These 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 he's in danger of going to jail and ends up on the run. 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. Even if it did, it wouldn't be nearly so much of a crime as people say it is. (Even if the authorities didn't have bigger things on their plate, like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, how would they know?) 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 they are "new material only" — because of historical problems of furniture being stuffed with disease-ridden rags. Nowadays, it's a question of whether or not the mattress contains any allergens. Thus, it is illegal for the seller of the mattress to remove the tag, in order to protect the consumer. The words "...except by the consumer" have been there since at least the 60s, making this a Discredited, Dead Horse Trope. Can also cause bafflement to people from nations where such tags aren't put on mattresses.
There is, however, one actual downside to tearing off the mattress tag: doing so 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?:
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.
- 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 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.
- 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.
- In Batman '66 #25, the Harlequin (the setting's version of Harley Quinn) is shown doing this as part of a montage depicting her one-woman crimewave.
- 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 criticising its humour 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.
- 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 made and took up 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.
- 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.
- 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."
- Greek Myths: Western Style by Barbara McBride-Smith inserts this joke into the myth of Pandora's Box.
- Bart Simpson's Guide to Life recommends the use of these tags as a last-minute Show And Tell.
- The story "Above the Law, Below the Box Springs", in Woody Allen's book Mere Anarchy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!"
- 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.
- 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.
- 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").
- 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!"
- 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 out the tag off his mattress thinking it would get him deported.
- 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!"
- 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."
- This was one of the many rules broken in the music video for Green Day's song "Warning".
- 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; in 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"!
- 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."
- 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 Llamas with Hats, "Caaaarl" claims to have caused a nuclear explosion by ripping off the tag of a mattress
- 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.
- Clothing often has tags you're supposed to remove before wearing. As Lemmy of the webcomic Fanboys learned, you neglect this at your peril.
- 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.
- The Nonadventures Of Wonderella reveals that one of Wonderella's many deaths was a result of breaking this law.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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 Darkwing Duck 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."
- 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.
- Men in Black: 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 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 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 episode of ChalkZone, Snap pulls the tag off his mattress 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".
- 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 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.
- One of the LarryBoy chapter books had this listed as one of Awful Alvin's crimes.
- 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".
- 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.