Erhlsen: We serve the Emperor as our talents direct.
Maybe Bob's not very good at doing his job. Perhaps he always shows up late, misbehaves, or just isn't reliable when it comes to getting things done. Or maybe his superiors just hate him. Whatever the reason, Bob gets punished by getting stuck with the nasty, boring, and utterly thankless tasks.
Common examples of the sorts of tasks used for a Punishment Detail include:
- Something related to sanitation and toilet functions, or anything else that involves unpleasant odors and getting extremely dirty.
- Boring, repetitive tasks, like manually copying the exact same letter hundreds of times.
- Something extremely demeaning, like assigning a highly-trained professional to menial tasks normally left to unskilled workers.
- The task itself is completely pointless make-work, like digging a bunch of holes and then filling them back up again.
- The job is in a dangerous or otherwise extremely undesirable environment such as performing traffic direction in a busy intersection.
What unifies the concept is the idea that just having to perform the task is a form of punishment.
Frequently Truth in Television.
A common subversion is to have the person being punished actually wind up enjoying the work, and maybe even doing the job well enough to earn some amount of respect from their superiors.
If nobody has been misbehaving lately, a lot of these duties will end up falling on the New Meat instead, or will just be rotated around the group so everyone is equally miserable.
Peeling Potatoes, After-School Cleaning Duty and Toothbrush Floor Scrubbing are subtropes about a specific type of Punishment Detail. Closely related to Reassigned to Antarctica, which is about being moved to an undesirable location as a form of punishment. If the unpleasant task comes along with a promotion, the character might have been Kicked Upstairs.
See also Writing Lines.
- In Citrus, Yuzu and Harumi get assigned cleaning duty for stopping at karaoke on the way home from school, only getting caught because Yuzu's stepsister Mei, the Student Council President, noticed she was late getting home.
- In My Hero Academia, after Bakugo and Midoriya get into a fight after the Provisional License Exams, they get sentenced to a few days of house arrest and cleaning the dorms. Bakugo gets four days for starting the fight while Midoriya gets three for fighting back.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Address Unknown, pegasus mailponies see mail delivery on the ground as the ultimate humiliation, an announcement that they've screwed up badly in the air. It works out in Derpy's favour, though, as it allows her to prove she really is good at her job.
- Happens to Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson in the Harry Potter story The Chosen Six. Caught and identified as being responsible for the destruction of Neville's Remembrall, Filch assigns them to personally clean the most unpleasant male and female toilets in the school, having first asked the house-elves to leave those particular bathrooms alone to make the punishment more appropriate (Myrtle supervises Parkinson while Filch is responsible for Malfoy).
- In the Naruto fanfic Cutting Loose a fairly common means of dealing with most levels of misbehavior among the ninja corps is to assign those ninjas the nastiest, most unpleasant jobs possible, like sewer-cleaning.
- The Weaver Option:
- Nyx tech-priests who in some way manage to anger their superior get assigned to Danger-Prototype-Central, the space station where Leet is working on his creations.
- Guardsmen celebrating the withdrawal on an Eldar invasion get a little too rowdy and use some improper language with regards to a Holy Saint. The Commissariat and Ministorum agree that the proper penance is to spend the next four months rebuilding various destroyed or damaged churches across the planet. The soldiers still think it was worth it.
- In The Last Castle, Irwin is ordered by the Warden to move a massive pile of rocks from one end of the prison yard to the other. When that doesn't break his will, Irwin is subsequently told to move all the rocks back to their original position.
- In Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment Mahoney and his partner are assigned to the inside of the Lincoln Tunnel (or some other traffic tunnel), ostensibly in case there are any civilians who need help but actually as punishment, being forced to breathe the traffic fumes and such.
- Will Stockdale in No Time For Sergeants is assigned to latrine detail, but he takes to the job and gets them ship-shape.
- S.W.A.T.: After Jim Street's partner Gamble gets them thrown off the SWAT team, they get punished by being put to work in the gun cage, maintaining the other SWAT units' equipment. Gamble quits rather than accepting it, but Street stays in the cage for six months, until Hondo handpicks him for a new SWAT unit he's forming.
- Mitchell. Mitchell won't stop his investigation into Deaney, so Da Chief has him doing a 24/7 stakeout of a mobster. No relief, no backup.
- In Books And Braun secret agent Eliza Braun gets sent to work in the archive as a punishment. As is to be expected, that only serves as plothook for further adventures.
- CHERUB Series - Performing menial (though always necessary) cleaning jobs on Campus is among the most common way of punishing CHERUB agents for misconduct. An exaggerated example gets thrown at Lauren for knocking out an instructor with a spade, she has to clean out a huge ditch by herself. After a few days of it most of the other CHERUBs on campus at the time help her finish it, and the director lets it slide at it's felt she's suffered enough.
- Codex Alera: In Captain's Fury, Tavi gets assigned with measuring and evaluating all the latrines after calling his immediate superior out for selling the legion's supplies on the black market.
- Discworld: In Lords and Ladies Soon-To-Be-Queen Magrat makes two attempts at threatening Shawn Ogg with punishment detail. The first time she threatens to have him clean the privies, and he responds with a blank "But I do clean the privies". The second time she goes for a more general "all the dirty jobs", and when he comes up with much the same answer adds "I shall see to it there are dirtier ones".
- Tyrion Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire gets put in charge of managing the sewers in Casterly Rock, since he's horribly unpopular. In something of a subversion, Tyrion goes on to make the sewers incredibly more efficient than they used to be.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch after Ensign Prynn Tenmei gets caught pulling an incredibly stupid stunt that nearly gets her killed (she had rigged the Defiant's helm to malfunction and then explode so they couldn't chase after Dr. Bashir), a furious Captain Ro tells her not only will she stand her normal day watch but for the next 30 days she'll also stand the overnight watch on the Defiant.
- When the narrator of Marcus Rowland's Temps story "Playing Safe" completely screws up his mission to discredit a paranorm who is protesting the EU's paranormal safety legislation, he gets reassigned to investigating Crop Circles ... and told it's no good turning up after the event, he needs to camp out in fields until he sees one happen.
- Tortall Universe: In Lady Knight, Kel assigns people to latrine duty when they cause trouble. The rest of the time, unpleasant tasks are divided equally among the camp's inhabitants (including its commander), except for those who have a talent that makes them more useful elsewhere. Kel even threatens to list a particularly unpleasant specimen of humanity as having a talent for cleaning latrines if he doesn't shape up.
- Warhammer 40,000: Ciaphas Cain is fond of handing these out instead of harsher punishments (to reenforce the illusion of a The Men First attitude), particularly to soldiers who've watched his back (or at least he likes to give them the impression he does to encourage them). After a particularly messy Bar Brawl that ends with three dead, he manages to make all but the killers get floggings and latrine duty... and they thank him for it.
- He occasionally wonders if his aide Jurgen's faith leads him to believe every order, including latrine duty, is passed down from the Golden Throne itself. Then again, Cain has noted that the God-Emperor has a peculiar sense of humor...
- Cain isn't the only one handing out punishment duties. One argument in Death or Glory results in three members of a militia team being assigned to double sentry duty by the corporal in charge.
- Horatio Hornblower has a particularly sadistic one. Hornblower, having pissed off his superiors through no fault of his own, is ordered to report to the Officer of the Watch. On the hour. Every hour. What the sleep deprivation does to him is quite terrifying, until saner minds step in and let him sleep.
- In the first episode of Young Blades, the Musketeers get assigned to dungeon cleaning duty as punishment for fighting.
- In Red Dwarf, the punishment of choice was repainting the ship's hull. Bear in mind that you have to wear a spacesuit, and a safety tether, and said hull is 6 miles long.
- In the first episode of Reaper, Sam's boss decides to punish him the for the damaging the store by assigning him to the Gardening Department (where he has to pile forty pound sacks of dirt all day). Fortunately, the Devil arranges it so that his love interest is there to keep him company.
- On Community, the study group are forced to wash down the school's newly acquired space simulator as punishment for creating — and permanently voting into use — an offensive school flag.
- Common Law has the main characters offered their choice of these when they violate the terms of the prior inquiry. Either they can go their return to their separate and far less prestigious positions, or they can stick together and end up on pawn shop duty. They Take a Third Option.
- JAG, being a military show, has this come up a bit:
- In "Boot", Meg Austin, while undercover as a Marine private, is assigned sanitary duty.
- In Season 3, after Major MacKenzie came back to JAG after briefly working for her ex-fiancee's law firm, Admiral Chegwidden had her doing "scut work" (low-level legal work like motion writing that is usually assigned to junior staff) for a few months as punishment for leaving.
- The Minister of Culture in season 2 of Slings & Arrows was the Minister of Health until she spoke out against her own party, and clearly would still rather be — her reaction to Richard coming to her with a grant proposal for the New Burbage theater festival is to point out that the money he's asking for is enough to buy an entire MRI machine.
- Game of Thrones: Subverted to humorous effect. After Jon Snow defeats adversarial Thorne in the election for Lord Commander, the Watch has a meeting where Jon assigns new tasks to everyone. One of these is the job of digging a new set of latrines, and after Jon announces this must be done and how important job that is, he gives a significant look at Thorne, who fully expects to be given this terrible duty. Instead, Jon assigns the latrine duty to some random Watchman named Brian, and promotes Thorne to First Ranger.
- Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: Enterprise have scrubbing the warp plasma conduits or exhaust ports.
- Frasier and Roz get stuck in a late night slot when Fras incurs the wrath of the new manager, Kate Costa.
- In his job as a late-night watchman, Martin gets put on the graveyard shift by his boss for not dating the guy's sister. Martin's in his 60s, and it gets so bad he starts suffering mild Sanity Slippage.
Frasier: What, you don't like the sun?
Martin: Us night-shift guys call it "the Scare Ball".
- Star Trek Online: After the Starfleet Player Character kills Ambassador B'Vat and outs him to the Klingon Empire as the Ax-Crazy nutjob he isnote , his protege, Captain Ja'rod of the IKS Kang, ends up on tribble extermination duty just for being associated with him.
- The Sims 2: The Military career track has references to this, including a chance card where the player's active Sim can impose the punishment detail themselves: make the recruits march in their underwear, or replace their rifles with baguettes? There's also a parody Sound Off in the Recruit description: I don't know but I've been told, scrubbing latrines gets mighty old!
- In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney Dual Destinies, the culprit of case 3, which takes place at Themis Legal Academy, suggests getting bathroom detail instead of imprisonment as part of his Villainous Breakdown. For reference, said culprit is a teacher, and had adopted a Sadist Teacher persona after being backed into a corner.
- Rumble Roses has "Queens Match" that only human females can participate where the loser is ordered to perform a usually humiliating or degrading tasks. One of these can be to clean the pool area.
- In Wing Commander II, Stingray and Jazz get assigned a punitive mission escorting garbage shuttles for their attitude, and Stingray is warned that the garbage shuttles run daily.
- Angela Anaconda: Angela is always being assigned to clap erasers after school by her teacher (mostly because said teacher doesn't like her). She has actually developed a special talent for eraser-clapping!
- This tends to happen to Donald a lot when he's seen in DuckTales (1987), seeing as he messes up a lot while in the Navy.
- Johnny Bravo once, while serving a temporary prison sentence, is ordered to break rocks, which he's fine with. Then, glue them back into bigger rocks, which he finds kind of annoying. Then break them apart again, which breaks him mentally.
- Oggy and the Cockroaches: When Oggy is once mistakenly enrolled, the angry drill sergeant yells at him, pointing at the latrines and hands him a toothbrush. Seconds later, the WC are squeaky-clean.
- Phineas and Ferb have to clean a latrine with toothbrushes (several times) as punishment for being creative in "Phineas and Ferb get Busted".
- Star Wars: The Clone Wars:
- "Innocents of Ryloth": Upon realizing they're very late in reporting back in because they got distracted with Heartwarming Orphan Numa, clone trooper Boil suggests that he and Waxer are going to be stuck polishing R2 units.
- "Holocron Heist": After disobeying orders to retreat on Felucia, Ahsoka is assigned to guard duty at the Jedi Archives.
- The Venture Bros.: Being assigned to Operation Rusty's Blanket was a punishment for Brock Samson.
- A very common practice in many military organizations. Expect to see the people in question doing various menial labor such as painting parking space stripes, doing yardwork, etc. Sometimes they will also be used for "make-work" jobs with no real purpose, such as painting rocks.
- In some cases these tasks will go to the New Meat instead of people on Punishment Detail.
- KP, or Kitchen Patrol, is a common form of military punishment in media (classically taking the form of Peeling Potatoes). In America, it's not nearly as common as it once was since it's contracted out to civilians (who steal less and do a better job).
- The Russian Army has always considered KP a reward rather than a punishment. Sure, Peeling Potatoes is boring and monotonous, but so is, say, tank tread maintenance. KP is far less physically demanding, is done in a nice warm kitchen rather than a snowdrift somewhere and gives you ample opportunity to beg or steal a wide variety of edible goodies.
- More often than not, the punishment is not the detail itself. The detail, while miserable, is usually something that has to be done. The frequency that one ends up on said details is the punishment. If you find yourself burning shit once a week, that's normal. If you find yourself burning shit twice a day, that's a pretty good indication that you've pissed off someone up top.
- As a matter of fact, one of the first American airmen to receive the Medal of Honor, Sergeant Maynard "Snuffy" Smith, happened to be serving a punitive KP detail when he was supposed to be receiving the Medal of Honor from the Secretary of War. His bravery in tending to the wounds of several injured crewmates while defending a burning bomber from repeated German attacks notwithstanding, Smith was not a model soldier by any measure, and would go on to be possibly the only Medal of Honor recipient to later receive a demotion due to his being a habitual screw-up.
- A possible form of a sentence of community service.
- Clean-up duties are often used in this fashion just about everywhere.
- Having to work dorm guard duty or some similar job that is typically on a rotating watch (the main purpose being to keep unauthorized people, usually members of the opposite gender, out of the dorms). Someone has to do this at night, and someone has to do this on the weekends. One's daytime duties do not necessarily decrease just because you had guard duty from midnight to 2 a.m.
- Guard duty may be punishing but is not punishment in and of itself. Having to pull guard duty every night including weekends especially when there are other able bodied personnel available? That's punishment.
- Members of the United States Secret Service, an elite unit whose duties including protecting important individuals, are subject to this. Regular assignment to individuals whose personality often makes them difficult to be around is regarded as a punishment detail.