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Elephant in the Living Room
aka: Elephant In The Room

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Peter: The healthiest thing we can do is just ignore this and pretend it doesn't exist. Just like we do with the squid.
[zooms out to reveal a giant squid occupying most of the room, who angrily knocks the vase, cups, and cloth off the kitchen table]
Lois: Uh, earthquake?
Peter: Eh, truck going by.

The "Elephant in the Living Room" (or "in the Corner", or "on the Sofa") is a large topic or problem which, though obvious to everyone, is deliberately or conspicuously not discussed. In most cases, this is used to create comedic tension; for example, when a character has a Big Secret he must struggle to divert conversation away from. In stark contrast, some cases of the trope create a tragic vibe, with an Elephant so awful that nobody can bring themselves to raise the topic.

For cases where there is a subject within the series that simply cannot be questioned, or else the whole premise will fall apart, it's a case of why they don't Just Eat Gilligan. If a subject is addressed with some form of implausible explanation, that is most often a Hand Wave or A Wizard Did It; when the subject is simply never addressed at all, it is the Elephant in the Living Room.

In politics, this trope is known as a Third Rail Issue, after the third rail in a subway or light rail system which is held at high voltage to provide power to the trains that run on it (and hence would be unpleasant, if not suicidal, to touch). It refers to an issue which the electorate both feels strongly about, and is sharply divided on what to do about it; therefore, a compromise solution is unlikely to satisfy anyone and will just make everyone angry. As a result, no one attempts to do anything.

In Anime, this trope is known as a Pregnant Ranma Problem, based on the following anecdotal discussion between the author/artist of Ranma ˝ and a random fan at a convention:

Random Fanboy: What would happen if Ranma got pregnant as a girl, then changed back to a boy?
Rumiko Takahashi: I don't think about that, and neither should you.

Which just about sums up 90% of these examples. Cheers!

Originated in an 1814 Ivan Krylov fable entitled "The Inquisitive Man", which tells of a man who goes to a museum and notices all sorts of tiny things, but fails to notice an elephant. Another common variant is the much more revolting "corpse at the dinner party."

If this is the result of time travel, see Caught in the Ripple.

See Beast in the Building if there is a literal elephant in the room or another large animal that doesn't belong indoors.

See also Unusually Uninteresting Sight, The Disease That Shall Not Be Named, Ignore the Disability, Suspiciously Specific Denial, Talk About the Weather.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

  • One public awareness commercial has a man walking into an office accompanied by an elephant, with the nametag of "AIDS." Certainly a very effective message.
  • An ad shows a couple's living room and points out new things, whenever the curtain is pulled back. The third time this happens a huge fluff dinosaur is standing behind them — the announcer points to a small cactus on the coffee table.
  • A PSA about drinking and driving shows a party where the guests are drinking alcohol. One of the guests puts down his glass and grabs his car keys. The hosts ask him if he is OK to drive. He says that he is fine to drive, which triggers a large inflatable elephant to inflate in a manner similar to a car's air bag. The message is not to ignore drinking and driving like the proverbial elephant in the room.
  • An ad for an asthma inhaler has a guy mentioning how trying to breathe when you have asthma can feel like this, then the camera pans back to show an elephant sitting on his chest. And then it shows the person going about his/her activities with the elephant following. It isn't doing anything, it isn't bothering anyone, it is just THERE. (The idea being that the inhaler isn't a cure for asthma, but it makes it possible to live with it.)
  • A Doritos ad has an office worker with an elephant that keeps smacking his coworkers for trying to take some Doritos. At the end, one asks, "Are we gonna talk about this?" The worker simply replies "No."
  • In 2023, Britain's TSB Bank introduced Tiny the Elephant, an adorable personification of this phrase. As a metaphor for people's financial worries, characters introduce her to others stating that they thought she'd be difficult to manage but once they got to know her - by sorting their money problems out with TSB - she doesn't seem so daunting after all.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Alley Oop, the character Oscar Boom went straight so many decades ago that many current readers weren't aware that he started out as a crook, and that he had never gone to trial or served jail time for his crimes. Recent storylines have finally addressed this.
  • A literal one from The Far Side, in which a detective accuses the butler of goring and trampling the victim, ignoring the elephant in a trench coat next to him.
    • Another strip has the elephant hiding behind a fairly small piece of furniture while the homeowners search for him.
    • A similar strip features a wasp detective trying to figure out why there is a rock-shaped hole in the wasp nest that appears to have been punctured from inside the nest, somehow. Standing inside the nest is also a gigantic human child, whom everyone is ignoring (Larson apologies for the lameness of the joke in the strip's caption, saying "it was late and I was tired).
  • The 2015-01-25 daily illustration on Ma'ariv Online by Uri Fink (of Zbeng! fame) features one in a complex metaphor: Barack Obama is speaking to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the former remarking, "...When you visit there's always an elephant in the room," struggling to take up some room for himself against the elephant with a large R on its back sitting there, looking at him smugly.
  • A The New Yorker panel featured an elephant lying on a psychologist's couch, complaining, "I'm right there in the room, and nobody notices me."
  • Parodied by Pearls Before Swine in one strip:
    Rat: You know, every time someone discusses these issues, they always like to conveniently avoid the elephant in the room.
    Goat: You mean Social Security?
    Rat: I mean the elephant in the room.
    Tiny (the elephant): I like to discuss issues, too.

    Film — Animated 
  • Ice Age: The Meltdown features a literal example. Ellie is supposedly a possum. Who's 10 feet tall and weighs 7 tons. And has huge tusks. And is otherwise basically a mammoth. Her "brothers" Crash and Eddie, actual possums at that, don't seem to find this odd, except for her lacking the ability to sneak around. Ellie herself is in complete denial about possibly being a mammoth, in spite of Manny, Sid and Diego trying to convince her otherwise, and still tries to hide, even though no tree can hold her and no bush can cover her.
  • Incredibles 2: Violet asks her parents if they're going to talk about "the elephant in the room," meaning the fact they were all arrested earlier in the day.
  • Kung Fu Panda: The question of why a panda has a goose for a father is completely ignored by all of the characters. Roger Ebert initially speculated that in this universe, it may be normal for members of one species to give birth to another — but this was shot down when Kung Fu Panda 2 turned the reason why Po was adopted into a major plot point. Po's adopted status was already implied in the first movie, but the second movie reveals that his adopted father never wanted to bring up the subject because he was afraid Po would leave him to search for his true parents.
  • The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part does the same joke as Zootopia with a visual elephant, who's a butler.
  • A painful example in Spookley the Square Pumpkin: Absolutely nobody mentions the fact that pumpkins are basically butchered on Halloween, which is said to be a holiday for pumpkins. It's really mostly just bad writing.
  • Zootopia: Since this is a World of Funny Animals, it twists the trope into a Literal Metaphor as a joke. During the morning bullpen briefing, Chief Bogo announces that the first order of business is to "acknowledge the elephant in the room," with a stern face while scanning the room. Despite the ominous introduction, it turns out he's actually referring to an elephant officer in the room and wishes her a happy birthday.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Defied in 22 Jump Street regarding how Schmidt slept with the Captain's daughter in college.
    "Now gentlemen, we're not gonna sit here..." *Puts handgun on the table, directed towards Schmidt* "...and pretend there's not a big-ass elephant in the living room."
  • In Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Champ declares his love for Ron whilst the news team is in the car. Extreme awkwardness ensues as Ron and Brian concentrate very hard on ignoring him.
  • A literal and classic example appears in the play (and later film) Billy Roses Jumbo. Jimmy Durante's character is attempting to "sneak" an elephant out of his failing circus as the creditors close in. He and the elephant are of course promptly confronted by the sheriff and the repo squad:
    Sheriff: Hey! Where are you going with that elephant?
    Durante: (Pauses with the elephant looming directly behind him, looks left, looks right) Elephant? What elephant?
  • The page image is a Banksy piece, featured in his documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop.
  • There's a subplot in Freaks in which Roscoe the clown, who is engaged to Daisy Hilton, is introduced to the fiance of Daisy's sister, Violet, and the line "You must come over and visit us some time," is used. At no point does anyone explicitly mention the fact that Daisy and Violet are joined at the hip. The whole thing is going to be very awkward.
  • Invoked for laughs in It: Chapter Two: Richie comments on Ben's significant weight loss by saying he'd like to address "the elephant not in the room."
  • Beautifully played in Nicole Kidman's The Others (2001). Throughout the movie there is the palpable sense that something has happened in the house and that everyone knows something that they're not talking about - but what it is remains a mystery to each character and to the audience until the conclusion.
  • The Party uses a literal example. The guests at a Hollywood party try to ignore the elephant brought home by the host's hippie daughter and her friends. This becomes harder when they give the elephant a bubble bath in the pools spread throughout the house.
  • In A Simple Plan, starring Bill Paxton and Billy Bob Thornton, hunting buddies find a crashed plane full of money. By the end of the movie, two out of the three are dead and the remaining one had to burn the money so he wouldn't be found. The ending narration mentions that he and his wife never mentioned the money again and tried to live a normal life, but the fear and greed and loss prevented them from ever being happy again.
  • Yogi Bear. Like Scooby-Doo, almost everyone knows Yogi and Booboo are talking bears but no one cares that much. Well, the movie does imply that in-universe there is a species of bear that talks (albeit a very rare one).

  • The Vaporwave album News at 11 by 猫 シ Corp. deliberately turns the 9/11 attacks into this trope by sampling soundbites of morning news shows and commercials from September 11, 2001 just before the announcements of the attacks, circling around the happier and more banal moments immediately before anything is announced,note  and intersperses it with easy listening music. The second half of the album then completely sidesteps the rest of that morning by focusing squarely on distorted "Local on the 8's" music and soundbites from The Weather Channel.

  • Literally every episode so far of Kakos Industries has a blatantly obvious one simply due to the existence of the main character, Corin Deeth III who is the heir of the aforementioned company. Despite being the third generation of his family, there is never any mention of his father. Ever. Though Corin possibly not knowing his dad or refusing to speak of him can be explained, it becomes quite the mystery when the grandfather never brings up his own son either.
  • Welcome to Night Vale has the Shape in Grove Park That No-One Acknowledges or Speaks About. When the Shape was to be removed from the park by the city council, local historians protested on the grounds that it was an important historical landmark. However, since the historians refused to either acknowledge or speak about the Shape, their protest consisted entirely of a series of gestures and grimaces.

  • In a round of I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue in which one team are given a performance evaluation by the other, and have to justify the complete mess they made of their job, Tim Brooke-Taylor and Susan Calman are zookeepers, trying to explain to Graeme and Barry why they released all the animals and let them roam around. Eventually Graeme says "I'm very tempted to accept your apology but there's the obvious thing you haven't mentioned: The elephant in the room!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer, The Empire of Man asserts that there is no such thing as a race of man-sized rat people called the "Skaven", living in underground tunnels running throughout the Old World. They do not have advanced weaponry, specially-bred giant warrior rats, and abundant amounts of warpstone. They are not completely malicious, nor are they plotting to destroy all non-Skaven races. They do not outnumber humans ten to one and rely on horde tactics. They do not worship a malevolent god known as the Great Horned Rat. And finally, they do not often resurface in the dead of night to kidnap humans and drag them to their underground caverns. Only insane people (and dwarves) make such irresponsible and absurd claims. That said, one of the Skaven books states that there are two common lies about them: that they exist, and that anyone believes they don't exist. Most people just quietly nod to the Empire's claims and then go down into the basement with a sharpened sword nonetheless.

  • This is part of what makes Death of a Salesman so tragic: it's clear that Willy is not a great salesman, and that his constant praise of and making excuses for his sons has emotionally crippled them, leaving them unable to function as adults. But none of the Lomans are willing to admit the truth, and to say it ends badly is a massive understatement.
  • This is a key plot point of Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive, which explores the relationship between a teenage girl named L'il Bit and her uncle, who molests her throughout her preteen and teen years. Everyone in the family knows about what's going on, and nobody ever says anything about it, instead making excuses or blaming L'il Bit for the problem.
  • Every single character (except the housemaid) in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey into Night has his or her own personal elephant: James Tyrone has his financially-crippling combination of buying worthless land and cutting costs on everything else; Mary has her morphine addiction; James Jr. has his long-held resentment over his status as The Un-Favourite and fear that his parents blame him for killing his infant brother by infecting him with measles; and Edmund (an Author Avatar of O'Neill himself) has his tuberculosis. The drama of the play centers on all four of these elephants being dragged into the light, examined, and ultimately left unresolved.
  • Played for Laughs many times in The Play That Goes Wrong and its sequels. The Show Must Go On, even if the key actor is unconscious, the props are missing, the cast's personal issues are aired on the green screen for everyone to see, the set has fallen down, and/or all of those things at once.
  • In Christopher Diaz's Welcome to Arroyo's, main character Alejandro is clearly going through horrible depression after the death of his mother, but he absolutely refuses to discuss either his mental illness or its root causes. It's what makes when he finally snaps and screams "BECAUSE OUR MOTHER JUST DIED!" such a Wham Line—he's finally able to talk about it, which allows him to begin healing.

    Visual Novels 
  • People in A Profile make damn sure not to mention track to Masayuki or even hint about Kaine's sex to him. Everyone knows, but mentioning it just won't turn out well. The first is subverted in the second route, however.
  • Letting this trope take over can take the player off Heidi’s romantic path in Daughter for Dessert. Some time after the protagonist goes to Whiskeyville, Heidi asks him if he wants a date, and the two of them can go to a restaurant. Their server is Blake, a handsome young man who filled in briefly for Kathy. The protagonist is insecure about the possibility that Heidi could potentially prefer Blake over him, and Heidi knows it. He can ask her about it; if he doesn’t, then Heidi will end things with him, but if he does, Heidi reveals an embarrassing secret about Blake that means she would never date him.
  • In Ace Attorney, supernatural abilities are real, and have been conclusively demonstrated. There's a well-known village of mediums, a magazine about the occult, and Phoenix's assistant has shapeshifted in open court multiple times. No one (besides the protagonists) wants to use those powers in the pursuit of justice, besides one guy who wanted to use the mediums to clear his name, and the one case 15 years before the start of the series where the police used a medium to solve a murder. And then apparently stopped forever because of the bad publicity. This is especially bizarre considering how corrupt and shady the justice system is. You'd think 15 years would be enough for someone to try again, unless they're doing it more quietly.
    • By contrast, in the sister series Ghost Trick, the government quietly investigated the "impossible cases" starting from the first one, and they know the person (or persons) responsible is trying to sell their power to a foreign government. Said foreign government tries to murder anyone who knows about said power, just to cover their trail.
  • In Double Homework, Tamara asks Johanna to come to her room to help her with something, and she asks the protagonist to come in a few minutes before that, telling him that she wants to go all the way. It has the desired effect of having Johanna see them about to have sex (and then back off her own advances toward the protagonist), but things become so awkward between the three of them that none of them brings it up for a while.
  • In Katawa Shoujo, Hisao invokes this trope by name in the early part of the game and, true to its theme, deals with the "elephant" throughout the game. It takes place at a school for students with disabilities/medical conditions, and he understands that it would be rude to ask/talk to someone about their disability/condition without the other person bringing it up themselves, even in situations where it's obvious.
  • Ikemen Sengoku: In Sasuke's route, the main character realizes early on that Sasuke has to be spying for the enemy side but they avoid discussing it because she doesn't want to lose him as a friend and he doesn't want to put her in danger by telling her too much.
  • Defied pretty much all the time in Melody. All of the characters are surprisingly willing to bring up their interpersonal issues to each other... that is, assuming that they’re not completely forgotten.
  • Princess Waltz: The game never bothers to address that Chris and Arata, who get together regardless of your actions, aren't just Kissing Cousins, they're half-siblings.

    Web Animation 
  • FreedomToons: Dr. Mac shows a Spreading Disaster Map Graphic detailing terrorist attacks committed by islamists that overlaps with muslim-majority countries and countries with increasingly large muslim minorities. He then calls the reason behind the surge of attacks a mystery for the ages.
  • From the Volume 4 episode Family from the RWBY series, we have four people, including Yang, her father and two of the teachers she had at Beacon Academy carefully avoid the subject of Yang's missing arm despite the fact that a cybernetic replacement has been delivered until her father's Brutal Honesty brings the subject in the open. One of the teachers even puts a Lampshade Hanging on it.
    Doctor Oobleck "Are we finally talking about the Goliath in the room?"

  • In Abe & Kroenen, almost nobody mentions the fact that Kroenen was and is a Nazi assassin. For some reason his presumed Nazi beliefs never actually make an appearance, probably because that would be a good way to lose a lot of viewers.
    • His Nazi affiliations are addressed in small ways, like claiming that V is so cool it almost makes him want him give up Nazism, or giving Abe a speech about staying strong, or else the sub-humans will over-run the earth, and no glory will be brought to the Fatherla— at which point he wisely shuts up.
  • El Goonish Shive: Despite there being a masquerade, women having the ability to summon hammers out of nowhere is accepted as normal and not thoroughly investigated to exploit its mechanism. The existence of the ability isn't remarked on by anyone besides the main characters once it's lost. This is because the hammers were introduced long before Cerebus Syndrome set in, and were only brought back as part of a Cerebus Retcon regarding their origin.
  • Jonny Crossbones is either an undead creature or wears a skeleton suit all the time. No one has noticed so far.
  • MS Paint Adventures has the Running Gag "What pumpkin?", where the "player" mentions the pumpkin on the "game screen" and by the next scene it's gone or replaced, often with the phrase "What pumpkin?" or the narrator acting as if the player has asked for the object that just replaced the pumpkin.
  • Penny Arcade did this at least twice, first in one strip where nobody mentions that Tycho is inexplicably a giant radish and then one where Tycho and Gabe are sitting on a giant Xbox playing with giant controllers (a jab at the original Xbox's enormous size).
    • The radish strip has a real-world explanation (the artist/"Gabe" was screwing with the author/"Tycho"); most fans assumed that since the strip was about the guys confronting Div over his alcoholism, it was a representation of how drunk he was.
  • Taken as a Literal Metaphor — Dum from Dum Cat gets crushed by it.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Deliberately invoked when Chuso discusses how he's not sure he can order Commodore Tagon, the current top officer of the Toughs, around on a mission. When the Commodore is right there. When the Commodore calls him on it, Chuso the uplifted elephant admits to it, and that it was "meta-humor, and mostly for me."
  • In Something*Positive it was a very long time before the fate of Monette's baby was addressed.

    Web Original 
  • This article from the Babylon Bee is yet another take on "The Emperor Has No Clothes", with Emperor Joseph I showing up naked one day. When a boy tweets that he's naked, every media and tech giant hound, harass, and gaslight him, claiming that the boy is far right and there is no naked man.
  • The diary in Dragomir's Diary is constantly depicted as having a simple, smiling face, and its expression changes as much as those of the human characters. It has also demonstrated the ability to move on its own, and has done so in front of Dragomir himself several times. Despite these oddities, most of the characters view the diary as a normal book, never questioning its silent personality. Now, if they were ever to find out that it can also write in itself...

    Web Videos 
  • The Irish short film Aaron has the two brothers making awkward small talk and dancing around the fact that something clearly happened between them in the past. Later dialogue implies that things were so tense at home that Chris the older brother pretty much just left and never returned.
  • A small but vocal portion of the Game Grumps fandom believes JonTron became this following his departure in 2013, with some going so far as to claim that he was fired (usually throwing the blame at either Danny or Arin's wife Suzie). Everyone involved denies this, saying the split was amicable, with Arin explaining that they didn't bring Jon up so much because they were trying to respect his desire to form his own identity separate from his work on Game Grumps.
    • This whole controversy has been referenced a couple of times on the show, most often by Danny himself. During the Super Mario 64 playthrough, he says he's aware of the conspiracy theories, but they never bothered him because they're completely untrue. During the new The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past playthrough he addresses this trope by name when he mentions that Arin and Jon started the game but never finished it.
  • The YouTube 'celebrity' Hannah Minx is considerably more "blessed" than your average woman, practically to the point where her videos have become less of a personal vlog and more geared towards direct Fanservice. Perhaps to deliberately invoke this trope, she never talks about her body in her videos, and the interviews she's done gloss over it as well. The only people who do mention her body is the video commenters, and they do it in almost every single comment in every video she makes. Is there a trope for From The Mouth Of Fan Dumb?
  • The ineffably brilliant video "It's Not About the Nail", in which a woman snaps angrily at any suggestion that the pain she's experiencing just might have something to do with a giant nail that's been driven into her forehead.
  • Louder With Crowder: There's a sketch where Stephen and Not Gay Jared are outraged at Donald Trump making a bunch of crass jokes on tv while giving a wide berth to Harvey Weinstein literally forcing himself on someone in the same room.
  • The Nostalgia Critic:
    • His review of The NeverEnding Story II: The Next Chapter is interrupted by a literal elephant in the room, who makes Doug mention that Jonathan Brandis, the film's star, committed suicide and prompting him to explain that he wasn't insulting the actor, but the poorly-written character.
    • And then he returns in the second list of the Nostalgia Critic's Fuck-Ups, who makes him mention that he made a joke about autism in the review of Ernest Saves Christmas (though the joke was edited out of that review because Doug didn't really think that joke was all that funny anyway).
    • He briefly returned in the review of It (1990), featuring Jonathan Brandis as a main character again. But since the Critic had already explained Brandis' suicide, he told the elephant to piss off.
    • For a while, the elephant in the room was a gag of general use in Channel Awesome. It appeared in CR's Familiar Faces: Baby Doll (a crossover with the Critic) to mention then-recently deceased Gary Coleman, who suffered from the same condition that the character did. And it appeared again in Iron Liz's review of the Tabletop RPG Iron Claw to mention that she was basically talking about a game of Furries.
    • In the Nostalgia Critic's review of Ponyo, the elephant very briefly resurfaces again when the Critic notes that part of the movie Japan is underwater, clearly a sign of being too close to the Tohoku earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster of 2011.
    • In his "Top 11 Simpsons Episodes", the elephant mentions a certain Simpsons-related outrage caused by his fans.
    • He also appears at the beginning of the Critic's Pixels review to remind him that the movie is extremely similar to an episode of Futurama.
      Elephant: (singing) Futuuuuuurrr-AMA! Futurama! Futurama! Futurama!

    Real Life 
  • Any disaster that everybody knows is going to happen but is either unable or unwilling to do anything about. For instance, a cataclysmic earthquake is eventually bound to hit Tokyo or San Francisco, but that knowledge doesn't stop the people in those cities from going about their lives.
  • In April 1967, Ron Jones, a history teacher at Cubberley High School in Palo Alto, California, found himself struggling to explain to his class how the German people could have fallen behind the Nazis so easily. So he decided to show them personally, creating a student movement called the Third Wave (after the common belief that the third in a series of waves is the last and largest). The movement emphasized conformity and the greater good, treating democracy and individualism as the downfall of civilization. Jones started with things like drilling his class in proper seating and posture, before moving on to discipline, salutes (which conspicuously resembled the Nazi salute), and the transformation of himself into an authoritative figure. By the end of day three, over two hundred students had been recruited, membership cards were being given out, banners were flying, and Third Wave members were telling Jones when others were violating the rules — all completely unexpected developments. Realizing that he was losing control of the Third Wave, Jones decided to end it. On day four, he announced that the Third Wave was actually part of a nationwide youth movement, and that tomorrow at noon, an assembly would be held in which the movement's national leader and presidential candidate would be revealed on television. At the assembly, the students were met only with an empty channel. Jones revealed a few minutes later that the entire Third Wave was an experiment in how fascism can so easily claim the hearts and minds of the masses (even those who had sworn "it can't happen here"), and played a film about Nazi Germany. It's said that after everything occurred, it was so scarring that no one at the school even talked about it for three years, as the students realized that they had willingly gone along with ideologies similar to the Nazis with very little prompting. The Wave (1981) details everything that was going on, with only slight exaggerations made to actual student behavior.
  • The Ryugyong Hotel was possibly the most literal example of this trope. Made in North Korea, it was said when it was completed it would be the largest hotel in the world. However, after spending oodles on it (2% of the nation's entire GDP), construction stopped and the government pretended it didn't exist even though it dominates the city skyline and sticks out like a sore thumb. Construction has been picked up by an Egyptian company who wants to make it the first cell tower in the nation, now they happily talk about the achievement it will be.
  • A "missing stair" refers to an abuser who gets away with their actions when other people who live with the abuser know how to avoid the abuse, while also having to instruct new people who enter into the situation on how to prevent it from happening to them. The metaphor refers to a missing stair in a house's staircase; everyone who lives there knows how to avoid the missing stair, but they also have to instruct guests in the house on how to avoid falling when the guest comes in. The term thus suggests that long-term abuse occurs when people would rather work around the abuser than confront them.
    • The original context of the above-cited blog post is regarding abuse in kink communities. No one wants to admit that sometimes, the negative stereotypes regarding BDSM as an excuse for abusive behaviour can be true in specific cases. So people become reluctant to name and shame abusers, or kick them out of the community; instead, people will simply be advised that (for instance) John once added things to a scene that the submissive hadn't agreed to, or that Mary got convicted of rape that one time. If bad things then happen relating to John and Mary, well, no one could say they weren't warned. John and Mary continue to have access to new victims (who may or may not actually know about the missing stair in advance), while everyone else allows abusers into their shared spaces. The obvious solution would be to prevent John and Mary from coming back, but that would bring up the point that everyone else let John and Mary go on doing terrible things to people, and they don't want to admit that they wasted all that time.
      Tons of people, including several in the leadership, instantly knew who I meant. The reaction wasn't "there's a rapist among us!?!" but "oh hey, I bet you're talking about our local rapist."
    • Other egregious examples in recent memory include the Catholic Church's massive coverup of child molestation and The BBC's neglectful attitude toward Jimmy Savile's horrific sexual offences. Predictably, this issue also exists in the pornography industry. Corey Feldman of The Goonies fame has likewise spoken about the phenomenon in Hollywood, and he in turn faced criticism from his late costar Corey Haim, who accused Feldman himself of letting an adult molest Haim. Then in 2017, a slew of accusations against Harvey Weinstein (co-founder of Miramax Films and The Weinstein Company) set off a chain reaction dubbed the Weinstein effect, emboldening survivors of sexual violence to come forward with similar allegations against countless prominent men and expose the figurative elephants.
    • According to court transcripts and communications between staff members, convicted child molester Walter Breen's actions were this to his wife, Marion Zimmer Bradley, others within their social circle, and the organizers of science fiction/fantasy conventions. Bradley's own abuse of her children would be this to others that knew them.
    • For nearly a decade after the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, the lingering question of whether or not he molested children was largely ignored by the media and general public. Indeed, posthumous projects spearheaded by Jackson's estate include such family-friendly projects as two Cirque du Soleil tribute shows and a 2017 animated Halloween Special. This elephant, however, would trumpet its trunk with a vengeance in January of 2019, when the documentary Leaving Neverland publicized new accusations against Jackson that spawned a much bigger public and media backlash than even the first accusation in 1993, to the point where Jackson was Unpersoned in a few places — his music was dropped from several Canadian and New Zealand radio stations, and his appearance on The Simpsons, "Stark Raving Dad", became the show's only Missing Episode. However, due in part to the efforts of his estate (which has sued HBO over the documentary and pushed new projects involving his work, such as a biopic and Jukebox Musical, into development/production) and the massive Cult of Personality surrounding Jackson, he and his work remain popular.
  • In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, many of the European powers met in Nyon, Switzerland to discuss a growing problem of Submarine Pirates and what to do about it. What nobody was willing to outright say was that the Italian Navy (in support of the Nationalists) was carrying out unrestricted submarine warfare against shipping from nations supporting the Republicans. Such attacks were an act of war, and nobody was yet ready to fight the war that this would light off, since all of the horrors of what happened last time were still fresh in their minds.
  • Kurt Tucholsky (1890-1935) was a German-Jewish journalist, satirist and writer who remarked about the German people, "In Germany, the one who points at the dirt is seen as more dangerous than the one who makes the dirt." See here the original German utteration of the quote 


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Elephant In The Corner, Elephant In The Room, Pregnant Ranma Problem, Third Rail Issue


Bojack Horseman

Wanda tries to get Bojack, to open up and talk about this trope...unknowingly insulting the actual elephant in the room.

How well does it match the trope?

4.67 (24 votes)

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Main / ElephantInTheLivingRoom

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