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Popular Is Dumb

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"Shut up, brain! I got friends now, I don't need you anymore!"
Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons, "Bart of Darkness"

When a character is a Jerk Jock, Alpha Bitch, or member of the Girl Posse, they'll likely be beautiful, rich, and, to a certain extent at least, charismatic enough to be envied by many of their schoolmates. However, at the same time, they're typically depicted as being unintelligent — sometimes to the point of Too Dumb to Live — but rarely seem to suffer the ill effects of this as they are either:

Unlike Dumb Is Good, this is an example of the dim bulbs on a show being the mean ones. The exception to this is when the cool kids are seen as nice, where if this trope is in play they'll become The Ditz, or The Brainless Beauty (though a mean popular kid could be a Brainless Beauty too). This is a trope that rarely shows up in anime because in anime the popular kids tend to be intelligent, unrealistically beautiful, aloof and wouldn't be popular in the real-life Western World.

When this is subverted or averted though expect the antagonist to our Loser Protagonist or Hollywood Homely hero to be much, much more dangerous.

This trope demonstrates the key difference between "knowledge" and "intelligence". Poppy McPopular doesn't know who René Descartes is or how to factor an equation because he skips class and doesn't pay attention even when he's there; this is not information he'll come by in his everyday life otherwise, and he doesn't consider it important. That doesn't mean he still isn't a brilliant strategist or leader; sports team captains are expected to memorize complicated strategies and lead their team effectively, things that require mental skills. Caring about science and math isn't seen as important in his worldview, and it's not the kind of thing that can be learned without effort, no matter how intelligent someone is. See also Book Dumb.

A particularly common trope in movies and television shows made during the '80s and early/mid-'90s. It still crops up from time to time but with much less frequency than before due to such cultural changes as the mainstream acceptance of nerd culture and the dawning of the digital age.

See also: Alpha Bitch, Beauty Is Bad, Cruel Cheerleader, Jerk Jock, The Ditz, The Brainless Beauty. Compare Popular Is Evil, which can overlap, but mean and stupid are two different things. This is often the cause of Future Loser. The counterpart of this trope is Intelligence Equals Isolation. These two tropes often coexist in the same universe because they hinge on the same principle.

Not to be confused with It's Popular, Now It Sucks!.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Loveless: Someone researching Ritsuka's backstory discovered he used to be popular and got poor grades. Thanks to various events, including the death of his brother, he became anti-social and introverted, not to mention that his mother's already present abuse escalated.

  • In American Psycho, Bateman's wealthy, powerful and socially highly regarded close associates are shown to be oblivious to basic human knowledge - including one claiming that dyslexia can be sexually transmitted and that Sri Lanka is full of "Sikhs killing tons of Israelis", plus accusing a business rival of being Jewish for "spinning a menorah" in his office.
  • Boy Eats Girl: Alpha Bitch Cheryl, Jerk Jock Samson and their respective sidekicks are portrayed as shallow and somewhat dim throughout the movie (although with some social charisma and survival instincts). Cheryl gets zombies and vampires mixed up at one point. hen a teacher asks Samson to describe his sense of identity, all he can say is that he's Irish. Samson's friend Shane gets tricked into trying to burn out a cigarette on his own hand. Cheryl's friend Glenda tries to wave over someone whose clearly been bitten while their hiding.
  • Played with in Clueless. Cher is popular, attractive, wealthy and very girly. She has the personality of a ditzy person, but she's actually quite savvy, quick-witted and shrewd when she needs to be. Not surprisingly, her father is a powerful attorney, so she's got good genes.
  • The film Election had an unusual take in Paul Metzler who was both popular and dumb but is by far the nicest character in the story.
  • Jumanji Welcometothe Jungle: Spencer is ostracized in school. His once-best-friend Fridge doesn't use him for anything but homework help.
  • Mean Girls. None of the Plastics (the clique of the most popular girls in school) seem overly intelligent, with Karen, in particular, being an outright airhead. Even Regina, the arrogant and ultra-powerful Alpha Bitch, turns out to be pretty easy to manipulate (though calling her "dumb" as such is probably going too far, and once she realises what is going on she has a trick or two of her own up her sleeve).
  • Brad Bramish, the Jerk Jock of Brick, is a definite example. Laura, from the same film, subverts it.
  • The Double: In contrast with book-smart Simon, his double James is great with people, but not so much with the technical stuff. He doesn't even know what the company does.


    Live Action TV 
  • Arrested Development gives us STEVE HOLT!!! who had to retake his final year of school twice.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • Subverted with Cordelia, who proves to actually be intelligent (at least she tests well) and has a rather acute detective sense. All this is covered up by her "no reason for secrets" mentality and her self-centered priorities (with a hint of outright ditziness for flavor). In the original movie, Buffy herself was a subversion.
    • Cordelia's follower Harmony, on the other hand, is genuinely dumb.
    • Another funny aversion of the trope is the episode Doppelgangland, where Willow is asked to "tutor" one of the jocks. After running across Vampire Willow, he decides to do his homework himself.
  • Troy on Community when he is playing up The Jock part of his character is a classic example. God bless him, he is not the brightest bulb in the box.
    Jeff: "I want you to clear your mind."
    Troy: (immediately) "Done."
  • Friday Night Lights: Of all the high school football players, Tim Riggins shows the least aptitude for anything not football related. His homework is done by one of the legions of fans he has at school and at one point, Landry honestly asks him if he can even read. Though the series takes pains to show that he's not actually stupid, it's that the football obsessed town he lives will let him get away with anything as long as he performs on the field.
  • On Friends, Ross asked Joey, "Didn't you read The Lord of the Rings in high school?" Joey responds, "No, I had sex in high school."
  • Glee has Finn, Puck, Brittany and the former Alpha Bitch Terri.
  • Subverted in Heroes. Claire is very popular at school, but she's also quiet, thoughtful and complex, and smarter than she pretends to be.
  • Initially played straight on Malcolm in the Middle—the normal kids keep several metres away from the gifted kids at all times, and the most popular kids aren't all that bright. A later episode subverted this when Malcolm met another gifted boy who was the most popular person in his school and was invited to several parties a week. Also, as time went on, Reese, the stupidest boy in the school, ended up even less popular than Malcolm.
    • Got subverted in another episode when Malcolm started dating a popular girl whose biggest secret was that she was quite smart and actually enjoyed studying. However, played straight as the main reason she acts like an Air Head is to stay with the popular crowd.
  • In series 3 of The Mighty Boosh Vince Noir, the "Prince of Camden", arguably falls into this category at times.
  • Never Have I Ever: The smartest kids in school, Ben and Dev, are both not particularly well-respected socially. In each of her romances with Paxton, it's considered an abnormality on Paxton's peers. Despite Paxton's desire to get better grades, he's not particularly flaunting intellect as a social asset and his friend Trent (who is among the uber-popular) is a male ditz.
  • Holly Fischer from The O.C. (especially in her later appearances when she is the leader of a pack of young brides and very much the stereotypical Brainless Beauty). To a lesser extent Luke Ward, though he was a bit deeper than the usual Jerk Jock. Summer Roberts very much fitted this trope at the start of the series but evolved into more of a Genius Ditz as the show progressed.
  • Savedbythe Bell: Bayside consisted of heavily-coded social classes populated heavily by nerds and jocks with no room in between. The nerds were at the bottom of the social ladder and the jocks were usually portrayed as brainless.
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch:
    • Averted with Libby, who was cunning and quite intelligent, if not booksmart like Sabrina. (She needs help with math, but she keeps this a secret from everyone else.)
    • Sabrina's college roommate Morgan is a good example, being both tremendously dim and very popular.
  • In the Cold Case episode "Stand Up And Holler", the Victim of the Week is pressured into slacking off in class in order to fit in with the popular cheerleaders.

  • Accidentally implied in Death of a Salesman—past popularity is inversely correlated with present success, particularly for Biff, Willy, and Bernard.
    • Biff and Willy are not dumb but have really skewed priorities and value perception over substance. It takes Biff years after his Heroic BSoD to realize where they went wrong.
  • Brett and Kendra in 13. Lucy is smart, though.

    Web Animation 
  • Cheerleader of Teen Girl Squad, a spin-off of sorts of Homestar Runner. While the entire group is Too Dumb to Live and all have multiple gory on-screen deaths, Cheerleader is dumber than at least her "pity friend," What's Her Face, who is unpopular and shows a glimmer of intelligence. She has been described as merely "acting like" a cheerleader, i.e. like an Alpha Bitch, so there's that aspect to her as well.
  • A one-time example from Strong Bad Email is a 5th grade boy named Gene, who looks almost exactly like Strong Bad himself. Gene is popular but gets bad grades in school, such as a G- on one of his tests. On the flip side, John (who looks like Homestar) has no friends, but is implied to be a better student than Gene. He sits in the front row.

    Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive both used and averted it, with the Jerk Jock fitting it (although not necessarily shown to be Book Dumb it takes a special kind of idiot to keep on bullying someone with a stronger, ki-using martial artist friend who has beaten him up several times in the past) while the Alpha Bitch of the other school has proved herself intelligent and observant.
  • Subverted in Penny and Aggie. Turns out Penny is just as smart as Aggie — giving Aggie another reason to hate her since she doesn't use her influence in the way Aggie thinks she should.
  • Weregeek has Jess, the main character's non-geeky girlfriend. Jess herself is an aversion, but all of her other friends come across as vapid and clueless.
  • Ozy and Millie plays with this in an And I Must Scream-ish way. It's implied that Felicia actually has normal intelligence, but has to constantly play dumb because her friends would see her as a nerd if they found out she wasn't as shallow as them.

    Web Original 
  • Solange, of the Whateley Universe. On the other hand, Kodiak, the new head of the Alphas, is turning out to be a lot smarter than anyone thought.

    Western Animation 
  • In As Told by Ginger Courtney Gripling plays the trope straight as The Brainless Beauty head of the Girl Posse. Miranda Killgallan, on the other hand, is of average-to-smart intellect as to fulfill her Manipulative Bastard role and The Alpha Bitch (Courtney is mostly harmless).
  • Averted with Nina Harper in Braceface, who's not only the most popular girl in her grade but is also one of the top students.
  • Dash, Kwan, and Paulina from Danny Phantom. Valerie, who was kicked out of the "popular" gang when her family lost all their money, has since shown herself to be of more-or-less average intellect.
  • The Fashion Club along with Kevin and Brittney from Daria are perfect examples.
    • This becomes a plot point in the movies and in later seasons for Quinn and Stacy (to a lesser extent), as it is established that they are much smarter than they behave normally and dumb themselves down in order to fit in better.
    • This is also subverted by Jodie Landon and Mack Mackenzie; the former is most likely the most popular girl in Lawndale High and the latter is the captain of the football team, and they're two of the smartest and most well-adjusted characters in the series. Played much straighter with Brittany and Kevin, though. Though even Brittany shows alarming tactical knowledge and scheming ability when the situation calls for it or she's sufficiently provoked.
  • Tad, Chad, Trixie and Veronica from The Fairly OddParents!.
  • Kaeloo inverts the trope. Mr. Cat and Pretty are apparently quite popular and well-liked by their peers and they're significantly smarter than the rest of the cast. Characters like Kaeloo and Stumpy, who are total morons, are perceived as weird and annoying.
  • Kim Possible: Kim is an aversion—she's arguably the most popular girl in school (and is even a cheerleader), but gets good grades (she's mentioned to be a straight-A student). Played straight with Kim's Sitcom Archnemesis, Bonnie Rockwaller—she blew off all her classes during her last week of high school (which ultimately led to her having to go to summer school in order to get her diploma) and she also once mistakenly called Cincinnati a country (it's a city in the American-state of Ohio).
    • In the case of Bonnie's two older sister, Connie and Lonnie (who were presumably Alpha Bitches when they were students at Middleton High), it was (presumably) averted with the former but played straight with the latter—when Connie (who's considered the most intelligent of the three sisters) and Lonnie (who's considered the most beautiful of the three sisters) corrected Bonnie on Cincinnati not being a country, Lonnie claimed, "It's a city, like France" (France is country in Europe).
  • Les Sisters:
    • Averted with Rachel, who appears to be quite intelligent.
    • Zigzagged with Wendy; she's Book Dumb and occasionally does rather stupid things, but is smarter than the people around her and can come up with really good ideas.
  • An episode of The Replacements had Riley and Tasumi realize that guys fall head over heels for utterly stupid girls. They spend the episode trying to out-dumb one another, competing for the boys' attention.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Bart of Darkness", the family gets a pool and Lisa instantly becomes popular; when her brain points out that they're just using her, she delivers the page quote. At the end of the episode, the kids abandon Lisa because Martin got an even larger pool, leaving her stranded at the bottom of her family's now-empty pool.
    Lisa: Huh? Hello? Hey, I'm stuck in here! I gotta think of a way to get out.
    Lisa's Brain: Well, well, well; look who's come crawling back.
  • Most who are popular in The Spectacular Spider-Man. Played for laughs when Peter is forced to tutor Liz Allen in order to help her improve her grades.
    Liz: Couldn't Flash tutor me instead?
    Biology teacher: I'm not sure you understand. We want your grade to go up, not down.
  • Sym-Bionic Titan: Kimmy actually believed this trope to be true, as since she was popular she could never be smart. It wasn't until Newton showed her that she can pull off anything she sets her mind to that she subverted this trope.
  • Mandy's definitely this in Totally Spies!—she was always implied to do rather poorly in school. In an episode from the third season, Phoebe (Mandy's mom) stated that Mandy was failing her chemistry class and later on, in an episode from the fourth season, Mandy's revealed to have gotten straight Fs on her report card, which got mixed up with Alex's report card, which had A's and B's.
    • In the latter situation, everything's OK by the end, and Mandy's mom grounds her for the rest of the school year for getting such poor grades.