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Fame Through Infamy

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"If a man dedicates his life to good deeds and the welfare of others, he will die unthanked and unremembered. If he exercises his genius bringing misery and death to billions, his name will echo down through the millennia for a hundred lifetimes. Infamy is always more preferable to ignominy."
Fabius Bile, Warhammer 40,000: Codex: Chaos Space Marines (4th Edition)

Every day, people appear in the news for doing crazy things. Not things that deserve fame, but somehow they get at least 15 minutes of it anyway. So what better way to end up on TV and go down in history than to commit crimes and do horrible things? Things like arson or other such destruction of famous structures, assassination of public figures, shooting up a school, or becoming a creative Serial Killer with a distinct Calling Card. It's possible some lunatic has already done it in the name of fame.

A possible Ur-Example; Herostratus burned the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus to the ground in 356 BC, hoping his act of arson would get him in the history books, and the Ephesian government failed to defeat him despite all their best efforts to Unperson him.note  His name has even found its way into a phrase "herostratic fame", meaning "fame at any cost".

A dark version of Attention Whore.

Compare with Evil Feels Good, Evil Is Cool, Glory Seeker, Hates the Job, Loves the Limelight, No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, and Villain Cred.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Death Note prequel Another Note has such an example with Beyond Birthday. Having been born with Shinigami Eyes, allowing him to see and know when exactly someone is going to die, he used this ability to become a Serial Killer, choosing his victims and then killing them on the exact day they were supposed to die, all to surpass L by becoming the world's greatest criminal.
  • My Hero Academia:
    • Gentle Criminal wanted to become a famous supervillain, but his refusal to commit more serious crimes in a world filled with superpowered terrorists resulted in him being seen as not much more than a minor nuisance in comparison. His Evil Plan in the arc he was featured in wasn't even evil; he just wanted the Villain Cred for breaking into U.A. without actually hurting anyone there, though it would have had equally harsh consequences for the student body if Midoriya didn't stop him.
    • All For One is revealed to have this as one of his primary motivations. He intends to rule the world as an immortal demigod, but he measures his success as a villain more in just how much he makes himself hated and feared than any tangible goals.

    Audio Drama 
  • The Big Finish Doctor Who story "Infamy of the Zaross" features an alien race who would rather be known across the galaxy as despotic conquerors than be vaguely remembered as a peaceful society with good pottery skills.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • In Poison Ivy's first appearance, she goes public after years of successfully committing crimes without ever being noticed, simply to claim the title of "World Public Enemy #1" from three pretenders (obviously, this was before Characterization Marches On took effect and shifted Ivy from an unrepentant criminal to a mentally unstable ecoterrorist).
    • The Joker has practically built a career on crimes designed more to spread his infamy than anything else. Perhaps his true illness is that he is an Attention Whore through and through...
    • Similarly, Clayface sometimes commits crimes entirely to make himself famous, especially the "former actor" version of the character. Naturally, one Silver Age story set Clayface against the Joker as the two committed crimes in one another's styles entirely to enhance their own infamy and mock their other's.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • The original Secret Empire was founded by a man who had grown tired of being a nobody and wanted to take over the world mostly in order to ensure that history would remember him. When his scheme to kill the Sub-Mariner with a bomb backfired on him, he was killed in an explosion that left him totally unidentifiable by the authorities.
    • Len Wein reused this idea in the issue where Jarella is killed by the robot Crypto-Man; the scientist who sent the robot on its rampage wanted to become infamous, but the robot's battle with the Hulk caused a power feedback that killed him and burned away all his identifying features.
  • The minor Spider-Man villain Screwball is more or less only in the villain game to get views on her blog. Her entire schtick is based around the fact she films her stunts and her fights with Spider-Man which then go viral. This plan backfired pretty badly when she ran into the Superior Spider-Man, who got so angry at being humiliated that he gave her a borderline-fatal No-Holds-Barred Beatdown.
    • During the Ends of the Earth storyline, the dying Doctor Octopus attempts to kill off 99.92% of the Earth's population so that the remaining will remember him as the greatest monster in history.
  • Parodied in both The Tick and its animated adaptation with Chairface Chippendale, who launches an elaborate scheme to write his name on the moon with a laser cannon in celebration of his birthday. He's stopped at ''CHA." In the comic, the authorities scotch his plans for notoriety by blaming the singer Charo.
  • Ultimately the motive of Optimus Prime in the Transformers: Shattered Glass continuity. In his search for The Meaning of Life, he came upon the conclusion that there was none and the best one could do was to be remembered by history. As a librarian named Optronix, he wouldn't be remembered, so he took up the name Optimus Prime and decided to become a world-conquering tyrant to ensure his place in the history books.
  • In DC Comics' The New Golden Age one-shot, Corky, kid brother to Bonnie Baxter of the Time Masters, is shown talking to a kid who is strongly implied to be the young John Wilkes Booth. He's trying to talk the kid out of assassinating Lincoln, but Booth can't even understand why he'd want to do so in the first place. Corky says "Probably to get famous 'cause you blow it as an actor. I mean, the whole world's gonna know your name because of what you did." When the other Time Masters drag Corky away, he leaves Booth repeating "The whole world's gonna know my name..."

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animated 
  • In Despicable Me, villainous mastermind Gru plans to steal the moon in order to cement his name as the greatest criminal in history, as well as to avoid the newcoming villain Vector to take that title instead.
  • Osmosis Jones: The sentient virus Thrax hopes that killing enough humans in record time will put him in the medical textbooks.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The killer in the 2015 film #Horror carried out a killing spree in order to be "remembered forever" and get revenge against her obnoxious friends.
  • There's a film called 15 Minutes, starring Robert De Niro, in which the two bad guys murder people and record it to go viral on the Internet.
  • As with the comics version of the character, many of The Joker's actions in The Dark Knight are designed to publicize his creative wickedness rather than to earn money or power.
  • There is a film called Herostratus, but it's not about the man himself; rather, it's about a guy who plans to commit suicide just to be famous.
  • In Infamous (2020), two young lovers rob their way across the southland, posting their exploits to social media and gaining fame and followers as a result.
  • The Motherfucker's secondary motivation in Kick-Ass 2, after getting revenge on Kick-Ass, is fame.
  • The Last Broadcast: David theorizes that the true murderer of the Fact or Fiction crew killed them specifically because the circumstances of their trip into the Pine Barrens would bring media attention and fame. Since David is the true murderer, this is his confession, and it reveals that the whole point of the main film is him exposing this in order to gain the infamy that was thrust onto assumed killer Jim Suerd instead.
  • In Moonwalker, Frankie Lideo is attempting to push drugs on the world (and he later even tries to personally inject a little girl) because that way, his name would go down in history books. He even insists they'd better spell his name right.
  • Natural Born Killers is a satire of this trope and how the tabloid press fuels it. Mickey and Mallory Knox are a pair of ruthless murderers who carry out a cross-country killing spree, always leaving one victim alive at every stop to tell of their crimes and build their legend, and Wayne Gale, host of a Hard Copy-esque True Crime "trash TV" program called American Maniacs, eagerly obliges for the sake of ratings.
  • The central conflict of Ocean's Twelve involves a cat burglar who thinks Danny Ocean and his crew don't deserve their infamy, and that he is in fact the greatest thief in the world and should be known as such. Bear in mind, the reason he tossed Terry Benedict (who has a reputation as a man who destroys those who wrong him and everybody that is even slightly connected to those guys) at them was because one man (who was a friend of his mentor) mentioned that the Vegas heist from the first movie was probably one of the best of all time and didn't bother to compare it to the burglar's achievements, in neither a positive nor a negative way.
  • The Scream films:
    • One of the killers in Scream 2 is motivated by a desire to have a "Trial of the Century" in which he'll blame violent movies for making him a killer, turning himself and his crimes into a hot-button political issue that pundits and politicians will be forced to take sides on.
      Ghostface: See, I've got my whole defense planned out: I'm gonna blame the movies. It's pretty cool, huh? It hasn't been done before. You see, this is just the beginning, a prelude to the trial. That's where the real fun is, 'cuz these days, it's all about the trial. Can you see it? "The Effects of Cinema Violence on Society." I'll get Dershowitz or Cochran to represent me, Bob Dole on the witness stand in my defense, hell, the Christian Coalition will pay my legal fees! It's airtight, Sid. I'm an innocent victim.
    • The original script for Scream 2 (before it was leaked, forcing Kevin Williamson to change the ending and The Reveal) had the killers be an Outlaw Couple seeking to use their murder spree to become famous, demonstrate their nihilistic philosophy to the world, and cash in with book and movie deals and by selling the "home footage" they made of their murders. One of them name-drops Natural Born Killers as inspiration.
    • Scream 4 was similar, but with a twist. The killers' motive was to become famous not as killers, but by posing as the Sole Survivors of the massacre they carried out, in a combination of this trope and Engineered Heroics. They had witnessed how the murders from the first film had become national news and a pop-culture touchstone thanks to Gale Weathers' True Crime books, and sought to top that by filming their massacre and uploading it to the internet. Jill specifically was motivated by jealousy of her cousin Sidney, who became famous as a result of her repeated ordeals in the prior films.
      Ghostface: See, with you, the world just heard about what happened, but with us, they're gonna see it. It's gonna be a worldwide sensation. I mean, people gotta see this shit, it's not like anyone reads anymore. We're gonna know fame like you never even dreamed of.
    • Defied at the end of Scream (2022). Gale decides that her next book is going to be a tribute to her slain former lover Dewey, not a True Crime book about the latest Woodsboro killing spree. She already made enough killers famous, and she'd rather let the ones who killed Dewey languish in obscurity. Unfortunately, Scream VI reveals that she went back on her word, much to the fury of Sam and Tara, who blame her for not only the new wave of murders but also the Conspiracy Theorists claiming that Sam herself was the real killer and that the actual culprits were framed.
  • Telefon: This is one of the possible reasons that are tossed In-Universe about why Nicholai Dalchimsky stole the titular list of Sleeper Agents (while Dalchimsky never personally provides an explanation, the fact that he's activating the Telefon agents in an order that is spelling out Dalchimsky's name lends some credibility to it).
  • In The Young Poisoner's Handbook, Graham begins poisoning all of his coworkers just for minor annoyances, killing two and injuring dozens more, before revealing that he will eventually try to kill all of them in one go in his bid to be remembered for eternity.

  • In The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, this was what drove Captain Reynard during his days as a pirate, before he reformed. It's also the motivation for his scheme to overthrow the Hanoverian Dynasty and restore the Stuarts.
  • Fantômas commits horrifying and elaborate crimes mostly because he enjoys being the most feared and infamous man in France.
  • Gregory Benford's Foundation's Fear: The first piece of advice that Emperor Cleon I asks of Hari is how to handle "The Renegatum", rebels who desire to 'demonstrate their contempt for society' by murder and grand larceny. Being put to death for their crimes makes them famous. So Seldon suggests to Un-person them as well, by recording them as "Moron One", "Moron Two", and so on, instead of using their names. It's a resounding success.
  • In the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Scabandari Bloodeye is best known for causing Andarist so much grief that the latter surrendered himself completely to his own grief, and for being instrumental in the sundering of the realm of Kurald Emurlahn, from which he then heroically led his followers to another world. In the prologue of Midnight Tides he is shown to relish that first infamy but is unhappy about how Silchas Ruin calls him out on the second. Played With when the prequel trilogy reveals that Scabandari had never betrayed Andarist, meaning he used his supposed involvement in that incident to bolster his reputation as a miscreant.
  • In Sorcerer Conjurer Wizard Witch, this is given as Jack the Ripper's motivation: he wanted to commit crimes so heinous that the story of him would live on forever.
    Geneviève: Who was he?
    Edwin: No one. That was his problem... A pathetic, vicious little man became a legend.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney Miller: A gang member is in the cage and a couple of his buddies come in pretending to be lawyers (briefly) before pulling out guns and insisting that he be let out. When Barney points out that they're in a police station surrounded by cops and have no chance of escape, they admit that they're a new gang and need the street cred the rescue would give them. Barney assures them that their escapade will make the paper ("most guys don't even make it this far"), so they more-or-less willingly give up and are arrested themselves.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Angel: A combination of this and For the Evulz is Angelus' entire motive. Motivated by his human self's daddy issues, he's determined to prove his father wrong and that he can be something great: in this case, the most sadistic, brutal vampire in history.
  • Criminal Minds: At the very least, there's been two or three Homicidal Maniacs of the Week who can be pretty destructive (ex. Jason Clark Battle (the guy who shot Garcia) and before him some crazy-ass ex-Army Ranger-turned-nurse that became a copycat of the Beltway Sniper (although not compared In-Universe to the Beltway Sniper)). And then there are psychos like The Boston Reaper, who being It's All About Me, really like to draw attention by doing such things as shooting up a bus full of people and drawing with their blood.
  • NCIS: A one-shot Serial Killer (the CiberVid Killer) goes around raking a large body count with elaborate killing methods, filming said kills, and leaving clues on videos on a YouTube Expy for the NCIS team to try to find him. Once he's captured (and escalated to attempted murder of a Federal agent while he's at it), he mentions that he did it to become famous and taunts Jethro Gibbs by telling him "see you on the news". NCIS gets the last laugh by making the man's spree (and his identity) classified information under "suspected terrorist connections".
  • In one episode of Misfits, Brian, a man with the power to telekinetically control dairy products, goes public with his ability and becomes a celebrity. While it's impressive at first, the ASBO Five and others start to come forward with things like Immortality, Healing Hands, and turning back time, naturally pushing a guy who can do tricks with milk out of the spotlight. His solution? Start killing empowered people by choking them to death with dairy products.
    Brian: They'll talk about this for years. They'll talk about me. Monsieur Grand Fromage.
  • Ripper Street: Claxton in "The King Came Calling" is a Master Poisoner who creates a poison combining antimony and ergot and uses it to contaminate the flour supply in an attempt to become more famous than Jack the Ripper.

  • Disturbed calls out the media for unintentionally propagating this in "Legion of Monsters". By reporting about a Serial Killer and plastering his name in every headline (not once naming any of his victims), they're inspiring future killers to follow his example to get their own fifteen minutes of fame.
  • "Centuries" by Fallout Boy could be interpreted as this.
  • Peter Gabriel's "Family Snapshot" is narrated from the perspective of a shooter apparently out to kill the President of the United States. The parallels with Lee Harvey Oswald are obvious, but Gabriel's claimed inspiration, especially regarding the shooter's motive, was Arthur Bremer, would-be assassin of George Wallace; according to what was published of his journal, Bremer was less concerned with Wallace's segregationist politics than with all the attention he would get if he was killed. The shooter even compares himself to his intended victim in this sense:
    I don't really hate you.
    I don't care what you do.
    We were made for each other, me and you.
    I want to be somebody.
    You were like that, too.
    If you don't get given, you learn to take.
    And I will take you.
  • Implied in The Stone Roses "I Wanna Be Adored". The chorus goes "I don't need to sell my soul, he's already in me. (The implication being "He" is Satan)", which suggests he is perfectly willing to be evil as long as it will give him the adoration he desires.

    Other Sites 
  • The Other Wiki has its own set of Village Stocks, where administrators go who do such outlandish things in the name of the Wiki as spamming the Main Page with null edits to try to keep people from deleting it, deleting VFD, etc. This is a defiance, though, as nobody who had been sentenced to the stocks had done what they did to be famous, and Wikipedia, in fact, discourages the performance of such acts for such a reason.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 has Fabius Bile, who believes that "Infamy is always more preferable to ignominy."
  • A previous edition of Dungeons & Dragons had a species of linnorm (a type of Always Chaotic Evil snake-like dragons) called rain linnorms which deliberately commit atrocities and brag about them just for notoriety, not caring that everyone fears and hates them.

    Video Games 
  • The Boogie Man: The titular antagonist's goal is to use his planned massacre of the inhabitants and tourists in Livingstone Castle to become a feared killer throughout the world.
  • In Bravely Default, during the third time loop, DeRosa, Profiteur, and Dr. Qada discuss their plans for a Poison and Cure Gambit. Qada created both the disease and the cure but has a hard time deciding which one he wants to be made famous for: as the heroic doctor who saved everyone with his miracle cure or as the diabolical Mad Scientist who created the deadliest disease the world has ever known and unleashed it upon mankind. He seems to be leaning towards the latter.
  • Astor, the Big Bad of Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity, is a fortune-teller who foresaw the return of Calamity Ganon. But more than merely seeing the return, Astor sets out to cause Calamity Ganon's return so he would be forever remembered as the man to bring ruin and destruction to Hyrule.
  • Persona 4 has Mitsuo Kubo, who's such an Attention Whore that he claims to be the Serial Killer plaguing Inaba just so people will notice him; he even goes so far as to personally murder Mr. Morooka, the Investigation Team's homeroom teacher, to this end.
  • Spider-Man (PS4) has its own alternate version of Screwball (mentioned above in "Comic Books") who goes way beyond what her comics version has ever done in her own attempts to create a high-ratings stream. How beyond? How about creating her own criminal gang out of prisoners that escaped from "The Raft" (the local super-max prison) and unleashing them onto New York fully expecting the potentially fatal results to make it impossible for Spidey to stay away?

  • Sam Starfall from Freefall is a fairly petty criminal, but goes to great lengths to be famous for it, trying to be the first person ever to commit particular crimes (siphoning the gas tanks of orbiting satellites, for instance) and even organizing his own angry mobs. It mostly works, if only locally, because he's in a planet where most of the population are robots and the humans are too happy to be criminal beyond artful vandalism, and thus he's technically the most infamous outlaw on the entire planet (at least until Kornada's plot is brought to light).
  • The Non-Adventures of Wonderella: Wonderella offers the Some Asshole Initiative in order to combat this behavior- instead of plastering the name and life story of every mass shooter and turning them into "anti-hero role models", refer to every one of them as "Some Asshole", denying them the recognition that they do not deserve.

    Web Original 
  • This is the entire point of the aptly-named web novel Tails of Fame. Rast Racklyn is so desperate to become famous and so frustrated with society that he turns to a life of crime and starts raping and killing innocent people hoping to build a reputation. Subverted at the end, where he's shot to death completing a mundane errand without the public ever finding out about his crimes. To rub further salt in the wound, his death is nearly forgotten about entirely when a famous pop star is murdered a week later.

    Western Animation 
  • Basil Karlo in The Batman is a washed-up actor who becomes the second incarnation of Clayface, and relishes the chance to use super-villainy to gain the fame that he couldn't get from his acting career.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: Obake wants to destroy San Fransokyo and rebuild it into a perfect city, thinking this will make the world remember him forever.
  • A famous example in Russia is Shapoklyak's Villain Song from the first Cheburashka cartoon, stating that "you will not become famous doing good things".
  • In Darkwing Duck, one of Nega-Duck's appearances kicked off with his starting a crime wave in outrage that Dr. Slug, not Nega-Duck, was #1 on the "most wanted" lists.
  • In the Justice League Unlimited episode "Ultimatum" most of the Ultimen have just gone insane after finding out that they're not just clones, but imperfect dying clones. They decide to achieve infamy by killing the Justice League, as "If we're the ones who take down the Justice League, the world will never forget us!"
  • Looney Tunes: In the Bugs Bunny short "Rebel Rabbit," Bugs, offended that rabbits only have a 2 cent bounty on the grounds that they're "perfectly harmless" compared to more obnoxious and destructive animals like foxes and bears, sets out to prove that rabbits can be just as bad. As a result, Bugs becomes a Person of Mass Destruction by, among other things, attacking a guard with his own billy club, renaming Barney Baruch's private bench as "Bugs Bunny," painting barbershop-pole stripes on the Washington Monument, rewiring the lights in Times Square to read "Bugs Bunny Wuz Here," shutting down the Niagara Falls, selling Manhattan Island back to the Indians, sawing Florida off from the rest of the country, swiping the locks off of the Panama Canal, filling up the Grand Canyon, and literally tying up the railroad tracks. Bugs earns a $1 million bounty... and has all of two seconds to proudly declare himself "King of the Beasts" before the entire US army hunts him down and throws him in Alcatraz.
    Bugs: [as he surrounded by artillery shells in a foxhole] Could it be that I carried this thing too far? [the shells explode; cut to Bugs in a cell in Alcatraz] Ehhh, could be.
  • The Amoeba Boys attempt to commit crimes to cement themselves as dangerous outlaws in The Powerpuff Girls (1998), however, they're incredibly bad at it, limited to jaywalking or littering.
  • In The Simpsons, Mr. Burns gets a Villain Song fittingly called "It's a High to be Loathed", which is essentially all about this trope.
    Mr. Burns: When it's your head they wanna sever
    And your blood they wanna shed
    You know you're gonna live forever
    When everybody wants you dead!

    Real Life 
  • As noted above, Herostratus, the man who burned down the Temple of Artemis, did it to become famous.
  • Mark David Chapman claimed to have killed John Lennon for this reason.
  • The Columbine High School killers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were motivated by a quest for infamy. Specifically, they sought to carry out the biggest act of mass murder in US history, one that would top the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995, and chose their school as the target because they saw it as the ultimate symbol of ordinary American life that would truly shock the nation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they were fans of the aforementioned Natural Born Killers, and even gave their mass murder plan the codename "NBK". While they didn't pull off that lofty goalnote , they still succeeded at burning their names into the history books, as the Columbine High School massacre became the measure by which a generation of school shootings would be measured. Building off of this is the short-lived spates of other shootings that usually follow such an act, as other similarly-unhinged individuals attempt to copy them to get their own fifteen minutes of infamy, which has led to a growing movement of people wanting news media to stop using the names and faces of the perpetrators to deny them what they want most.
  • Many historians have theorized that this became Adolf Hitler's primary drive when the Germans began to lose World War II. While originally his goal was clearly to create a huge German empire to ensure "Aryan" supremacy, after 1942 and Stalingrad he made several decisions that point to destruction and loss of life becoming an end in itself, such as: 1. prolonging the war and never even considering a negotiated peace; 2. forbidding tactical retreats, ordering soldiers to fight where they stood; 3. putting the Holocaust into high gear to kill as many 'undesirables' as possible during wartime; and 4. finally ordering the destruction of all German infrastructure and means of survival. Since posterity was already going to condemn him, he did everything possible to increase his body count before putting a bullet in his head. When Time Magazine had to pick the most influential figure of the 20th century, Hitler narrowly got beaten by Albert Einstein, presumably to avoid this.