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Hollywood Economics

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In media, certain human activities are not portrayed in a manner one might think of as realistic, even in an otherwise realistic setting. While national or global economics may be portrayed unrealistically out of a case of research failure, on a more personal level, economics is often portrayed unrealistically for other reasons.

Perhaps due to the Rule of Cool or the Rule of Funny, certain aspects of main characters may be portrayed unrealistically. They may be identified with a particular item of clothing, odd habits, needing to eat more to live than an average person could consume safely, etc. Some characters become Wish-Fulfillment and are given abilities or advantages which the fandom would enjoy possessing themselves. The Rule of Drama typically requires that a character be sympathetic and find themselves in undesirable circumstances. This acts to help prevent characters from becoming annoyingly one dimensional or unexciting. One way to do that without threatening the character directly is to create a financial difficulty or cause trouble with possessions, supplies, or food that one might trade for money, and the more painful, embarrassing, humiliating, or awkward, the better.

Life for both protagonists and villains can be harsh and cruel, but there is an insurance policy for recurring characters: Status Quo Is God. No matter how completely a humorous event devastates a character's finances or health, this, along with creative license, allows the author to restore them to their old circumstances. But Status Quo Is God cuts both ways. A character who is normally not wealthy can win history's largest lottery prize, but if so, they are likely to lose it within the next few episodes if not sooner. And just because a character can afford the loss of their home every other month and their clothes every other day does not mean they can afford a lifestyle where this happens less often.

Common forms of this include:

  1. Financial difficulties are caused by the plot, character development, and one's enemies, not the characters' own actions. Due to a combination of the Rule of Drama, the Rule of Funny, and Status Quo Is God, A character seems to have temporary financial troubles (usually lasting one episode or less) despite being financially stable for the rest of the series, both before and after.
  2. A character seems to have permanent financial troubles, regardless of earnings and assets.
  3. A character never seems to have financial or logistics troubles unless their adversaries cause it, or when absolutely required by the plot.
  4. The amount of money available for a particular expenditure is independent of other expenses, income, or logical need. For example, a character seems to have funding to allow them to spend unlimited quantities of money in one or all areas of their life without any lasting consequences. May be lampshaded or justified if others begin to suspect something suspicious is going on. In extreme cases, a character seems to have wealth beyond what one might expect to be physically possible within a given economy, consuming vast fortunes in every episode without any apparent significant impact to their bottom line.
  5. A character is expected to accomplish a task that usually requires an investment in equipment, supplies, etc. on a budget that would normally be almost useless in that effort.
  6. The economy just doesn't operate on normal principles.

Not to be confused with Hollywood Accounting, which is where a film studio makes up expenses to weasel out of paying anything based on a percentage of profit.


Tropes where the character's financial troubles are caused by something external to their own actions:

  • Broke Episode: An episode where the characters run out of money and have to make ends meet.

Tropes where the financial troubles are permanent, irrespective of earnings and assets:

Tropes where the characters have no financial or logistics troubles unless their adversaries or plot requirements cause it:

Tropes where a character appears to be able to spend unlimited quantities of money in one or all areas of their life without any lasting consequences:

Tropes where the character is expected to accomplish their tasks on an unrealistically small budget or set of resources:

Tropes where the local economy doesn't work normally: