The Hound: A man's got to have a code.
Whether someone is a weirdo, villain, pervert, jerkass, geek, or just way too nice, deviant from the customs of "normal" society — one often finds that those things can only go so far. These characters find that when they're in a situation where they would cross a certain line, they don't do it. Or they get disgusted at those who do cross that line.
The standard is often moral or ethical, but could also be regarding culture, or True Art, or good taste, or good manners, or what constitutes a good meal, or even the boundaries around a fandom basically, anything that a person or group is willing to treat as Serious Business. The point of this trope is that no matter how high or low anyone thinks the line is, they all believe that there is a line, and that those who cross it are in the wrong. Even people you wouldn't think of as having standards still tend to believe in something.
Compare Conscience Makes You Go Back, Sudden Principled Stand. See What the Hell, Hero? when someone calls out a person's actions for violating their own standards. If someone judges other people's actions but assumes their own must be good by definition, they have Moral Myopia. If someone's standards are applied inconsistently, it's a Double Standard. If this hypocrisy is never called out in the work itself, it's Moral Dissonance. Conversely, someone's standards may be consistent but at odds with genuine morality, leading to Curious Qualms of Conscience. See also Shades of Conflict for the many variations that may occur when people with different levels of standards collide.
This is Truth in Television, of course; just about all people do try to follow some sort of standard, and even outright sociopaths can tell (intellectually) the difference between right and wrong. Though standards may differ from time and place and individual, and people may fail to live up to their own standards, for someone to not care about any ethical or moral standards is generally a sign of a severe mental pathology. That said, No Real Life Examples, Please!
- Ape Shall Never Kill Ape: A violent group sees it as immoral to be violent toward one of their own.
- Arbitrary Skepticism: In a world with lots of weird stuff, this is so remarkable that one can't help pointing it out.
- "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: A villain is perfectly willing to do evil, but takes offense to someone calling it evil.
- Black-and-White Morality: Sees the world in clear and unambiguous shades of pure good vs. pure evil.
- Black-and-White Insanity: The above, taken to a completely irrational extreme.
- Blue-and-Orange Morality: A strict ethical framework, but one that happens to be based on strange or alien moral principles.
- Caper Rationalization: A group of criminals comes up with a reason this particular crime is justifiable.
- Chivalrous Pervert: An individual who has some filthy desires but holds themselves to a standard when going about them.
- Choosy Beggar: Just because they're needy doesn't mean they don't have good taste.
- Churchgoing Villain: A villain may be vile to the core, but still believes that Real Men Love Jesus.
- Code of Honour: The standard is formally codified and agreed to, often with a Heroic Vow.
- The Commandments: The standards take the form of a short simple list of rules.
- Con Men Hate Guns: They make their living scamming and cheating people, but they refuse to resort to violence.
- Dude, Not Funny!: Even in works of Black Comedy, jokes about some subjects are considered to be in bad taste, or at least the more distasteful the more demanding the standards of quality and wit to distinguish from mere shock and vulgarity.
- Ethical Slut: Has a very active sex life, but goes about it in a moral and responsible way.
- Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: Villains care about their mothers especially.
- Even Beggars Won't Choose It: The poor may be needy, but they're not desperate enough to accept that handout.
- Even the Dog Is Ashamed: An action so bad, it even warrants the disapproval of the Non-Human Sidekick.
- Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Villains care about people in their own families and would never dream of hurting them.
- Even Evil Can Be Loved: Someone decides to see the villain for who he is and not for how evil he is, and thus decide to love him even when other people think it's a bad idea.
- Even Evil Has Standards: An evildoer rejects some bad deed as too evil for them to be involved with.
- Even the Loving Hero Has Hated Ones: Even the All-Loving Hero has people they dislike and consider unworthy of redemption.
- Even Mooks Have Loved Ones: Evil henchmen aren't evil to their families.
- Even Nerds Have Standards: Something is considered too nerdy even by other nerds.
- Even the Rats Won't Touch It: The Lethal Chef's food is so awful, it gets turned down by vermin.
- Everything Is Racist: When someone has put his bar of racial sensitivity too high, everybody else's standards are deemed too rude.
- Evil Virtues: Being effectively evil requires strengths of character.
- Family-Values Villain: A bad guy who believes in good old fashioned family values.
- Fandom Heresy: A fandom may disagree about everything, but they will not disagree about this.
- For the Evulz: A villain who knows the difference between good and evil, and chooses to be on the side of evil.
- Hitman with a Heart: A Professional Killer who will Never Hurt an Innocent.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: They may make a living selling their body for sex, but they genuinely care about people and want to make them happy other ways.
- Honor Among Thieves: Scoundrels agree on clearly defined limits to their villainy.
- Honor Before Reason: This standard is followed to the (sometimes bitter) end, even when other people believe that having flexibility is better for moral (and sometimes actual) survival.
- Horror Hates a Rulebreaker: The supernatural's standards might be arbitrary, but they're there.
- Hypocrite: Someone who has high standards, but doesn't practice what they preach.
- Hypocritical Heartwarming: A bully who frequently enjoys tormenting someone doesn't like their victim being bullied by someone else.
- If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: Testing whether someone is truly evil by their willingness to do something obviously cruel.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Someone who, even if 99.999% of the time is a colossal Jerkass, still has a moment when he decides it's enough.
- Karmic Thief: Steals only from people who deserve it.
- Kinslaying Is a Special Kind of Evil: Killing one's own family members is considered an In-Universe Moral Event Horizon.
- Knight Templar: Believes that simply holding a standard is enough to justify other evil behavior. (If they even realize that their behavior is evil, that is.)
- Lawful Stupid: Even idiots have standards they just put Honor Before Reason without any common sense.
- Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: When people decide that their self-worth is more valuable than any allegiance they may be following.
- Mr. Vice Guy: Having vices does not stop the character from following a heroic calling.
- Must Be Invited: Vampires, zombies, demons, etc. will not enter a human's home (or body) unless they are specifically invited in.
- Never Hurt an Innocent: A villain wouldn't harm an innocent bystander.
- Never Speak Ill of the Dead: It is considered disgraceful to say negative things about the deceased, given that they're no longer around to defend themselves from criticisms or accusations.
- Noble Bigot: Even though prejudiced towards a certain race, still values their lives.
- Noble Demon: A villain who pursues evil goals but refuses to be too evil about getting there.
- Nobody's That Dumb: A stupid character reveals themselves to be aware of their idiocy and addresses that even they have limits to their stupidity.
- Not What I Signed on For: Someone is recruited for one cause, but the group's real cause and/or actions make them rethink the deal.
- No Zombie Cannibals: Zombies will not attack their own kind, no matter how far gone they may be.
- Obstructive Code of Conduct: What you have when the standard gets in the way of your mission.
- Pet the Dog: When a villain or Anti-Hero does something nice or heroic for their adversary for their sake.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: When someone tries to avoid being rude to the point everybody else thinks it's ridiculous.
- Politically Correct Villain: A villain may perform every evil act under the sun, but he explicitly refuses be bigoted in any way as he does so.
- Pragmatic Villainy: A villain occasionally performs good deeds (or doesn't act as evil as he should), because on the long run it is a more beneficial decision.
- Principles Zealot: Follows their standards no matter what, good or bad consequences be damned.
- Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Murder, robbery, and arson may be one thing, but even many otherwise evil people are aghast at sexual assault.
- Screw the Money, I Have Rules!: When a person can't be bribed or otherwise persuaded to bend their standards.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: When a person holds two sets of standards that conflict, they take the higher road.
- Selective Slaughter: A killer refuses to harm certain people or groups, such as children or innocents.
- Serial-Killer Killer: A Serial Killer that only targets people as evil as he is.
- Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Slavery and human trafficking are seen as worse than other crimes.
- Straight Edge Evil: A villain believes in the value of clean and orderly living.
- To Be Lawful or Good: The Moral Dilemma that results when someone's standards conflict with their duties.
- Too Kinky to Torture: Torture Always Works for the villains... until the hero comes along, and it turns out that what villains call "inhuman torture" the hero instead calls "foreplay" (sometimes literally).
- Too Spicy for Yog-Sothoth: The Eldritch Abomination refuses to eat the hero, or tries but can't keep down their meal.
- Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Traitors are considered the scum of the earth.
- Villainous Parental Instinct: Even evil people will protect or take care of their children.
- Virtue/Vice Codification: Formalized lists of what character qualities are considered good or evil.
- Wants a Prize for Basic Decency: Someone thinks they have high standards, but compared to everyone else's standards, they've only attained the bare minimum.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: Does morally problematic things, but only in pursuit of a worthy goal.
- What You Are in the Dark: The moment that reveals whether a person's standards are really a part of their character or whether they're just a Slave to PR.
- Wife-Basher Basher: Someone finds domestic abuse inexcusable to the point that they're willing to beat up or kill anyone who beats or mistreats their spouse.
- Wouldn't Hit a Girl: He may be a complete jerk, but he won't hit women.
- Wouldn't Hurt a Child: Whichever is their code of conduct, the iron-clad rule is that children are off limits.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: They may be trained to kill, but they only kill enemy soldiers.
- Your Normal Is Our Taboo: A different group's standards consider your standards really weird.
- Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Two conflicting groups each see themselves as upholding a standard and the others as breaking it, for pretty much the exact same reasons.
- Anime & Manga
- Comic Books
- Fan Works
- Film Live-Action
- Live-Action TV
- Video Games
- Web Animation
- Web Original
- Western Animation
- Lampooned in Bloom County, where it was combined with an Evil Lawyer Joke and a dose of Self-Deprecation on the part of the writer. The strip's resident Amoral Attorney, Steve Dallas, was thinking about changing careers, because he wanted "an easier way to make a living than getting psychopaths and rapists off the hook". (Not that he cared about who they hurt; he just wasn't all-that good at it.) Then Opus suggested that Steve try getting into cartoonist art, to which Steve replied by jabbing him in the butt with a pen and angrily shouting, "I have some scruples, dude!"
- Calvin and Hobbes: Calvin may be quite self-centered, but even he thinks starving people are nothing to joke about. He's also periodically disgusted by people who litter.
- In Dilbert, even a pirate with a diseased parrot refuses to be spokesperson for the unethical company Dilbert works at.
- Jon spent all morning writing a love sonnet and then the computer crashed. Actually, it just pretended to, because "Even the Internet has its standards".
- Like many cats, Garfield has no problem with hunting animals for food, but got upset with Jon's family turning his pet chicken Nadine into soup because he considered her family.
- Unlike many cats, however, Garfield would never consider rats "food". As this strip indicates, he'd rather stick to his diet — something he hates — than eat a rat.
- Wimpy from Popeye is a mooch, cowardly, selfish, and has betrayed Popeye on numerous occasions, however, he refuses to kill under any circumstances. He was also once greatly angered when he heard that someone was poaching goons.
- In All Dogs Go to Heaven, before Charlie starts actually caring for Anne Marie, he's indignant when she tells him that he's not that much different from Carface. He even asks if he did what Charlie did for her like telling her a story or tucking her in bed or kissing her goodnight. Earlier in the movie, the dogs at the casino even say that Charlie treats them better than Carface does.
- Animal Farm (1954): When Napoleon sentences some animals to death for supposedly siding with Snowball, Moses the raven (who had before calmly watched Napoleon's dogs tear up Snowball) turns his back on the dogs mauling the hens and sheep and goose, horrified at this cruelty.
- In Balto, Nikki and Kaltag are eager to see Balto and Steele fight for the medicine. In spite of them helping Steele bully Balto earlier, their amusement turns to genuine concern as Steele uses very dirty moves to get the upper hand, resulting in Balto getting a nasty bite wound. They then become very shocked when Steele carelessly knocks the medicine sled down. After the fight, they and Star decide to abandon Steele and follow Balto.
- Miguel's father, Enrique, takes his mother Elena's side when it comes to enforcing the family's ban on music, but he is horrified when Elena smashes her grandson's homemade guitar that Miguel treasured.
- Imelda may be unwilling to forgive Héctor for supposedly walking out on his family even after the truth is known but she gets shocked upon seeing her husband about to fade away showing that even she thinks that Héctor doesn't deserve such a fate. Indeed, it is the threat of him being erased, not the revelation that he wanted to return before being killed that convince her to help him live by retrieving the photo that Ernesto has confiscated.
- In Felidae, Francis says this when Bluebeard comes to his house for the first time.
Francis: Did you come back here to take a leak? Forget it. You don't piss in here anymore. I live here now, and I have my standards.
- Most of the population of Paris were quick to bully and attempt to flog Quasimodo in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but even they were horrified when Judge Frollo ordered Esmeralda to be burned at stake.
- Earlier, when Frollo's Kill 'Em All philosophy begins to extend to anyone who even might have the suspicion of harboring gypsies, the citizens begin to become fearful. When the judge burns down a poor miller's home while his children inside just because the family has offered lodging to gypsies before, they outright turn on him and say "Frollo's gone mad!"
- The Incredibles:
- Edna Mode is a bit of a Nightmare Fetishist, what with her having an underground armory designed to test super suits for durability, and she watches the demonstrations with glee when entertaining Helen. But what is one line she will not cross? As she puts it, "No capes!" When Bob tries to argue with her about this after he "convinces" her to make a suit for him, Edna cites a Long List of supers that died due to a Cape Snag (which is confirmed in the DVD extras for most of them), and she makes it clear that she will not have his potential death on her hands due to that. Bob did call her the best for a reason, after all.
- Violet gets offended when Helen assumes that she and Dash left Jack-Jack all alone in the house to stow away in the plane. As she puts it sarcastically, only a complete idiot would do such a thing. No, she got the best babysitter she could find at a late notice who had a good reputation for handling infants. Well, Violet ended up being right on that count of Kari stimulating a baby's mind.
- In The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack Skellington quite literally lives to scare people (though he's a generally nice guy despite his spooky talents); his whole job as the Pumpkin King is to ensure that the spirit of All Hallows' Eve is kept scary. But he absolutely refuses to work with the villainous Oogie Boogie; the other denizens may be monsters, but Oogie is genuinely evil. When Jack hires the Enfante Terrible trio of Lock, Shock, and Barrel to "kidnap the Santy Claws," he loses his cheerful demeanor for the first time and gives them a strict instruction:
Jack: And one more thing...leave that no-account Oogie Boogie OUT OF THIS!
- Despite his love for penguins, even Corporal from Penguins of Madagascar is a little miffed that Skipper, Kowalski, and Rico destroyed the North Wind's airship.
- Snakebite Scruggs from Scooby-Doo on Zombie Island. For how much of a grumpy, tourist-hating curmudgeon he is, Scruggs is still above letting a dumb tourist (and his dumb dog) get eaten by alligators on his watch.
- In The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge out of Water, Squidasaurus is appalled that the Bikini Bottomites try to sacrifice Spongebob.
Squidasaurus: And I thought my friends were primitive.
- Trolls: World Tour: When he sees the effects of the ultimate power chord on the troll monarchs, Riff is taken aback and concedes to Poppy's point that everyone being the same isn't a good thing.
- Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph definitely did not like Vanellope at all in the first act of the film since she stole his Hero's Duty medal. However, when he witnesses the other racers bullying Vanellope, not only is he absolutely disgusted by it, but he chases them off when they shove her into a mud puddle. Keep in mind that this was before Ralph even had a reason to like her.
- In The Lonely Island's "Like a Boss", Andy Samberg's character (the "boss") says it in the moment, but as the song winds up and the man giving him a performance review double-checks that in an average day, "You chop your own balls off and die," he agrees to those two things, but tries to go back on having said "something about suckin' your own dick". That ain't him.
- Played for Laughs in Jonathan Coulton's song "Re: Your Brains," about a sentient zombie trying to convince some human survivors to give themselves up:
All we wanna do is eat your brains!
We're not unreasonable; I mean, no one's gonna eat your eyes.
- Record label Nuclear Blast is no stranger to publishing blatantly antireligious songs, and had already published some spicy ones by Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir. But the company drew the line with their song "Tormentor of Christian Souls", which was apparently so bad the label refused to put the lyrics for the song in the booklet. They still published the song itself, they just refused to tell anyone what it was really saying.
- In the "Once Upon a Time in Space" concept album, Jonny D'Ville— a murderous space pirate who loves violence— refuses to kiss the Sleeping Beauty analogue because kissing a sleeping stranger is creepy.
- In a Songify This of Charlie Sheen's Winning interview, Charlie is giving a list to sort on what is winning or not. Violating the rules of the Geneva Convention is the only thing considered weak.
- The Adventure Zone: Balance: Taako is generally the party klepto, as well as the undisputed king of Refuge in Audacity. However, he balks when Magnus tries to steal money from a bank. Not for any moral reasons, but because of the myriad of reasons they'd almost certainly get caught. For one thing, the bank has loads of security measures. For another, they're literally there to stop a bank robbery. For another, they're working with the chief of police, who not only knows they're there, but is the one who let them in and is currently right outside.
Taako: This isn't a dungeon, people do business here! Put that back! [later] You two can split it fifty-fifty if you want, I swear to God, first thing I do when we get outside is I rat you out. Im writing it on my goddamn character sheet, so I never forget to rat you two out.
- In Episode 2 of Mystery Show, Starlee tries to find Britney Spears by going to a mall and a restaurant where she had been had been photographed by paparazzi. After having no luck, she becomes very uncomfortable with her methods and decides to try a different way.
David: So many ways of finding out the objective truth of this information would have been unethical. You can't go to his doctor and find out. That's not the type of people we are. Unless that's what you did, in which case, that is the type of people we are.
- In Episode 5, which revolves around Starlee trying to find out how tall Jake Gyllenhaal is:
- Wooden Overcoats: Rudyard utterly loathes Eric Chapman, his business rival, and spends most of the series attempting to destroy him and/or run him out of town. When he meets Jerry in "Rudyard Makes a Friend," he's delighted that Jerry hates Chapman, too, and they bond plenty over that. But when he finds out Jerry intends to kill Chapman, Rudyard immediately points out that this is too far. In one of his most selfless acts, Rudyard makes every effort to thwart the plot, eventually outright standing between Jerry and Chapman, and pulling a Go Through Me.
Eric: [touched] Rudyard...
Rudyard: It's the principal of the thing. Nothing personal.
- Really bad storylines tend to get this reaction.
- Case in point: Katie Vick. The brain child of the Executive VP of Television Production, Kevin Dunn, it was a terrible angle involving necrophilia, a doll dressed up as a cheerleader, and Triple H in a Kane mask. Hunter has gone on to say that it was the only time he ever questioned Vince McMahon about a storyline. After negative fan reaction, the feud between Kane and Hunter immediately ended, the entire angle was moved to Canon Discontinuity, and the only time it's ever brought up is usually to reference how terrible it was.
- Vince Russo had a pet gimmick called "Beaver Cleavage", a hyper-sexualized version of Leave It to Beaver. He had fought tooth and nail with the rest of creative to get it on the air — after the (expected) negative fan reaction, Vince McMahon himself pulled the plug, which is what would ultimately cause Russo to jump ship to WCW.
- Though even Russo has standards. Vinny Ru hated the TNA "Immortal" storyline, which basically amounted to nWo: Take 2. As if to indicate how bad the storyline was, it involved Jeff Hardy turning heel and Ric Flair and Hogan ignoring their decades-long feud. He knew the storyline was going to bomb, and the only reason he kept writing it was because Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff kept pressuring him to do so. All it did was prove that Hogan was still a massive Attention Whore.
- TNA was also responsible for Claire Lynch, its answer to Katie Vick, which had wrestling's first ever pregnant crack whore. It was by far and away the nadir of AJ Styles's career, and everyone has gone on to say that the only good thing to come out of it was the formation of Bad Influence. The sad part was that this storyline was after Vince Russo's departure from the company.
- Despite being a neutral party whose only involvement was being in the match, Leah Vaughan prevented her mentor Cherry Bomb from staking Courtney Rush through the heart, presumably because she didn't want to just step back and watch while outright murder was committed in front of her.
- Following that Hell in a Cell match featuring Mick Foley and The Undertaker, Vince McMahon personally spoke to Mick after the match and told him this: "Mick, you have no idea how much I appreciate what you just did, but I never want to see that again."
- According to Mick's first book, the idea to start on top of the Cell and get thrown off originated as a joke, and when Mick took the idea seriously, Terry Funk thought he was crazy.
- In 2004, WWE writer Dan Madigan (who was one of the people behind Katie Vick) suggested that Jon Heidenreichs gimmick be an unfrozen Nazi managed by Paul Heyman, who is Jewish...and whose mother survived the Holocaust. When the idea was pitched, Vince McMahon himself walked out of the board room and didnt come back for the rest of the day. Suffice to say, Madigans career didnt last much longer and he was fired in early 2005.
- Jim Ross has gone on record stating that Brock Lesnar, even with his Real Life abrasive attitude towards other superstars and his mercenary attitude towards WWE, actually didn't want to break The Streak, but was ordered to do so by Vince and had gained the approval of Undertaker himself.
- Anathema: Players are required to murder as many people as possible, but even the most blood thirsty shrouds have a group of people that they're strongly adverse to killing. The penalty if you do kill a member of that group? You lose some of your will to live.
- In BattleTech, during the opening years of the First Succession War, Jinjiro Kurita ordered the slaughter of the entire population of a planet, Nanking-Massacre-style. While the DCMS obeyed (refusal to undertake the orders was an executable offense), they had to, outside of the most fanatically loyal units, be forced and bullied into doing it. The fluff recounts numerous suicides of DCMS troops who could not live with themselves over what they were made to do.
- Since the Succession Wars, any weapons of mass destruction, be they nuclear, biological, or chemical, are considered too horrific to use. Consequently, using one is one of the best ways available to get everyone to stop shooting at each other and start shooting at you. Witness the stomping given to the Word of Blake by most everybody else, including the clans, as an example.
- Vivien Reid in Magic: The Gathering is an ecoterrorist who thinks civilisation is a blight on the multiverse, and during her visit to Ikoria, she has nothing positive to say about the city of Drannith, which has a strongly authoritarian philosophy and kills monsters by the dozen. However, when Lucca — who had been her protege earlier in the story — formed an army of monsters by controlling them with the Ozolith and attempted to conquer Drannith with them, Vivien concludes this is an unnatural and cruel corruption of the eludhanote and leads the army of bonders she's gathered against Lucca in order to save Drannith.
- Les Misérables, the revolutionaries refuse to let Gavroche put himself in the line of fire, because he's the youngest of all of them. He has to sneak past them to get the shells they need, ignoring their protests.
- Miss Saigon: For all the Engineer's unscrupulous greed, he never even considers the idea of running off with little half-American Tam, to lie his way into the visa he so desperately wants, without taking Tam's mother with him. Right from the start of his plan, he says "they must let us in".