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Masquerade Paradox

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"... why do the magical folk have to hide from everyone? The common excuse is that the masses would be frightened. ... And yet there's an interesting problem with this: In a great deal of these stories, magic has always existed. The societies are hidden but have been around since long ago. They're also very good at protecting themselves from non-magical creatures. ... Yet, despite all this power, power that they've had before Muggles have had firearms, ... witches and wizards are the ones in hiding. ... And that is the very strange conceit of most urban fantasies. The readers must believe that these creatures of great power have to be in hiding from humanity. ..."
— Lissauer, Gabrielle. The Tropes of Fantasy Fiction. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2015, pp. 158-161.

The Masquerade is a common tool in Urban Fantasy stories — all powerful magical beings, heroes and villains alike, are living in their own Wainscot Society, hidden from the world at large. But this creates a bit of Fridge Logic: why is this necessary if the magic users are so much more powerful than everyone else? The author makes a fantasy world of incredibly powerful beings coexisting with Muggles, but simultaneously has them afraid of Muggles to the extent that they keep themselves hidden, as an explanation for why we never see them. For many audiences, it comes across as an Absurd Phobia. This is the Masquerade Paradox.

It's a real problem for Urban Fantasy writers, who have come up with a number of different explanations. From a Doylist perspective, it involves Acceptable Breaks from Reality if they want to make a world Like Reality, Unless Noted. But In-Universe, they've come up with a number of different possible explanations for why a Masquerade might be necessary, all of which have their own issues:

  • Prejudice. The idea is that Muggles react violently to shows of magic. Partly it's a belief that Magic is Evil, but there are also aspects of jealousy and longstanding human classicism. The X-Men series, for instance, is a lengthy exploration of what happens when you don't have a Masquerade. Usually, it fails to address the issue of the power imbalance; the Muggles may want to burn the witch, but they don't have the power to catch them. Or perhaps its the other way around, with the supernatural elements despising and distrusting the Muggles, not enough to wage war on them, but enough to isolate themselves.
  • Numerical disadvantage. The idea is that there are so few wizards relative to Muggles that no matter how powerful they are, they can be defeated by a simple Zerg Rush. The author will have to work pretty hard to make this work, though; history has numerous examples of small groups of technologically advanced humans conquering huge numbers of people (e.g. the Mongol Empire, Alexander the Great, Hernán Cortés).
  • The World Is Not Ready. Wizards are afraid of what Muggles could do if they learn magic or have easy access to it. Muggles are untrained, cocky, impulsive, and violent — and they could wreak serious havoc, even unintentionally. However, the author must also address (a) whether the great positive power of magic would outweigh the risks; (b) whether it's possible to reach a point where it's easier to teach the public about magic than to hide it and hope no one stumbles upon it; and (c) whether the heroes are willing to do what needs to be done to keep magic out of Muggles' hands without looking more like a villain than a hero.
  • Muggles Do It Better. The wizards really aren't better than the Muggles. The wizards can use fancy magic, but modern humans have guns, drones, nuclear weapons, Kill Sats, and all sorts of devices that can kill a lot of people — including wizards. They may live in a setting where Science Destroys Magic, or the Muggles may be so fascinated by wizards that they'll do some horrifying experiments to gauge the extent of their power. This can make for an interesting story, except that Urban Fantasy, like the superhero genre, relies a lot on escapism, which is difficult when your heroes are not as powerful as ordinary people. If Muggles Do It Better, why bother with magic at all? Also, it raises the question of how long magic has existed: if magic once was more powerful than Muggle tech, and that led to the Masquerade, why does it still exist now that the tables are turned?
  • A Weirdness Censor. Muggles just have a pathological need not to believe in magic, to the point of outright self-delusion. Magic is dismissed as a superstition or mental illness, and anyone caught using it needs to be medicated. This is useful because it allows the Masquerade to stand even when it shouldn't. Usually, the wizards just cite exhaustion trying to convince the Muggles of their existence. The problem is that historically, people are prone to believing in magic, mysticism, and the supernatural, and many more would probably be willing to believe if shown hard evidence thereof — people once believed the Earth was flat. Using this method relies on massive amounts of Flat Earth Atheism.
  • The World Is Always Doomed. Wizards want to keep people safe from all the threats facing them. Sure, people can handle magic as a concept, but if they were aware of all the magical forces that could wipe them out in an instant, it would drastically change their outlook on life. Wizards are the people with the power and the mental fortitude to deal with the constant threat. It still raises ethical questions — after all, a doctor is obliged to tell you exactly what's wrong with you, even if the full knowledge of what you're facing would be hard to handle. It's a fine line between a wizard hero trying to protect people and Col. Jessup screaming, "You can't handle the truth!"
  • A Masquerade Enforcer. This usually happens when reality itself hates magic, and the only safe way to use it is in a way that ordinary people can't detect. It again makes for an interesting kind of story, but the author must still address why anyone bothers to use magic at all when it's so much safer not to. In some cases, the wizards don't bother, retreating to a Magical Land and leading to stories where The Magic Goes Away and the characters have to deal with it.
  • A Lotus-Eater Machine. This usually relies on magical bad guys being in charge. They force Muggles to live in an imagined world, where they don't know that magic exists, much less that magic users are secretly ruling them. It's similar to The Matrix — anyone can use the magic, but only the good guys are capable of seeing through the illusion and learning how to perform it. It still requires a balancing act — if the bad guys are not powerful enough to keep people docile without enforcing a Masquerade, how can they be powerful enough to keep the Masquerade going? It can be exhausting (and expensive).

As always, Tropes Are Tools, and any sufficiently skilled author can write around the Masquerade Paradox. The characters may question the Masquerade, or the magical rules of the setting are particularly conducive to it, or the story is just so entertaining that nobody stops to question it. We've even got our own advice on how to do it at Write a Believable Masquerade.

The Masquerade Paradox is distinct from the Extra-Strength Masquerade, where the Masquerade stays in place even when something happens that should have broken it. The Paradox describes the problem of why the Masquerade exists to begin with.

See also the Superhero Paradox (which arises when superheroes operate in full view of the public) and Reed Richards Is Useless (when superheroes are known to Muggles but have no impact on their world).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball is inconsistent on this front. In the original series, magical martial arts are widely known to exist — they might not be as powerful as displayed later on, but people see flying and ki attacks as normal. In the first two sagas of Dragon Ball Z, an alien invasion wrecks large areas of Earth and everyone knows about it. But after the Frieza Saga, all of a sudden a Masquerade is in place, and humanity has spontaneously forgotten about the superhuman powers of the Z-Fighters and picked up an incredible Weirdness Censor. This means that for subsequent threats, the protagonists have to keep their incredible power secret and prop up Muggle martial artist Mr. Satan as the most powerful human on Earth. It leads to some bizarre results, such as when humanity clearly sees Cell's destructive power but will only accept that Mr. Satan defeated him.
  • In the Nasuverse, supernatural beings have a number of reasons to maintain secrecy. The biggest is that The Magic Goes Away, so they've reached an era where Muggles Do It Better. Individual systems of Magecraft also have limited amounts of power to draw from, meaning that the more followers a system has, the less powerful each user's magic becomes — this is why mages not only keep their magic secret, but centuries-old mage families keep a Single Line of Descent. The undead, meanwhile are keeping a Masquerade not from humans, but from other supernatural forces, like the Church Militant mages dedicated to killing them.
  • In Speed Grapher, the Roppongi Club's Masquerade isn't very good to begin with. They often have to do damage control when things go awry, which involves bribing witnesses to be quiet (if not killing them outright). It gets harder to pull off when Tatsumi Saiga enters the picture, and the whole thing falls apart when the media starts looking into it.

    Comic Books 
  • Doctor Strange will frequently go out of his way to prevent the world at large from learning about magic, to the extent that he employs magical Laser-Guided Amnesia. Most normal people believe Strange is a charlatan pretending to use magic — even though he shares a universe with powerful superheroes who operate openly, one of whom presents himself as a god from Norse Mythology. Keeping it secret eventually gets phased out, though magical beings still mostly keep to themselves away from mundane society.
  • In Fables, Fabletown insists on hiding its existence from mundane Earth people and goes to considerable lengths to do so. Each Fable lives under rules aimed at hiding their particular nature — for example, Rapunzel has to cut her ever-growing hair every couple of hours, and non-humans have to buy magic to hide their natural forms (or else get sent to the Farm). Any mundane who cracks the ruse and blabs about it will find that death is the best they can hope for. But nobody actually addresses why this state of affairs is necessary, and the Masquerade is broken in the end with human civilization accepting it just fine.
  • The shared universe of Top Cow Productions does seem to have a masquerade. The general public is unaware of superpowered figures such as the Witchblade or The Darkness. For the latter, it is justifiable: Jackie Estecado is a member of the mafia and holds to the code of omerta, keeping silent about his (usually criminal) activities. However, the holder of the Witchblade, Sara Pezzini, is a cop, and her magical adversaries often pose a great danger to the public and her fellow officers. Why she keeps such dangers a secret is a question that has yet to be answered.
  • Wanted resolves this in an interesting way. The Masquerade is maintained by the Fraternity, an almighty Legion of Doom of allied supervillians who exterminated all superheroes on Earth in 1986, then performed a Cosmic Retcon to the rest of the world so that everyone, including any surviving heroes, believes that superheroes are fictional. Being supervillains, the Fraternity refuse to use their vast powers to benefit the world, and they spend most of their time making mountains of money and amusing themselves through clandestine and criminal means. Their concern is parallel universes, which might still have superheroes who can choose to intervene — Fraternity members do occasionally raid those other universes, but they're very careful to cover their tracks. The Masquerade becomes a major plot point, as the Fraternity is divided on whether to maintain it or drop it and rule openly.

    Fan Works 
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer/Supergirl crossover The Vampire of Steel, Supergirl wants to call the Justice League in and wipe all vampires off Sunnydale. Buffy talks Kara out of it, explaining that the Gang needs to keep the existence of vampires a secret. Apparently, people are willing to accept the existence of "super-villains, criminals, alien enemies from dozens of planets," but not vampires.
  • The Discworld of A.A. Pessimal is a good example of a paradoxical Masquerade that is eventually resolved in-story. The Masquerade that prevents Wizards from marrying and remaining in the profession is successfully challenged when mild-mannered and nerdy Ponder Stibbons gets a girlfriend — who later becomes Mrs. Stibbons. Clear-thinking people such as Lord Downey, who feels a duty of care towards his employee and respects her right to aspire to marriage and motherhood, point out that the issue isn't one of losing the magical flux or of hair growing in the palms of your hands (thus making it difficult to hold onto a staff). Older Wizards discover there are suddenly a lot more younger Wizards out there who see no reason why they should grow up into elderly embittered single misanthropes. And wizardry, in Conclave, votes to overturn the Lore as it was and to allow Wizards to get married like normal people. By the time of Strandpiel, Ponder and his Assassin wife are proud (if slightly floundering) parents of three daughters, and Ponder is still an active Wizard. The only remaining restriction is a prohibition on too many children, to prevent another sourceror, who can only be the eighth son of the eighth son of a Wizard.
  • In Triptych Continuum, Earth ponies have access to potent geomantic abilities (enough that a large group of Earth ponies working together can raise or lower mountains or generate earthquakes that bury entire armies), but they never use their magic where the other two tribes can see, pretending that they are limited to physical enhancement and the Cournicopia Effect. They are known to alter histories to hide Earth pony interference, and it's implied that the Earth ponies murder anypony who discovers the Secret or threatens to expose it. It is pointed out by several characters in-story (and extensively by readers in the comments), that this Secret serves no discernible purpose, has probably cost thousands of lives even not counting those directly Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, and may be responsible for many of the atrocities in Triptych. When pressed, Applejack (the only Earth pony who's been queried on the subject) has to admit that she doesn't actually know why the Secret is a secret, just that this is what Earth ponies have been doing for centuries.

     Films — Animated  
  • In The Brave Little Toaster, all appliances are alive and intelligent beings. For some unexplained reason, they never want their "masters" to catch them talking or moving about, with only functionally communicating machines (such as TVs) being allowed to communicate with them, and only indirectly. This despite the fact that there is no evidence that humans are compelled to hurt sentient appliances.
  • The toys of Toy Story drop or freeze in place when humans or animals approach. This is apparently a societal more, as they treat breaking cover on Sid in the first movie as a desperation move. Perhaps they could have avoided injury if they acted sooner. Either way, the reason for the Masquerade isn't explicit.
  • Monsters, Inc. plays with its Masquerade. Monsters hide in the closet to scare children because children's screams are used as a power source — but children are equally scary to monsters, who believe them to be so toxic that even touching one can be fatal. If a monster accidentally brings an object a child touched back to their world, it triggers a prompt response from the Child Detection Agency, who dispose of the item with extreme prejudice. But the monsters don't have any proof that children are dangerous; Mike and Sulley are initially terrified of Boo but start interacting with her more and more as the movie goes on. Then we discover that Randall and Waternoose not only believe children aren't dangerous, they're secretly plotting to kidnap them to use as a power source. The Child Detection Agency probably also knows the truth, but keeps up the Masquerade to protect the children from abuses like this.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Apollo 18 is premised on the idea of a secret 18th mission to the moon. Apparently, the government is aware that there are infectious aliens on the moon, and they don't want anyone to know about it, including the astronauts they sent. While keeping the mission a secret from the public might be understandable, keeping its true nature a secret from the astronauts makes no sense. And there's the additional problem that this is not a magical Masquerade, and the government would have to hide all the logistics, expenditures, and noise of a Saturn V rocket launch and subsequent communications with it — something so expensive and implausible, it's a common argument against Conspiracy Theorists who claim that every moon mission was fake.
  • In Freddy vs. Jason, the adults of Springwood, including the Sheriff and other authority figures, have established a Masquerade concealing the existence of Freddy Krueger from the townspeople. Since Freddy attacks people in their dreams, preventing anyone from knowing of his existence is a damn effective Masquerade, as it would then be impossible to dream of him. Those already aware of Freddy's existence are drugged with Hypnocil to prevent them from dreaming and are confined to a mental hospital, cut off from the outside world.
  • In Hellboy, magic and magical beings are hidden rather ineptly, as Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Lizz get along with their Muggle counterparts just fine. The Masquerade is broken in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, and the world seems to be okay for the most part with Hellboy and company.
  • In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the closest thing we get to a justification for the Masquerade is when Balthazar says it would be "complicated" if regular people found out about magic. It's easier to enact the Masquerade, as pure magic spells like energy projection are invisible to regular humans (e.g. Becky is incapable of seeing a giant fiery pentagram traced across the sky); however, anything acting on physical objects (e.g. matter manipulation, telekinesis) is still fully visible. After the first couple of fights, the Masquerade isn't mentioned again, and the characters don't even bother trying to hide their magic anymore.

  • In Artemis Fowl, the fairy race went into hiding underground for millennia after humans began developing. It appears they've been doing this since Ancient Egypt, as Egyptian hieroglyphs were derived from the fairy language. Over time, they've advanced past humans in magic and technology, yet they still keep their presence hidden from humans. They mostly want to avoid war with humans, particularly once they realize how much better the living conditions are below the surface, but one wonders if good diplomacy (and a willingness to trade some of the tech) might not have had the same effect.
  • In Alex Verus, the Masquerade operates entirely from normals' Weirdness Censor, without any intervention from the mages. However, the censor is not perfect; it can be overcome, whether by gradual exposure or a sudden shock of blatant magic. It does raise the question of why mages don't actively try and show themselves, but it's addressed in detail in the Encyclopaedia Arcana:
    • The gradual approach can take months or years, which is a lot of work for relatively little gain. The direct approach, meanwhile, tends to trigger panic; most normals will react poorly to having their Weirdness Censor broken under stress.
    • There's not much opportunity. Most normals aren't going to grow up sharing any kind of close relationship with anyone able to use magic. Most normals tend to find sensitives and adepts weird at best and disturbing at worst, and tend to avoid them.
    • It's not even that reliable. When the shock wears off, a normal is capable of rebuilding the Weirdness Censor, dismissing the whole thing as a hallucination or mental breakdown.
  • The Dresden Files has a lot of excuses for its Masquerade, not all of them convincing:
    • Dresden claims that people tend to react violently and unpleasantly when exposed to magic. Yet whenever we see him explaining magic and the supernatural to people (e.g. Waldo, Butters, Murphy) — even providing evidence of his claims — they tend to accept it.
    • Dresden mentions that Muggles have a numerical advantage; as he puts it, they can keep throwing bodies at a problem until it goes away. But we never see this work on any serious monster, even though ordinary people have tried it. It usually ends pretty quickly and very badly for the Muggles. Powerful Necromancers, Vampires, and Faeries effectively control entire governments, and would have brought down all of human civilization if not for their more altruistic counterparts.
    • There's a pervasive Weirdness Censor; people have such a high capacity for self-delusion that Dresden wonders how they were able to survive to the present day. Bizarre events like hundreds of exploding chests, citywide blackouts, unexplained fires, and entire continents devolving into chaos could be dismissed as college pranks, gang wars, or terrorist attacks. The censor is applied inconsistently, though; the Chicago Police and well-informed Muggles will accept these events as magical if presented with evidence thereof, and by Battle Grounds, the whole Masquerade seems to be falling apart, as people are not very accepting of the U.S. government's explanation of what's going on.
    • Some Muggle technology can work on magical threats, as evidenced by the quantity of Badass Normals in the universe. However, magic can easily turn any magical creature into a Walking Techbane, as spells known as hexes can easily disrupt almost all modern technology. Much of the tech that does work on magical creatures was only invented in the last century, and for particularly powerful beings, you have to Nuke 'em, which is not usually a practical solution. When you consider that a single particularly powerful Necromancer was responsible for all of World War I, the human capacity for stopping certain threats looks limited indeed.
    • The end of Battle Ground (2020) reveals that the supernatural leaders that are the Accords members kept up the masquerade to keep themselves safe, by keeping the US Government from taking an active interest in the supernatural world, since the US Government paranormal organization, the Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, is considered dangerously competent.
  • Harry Potter is a textbook example of the Paradox; a discussion of it even provides the page quote. The stated reasons for the Masquerade are that Muggles are inclined to mistrust wizards and not ready to learn the truth, and Muggles would want magical solutions to all their problems. Wizards cite medieval Burn the Witch! sentiment as the reason to enact the Masquerade to begin with, but that fails to address why the Masquerade is necessary today. And even then, the books point out that few witches or wizards were actually harmed by medieval witch hunts, as they could create the illusion of their suffering and death and walk away from a witch-burning unscathed. There's also the possibility of informational exchange, as wizards are shown to be absolutely hopeless with technology but good with healing power (and supplemental material suggests this is exactly how wizards and Muggles interacted before the witch hunts). And wizards not only have superior firepower to Muggles (the question of whether Muggle weapons could take down a wizard is a bit of a contentious topic in the fandom), but magic explicitly neutralizes technology — so why not just take over? The Masquerade seems to hit pretty much every point of contention the Paradox raises. Perhaps the most interesting explanation is wizard prejudice — they hate Muggles and don't want to interact with them in principle. Arthur Weasley has an interest in Muggles and likes tinkering with Muggle devices, but this gets him seen as a kook by other wizards and the entire Weasley family is disparaged by pure-bloods for not having Fantastic Racism against Muggles.
  • Horus Heresy demonstrates why a Masquerade isn't always a good idea. The Emperor of Mankind kept the existence of Chaos and demons hidden from the Imperium and the primarchs. He also kept them ignorant of his plans for the Webway. The first secret just left the primarchs vulnerable to the temptations of Chaos, and the latter created feelings of resentment and abandonment among the primarchs. The Emperor might have saved Himself a lot of grief if, instead of the Masquerade, He properly educated people about Chaos and told His children why He's taking a break from the Crusade. Instead, grimdark. Poor Communication Kills indeed.
  • In Magical Girl Raising Project, the Magical Kingdom enforces the masquerade by careful use of mind-altering magic, and by producing anime and manga of the magical girls' adventures. The Magical Kingdom's insistence on the Masquerade effectively prevents the magical girls from doing more to help humanity than patrolling their areas looking for people to help. Magical Daisy even suggested using her disintegration beam for waste disposal, only to be shot down because it would put some humans out of a job.
  • In October Daye, fairies do not go out in public without illusions in order to maintain the Masquerade. According to Toby, it's because most of them fear that the humans would kill any Fae that showed themselves, as apparently happened in the past, or that Fae would be kidnapped and vivisected to learn how they tick. While certainly some faeries are evil, most just get alone fine.
  • In the Otherverse, the world was once unmasked, but at some point a few millennia ago, at least one (possibly several) very powerful magical Practitioner(s) created the Seal of Solomon, which created a magical distinction between completely magical Others, human magical Practitioners who can use the same magic that empowers the Others, the Aware who have knowledge of magic but choose not to awaken as practitioners, and Innocents who are ignorant of the whole thing. This was done partly to protect the Innocent from being preyed on by malicious Others, and was agreed to by most Others because it still left less-powerful Practitioners vulnerable to them. However, it is still maintained because more powerful Practitioners and their families benefit immensely from having both knowledge of how the world works and a priveleged position within it, with many Others and the Aware relegated to a second-class status. Those Others not bound to the Seal are regarded as outlandish and dangerous.
  • Many of the best known works by Rick Riordan, such as the novels of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, are set in the modern world, with the gods and monsters of mythology being extremely powerful beings that nevertheless go out of their way to hide themselves from humanity. Many of his series features a Mist, a Weirdness Censor which can also be used to implant Fake Memories in a muggle. While an excellent explanation as to the how of the Masquerade, it does not explain the why. Thus far, no explanation has been given as to why the gods hide themselves from humanity.
  • In Touch (2017), why the government hides the existence of magic is vague, though we get some interesting takes on the personal level. When James first realizes that he has powers, he reasons that a.) he can't be the only one in the world whom this has happened to, and b.) since he didn't know that powers exist, there must be some reason that everyone else is keeping them a secret. As the reader already knows, he inherited magic from his family, but they're also keeping the truth from him.
    • When James' father, Peter, finds out that he has powers, he explains that there's a Catch-22 Dilemma about telling your kids. Powers only manifest if if you're under a lot of stress, but if you know that you might get powers, you worry less when you're in danger. After all, your powers might manifest and save you.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer and its Spin-Off Angel are subject to an incredibly powerful Weirdness Censor. The entire town of Sunnydale is infested with monsters that regularly threaten innocent men, women, and children. Yet the heroes, most of whom are supernatural themselves, see no reason to inform the authorities or the public, who are determined to bury their heads in the sand and loudly ignore what is happening. There is an occasional Lampshade Hanging: people on the sly mention all the "mysterious" deaths, musician Aimee Mann says she hates playing vampire towns, and the graduating class of Sunnydale High gives Buffy an award as "Class Protector" — while admitting they don't usually acknowledge there's anything to be protected from. This indicates that they probably know that something odd is going on with their town, but they won't suspect anything supernatural. Snyder mentions lying about vampires attacking the high school in season 2, telling journalists it was a gang on PCP — which the chief of police says is the usual story. In season 6, a typical Sunnydale Times headline reads "Mayhem Caused: Monsters Certainly Not Involved, Officials Say". By the time we get to Angel, and vampires and other nasties are running around in the open in Los Angeles, one gets the impression that Angel could drink someone's blood on live television and ride away on a magical demon horse, and people still wouldn't believe vampires exist. The closest thing to an in-depth explanation is this chestnut:
    Giles: People have a tendency to rationalize what they can and forget what they can't.
  • Supernatural has a strong Weirdness Censor. In Season 5, when Lucifer is freed from Hell and unleashes a demonic Hate Plague, the public dismiss it as Swine Flu. Most hunters, Men of Letters, and sympathetic angels who spend their time protecting humans from monsters refuse to publicize their knowledge, even though knowing the signs of a haunting or a monster would cut down on people walking blithely into danger. Justified somewhat in that some monsters, like the Leviathans, go out of their way to hide themselves from the public.
  • In Mighty Med, supers are completely hidden from the public, and their exploits are hidden from the public and sold as comics — they've earned enough to fund a hospital. Apparently, people are too distracted by their phones. But before phones became commonly used? And why hide supers in the first place when it becomes so much harder? In the later Lab Rats/Mighty Med crossover show Lab Rats: Elite Force, the supers just say they're bionic since bionics became public knowledge in Lab Rats, like that's somehow easier to swallow.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Deadlands is a good exploration of the paradox, and the negative consequences when there is an unjustified Masquerade. Both of the setting's dominant governments actively maintain the Masquerade. There are no supernatural safeguards to keep people in the dark, though, so basic psychology is used instead. However, the authors point out that maintaining the Masquerade is actually counter-productive. The Big Bad is the Reckoners, who draw power from fear. The more people are afraid, the more the surrounding environment becomes twisted and "terrorformed" into an environment where monsters can thrive. The governments know this, and try to keep magic a secret to prevent panic and deny the Reckoners their fear. However, as the authors point out, making the supernatural monsters known to the public, as well as teaching them how to defeat said monsters, would rob the Reckoners of much of their ability to generate fear. A mysterious unknown creature that prowls the jungle and snatches people from fields is scary, but a tiger is just a dangerous but manageable threat. Furthermore, it's also been suggested that their efforts to maintain the Masquerade often lead to them causing as much fear, doubt, and suspicion as the ghoulies they put down in the first place. Overall, trying to protect the public by keeping them in the dark only puts them more at risk.
  • Geist: The Sin-Eaters, part of the Chronicles of Darkness. In the other games of the setting, all of the supernaturals have reasons for the Masquerade, and the means to carry it out — vampires have to avoid being hunted to extinction by their prey, mages because Muggles just cause magic to fall apart if they see it, Changelings are afraid that their old masters will notice and come calling, Prometheans because they cause the Torches and Pitchforks reaction by their existence, and Demons want to hide from the God-Machine. Each of these also has means of cover-up any evidence they leave behind. Geist, however, has no Masquerade-equivalent. None. There's nothing in the book even discouraging a group of Sin-Eater player characters from advertising in the Yellow Pages as a group of ghostbusters... except that perhaps no one would believe it.
  • The early editions of Vampire: The Masquerade sometimes suffered from this due to Power Creep and Serial Escalation. Vampires could become so powerful that it stretched the believability of mortals posing any serious threat. 5th edition introduced the Second Inquisition to try to rectify this by presenting mortals as a more serious threat.

    Web Comics 
  • In Skin Deep, there's a whole secret culture comprised of mythical creatures, but it's kept secret from humanity, mostly out of a vague fear that The World Is Not Ready. It's an unusually low-key Masquerade. They don't go to extreme lengths to keep humans away; they just try to make their havens inconspicuous and scare off any humans who manage to find one. If a human gets past those obstacles, then they're expected to keep it a secret as well, but they're not threatened with dire consequences for breaking the Masquerade. It's a wonder there hasn't been a leak.
  • El Goonish Shive: Justified due to the nature of the magic system. In this particular setting, anyone can gain magic with sufficient study and focus once they know it exists, and spells are customized to reflect the personality of those who get them. Consequently, there is no way to make useful magic publicly available, or even publicly reveal the existence of magic, without putting dangerous magic in the hands of those who would most abuse it. As Mr Verres puts it after one of the comic's most powerful and depraved villains has been defeated.
    Mr. Verres: You know that man in the ambulance right now? The man capable of, and having already done, absolutely horrible things? There is NOTHING special about him. He's just an average jerk who, when younger, stumbled on a way to gain use of magic that almost anyone on the planet could use. You want a real-life, non-hypothetical example of why there's so much secrecy? It's lying in the back of that ambulance.
    • A secondary explanation is that magic is sentient and doesn't like too many humans to know about it. If magical knowledge became widespread, it'd simply reset all the rules so know one could use it the way they learned how. Eventually, this restriction gets revoked when characters selected by Magic itself successfully argue that upholding a masquerade is impossible with modern technology. Magic then concedes to let everyone know, with all magical artifacts and spells from previous rules now being functional.

    Web Original 
  • John C. Wright, in his review of the book trilogy The Hidden Truth by Hans G. Schantz, discusses the difficulty in creating a believable Masquerade:
    "There has to be a reason why the hero does not call the police, who call in the national guard, who call in the marines, who call in the science patrol, or whatever. Here the idea of a conspiracy is useful: one cannot turn to the police if the police cannot be trusted, either because they are corrupted or have been deceived. One cannot go to the press, if the press is also in on it. At the same time, the conspiracy that controls police and press must be afraid of someone or something, or else they would be out in the open."
  • This article by Eclectic M, entitled "Tips & Ideas to Write More Believable Masquerades", provides a good examination of various commonly used elements in a Masquerade, and some of the problems and limitations with each.
  • This article, while a bit dated, on the website Clement's Game does a good job of exploring manifestations of the Masquerade Paradox that appear in many urban fantasy series.
  • Here's another article that explores ways of avoiding the Masquerade Paradox.
  • "Urban Fantasy Reloaded" is a video by Youtuber Terrible Writing Advice which explores many of the clichés of Urban Fantasy. One of them is the Masquerade Paradox, which is covered from 06:28-06:56.
  • The SCP Foundation keeps the existence of the paranormal a secret because The World Is Not Ready. It's a world where almost all Magic is Evil and Science Is Bad, so they've got very good reasons for keeping the public from knowing about it. Interestingly, neither the foundation itself nor most of its members are paranormal themselves.
    • In the story Everyone Knows, it turns out that everyone on earth knew about anomalies; the SCP foundation alone employs 3.5 billion people. After this is discovered, they decide to maintain the masquerade because they consider the illusion of normality worth protecting.
  • Mythcreants has a couple of articles dealing with the Masquerade Paradox: "Explaining the Urban Fantasy Masquerade", "Five Common Masqurade Explanations and Why They're Bad", and "The Problem with Oppressed Mages".

     Western Animation 
  • Danny Phantom: The eponymous hero wants to keep his identity a secret, for reasons which are in many cases quite rational. However, he seems to have no problem with every single non-human recurring enemy retaining knowledge of his identity; few of them think to actually use this against him, for reasons which are somewhat unclear. The only one given a reason is Vlad Masters (who is also a half-ghost, under the name Vlad Plasmius); he and Danny keep each other's Secret Identities secret because if one of them revealed the other's identity, the other would return the favor. As Danny pointed out, if he got exposed, his friends and family would support him, and his helping people would make him a hero to the public, so he's willing to accept it to some degree if it's absolutely unavoidable. Vlad, who has no allies and who amassed his fortune by using his powers for crime, would have no such luck. Episodes like "Reality Trip" and "Phantom Planet" prove Danny right.

     Real Life 
Occasionally, people in Real Life try to enact a Masquerade which turns out to be counterproductive.
  • The obstetrical forceps, a key medical tool in ensuring safe childbirth, were invented by Peter Chamberlen the Elder around 1600. Chamberlen knew his invention was revolutionary in a time when childbirth was dangerous and survival was far from assured — but even more than saving lives, he worried about midwives and medical establishment getting their revenge on him if they were forced out of a job. He made his invention a family secret, and his family kept that secret for the next hundred years. Even when using the forceps, they were kept in a special gilded box, everyone other than the Chamberlens were forced out of the room, and the mother herself was blindfolded. They even made a huge amount of artificial noise to prevent others from hearing the clanking of the forceps. Eventually, they were found out, but for hundreds of years who knows how many women and children died who might have been saved.
  • Richard Nixon's paranoia led him to enact several pointless Masquerades, most notably the "White House Plumbers", a covert special investigation unit answering directly to the White House; originally founded to stop classified information from leaking to the media, they were soon used to spy on the Democrats to win Nixon the 1972 election. Nixon won that particular election in a landslide; he didn't need to rig it in his favor. But his "Plumbers" were caught breaking into the Democratic Party headquarters in the Watergate Hotel in 1972, and that spiralled into the Watergate scandal, which eventually forced Nixon to resign from office.