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Obstructive Bureaucrat

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" any bureaucratic organization there will be two kinds of people: those who work to further the actual goals of the organization, and those who work for the organization itself... [In] all cases, the second type of person will always gain control of the organization, and will always write the rules under which the organization functions."
— The Iron Law of Bureaucracy, as formulated by Jerry Pournelle

This guy is the ultimate pencil pusher from a government agency or corporation, and he creates the red tape that normal citizens hate. He's an unlikeable Punch-Clock Villain with a bad temper and a sizable streak of callousness. Works for any and all bureaucracies, including Department of Child Disservices, banks and possibly even your own afterlife. His job, storywise, is to get in the way of whatever the heroes need to do, sometimes because what the heroes are doing is against some form of regulations, but other times because the character is a Jerkass who just doesn't like the heroes and is using "regulations" to make their lives difficult. In disaster movies and other works that lack a real villain (or whose villains are too cool to effectively hate), expect this guy to be the work's resident Hate Sink.


Sometimes he can be restored to humanity by uncovering the secret dream buried deep beneath his efficient exterior. Failing that, you may be able to use his respect for Exact Words against him.

On the other hand, sometimes he is obstructing a Matter of Life and Death. Threat of force, or actual force, may be needed to get by him, which could turn into a Kick the Son of a Bitch moment. A common cause of Divided We Fall. Many a surreptitious entry into, or exit from, a location, or requisition of supplies, is needed because it would take too long to get by him. Almost all this form-filling out serves no useful purpose; for the hero to put in a list that will allow him access to a facility, for instance, is a very rare subversion. Pournelle's Iron Law of Bureaucracy (see above) is always in effect.


Rarely, in a Matter of Life and Death, a benevolent Obstructive Bureaucrat will go and obstruct the villain. He may actively devise regulations to impede and hinder him, and then, with the same mindless fervor as any other bureaucrat, insist on their being followed to the letter.

The tropes: Beleaguered Bureaucrat, Department of Child Disservices, and Social Services Does Not Exist overlap since they all involve the same problems. The employees are often overworked, underpaid, lack resources, and suffer the public’s wrath. They then turn into the Obstructive Bureaucrat and use Bothering by the Book to slow down the workload or get revenge on the people who make unreasonable demands.

This trope also has a darker version, where the character is still a government employee concerned with the bottom line, but what he does in daily work probably violates the Geneva Convention. He is likely to be a murderer and/or a torturer who defends himself by saying "I'm just doing my job". In short, he is a Well-Intentioned Extremist whose overriding motivation is being Employee of the Month.

Note that this is not the same as the Knight Templar, another type of Well-Intentioned Extremist. The Knight Templar does horrible things for some greater good, whereas the Obstructive Bureaucrat has no concept of "greater good", and cares only about following procedure, or rather believes that procedure is equivalent to the "greater good". He's not just prone to Just Following Orders: as long as the orders match the rules he thinks it's his job to enforce and follow, Just Following Orders is what he is all about. In another sense, where the Knight Templar is the extreme leader, the Obstructive Bureaucrat is the extreme follower.

If he has no idea that the job he's doing is evil, he may be a Clueless Deputy. This sort of Obstructive Bureaucrat can be drawn into a Heel–Face Turn or Freak Out more readily than one who does know and just feels it's none of his business (a fella's gotta eat)...

For a character who isn't so much obstructive as much as overworked, see Beleaguered Bureaucrat. For a bureaucrat who can actually get things done, see Badass Bureaucrat. For a civil servant who's outright crooked, see Corrupt Bureaucrat.

In the US, this character can also be a member of Congress (usually a senator) who is investigating the heroes.

This type of character is also known as a "jobsworth" in British slang, named for their tendency to deny a perfectly reasonable request with "That's more than my job's worth."

This species might easily proliferate around a Vestigial Empire.

See also The Barnum.

These characters tend towards Lawful Neutral, usually Lawful Stupid and sometimes Lawful Evil. Usually tends to be a subtrope of Villainy-Free Villain.

Examples of the humorous version

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  • The Dutch insurance company OHRA spoofed this in one of their tv ads. A mother and her child go to the reception of a public pool to get their purple inflatable crocodile back. The man behind the desk gets them a form and asks them to fill it out, even though it is right behind him. After filling it out, the mother returns it to the man, only to get prompted that she also has to fill out the back as well. Finally, after the paperwork is done, the man behind the desk informs them that it can only be handed in between 9 and 10 AM the following day, the mother responds by saying: "It's standing right there," the man replies with "It's right there indeed," but doesn't do anything afterwards.
    • A "purple crocodile" (paarse krokodil) is now synonymous in the Netherlands for unneeded bureaucracy
    • A 2006 law aimed at reducing red tape in taxes has the official shortened name "Wijzigingsplan «Paarse krokodil»" (Change plan «Purple Crocodile»)

     Anime and Manga 
  • All Nagisa wants to do in CLANNAD is to re-establish the Drama Club. At every turn, whenever she thinks she's either overcome a rule handed down by the Student Council or found a creative way to solve her problem, the Council either announces a new rule or tells her that her solution isn't allowed
  • Pariston Hill, the vice-chairman of the Hunters Association in Hunter × Hunter is this - very intentionally. He in fact took the position just for the sake of becoming one. Why? Because it amuses him.
    Mizaistom Nana: When he controls the pace, everything becomes more complicated.
  • In Bloom Into You, Kuze, Touko's predecessor as Student Council President, usually is rather lazy and tends to delegate work to his subordinates (doing said work helps Touko build up her reputation and get elected as his successor). The one time he acts as a president should is when he vetoes Touko's proposal to bring back the School Play in the second volume of the Regarding Sayaka Saeki spinoff novels, which take place during Sayaka and Touko's first year of high school, in part because it's too much trouble. That being said, Sayaka admits that he raises some reasonable objections about the student council lacking the resources and talent for this endeavor, so he isn't solely motivated by laziness.

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe:
    • The bureaucrat from "Cosmic Confrontation" originally sneaked up aboard Gyro's rocket to check how many laws it violated, but when the rocket came face-to-face with a squad of giant alien constructor workers out to destroy Earth to make room for a space highway, he proceeds to use his bureaucracy to drive them away and save Earth.
    • Another story shows that Duckburg's city bureaucrats were astoundingly lazy and unmotivated workers who'd leave the office to laze about or go shopping and proud of it-to the point their supervisor, seeing how fast and precise Scrooge's office workers were, at one point lied and claimed a permit Scrooge needed was being held up by his workers' laziness just to get him to break them out of it. Scrooge being Scrooge, he outsmarts and outplays constantly, breaking most of them out of their lazyness in days and the last stubborn wastrels, who decided to hide in the city hall's basement with the other covering for him just to prove he could still avoid working, being dealth with by locking him in.
  • In Judge Dredd, Mega-City One has the Bureau of Creative Bureaucracy. Its motto is "Saving Money For The City By Making Things Difficult For You!"
  • In The Pulse, the administrator of the hospital Jessica Jones was taken to demands that she be removed from the premises immediately, despite — and because of — her being in active labor.
  • New Avengers: Jeryn Hogarth, lawyer for Rand Industries, manages to make Iron Man looking stupid, running rings around him with loopholes when the guy (and the Avengers) try to arrest his boss, Iron Fist for being a super-hero. Given Iron Man's being a Jerkass, it's brilliant to behold.
  • Probably the biggest one in the Marvel Universe was Henry Peter Gyrich, who gave The Avengers quite the headache as government liaison. He's forced the team to cut down its numbers from 15+ to 7, forced The Falcon to join the team just to fill in the Token Minority hole (something Sam was not happy about) and infamously got the team's government approval yanked, leading to the infamous scene in The Korvac Saga where the team races into battle on a city bus.
    • Subverted with Duane Freeman later on. Expecting another Gyrich, the Avengers were pleasantly surprised to find while he did argue with their actions when he believed it necessary, even standing toe-to-toe with Thor at one point and not backing down, he supported them fully and remained a big proponent of superheroes. It became a running gag that Iron Man couldn't believe how reasonable Freeman was.
  • Asterix had to deal with the Roman bureaucracy on a few occasions, such as in Asterix the Legionary.
  • The mayor's receptionist in Copperhead is one: anyone attempting to meet with the mayor is informed his schedule is full and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Successful appointments are susceptible to cancellation due to last-minute travel or double-booking.

    Comic Strips 
  • In Dilbert, the accounting department where Dilbert works is staffed by ugly trolls (not this kind, but this kind, and dealing with them is frustrating, if not dangerous.

    Fan Works 
  • In Savior of Demons, the Council of Arcos is ridiculously obstructive, until you realize that they are trying to help by reigning in King Kold's tendency to jump feet-first into whatever solution he thinks is best and most expedient. Queen Isa also accuses them of being Corrupt Bureaucrats.
  • The "Mystery of Magic" in My Immortal. They were most likely supposed to be serious, but given how it's written...
  • Greg, Pencil Pusher's boss in Flash Fog. Also the unnamed claims adjusters at Caligo's insurance company who insist that they withhold trade secrets related to the fog's composition or lose their industrial espionage coverage.
  • In the Star Trek fanfic Step by Step, the admirals will not let Kirk leave the bridge until the mission is complete, even though he's so sick with the flu that sitting up and staying awake is a struggle.
  • Broken Souls has Charles Lamb, head of Section XIII. When one of the officers within the Ministry of Magic started claiming that somebody was leaking information, he and the Joint Intelligence Committee tried to essentially sweep things under the rug. Justified in that while many people wanted a witch hunt, he wasn't about to start pointing fingers without evidence. He's also not remorseless, as he seems very distraught that several deaths have occurred because of his actions.
  • Henry Peter Gyrich again in Origin Story. He becomes obsessed with acquiring the eventual Superwoman as the government's attack dog, and authorizes several missions in a vain effort to capture or cow her. Fed up with Gyrich after several people nearly die in his attempts, Superwoman locates him in Washington, grabs him, and bodily hurls him into space.
  • Mariella Smith-Rhodes and her friend Rivka ben-Divorah have just crossed the border into Mariella's native country. Having just won a running battle against an enemy equipped with a deadly weapon that Mariella's people cannot counter, they should be getting a heroines' welcome, right? Wrong. Mariella's return to her native country involves being detained by a petty Customs official who arrests her on suspicion of smuggling illicit items into Rimwards Howondaland. Rivka gets worse: she is banged up in an insalubrious cell. Apparently that forgotten lump of Klatchian bhong resin in her luggage was a deciding factor. Either way, they're held incommunicado, despite having vital information the military needs to know about - which is not the business of a Customs and Excise officer who has his own vital priorities. It's all here in Gap Year Adventures, in which two intrepid adventurers explore the Discworld's Africa.
  • In Kara of Rokyn, Green Lantern and Supergirl need to head off to Earth, but the emigration officer will not let them leave planet Rokyn because Hal Jordan needs an official authorization. So what if they need to save Superman? Hal has no travel permit, and that's it.
    Green Lantern was being hassled at the WarPort entrance by the emigration officer. "I'm sorry, sir, but you need official authorization to use the ‘Port to Earth," said the man, a balding, mustached type in a brown outfit. "We just can't authorize passage to non-K worlds without it."
    Hal had dealt with planetary bureaucrats before. He held up his ring hand and let the power ring display an aura of green energy. "This is my authorization, officer. I'm a deputized member of the Green Lanterns of the Universe. My authority comes from the Guardians, and I am recognized on every world in my space-sector, which is 2814. And I am a native of Earth."
    Kara, behind him, said, "I'll vouch for him, tanth. We both need to get to Earth. It's very important. It involves Superman."
    The officer was standing fast, blocking the passageway to the teleportation device a hundred yards distant. Armed guards were on hand, and so was an attendant, and none of them looked like they wanted to be there.
    Nonetheless, the officer had just been promoted a few months ago, and he was going to live up to his responsibility. That was the lesson his mother had drummed into him, and by the sun he was going to exercise it.
    "It well may involve Tanth El, Tynth Zor-El," said the officer. "But until the gentleman before me produces some government documents, I cannot allow him to ‘port to Earth. You may do so, however, with my blessings."
    "This is ridiculous," said Kara. "What's your name, officer? I want to mention it to the Drygur Moliom next time I talk to him." She had two fairly bulky suitcases in her hands and didn't want to set them down yet, even if Hal had negated their weight to make them liftable. One of them held over 100 pounds of clothes.
    "You may do so, Tynth Zor-El," he said. "My name is Di-Marr. You may obtain my address from the Central Directory. But unless the Drygur himself authorizes it, I may not allow the gentleman to use the ‘Port. Now, please either both of you leave, or let the Lantern leave and you, tynth, use the ‘Port. But as it is, we're holding up traffic."
  • Project Tatterdemalion: Referenced repeatedly — General Yamamoto and Colonel Hughes are very by-the-book about paperwork, and obstructive bureaucrats are responsible for the Republic's harsh genetic engineering laws. This is also Ryuuken's cover for infiltrating the Project: he's supposedly a health inspector.
  • Subverted in Worm/DC Universe crossover Echoes of Yesterday. Director Piggot tries to play hardball with Supergirl and throw the book at her in order to get her join the Protectorate, but when Piggot puts forward a Protectorate contract, Supergirl takes five seconds to read and memorize the entire document, and then makes Piggot listen to and clear all of her concerns on the spot.
  • In A Basket, a Blanket and a Bundle of Bills, the Treasury Wing is full of them; they don't like handing out money to anyone for any reason.
  • In Wilhuff Tarkin, Hero of the Rebellion, some of the issues of the Galactic Empire's military are blamed on "efficiency experts" that at the end of the Clone Wars ordered the removal of equipment they found useless without really understanding how it worked and Palpatine letting them to reroute the funds to his various superweapon projects. The two examples we're given are the Imperial Star Destroyer having been designed with dual use torpedo launchers/flak guns only to have them removed (thus making them criminally vulnerable to fighter attacks and reducing their anti-ship firepower on top of that), and the line infantry squads losing their light repeating blasters, with the "experts" resisting their reintroduction after Imperial ground forces suffered grievous losses, but it's so bad that Tarkin is genuinely surprised when it turns out the one he's being forced to work with actually knows his job.
  • For The Glory Of Irk:
    • The Syndicate's government has an unfortunate habit of needing to process everything through extremely precise means, and then debate it heavily, before they do anything. This earns them a lot of derision from the Irkens.
    • Sym, the Irkens' Chief of Agenda, is basically the Tallest's secretary who controls all of their appointments, which she uses to control who speaks to them, and makes it as difficult as possible for anyone to do so. On the other hand, she's also such a stickler for the laws that it even gets on the Tallest's nerves sometimes.

    Films — Animation 
  • Disney's Mulan had Qi Fu, a government official appointed to oversee the training of the batch of recruits Mulan ended up with, who seemed to positively delight in documenting Shang's failures and the general ragtag nature of the unit in training, would have gotten Mulan killed had Shang not owed her his life, and proved to be an incredible ninny when not on duty. Though to his credit, he also seemed quite pleased when Shang or the unit actually met his unfairly high standards, and possessed enough intellectual integrity to recognize when following the rules simply wasn't possible or when The Book didn't really have anything to say about the situation. Qi Fu also doubles as a Meaningful Name, as Qi Fu (欺負) means "bully" in Mandarin.
  • In Zootopia, the DMV (Department of Mammal Vehicles) is staffed exclusively with sloths, meaning it's even slower than the Real Life version. It's a downplayed version of the trope in that none of the sloths are intentionally trying to be obstructive or petty, they're just really, really slow.
  • The Incredibles:
    • Gilbert Huph, the Insuricare Middle Manager and Bob's boss. His job is explicitly to see that every single claim that is made against Insuricare, no matter how valid or dire, is denied. He sees his clients as his stockholders, openly chafes at laws that protect policyholders, and mocks a man Bob sees getting mugged and beaten. Bob hurls him through several walls.note  Earlier, we have Bob secretly helping an old woman with a backdoor solution after he denied her claim. It works enough that Mr. Huph doesn't notice after she leaves.
    • The trope is lampshaded when Huph rants at Bob for secretly helping his clients negotiate all the obstacles he's putting in their way. "They're penetrating the bureaucracy!"
  • In Inside Out, the support staff of Riley's mind, which handle all the maintenance, are thoroughly unhelpful. They stick to their jobs even as the islands crumble, and serve as impediments to Joy and Sadness on several occasions.
  • Asterix and Obelix have to deal with a whole building of obstructive bureaucrats for one of the challenges in The Twelve Tasks of Asterix. While none of the individual bureaucrats at "The Place that Sends You Mad" are particularly difficult or unhelpful in their own right, each one of them has a very specific job to do and knows very little about the systems and procedures outside their own department. Realising this, Asterix turns the tables on them by asking for a permit that doesn't exist, sending the entire workforce into disarray as they scramble to find information about new documents and instructions that nobody knows anything about. In the end, one bureaucrat gives Asterix the real permit he needs just to make him go away-and promptly goes insane himself when he realizes someone actually got a permit.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Fun with Dick and Jane (1977): Dick's un-employment money is ended by a low level bureaucrat who follows the letter of the law and personally dislikes Dick.
  • The Tim Burton film Beetlejuice, which explored the question: What if the afterlife were a bureaucracy?
  • Brazil features a whole society built on them. Their utter incompetence at doing anything right and requiring forms for everything (then giving people runarounds when they try to get the needed paperwork), as well as almost militant drive to not want to take the blame for any (occasionally life-taking) snafus that happen because of having incorrect information, is played for Black Comedy at best and unleaded Nightmare Fuel at worst.
  • Ghostbusters (1984): Minor EPA official Walter Peck (played to perfection by William Atherton) had the unmitigated gall to arrest the Ghostbusters for causing an explosion that he himself was responsible for when he ordered, in front of multiple witnesses, that the ghost-containment grid be shut down, despite repeated warnings that would be disastrous. In a deleted scene, as Gozer the Gozerian was wreaking havoc, the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man was smashing up the city and the End Of The World was quite seriously nigh, Peck's response was to grab a fleeing police officer and order him to go up to arrest the Ghostbusters for "going too far". The officer's response, not unreasonably, was "You go and arrest them!"
  • The U.S. Secretary of Defense Albert Nimziki in Independence Day. He knowingly concealed the fact that the aliens had visited Earth before, even after they became hostile and any information would have been immensely helpful. He only admits it after the first failed attack and David's father draws attention to the supposed "myth" of the Roswell crash. He wants to continue nuking the aliens even after the first attempt proves that their shields can resist the bombs. Then he has the gall to insist that David's plan, which he had demonstrated could actually work, is a bad idea and tries to talk the President out of it (the RiffTrax crew dubs him "Foily McAntagonist" for his pointless and completely motive-free naysaying). At this point, the President gets tired of his crap and fires him.
  • Played for Laughs in Spider-Man 2, where Bruce Campbell, as a live-theater usher, prevents Peter Parker from attending Mary-Jane's show because he's late... and then prevents him from questioning the decision because there's no talking during the performance.
  • Galloway from Transformers insults and looks down on the Autobots, and even on Lennox, Epps and the other troops who support the Autobots. Threatens the Autobots with banishment from Earth, though it's never mentioned that he could only legally banish them from the US.
  • In Ikiru, Kanji Wanatabe works in a City Hall that is full of them. As one person said during his wake, "in order to clean up a garbage can somewhere, you need a garbage can full of paperwork!"
  • In The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the Zissou expedition is forced by their creditors to take on a "bond company stooge", and Steve immediately assumes he's going to be this. It's subverted when he turns out to be an decent, inoffensive guy, and Steve ends up mounting a rescue when he gets kidnapped by Ruthless Modern Pirates.
  • In The Brother From Another Planet, such a bureaucrat bothers the title fugitive alien, than later on has a heroic moment when she thwarts the two bounty hunters who are after him.
  • Arthur Brooks in Big Daddy appears to be this; however, his "victim" is a Jerkass who deserves to be taught a lesson by the government, so Brooks is instead an example of Good Is Not Nice.
  • District 9 features a rare Obstructive Bureaucrat protagonist in the (initially) cowardly and weak-willed Wikus van de Merwe, who is put in charge of the relocation of several thousand fugitive aliens from one slum to another, even worse. He's something of a deconstruction, as he's a very realistic and complex character who shows that behind even the most obstructive of bureaucrats, there's still a human being — most likely an unhappy one in search of validation.
  • There are quite a few of these in Simon's workplace in The Double, but especially the security guard. He makes Simon fill out a form to get into work every single day, and won't let Simon in until he shows him the form the guard just watched him fill out.
  • Frank Dixon in The Terminal zigzags between this and the Dark version. He is not actively malicious, and believes that following the rules is the best option (best shown when he uncovers a man hiding drugs), but this prevents Viktor from being able to leave the airport legally. For much of the movie, he wavers between trying to pass Viktor off to some other authority, finding ways for him to lawfully leave the airport, tricking him into a legal nightmare, and locking him in a cell. He also prevents him from allowing a Russian man from leaving the country with medicine for his dying father, and when Viktor gives the man the means to give his father the medicine Dixon makes every attempt not to allow Viktor into the US, and threatens to destroy the careers of his friends if he tries. In the end, however, he relents when Viktor does get into the city.
  • The British medical establishment in The Citadel. They are horrified that Dr. Manson took a patient to an American named Stillman, because Stillman isn't a medical doctor—despite the fact that Stillman saved the patient when her hide-bound British doctor would have let her die. For this Manson is brought up on charges that could lose him his license.
  • Twelve O'Clock High includes a good version of this trope, done in a darkly humorous fashion. After General Savage takes over the 918th Group, he institutes policies that are seen as excessively harsh, leading to all of the pilots putting in for transfers. Savage needs time to prove that he is right, but is at a loss as to how to proceed. To the rescue comes the Group's Ground Adjutant, Major Stovall, formerly a civilian lawyer. He points out that all those transfer requests will have to be carefully checked, since of course the General doesn't want incomplete paperwork coming out of the Group. Many requests will have to be returned to the squadrons to be redone, then checked again. By the time all of the requests are ready to be submitted to higher headquarters, Savage should have been able to convince the crews that his methods are justified. Savage remarks that it's "a hell of a way to run a war."
  • The Pentagon Wars: The sheer lengths of obstructiveness by military bureaucrats is taken to near satirical levels, when the Army insists on creating an Office of Ruminant Procurement to determine “standards for sheep used in munitions tests” before sheep are provided for a test of the M-2 Bradley’s armor. The Air Force Colonel who wants to conduct the test, just goes and buys sheep from a local farmer.

  • Artemis Fowl has quite a few of these, but the biggest one is Ark Sool.
    • Played with and subverted with Trouble Kelp.
  • The Bible: In the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon complains of the suffering caused by corrupt magistrates. Ecclesiastes is Older Than Feudalism.
  • Isaac Asimov:
    • "Blind Alley": A seemingly fussy bureaucrat, Loodun Antyok, manages to free an alien species kept under observation, all the while making sure he comes up smelling like roses.
    • "The Dead Past": Thaddeus Araman, Department Head of the Division of Chronoscopy, is supposedly in charge of determining who gets access to the Chronoscope. In actuality, his job is to suppress access and knowledge of the technology, usually by making petitioners feel like they're on a waiting list to eventually make use of it, once all the higher-priority people have gotten their chance.
    • "The Evitable Conflict": Stephen Byerley, Co-ordinator of Earth, suspects someone is sabotaging the Machines, powerful robots that advise the decisions of humanity. He asks for help investigating this from the four Vice Coordinators of the four regions that Earth is divided into. They all dismiss the idea and none help Byerley, insisting they are doing their jobs well. Justified, because the Machines already control humanity and they will never let anyone competent enough to initiate an investigation have the job.
  • The Bridge in the Menagerie series has the Emeritus Professor of Bio-Sophistry, aka the Secretary Bird, who insists on pedantically enforcing obscure bridge rules even when everybody else at the table would rather just let the offence go and get on with it. The result of the pedantic rule enforcement is never to the Secretary Bird's advantage.
  • Catch-22 has a number of obstructive bureaucrats. Ex-P.F.C. Wintergreen is a notable one — he's just a mail clerk, but has become one of the most powerful men in the military because he can simply throw away any orders he doesn't like.
    • There's also a deadlier version in the air units commander. Although never made clear why, he seems to have a personal grudge against all his men and refuses to allow any pilots, or bomber crew, to return home. He specifically mentions that the U.S. Army Air Corps requires a pilot to be given some time off after 25 missions but uses an oddly worded rule, which is meant to be used in extreme circumstances, to extend the limit to first 50, 60 then 70 missions. For those unaware, a bomber crew member was likely to get injured or killed within 30 missions. He was essentially trying to kill everyone who joined his command.
      • The original rule of 25 missions was set to give the average crew about a 50/50 chance of surviving to completion. As survival odds went up, so did the required missions. The commander is just more enthusiastic about it.
  • Frank Herbert's ConSentiency universe has the "Bureau of Sabotage", whose job is to create or destroy red tape. However, BuSab obstructs the government to protect individual rights (when governments become too efficient, bad stuff occurs). Instead of paper work, the Bureau employs some rather humorous sabotage to get the job done. Jorj X. McKie, saboteur extraordinary and protagonist, subverts the trope by speeding up a meeting in one story, as well as being sensitive to the alien cultures he works with.
  • In Sarah A. Hoyt's Darkship Thieves, bureaucrats try to deny Kit permission to dock because Athena's on board.
  • Discworld
    • Hogfather: A traditional Obstructive Bureaucrat appears when Susan is searching for the Tooth Fairy. Although he doesn't actually obstruct Susan by demanding forms and procedure, he does obstruct her by incessantly Wangsting about his rather boring life instead of answering her questions. Susan describes him as a very small, very weak bully, who couldn't find anyone smaller or weaker than him to bully and so took to making people's lives just that little bit more difficult.
    • Soul Music: Mr. Clete of the Musicians' Guild, is a nastier version, taking genuine pleasure in the suffering of those ensnared in red tape. It's mentioned in the text that the guild hired him for this specifically, because without a hardass forcing things the musicians would absentmindedly stop paying their fees and the guild would fall apart. Over the course of the story he gradually loses his mind entirely, to the point his own enforcers try to rein him in.
    • Interesting Times: The Agatean Empire, as a Fantasy Counterpart Culture of Imperial China, has a lot of this. As Cohen puts it "You can't even go to the privy without a piece of paper."
  • The Fold has two examples, both of which are more "light drama" than humorous. Protagonist Mike is hired as to audit a research project, but the subjects of his audit see his constantly asking for "access" and "basic information" as meaningless busywork that's getting in the way of their research. Later a different researcher is revealed to be ordering his staff to swap out parts relentlessly to generate a stream of paperwork that he can send up the chain showing "work" while he stalls for time to complete his own documentation.
  • Harry Potter: Umbridge is a Ministry official who wholeheartedly participates in Fudge's efforts to block the truth about Voldemort's return. During her tenure as a teacher at Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, she constantly issues decrees that make life harder for the students and teachers in order to have total control over the school.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: "Vogons are one of the most unpleasant races in the galaxy. Not evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious, and callous. They wouldn't even lift a finger to save their own grandmothers from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters. On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you."
    • The movie plays it up when the Heart of Gold makes a Hyperspeed Escape from the Vogon armada. Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz turns to a subordinate and asks if the criminals they're pursuing filled out the proper paperwork to do this. The subordinate is shocked to find out that they did not. Later on, Arthur, Ford, and Zaphod fill out the release form for Trillian, who is about to be executed, only to be told that, since Zaphod is the President of the Galaxy, he has to submit a Presidential Release Form. Jeltz, who is all too eager to execute Trillian is instantly pacified when he receives the release form and orders her freed. Also, when the heroes are escaping, Jeltz is about to order pursuit, when a factory whistle is heard, and Jeltz tells everyone to take an hour for lunch.
  • In Larry Niven's Inferno, the protagonist, Carpenter, finds himself in (a very Dante-like) Hell and in need to some togas to escape. Finally getting to the administrative center of Hell, he puts in a requisition for the garments and is handed a two foot tall stack of forms to complete and a single pencil. When he points out that a single pencil will never last to complete all the forms, he is told to improvise and his attention is directed to another guy nearby who is working on his own stack of forms. His pencil has been worn down to a nub and he is using a ripped out fingernail and his own blood to complete the forms.
  • Randy Pope, Joe's superior in Fish and Game in the Joe Pickett novels. Having risen through the ranks of the bureaucracy rather than being a field officer, he has little understanding of field work. Having a personal dislike of Joe, at one point he demands daily (rather than weekly reports) from Joe, and insists Joe clears any investigation with him before proceeding.
  • In The Laundry Files, almost all of the staff of the Laundry except field agents are obstructive bureaucrats that are more concerned with matrix management, powerpoint presentations and paperclip audits than with the things the Laundry is supposed to do, like saving the world from Eldritch Abominations. The only aversion is Angleton, who stands at a weird position between Affably Evil and Reasonable Authority Figure and that is because he secretly is an extremely powerful demon. It seems nothing short of being the Eater of Souls can prevent the Laundry bureaucracy from turning you into a mindless cubicle drone.
  • The Leaky Establishment by David Langford: This is how the Nuclear Utilisation Technology Centre operates. While it's supposedly their job to create and maintain Britain's Independent Deterrent, that's a long term goal, whereas the Public Relations Committee meet every Tuesday, and therefore the minutes of the last meeting have to be done now. Scientists are frequently disturbed by Security men wishing to check that "valuable equipment" (cheap pocket calculators and ancient slide-rules) are still in the office and haven't been taken home, and the security measures at the front gate seem to be there purely to inconvenience people because that makes things look secure. However, since many of the scientists are rather sceptical about the nuclear deterrent they tend to the view that, while these things are hugely inconvenient for them personally, at least it stops them from actually making weapons, which is probably a good thing. (This situation is, of course, nothing like the real-world Atomic Weapons Establishment, where Langford worked for five years.)
  • Administration in The Licanius Trilogy acts as a permanent foil to Wirr's plans for reforming Andarra's treatment of the Gifted. They do this with obstruction and politicking instead of outright violence.
  • Little Dorritt by Charles Dickens has the Circumlocution Office, which is entirely made up of obstructive bureaucrats. A fair number of said bureaucrats are from the same family, the Barnacles.
  • Myth Adventures: Parodied in one of the M.Y.T.H. Inc novels. The perspective characters are trying to sabotage an army. They end up in charge of a supply depot, which they hope to use for this purpose by deliberately screwing up 10% of all supply requests. They are thwarted by Obstructive Bureaucrats in an unusual way: First, they categorically refuse to use the horrifically convoluted official record-keeping procedures, inventing their own, just because they don't want to deal with the paperwork, making the processing once requisitions get to them much faster. Second, because of the long delays caused by the bureaucrats in getting the requisitions to the supply depots, the 'accidental' mistakes often improved things (like sending summer-weight uniforms to a unit that requested winter-weight uniforms and vice versa, not realizing that the units in question had since been redeployed to areas with warmer or colder climates). As a result, their sabotage made their depot the most efficient facility in the army.
  • In his youth, the only expression of strength and personal vengeance the mouse-like narrator of Dostoevsky's Notes from Underground could hope for was by playing this trope.
  • In the Paladin of Shadows series, obstructive bureaucrats (particularly US government ones) are occasional roadblocks to the Keldara doing their jobs. However, since their boss is personal friends with the President of the United States, the bureaucrats don't remain obstructive for very long.
  • In The Pale King, The Author's Foreword includes a lengthy description of all the legal issues that went along with the creation of the book. Everything involving David Foster Wallace's entry into the IRS, with the sole exception of Leonard Stecyk.
    • The horrendously complex and ultimately bungled wrongful death lawsuit after Chris Fogle's father dies.
    • After his experience in Advanced Tax class, Chris tries to make up for his mistakes by going to the dean and begging for a chance to salvage his college career. The dean laughs in his face.
  • In Norman Juster's The Phantom Tollbooth, the Senses Taker insists that Milo, Tock, and the Humbug fill out stacks of forms. Then he takes their senses, trapping them in illusions. Alas for him, the gift of laughter Milo received means he can not take their senses of humor, and they can escape.
  • In Ellis Parker Butler's short story "Pigs is Pigs", red tape in the railroad business combined with a clerk's poor grasp of taxonomy (on the grounds that "pigs is pigs", he insists on charging a customer the larger shipment rate for livestock, rather than the cheaper rate for domestic pets, for a pair of guinea pigs) leads to the clerk's railway station being overrun by thousands of guinea pigs by the time the debate is sorted out... and by that time, the customer had moved away without leaving a forwarding address.
  • All three universes in The Red Tape War suffer from near-galaxy-spanning obstructive bureaucracies.
  • In Derek Robinson's novels of the British military air forces in both world wars, the military bureaucracy gets a well-deserved Take That!!
    • In War Story, the adjutant (Executive Officer), charged with keeping the squadron in essential stores, is a corrupt gambling addict at the end of a chain of corruption. As a result the airmen are on basic rations with no coal for heating as the officer charged with providing food and warmth has gambled it away. The situation is only resolved with a change of personnel and a barter system, based on food parcels containing sought-after luxury items sent by rich relatives of affluent officers. The old Adjutant is demoted and sent to a penal regiment, whose ex-con soldiers kill him when they discover he's gambled away their rum ration.
    • In Goshawk Squadron, an officious senior officer is humbled by Wooley and forced to provide the sort of luxuries only issued to General Staff officers far behind the front lines.
    • In A Piece of Cake, half the squadron's aircraft are grounded for want of essential spare parts. An unhelpful stres depot will not issue them unless the correct paperwork is filled in properly. The squadron does not have the official forms to requisition spare parts. The Air Ministry maintain these have been sent out and you're not getting any more. A new CO mounts an armed raid on the deopt and takes what he needs at gunpoint. The enraged bureaucrat catches up with the squadron in France and threatens court-martials. A killer pilot is sent to strafe his car to destruction, which is later blamed on the Luftwaffe.
    • And there is the vexing issue of the pilots' pay... (See under Derek Robinson)
  • From A Song of Ice and Fire we have the ever-charming House Frey, headed by Lord Walder Frey. They somehow manage to combine all the best features of this trope with those of Corrupt Bureaucrat and Crooked Contractor, and, to top it off, are operators of what amounts to a glorified Troll Bridge that brings in the bulk of the tax revenue for their part of the Riverlands. If they want to make you wait to cross their bridge, they will find a way to do it, dammit, using protocol and standard hospitality at its most excruciatingly drawn-out worst, if necessary, to do it. Do they use Exact Words and/or various statements as part of their deals and treaties with you and Disproportionate Retribution if you somehow break them by their lights, no matter how good or reasonable your reasons may appear? Mayhaps.
  • In the second book of The Southern Reach Trilogy, Control is appointed as the new director of the Southern Reach. His secretary immediately makes it known in no uncertain terms that she is still loyal to the old director and will go to every length to undermine anything he attempts to do and sabotage any change he attempts to make.
    Grace: I have no comment on your recommendations, except to say that I will begin to implement them in as excruciatingly slow a fashion as possible. You should begin to see a few of them — like, 'buy a new floor cleaner', in place by next quarter. Possibly. Maybe.
  • In the Star Trek novel Death Count, the Enterprise is plagued with efficiency experts who don't quite get the distinction between rules and practice, and particularly have it in for Chekov. This is summarily resolved when two of them are murdered by an on-board saboteur, and the third is so grateful to Chekov for saving his life that he gives him a glowing report.
  • The Stormlight Archive:
    • A mix of types from the Azir. They are obsessed with paperwork, requiring proper forms for everything from prisoner transport to requisitioning snacks. On the other hand, they're a meritocracy in a world otherwise ruled by feuding warlords, and anyone has a chance to rule the country if they submit the proper forms and write a particularly good essay. When an assassin is flying around the world killing princes and kings, every country is descending into in-fighting and anarchy—every country except Azir, where the mere possibility of a civil war is dismissed as "too much paperwork."
    • The Azir have bureaucracy steeped into their bones so much that when their slaves regain their minds and become an army following demons, the first thing they do is sue the government for back pay and damages. Even better, it's implied they are fairly close to working out a deal, until said demons forced a fight.
  • In David Brin's Uplift universe, there is an entire race of these beings. In the Uplift Storm trilogy, we find that some of them escaped to avoid being molded into them. By the end, one of those ones returned to the main civilization, to introduce them to Hawaiian shirts, boats, and rowing songs. The effect is marvelous.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's The Warrior's Apprentice the Barrayaran embassy on Beta Colony maintains a bureaucratic black hole into which Betans who have grievances against Barrayaran citizens will be "swallowed up in an endless möbius loop of files, forms, and reports, kept especially for such occasions by the extremely competent staff. The forms included some particularly creative ones that had to be round-tripped on the six-week journey back to Barrayar itself, and were guaranteed to be sent back several times for minor errors in execution. ... 'It works great with Betans — they're perfectly happy, because all the time they think they're doing something to you.'"
  • Wet Desert: Tracking Down a Terrorist on the Colorado River: The governor of Nevada delays the opening of the spillways at Hoover Dam when he's informed that people have to be evacuated in preparation from the towns beneath the dam.
  • In the Cross Time Engineer series by Leo Frankowski, the hero Conrad Stargard confesses his real identity as a time traveler to his priest, who can't decide whether this is an act of God or the Devil. So he refers the matter to the Holy Inquisition in Rome. Conrad spends years with this threat hanging over his head, but it turns out someone at the higher levels of the Church always refuses to believe the report and sends it back to the local church authority for verification. But as Conrad's star rises the priest keeps getting promoted as well, because naturally the Church want to maintain their influence over any powerful figure. So the report keeps getting referred back to his friend as the local authority, and therefore just goes round in circles without reaching Rome.
  • In the Lafayette O'Leary series: O'Leary has the phone number for the mysterious agency known as "Central", whose job it is to keep the multiverse running properly, but whenever he calls with a spacetime-breaking emergency, he inevitably gets connected to some paper-pusher who refuses to believe him, and doesn't want to get involved.
  • Esther Diamond: Lysander Singh is a rare example who goes out into the field, but the narrator considers him to be an Insufferable Genius who isn't as smart as the people he bosses around.
  • In You Are Dead (Sign Here Please), the Celestial Bureaucracy seems to go out of its way to be as obtuse and long-winded as possible and they require forms be filled out for absolutely everything that happens, including scheming against your boss, sobering up or disastrous romances based on clingy desperation and/or desperate clinginess.
  • When You Reach Me: When the police come to interrogate Marcus, Wheelie, the school secretary, who knew all of the children at the school and what class they were in, stalled for as long as she could, asking them to repeat the name and age of Marcus and just taking time looking through the files to find him. This gave Miranda time to get Marcus out of his class.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 24 always had one in there to get in the way of stopping a terrorist attack. The most memorable of which being Ryan Chappelle in the first three seasons, who essentially was an insufferable pain in the ass that got in Jack's way everywhere he went, yet had arguably the most emotionally-jarring death of the series.
    • Briefly subverted on Day 5 by Lynn McGill. When Jack (who had been in hiding for two years) uses an out-of-date distress code, McGill is the only one anal and methodical enough to recognize and research it, thereby saving the day. Of course, after that brief moment, he reverts to playing this trope completely straight, eventually crossing into Tyrant Takes the Helm territory.
  • In Nickelodeon's TV show The Adventures of Pete & Pete, the younger Pete befriends Clothing Inspector #34, who proceeds to make the entire neighborhood rule mongers equal to himself. Finally defeated when Pete challenges him to an eating contest of barbeque chicken. Inspector 34 finishes every bit of meat on his chicken without getting a bit of sauce on his hands or clothes. Only to be reminded by Dad "You're supposed to get dirty eating chicken." Causing Inspector 27 to realize the error of his ways, and not be such a perfectionist.
  • Andromeda:
    • One episode involved a world with extremely strict bureaucratic procedures. Interacting with them gave Tyr a lovely line (which the audience likely agrees with) after listening to a message summed up as "You don't have an appointment, please hold" for the umpteenth time:
      Tyr: [deadpan] ... Now can we blow them up?
    • Followed by this exchange:
      Beka Valentine: What if I told you we have forty missile tubes locked on your capital city, ready to fire if I don't get some straight answers?
      Clerk: [calmly] You'd still need an appointment.
  • In Ashes to Ashes (2008), Jim Keats is initially made out to be this.
  • A frequent visitor on Barney Miller. Often it's the higher-ups in the department, or the gleefully malicious Scanlan of Internal Affairs, but there are many officials from the state and federal government who get drawn into whatever crazy case is going on.
  • Inverted on Babylon 5 episode Survivors. It was the protagonists, Sinclair and Ivanova specifically, who are obstructing Major Lianna Kemmer's attempts to locate and arrest Garibaldi on suspicion of sabotage.
    • Played straight with Garibaldi attempting to retrieve a package from an obstructive mailman who insists Garibaldi pay a hefty fee before he can get his package (it was special ingredients for a birthday dinner).
  • In Blindspot, Jonas Fischer is a particularly malignant version, cynically using his powers as Chief Inspector of the Office of Professional Responsibility to shut down an investigation that would have revealed that he's a double agent for the FSB.
  • Doctor Who:
    • Leader Clent in "The Ice Warriors" insists on doing everything based on what the computer tells him to do, even though huge scaly defrosted green men from Mars have bunkered down in a dead spaceship and are trying to kill the scientists out of paranoia and there is no way the computer could possibly have a plan to deal with them. Several times in the story, characters get a plan in motion only to have Clent scupper it due to lack of input from the computer. Everybody else in the base is frustrated with his behaviour but powerless to do anything about it, and one has even dropped out of civilisation entirely and gone to live in an icy wilderness due to being sick of Clent.
    • The Pertwee era is littered with these guys. They often show up, briefcase in hand, to slow down UNIT proceedings and the Doctor has to verbally bitchslap them down before he can get anything done. Horatio Chinn, in "The Claws of Axos", is one of these.
    • The Brigadier falls into this occasionally, though bureaucracy is usually less dangerous place for him than behind a gun, especially early on.
    • A Creator Thumbprint of Robert Holmes is his hatred of bureaucrats, which becomes more extreme as his Who career continued. When he wasn't using them as villains, he was having the Doctor make Take That! zingers at their expense:
      • In "Carnival of Monsters", two Loveable Rogue carnies spend the entire plot stuck in a torturous border control waiting area, being bullied by (literal) grey-faced bureaucrats (who are trying to engineer a political coup).
      • In "The Ark in Space", Harry isn't useful in medical emergencies despite being a Navy doctor, because he "is only qualified to work on sailors".
      • In "The Seeds of Doom", the Fourth Doctor points out that the latest alien invasion would, if successful, "mean the end of everything, even your pension!" The civil servant looks suitably aghast.
      • Previous Time Lord episodes had portrayed them as Big Good Crystal Spires and Togas figures. When Robert Holmes got his hands on them in "The Deadly Assassin", they were reimagined as a bunch of shiftless, dusty politicians obsessed with pompous ritual, who can be caught out with legal loopholes and forcing them to answer straight questions.
      • "The Sun Makers" revolves around a fascistically evil and abusive tax collection regimen.
      • "The Ultimate Foe" features Mr. Popplewick, a Dickensian factory owner and dull-minded bean-counter, who bears perhaps some resemblance to the abuse the BBC were subjecting their writers to.
    • In "Paradise Towers", the police organization is hilarious, insisting on using their long designations every single time they needed to address anyone, and quoting the rule book every single time they did anything.
  • This trope occurs enough times in Gavin & Stacey that one has to wonder whether the creators have been on the receiving end of this trope in Real Life once too often.
  • JAG: In the season eight episode "Need To Know", the CIA Director and his attorney tries to block the Navy's attempt to declassify material relating to a secret joint Navy-CIA submarine mission in 1968 in which the sub sank near the Soviet coastlline.
  • In Lexx, the entire city of Hogtown in the afterlife for evil souls is populated by these types. The devil simply leaves them to their own devices, preferring to avoid contact with them.
  • The humourless foyer administrator in the children's TV show Lift-Off dug up a rule banning something new every episode...including, at one point, carrying around a ban sign with a mirror on it. That one backfired when they got him to turn it around.
  • This trope is the premise of the Austrian show MA 2412, with the Obstructive Bureaucrats as protagonists.
  • The Magicians (2016): The library in the Neitherlands runs on one. Franz Kafka wrote The Trial after a week there.
  • Superintendent McClellan in Monster Warriors. This paper-pusher is a real stickler for policy and procedure. He’s Mayor Mel’s right-hand-guy, but he’s no Warrior ally—-in fact quite the opposite! When something goes wrong in Capital City, teenagers are blamed—namely the Monster Warriors.
  • The Office (US), Michael Scott definitely thinks Toby Flenderson qualifies as one of these. Toby is actually a much more sympathetic character than Michael gives him credit for, even to the point of Woobiefication to some viewers.
  • Our Miss Brooks: Miss Brooks runs into an obstructive clerk in "The Embezzled Dress". Mrs. Davis accidentally uses school money to buy Miss Brooks a present from Sherry's Department Store. Miss Brooks tries to return the dress to Sherry's, a store that promises if the customer isn't satisfied the money will be "cheerfully refunded". After being given the third degree on the reason for the return, Miss Brooks is turned down because the dress was sold on sale.
  • "Marks" on Overhaulin tend to run into these in the quest to retrieve their stolen or erroneously impounded cars. They're usually played by the hosts or other members of the production crew.
  • The central premise of the Amy Poehler comedy Parks and Recreation is the Inversion of this trope. Poehler's character, Leslie Knope, is a naively optimistic bureaucrat who cares for the people of her small town and is seemingly oblivious to the fact that no one else does.
    • Ron Swanson picked up the Obstructive Bureaucrat ball and ran with it. Namely because he's a Straw Capitalist / Libertarian who thinks government programs like parks should be abolished in favor of children spending their time at private, for-profit entertainment outfits like Chuck E. Cheese. The only time he ever shows enthusiasm for the job and does actual work is when the government needs ideas on how to slash its budget.
    • April is technically just a secretary to bureaucrats, but in matters concerning her job, she makes it her mission to do as close to nothing as humanly possible. Which makes her Ron's ideal personal secretary.
  • Pie in the Sky:
    • In "A Matter of Taste", the restaurant is beset by one from the local planning office.
    • One from the local health inspector's office makes repeat visits to the restaurant in "Coddled Eggs".
  • In the Brazilian musical special for kids Plunct Plact Zuum– about a group of kids who want to explore space in a customized, weird-looking spaceship (the “Plunct Plact Zuum” from the title)– late rockstar Raul Seixas played an Obstructive Bureaucrat from space! To him, even the sun should have an ID card. He says that “Plunct Plact Zuum won’t go anywhere”, unless it's sealed, registered, stamped, examined and labeled. Ultimetely, however, he sympathizes with the kids, confessing that he wanted to go with them, but can’t leave his job. Then, he lets them go and wishes them a good journey.
  • Otto Palindrome from Quark, who often sends Quark on various garbage picking missions.
  • Quatermass II: During The Infiltration these oppose the scientist hero's attempts to uncover the truth about the Alien Invasion. Some oppose the hero out of petty authoritarianism, others because they're possessed by aliens, and others interestingly enough help the hero because as experienced bureaucrats they realise that the obstructiveness is happening in a way that doesn't make sense. One of the latter even lampshades this trope.
    Fowler: Quatermass, we've had dealings for a number of years. You as a driving force of an enterprise of the future; I as one of the obstructive civil servants you have to contend with.
  • Rimmer from Red Dwarf happily enforces (or at least tries to enforce) rules and directives that not even high-ranking officers care about.
  • In Spaced, Daisy Steiner does not have a good time in the Job Centre: "No, this is the A-b form, you need the A-B form, capital B." The clerk responds to any question with a simpering smile and an inane, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." — although this is partly because Daisy's making a transparent attempt to claim benefits for the period she spent on holiday in Asia and the clerk, whilst definitely an example of this trope, has clocked exactly what she's up to. She also told him to "fuck off" instead of serving him whilst working at a bar. Tim Bisley, on the other hand, has a rather different experience, being fast-tracked through the system thanks to a shared difference of opinion regarding The Phantom Menace.
  • Richard Woolsey from Stargate SG-1 and Stargate Atlantis is exactly this. Even though he strictly believes in rules, he is generally benign and fair, although annoying. When he took command of Atlantis, the initial reaction was that A Tyrant Has Taken The Helm, exactly because of this trope. However, he turned out to be a capable leader after all.
    • Even once he becomes a good guy Woolsey, uniquely, remains a bureaucrat. In fact he gets a few CMOA out of his skills as a lawyer and underhanded politician.
      • Senator Kinsey also counts. In his first appearance he tries to get the Stargate Program shut down, under the guise that it's a money pit and exposes the Earth to unnecessary dangers. While he's right, the fact that he's trying to take on a more advanced race with regular weapons and believes God wouldn't let them lose is what cements him as this trope. Later on, he's shown to be working with a Government Conspiracy that wants to handle interplanetary relations their way, accusing the SGC of being "too soft". This includes them slaughtering millions of Jaffa, not caring whether the planets they attack are home to Free Jaffa or Jaffa that serve the Goa'uld, thus tacking on "hypocrite" to the above (which he also justifies by citing the Bible).
      • Kinsey's actions, even as part of a conspiracy, are absolutely ungodly stupid. They seem to believe that they could defeat the Goa'uld by stealing certain pieces of alien technology from the Tolan, Tok'ra, and even Asgard and Ancient tech. They never seem to consider that without the help of these guys, especially the Asgard, Earth would have been conquered, glassed and/or shattered by at least a dozen different bad guys.
      • There's also the fact that his initial objection about exposing Earth to alien threats ignores the fact that you can't put the genie back in the bottle. Earth had already been exposed to the Goa'uld, and shutting down the Stargate program wouldn't make them go away or ignore Earth. It would just require them to take (very slightly) longer to attack using spaceships (a point made by Col. O'Neill in the pilot and during the episode in question). Which they do. The very next episode. Understandably, after the shit had barely missed the fan, the rest of the government told Kinsey to put a sock in it and overruled him.
      • Worth noting, Woolsey was introduced as Kinsey's assistant. When he realizes what sort of person Kinsey is and what he's up to, he collects evidence on him and turns it over to the President.
    • Camile Wray of Stargate Universe, given her status as a member of the IOA. Of course, she is also trying to take over the ship, so she's the darker variant. She gets better after things have settled down.
    • The entire IOA counts as this. After watching enough of Stargate Atlantis, you would think the only decisions they make is to put the blame on whoever else they can.
      • On the rare occasion they do take action, they usually make things worse. Particular mention goes to their borderline-suicidal plan to stop the Ori in The Ark of Truth, which involved reviving the Replicators and taking away their only weakness.
    • The Stargate-verse sort of has a revolving door of them. Either, like Woolsey, they see what's going on and become more reasonable over the years, or like Kinsey, they get worse and get into a much more antagonistic role than just being the guy whose turn it is to say "the SGC is costing too much money" this year. Either way, this means it's time to bring in the next and start the cycle again.
  • Star Trek: Picard: The Romulan Star Empire is no more, but its successor, the Romulan Free State, is still a bureaucratic nightmare.
    Trill: My residency was supposed to start six months ago, but the Romulan Free State revoked it when I was halfway here. I have no idea why, or why they finally reinstated it.
    Soji: Well, that sounds about right.
  • Dean and Sam from Supernatural meet quite a few of these in their Monster of the Week scenarios, but are very, very good at getting round them. Mostly because they have a seemingly limitless supply of fake identification.
  • The Thin Blue Line: To be fair, Fowler's rigid adherence to proper procedure is rooted in a heartfelt belief in things like due process, rule of law, work ethics and other unglamourous but socially beneficial principles. He just has a tendency to take it a teensy bit too far at times....
  • Elevated to an art form by Sir Humphrey Appleby in Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.
    • As a matter of fact, pretty much the entire British civil service is portrayed as such in those series.
      • On the other hand, you do see their perspective on things—though the writer clearly disagrees, the Civil Service seems to genuinely believe that it knows what's best for the country, and Humphrey himself is hardly a one-dimensional character. He actually gets a fair number of sympathetic moments in. In the end, you see that they're still Obstructive Bureaucrats, but also see that there's a kind of twisted method to their obstructiveness. And in the (very) few times when the goals of the politicians matched theirs, their efficiency is deadly.
      • There are also times when Minister Hacker successfully adopted Humphrey's methods with devastating effect, such as the time he arranged for a 'good will' visit of British a country that had just had a surprise invasion.
  • An episode of M*A*S*H saw Hawkeye and Trapper navigate up the ranks through a series of obstructive bureaucrats in an attempt to obtain a piece of medical equipment.
    Trapper: Sir, we started with a captain, went on to a major, then to a colonel.
    Hawkeye: On the way, we've encountered oral compulsiveness, raging paranoia, and a colonel who's shipping Korea to Switzerland one dollar at a time.
    • Of note is the guy who told them they couldn't have the vital piece of medical equipment they needed, but could have a pizza oven if they filled out the standard paperwork and replace "machine gun" with "pizza" on the request.
  • Many in The Wire, but the most obvious are the various city permitting officials Cutty has to deal with in opening his gym.note 

  • The 'song' "LAMC" by tool, chronicling one man's lone and futile struggle against the automatic telephone response system of the Los Angeles Municipal Court.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Wink Vavasseur's aim seemed to be taking the "fun" out of the "Director Of Fun" position when promoted to it in Chikara.

  • From animator Chuck Jones: "Bureaucracy is stranger than fiction."

  • This is constant source of comedy in The Men from the Ministry: whenever One and Two oversee a construction site or any other business, they always tangle on to the smallest of regulations, laws and orders no matter how insignificant they are. They also love to create forms full of personal questions which have nothing to do with what the form's about and are often impossible to answer.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Paranoia, red tape is one of the many perils of life in Alpha Complex: for example, Troubleshooters might be forced to fill out Personal Authorized Handmounted Firearm Requisition Application Forms (in triplicate) to get laser guns so they can defend themselves from a horde of rampaging mutants.
    • While being shot at by said mutants, no less.
    • Source materials encourage this, even suggesting a GM may send forms other than what players requested and then execute them for treason if they fail to fill them out correctly or protest that they got the wrong ones.
      • Another favorite: the equipment they need is available at their clearance level for once, but the requisition form for said equipment isn't. Or, for experimental equipment, the instructions aren't.
  • In the Dungeons & Dragons Planescape setting, modrons are a race of Lawful Stupid semi-mechanical beings. They are very close to Hive Mind when working with other modrons but tend to turn into obstructive bureaucrats whenever they interact with other species. Like Vogons, they can easily push it to the lethal extreme, though it's not due to malice, it's due to Modrons being beings of perfect law to the point that they don't understand the concept of individuality or creativity: they have no choice but to follow laws and instructions exactly as they are given.
  • There are two uses for the Bureaucracy skill and its related Charms in Exalted. One is to evade these characters. The other is to become one. With the Charms, you can magically aid your obstructions to be nearly insurmountable.
  • The Vilani Imperium in Traveller is a Vestigial Empire composed of these. They were completely incapable of running the war against the Terrans because of this. Interestingly, they were deliberately designed this way to ensure that the Imperium ran on autopilot and had as little disorder as possible. As there hadn't been a real enemy for thousands of years, it made sense in its day.
  • Dominion. In this early-Renaissance-themed deck-building card game, the Bureaucrat is an Attack card that forces everyone else to move some useless-in-game cards (which are sort of like deeds to lands) to the top of their decks. These cards therefore take up space in one's hand for two turns in a row, and the Bureaucrat player gets a shiny coin for his trouble.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 roleplaying game Dark Heresy, one of the locations described is the "Scrivener's System" of Prol, an entire solar system filled almost completely with Obstructive Bureaucrats. There is literally a civil war brewing in the Prol system because they're running out of places to store all the paperwork. All sides making their points in multi-volume treatises is not helping.
    • It's not like the rest of the Imperium of Mankind's Administratum is all that competent either, as entire planets have been lost because of misplaced paper work or rounding errors. The Tau, on the other, hand, avert this with the Water Caste. Their job is to make everything run better, not worse, and they tend to be good at that job.
    • The Imperial Guard gets this constantly. One of their old codexes gave the example of a regiment that was wiped out making a heroic last stand, officially recognized for their Heroic Sacrifice, accidentally assigned to lead an attack due to a filing error, and then posthumously sentenced to death for desertion when they failed to show up. In other cases specialized regiments have been mistakenly sent to the wrong warzones. With jungle fighters being sent to ice worlds, and arctic combatants being sent to battle in rain forests.
    • The Inquisition was made specifically because the High Lords of Terra couldn't be bothered to wait for due process to deal with the billions upon billions of criminals in the Imperium, as it takes centuries to fill out request forms for ammunition and food. Consequently they have absolutely no checks or balances and little in the way of a formal hierarchy or structure, but this has created a chaotic internal environment where political struggles and backstabbing (sometimes metaphorical, sometimes literal) between opposing Inquisitors often delay any useful action, making the Inquisition not that much different than the Administratum they were suppose to circumvent.
    • There is at least one order of the inquisition devoted entirely to cutting through as much as of the Administratum's red tape as possible. Whether they're having any success or making a real impact is unknown and doubtful though.
    • Imperial justice is usually extremely fast, but anything that can't be resolved by crushing somebody's head with a shock maul on the spot can take centuries or millennia to get resolved, with punishment doled out on the criminal's distant descendants.
    • There are apparently entire departments dedicated to redacting information that other entire departments spend all their time collecting. Everyone involved is fully aware of this and do their jobs to the best of their abilities anyway.
    • The audiodrama The Watcher in the Rain focuses on an Inquisition agent sent after an administratum file clerk who got a thousand soldiers killed with a single misfiled document folder. It turns out she'd done this thousands of times, intentionally, purely For the Evulz after her mind snapped from the sheer tedium. Everything in the Administratum is so dedicated to rote repetition and Blind Obedience with no actual oversight beyond enforcing them that nobody noticed.
  • In The Spoils CCG, a number of cards from the Banker trade are bureaucrats created from the reanimated corpses of those who died in debt. They must pay back their debts to their lenders (a process one card implies takes roughly 500 years), and are mostly used a pencil-pushers to deal with the poor and undesirables the bank has no interest in lending money to, drowning them under mountains of paperwork. Mechanically, their function is to tie up the opponent's resources (for example, depleting their Character cards to no effect). One card's flavor text sums up the experience rather aptly: "Could I please speak to a living person?"

  • William Shakespeare's Winter's Tale. The jailor wonders whether he should let Paula bring the newborn princess out of jail.
    Gaol.: Madam, if't please the queen to send the babe,
    I know not what I shall incur to pass it,
    Having no warrant.

    Paula: You need not fear it, sir:
    The child was prisoner to the womb, and is
    By law and process of great nature thence
    Freed and enfranchis'd; not a party to
    The anger of the king, nor guilty of,
    If, any be, the trespass of the queen.

    Video Games 
  • Played for Laughs in Pajama Sam 2, where one of the puzzles has Sam having to fill out a bizarrely-named form and get it signed by a non-appearing manager to get a rubber band.
  • The Stellar Patrol in the Infocom games Planetfall and Stationfall administers an enormous galaxy-wide bureaucracy. Your mission at the start of Stationfall is to pick up a supply of Request for Stellar Patrol Issue Regulation Black Form Binders Request Form Forms.
  • In Magical Starsign, the Space Police have an absurdly obstructive bureaucracy, as your party discovers when they ask them for help finding their missing teacher, and are redirected through dozens of different departments before finally getting a meeting with the local lieutenant, only to find out that the Space Police have a policy of obstructing people asking for their help in order to keep their officers safe.
  • The text adventure game Bureaucracy is all about this. In the course of trying to sort out a snafu caused by a change of address, the main character must confront not only obstructive bureaucrats, but a tribe of cannibals, an antisocial hacker, and an angry llama, all while trying to avoid getting so stressed out they have a fatal aneurysm.
  • Another Douglas Adams title, Starship Titanic contains the sarcastic, deliberately unhelpful Desk Bot, Marsinta Drewbish, at the start of the game, as well as in its novelization. It only lasts until you reset her off-kilter personality settings, though.
  • Though the bureaucrats themselves are never actually seen, the Peacekeeper faction in Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri has such extensive bureaucracy that it gives them an automatic penalty to efficiency.
  • SimCity 4 combines this, Shaped Like Itself and the Department of Redundancy Department with the Bureau of Bureaucracy building. Its description? "The bureau that handles bureaucracy".
  • Go through anyone's mind in Psychonauts and you will find hundreds of these guys running around Censoring thoughts that should not be there. Normally, this is vital to the mental health of whoever owns the brain, but since technically you're not supposed to be in there either...
  • In Beyond Atlantis Hell is depicted as a bureaucracy run by demons who are insistent you follow protocol to get a Plot Coupon from them. The protocol involves getting a specific order of stamps on a claim form but the correct stamps and order is not disclosed. Wandering souls in the area were previous applicants who died while trying to get the order right.
  • In the 8-bit Electronic Arts game Hard Hat Mack, one of the antagonists you have to avoid is an OSHA inspector.
  • West of Loathing’s Ghoostwood is a literal Ghost Town populated by nothing but these. You'll need to fill out a good dozen "different" (functionally-identical) forms to complete all the quests involving this area. And that's if you don't screw anything up and have to do it again...
    The Protagonist, after filling out several forms for a drink only to be told the Saloon is out of whiskey: I hereby vow to destroy this place. I will raze the buildings and salt the earth.
  • The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt: Blood and Wine has the quest "Paperchase". Geralt of Rivia is a hardened monster slayer who has faced the undead, vampires, werewolves, vain sorceresses, dragons and a mysterious entity who might well be the setting's equivalent of the Devil himself, but none of those threats can remotely prepare him for the sheer terror of trying to prove to the bank that he is not in fact dead so he can withdraw money from an account a client set up for him years ago as payment for a job. While the bank is frantically trying to cover up that they already spent Geralt's money after he was reported dead. The solution to the quest that gets Geralt his money is to be Nice to the Waiter.
  • The main 'good guys' in Fallout: New Vegas are the New California Republic, a democratic faction whose lofty ideals are tempered by an aggressive expansionist policy and more red tape than you can shake ten sticks at. While natural for such a large organisation, the inefficiency is one of the reasons the NCR has come to a stall in the game and gives plenty of work for the player character.

    Web Comics 
  • In Freefall, Mr. Kornada and the Mayor both qualify as these.
  • Protocol Officer Quine of Starslip is a humorous examination of the default characterization of these characters: when he's introduced, he sounds like a typical regulations lawyer who is unceremoniously killed in his first away mission. Then we are introduced to his personal resurrection machine (that creates a clone of him and transfers his consciousness to it whenever he dies) and he gradually starts morphing into a Butt-Monkey who is just trying to do his job surrounded by people who openly insult him for no reason other than the fact that he's the only guy willing to apply regulations on what is ostensibly a military vessel and often getting killed in the process. The pinnacle of this was a recent storyline where he used his machine to "single handedly" (in other words, going through a lot of dead clones) to take back the Paradigm from hijackers and saving the lives of the rest of the crew...only for Vanderbeam to berate him for taking too long and giving all the credit to his dead clones. Poor guy.
    • He ultimately turns out to be a good guy when he is confronted with just how corrupt the government really is. Even then, he is slightly conflicted about breaking laws. Then his wife points out that the government's leadership is betraying the founding principles of the government, so Quine's "insubordination" is actually nothing of the sort.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: on Butane, the planet of dragons, Legate Zippobic seems to be this, although he views himself as a Beleaguered Bureaucrat.
  • Evil Diva: Hell's complaint department just puts people on hold.
  • Daisy Owl: And she's pleasant, and agrees that the fees are unreasonable, to add insult to injury. The next strip has him go to the very man said bureaucrat recommended after the one who asked for the license to be renewed wanted a less pleasant guy who plays the trope straighter. The customer was ironically satisfied with the bad customer service the less pleasant guy gave him.
  • In Sinfest, the forms to sell your soul.
  • The Lunar Government's bureaucracy in Schlock Mercenary requires multiple redundant signatures on everything, with no copying or computers, in the 31st century. After filling out a "short" form a foot thick by exploiting a loophole that allowed them to use Ennesby (as an AI forbidding him would be discrimination) the Toughs are hired to disperse a long-term mob outside the licensing office, which actually turns out to be the line.
  • In S.S.D.D Trisha, Maytec's customer service AI, is designed to ward off complaints by being so annoying that most just give up.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: A couple plot elements hint that the type is still around in the After the End Known World. It's unknown if this happens with everything, of if trips to the Silent World being involved make things more difficult.
    • The main cast, who is on an expedition to explore the Silent World, runs out of food early because of an Unfortunate Item Swap while loading their supplies. The military base from which they departed could technically resupply them on the same day, but getting permission to do it is stated to take four weeks. This results in a member of Mission Control blackmailing the captain of merchant ship into doing it instead.
    • The merchant ship in question unfortunately turns out to have been carrying, among other things, a sheltered Farm Boy turned unpaid kitchen aid eager to see other places than his home country, and who had just found out that he wouldn't be allowed to disembark once the ship reached its destination. The main cast finds this out the hard way upon opening one of their newly delivered food crates. They end up having to keep him with them because he's not immune to The Plague, the Silent World is ridden with Plague Zombie monsters, and merely arranging for a proper transportation to come get him would take at least half the time the expedition is supposed to last anyway. Add the twenty-something days the boat will need to get there, and the transportation might as well be used to pick up the whole expedition crew once their mission is complete.

    Web Original 
  • Nerdy Show's Dungeons and Doritoes portrays Cleaveland as an entire society of these. The party must negotiate and navigate the bureaucracy to get Jen'Ifer off the bus.
  • A series of humor oriented web videos shows a paper pusher dealing with the Street Fighter II warriors, having issue with quite a few of them, arguing with Chun-Li over her outfit, with Vega over the definition of a "weapon" and with M. Bison over the finances. (One could likely view this guy as a sympathetic character doing an excellent job, considering.)

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama:
    • Hermes Conrad and various other agents of the Central Bureaucracy. They even have a neat pseudo-Villain Song about it in "How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back".
      Hermes: [singing] And they said, "This boy's born to be a bureaucrat / Born to be all obsessive and snotty" / I made my friends and relations file long applications / To get into my tenth birthday party.
    • Nicely summed up by the leader of the Central Bureaucracy in this line:
      Number 1.0: Hermes, you are technically correct. The best kind of correct!
  • Vice-Principal Bone from Doug was one of these characters. He had a seemingly never-ending list of rules for student behavior that made it almost impossible to do anything that wasn't against the rules somehow. In one episode, Doug daydreams of himself as his superhero alter-ego Quailman, who battles "The Rulemeister", a Control Freak that looks and sounds exactly like Mr. Bone, and who is eventually defeated by being trapped in his own rules. Mr. Bone catches him and grabs his comic away, causing Doug to point out that "No grabbing other people's comic books" is one of his rules, and manages to convince Mr. Bone to let him and the other kids out of detention. In another episode, Quailman battles the "Robo-Bones", robot versions of Mr. Bone. Rather than trapping Bone with his own rules as in the previous example, Doug uses the "Secret Dream" version of escape by convincing the Robo-Bones to become a professional yodeling troupe.
  • An example of this being used for good in Earthworm Jim, where one of these foils 'The thing that dares not speak its name's plan to destroy the universe by making it fill out paperwork first. Paperwork so long that it would take a billion years to fill out. And after that, it turns out it was given the wrong paperwork!
  • In the Asterix film The Twelve Tasks of Asterix, the eighth task is to find Permit A-38 in "The House That Drives You Mad", a Roman bureaucratic office so convoluted it does Exactly What It Says on the Tin. After getting the runaround for a bit, Asterix turns the tables on the bureaucrats by tricking them into looking for the non-existent Permit A-39; after the place is in total disarray, they give Asterix Permit A-38 just to get rid of him-and then goes insane when he realizes someone actually got a permit.
  • Darkwing Duck sometimes works with an Interpol-like spy organization called SHUSH. One SHUSH bureaucrat, a Russian bear named Vladimir Goodenov Grizzlikov, loathes Darkwing and his unpredictable methods; Grizzlikov treats his agency's manual as if it were his Bible. (By contrast, Darkwing's immediate supervisor is too impressed by Darkwing's excellent track record to object to his unorthodox techniques.) Subverted in "The Darkwing Squad", in which SHUSH retrains a team of agents to fight crime in Darkwing's anarchic style ... and the squad eventually triumphs by following the book.
  • Joo Dee from Avatar: The Last Airbender plays this part when she makes the Gaang wait through weeks-long processes to post "Lost Bison" posters or talk to the Earth King about the invasion. She's really under Long Feng's order to prevent them from doing anything. Also, there was a bureaucrat literally obstructing the Gaang and others at the ferry in Full Moon Bay. The Earth Kingdom in general and Ba Sing Se in particular is depicted as symptomatically bureaucratic, much like the ancient China that pretty much codified the concept of bureaucracy in Real Life.
  • Alien X of Ben 10: Alien Force obstructs itself. The most powerful being in the universe, capable of altering reality... and its two halves are still in a meeting deciding whether or not they should save the dinosaurs.
  • The first appearance of the Pixies on The Fairly Oddparents had them taking over Fairy World. They immediately implemented a long paperwork system for granting wishes that it was nearly impossible to get any wish approved. They're so into bureaucracy that it's often their downfall.
  • Disney's Recess has Menlo, who's en route to becoming one of these guys and has already, through unfailing adherence to the rules, attained a highly trusted position within the school. An example of how strict he is: Gus and Mikey were standing in line with their permission slips for an excursion, but when they finally got to the front of the line, Menlo pointed out it was a few seconds past the due time, and got angry when they suggested still taking the slips. He seemed to find the fact that there was a line irrelevant. In one episode he teams up with Randall, and together they basically take over the entire playground through blackmail, because there's always some rule Menlo knows everyone or one of their friends is actually breaking it.The gang in general reacts quite negatively toward his legalism, although in one episode they are shocked to discover that Menlo and T.J. used to be inseparable best friends, but grew apart, some time before the gang got started - and both still have fond feelings for each other, despite the rivalry. It gives a bit of humanity to the kid.
  • As the Chief Officer of Rules and Regulations, Shika of Maryoku Yummy lives to enforce the rules, and nothing makes him happier than filling out forms.
  • Dilbert's Bob Bastard, the test engineer who NEVER aproves anything, and enjoys destroying people's dreams and emotionally and financially abusing women.
  • Rodney Whosits from Archer, the requisitions officer. Played for laughs as strict bureaucrat who cannot be threatened (but can be bribed). Also subverted in the sense that his placement is probably for the best, since the ISIS staff have a penchant of taking weapons for personal use, or for sale on the black market.
  • In My Life as a Teenage Robot Jenny is needed as the Skyway Patrol, the official global defense group, have to deal with literal mountains of paperwork in order to do virtually anything. They once try to arrest Jenny for her vigilantism, but are unable to do so because the necessary paperwork would take decades to fill out. It's little wonder Nora Wakeman retired from Skyway Patrol and began working on creating her daughter. Even Brad realized that being a Skyway Patrol Officer in "Last Action Zero" wasn't all that cracked up to be, especially when basic duties, such as making arrests are completely mummified in red tape and paperwork in triplicate.
  • The Sheep in the Big City episode "Baah-dern Times" had Lisa Rental sing a musical number about how she'd like to grow up to be a bureaucrat because she'd be paid to make things frustrating and miserable for other people.
  • Stan Lee's Superhero Kindergarten has Principal Harriet Shoutzalot, who is suspicious of Arnold and his class and is always trying to figure out their secrets.

Examples of life-and-death matters:

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics):
    • The Council of Acorn combine this with Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering. While they mean well, more often than not they prevent the Freedom Fighters from actually saving the day, such as initially refusing to let them stop Scourge and the Suppression Squad from invading Mobius in favor on focusing their efforts on Eggman, trying Sally for treason when she and the others do so anyway, letting Ixis Naugus become king while dismissing Sonic's warnings and annoyance, and voting to exile Nicole from New Mobotropolis because it was "what the people wanted"; it eventually got to the point where Rotor got sick of it and left in outrage.
    • Hamlin Pig is one of the most blatant examples, mostly out of spite toward the Freedom Fighters for having made him a member of the rarely-used backup unit. He uses his position to attempt to make it hard for the Freedom Fighters to act, and is the only one to vote to punish Sally for leading an urgent mission against orders not to (though, granted, he likely wouldn't have been the only one if Sally hadn't threatened to become an Obstructive Bureaucrat herself).
  • Ultimate X-Men: Wraith felt that Ross was one because he wanted to shut down Weapon X. So, of course, he tried to kill him.

    Fan Works 
  • Evangelion 303: The group of politicians tasked with overseeing the Evangelion project is always complaining about funding, the march of the program... and some of them would love an excuse for shutting it down. To be fair, their concerns are not without merit:
    "Ernie, could you stop being a politician for one fucking minute? We don't have time for this kind of back and forth wishy-washy spend-then-cancel bureaucracy!"
    "You've been using that bullshit for over a year now! You think you're not a politician? We were put here to do the bidding of those who elected us! Why are you guys so obsessed with spending money we don't have?"
  • HERZ: Every so often HERZ -the organization the main cast works for- has to deal with UN Inspectors and Auditors overseeing them, examining their accounts and records and poking their noses where they do not belong.
  • In Mega Man Reawakened, General Yancey imposes a strict time limit on Project Gamma's completion, and he threatens to have the whole thing scrapped if it isn't done in time.
  • Kyoshi Rising; the magistrate's assistant Kyoshi meets early in her journey, who ignoring Kyoshi's attempts to help the town with a giant spirit monster even after she reveals she's the Avatar. The dockmaster in Taizhou has the temperment of an Obstructive Bureaucrat, but is more of a Beleaguered Bureaucrat.
  • Quicken: When Emma is looking for her sister, she goes to her college. Unfortunately a RA refused to let her see Anne or tell her if her sister was even there.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Alien franchise.
    • Alien. Ellen Ripley quotes "24 hours for decontamination" regulations rather than allow Kane to enter the Nostromo for treatment. Of course, she turns out to be right, but by making her appear unsympathetic the movie conceals her eventual role as the hero.
    • A more straight-up application of the trope is the board of inquiry in Aliens. Again this is used to mislead the audience, as the only member who expresses sympathy towards Ripley is Carter Burke, hiding his role as the villain.
    • Mr. Andrews in Alien³. When Ripley tells him about the Alien he won't help her and confines her to sickbay, because he finds her story very implausible and he has a much simpler explanation for the recent deaths.
  • Dirty Harry had one per film. Not as evident in the first film, where he is mostly just chewed out for his methods, Lt. Briggs in Magnum Force is the Big Bad, Captain McKay in The Enforcer is portrayed as completely incompetent (leading to an ending where he gives in to the terrorists' demands if they release the mayor after Harry has dealt with them) and in later films, they want him to ouright retire.
  • Oblivion (2013): Victoria is a much more obedient to mission control than Jack. She refuses to go down to the planet with him, and believes everything mission control says - even ratting him out by saying they are no longer a good team.
  • In Pacific Rim the world council shelves the Jaeger project after the Kaiju start adapting, instead choosing to focus on the coastal wall project. When a Kaiju effortlessly destroys one such wall, riots ensue.
  • The titular group from The Adjustment Bureau, though not in the usual sense. Their job is to essentially railroad people into doing whatever destiny demands, and to hell with whatever people themselves want or what has to be "adjusted" to do it. However it should be noted that, despite all this and being the antagonists of the film, they're not evil or even all that unreasonable.

  • Dan Abnett:
    • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis, an official tries to stop Soric and his fellow refugees from seeking shelter and medical attention when they are actually being shelled. When one of his guards shoots one of the refugees, they charge and kill them to get through.
      "Do you understand what a State of Emergency is, old man?" said Bownome.
      "Understand? I'm gakking living it!" Soric blurted.
    • In Sabbat Martyr, an official objects to Criid's opening an abandoned building to shelter children in the cold. She refuses to evict them.
    • In the same novel, the Ghosts were barred from using their flamers by the planetary government. This was partly because most of the city was built out of wood, but mostly because the use of flamers was reserved for their own elite forces.
    • It's The Guns of Tanith that takes this Up to Eleven as the book opens to a pair of Ghost sergeants trying to requisition the proper ammo, since the lagsun packs they were issued were the wrong size, but the munitorum adept's only response is "Size 5 is the standard pattern". The exchange ends with one of the Ghosts threatening to kill the adept if he says "standard pattern" one more time.
  • As with in the humorous section, the New Testament of The Bible frequently painted the Pharisees as antagonists in this vein. It seems that one of Jesus's main purposes in coming back, aside from His sacrifice, was to clarify some very literal and twisted interpretations of Old Testament commandments. The Pharisees tried several times to catch Him in a logical contradiction using Hebraic code.
  • Vice-Chancellor Nesselrode is portrayed as this in The Death of the Vazir Mukhtar; he seems more funny at first, but his decisions, based on the high political considerations of avoiding all and any possible turbulence, could easily be fatal for some of his subordinates ( and end up being fatal for the Russian mission in Persia).
  • In Terry Pratchett's Discworld:
    • In Night Watch, Vimes refused to hand over people to the Unmentionables without a receipt. And proof of ID from the man who signed it. He insists that it is regulations — though regulations that had not been enforced before due to watchmen being scared. This stops them for a while, as no member of the Unmentionables wants to have his name connected to what they do to people. And asking for proof of ID made sense since the Unmentionable who initially signed for the prisoners did so with the name "Henry the Hamster" and Vimes, quite reasonably, pointed out that he'd look a bit silly if he went back to his captain with that on a receipt.
    • In Men at Arms, Mayonnaise Quirke of the Day Watch has completely screwed things up, leading to a riot. When a Day Watch officer arrives at the Watch House for help, Carrot first points out they've been relieved of duty, and then asks him a series of questions. Based on the answers he announces that, according to the Laws and Ordinances of Ankh-Morpork, the "Citizen's Militia" is now in control of everything. The Citizen's Militia consists of the Night Watch and whoever else they felt like recruiting.
    • A. E. Pessimal in Thud! who has been sent to audit the Watch and comes up with things like "Two officers were patrolling a street where no crimes were committed. How is this a good use of resources?" and, somewhat more justifiably "What is the point of Corporal Nobbs?" Vimes tries to wind him up by saying that if he wants to know how the Watch operates he should experience it, and putting him in the middle of a riot, and is rather taken aback when Pessimal enthusiastically gets involved and chooses to remain in the Watch. By Snuff he's become the Watch's forensic accountant, as long as every so often he gets to wear a helmet and walk a beat.
  • The Tim Dorsey novel Florida Roadkill has an insurance exec whose job is to block insurance claims, especially if they're actually covered by the client's policy. This gets him a Karmic Death when he gets shot, and when he goes to the hospital, the call to his insurance company for payment regarding the treatment gets directed to his office.
  • Cornelius Fudge of Harry Potter proves to be this. He primarily acts as headpiece for the Ministry with recommendations from Malfoy and other respected individuals deciding his actions rather than his own opinions. However, unlike his Undersecretary who is decidedly evil, Fudge simply wants to stay in control, and he seems to know that any disturbance in the peace would see him quickly ousted. As such, he refused to review the case of Sirius Black or accept Voldemort's return in order to maintain the status quo.
  • The British Navy in the Horatio Hornblower books is sometimes worse than Napoleon. In Lieutenant Hornblower, they rescind his uncomfirmed promotion due to the Peace of Amiens and then put him under complete pay stoppage until he's "repaid" the commander's salary he drew during that time—while he's furloughed in London in the middle of winter. He has to pawn most of his possessions and become a professional whist player to survive. In Hotspur, the supplies office gets on his case for using what they deem is too much shot, powder, and cordage while at serious blockade work for months, but Cornwallis fortunately has his back there.
  • I, Robot: In "The Evitable Conflict", Stephen Byerley, Coordinator of the Earth, suspects someone is sabotaging the Machines, powerful robots that advice the best decision to humanity, endangering the peace and stability of the entire planet. He asks for help investigating this from the four Vice Co ordinators of the four regions in that Earth is divided. All dismiss the idea and none helps Byerley, insisting they are doing their jobs well. Justified, because The Machines already control humanity and they will never let anyone capable of initiating an investigation have the job.
    "They all minimize the state of affairs." [Byerley's] voice was low. "Is it not easy to imagine that they all laugh at me?"
  • In Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe's Triumph, when McCandless is handed a warrant for Sharpe's arrest, he asks how he spells his name — with or without a "e" — tampers with the warrant so that it says "Sharp" and refuses to hand over the wrong man. When Hakeswill says the ink ran, he loftily declares that obviously it was corrected.
  • The Small Back Room the novel (later film) by Nigel Balchin details the internal struggles of a team of World War II scientists/public servants who are the embodiment of this trope. The team spends its time working on an anti-tank weapon that is theoretically efficient but has little practical field value. The protagonist is a decent yet weak man who fails to take the tough steps needed to improve matters, while his Manipulative Bastard friend delights in deposing those whom he's deemed incompetent, but ends up putting an even more incompetent man in charge of the team.
  • In Star Trek: Gemworld, there's Tangre Bertoran, and indeed most of the Jeptah (as the government elite maintaining Gemworld's environment are called). In contrast to most of the “normal” folk encountered on Gemworld (who tend to be pleasant and welcoming enough), the Jeptah - and Bertoran in particular - resent the presence of anyone trying to actually help rather than blindly follow the rules, and complicate plans to save the planet considerably.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe:
    • Ahsoka has an Imperial broker named Jenneth Pilar, who sends the Empire to out-of-the-way moon Raada so it can grow a plant used in nutritional supplements that renders the soil barren for years afterward, without any concern for the inhabitants that will be stuck there after the Empire is gone. He ends up having to flee Imperial service after things go pear-shaped.
  • Tortall Universe: Sir Lionel of Trebond from the second Beka Cooper book. He's the Lord Provost of Port Caynn (Da Chief, in other words), but when Beka and Goodwin arrive to investigate the colemongering he actually forbids them from doing any other policework. Nor does he allow his own officers to interfere much with all the crime a port city can generate. After Pearl Skinner threatened his family, he's too scared of her retribution to curb her activities.
  • In Chapter 23.1 of Worm, Glenn Chambers, Chief of Image for the PRT (which is in charge of all U.S. government superheroes), requires Weaver to use butterflies when fighting criminals instead of anything effective. When she tries to talk him out of the restriction in Chapter 23.3, he refuses on the grounds that she needs to prove that she's capable of restraining herself given the way she flipped out and killed Alexandria and Director Tagg.
  • Near the end of The X-Files novel Ground Zero by Kevin J. Anderson, Mulder, Scully and four civilians are stranded on a boat far out in the Pacific Ocean. Mulder tries to call for help on his cell phone, finally reaching a tracking station whose operator tells him to get off the line because this is a restricted number. Even when Mulder says that he's making an emergency distress call, the operator tells him that he shouldn't be on this frequency and to "try the appropriate contact numbers." Mulder then suggests that they send someone out to arrest him for misusing the number. The tracking station does eventually send help, but still...

    Live-Action TV 
  • On C.H.A.O.S Director Higgins is this to the ODS team and his goal is to have the ODS team disbanded. His obstruction can result in someone dying or a dangerous criminal or terrorist getting away. However, his actions are often justified by the fact that acting on unconfirmed intelligence from dubious sources can result in the deaths of innocents and a PR nightmare for the CIA. Once he approves a mission he will give it his full support and do everything he can to keep his agents safe.
  • Doctor Who: "Resolution" presents us with Polly, telephone operator with the UK Security Helpline, which is taking calls while UNIT's operations are suspended pending a budgetary review. When the Doctor talks to her on the phone trying to get help because there's a Dalek on the loose, she is completely useless and utterly fails to realize that there is, in fact, a very real and extremely serious situation going on.
  • The Glades: The hospital insurance administrator in "A Perfect Storm". She tries to stop Sanchez connecting up a generator to the blacked-out hospital during a hurricane. Later she is targeted by a spree killer because she was the one who cut off his meds when his insurance ran out, causing him to suffer a psychotic break.
  • Vice Admiral Alynna Nechayev is presented this way in most of her appearances on Star Trek: The Next Generation and DS9. Her involvement in the Cardassian DMZ crisis, if not actually outright caused by her, certainly aggravated the situation.
    • The Sheliak, a one-episode race, act as this. The claim is that their particular mindset is simply fixated on the letter of agreements, but they very conveniently refuse to invoke the negotiation clause of their treaty with the Federation when it would cause minor delays for them and potentially allow fifteen thousand humans to be evacuated. Picard's ultimate response is to turn it right back at them: the negotiation clause requires both parties to agree, but a single party can invoke the third party arbitration clause. Picard does so and names a species that is in a months-long hibernation cycle as the arbitrators, meaning the delay would be much longer than the one he had asked for. The Sheliak quickly change their tune.
  • In an episode in season 3 of The Good Place, the titular version of heaven is run by the committee, bureaucrats who never break the rules, even if it's the right thing to do. When it is revealed to them that no one has gotten into the good place in half a millennium because of how in modern society most choices lead to more unintended bad outcomes than intended good ones, the most urgent rule-abiding action they can take is form an investigational team which will take 400 years. They are aware this issue is incredibly urgent and that billions of good people will suffer in hell due to their slow actions but choose to remain bound by their rules no matter what.
  • In Kolchak: The Night Stalker, pretty much every cop and authority figure Kolchak ran into was one of these, stonewalling his investigation and refusing to acknowledge anything supernatural was going on. A few of them actually turned out to be corrupt and in the know about whatever monster was on the loose, but covering it up for their own reasons.

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, one particularly vicious and procedure-oriented Imperial captain hears one of her subordinates protesting that one of the traitorous rebels being sent to the block for execution is not on the list of Stormcloak rebels sentenced to death. She promptly shouts him down, since the prisoner is in that cart, so that prisoner is going to the block, and nothing is stopping this execution save for the dragon-god showing up a few minutes later. Said prisoner is you, the player-character. It is entirely possible after you escape to join up with the Stormcloaks and proceed to utterly destroy the entire Imperial presence in Skyrim out of raw fury at your near-experience with a Viking crewcut....because one jerk didn't double-check the list.
    • In fact, should you favor the Stormcloaks during your escapenote , the player can get retribution against said Captain, who's one of the enemy NPCs spawned inside said fort, right at the doors. No such chance is given if the player follows Hadvar, the Imperial officer, instead. This, of course, shifted many players in favor of the Stormcloaks.
  • In StarCraft, Aldaris sends a fleet to Char, the planet that Tassadar was stranded on. To arrest him for, in short; disobeying orders and not purifying the infected Terran planets, not returning to Aiur to be punished, demoted, and maybe executed; attempting to help his race and home world by allying with the Nerazim; whom the Conclave had exiled for "heretical powers born of darkness", and not returning to Aiur after his ship was destroyed and he was marooned. His military contingent (led by the player) defects to Tassadar on the spot when they finally hear this spelled out. The entire Conclave likely fits this trope, although Aldaris is the only Judicator you meet. Also, the Confederacy when they arrested James Raynor for "destruction of Confederate property". The destroyed property? Infested Terran bases that were making more infested Terrans.
    • The last example actually makes sense later on; the real reason Raynor was arrested was for disrupting the progress of the Zerg on Mar Sara. The Confederacy WANTED to let the Zerg run free as a sort of sick "weapons test".
  • Mass Effect
    • Donnel Udina serves this role to Shepard, caring only for looking good politically. He gets a special mention just for nearly causing the destruction of the universe in the first game.
    • There's also Rannadril Ghan Swa Fulsoom Karaten Narr Eadi Bel Anoleis, who as the administrator of Port Hanshan on Noveria, sits halfway between this and Corrupt Corporate Executive. Fortunately, you can acquire evidence of his corruption (demanding large kickbacks from corporate interests who want to operate on Noveria to the point that it is damaging profits for Noveria as a whole) and get him arrested or killed. Amusingly you can bypass his entire subplot by exploiting this trope and turning an unrelated smuggler in to him and he'll handle the red tape as the reward.
    • Shepard can threaten to get Illium's own obstructive bureaucracy involved in Mass Effect 2 when trying to convince a Synthetic Insights representative to buy a contract for an "indentured servant". The representative is extremely quick to take up the contract because they don't want the bureaucracy to get involved.
      • There's also a minor sidequest where you find a lost trinket with no monetary worth but significant sentimental value during Miranda's loyalty mission, and can return it to its owner, who gives you a fistful of money on the grounds that getting it back via the bureaucracy would have cost far more.
    • Councilor "We have dismissed that claim" Sparatus.
    • The Citadel's bureaucracy in general.
    • Proving you just can't escape some things, Mass Effect: Andromeda has the acting head of the Andromeda Initiative, Jarunn Tann (acting because everyone above him died), and Director of Colonial Affairs Foster Addison. They're the people Ryder has to report to. Thankfully, they hate one another, and they at least don't try to make Ryder's job harder than it needs to be often. Intentionally. Usually. Though they are both serious micromanagers, though unlike the Citadel council, they at least are willing to admit they were wrong. Well, sometimes.
  • Halo 4 has Captain Andrew Del Rio. When his ship is dragged into a Forerunner Shield World, his first impulse is to do whatever it takes to flee. Despite the fact that the Master Chief warns him about the danger posed by the Didact, Del Rio focuses on leaving Requiem. While he has some legitimate concerns (regarding Cortana's Rampancy), he is completely dismissive of a soldier whose entire life was defined by protecting humanity (going so far as to flippantly respond to the Chief asking for intel about a combat zone he was being sent to), as well as his own officers. His refusal to try and interdict the Didact allows the Forerunner to retrieve the Composer and wipe out all life in the city of New Phoenix with it, before the Master Chief managed to stop him. Del Rio, meanwhile, ended up thrown in the brig for his treatment of the Chief.
  • Purchase the Democracy perk in Civilization Revolution and your production and culture increase greatly, but at the cost of your Congress vetoing you whenever you try to break peace treaties or refuse peace offers from rival civs. The other civs understand this limitation, and will liberally abuse it by attacking and capturing one of your cities, quickly offering you peace so you can't do anything about it, and repeating the process from there. And Congress never lets you refuse the peace offer or launch a counter-attack to reclaim your city, no matter how obvious it is that you're being played.
  • The first world of Obsidian plays with this trope Up to Eleven to fit the fact that it's based on one of the main character's dreams. So much that the receptionist is as much of a bureaucrat as everybody else, and all of them are shown as TV-headed robots that only show the nose and mouth of a human. Their chief is withholding information about your partner Max, and you are asked to fix a literal Broken Bridge between you and the Chief's office, "through the proper channels"; but as you progress, the complexity of the tasks you have to do increases to the point that the facility's rules actually have to be broken to reach the Chief by the end.
  • In Battleborn, this is one of the major things if not the major thing obstructing the Peacekeepers from doing their job properly and to the fullest. Rather than get things done right away, the UPR's higher ups would rather follow protocol even in the dire state the universe is in. This is best seen in the second and third chapters of the web motioncomic where the UPR's bureaucracy causes problems such as not giving supplies immediately, and almost killing Rath and Ambra in the respective chapters.
  • Dawn of War 2 - When the Space Marines arrive to the industrial planet Meridian and request access to a huge productional facility called Angel Forge, the planetary adminitrator Elena Derosa replies that the use of Forge is booked years in advance, and even then, only a fraction of its capacity will be available. When the bevildered Marines explain, that the Forge is needed urgently to make weapons against the Tyranid Fleet that threates the entire sector, Derosa haughtingly retorts that no Tyranid presence was registered on Meridian (implying that the rest of the sector can go frag itself). However, it turns out she wasn't entirely at fault. The lack of intelligence on Tyranids was due to the meddling from the Eldar, and Derosa was instructed to stall the Marines by the treacherous planetary governor. Once both those issues are resolved, she becomes much more helpful.

    Web Comics 
  • In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, a series of trials deconstructs varying codes of conduct and harshly judges those responsible for mass death and destruction with the use of subtle laws and regulations that ended up causing no-win situations. First off, the Captain Picard expy and his civilization get massive penalties to spatial travel and are sentenced to planetary rebuilding because they didn't save a planet with intelligent, non-advanced life over First Law regulations. Then 'Yoda' is charged with abducting children to be indoctrinated into a cult and assassinating a legally-elected ruler over 'religious differences'. Finally, what seems like an open-and-shut case of a space pilot making a fatal decision to a young housewife because he wasn't prepared or determined to come up with a third option (spacecraft was carrying crucial medical supplies and there was too much weight, classic Cold Equation) ends up going the opposite way because of the bureaucracy forcing him to do it: The shuttle was a deathtrap because of "safety regulations" banning advanced technology or even redundant systems, the housewife stowed away because the local TSA was "cracking down" on space pirates, which made getting a shuttle too expensive, and she was able to get stow away because TSA TERRORIST REGULATIONS BANNED DOOR LOCKS (YES REALLY), and finally, while the pilot wasn't smart enough to just use the chair instead of the housewife, he did call for help and got a direct order to follow protocol and execute her. Fortunately, he got a slap on the wrist because he didn't even try to kill her, he intended to kill himself first, and she got paid enough for medical bills (she survived spacing herself) and her own ship. And the TSA was cracked down for designing this no-win situation intentionally to justify their "losing spacecraft constantly"; the plan was to decrease security, wait for hitchhikers to board one of the deathtraps, and then get their recently-promoted pilots to panic and do something stupid, thereby justifying the rumors of pirates (frame the pilot as a murderer, record the death of the housewife, or watch the ship blow itself to bits).

    Real Life 
  • Pink Elephants being nowhere near as charming in Real Life as in fiction, Theodore Dalrymple tried to wrestle with them because of it:
    Indeed, I have known such patients dive through windows of the upper stories of my hospital in order, as they supposed, to escape the monsters, or enemies, who pursued or were attacking them. (Interestingly, it has proved difficult to persuade the hospital administration that such patients should be nursed on the ground floor as a precautionary measure, suggesting a subliminal death wish, though not on the part of the patients.)
  • This was such a problem in the militaries of ancient China that Sun Tzu addressed it in The Art of War. His favored tactic - which the annotations also ascribe to other great generals - was to ignore the bureaucracy, and if the bureaucrat became too obstructive, execute him.
  • Best shown by the Italian military before and during World War II (at the end of which they were finally put in their place. Those dealing with the military, at least), obstructive enough that only the threat of being shot as saboteurs could stop them for the duration of World War I. Some of their best hits are:
    • Preventing the adoption of the Cei-Rigotti, an automatic rifle available in the year 1900 (the same decision happened everywhere the rifle was offered so they're not alone in this, but they managed to keep it out of service even after it was shown it was a good idea, forcing Italy to adopt the infamously crappy Chauchat).
    • Messing with Italy's machine guns adoption, leading to paying in advance a large number of Vickers that were never delivered due to the start of World War I, the adoption of the infamously unreliable Fiat-Revelli mod. 1914 over a better and less expensive design, and, between the two World Wars, the replacement of the Mod. 1914 with a number of machine guns that are almost as bad.
    • Giving every combat aircraft that wasn't a seaplane to the Royal Italian Air Force and putting in place a needlessly slow and complicated procedure for the Army and the Navy to call airstrikes on the enemy, fostering resentment against the Air Force (especially from the Navy, who wanted and needed their carriers).
    • After the Battle of Taranto proved that carriers were necessary, they blocked the construction and development of carrier-based aircraft again on the basis of technical issues that should have already been solved and the carriers' vulnerability in the confined waters of the Mediterranean Sea. While they had a point about the vulnerability of carriers, the Battle of Cape Matapan ended with the crippling of a battleship and the loss of three cruisers and two destroyers precisely because there were no carrier-based aircraft to provide air cover and prevent the torpedoing of the battleship.
  • Following Stalin's Great Purges in the '30s, the Soviet military implemented a system where all military orders had to be countersigned by the Commissar attached to the officer's unit. Predictably, this hampered the effectiveness of the Soviet defense during the early stages of Operation Barbarossa.
  • A positive example was Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey of the US FDA. In the early sixties, she was driving a major drug company nuts demanding more extensive scientific testing documentation about a profitable new drug called thalidomide. Despite the corporate pressure, Dr. Kelsey refused to give in and approve the drug for market because her personal alarm bells were going off at the info about the drug. Eventually, the drug's infamous birth defects were revealed to the world and Dr. Kelsey was hailed as a hero for largely sparing the USA the same tragedy.

Examples of the dark version:

    Anime & Manga 
  • Captain William Sutherland, a member of the Earth Forces' General Staff in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED. During his initial appearances he interrogates the crew of the Archangel about the alleged improprieties in voyage, transfers the crewmembers he views as politically reliable to other assignments, than puts in motion a plan that will get not only the remaining Archangel crew, but also most of the Earth Forces' Eurasian allies killed off. He's later revealed to be The Dragon to Blue Cosmos leader Muruta Azrael, and in his own banal, pencil-pushing way, a major mover and shaker behind the plan to exterminate all of the Coordinators. A truly reprehensible, if dull personality.
  • Cecilia Irene of Mobile Suit Gundam: The Plot to Assassinate Gihren is a cross between this and Sexy Secretary. An attractive, efficent young woman, Cecelia is Gihren Zabi's keeper of the keys. She takes care of administrative trivia, acts as his liason to the high-command, and arranges assassinations, political crackdowns, arrests, and other black operations that the brass won't touch.
  • In Chivalry of a Failed Knight Ikki's family put pressure on Hagun Academy to keep him from graduating. This resulted in new rules that require students to have a certain ranking in order to take classes, keeping Ikki from getting units and passing his first year. Luckily, Kurono Shinguuji became director and fired the obstructive staff. Turns out to be the real reason they were trying to stop Ikki was they want Ikki to fail as an example. They don't want other F-Ranked to try to succeed as unlike Ikki, they will fail causing unrest in the mage-knight system.

    Card Games 
  • In the Ravnica: City of Guilds set of Magic: The Gathering, the Azorius Senate can be seen as an entire guild of such characters. Just look at the cards Droning Bureaucrats and Minister of Impediments. Naturally, the guild's cards lend themselves well to stalling and control strategies. The Guild Charter of Ravnica explicitly states that the purpose of the Azorius Senate is to make the most complex and confusing laws possible.
    "Where much work is done to make sure nothing is accomplished." - flavor text for Prahv, headquarters for the Azorius.
    "...and you must also apply for an application license, file documents 136(iv) and 22-C and -D in triplicate, pay all requisite fees, request a ..." - flavor text for Droning Bureaucrats.
    • In 'Ravnica' fluff, Orzhov are shown to be more or less the same - a massive obfusticating bureaucracy, but this being black, partially staffed by the undead - adding a whole new meaning to the idiom ' corporate zombie '.
    • This is pretty much the modus operandi for a good portion of White's cards. Being the color of light and law, (though not necessarily good,) White has no trouble using the Long Arm of The Law to strangle you to death. Of course, since the military falls under the technical definition of "law," they're just as likely to strangle you the old-fashioned way as well.
    • And the Aysen Bureaucrats from the Homelands set.
    • Parodied with Bureaucracy, an Unglued card where the bureaucratese is not only in the flavor text but in the entire text of what the card does.

    Comic Books 
  • If there is ever a need for an insufferable jackass with a load of red tape in the Marvel Universe, expect to see another appearance by Henry Peter Gyrich. He spent decades being a massive pain in the ass of superhero teams, particularly the Avengers, before Crisis Crossover events such as Civil War and Secret Invasion pushed him into Knight Templar territory.
    • He's even beyond that. His actions during Avengers: The Initiative (cloning a teenage soldier and using him to cover up a training death) clearly cross the Moral Event Horizon. He's the only comic book character where "basic human decency" is an Informed Attribute. Everyone goes out of their way to say he's not a villain, while Gyrich's actions would say otherwise.
    • In a related example, in the climactic issue of Rom Spaceknight, he attempts to use the weapon that just defeated the Dire Wraiths to strip every super-being on Earth of their powers. No country on Marvel Earth has any law forbidding the possession of super-powers (though the US had tried to pass similar legislations - and failed), and Gyrich has no judicial authority at all.
    • Hilariously enough, at one point, he was almost redeemed. During the Geoff Johns run around '03, Gyrich even managed to have a somewhat friendly relationship with Falcon and the two of them working together discovered that the US Secretary of Defense was the Red Skull in disguise, which was instrumental in trying to fight the Skull's plan to cover the US in a flesh-eating virus and use the attack to start WWIII by blaming Wakanda for it. Aaaaaand then Gyrich promptly dropped off the Moral Event Horizon himself only about three years later with his aforementioned atrocities in the Initiative.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Prowl, who can and will use all manner of legal loopholes and red tape to get what he wants, while using it to make everyone else's life miserable. As can be imagined, the guy is all kinds of unpopular with everyone. He's bad enough that when the Decepticons mind-controlled him, none of Autobots noticed a change in his behavior.
  • In The Killers Of Krypton, C'Zal tries to hinder and dissuade Supergirl from checking the vault storing the most sensitive items in the Green Lantern Archives -where she might find evidence regarding Rogol Zaar and the Circle's dirty dealings- by listing the massive amount of paperwork she must fill to be allowed access to the Tower.

    Fan Works 
  • Yamamoto Genryusai Shigekuni is this to Ichigo in A Protector's Pride. It leads to a war with Hell and Ichigo firmly distrusting of the Gotei 13. Something he wanted to avoid.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A major theme in Brazil. The world is a consumer-driven, bureaucratic nightmare, with the Central Service being aggressively unhelpful to anyone who needs them and classifying anyone who tries to report a mistake as a terrorist. The hero, Sam Lowry, tries to defy this, and has daydreams about being a Badass Bureaucrat.
  • Deconstructed in Spectre. C/Max Denbigh is a corrupt paper-shuffler who expresses ignorant views on issues like total surveillance, interferes in MI6's operations, and advocates for the replacement of field agents like 007 with Attack Drones. However, James Bond and M find him to be quite suspicious given he's in charge of the Centre for National Surveillance system, which is really a Trojan horse for world domination for the titular criminal empire (of which C is a top-ranking member of) that they could use it to destroy their enemies. He nearly succeeds in getting it activated too. C is actually the Bond-verse's version of Kim Philby.
  • Implied and subverted by Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight. He was said to have been an Internal Affairs agent investigating Lieutenant Gordon's men on corruption charges for political points before he became the District Attorney for Gotham City. However, his suspicions are later found to be true when two men he investigated betrayed him and indirectly led him to becoming Two-Face. He blames Gordon for what happened to him and for the death of Rachel Dawes.
  • Director Theodore Galloway, the President's Aide sent to oversee NEST in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen actively believes that the Autobots are to blame for the Decepticons attacking Earth, and attempts to force the Autobots to leave. When the Decepticons finally invade in force, instead of mobilizing NEST, the aide instead forces NEST to stand down and return to base, citing that standard operating procedure would be to try and negotiate a peaceful resolution with the enemy. Fortunately, they manage to get rid of him by shoving him out of a plane and dumping him in the middle of the Egyptian desert. Unfortunately they gave him a parachute first. Though considering that he's still the president's aide, that was probably for the best.
  • Akira Kurosawa's film Ikiru is all about this trope. In it, a man who has been a city bureaucrat of the mindless drone variety discovers that he is dying of stomach cancer. Confronted with this, and the realization that his son is only concerned about his inheritance, he first tries hedonism to get some meaning out of life. When that fails, he decides to take up the concern of a group of locals — cleaning a polluted pond and creating a park, a process that had been stalled into oblivion by the city bureaucracy giving citizens the workaround. Through sheer determination and blatant disregard for the traditional means of operation of the Japanese bureaucracy, he gets the park built before he dies. At his funeral, his fellow Obstructive Bureaucrats get drunk and promise to take up his example and no longer ignore the cause of their citizens... and the final scene is of everyone doing just that. Well, almost everyone...

  • Ark Sool in Artemis Fowl, a painfully By-the-Book Cop obsessed with regulations and incredibly rude about it to boot. His being promoted to commander is enough to get Holly Short to quit LEP for a while.
  • In Catch-22 Doc Daneeka is listed as a crew member of a plane so he can get flight pay, although he hates flying. He's not actually aboard the plane when it crashes. Still, since he is listed as being on it, he is marked down as dead. Even while he is standing right in front of people who have known him for months, they talk about what a shame it is he died in the crash. This does not turn out well for him.
  • The Senators in Codex Alera are bad about this. They tend to focus on irrelevant personal feuds and power plays in the face of such things as an invasion of 60,000 Wolfmen or a Horde of Alien Locusts, and one of them, Arnos, turns out to be an incompetent General Ripper when he's actually put in charge of something. Cheers could be heard from the readers when High Lord Placida bodily threw Senator Valerius out of a command meeting in the last book.note 
  • Mr. Chesney in Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones is somewhere inbetween humourous and dark. Making an entire world act like a bad fantasy novel might seem like a funny concept, until you take into account the people who are tortured, raped or killed because of it. A more benevolent version of this trope is found in another Diana Wynne Jones book: Brother Lawrence in A Sudden Wild Magic.
  • The Discworld universe features the Auditors, mysterious, cosmic beings who balance the books of reality. They would prefer an existence devoid of life, which makes things untidy, and intelligent thought, which is even less tidy and predictable. They have repeatedly attempted to eliminate the Discworld in an attempt to tidy up their books.
    • If they even think the world "I" or "me" or any other personal pronoun too many times they Vanish In A Puff of Smoke. They don't have names or even designations. They don't have faces. They never have any original thoughts. They have no feelings. Period. Abstract concepts cause them difficulties as the Auditors want to quantify everything that exists, but cannot isolate these concepts; at one point, they even disassembled a portrait to its component atoms in a vain attempt to locate the beauty.
      • In Thief of Time they were introduced to mortal delights. Unlike the description in the page header where this could free them of their evil, this doesn't. The shock of experiencing chocolate was enough to make them vanish. Their attempts to catalog everything their body experienced made them think so hard they forgot to exist.
    • The Death of the Discworld is, ironically, a recurring opponent of theirs; his job may be to take it away, but that doesn't stop Death from appreciating life.
    • One might point out cynically that by defeating the Auditors, Death is protecting his own job, since if there's no life anymore he's literally redundant. In fact the real reason is probably because the Auditors are trying to disrupt the natural order of things, of which Death is a part.
      • But while he is Bill Door he saves a little girl — even though it's usually his job to take people's lives away. The implication is that while he would prefer to be saving people, he's attached to his job to make sure that no one worse does it.
      • Death has been shown as being the only remaining thing at the end of the universe, and then waiting for another one to inevitably form. His job is safe.
      • By the end of Reaper Man, he makes it clear that he cares, first by asking the Ultimate Death, "What can the harvest hope for if not the care of the Reaper Man?", and, later, having installed fields of corn in his deathly estate, proceeds to carefully notice that they are not all alike, but are individuals each worth caring for. Of course, his waiting for a new universe occurs in an earlier book (he started out as an Omnicidal Maniac) and this was his Character Development book.
    • In Reaper Man, Miss Flitworth helps Death against them because he explains they are like revenuers — which everyone knows are worse than death. (You only have to die once.)
  • The Forgotten Realms novel Azure Bonds shows how Lhaeo does his job, that is, prevents adventurers from bothering Elminster. How the scribe is supposed to intimidate and turn away people who used to take out dragons and worse? Riiight...
    Akabar: Does anyone ever make it past this blizzard of parchment?
    Lhaeo: Well. There was a delegation from the Forest of Anauroch.
    Akabar: Anauroch is a desert, not a forest.
    Lhaeo: Well, now it is, yes.
  • Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a Smug Snake who, initially appointed as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, gradually works her way to a position of supreme power at Hogwarts ... and eventually, assumes a great deal of control over the wizard government. Percy Weasley also became one of these, though he managed to redeem himself at the end.
  • The bureaucrats of the Solarian League in the Honor Harrington books. Unfortunately, they are the ones with the real decision-making power, thanks to the League's very poorly-written constitution.
  • In James Bond book From Russia with Love, the author points out that all well-run organizations have at least one Obstructive Bureaucrat for the other workers to hate. He should have a job which isn't vital but affects everyone's day to day life. Something like being in charge of the office supplies. This is to unite them in at least one thing, that is they all agree this guy is a Jerkass. M makes sure to have one.
  • Franz Kafka practically invented this trope, most notably appearing in his novels The Trial and The Castle. Kafka manages to incorporate (obstructive bureaucratic) evil into the very fabric of reality. This was actually based on his day-job, where he did everything he could to not be one of these. He largely succeeded, doing more work before 2 PM than most people did all day.
  • In Max Havelaar, the titular character's attempts to do something about the merciless exploitation of the Javanese peasants by their feudal overlords are thwarted at every step by those above, below, and next to him in the Dutch colonial bureaucracy. Some actually don't want him to succeed (it's easier to keep the peasants in check if the local feudal system remains in place, after all), but others are simply Dirty Cowards who don't want to step on any powerful toes - especially not since Havelaar's similarly idealistic predecessor died in a terrible accident. (Note that all of this actually happened in Real Life.)
  • In The Phantom Tollbooth one of the demons lurking in the Mountains of Ignorance is the Senses Taker. He stalls the heroes with reams of pointless paperwork, which he then uses to distract them by creating the ultimate sensory experience for each one. The Taker is defeated when Milo accidentally breaks open a package of laughter, since the only sense he can't take is humor.
  • In his preface to the The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis references the "Eichmann" bureaucrat type as a model for how he envisioned demons.
  • Sisterhood Series by Fern Michaels: A major plotline that develops is how Martine Connor becomes the first female President of the United States, and she is trying to secure pardons to the Vigilantes. It proves to be more difficult than it appears. Here's why: Deadly Deals reveals her chief of staff, Aaron Lowry, who is The Napoleon, had been obstructing the presidential pardons, supposedly because it would be political suicide for the president to even try it. She ends up firing him as well as charging him in Game Over, because he turns out to be in bed with Baron Bell, a lawyer and Villain with Good Publicity who had been selling babies! Game Over also has the president obstructed by her advisors, who are more interested in their own agendas than in being loyal to her. At the urging of Henry "Hank" Jellicoe, head of Global Securities, she ends up throwing out many more people, and he supposedly pulls strings to replace them with people 100% loyal to her. She also has the pardons signed, and she paves the way to make it easy for the Vigilantes to sneak in and snatch the pardons! It's hard to be president!
  • Smaller & Smaller Circles has Attorney Arcinas, who siphons off resources from the Payatas murder cases and turns down the priests' assistance in order to go chasing after far more sensational crimes. Never mind that his own boss asked them to help him with the said murders—Ungrateful Bastard, indeed.
    • In his defence, even Arcinas thinks (however mistakenly) that: a) the Director will agree with him that the Bureau can conclude the investigation without the priests' help; and b) the person he framed might actually be the murderer (although the former could just be Arcinas trying to throw the priests off or an attempt to win more glory for himself, and the latter is mostly Jerome's speculation).
    • Subverted by a few other government workers, the NBI Director most of all. The novel pointedly goes on to state that he is something of a rarity in the Philippine government, precisely because he is remarkably competent and honest. In fact it is because of this that the Director found it difficult to get good appointments in a public sector crawling with Obstructive Bureaucrats, Corrupt Bureaucrats, and friends and family of incumbent politicians.
  • Star Wars Legends: Borsk Fey'lya, to an astonishing degree. He was introduced in The Thrawn Trilogy as a Bothan council member of the New Republic, proudly flaunting his species' hat of backbiting political savvy (the other hats being spying, hacking, and great personal courage). He literally cannot imagine his fellow Council members as not out to get him just as much as he is out to get them; everyone who opposes him is his enemy. He will try and bar them at any given opportunity. And he's on the New Republic's side, shows no signs of going over to the enemy, and does not actually engineer events so much as take advantage of them, so he is never the outright enemy, to several characters' frustration, as that would've given them the ability to just shoot him. And unfortunately for everyone, he's very good at recovering from even the most embarrassing political setbacks.
    • In the New Jedi Order he does, after Coruscant's fall, surrender to the highest-ranked nearby Vong, and then trigger a massive suicide bomb. Books that don't have him as a petty semi-villain portray him as brave in his way, but unable to let go of his paranoia and vindictiveness.
    • Fey'lya, up to his usual Rules Lawyering, tries to take control of Booster's Star Destroyer and pull off an elegant piece of backstabbing that will end up killing Corran Horn. Fey'lya unfortunately doesn't take two things into consideration; although Booster dislikes Horn, Corran is engaged to his daughter and more importantly Booster, being a 'former' smuggler, doesn't give a damn about any rules or laws protect Borsk. What follows is a brutal beatdown of Fey'lya by Terrick that ends with a broken nose and a lot of blood. Whats even funnier is that Fey'lya knows that if he ever does try and get Terrik arrested he'll become a laughingstock among Bothans because he, a fairly young Bothan, got his ass handed to him by a middle-aged human despite the fact Bothans are supposedly much physically stronger than humans.
    • Another example, during the Black Fleet Crisis, rejected Tenn Graneet's application to join the Republic military because he came from an Imperial planet. The main thing this earned him was a chewing out from Admiral Ackbar.
  • The anthropomorphic fox-like dan'lai in George R. R. Martin's short story "The Stone City". They are constantly telling protagonist Holt that they will find him a berth on a ship and allow him to leave the planet "next week" (they seem to take sadistic pleasure in denying him). Finally he meets one who tells him he can get a berth on the ship he arrived at Grayrest on immediately...provided he can get a signature from his missing and presumed dead captain. This infuriates Holt so much that he strangles the dan'lai to death in a fit of rage and has to go into hiding in the titular Stone City...
  • Warhammer 40,000's bureaucrats will tell you you're dead to your face if they have the paperwork, and there are planets of them, running a million-world Imperium as best they can.
    • In the Ciaphas Cain novel The Caves of Ice, there are two particular Obstructive Bureaucrats, the local heads of the Administratum and Adeptus Mechanicus. Their constant arguing over protocols and procedure affects not only the normal operation of the promethium-mining facility there, but also the efforts of the Valhallan 597th as it works to prepare defenses against an oncoming Ork onslaught. Fortunately, Cain is able to find some lower-level officials in both ranks who not only are on amicable working terms with one another (and the mining population), but also happen to be able to actually get things done despite their superiors' constant bickering. The "dark" element of this trope comes into play when it is learned that the mine is built atop a Necron tomb; as later evidence proves, the site was intentionally chosen by the AdMech to give them easy access to the facility away from prying eyes should a way be found to investigate the tomb and recover its ancient technology. Fortunately, Cain and his comrades are able to deal with the "obstructive" part of the problem by imposing martial law and threatening to shoot anyone who gets in their way. The Valhallan 597th also owns some thanks to the Administratum, which still thinks they're two regiments, as such they are given twice as much supplies and recruits than most (also why the men/women ratio is always 50/50)
    • Subverted by the Administratum bureaucrat Scrivener Quintus from Death or Glory, who single-handedly organizes logistics for Cain's ragtag army with impeccable skill for several months. He's also quite easy to get along with and even has something of a sense of humour.
    • Also subverted by Bursar Brasker in Cain's Last Stand who is using Obfuscating Stupidity to conform to peoples' expectations of a fussy bureaucrat and is actually quite an amiable (and helpful) fellow once Cain finds out. Though, it wasn't so much Obfuscating Stupidity as it was Cain never seeing his skills as necessary before, and Brasker never really having anything important to do before. The book is written from Cain's perspective, who would have had little interest in how competent Brasker was at his job until the planet was being invaded and he had to ask for his help.
    • In The Last Ditch the ship Cain and his regiment arrive on crashes on arrival before the shuttles assigned to unload them even leave the spaceport. The shuttles are therefore declared lost and made to leave so there's room for shuttles that exist. Cain doesn't give details, but apparently ex-quartermaster Sulla absolutely rips the administrators responsible a new one getting it straightened out.
    • There's also a subversion in the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Necropolis. When the government begins bickering over whether they should call the Imperial Guard to help, the ranking Administratum official goes over their heads and contacts the Imperium anyways. He justifies this by saying that the planet is crucial for its production of military equipment, so it is therefore the Imperium's problem, not a local one.
    • It should be also noted that the Administratum, is only Obstructive Bureaucrat because it covers such a large Empire, this is why fluff always shows that the lower-levels are so good at their jobs.
    • The 5th ed. Imperial Guard codex has a mention of a unit that died to a man in battle. The paperwork wasn't completed properly, and their leader was selected to lead a later attack. When they didn't show up, the entire unit was posthumously sentenced to death for desertion.
    • There's an example in one of the Eisenhorn books when Aemos tells someone that if all the data generated by the entire Imperium in a single second was put through all of Earth's cogitators, they would explode.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • Mr. Popplewick in "The Trial of a Time Lord" is a Victorian clerk who pops up numerous times to obfuscate, torment and hold up the Doctor while he's trying to locate the Valeyard in the Matrix. It's revealed that Popplewick is a disguise used by the Valeyard.
    • The true villain of "Ghost Light" is a godlike bureaucrat known only as Light: having made a comprehensive survey of life on Earth many millions of years ago, he retires to stasis — only to awake in the nineteenth century and discover that evolution has made all his work invalid. His proposed solution is to sterilise the planet of all organic life and prevent any further amendments to his catalogue.
  • Sanford Harris from Fringe, although his motivations are partly due to a personal vendetta against Olivia Dunham.
  • Harrow: In "Aurum Potestas Est" ("Gold is Power"), an official from the Department of Energy does everything in her power to stymie Harrow's murder investigation when it threatens to derail a multi-billion dollar mining deal.
  • Season 5 of Major Crimes introduces Deputy Chief Winnie Davis. She is gunning for the position of Assistant Chief and resents the preferential treatment that Major Crimes gets. She uses her position as Chief of Operations to make life as difficult for Rayder and her team as possible.
  • How most city employees in Parking Wars are regarded by the public, whether deserved or not.
  • Supreme Commander Birdie and, according to Word of God, the rest of the governing body of SPD from Power Rangers. They won't help you if you don't have all your "t"s crossed and "i"s dotted, even if you have concrete proof that evil aliens have landed on your lawn. It's not an uncommon Fanon interpretation to portray them as actively hindering the protagonists.
  • Przygody Psa Cywila have lt. Zubek, By-the-Book Cop who oversees the daily proceedings of the training facility and is Comically Serious to boot.
  • Many politicians and high-ranking police officers in The Wire. Stan Valchek and Ervin Burrell are probably the most notable. Special mention goes to people in charge of homicide, all the way to the top, being more obsessed with their crime stats than with actually finding the guilty parties and jaling them, going so far as to being willing to jail someone innocent of the crime on dodgy evidence or refusing to go looking for bodies for fear it will worsen their statistics.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dis in Earthdawn is a literal god of bureaucracy. His rituals include the creation and filing of needless paperwork, and a specific element of his portfolio is busywork that does nothing for anyone. What makes him dark instead of humorous is that he's the chief god of Thera, and his beliefs and practices are a strong part of why slavery flourishes in that country.
  • In Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, anyone who has a legitimate reason to visit the Nine Hells (which also means being desperate or insane enough to want to) has to deal with one or more amnizu who watch the portals, obese, ugly fiends who double and triple check everything a visitor has, ask dozens of questions, and subject them to the most humiliating of searches before letting them by, both to be thorough and because, well, devils do that kind of thing. Natives of Mechanus - the Plane of Ultimate Law - are even worse. Simply being allowed one hour's access to the Guvner's library in the Fortress of Disciplined Enlightenment could mean filling out hundreds of pages of paper work just to get on the waiting list to see someone who you can make the request to. (Unless the guy making the request is also a Guvner; that might eliminate some of the red tape.) And don't even get into how long it takes when dealing with the modrons. For beings obsessed with law, it's always complicated, and sometimes dangerous, because not dealing with these bureaucrats in Mechanus could get someone arrested for something they had no idea was a crime.

  • The embassy workers in Chess, in their handling of a Russian potential defector. The lyrics of "Embassy Lament" really say it all.
    Oh my dear how boring, he's defecting.
    Just like all the others he's expecting
    us to be impressed with what he's done here
    But he hasn't stopped to think about
    the paperwork his gesture causes.
    We've an embassy to run here!
    Russia must be empty.
    Though we're all for
    basic human rights it makes you wonder
    what they built the Berlin wall for.
    Who do these foreign chappies think they are?!
  • In The Consul, the only visible employee of a foreign consulate in a European Police State is a secretary who gives people trying to obtain exit visas an endless series of forms for them to fill out and sign, if the documents she asks them to provide are all in order. Many are made to wait for months on end. The secretary views them as numbers rather than as people with names, because "otherwise, how can one do any work?"

  • Holepunch, a Targetmaster from Transformers, is an actively malicious Obstructive Bureaucrat. In fact, making people wait in lines and having them come back later and such is basically all the fun he ever has. And he's an Autobot! The Mirror Universe version of him inverts this as a peppy motivational speaker skilled at keeping morale high.

    Video Games 
  • In Deus Ex, you start out under the employ of a Joseph Manderley, a respected counter-terrorism official best known for eradicating a sect of Knights Templar. The best you ever see him do is push papers until he decides to shoot you in the back rather than the face when you escape UNATCO.
  • In Guild Wars: Factions, we have Cantha's Celestial Ministry. The cities and slums around the Kaineng Center are struggling with oppressive Guilds, pirates, and the Infected. There are dozens of homeless Canthan peasants, and the Celestial Ministry couldn't care less about their well being. In one mission, you are tasked with delivering handmirrors to the homeless; with each delivery, you are told, in no uncertain terms, that the Ministry should be sending them food and medicine, instead of increasingly pretty and useless trinkets like the mirrors (or decorative lawn gnomes). Another mission has you running all over the city trying to find the bureaucrat with the authority to hand out the new medical supplies; the highlight of that mission is when a guy tells you to talk to his superior, who is five feet away from him. Thankfully, the Emperor himself is far more in touch with what the people need.
  • The G-Man in Half-Life is an (evil?) inter-dimensional bureaucrat, walking in the middle of a destroyed facility while wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, orchestrating events threatening the whole of humanity, taking care of selected people, all for his "employers". We just don't know who they are yet.
  • The player can be this in Papers, Please. There are often decisions that give you the choice between helping out a person whose paperwork has simple errors and keeping your family warm and fed. There are also people who are just asking for rejection though ("What is passport?") As bad as you may be, your boss is worse. If he sees a sports poster, family photo, or child's drawing on the wall, he issues a fine equivalent to what basically amounts to a day's salary, for your first offense.
  • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Assistant to the Director of Colonial Affairs William Spender. He's a clueless idiot who frequently tries to interfere with the Nexus' engineering teams trying to keep the station functioning (and the people living on it living). Even his boss knows he's an idiot, but keeps him around because he'll take jobs no-one else will... despite, again, being an idiot. It later turns out he's deliberately doing his best to make everyone frustrated and miserable so he can weasel his way up the ladder, helped provoke the riots that led to a massive split in the Andromeda Initiative, and is trying to kill of the krogan who came along just 'cuz. The end of Drack's loyalty mission has Ryder either have him exiled, in which case he's screwed, or imprisoned. Either way, it's not nearly as much as he deserves.

  • Homestuck:
    • Jack Noir was originally this, stating that he'd rather gut someone than do paperwork for them that he doesn't feel like. This is dropped when he later goes on to be the Big Bad of the series.
    • It resurfaces again in Act 6, and when Jack ends up imprisoned on Prospit, Draconian Dignitary, now saddled with his job, contemplates negotiating with the White Queen to have some of the paperwork shipped to Jack's cell.

    Web Original 
  • From the Whateley Universe, Amelia Hartford, assistant to the headmistress at Whateley Academy, is the superpowered version of this. She uses her power over computers as well as her malicious nature to be the Obstructive Bureaucrat of your nightmares, except for the chosen few who get special privileges from her.
    • As the stories go on, it's shown from time to time that she does in fact have a human side as well. She's nonetheless quite possibly the most difficult actual member of the school staff to get along with, and there's not much love lost between her and Team Kimba in particular.
  • The Bastard Operator from Hell regularly meets these, so there are plans for such a case.
    Risk 1: A lifetime of filling out meaningless paperwork to appease some glory-hogging control freak. Contingency Plan:
  • This Not Always Right entry, combines obstructive bureaucracy with a heaping dose of transphobia. Luckily the manager was not an obstructive bureaucrat and the obstructive bureaucrat in question was subsequently fired.

    Real Life 
  • A number of German military, German civil service, and Nazi Party officials at the IMT/Nuremberg and other trials post-World War II attempted to weasel out of the charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity or reduce their sentences by claiming that they had been "Just Following Orders"— rather than exercising initiative, acting for personal gain, or lashing out in hatred. The Nuremberg Defense has been ruled invalid in situations involving genocide or crimes against humanity, though it can still be a valid legal defense for military personnel: unlike in civilian law, the prosecution has to prove that it was unreasonable for the defendant to be ignorant of the fact that the order was illegal. Opening a gate to let a convoy through: reasonable. Administering lethal injections to four hundred disabled children: unreasonable. It should be noted that genuine fear for not following an order ("shoot them or we shoot you") can be used as a successful defence. Despite some claims to the contrary, this was never a factor at Nuremberg or any of the other post-war trials of German personnel— who were all volunteers. German citizens could not be coerced into committing war crimes or crimes against humanity, and so were worse than useless to the military and civilian security units tasked with carrying out such tasks: their units encouraged them to apply for transfers to regular military units (which undertook such tasks less frequently) so that more enthusiastic people could take their place. Of course, the Germans did force many non-Germans to kill for them as 'Hiwi' auxiliaries— but these were tried separately by the NKVD.
  • Early on in his career, Hitler would get around both the law and this trope by making intentionally vague orders to be interpreted in the harshest way possible, mostly as a way of downplaying his involvement in some of the Nazi-associated paramilitary groups' more violent doings. You can bet that if he wanted some Social Democrat or Communist "taken care of", he meant that he wanted that person to be shanked, or worse.
  • The biggest thing keeping the Nazis from coming anywhere near to getting an A-bomb was, right after encouraging their Jewish physicists (i.e. most of their physicists) to emigrate, infighting. Of the five nuclear programmes, the most advanced was headed by the Post Office.
  • Ronald Reagan once claimed, "There seems to be an increasing awareness of something we Americans have known for some time: that the ten most dangerous words in the English language are, 'Hi, I'm from the government, and I'm here to help.'"
  • Averted during the Russian Civil War. "Bureaucracy" was a serious accusation against any official, as it was deemed that paperwork should not get in the way of revolution. In more egregious cases the bureaucrat could even be court-martialed.
  • Before he became the Soviet dictator, Josef Stalin was General Secretary of the Communist Party, which gave him powers of patronage, the resources he needed to build up a power base in the party, and control of the civil service and Politburo. Effectively, he was Russia's chief bureaucrat, and he was good at it, by all accounts. Other members of the party gave him names like "Comrade Card Index" and "the Grey Blur", but he certainly showed that a list of names and a telephone are as useful as a gun when it comes to taking over a country. That said, Tsarist Russia had relied on the bureaucracy (as well as the church and army) as a major part of controlling the country. This directly led to General Secretary of the Communist Party becoming the de facto highest office in the USSR; Stalin managed to turn a bureaucratic office into the imperial seat. It wasn't until Mikhail Gorbachev that the USSR underwent a political shakeup in the early '90s and the Executive President became the Soviet Union's highest office (the Union didn't last very long after that).
  • There is a reason why almost all procedural laws relating to the filling out and filing of court documents say "A document is not invalid simply because it doesn't follow a form." Of course, some don't help by immediately specifying the forms to horrifying detail (margins, spacing, font, etc.)
  • Indian Agents in The Wild West were notorious for this. They would steal the subsidies meant to keep the reservations from being more miserable than was perceived as necessary. Then they would sell guns to the Indians. They thus provided both the provocation and the means at the same time. Of course the ones who suffered from this were Indians and soldiers, and not Obstructive Bureaucrats. This was alluded to in John Wayne's cavalry trilogy.
  • Erich Honecker, the longest-ruling and most well known leader of East Germany, was quite possibly the most conservative of all East Bloc leaders, and his country was notorious for its all-pervading, soul-crushing bureaucracy. He even looked the part.
  • It should be remembered that Government employees are, unlike most other jobs, enacting the law of the country; everything they do can have legal ramifications. Not following a law, no matter how absurd in a specific situation, can set a precedent that allows others, to whom the law should be a reasonable requirement, to complain they are not getting equal treatment. Civil servants are often given a range of options within which they can act, to allow them some judgement, but cannot legally act outside this clearly defined range.
  • Kentucky County Clerk Kim Davis became infamous because she was being obstructive for not doing her job. After the US Supreme Court legalized gay marriage, she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples despite the ruling by claiming it was a violation of her religious rights. She was sued to try and force her to issue licenses to gay couples, from which she repeatedly tried to fight by appealing to higher courts until she reached the Supreme Court. Despite this, she still banned her deputy clerks from issuing same-sex marriage licenses. This led to Davis being jailed for a number of days for violating a court order. Long story short, she will not personally issue same-sex marriage licenses, but she isn't allowed to veto when they're issued.
  • In Courier From Warsaw the author recounts the troubles Churchill's assistant (who may or may not have been a Soviet agent) gave him, from the "yes, sir, of course the prime minister will see you sometime in this century" variety, to outright lying his face off to discredit the author and his entire organisation.

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Alternative Title(s): Obstructive Bureaucracy



Matthias tries to enlist the help of the quasi-socialist Guerilla Union Of Shrews In Mossflower (GUOSIM) in his epic quest to save the woodlanders from a rat invasion, a monstrous snake and a carnivorous owl. But first, the GUOSIM will need to put that sort of thing to the vote.

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