The tags seen on mattresses and pillows are the subject of numerous gags. Most commonly, they involve a goody two-shoes character who accidentally or intentionally removes one, and then assumes they're in danger of going to jail. A frequent alternative is a Harmless Villain shown doing this as one of their "crimes". Note that in modern times, that part "except by the consumer" means that it doesn't even apply to those who are so worried about it. And even if it did apply, it wouldn't be nearly so much of a crime as people say it is. (The authorities have bigger things on their plate, like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, to deal with. And besides, even if it was illegal to remove the tag, how would the cops even know you removed it?) However, in the past, this phrasing wasn't there, making the worries slightly more legitimate.
The reason there is such a warning tag is that the tag lists such information as the materials used in making the mattress and the country of origin. Especially that "new material only" was used to create the mattress, because of historical problems of furniture being stuffed with old disease-ridden rags. Nowadays, it's a question of whether or not the mattress contains anything that a potential buyer might be allergic to. Thus, it's only illegal for the entity that is selling the mattress to remove the tag, in order to protect the consumer. The words "except by the consumer" have been on mattress tags since at least The '60s, making this both a Discredited Trope and a Dead Horse Trope.
Can also cause bafflement to people from nations where such tags aren't put on mattresses. Can overlap with Poke the Poodle, Felony Misdemeanor, Serious Business, and Jaywalking Will Ruin Your Life. Usually only worried about by a character who is Lawful Stupid. Can lead to Disproportionate Retribution in the event that All Crimes Are Equal.
All that said, there is one actual downside to the consumer tearing off the mattress tag — it voids the warranty.
- Parodied in a television commercial in which a woman in Confession cites this as part of a long list of extremely minor infractions.
- When one of the Serta Mattress sheep tears one of these off, they end up in jail, and cover it up when asked What Are You in For?:note
Sheep 8: We got caught tearing —
Sheep 1: Tearing a man to pieces!
- In Illuminati: New World Order, the "Crackdown on Crime" card has a picture of a SWAT team menacingly training their laser-sights on a man who's halfway through tearing off a mattress-tag.
- In the Batman '66 story "The Night of the Harlequin", the Harlequin (the setting's version of Harley Quinn) is shown tearing tags from couch cushions as part of a montage depicting her one-woman crimewave.
- The short-lived Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure comic-book has their arch-enemy DeNomolos releasing several evildoers (and an crooked accountant) from Hell, including "Alan! Murderer! Arsonist! Pillow tag tearer!"
- A Bonkers comic in Disney Adventures has an especially epic example of this. After a character accidentally tears one mattress tag off — which reads "Removing this tag is a federal offence. Go directly to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200" — and promptly goes off on a crime spree trying to ensure he can get away with this. Hiding it under a truckload of cherries, he crosses paths with Bonkers and Fall-Apart Rabbit when Rabbit's nose falls off and seemingly gets mixed in with the cherries. Believing they know about the mattress, he drives off with Fall-Apart Rabbit, moving up to kidnapping in addition to ripping off the tag and later attempting to burn the evidence.
- Judge Dredd used this in a non-humorous (well, kinda; no-one was joking but it was still funny) manner. After they realize their hunch was wrong and they have raided the wrong house, in order to avoid paying compensation, the Judges find an alternate charge and give the householder a caution for "removing the safety tags from his soft furnishings".
- The 26th and final issue of the Muppet Babies (1984) comic book by Star Comics/Marvel Comics had a secondary story where Gonzo's stuffed chicken Camilla went job-hunting. At one point, she gets a job at a police station and interrogates a criminal suspected to have torn a tag from a mattress.
- In one The Powerpuff Girls comic, the Amoeba Boys find an overturned truck of mattresses and attempt this crime—even though there's another overturned truck full of money right next to it. The truck driver doesn't even mind because he's hauling the mattresses to the dump anyway.
- Richard Dragon's response to Special Agent Ling saying Soldado is involved in more than just the international drug trade is a sarcastic; "He tore the tags off his mattress?"
- In the UglyDolls comic "Know Thy Enemy", superhero Babo and supervillain Big Toe trade places for a day to understand each other. Babo's idea of evil is to fire a laser from space to slice off a mattress tag...much to the absolute shock and horror of Wippy, owner of the mattress emporium.
- Referenced in a comic strip which has the engineers giving technical advice to marketing about the accuracy of an advert, then seguing into criticizing its humor and suggesting very old jokes in its place, including "something about the warning tags on mattresses".
- In another strip, Dilbert enters a stand up comedy competition which has the mandatory categories "Dan Quayle, Flatulence and The Warning Labels on Mattresess".
- Happens in one Hägar the Horrible comic strip.
- An early Liō strip.
- Non Sequitur used this once, with a parody of the Clinton impeachment where a hostile member of Congress rants that the criminal evidence they have against the US President gives them no choice but to impeach him, which, naturally is for doing this.
- One of the lemmings from Pearls Before Swine pulls off a mattress tag just before jumping to his death, simply because he could.
- Fletch: When Fletch gets caught searching a bedroom, he tries a few bluffs, including, "I'm with the mattress police. There are no tags on these mattresses."
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure: When Pee-wee asks escaped convict Mickey what he did to land in prison, Mickey starts describing how he got really mad and grabbed a knife. But after seeing Pee-wee cringe in fear, Mickey changes his story to say that he used the knife to cut the tag off a mattress. A relieved Pee-wee commiserates with him on what a dumb law that is. It's also implied that really was what happened, and Mickey simply calmed back down to tell the rest.
- In horror movie parody Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, the characters are shown to have thrown a man hit by their car into the sea, but interpret threatening notes about it as being for other minor misdeeds. This ends with a girl accidentally pulling off a mattress tag in the middle of sex. With the local priest.
- The story "Above the Law, Below the Box Springs", in Woody Allen's book Mere Anarchy.
- Bart Simpson's Guide to Life recommends the use of these tags as a last-minute Show And Tell.
- Greek Myths: Western Style by Barbara McBride-Smith inserts this joke into the myth of Pandora's Box.
- In Portnoy's Complaint, Alex says that he's always cruelly punished by the universe for minor transgressions, and imagines that if he's remove a mattress tag, he'd get the electric chair.
"This is the police speaking. You're surrounded, Portnoy. You better come on out and pay your debt to society." "Up society's ass, Copper!" "Three to come out with those hands of yours up in the air. Mad Dog, or else we come in after you, guns blazing. One." "Blaze, you bastard cop, what do I give a shit? I tore the tag off my mattress-" "Two." "-But at least while I lived, I lived big!"
- L. Neil Smith's The Wardove includes the lyrics for a song, Do Not Remove This Tag, sung professionally by one of the characters. The song's narrator removes the tag as a statement of her rights, but is then haunted by a feeling of having done wrong.
- The Warning Label Book by Joey Green, Tony Dierckins, and Tim Nyberg claims that the tags are there to cover up damage the retailer may have accidentally done to the mattress.
- An old episode of NBC's Bloopers and Practical Jokes set Doug Henning up with this very trope. Using his wife as a way-more-than-willing ally, they got Doug into a furniture store that was just an empty store NBC borrowed and filled up with furniture. Mrs. Henning went bouncing around like a four year old on a sugar rush looking at all the neat furniture AND tearing those tags off! The "manager" came up to Doug and explained that he was going to have to pay for each piece of furniture his wife tore the tag off of which amounted to several THOUSAND dollars in charges! They explained the joke before he used his uncanny magic to make anyone (like his wife) disappear.
- In the show Everybody Hates Chris, Chris meets a man who went to prison for many years for this, and his life was ruined all because of that tag.
- In an episode of Full House, Becky takes the hospital tags off her newborn twins, Nicky and Alex. When one of the girls asks if she's allowed to do that, Becky responds "They're not mattress tags."
- Ghosts (US): When Pete talks about how much of a bad boy he is, he says he once tore the tag off a mattress.
- The trope was used in the Mama's Family episode "Harper Versus Harper", except that the tag was from a rug instead of a mattress. When Thelma Harper takes her daughter-in-law in Naomi to court to sue for damages to her living room rug, her sister Fran takes the opportunity to "throw herself on the mercy of the court" and tearfully confesses to removing the forbidden tag two years ago.
- M*A*S*H pulls this one once, with the tag being from Henry's trousers rather than a mattress (episode "The General Cracked At Dawn").
- The Night Court episode "Russkie Business" has recurring character Yakov Kovlenko, desperate to return to the Soviet Union to be with his sick mother, confessing to ripping the tags off all of his furniture thinking it would get him deported.
- The December 6, 1977 episode of The Price Is Right had a Showcase skit called "The Last Dial" where Barker's Beauties Janice Pennington and Holly Hallstrom are depicted as prisoners serving time for removing a mattress tag.
- An episode of Sanford and Son had Fred Sanford tearing a tag off a chair, reading out loud that it says "do not remove under penalty of law." He tears it up and quips "Well...power to the people!"
- A sketch on SCTV shows that if you remove a mattress tag, you EXPLODE.
- On Wings, Brian complains about what a goody two-shoes his brother is.
Brian: I bet you don't even take that stupid tag off your mattress.
Joe: It says "DO NOT REMOVE!"
- This was one of the many rules broken in the music video for Green Day's song "Warning".
- Used in an issue of Cracked for an article titled "You Might be Gullible If...". One entry was "...you believe those tags that say do not remove under penalty of law" and showed a SWAT team kicking down the door just as man ripped the tag off the mattress.
- In 1984, MAD published a special issue entitled Mad 84, featuring previously-unpublished material. One piece was "The Mad Reader's Sex Survey", by Larry Siegel, illustrated by Bob Clarke. One multiple-choice question showed an orgy scene from a porno film (which can be seen here, sans text, in the lower right corner of the page) and asked the reader for his reaction, with the joke being that the answer choices were all pedantic, detail-oriented observations having nothing to do with sex (e.g. "A. Doesn't the man with the whipped cream know it's not kosher to mix dairy with meat?"). One of the answer choices is "That guy in the dress is going to be in big trouble if he rips the tag off that mattress."
- A classic National Lampoon cover, "The Crime Issue," done in the style of an old crime-pulp magazine cover: A shadowy room; in the background is a woman pressing her back against the wall and cringing in fear; i n the foreground is a man's leather-gloved hands bending up the corner of a mattress and about to rip off the label: "This tag is not to be removed under penalty of LAW"!
- KFI radio in Los Angeles had a talk show host in The '90s who called himself Mr. KFI (actually Marc Germain, who these days hosts a web-based show under his real name). The conceit of the show was that Mr. KFI was in prison for ripping off mattress tags, and he was hosting the show as part of his community service requirements.
- In Llamas with Hats, "Caaaarl" claims to have caused a nuclear explosion by ripping off the tag of a mattress.
- Clothing often has tags you're supposed to remove before wearing. As Lemmy of the webcomic Fanboys learned, you neglect this at your peril.
- The Nonadventures Of Wonderella reveals that one of Wonderella's many deaths was a result of breaking this law.
- In the strip "AR&R" from The Order of the Stick, Miko the Lawful Stupid Knight Templar threatens the staff of a hotel with holy vengeance for this offense.
- Ozy and Millie turned this into a Gulliver's Travels-esque satire: Llewellyn legalizes this act in his tiny country. The U.S. takes serious offense at this.
- Even earlier, Ozy implies that cutting tags off mattresses is a worse crime than music piracy.
- On the YouTube channel ComicTropes, one segment began with host Chris taking the tag off a mattress, then saying a version of his typical catchphrase: "Oh, hi! You caught me committing a major crime! Speaking of crimes, let's talk about crime fiction, and the work of Greg Rucka!"
- Columbo Reads a Death Note uses this as a crime warranting being murdered by the Death Note.
- From 4chan: Colonel Quaritch doesn't give a fuck◊.
- In the fourth Llamas with Hats installment, Carl offers this gag as an excuse for setting off a nuclear detonation.
- Bump in the Night: When Squishington needs a tissue in the "Destructo's Flipside" episode, Bumpy is loath to give up one from his collection and instead grabs a mattress tag. Right after Squishington blows his nose, Destructo busts them.
Destructo: Red alert! Red alert! You'll pay dearly for this heinous crime.
- In the ChalkZone episode "The Label Police", Snap pulls the tag off his pillow and gets sent to "label prison". He and the other inmates escape, and the guards end up in one of the cells... which has no bars and no door, but has a huge sign above the doorway that says "NO EXIT".
- Darkwing Duck:
- In the episode "Time and Punishment", which is set in a potential future where Darkwing has gone mad and imprisoned anyone who committed even the most minor crimes, while going on about the criminals that it's important that he watch out for, he ends with, "and people who tear the little tags off of pillows, they always did get me."
- In "Adopt-A-Con", Tuskernini mentions that he used to tear tags off mattresses while lying about being reformed.
- Duckman: After Duckman gets an adrenal gland transplant in the "Gland of Opportunity" episode, he gets a huge confidence boost and starts taking all manner of risks.
Duckman: The point is I'm ready to attack life with a new abandon. I've got thrills to seek, deaths to defy, mattress tags to tear off.
- An episode of the Earthworm Jim cartoon did it dead straight, identifying a sofa as EEEEEVIL because someone had removed the sticker. (The sofa was evil, but not for that reason...)
- In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode "Stop, Look, and Ed", Eddy torments Edd by ripping the tag off a mattress. This results in Edd reaching his breaking point, where he feigns compliance with Eddy's chaotic romp of disobedience to be set free, then uses the opportunity to snitch on all the neighborhood kids.
- In the movie-parody episode of The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy is trying to find out who "kidnapped" Wanda, and going through suspects like a detective. His dad, who for some reason desperately wants to be seen as a suspect in Timmy's mind, and keeps doing harmless crimes, one of which is ripping off a bunch of mattress tags.
- The first episode of the ill-fated Garbage Pail Kids cartoon that didn't air in the U.S. had a giant mattress with a tag on it that said "Do not remove under penalty of death".
- The Garfield and Friends episode "Wanted: Wade" is very similar to the above Looney Tunes example, except that Wade removes the tag from a sofa◊, and that he sees a police car near Roy's coop, where there is a problem with the stereo.
- An episode of Johnny Bravo features Johnny jokingly tearing off the mattress tag, only to have a helicopter arrive seconds later and pursue him. However, the helicopter pilot only did that to invite him to the Police Department bake sale.
- In one Looney Tunes short, Daffy Duck accidentally pulls the tag off of a junked mattress, and — believing himself to be a criminal — goes on the run. When he checks into a motel, he just happens to end up sharing a room with a wanted bank robber. Hilarity Ensues when the police shows up...
- In the Madagascar: A Little Wild episode "I Love Lucia", Lucia the sloth tears off the tag from her travel pillow. Marty, who takes rules seriously due to wanting to be a park ranger horse, is horrified by that and states that even though he can't read he knows it says "Do Not Remove" on the tag.
- Men in Black: The Series: In "The Worm Guy Guy Syndrome", the Kalifadik are an alien race that's downright obsessive about law and order, complete with an ultra-brutal gulag for housing the many, many lawbreakers they round up. How strict are they? When they confront a suspect, he asks if it's because of a mattress tag he'd pulled off, to which the enforcer said "Confession acknowledged." and immediately teleported him into the gulag.
- In the Quack Pack episode "Ducky Dearest", Donald gets the wrong idea after noticing his nephews being sneaky, becoming paranoid that they're doing illegal things behind his back when they're really planning a surprise party for his birthday. He ends up paying for advice from a con man named Dr. Chuck Homer. At one point, Donald ends up imagining himself on trial for his nephews' alleged misdeeds, with Dr. Homer as the judge. Dr. Homer rapidly lists off the nephews' crimes, one of the misdeeds mentioned being removing the tags from mattresses.
- On The Simpsons episode "King Leer", Moe becomes a mattress salesman and gets involved in a war with his siblings and their competing mattress stores. One of the acts of sabotage he commits is removing all the tags off the competition's inventory. Unlike most of these examples, this is a non-trivial action because the mattresses cannot legally be sold without that tag.
- In the SpongeBob SquarePants, episode "Born to Be Wild", SpongeBob questions Squidward on how often he's been known to overreact, and one of the three examples is him coming to Squidward after ripping off his mattress tag.
- An episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ends with the villain of the moment being thrown in jail for a variety of crimes, ending with mattress-tag ripping.
- In the episode "Wanted: Wade" from the animated series U.S. Acres, Wade the Duck unwittingly removes the tag from a sofa cushion and spends the episode consumed with terror that he's about to be arrested, complete with a musical Nightmare Sequence in which he imagines being sentenced to 9999 years in prison, where he is shunned by hardened criminals due to the shocking nature of his crime.
- VeggieTales: One of the LarryBoy chapter books had this listed as one of Awful Alvin's crimes.