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It's the Principle of the Thing

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Flim: Um, hey, listen lady...
Flam: How about you just take a parakeet and go home?
Sunset Shimmer: [enraged, slaps stuffed parakeet away] IT'S NOT ABOUT THE PARAKEET!

Say a character ends up involved in a situation to where at first glance, the problem is rather trite or rather mundane. However, for this character, it's not about the problem itself, but the situation or underpinnings that caused the problem. To them, the point is not just on the problem, but the larger meaning and implications behind it.

For example, say Bob ends up with the wrong order and is annoyed that the restaurant will not acknowledge the obvious wrong-doing. Alice may point out that the meal does not cost much and offer to buy another. Bob would note it is the the fact that the restaurant violated the nature of providing quality customer service in the first place.

Sometimes it may not be the person who got wronged making the complaint, but a friend or loved one doing so since the person they cared about may have gotten screwed over and that shouldn't happen.

A Principles Zealot often may rely on this a lot to explain their actions. Sometimes used to justifiy the Law of Disproportionate Response. Often goes hand-to-hand with the Frivolous Lawsuit and Honor Before Reason ("Doing what's right, or at least what you think is right, even if it's foolish"). Sunk Cost Fallacy could be a potential extreme of this.


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    Comic Strips 
  • Retail: In this strip Cooper says he refuses to sign the new employee handbook because it is unacceptable. As an example he points out to a provision that any tattoo must be covered by clothing and that he doesn't want "the man" to tell him what to do. His boss points out he doesn't have any tattoo, but he just says he might plan on getting one.

    Fan Works 
  • While Hordak is no longer a bad guy, when he finds out that someone replaced him as head of the Etherian Horde in a new invasion campaign in She-Ra: In The Wake, he shows up to tell the General off himself.
    Hordak: Who are you, that claims to be equal to me?
    The General: I have no name. I have no face. I have no voice. I am the Horde Incarnate.
    Hordak: Is that so?
    The General: You created me. Created us. And now we take our existence into our own hands.
    Hordak: I did not create you. You are a charlatan, scrounging for scraps in the rubble I left in my wake. Because you are too weak to make power for yourself, you clothe yourself in the shadow of my achievements. And still, they ring hollow. Just like your empty skull.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Big Lebowski, the dynamic between the Dude and Walter epitomizes the trope, with bad things endlessly happening to the chronically laid-back and mellowed-out Dude, and slightly demented Vietnam veteran Walter convinces him time and again to go on insane and half-cocked quests for revenge and reparation.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai: Lt. Colonel Nicholson refuses to work on the eponymous bridge, nor will he let any of his officers do so. Not because he is lazy, but because the Geneva Conventions specifically exempts officers from having to do manual labor. (The Japanese in WWII were well known for ignoring the Geneva Conventions, especially concerning POWs.)
  • In The Hangover Part II, Leslie Chow is arrested for his numerous crimes. It turns an old associate/rival of his snitched on him as revenge for being screwed out of six grand, but he notes that he did it for the principle of the matter, and not for the actual money.
  • Payback:
    • Outright mocked by Porter. He only wants his $70,000 (his cut of the heist that his partner stole), no more, no less. No, it's not the principle of the thing, and don't ask him again, you're going to make him get all misty.
    • The Outfit, on the other hand, have their own dilemma — $70,000 is nothing to them, but they can't just give money to everyone who says it's owed.
  • Robin's response, word-for-word, in Robin Hood: Men in Tights when Achoo tries to stop him from fighting Little John over a bridge toll by hopping over the two-foot-wide creek and pointing out "This ain't exactly the Mississippi here!"
  • Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby: After Ricky's first meeting with French rival Jean Girard turns into a Cultural Posturing pissing match, which in turn becomes an attempted Bar Brawl, Girard puts Ricky in an arm-lock and refuses to let him out until Ricky says "I love crêpes". Even after Cal explains that crêpes are basically just small, thin pancakes, which Ricky and everyone else in the bar admit they do genuinely like, and Girard even suggests a compromise of Ricky just announcing he loves "really thin pancakes", Ricky still refuses, going on a rant about Girard not understanding "American freedom" and daring Girard to just break his arm. Girard complies.
  • D'Artagnan in The Three Musketeers takes issue with Rochefort insulting his horse.

  • In Constance Verity Destroys the Universe, Hiro admits that a part of him resents Byron because he feels a sting to his pride that Connie ultimately chose Byron over him. He's in a loving relationship (and new marriage) with Tia and he knows that he and Connie would never have worked out, but being a self-admitted narcissist, he feels cheated that someone as ordinary as Byron would out-do him on this one thing.
  • In Emperor Mollusk versus The Sinister Brain, Emperor Mollusk doesn't care about The Brain's ambitions of galactic conquest. He just doesn't want him to use his tech to do it.
  • In C. S. Lewis's The Great Divorce, many of the damned reject Heaven on the basis of some principle or another.

    Live-Action TV 
  • During Season 5 of The Amazing Race, Colin and the cab driver in Tanaznia agreed that he'd get $100 if he got them there in first place (where they started), if not he'd get $50. The cab driver knowingly took them on a two hour drive on a spare tire which quickly blew out. They got to the airport in last and if not for one of the other teams helping would have been even later. While Colin was right about the driver breaking the agreement, he was urged by his partner Christie, the other teams, and the airport staff to just pay the fare and be done with but he continued to refuse. He got the police involved and came perilously close to becoming the first contestant to be arrested during the race. He finally paid the fare just because he didn't want to miss his flight.
  • One season three episode of Blue Heelers was this by name, and revolved around a teacher assaulting one of his students. Even though it's not considered serious (the teacher pulled the boy's hair on account of it being too long) the youth condemns the issue on principle, it was still technically assault and his attitude is there Ain't No Rule.
  • Frasier took this to epic levels. Once he and Niles pulled into a parking garage, realized they had forgotten something, and turned around to exit. The attendant charges them $2.00 for the one minute they were in there (The fee is $2.00 for every fraction of a half-hour). Frasier adamantly refuses to pay, refuses to let Niles pay for him, and even refuses to let another driver behind him pay. Somehow Frasier believed that he was "standing up" against this "injustice", when obviously he was being petulant and downright rude. Finally Frasier relents and agrees to pay the $2.00, whereupon the attendant tells him that the fee is now $4.00 because he stayed over a half hour protesting. Frasier floors the gas and charges through the gate. Niles, of course, sneaks back to make the $4.00 debt good to the attendant, and ends up having to write out a sizable check to pay for the destroyed gate (probably hundreds of times as much as the original $2.00 charge).
  • In one episode of The Honeymooners, the Kramdens and Nortons' landlord presents them with a notice of that the rent is being raised 15%. Ralph Kramden, being who he is, refuses to accept it, and the landlord warns that anyone who doesn't accept it will be evicted from the apartment and/or have their heat, water and electricity all shut off. Ralph thinks that the landlord is bluffing, and he goes on an extreme rent strike to teach him a lesson, forcing his wife Alice and best friend Ed Norton to partake as well. Alice tells him that the increase only amounts to $5 a month, but Ralph refuses to listen, comparing himself to George Washington, who fought for a cause just like him. It so happens that the strike is in the dead of winter, so they're cold, even with them bundled up. When Alice complains, he says, "I don't care about the fight, Alice, it's the principle of the thing," adding that if they pay up now, then they will keep on raising the rent $5 every ten years.
    Alice: Oh, now I understand, Ralph. I didn't know you were planning on staying in this apartment for the next twenty years. Why, if I'd known that, Ralph, that changes the whole picture. Now I'm entirely in favor of not giving up; I'd rather freeze to death RIGHT NOW!
    Eventually, the landlord evicts the Kramdens from the premises, but even then, Ralph refuses to give in, still insisting that the landlord is bluffing. Moments later, it starts snowing, and only then does Ralph finally come to his senses and give in to the landlord. But even then, he stalls for a long time to come up with an acceptable reason for giving up
    Ralph: I want you to understand something, Alice. It's not because I want to do it. It's not because I'm afraid of the cold or that I'm hungry, or that I'm embarrassed by being out here. Don't think it is that, Alice, 'cause it isn't! You wanna know what it is? I'll tell you what it is! [pause] And you know what it is as well... I know... what it is! You know what it is! I'll tell you what it is! [another pause] Oh, I'll tell you what it is! [one more, very long pause] YOU KNOW THAT I KNOW HOW EASY YOU GET VIRUS! [goes inside apartment building]
  • Malcolm in the Middle had a particularly vicious one: Dewey wins a hole-in-one at the 18th hole of a mini-golf course; according to the rules, that entitles the golfer to a free game. But according to Dewey, the owner of the place didn't give him the free game because the bell didn't ring. In Dewey's mind, and as he explains in as many variations as possible to his dad, it's not a big deal; getting the hole-in-one was good enough for him. But Hal acts as if to say, "This is a huge deal! I know how upset you are about losing this. That golf course is gonna pay for ripping you off!" Hal's comments are along the lines of, "You have to feel this way, Dewey!
  • Our Miss Brooks: In "Spare That Rod!" Mr. Conklin berates Miss Brooks for not having her blackboard cleared at the end of the day. He had gone into her classroom after school and found that a student had written "Old Man Conklin is a Birdbrain." When Miss Brooks protests, Mr. Conklin tells her it's the principle of the thing.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation: In "Unification: Part I", Perrin, the second wife to Sarek, Spock's father, tells Picard how pissed she was at Spock for publicly disagreeing with Sarek about politics, even though Sarek himself never showed any signs that he was offended.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Johnny Gargano's reasoning for saving Rich Swann, who he despised, from the Premier Athlete Brand after their 'End Of Evolution' match. Gargano, who hadn't been winning much lately and was trying to get back to the way he was before, realized that, whether he liked Swann or not, the man he used to be would not tolerate the Brand's sleazy stunts, especially since they had the audacity to pull one right in front of him.
  • At the tail end of 2014, Havok was about to lose a title shot against knockouts champion Gail Kim when she attacked her before their match and separated Kim's shoulder. Despite being told by a TNA trainer that she was in no condition to compete and director of wrestling operations Kurt Angle insisting Gail had no obligation to defend her title, Gail insisted on having the match to show Havok could keep her down. Havok won the belt in the resulting match, unsurprisingly.

  • In The Golden Apple, Ulysses and the boys are playing baseball when Helen, whom they have sworn to protect, flies away with Paris to Rhododendron, but they consider it nothing to get angry over. Menelaus and the old men of Angel's Roost are outraged at their lack of honor, and remind them of their oath. Ulysses accuses them of "distorting the principle of the thing," but the old men echo this phrase back at him, and urge vengeance on Rhododendron. When Ulysses goes to Rhododendron and defeats Paris in a boxing match, Helen immediately goes back to her husband and is Easily Forgiven. Ulysses tries to justify the effort the boys put into rescuing her by again invoking "the principle of the thing," but when Hector challenges him to name "the thing it was the principle of," Ulysses can come up with no better answer than this:
    The important thing isn't the principle
    The important thing is we won it.

    Video Games 
  • Mass Effect: A running background joke on the Citadel is a man trying to get a refund on a toaster he bought. It's clear from the start that the man doesn't really need the money, he just wants the validation of being given his just compensation. In Mass Effect 3, Shepard can finally resolve it. You can either tell the man to buck up and deal because there's a war going on and there are more important things to worry about, or tell the clerk to just pay him the money for basically the same reason. Turns out this whole multi-year affair was over fifteen credits.
  • In Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance ninja cyborg Cyrax hates Johnny Cage's movies and feels especially robbed of his eight bucks when he went and saw Ninja Mime. One of his reasons for entering the tournament was so that he could beat the money out of Cage. All of this over eight dollars.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius: It's brought up that one of the main reasons Klaus Wulfenbach was so hated by the nobility of Europa was that he steadfastly refused to play the games of rank and intrigue that had defined the Fifty Families for generations. The Fifty would gladly have followed Klaus to the death if he had proclaimed himself Emperor instead of using his hereditary title of Baron (the lowest title of nobility), but to ask ruling Princes and Dukes to take orders from a mere Baron, no matter how powerful a Baron and reasonable the orders, was simply a step too far.
  • In MegaTokyo, after several rounds of BSODs, Yuki says that Tohya called her a monster, but that it's nothing compared to what she (Yuki) did to her (dropping her in a crowd of unfamiliar people then running away). Kobayashi, on the other hand, invokes this trope briefly before Yuki stops him.
  • In Not Enough Rings, Sonic says this when Tails asks him why he's running against a high-powered fan's air-current in Oil Ocean Zone.
  • The Weekly Roll: After dwarven tax collectors capture Becket and Torvald, the former offers to pay the latter's taxes, which the collectors deem acceptable. Much to Becket's utter annoyance, Torvald only owes a measly 84 gold in taxes, which he has refused to pay up and for which the dwarves have persecuted him for a very long time.
    Becket: Please tell me this whole fuckery isn't over eighty four gold...
    Torvald & tax collector: It's the principle.
    Becket: Trevor alone spent more on booze last week...

    Web Videos 
  • On a Game Grumps episode playing Kirby's Dream Course, Arin uses the phrase verbatim while raging at Dan for stealing one of his stars, even though he stole it back almost immediately.
  • Parodied in Hermitcraft Season 7 by the Mycelium Resistance to justify returning the (ugly) mycelium to the shopping district. They were very definite that it was about the principle, but admitted they had no idea what the principle actually was.

    Western Animation 
  • In The Amazing World of Gumball episode "The Bananna", Darwin doesn't care if Banana Joe chewed on the pen Darwin lent him, but his brother Gumball tries to persuade him to get revenge. However, Darwin becomes furious after Joe tears up his homework (which was actually an accident caused by Gumball poking holes in Joe's tube of glue).
  • In the Archer episode "Bloody Ferlin" when Archer, Ray and Cheryl go to West Virginia to visit Ray's homophobic brother, they pretend Cheryl is Ray's wife. Ray is disgusted when he finds out his brother wants to sleep with his fake wife. Unusually for this trope, the person insisting on the principle is depicted as clearly in the right.
    Archer: Why do you care? A, you're gay and B, you and Carol aren't really married.
    Ray: But Randy thinks we are!
    Archer: Yeah, but... That's actually a really good point.
  • Big City Greens: In one episode, Cricket and Tilly plan on getting free Splishies thanks to a promotion, but the manager insists on enforcing the "No Shoes, No Service" policy. Tilly points out how easy it would be for Cricket to borrow her shoes, and that he's had no problem wearing shoes in the past. Cricket, however, refuses to be cowed into wearing shoes without what he considers to be a valid reason. It doesn't help that the manager is being a jerk and stops Tilly from sharing her fairly-obtained free Splishy.
  • The title character from Dan Vs. occasionally justifies his vengeful crusade against the target of the week with this, to varying degrees.
    • One notable example was in the episode "Burgerphile". Dan's order of a plain hamburger is delivered with cheese (despite explicitly saying multiple times no cheese, as he's lactose-intolerant), and the manager refuses to acknowledge he made a mistake on his part, due to his obsession over maintaining a perfect customer satisfaction rating. Despite his friends offering to just get him another burger, he continues his vengeance because it's a matter of principle. What makes it notable is the episode showing he is more-or-less in the right, with his vengeance chaining himself to the register and riling up other customers who also had unsatisfactory experiences (while also getting a girlfriend, the cash register girl Hortense) and grinding business to a halt. The principle aspect is fully acknowledged when the founder of Burgerphile personally comes into chastise the manager and reminding him that customer service is, well, about the customer. He even personally cooks the correct order for Dan (along for himself and Hortense) at the end of the episode.
    • How Dan cares about the principle is best shown in the "Wild West Land" episode: He set out to get a refund for his twenty-dollar admission fee because the park was a letdown, but when it is finally offered, he declines as he feels he got the full Wild West experience after everything he did try for it. For Dan, in the end the money was not the point of it.
  • In the Doug Episode "Doug Takes the Case," The Rich Bitch Beebe Bluff's radio is stolen, and her father wants the criminal found, even though she could easily afford a new one, because "It's The Principle Of The Thing." It's later revealed, however, that it wasn't really fell out of Beebe's locker and broke, and she tried to cover it up by saying someone took it.
  • Scrooge McDuck's devotion to his Money Bin in DuckTales reaches this level. You don't become the richest duck in the world with sloppy accounting, after all, and any security breech at the Bin could indicate another theft.
    • In the original cartoon, he makes Fenton recount the entire Bin when inventory comes up a few cents short. Fenton points out that his hourly rate means the time he spent on the recount actually cost Scrooge more than the little money that was missing.
    • In the reboot, Scrooge goes on lockdown and winds up offering a $2,000,000 reward when $0.87 goes missing. While he was sick and under psychological stress this time, his sane plan still involves an elaborate Engineered Public Confession rather than just putting it behind him. Even Louie, the greediest of the nephews, thinks Scrooge has lost it over how far he's going.
  • In the Futurama episode "That's Lobstertainment!", Leela refuses to park at Loew's Qaddafi's Mann's Grauman's Chinese Theater and pay a valet $3 for this reason.
  • A Garfield and Friends episode featured a phony police officer giving Jon a speeding ticket. Considering the size of the speed limit sign, Jon refused to pay and told Garfield and Odie it was not for the money but for the principle. Garfield told Odie that, whenever somebody says something like that, it's for the money.
  • King of the Hill: Hank Hill seems to suffer from this due to his Honor Before Reason mentality. One episode had him refusing to pay a bill for a pornography movie that he didn't even rent, despite Peggy insisting that he does so and get it over with. He ends up getting his way in the end when he proves in court that he did not purchase it, so the bill is cancelled. However, Hank is portrayed as in the right as people shouldn't be charged for transactions they didn't make and everyone else in the wrong because they presume he's desperately trying to cover up the fact that he did rent porn out of embarrassment.
  • Looney Tunes: Inverted by Daffy Duck in both "My Little Duckaroo" and "The Million-Hare": "After all, it isn't the principle of the thing, it's the money."
  • The Simpsons:
    • "Two Bad Neighbors": Even after finding out why George H.W. Bush was mad at Bart, Homer still wanted to beat Bush up.
      Homer: For the last time, Bush, apologize for spanking my boy!
      Bush: Never! You make him apologize for destroying my memoirs!
      Homer: (to Bart) You didn't tell me you destroyed his memoirs... (to Bush) NEVER!
    • Invoked verbatim in "Burns, Baby Burns". Mr. Burns learns he has a long-lost son, Larry (played by Rodney Dangerfield), who fakes his own kidnapping, and Burns mobilizes massive resources to relocate him, despite finding him at best disappointing. When Smithers expresses his confusion at Burns' out of character reaction, this is Burns' reply.
      Burns: I can't believe someone would kidnap my Larry. I won't rest until he's returned!
      Smithers: Not to be impertinent, sir, but didn't you want Larry out of your life as recently as two hours ago?
      Burns: It's the principle, Smithers! No one steals from Montgomery Burns, be it my Sunday newspaper or my oafish lout of a son!
    • In "Trash Of The Titans", all the chaos Homer ends up causing is simply because he refuses to say he is sorry or even will accept someone else (that being Marge) apologizing on his behalf. Homer makes clear to Lisa that he takes the idea of apologizing (even if it's insincere, and especially if someone else does it for him) to the garbagemen as an insult to his pride and he rides this all the way to an apocalyptic resolution.
  • In South Park, Stan and Kenny see The Passion of the Christ and end up hating it. When the ticket teller refuses to refund their money, they decide to travel to Mel Gibson's house to personally demand that he give them their money back. He also refuses, but they manage to swipe some cash when he's distracted. On their way home, Stan notes that the bus trip to and from Mel Gibson's house cost way more than the money they wanted refunded, but decides that it's the principle of the thing. Kenny agrees.


Video Example(s):


Rollercoaster of Friendship

After seeing Twilight Sparkle and Sunset Shimmer lose to their ring toss game one too many times, Flim and Flam decide to give them a parakeet plushie out of pity, only for Sunset to refuse the prize and insist on trying again before Twilight convinces her to just give up and leave.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / ItsThePrincipleOfTheThing

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