopping done because she had to leave the store in shame after the kids pulled down the salsa display.
  • A subversion occurs in the Full House episode, "Play It Again, Jess". Michelle is about to take a roll of paper towels from the bottom of the pyramid, but Uncle Jesse stops her and takes one from the top of the pyramid instead... and he still knocks it over.
  • This is the basis of a challenge on Impractical Jokers where the guys intentionally crash into a display and try to get a bystander to vouch for it being an accident so they can sue the store. The items have ranged from breakfast cereal boxes to personalized snacks (Ja'Crispy chips and Captain Fatbelly cereal).
  • Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em: In "The Hospital Visit". Frank removes an apple from the bottom row of a display. Nothing happens until he closes the door on the way out, whereupon the entire display collapses onto the floor at Elisabeth Sladen's feet.
  • In Young Sheldon S4 E17, Georgie tries to buy beer without an ID and asks for Sturgis to vouch for him. Sturgis is stacking soda cans when he sees Georgie and waves at him, and in doing so knocks down the cans. An embarrassed Georgie then slinks away.
  • In Mad About Yous Season 5 episode "The Touching Game"; at one point Jamie's baby bump knocks over a cereal display.

  • One Old Master Q strip has Master Q coming across a soup-can pyramid in a supermarket stall and picking a can from it's center, causing the whole thing to collapse. An angry shop assistant (played by Master Q's arch-nemesis, Mr. Chiu) snatches the can from Master Q, nagging that the display is for advertising purposes and the merchandise to be sold is on an opposite shelf, telling Master Q to get out. Master Q did exactly that... and takes another tin from an adjacent soup-can pyramid, making it topple on purpose, for no reason other than to piss off Mr. Chiu.

  • Found in hide's PV for the song Misery, part of which consists of hide "destroying" (of course, it was staged) a grocery store in Los Angeles.

    Print Media 
  • MAD Magazine has played with this over the years.
    • In a Don Martin strip, a male shopper picks a can from the top of a pyramid, and it collapses. He picks a can from atop a second stacked display, and this time it causes a different stack of cans to topple. Puzzled, the man grabs a can from yet another pyramid... and it causes the store to collapse!
    • In a Dave Berg piece, two old ladies shopping realize that the supermarket raises their prices around the time of month that seniors receive Social Security checks. They also eliminate their discounted dented-cans section. One of the ladies then rams her cart into a can pyramid, producing a nice selection of dented cans.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied in one episode of Clone High; A tired Abe lets go of his shopping cart at the supermarket, letting it slowly stroll over to a big display of animal crackers with dramatic music playing. Joan shouts at him warning him about the cart, despite the fact she could've easily gotten it herself, and the cart just makes the entire display crumble after a small nudge from it.
  • A 2 Stupid Dogs episode with a "Freaky Friday" Flip had one of these. As a Running Gag, it was repeatedly destroyed immediately after supermarket employee Cubbie had just finished fixing it.
  • Rugrats (1991):
    • In "Incident in Aisle Seven", when the mother of a baby girl sees Tommy at the bottom of her cart, she screams and backs into a loose cart, which rolls into a pyramid of watermelons, knocking it down and causing the watermelons to roll away. Some knock over a pyramid of baby powder, and others knock over a pyramid of soda cans.
    • In "Baby Commercial", Phil and Lil's toy car bumps into the pyramid of diaper boxes, causing it to collapse, to the director's horror and fury.
  • The Simpsons:
    • There's a parody of a bulk-buy warehouse that was packed to the rafters with these. A highlight is Barney knocking over a full-size human-shaped maple syrup bottle and thinking he's killed a woman.
    • In another episode, when Lisa attempts to skateboard she ends up bearing down on two stacks of salsa jars - one "mild" and one "hot and spicy". "Please mild please mild please mild..."
    • In 'Krusty Gets Kancelled', Luke Perry is fired from a cannon as part of Krusty's Komeback Special. One of the buildings he flies through is the Kwik-E-Mart, where Apu is about to finish off a pyramid of acid jars. Luke rockets through the jars, sending the entire stack to pieces. After a moment of stunned shock, Apu throws the last jar to the ground in frustration.
  • A classic animated sketch on Sesame Street has a grocer stacking 12 large cans, presumably filled with tomato juice, but the first customer to pass the display pulls a can from the bottom of the stack. The stack collapses, and the grocer re-stacks the 11 remaining cans, with one extra. The same thing happens with the second customer. Finally, a boy on roller skates provides a Twist Ending.
  • In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "Karate Choppers", as part of his running duel with Sandy, Spongebob ambushes her at the grocery store and sends her flying towards a pyramid of tin cans. She just barely nudges the cans, and after a brief pause, they all collapse onto her.
  • Happens in the The New Adventures of Winnie the Pooh episode "A Pooh-Day Afternoon" when Pooh, Piglet, Tigger, and Christopher Robin search a supermarket for Skippy, a dog that the latter of the 4 friends is pet-sitting.
  • Sonic Boom:
    • A subversion occurs in the episode, "Dude, Where's My Eggman?". Dr. Eggman tries to return a burnt umbrella, but the store's owner refuses to give him a refund. Outraged, Eggman kicks the bottom two cans of a pyramid... and the rest of the cans completely stay stacked, much to his surprise.
    • Played straight in the episode, "Counter Productive", where Knuckles takes a single apple from a pyramid of baskets, causing the entire pyramid to fall over.
  • On the Silly Symphonies short "Mother Goose Goes Hollywood", Laurel and Hardy appear as Simple Simon and the Pie Man. Simon picks a pie from the bottom of a pile. Surprisingly, the pies land neatly back in place. The Pie Man tries it himself, and the pies splatter all over the place.
  • In the Arthur episode "D.W. Gets Lost", D.W. enters the store's security room and begins playing around with the cameras to find Mom on the screens. Her antics first knock out an employee in the Video Department followed by toppling a display of tennis balls arranged in a pyramid. When she sees customers tripping over her mess her response is "Look at all those clumsy people!"
  • The Pink Panther short "Supermarket Pink" uses this as a recurring gag. Store employee Big Nose has stacked a pyramid of cans which is first knocked over when he accidentally stumbles into it. Then it's toppled again by the classic shopping cart; after he's rebuilt it, the Panther proceeds to take cans from out of the middle of it, leaving Big Nose stranded there propping the remaining cans up. It's heard toppling off-camera for the final time seconds later.
  • The Loud House:
    • In "Cereal Offender", Bobby makes a display of paper towels to look like Lori's head, which she is quite impressed by, but Lincoln stumbles into it and knocks it all over in his struggle to get his favorite cereal.
    • Played with in "High Crimes". Flip makes a pyramid of Flippee's for the party organized by Scoots, but no sooner is he done or Pop-Pop and Bernie running past the table cause the whole thing to collapse.
  • In the My Dad the Rock Star episode "Metamorphic Rock" Rock Zilla, never having gone grocery shopping by himself before, rides around the store in a shopping cart and knocks over a can display (and a bunch of other stuff in the store)