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Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress

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"I know this defies the law of gravity, but, eh... You see, I never studied law."
Bugs Bunny, High-Diving Hare
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Sometimes gravity doesn't work. Or doesn't work immediately. Or evenly. Or fairly. This takes the following forms:

  • Gravitational Cognizance: A character will not fall until they realize they should be falling. For example, running unknowingly off the edge of a cliff — or walking on the underside of a diving board. Especially dense or focused characters may need to have another character point out their vulnerability. This will also likely happen when someone tells them, "Don't Look Down!"
    • An occasional variant has a character, upon realizing their situation, desperately start scrambling back where they came from, often managing to reach the original ledge before gravity can notice.
    • In some platforming video games, this is an actual game mechanic. Often dubbed "Coyote Time" in honor of poor Wile E. Coyote himself, the concept is an aid to make platforming a little less frustrating and feel a bit better to control by allowing players an almost imperceptible amount of time to jump even after they've gone off a ledge (the period where players more often than not don't realize they've already gone off the ledge before they pressed the jump button to begin with), making timing jumps a bit more forgiving.
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  • Creeping Gravity: Also known as Gravity Waves. Gravity will affect a character's body in sections i.e. legs, then torso and finally head. The character will demonstrate neither tissue damage nor pain as a result of this distortion, only on hitting the ground.note 
  • Varying Gravity:
    • On more than one occasion in some cartoons, a character who was falling to earth gently via parachute was handed an anvil... by another character who was falling at the exact same rate... and immediately went into a terminal velocity plunge.
    • Characters will fall faster than a heavy object — ensuring that the object lands on them. Everything falls faster than an anvil.
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    • Sometimes gravity will even shift around the relative positions of objects. For example, a character and an anvil are falling side-by-side, when suddenly the anvil starts falling a bit slower and moves laterally so it is now directly above the character's head.
  • Dramatic Gravity: Reactions can vary depending on how gravity can be suspended. One example is a character will be suspended from the gravity just enough time to give one last comment to your opponent. Said gravity can also be suspended while a badly spooked character bobs up and down in mid-air while screaming.
  • Out On A Limb: Gravity is less powerful than other physical forces, including friction, tension, torsion and all the rest. Static electricity appears to be the most powerful physical force. This allows objects to be stacked on top of each other across an unlimited space or height, maintaining stability even if the branch or beam they are standing on is sawed in half, so long as the pieces are touching. This also allows characters to balance an unlimited number of objects in their hands.
  • Counterintuitive Gravity: Items which should fall don't, when items that shouldn't, do.
    • The traditional case is a character chased up a tree and out onto a limb, as above. It is reasonable for them to trust their weight to a branch while the chaser is cutting through it, because sawing the branch off will make the tree fall. The section being removed (and the character on it) remains suspended in mid-air while the rest of the item (plus whatever object or structure had been supporting it) falls, presumably forever.note  Diving boards and bridges are also prone to this effect.

The trope is named for a line from The Tick, riffing on the title of the novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, which is in turn a play on the sailors' saying "The sea is a harsh mistress", which probably goes back to The Bible "The Law is a harsh master" (Romans 7, 1-6).

See also Gravity Is Only a Theory, Variable Terminal Velocity, Not the Fall That Kills You, Gravity Sucks. Gravity as a "power" that is easy to create is covered by Artificial Gravity and Gravity Master.


Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • A variation can be found in this 1991 ad for Nissin Cup Noodles. The moa jumps out of the way before the humans reach it, leading to them running off the cliff; then, when the moa stomps its foot, they fall.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Some episodes of Pokémon have this trope occurring at one point.
    • Even the bonus clips from the Japanese version of Sun and Moon aren’t safe; during the bonus clip after the episode where Nebby is introduced, Ash’s Pikachu notices Nebby crawling towards the edge and leaps to grab Nebby, only to overshoot his jump, leaving poor Pikachu floating in midair for a good few seconds, then flailing and screaming before gravity finally takes hold of Pikachu and sends him crashing to the ground, much to Nebby’s enjoyment.
  • In GO-GO Tamagotchi! episode 7a, when Mametchi and co are traversing the maze-ified Tamagotchi School, Miraitchi walks out of a doorway and onto thin air for a couple of seconds before noticing and quickly running back through where she came, colliding into the others when she does.

    Asian Animation 
  • Happy Heroes: In Season 2 episode 21, Big M. jumps through an open window to escape from the Supermen's dorm. Big M. doesn't realize he's too high up in the building to land safely until Little M. points this out, at which point the slow-motion jump is interrupted by him falling to the ground abruptly.
  • Motu Patlu: In "Pilot Training", Motu runs off the flying car and into the air to grab his mango from a bird that has taken it. Motu does not realize he's in midair until the bird motions toward the ground to indicate this, and he falls only after realizing this.

    Comic Books 
  • A Monica's Gang story had Nimbus coming home to find his brother Nick Nope, whose name indicates he loves behaving differently, suddenly walking on the ceiling as he decides it has more room. Once Nimbus reminds him that due to gravity, he shouldn't even be there, Nick Nope crashes to the ground.

    Films 
  • The Emperor's New Groove: It takes several beats after the rope bridge breaks for Kuzco and Pacha to realize they're going to fall to their death before dropping.
  • In Looney Tunes: Back in Action, the spy car, flying towards "Mother", suddenly plummets out of the sky when the fuel begins running low. Just before it hits the ground, however, it suddenly screeches to a halt in mid-air about five feet above the ground. Bugs says "Huh. Out of gas," and the screen fades to black... only for Kate Haughton to exclaim that physics don't work like that. Immediately, the car slams into the ground, prompting an exasperated "Thanks, toots," from Bugs.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit: While in Toontown, Eddie escapes into a men's bathroom, which is out of order. After a few seconds of Delayed Reaction, he discovers himself in open air miles high in the sky and only then plummets countless stories.

    Literature 
  • The Ur-Example is used in Paradise Lost. Satan flies boldly out of the gate of Hell through Chaos as he begins his odyssey to destroy Eden. The whole thing is quite dramatic until the Devil realizes he's fluttering his wings in a void without any air to fly through, causing him to drop "plumb down" thousands of fathoms like a cosmic Wile E. Coyote.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy flying is the art of deliberately abusing this trope. Specifically, throwing yourself at the ground and missing, and then making sure not to think about the fact that flying is impossible, or else gravity will glance in your direction and demand to know exactly what the hell you think you're doing.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In an early episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, Don "Doc" Dogoier is going through a "trial of courage" with Kai Ozu in order to be granted the Great Power of the Magirangers. Said trial includes him taking a leap of faith across a large cliff. Don jumps and seems to have succeeded... only for the camera to pan away and reveal he's floating in midair, forcing Kai to grab him before he plummets to his death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Dungeons & Dragons, some Elemental Planes have "subjective directional gravity," which essentially means that "down" is whichever direction you think it is. As in the above example, some mental gymnastics make it a very effective method of getting around within those Planes.
  • Naturally, this trope is in full effect in Toon, the tabletop game of golden age animated cartoons.

    Video Games 
  • Gravity in Dwarf Fortress is subject to Good Bad Bugs like the rest of the game. One notable bug is that thieving creatures can steal stepladders while the ladders are in use, resulting in the poor dwarf just hanging around in thin air, unable to use the no-longer-present stepladder to get down, until another dwarf enters the area and the game remembers that they're supposed to fall.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, despite being a fairly serious game overall, uses Gravitational Consciousness in one instance. If Link uses the Stasis rune on someone on horseback (such as a Bokoblin), the rider remains magically locked in place while the horse runs off. When the rune (and thus the magic) wear off, the rider floats in midair for a second with a visible question mark over their heads, then falls to the ground.
  • One of the animations in the Puyo Puyo Pachislot arcade game features Amitie entering a door that leads to the sky and staying in place for a second or so before realizing she's not standing on anything and falling.
  • Road Runner's Death Valley Rally features every variety (most often, the Coyote falling with a Bomb Whistle after floating momentarily in midair) in quite a few of the end-of-level vignettes - not surprising given that it's starring two of the classic Looney Tunes characters, including one of the most famous victims of this trope. Averted during play of the levels themselves, where both the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote will fall like normal.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Pokemon: Twilight Wings episode "Buddy", Hop's Wooloo runs off to try and prove it can be like a Charizard. The last thing Wooloo tries to do is fly, done via jumping off a ledge of a cliff while running. Of course, Wooloo stops in midair for a good few seconds, then helplessly flails about before falling shortly after, causing it to uncontrollably roll very fast to Milo's farm.

    Western Animation 
  • Gargoyles: This is the only trope that can make Elisa into a truly Distressed Damsel. Otherwise, she's an Action Girl of the highest 90s order.
  • Many cartoons (Especially the older ones) will often play this trope for laughs. This is especially true for Looney Tunes who is able to master the trope for enemies who tried to get rid of the characters, only for them to end up getting the karma they deserved. It even received the page quote and page image.
    • The traditional trope is explained by Bugs Bunny in the aforementioned "High Diving Hare" short. At the end of the episode, Yosemite Sam tries to saw off the end of a diving board, with Bugs on it. However, the diving board ladder, and part where Sam is, fall down, leaving Bugs and the end floating. Bugs remarks "I know this defies the law of gravity but eh, you see, I never studied law", suggesting ignorance of the law of gravity, equals it not noticing you, thereby allowing the situation.
    • The Road Runner and Coyote lampshades this trope in a cartoon where they use signs to communicate the same thing.
    • In an episode of the spin-off series Tiny Toon Adventures, the characters invoked this trope to pass over a gorge by stepping on thin air without looking down. Makes you wonder after a while why anyone looks down at all.
  • The Pixar short Red's Dream demonstrates gravitational cognizance when the clown realizes he's no longer on Red.
  • The Simpsons invokes this at the end of "Bart the Daredevil", when Homer accidentally gets on Bart's skateboard and launches himself across Springfield Gorge, but plummets straight down at the peak of the jump.
  • A Garfield and Friends episode had Garfield pursued by a dog, including on the ceiling, until the cat asked him how he was standing upside down gives he lacked the claws to do so. The dog then realized his violation of gravity and fell.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Snail Mail", when the plane is about to hit the ground, it stops in mid-air because SpongeBob discovers the plane ran out of gas. When Patrick refuels the tank, the plane hits the ground.
    • In "High Sea Diving", SpongeBob's first attempt to dive to the surface ends with him plummeting to the ground. Sandy then explains that he needs anti-gravity to dive up.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Cartoon Gravity

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Run, Run, Sweet Road Runner

The Road Runner pauses a chase with Wile E. Coyote to participate in a little game of hopscotch, where the court is drawn on a precipice. Of course, when Wile E. does his turn, the precipice breaks off and falls, taking him with it.

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