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Moral Event Horizon

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Once they cross that red line, there's no turning back.

"Tarkin, if ever there was a shred of humanity in you or these twisted creatures of yours, it's dead now. You're at war with life itself. You are enemies of the universe...your Empire is doomed."
Princess Leia Organa (after Grand Moff Tarkin wipes out Alderaan), Star Wars Radio Dramas
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The Moral Event Horizon is the deed that renders a villain irredeemable. Like in a black hole, it is no longer possible for a villain past the Moral Event Horizon to get redeemed. Or if the character tries anyway, it will be rejected in-story. If the character wasn't a villain or wasn't played seriously by the story before, they now are.

Note the word irredeemable at the beginning of this article. It is a demonstration of permanent evil. This is the moment which confirms that this character will always be a bad person. The moment where you realize that it's simply not possible for them to cleanse themself of their guilt. The moment any Freudian Excuse they may have loses all meaning. Their existence is a blight on humanity. They. Are. Vile.

The deed is characterized by the following aspects:

  • The evilness of the deed stands out in the story and the resumé of the character.
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  • The event is played seriously and is not negated through Negative Continuity or Black Comedy.
  • There is often a shift in the way the character is perceived by the narrative and other characters.

When people decide in-universe that someone has crossed this line, the character in question is considered Beyond Redemption. The Good Counterpart to Moral Event Horizon is Heroes' Frontier Step, when a character commits a noble deed that firmly establishes that they are indeed heroic and even pure.

No Real Life Examples, Please! Whether or not a real person (yes, even Hitler) has crossed this line is way too debatable; we already have enough trouble with fictional characters.

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  • Abusive Parents: Characters who abuse their children often cross this. Especially if this abuse turns sexual or deadly.
  • And That's Terrible: When the writers feel the need to explicitly point out when this occurs.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: A race or group is treated, justifiably or not, as so innately evil that they're over the line by default.
  • Atrocity Montage: A montage depicting horrific events fold out such as crimes, accidents and disaster. If any character is responsible for it, then they cross the line.
  • Bad Boss: Characters who abuse their subordinates often cross this.
  • Bad People Abuse Animals: Characters who abuse animals often cross this.
  • Bait the Dog: A villain sets up a moment that endears them to the audience, only to commit a deed to show how utterly despicable they are.
  • Beyond Redemption: When a character In-Universe crosses a line of evil that makes someone else give up trying to redeem them.
  • Black Widow & The Bluebeard: While abusing a spouse is bad enough, killing a succession of them is a major crossing.
  • Blaming the Victim: Blaming someone for the tragedies happened to them is heinous.
  • Bully Brutality: Bullies who go beyond giving their victims black eyes and wedgies by severely injuring them are line-crossers.
  • Bullying the Disabled: Ostracizing or mocking someone's disability is a sick act.
  • Child Eater/Eats Babies: A villain who only targets defenseless children for the purpose of eating them often crosses the line by default, as it combines Would Hurt a Child and I'm a Humanitarian.
  • Complete Monster: A character that's pure evil. Not everyone who crosses the Moral Event Horizon become this, but a Complete Monster has definitely crossed it.
  • Cop Killer: When a murderer demonstrates their lack of regard for morality by killing representatives of law and justice.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: When these actions are played for laughs.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Inflicting painful and hideous deaths to your victims, especially innocent or sympathetic ones, is a line-crossing.
  • A Deadly Affair: When an affair turns into a crime scene. Victim(s) can vary.
  • Defiled Forever: In a setting where Sex Is Evil and/or where Nature Adores a Virgin.
  • Desecrating the Dead: Mutilating a person's dead body is a sure line-crosser.
  • Despair Event Horizon: Some characters who lose all hope can be more likely to cross the Moral Event Horizon. Driving someone else across the DEH can easily be a crossing of the MEH as well.
  • Designated Hero/Unintentionally Unsympathetic: Audiences think the characters are deserved to be condemned, even if the author makes their actions justified or reasonable.
  • Dick Dastardly Stops to Cheat: Giving up an advantage just to hurt someone, while definitely stupid, petty, and pointless, can also be a line-crossing if it involves a truly heinous act due to the underlying thought process: they care less about winning and more about inflicting harm, and they're totally willing to throw away what was a guaranteed victory just to indulge in petty cruelty.
  • Dirty Coward: In some cases, characters who put their lives before others to the point that they don't care if others die or suffer are line-crossers.
  • Dirty Cop / Killer Cop: Usually they often cross the line especially if they are deliberately aiding and abetting criminals as well as killing good cops that try to stop them, or are violent, hateful sadists who treat being a cop as carte blanche to maim and kill people and ruin their lives.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Sometimes, the retribution is disproportionate enough that it causes the person who committed it to cross the line, and often it does.
  • Dog-Kicking Excuse: Deliberately targeting bad people just because it presents a good excuse for doing something heinous to them is still as crossing it because, at the end of the day, they really only cared about inflicting serious or fatal harm on someone and just needed a good excuse for doing it.
  • Domestic Abuse: Characters who abuse their families/spouses/lovers often cross this.
  • Earth-Shattering Kaboom: Destroying an entire planet is a major line-crossing.
  • Evil Feels Good: Being on The Dark Side after a Face–Heel Turn makes a character feel good committing evil deeds.
  • Evil Is Petty: Heinous, loathsome acts committed in response to petty and trifling slights (especially if they are imagined, or so infinitesimal that no one else would reasonably care after the first minute) are often an MEH because the act is both grossly disproportionate to the situation at hand and backed with a sense of self-righteousness.
  • Face–Heel Turn: A character on the side of good turns bad and allies with a villain (or group of villains) and is forever affiliated with them.
  • False Friend: Forming a friendship with another character, only to reveal at a later time that this "friendship" was all an act instigated for their own benefit, is often crossing the line.
  • False Rape Accusation: Accusing someone of such an unforgivable crime when you know they aren't guilty is an unforgivable act in itself.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: Rewarding selfless acts of kindness with wanton cruelty can absolutely be a line-crossing.
  • Family Extermination: The killing of entire families especially the hero's loved ones is a major crossing of the MEH.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Many Affably Evil characters can become this when they cross the line.
  • Final Solution: Genocide, the act of wiping out an entire people, is one of the most monstrous acts that a person or a society can commit, and is a serious line-crossing.
  • Forced to Watch: Forcing someone to watch the torture or murder of those they care about is almost invariably a line-crossing.
  • For the Evulz: Many usually Kick the Dog for no reason than Evil Feels Good and to get a sick kick at others' expense.
  • Freudian Excuse: Villains are often the way they are because they were on the receiving end of someone crossing the line.
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: When a villain’s sad past makes absolutely no impact on the villain having crossed the line.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Sometimes a situation becomes so desperate that even heroes must do the previously unthinkable or forbidden.
  • Guilt by Association Gag: Punishing someone for what someone else has done can be considered this due to how unfair it is.
  • Hate Crimes Are a Special Kind of Evil/Politically Incorrect Villain: Bigotry is treated as this, lest they have a really good Freudian Excuse.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam: A Heel–Face Turn and/or an apology is attempted, but for whatever reason(s) is rejected; in other words, it's too little, too late. Also, a villain who kills someone just as they are about to make a Heel–Face Turn often crosses this.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: He who seeks revenge against the villains should be wary, not to get so influenced by them that he crosses the line and becomes a villain himself.
  • Honor-Related Abuse: Characters who abuse their families/friends in the name of honor often cross this.
  • Human Traffickers: Since their entire business involves kidnapping young women and girls for the purposes of slavery and sexual desire, they automatically cross the MEH.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: When a character does something irredeemably terrible in the name of the greater good (or, less favorably, believes that it was for the greater good) while being at least nominally aware of the gravity of their actions.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: One is made to cross the line to prove their character.
  • Ignored Epiphany: A villain or morally gray character has a brief moment of realizing how bad their actions are, only to shrug it off a few moments later, knowing how far they've fallen.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: Willingly eating another person is one of the greatest taboos in many cultures, and as such is considered unforgivable, as it involves killing people for one's own enjoyment and desecrating their corpse at the same time. This may be much more forgivable in survival scenarios or if one is unaware of what they're eating.
  • Immortality Immorality: Villainous immortality seekers are frequent line-crossers, as they typically pursue monstrous or morally bankrupt means of achieving it, and once they become immortal (or if they have been immortal for a while), they are extremely likely to engage in significantly more heinous and depraved acts as time goes on.
  • It Can Think: When a creature is revealed to be highly intelligent, what were once amoral actions can become this.
  • I've Come Too Far: When a character recognizes (or believes) that they have crossed the MEH and know that they don't have a chance of redemption anymore.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: A character skips over several progressively darker shades of gray and goes straight to crossing it.
  • Kangaroo Court: Deciding that the accused is guilty without any evidence can cross the line.
  • Karmic Death: What the irredeemable character will usually face due to crossing it.
  • Karmic Rape: A character may also face this if they've done something irredeemably awful, especially if that thing involved sex.
  • Kick the Dog: An act which serves no purpose other than to mark the character as evil, which frequently overlaps with this.
  • Kick the Morality Pet: If Kicking The Dog wasn't enough, the evil character hurting the ones who brought out their inner humanity is worse - and, from a narrative standpoint, is a good way to cut off their most obvious path to redemption.
  • Kill the Poor: Killing those who are in poverty is a form of genocide, and therefore an obvious crossing.
  • Kinslaying Is a Special Kind of Evil: Murdering one's relatives in general is often considered this.
    • Genocide from the Inside: Wiping out your family is bad enough, but extending it to your entire species is an extreme case of this.
    • Matricide: A character killing their own mother is considered to be heinous in most cases.
    • Naughty Narcs: Just like Dirty and Killer Cops, they can often cross the line if they willingly help the drug cartels against the wishes of the DEA and even kill anyone who tries to expose them.
    • Offing the Offspring: Parents killing their children is considered this.
    • Pater Familicide: A male character killing their family and then themselves or leaves town is considered to be heinous.
    • Patricide: A character killing their own father is considered to be heinous most of the time.
    • Self-Made Orphan: A character killing their own parents is considered to be heinous most of the time.
    • Sibling Murder: A character killing their own sibling is considered to be heinous.
  • Knight Templar: One of the most frequent crossers, as they're too deluded to realize that they're in the wrong or believe that the outcome will vindicate them.
  • Lack of Empathy: The root of many a line-crossing. Characters who don't care about other people's feelings can engage in vile acts without guilt or remorse.
  • Mind Rape: Psychologically torturing someone into insanity is quite depraved.
  • Mocking the Mourner: Anyone who harasses the bereaved, especially over their loved one's death, is considered having crossed the line into this.
  • Monster Misogyny: A character or creature targeting defenseless women exclusively often crosses the line by default from doing so.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The character will react with great remorse after they cross the Moral Event Horizon.
  • No Place for Me There: When a character who has crossed it or inevitably will is trying to create a better world, but does so knowing that there will be no place in that world for people who commit monstrous acts like them.
  • No Woman's Land: A race or group abuse women so they're over the line by default.
  • Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist: Lying about the horrible atrocities you committed as being for a good cause is a great method to cross the line.
  • Offing the Annoyance: Trying to murder someone because you feel annoyed with them is often crossing the line, because it's disproportionate and accompanied by a sense of self-righteousness.
  • Omnicidal Maniac: Trying to kill EVERYTHING almost certainly puts one past the line.
  • Ordered to Die: Telling someone you have authority over to kill themselves. If a hero does this, it's hard to argue they're a "hero" any longer.
  • Pædo Hunt: Sexual contact with a minor is treated as one of the vilest actions anyone can take, as it combines Would Hurt a Child and Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil.
  • Post-Game Retaliation: Physically attacking a victor who won a competition fair and square can absolutely be an MEH, especially if it is a sucker punch, multi-person ambush, or when it involves weapons.
  • Post-Support Regret: When a Big Bad Friend crosses this, it results in a Broken Pedestal for their True Companions, making them regret befriending them and vouching for them against everyone who said they were no good.
  • Punished for Sympathy: In a cultural sense, a character showing sympathy for someone who has crossed it is considered just as bad as the line-crosser.
  • Rage Against the Legal System: Criminals who are clearly guilty are usually met with utter contempt if they actively seek revenge against legal authorities for "unjustly" incarcerating them, because they feel no remorse for their actions that got them incarcerated and refuse to acknowledge that they did anything wrong.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Rape is easily considered a major crossing.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Any one of those is crossing the line, doing them all at once on a large scale is an easy line-crosser.
  • Realism-Induced Horror: Realistically horrific acts are more likely to cross the line than fantastic ones.
  • Redemption Rejection: A character rejecting an offer to redeem himself is proof that he isn't willing to turn back from the line he crossed.
  • Reformed, but Rejected: Frequently befalls those who crossed the line if they try to atone. This may or may not be reasonable depending on their pre and post line-crossing actions.
  • Rejected Apology: Sometimes, a character's actions cross the line to the point where he isn't forgiven for them no matter how apologetic he is.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Exacting revenge on someone innocent, especially if it's done in order to hurt someone connected to the person who the avenger wants revenge on, is treated as this.
  • Revenge Is Not Justice: In some cases, characters who get revenge on those who wronged them can be labeled as line-crossers, especially if the law gets involved.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: A character in the middle of one of these very well may do something that strikes beyond the pale.
  • Sacred Hospitality: In some cultures, such as ancient Greece, violating the bond of trust between host and guest is one of the worst things you can do. This may be subject to Values Dissonance nowadays, as hotels and faster means of transportation mean that spending a night in a stranger's house during travel is a rare occurrence and not something most people worry about.
  • Sadist: A character who enjoys the pain and suffering of others and enjoys inflicting as much of it as possible is a frequent line crosser.
  • Serial Rapist: A character who rapes numerous individuals. For obvious reasons, it's a big MEH crossing.
  • Shamed by a Mob: A large group of characters will show extreme disgust towards the one crossing the line. Conversely, a mob shaming someone runs the risk of crossing this is the shaming goes to the extremes.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Can be considered this due to the family having no control over what the culprit has done.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Slavery is considered as this. Applies first and foremost for slavedrivers who start it, and not always for those raised in a slavery-based society if they aren't cruel to the slaves.
  • Slowly Slipping Into Evil: One common slow approach to crossing the line.
  • Snuff Film: When someone intentionally kills someone and records it by themselves, usually For the Evulz.
  • The Sociopath: One of the most frequent line-crossers, as a complete Lack of Empathy, overarching egotism and grandiosity, ability to feign social cues to such an extent that it appears genuine to regulars, and willingness to escalate their depravity when they've grown bored with garden-variety cruelty are a lethal combination.
  • Soiled City on a Hill: An entire location that has crossed the line.
  • Start of Darkness: A flashback or prequel that shows where they crossed the line.
  • Stupid Evil: Characters who act like this tend to cross the line with alarming regularity, as the behavior is inherently pointless and purposeless and they also very frequently escalate their behavior when they've grown bored with garden-variety cruelty.
  • Suicide Dare: Telling someone to kill themselves is a heartless act to say the least, and becomes outright monstrous if the person should actually go through with it.
  • Suicide Is Shameful: Suicide is considered as this crossover by some cultures.
  • Tautological Templar: Even worse offenders at crossing the line than the Knight Templar because they believe everything they do is good, no matter how monstrous.
  • Team Killer: Killing one's own teammates is a reprehensible act.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Deeming someone as evil without having done anything evil, and after getting fed up they decide to become evil or at least act the part. If mistreated and abused for no reason their persecutors have ironically crossed the Moral Event Horizon themselves. Their first unambiguously villainous act may well be their Moral Event Horizon.
  • This Is Unforgivable!: An in-universe proclamation that the Moral Event Horizon has been crossed. See also This Means War!.
  • Tragic Mistake: The line is accidentally crossed. May or may not be irredeemable depending on how they handle it.
  • Tragic Villain: A character believes they've crossed the Moral Event Horizon, and has nothing left to do but continue to be evil despite regretting it.
  • Treachery Is a Special Kind of Evil: When betraying someone is considered to be crossing the line, especially if the betrayal was planned in advance.
  • The Unfettered: Willing to do whatever it takes to achieve their goals, even if it means crossing the line.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: Sometimes certain things the player can do will push their character over it.
  • War Crime Subverts Heroism: Soldiers crossing the line to show War Is Hell.
  • Where I Was Born and Razed: Destroying one's own homeland is a reprehensible act.
  • Would Harm a Senior: Hurting a senior citizen often crosses the line.
  • Would Hit a Girl: For a man, hurting an innocent woman may be considered as crossing the line.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Hurting a child often crosses the line.
  • You Monster!: Characters will get called this, indicating that they've severely crossed the line.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Bands of rebels (especially guerilla fighters) tend to be frequent crossers because in times of tyranny or occupation, you can't afford to not get your hands dirty, and the higher the stakes and the more powerful the opposition, the higher the chance of doing something truly heinous is. They may react to it with horror, resignation or, far less favorably, by setting it as a benchmark for future actions.
  • Zombify the Living: Subjecting people to a death far worse than normal death, by making them into undead, is a cruel deed.

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    Comic Strips 
  • Crankshaft. The September 2013 plot arc has Crankshaft get even surlier than usual because a new co-worker is challenging his reign of smug, curmudgeonly idiot incompetence; his response is to try to 'scare' her into letting him be the festering asshole using his hard life as an excuse to be the antisocial clod he was born to be... by trying to run her over with his school bus.

 
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