Affably Evil is when a villain is polite, friendly and genuinely kind, even while plotting evil. Good Is Not Nice is the inverse of that: characters who are morally slanted toward the good side but are rude, unfriendly, and mean.
They never kill anyone if they can help it, nor would they allow people to come to any sort of harm by ignoring them. They are always willing to go out of their ways to save the town and complete strangers. When the call comes, they will answer it, usually with little protest. They often help people in need with little promise of reward. In almost every way, they act like ideal heroes.
Except that they are asocial and sometimes downright insulting toward most people they meet. They may refuse to explain anything. They may also actively rebuke people who express gratitude, friendship, love, and/or offers of support when they are faced with problems.
There are a few reasons these people may act like this:
- They may want to be selfish and arrogant or just unbiased to either side, but their morality keeps on getting in the way, even if it is to their detriment. They may put on "jerkass/bitch mask" to try to counter it.
- They do consider themselves as better than everyone else, and their attitudes range from Smug Super to Insufferable Genius to Arrogant Prick. After all, it is difficult for them to be nice to people when they do not even respect them. However, they still feel compelled to help these lower creatures on a regular basis.
- They are natural loners. Their senses of duty force them to perform heroic acts, but they do not consider chitchat or politeness to be parts of their obligations.
- They may want to be affable people, but they believe that being nice does not always get things done, and that doing good requires them to be harsh and cruel, particularly if they have to teach something. (This may be an intermittent effect, applied only when necessary; contrast Beware the Nice Ones, where such outbursts result from break-down. On the other hand, emotional trauma can coincide with the realization that nicety won't cut it.)
- They cannot afford to let others get close to them because their enemies will use others against them.
- They might wish to be nice but live so far outside normal human experience that they have no idea how to go about it; similarly, the hero might be autistic, or a non-human alien.
- The world the heroes live in is operated through cynical ends, so Strict Good Guyism does not work - either in the eyes of the author or in a literal in-universe sense.
- They operate on Blue-and-Orange Morality, their unpleasant actions can be seen as nice in their worldview.
- They intimidate enemies through harsh demeanors.
Note that when handled well, this can create an interesting, complex character. When done poorly, you can end up with serious Moral Dissonance, a Designated Hero and/or even an Unintentionally Unsympathetic character.
Compare Noble Demon, who will likely fall into this if not too morally ambiguous. Often a Knight in Sour Armor, Mr. Vice Guy, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, Jerkass Woobie, or sometimes just a Jerkass who does good things. The term Anti-Hero is sometimes used to cover this trope. Sister trope to Creepy Good. Naive newcomers may be surprised to learn they are not the idealized hero everyone thinks they are. The hero's meanness will result with him becoming a Hero with Bad Publicity.
Lawful Good versions of this trope may be strict, humorless and serious. In other cases, they will put more emphasis on "Lawful" than "Good". This is fairly often used as a personality flaw for The Paladin. Chaotic Good versions will often see politeness and good manners as useless rules and are only concerned about doing good.
Contrast Good Is Not Dumb. May overlap with Good Is Not Soft, but the key difference is that a character can be nice but ruthless, which makes them Good Is Not Soft, or they can be mean but not necessarily ruthless, making them this trope.
See also Affably Evil, a trope that could be called "Evil Is Not Mean." Contrast both with Faux Affably Evil, for when the villain is a far bigger asshole than any hero under this trope while acting superficially nice.
For your convenience, here are tropes which focus on the types of good guys who aren't nice as well as actions that demonstrate it:
- Adaptational Jerkass: Heroic characters can be jerks in another adaptation.
- Aloof Leader, Affable Subordinate: When the leader isn't nice.
- Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: When the subordinate isn't nice.
- Anti-Hero: They're heroic, but are willing to do not very nice actions to save the day.
- Beat the Curse Out of Him: The only way to free someone from mind control or possession is through physical violence.
- Break His Heart to Save Him: A hero acts like a jerk to someone they love (usually their love interest) so they'll leave them and stay out of danger.
- Brutal Honesty: A character tells the truth no matter how uncomfortable it sounds.
- Byronic Hero: Troubled and brooding, with a passion that inevitably causes trouble.
- Compassionate Critic: Being critical of others because you want them to succeed.
- Cruel Mercy: Sparing someone's life to a worse fate isn't really nice at all.
- Cruel to Be Kind: A hero's horrible action is really a kind act.
- Cynical Mentor: A mentor who doesn't care much about the hero, but mentors them anyways.
- Dark Shepherd: Where a character produces moral behavior on others through threats of punishments.
- Drill Sergeant Nasty: If they are heroically aligned or their superiors are not General Ripper.
- Dr. Jerk: A physician who isn't very nice to the patients he treats.
- Exalted Torturer: Torture is presented as heroic.
- Forgiven, but Not Forgotten: Forgiving others doesn't mean this hero has to be nice about it.
- For Your Own Good: A statement a character makes to explain their "not nice" actions towards another character.
- Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand: While the former is about guiding others tenderly, the latter is about guiding others harshly.
- Get A Hold Of Yourself Man: When a character helps another character out of a depressed state by usually hitting them.
- God Is Displeased: A benevolent deity withdraws their protection of mortals over a slight.
- Good Cop/Bad Cop: While the good cop is respectful, the bad cop deals with suspects harshly.
- Grumpy Bear: A mean-spirited hero wears Jade-Colored Glasses while living in a rose-colored environment, and is usually The Cynic.
- Hair-Trigger Temper: A hotheaded hero has a bad temper, but is still good to the core. Relates to the trope above.
- Hard Boiled Detective: A stereotypical tough, cynical, hard-drinking detective.
- Holy Is Not Safe: Holy powers are usually good yet just as unpleasant as evil powers.
- Honest Advisor: Good advisors give unpleasant advice.
- Hypocrite Has a Point: Someone manages to provide valid points on a subject in spite of his/her hypocrisy.
- Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: These kind of heroes use torture on people for information.
- Jerkass Has a Point: A jerkass, if they're heroically aligned, manages to provide valid points.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Some of these heroes have a soft side when the chips are down.
- Kick the Son of a Bitch: When the hero's cruel act isn't that bad because the one receiving it isn't sympathetic.
- Kind Restraints: A character restricts another character in order to prevent them from harming themselves or others.
- Lovable Alpha Bitch: When they're heroically aligned.
- Mentor in Sour Armor: A stoic, snarky mentor who cares about their students but is too world-weary to express it much.
- The Napoleon: When a hero is too hostile to be "nice", due to being short stature with an aggressive façade.
- Noble Bigot: Holds prejudiced beliefs, but tries to be a good person.
- Noble Bigot with a Badge: Same as above, but they are aligned with the law enforcement.
- Omniscient Morality License: Someone does whatever they want with the heroes, but is still considered good because they know it will turn out alright.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Not all good guys are fond of turning the other cheek, for they are more than willing to repay villains with evil acts.
- Percussive Prevention: Physically attacking someone to get them to safety.
- Perpetual Frowner: To show how mean and unfriendly the hero is, they are always seen frowning or scowling.
- Polite Villains, Rude Heroes: Heroes are mean while villains are nice.
- Politically Incorrect Hero: The good guy who holds racist, sexist, or controversial beliefs.
- Pragmatic Hero: Whereas a Pragmatic Villain will do good deeds because it will benefit them in the long run, a Pragmatic Hero will do terrible things for the same exact reason.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: If they're the good guys.
- Red Is Violent: If the hero is colored red, it associates with anger, violence, and aggression.
- Reformed, but Not Tamed: A character goes from villain to hero, but their bad attitude or behavior remains.
- Refuse to Rescue the Disliked: These heroes won't be willing to save those who aren't deserving of it.
- Rejected Apology: Don't expect these heroes to be the forgiving types, no matter how apologetic you are.
- Rightly Self-Righteous: Being good doesn't stop the character from expressing how morally superior they are compared to others.
- Rude Hero, Nice Sidekick: The hero is horribly rude, but their sidekick isn't.
- Scare 'Em Straight: Deterring people from misbehavior by claiming that terrible things will happen to them if they don't keep their noses clean.
- Sergeant Rock
- Shoot the Dog: Where a hero does a "not nice" deed because it needs to be done.
- Sink-or-Swim Mentor: When mentors don't go easy on newcomers.
- Smiting Evil Feels Good: It isn't nice to feel satisfied of punishing evil.
- The Snark Knight: A world-weary hero who snarks at everyone, even themselves.
- Spared, but Not Forgiven: The hero won't punish you, but he won't forgive you either.
- Stern Teacher: When a teacher is strict and no-nonsense.
- Terror Hero: The hero who seeks to strike fear in evildoers.
- Threatening Mediator: Making peace between two characters through threats of punishments.
- To Be Lawful or Good: The hero chooses the former option if they are more concerned about upholding principles than being compassionate.
- Token Evil Teammate: If they're not evil, they'll be most likely jerks in a group of kind heroes.
- Tough Love: Treating other characters harshly as a means to make them better.
- Trickster Mentor
- The Unfettered: Some heroes are willing to do anything in order to achieve their goals.
- Was Too Hard on Him: The character who deals with others harshly may feel bad about doing so.
- What the Hell, Hero?: People call The Hero out and blame them for their actions.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: When you put more emphasis on the "well-intentioned" part than the "extremist" one.
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