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Loony Laws

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"Whereas the turnip represents the very best qualities to be found in society, and: whereas it is of fine texture, particularly when boiled, and has been proven to remedy all ailments known to Man when consumed:
"Therefore I, [ruler's name], decree that the turnip shall henceforth be used as currency throughout the realm, taking the place of gold, silver or any other precious metal. These shall instead be turned over to the Crown for immediate disposal."
The Turnip Act (passed by a Lunatic ruler), Crusader Kings II
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By royal decree, all citizens of the realm must make their clothing out of taffy and stand on their heads three times a day! Mondays have been outlawed! The color puce is an abomination!

In other words, this is when the lawmakers have gone insane. The usual result of your more literal cases of With Great Power Comes Great Insanity. Might have been written by The Caligula, or put up by the Hanging Judge in a Kangaroo Court. Often Played for Laughs — and is usually Black Comedy even in more serious examples.

Loony laws can also arise from "poison pill" political tactics. Opponents of a sane proposal may add a loony provision in hope of getting the main proposal defeated, but if the proposal passes despite such machinations, the loony provision also becomes law.

Sometimes the law may not have been Loony in and of itself when originally implemented (a law that prevents animal cruelty, for example), but the fact that society changes and Technology Marches On makes any attempt at continuing to enforce the law seem insane (the animal the law was supposed to protect is long extinct, but the law has not been repealed or changed to account for it).

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May involve a lot of Felony Misdemeanor or Disproportionate Retribution. If the law permits deeds that aren't just wacky but downright wrong, that’s Legalized Evil.


Examples:

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    Comedy 
  • Patton Oswalt's routine "You Are Only Allowed Twenty Birthdays" proposes — among other things — that anyone who lives to the age of 120 be automatically made President of the United States. He gives examples of the sort of laws such a person, presumably senile, would pass ("Starting today, everybody has to put four cans of ravioli in their pants! Starting today, everybody has to marry a pelican!"), but ultimately argues that this would still be preferable to things under then-president George W. Bush.
    You heard the president, son. At least you're not in the desert, dying on a fuckin' lie. God bless our president. Give your new mom a fish, and let's go to the White House and give thanks.
  • Storyteller Andy Offutt Irwin has a routine in which he describes the time his (fictional) Uncle Charles spent as a state legislator in Georgia. Near the end of one session, Charles stood up and proposed (with a totally straight face) a law making it illegal for a man to marry the sister of his own widow.

    Comic Books 
  • In Archie Comics, there was once a segment called, "Jughead's Loony Laws", which describes somewhat inane rules in different parts of the world, with the accompanying illustration either showing a Loophole Abuse or parodying how the law is enforced. For example, one law states that a household cannot have more than five cats. The picture shows a man with five mountain lions in his den, telling a cop, "So I've got five cats. What of it?"
  • Judge Dredd: Judge Cal passes a number of ridiculous laws during his insane term as Chief Judge, such as outlawing happiness. Sometimes he gets more creative:
    Cal: I have today passed a law to maintain public order! Deputy Chief Judge Fish will announce it!
    Fish: Bloop!
    Cal: You have heard the law. The penalty for disobedience is death!
  • In Marvel Adventures: Super Heroes #9, Dormammu reveals that the Ancient One forced him to sign a contract upon his first defeat that stipulated, among other things, that he was only allowed to summon his Mindless Ones if he was standing next to a red convertible. Dormammu uses Loophole Abuse by converting most of the cars in the street to red convertibles, but cannot transform a green truck, because it is parked next to a mailbox, and the contract also forbids him from affecting any object ten feet from a mailbox.note 

    Fan Works 
  • For the Glory of Irk: The Irkens have a lot of weird laws, mostly due to Therron's childishness and Voel's aggravated reactions to it. These include outlawing wearing anything green, outlawing eating anything other than tacos on Taco Tuesday, declaring that the Massive can only fly in straight lines, and requiring a password to change any laws (with the password only being known to the Massive's Employee of the Month).
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    Films — Animation 
  • The conflict of Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town starts when Burgermeister Meisterburger proclaims a ban on toys after tripping on one and hurting himself. Upon hearing of it, Kris Kringle immediately comments on what a silly law it is. At the end of the special, the narrator explains that once the Meisterburger line died off and fell out of power, the people realized how ridiculous the toy-ban was and repealed it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Bananas:
    Esposito: From this day on, the official language of San Marcos [in Latin America] will be Swedish. Silence! In addition to that, all citizens will be required to change their underwear every half-hour. Underwear will be worn on the outside so we can check. Furthermore, all children under 16 years old are now... 16 years old!
    Fielding Mellish: What's the Spanish word for straitjacket? note 
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Umbridge is a tyrant in both book and film, but the book only featured 28 Educational Decrees and only seven of them appeared. In the film, they numbered at more than 100 and ran the gamut from "Students performing prohibited incantations will be subject to SEVERE punishment." to "Exploding bon-bons are no longer permitted to explode. Hand in immediately to Ministry disposal unit."

    Literature 
  • Books devoted to this subject include You May Not Tie an Alligator to a Fire Hydrant: 101 Real Dumb Laws and Donkeys Can't Sleep in Bathtubs and Other Crazy Laws.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: The Queen of Hearts is defined by being a woman that has to be obeyed on every single little whimsical law she makes on the spot, even the ones that make no sense, and every single crime, no matter how small, all have the same sentence: beheading (thankfully the King pardons everyone when her back is turned, a fact omitted from the Disney version). When Alice first arrives to her kingdom, she meets a group of guards that are rushing to paint every rose on the garden red (they were white), because she just woke up in the morning hating them being white (and made them illegal). During Alice's judgement later on the book, the Queen kept on making things Alice did while defending herself illegal on the spot (and, again, kept calling for her beheading for each transgression).
  • Downplayed in H. P. Lovecraft's short story "The Cats of Ulthar". The story begins by telling us that in Ulthar, no man may kill a cat — a law that is pretty unobjectionable, but still unusually specific. The rest of the story tells us why the people of Ulthar decided to pass this law.
  • The Discworld, perhaps predictably, has examples.
    • Ankh-Morpork has a law against metaphors, once memorably phrased as "if you say someone has a face that can launch a thousand ships, you had better have the passenger manifests." Lord Vetinari is even said to enforce this law from time to time, most noticeably by requiring the creation of the Pork Futures Warehouse, a place to store pork that doesn't exist yet. (Vetinari is entirely sane, but likes to keep oter people off balance.)
    • In Monstrous Regiment, much of Nugganite religion is the very substantive list of Abominations, which now includes babies ("I take it people still make them here?" "Yes, but they feel very guilty about it."), garlic, blue ("The sky is blue!" "Devout Nugganites try not to look at it these days."), rocks, ears, and accordion players, although Vimes for one agrees with him on that last one. Nuggan has actually died because of this. People stopped believing in him as a god, only believing in his Abominations (when people actually wanted something, they pray to the Duchess, who is now a Deity of Human Origin because of it). Since the Disc runs on Clap Your Hands If You Believe, Nuggan withered away until now he's no longer a sapient being; all he can do is Abominate random things, which is the reason most recent Abominations are so ridiculous.
  • Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake: Gormenghast has so many strange laws and rituals that by the time someone has become its Earl they are probably quite insane themselves. So the laws and rituals become more insane. Gormenghast is the Crapsack World logical extreme of this trope.
  • The Goblins of Labyrinth establishes that, presumably at some point before its takeover by David Bowie in tight pants, the goblin legislature within the Labyrinth underwent what is known as the "Great Collapse of Good Governance", a period of escalating political inanity that culminated in the appointment of a Prime Minister whose chief qualification for the job is that he is inhabited by the World's Largest Flea (its name is Betsy). The Great Collapse of Good Governance saw the passing of such enlightened legislation as The Law Against Holding Up Any Kind of Lunch Box, the Prevention of Benevolence Act (1451), the Anti-Smirking Laws, the Prevention of Thoughtful Pauses Act, and the Abolition of Death (1896) Act. Reproduction was also outlawed during this period, to no effect.
  • Shel Silverstein's Where The Sidewalk Ends features "Peanut Butter Sandwich," a poem about a Royal Brat king whose Trademark Favorite Food is, well, peanut butter sandwiches. It's mentioned that "his subjects all were silly fools" because the gluttonous king has passed a law stating that the only thing that they're allowed to learn in school is how to make the dish.

    Live-Action TV 
  • On Americas Dumbest Criminals; these would be called "Dumb Laws".
  • In the Blackadder the Third episode "Dish and Dishonesty", a number of political parties are running for a certain parliamentary seat in Regency England, including a joke party called the Standing-At-The-Back-Dressed-Stupidly-And-Looking-Stupid Party, along the lines of real-life troll candidates like the Rhino Party or Vermin Supreme. Their candidate, Ivor Biggun, outlines his policy thus:
    Candidate: We're for the compulsory serving of asparagus at breakfast, free corsets for the under-fives, and the abolition of slavery.
    Journalist: I'm sure many moderate people would respect your stand on asparagus, but what about all this extremist nonsense about abolishing slavery?
    Candidate: Oh, that! We just put that in for a joke!
  • In El Chapulín Colorado, a retelling of The Brave Little Tailor portrays the King in said story as always making a bunch of ridiculous royal decrees, such as "Rain on Saturdays is forbidden" so he can go hiking.
  • Horrible Histories has a sketch about loony "sumptuary laws," which were common in England and Europe historically and dictated clothing you could or couldn't wear based on your station. In this sketch, a man has come to petition Queen Elizabeth I, and keeps receiving lectures that his clothing is illegal before he can actually get his business before the Queen. He has to take his cape off (because it could conceal a sword), remove his shirt (because it's of the wrong material), and put a woolen hat on (to boost the business of the wool merchants.) In the end, Elizabeth asks if there's a law about having "a naked man in my throne room"; apparently, there isn't.note 
  • One case from the sitcom Night Court involves a Yugoslavian husband and wife facing trial for unlawful detonation of poultry.
  • Pawnee of Parks and Recreation has a few of these, partially because they're old and everyone forgot to repeal them, and partially because Pawnee is just odd in general. They have a tradition of throwing a man named Ted into the lake every year, women are supposed to be confined to bathtubs while menstruating, white men can seize any Indian's property for 25 cents, and buffalo can be used as currency.

    Music 
  • The song "King of Spain" by Moxy Früvous has a mild (and relatively benevolent) example:
    It's laissez-faire,
    I don't even give a care;
    Let's make Friday part of the weekend
    And give every new baby a chocolate éclair
  • Tom Waits likes to discuss these between songs at his live shows. One of his live albums, Glitter and Doom, comes with an entire bonus disc of audience banter collected from various venues he played during the tour, and he really gets into the strange local laws of America. Then again, it's entirely possible he's pulling our leg.
    Tom Waits: But I travel with an attorney, so...

    Radio 
  • A popular source of convincing-sounding falsehoods and ridiculous-sounding truths in The Unbelievable Truth. Lampshaded by John Finnemore in Series 12, Episode 6, on the subject of guinea pigs (the second one was true):
    John: In Germany, it is illegal to own more than one guinea pig unless you work in a brewery. In Switzerland, it is illegal to own only one guinea pig. And in France, it is illegal to use any of these endless weird law facts in their version of this show, La Vérité Incroyable.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The board game Balderdash involves one player completing an odd factoid written on a card, with the other players submitting their own ideas anonymously and trying to trick the rest of the group into thinking their response is the true answer. One of the five provided categories is "Laughable Laws," which features the first half of a strange-but-true legality from somewhere in the world; the players are tasked with providing a possible conclusion to the law.
  • Chronicles of Darkness: The Old Laws of the Underworld in Geist: The Sin-Eaters often fall into this, with laws that make no sense, and often contradictory. But you better abide by it, unless you want to run afoul of the Kerberos in charge of the domain...
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the adventure X3 Curse of Xanathon, the title curse causes the Duke of Rhoona to proclaim several odd laws, such as "All taxes must be paid in beer", "All riders must sit backwards on their horses" and "Horses can only be fed meat".
    • Planescape: In Mechanus, the natives are so obsessed with laws that you can be arrested for things like singing in a place where it isn't allowed — at a specific time of day. Regulus, the home of the Modrons, is the worst. An introductory adventure involves the Player Characters being arrested for wearing the wrong color and sentenced to a community service task that will clearly take ten years to do. (If they successfully help the supervisor fight off some invading chaos imps, they can get the sentence reduced to time served.)
  • Pathfinder: Mayor Barzillai Thrune's decrees at the start of Hell's Rebels include edicts to control rats and stray dogs, mandatory display of the queen's portrait, restrictions on the wear of embroidered clothing, a ban on drinking tea after sunset, and a ban on mint.
  • Warhammer Fantasy: Part of what marks Bretonnia as more generally backwards than their neighbors is that nobles have absolute control over their domains. Given the sheer power that Bretonnian aristocracy enjoys, combined with the propensity to be exposed to sanity-crushingly horrible monsters and head injuries (and perhaps more than a touch of inbreeding), that has led to a vast number of bizarre laws unique to specific domains which only the King of Bretonnia can repeal.
    • For example, in one domain, every male over a certain age is legally required to salute the rising full moon whilst shouting "Griffon fingers!" In a rare subversion of the trope, it's noted that unless somebody is actively enforcing the laws, Bretonnians generally don't bother — this means that as soon as whichever Upper-Class Twit passed the law is no longer ruling, then everybody stops bothering to pay attention to it.
    • Another orders all men to wear clothes that show the left side of their chest, because a Chaos cult in the area branded its members there. The idea being that Chaos cultists are too stupid to think of marking their members differently.
    • Sumptuary laws define what kind of cloth non-nobles may wear, with special exceptions and dispenses granted by nobles. Sometimes a noble wishing to make a fool of someone allows them to wear a reserved color, leading to the "lucky" man dressing entirely in that color.
    • One of the bigger and obvious examples visible to outsiders is the outlawing of guns, meaning Bretonnians only have peasant longbows and trebuchets as ranged weapons. This is actually due to the cult of the Lady forbidding such unchivalrous weapons on Bretonnian soil (and because the Wood Elves behind the cult of the Lady are trying to keep the Bretonnians as backwards as possible to avoid their forests being (further) devastated). Bretonnian ships are among the most heavily armed in the world due to cramming as many guns as they can on their ships, which by definition aren't on Bretonnian soil.

    Video Games 
  • In Crusader Kings II, one of several random events that can happen with a ruler with the Lunatic trait is to pass one of four insane laws: either banning the wearing of pants, decreeing that all dwellings must have holes in two opposite exterior walls, declaring turnips the sole currency of the realm, or banning interpersonal violence and capital punishment. None of the laws have any gameplay effect other than the ruler in question incurring an opinion malus with all their vassals.
    Player Character: (sending) This law will bring salvation to the realm.
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion: There are two acts punishable by death in The Shivering Isles — attacking its ruler, Sheogorath, and attempting to grow a beard.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics Advance:
    • In a case of Gameplay and Story Integration, Judges oversee every battle to ensure that you don't break some arbitrary law that changes every other battle. As the game goes on, the Prince of the Realm suffers something of a Villainous Breakdown and starts decreeing more and more laws. Two laws become active per battle after you destroy the first Crystal, and a third becomes active when you destroy the fourth Crystal and the judges announce their independence.
    • In a post-game campaign unlocked after completing all 300 requests, Marche learns that Judges and the officials who work for them have been abusing their power to put in all sorts of absurd laws. These include forbidding reading or writing(so the official won't have to do paperwork), banning jumping, preventing people from being at full HP(so people will go around hurting each other to get them into compliance) and requiring people to give free kisses. These laws don't actually affect gameplay, since one official tries to enforce his No Arms law, only to fail.
  • Nier: The inhabitants of Facade, the People of the Mask, have this as their societal hat. They have over 120,000 rules for seemingly everything, and follow them religiously. Some of the rules are reasonable ("Always repay your debts"), but most of them are incredibly silly and arbitrary ("Never build on level ground", "No one may buy from shops until they have taken a tour of the city", and so on). Still, the People of the Mask hold these rules in deep reverence, so the protagonists generally try to respect them, however exasperating they get.
  • Played for Drama in Plague Inc.. Insanity is a possible symptom, and evolving it while a large enough portion of a country's population is infected leads to predictable results...
  • In the Feelies for Zork Zero, it is revealed that King Dimwit Flathead made every Thursday into "Birthday," on which everyone had to give him presents.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Kingdom of Khura'in from Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Spirit of Justice has the Defense Culpability Act, which makes it illegal to "support criminals". If you are seen as offering any kind of support or assistance to anyone accused of a crime, and that person is found guilty, then you will be considered guilty of the same crime, and given the same sentence. Since Khura'in's courts are known to hand out death penalties (even against children), the DC Act has essentially resulted in a pogrom against defense attorneys, since "supporting criminals" is pretty much their entire job.

    Webcomics 

    Websites 
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1434 is a brick that causes the nearest small town to enact and enforce increasingly bizarre laws.
    Case 004—01/24/1992: City of [REDACTED] makes the wearing of contact lenses compulsory for all residents who died between 1947 and 1962. City police officers conduct spontaneous mass disinterment which results in the exhumation of over three thousand sets of human remains.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • The post-apocalyptic New Quahog in Family Guy was briefly ruled by Peter, who, among other things, randomly assigned duties from a "job hat" and not based on expertise.
    Peter: Oooh, village idiot! That's a good one! On Tuesdays you get to wave your penis at traffic!
  • Gravity Falls: The titular town was founded by (ex-) President Quentin Trembley, and his lunacy was reflected with such things as a law that allowed humans to marry woodpeckers. In the first season finale, Gideon steals the deed to the Mystery Shack, and is instantly recognized as its legal owner. The show's creator jokingly suggested Gravity Falls has a "Finders Keepers" Law where physically possessing an object immediately makes you its rightful owner, even if it was obviously stolen.note 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Chancellor Puddinghead may have been responsible for a few; according to the Equestria Girls special Forgotten Friendship, she tried to pass a law mandating earth ponies to drink carrot juice at every meal.
    • In "The Lost Treasure of Griffonstone", there is a "No Singing" sign next to the ancient library in Griffonstone, for no explained reason. This causes a serious case of culture shock for Pinkie Pie, since ponies like her have the habit of bussting into song at the drop of a hat.
    • In "The Parent Map", while trying to find the source of the friendship problem, Firelight mentions an old law that forbids the citizens of Sire's Hollow to prance or canter after dinnertime.
  • The Recess episode "The Rules," appropriately enough, is all about this trope. When Vince and Lawson disagree over whether an errant kickball should be a home run or a strikeout, King Bob sends his lackeys to find a way to settle the matter. They discover a book written by Old King Morty, and Bob insists that everyone on the playground follow Morty's law code. Unfortunately, said code requires them to do things like play basketball with rags and use a tree stump for Four-Square, which leads to mass confusion and chaos. In a rare example of justifying this trope, Gretchen realizes that King Morty reigned during the Great Depression, which meant the kids of his time had to play by rules that encouraged using whatever was on hand, as there wasn't enough money for proper toys. T.J. encourages King Bob to make rules of his own rather than follow ones from a bygone era.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Homer vs. the Eighteenth Amendment", the punishment for disobeying Springfield's prohibition law is to be launched out of the city by catapult. It's right next to another law requiring ducks to wear long pants.
    • In "The Seven Beer Snitch", Mr. Burns opens a for-profit prison, and conspires with Chief Wiggum to fill it by enforcing bizarre laws. Homer is arrested for kicking an old can in the street five times... because he wasn't accepted for a guard job at the prison he is to serve his sentence in. Another law that makes it unlawful to be in public without hats is also mentioned, and they are all printed in a compendium of silly laws.
    • In "Marge vs. the Monorail," Wiggum discovers that under the terms of the town charter, he's supposed to receive a pig "and two comely lasses of virtue true" every month as chief constable.
  • The Unstoppable Yellow Yeti: Winterton has very strange laws. For example, you MUST know how to ski if you want to live there.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: a quick Google search for "crazy laws" will inform you that it is illegal to forget your wife's birthday in Samoa, among other things. Many of these are urban legends, however: in Britain the Law Commission has published a list of which of the commonly-quoted ones are real.
  • In Denmark, one law says that you are required to check that all important features in your car are working properly before driving. That means checking lights, brakes, steering wheel and honking your horn. Another law says that it's illegal to use your horn under any circumstances, and using it results in a 2000DKK fine.
  • As Terry Pratchett once put it, when magazines and websites say things like "In Speedtrap, Nebraska, it is illegal to shoot giraffes on a Sunday" what they probably mean is "Speedtrap has no local rule about shooting giraffes but probably does have some perfectly ordinary public order laws, under which some drunken circus owner was once prosecuted."
  • When Oliver Cromwell came into power after the English Civil War, he introduced laws (amongst others) that banned eating mince pies on the 25th of December and several other Christmas traditions, due to the Puritan desire to purge Christian religious festivals of "pagan" and "Catholic" elements.
  • The Mosaic Code itself has a few laws that could technically qualify: no eating pork or shellfish, no eating meat and dairy products together, no mixing fabrics, no trimming your beard, no crossbreeding animals or using mixed seed on a field, and so on. It also has some that make sense in context, but sound ridiculous to people who don't live in the ancient Levant. For instance, there are two ways that the ban on pork could make sense. Some have suggested it was a precaution against disease (since pork tends to harbor more parasites than other meats, especially in hot climates). Others point to economics: Unlike cows, sheep, and goats, which eat plants humans can't digest, the plants pigs can digest are all edible by humans, if not necessarily palatably. While this doesn't matter in places where human food is sufficiently abundant that the pigs can eat scraps and garbage, or in places that have lots of food that people could eat but have the choice of not eating,note  people in dry climates with little water need to be more careful, and can't spare the necessary scraps to feed pigs. And also, pigs require considerably more water than goats or sheep and are prone to fouling it by making mud wallows, which is a serious issue in a place where water is scarce. On the other hand, all of these prohibitions (no pork, no trimming beards, no wearing mixed fabrics, etc.), would have served to distinguish the Israelites from at least some of their neighbors, which would have been reason enough for a conquering tribe to hold to them.
  • As it was superstition in Tsarist Russia (and Latin American countries like Argentina) that the seventh subsequent son or daughter of a family would be a werewolf/warlock/witch, a law was passed that would make the tsar the godparent of these children so that they wouldn't be abandoned.
  • In the United Kingdom it's illegal to handle salmon under suspicious circumstances. The law doesn't specify what counts as "suspicious circumstances".

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