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Revolutionaries Who Don't Do Anything

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Stan: Alright, that's it! No more briefing! From now on, we take action!
Judith: (breaking into the room) They've arrested Brian! They've dragged him off, they're gonna crucify him!
Stan: Right! This calls for immediate discussion!

When people think of a rebel, a radical, or a revolutionary, usually the first things that pop into their head are a Bomb Throwing Anarchist or a hero of the working class, someone actively overthrowing the government, giving away food, dismantling... something. You know, someone doing something to change things in drastic ways.

These guys are not that. Maybe they spend more time squabbling amongst themselves than fighting the Bourgeoisie, maybe they're too concerned with analyzing theory, maybe they decided forcing people to adopt their way of life goes against their moral code, maybe they're not actually revolutionaries at all, maybe they're only using 'The Cause' for their own personal benefit. More often than not they just wanna look cool. Whatever the case, they just don't do anything super productive, even when given an opportunity to do so. Most often their involvement in politics usually amounts to posturing. Often times in their heads they may see themselves as a part of La Résistance (and more comedic examples of these do fall into this trope), though sometimes they are fully aware they aren't actually doing anything and are fine with that. Commonly, these characters may be students.

A very common trait of the New-Age Retro Hippie and the Bourgeois Bohemian. They differ from the Rule-Abiding Rebel in that not only may they very well break the law and be genuinely rebellious, they also usually have a political goal in mind rather than just playing at being a rebel. Sometimes they may be a Soapbox Sadie but usually that involves more actual activism. In some cases, this may be a result of The Man Is Sticking It to the Man. Portrayals can range from affectionate Self-Parody to active straw-manning, and everything in between. Please note that a character must actually fancy themselves a revolutionary or a radical who will end the status quo or overthrow the government; a character simply showing verbal support for a radical movement but not actively claiming to be a part of it does not count. It also doesn't count if they do actually do something but for the wrong reasons, or are upset with the final outcome.

This trope is similar to, but should also not be confused with, Pirates Who Don't Do Anything, which refers to when a character has a job they are never seen doing.

While this is a thing in Real Life,note  for very obvious reasons, No Real Life Examples, Please!


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    Anime & Manga 
  • At the start of Code Geass, Japan is being occupied by the Holy Britannian Empire, but the Japanese revolutionary groups ostensibly meant to drive them from the country are a bunch of hyper-factionalized and ineffectual bureaucrats more concerned with fighting each other over ideological differences then combatting the Empire. One of Lelouch's first orders of business upon beginning La Résistance is trying to consolidate them all into an actually effective paramilitary force.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • In the take on the Discworld by A.A. Pessimal, Reg Shoe makes many cameo appearances as a theoretical revolutionary. He meets another misfit who joins the City Watch, in this case a former revolutionary idealist from Far Überwald. Irena Politek is saved from being a Soapbox Sadie by first having undergone Witch training in Lancre where she discovered stolid Lancre farmers are not impressed by talk of forming Soviet collective farms and punch great holes in her ideals. Irena then meets Reg Shoe where she realises that while people like her could win a Revolution, it would be people like Reg, stuffed full of theory and ideals, who would then try to win the peace afterwards and make it work. Irena is no longer a communist revolutionary.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Monty Python's Life of Brian features the People's Front of Judea, which seems more concerned with fighting with other Judea liberation groups than actually fighting the Romans, and at one point are seen discussing the fact that "The time to take action is now!" while Brian was being crucified, and afterwards congratulated him on his new martyr status. It's implied most of the Judean anti-Roman resistances worked the same way, with the Judean Popular People's Front consisting of a single man who split from the others for unknown reasons. The only revolutionary group in the film to actually accomplish anything is the crack suicide squad of the Judean People's Front, who take their 'suicide' descriptor a bit too literally.
  • In Hail, Caesar!, the Communist writers who kidnap Hollywood star Baird Whitlock are ultimately rather ineffectual. They don't do worse to him than speak for hours about Communist theory, screw up their attempt to deliver money to Russia, and their scheme to sow anti-capitalist themes in their scripts and with Baird's speeches shows itself to be faulty as Baird can barely even sustain a good take on set. They are implied to be arrested at the end of the film before doing anything substantial.

  • Discworld:
    • Reg Shoe first appears as an activist for Undead Rights in Reaper Man. Here he is a Zombie whose life after death is fuelled by a burning sense of social justice and a revolutionary zeal. His backstory is filled in in Night Watch where it is revealed that in life he was a revolutionary idealist whose life was filled with ideals of leading the glorious People's Revolution. Sam Vimes discovers he is so hung up on the theory of a revolution that he is utterly incapable of putting it into practice.
    • In Interesting Times, there is a revolution going on to remove the corrupt and cruel regime. But as Rincewind (who's been dragged into this very much against his will) points out, they don't do anything except put up posters with inoffensive slogans (they can't get it into their heads to do anything uncivil) and don't even know what they're trying to obtain: when Rincewind wants to know if they asked a rice farmer what he wants out of the revolution, they just look confused (for the record, the rice farmer would like a longer string to hold a pooping water buffalo). And then it turns out the entire revolution was orchestrated in the first place by a noble aiming for the throne. Fortunately, Cohen the Barbarian was also around...
  • One farcical chapter of John le Carré's novel The Secret Pilgrim takes place in 1970s Munich, where the protagonist Ned is assigned to liaise with a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits who were exiled from various Eastern Bloc countries and are plotting to return and overthrow the communists. Ned remarks that most of these "revolutionaries" are so busy plotting what their post-revolution country will look like - i.e., whose aristocratic titles will be restored, who will get first dibs on retrieving this family or that's hidden treasure - that they have little time left for actually doing anything to bring the revolution about in the first place.
  • One Serge Storms novel has a scene with a group of Cuban refugee counter-revolutionaries that never gets any of their plans to overthrow Castro off the ground due to the fact that they're so thoroughly infiltrated by Cuban intelligence that only one member isn't a spy secretly working for Castro. The one exception is CIA. The really sad thing is that every single one of them knows it.

    Live Action TV 
  • One segment of Not the Nine O'Clock News had a group of Marxist revolutionaries who finally decided to go ahead... and read Das Kapital from cover to cover.
  • In the British comedy show The Young Ones we have Rick who calls himself The People's Poet and pretends to be a far-left radical whose poems will inspire the people to revolt. In reality, he's actually pretty far right-leaning and he's considered a pompous ass.
  • Doctor Who: Multiple episodes throughout the show's run will build up the supposed resistance against the oppressive regime of the episode, only for them to turn out to be an ineffectual group who do almost nothing (or sometimes genuinely nothing) to actually fight the oppression. Granted this is usually down less to them being incompetent or hypocrites, over simply being too outmatched, thus the Doctor is able to galvanise them into something far more effective.
    • "The Masque Of Mandragora": The first non-Doctor scene in the serial features Count Federico putting a band of rebellious peasants to the sword. At least, he claims that they're rebels. The only thing they're shown doing before getting slaughtered is walking down the road pulling a cart full of hay. It's implied that he just goes out and kills random people because he likes killing people and retroactively claims that they're rebels to justify his actions to the Duke.
    • "The Sun Makers": The resistance are (initially) presented as a bunch of barely organised thuggish individuals, who spend all their time hiding from The Company and bickering amongst themselves.
    • "State Of Decay": Whilst a brilliant scientist, who has successfully managed to get the alien tech working again, Kalmar is presented as a timid and ineffectual leader, who continues to insist that despite their numbers the resistance must wait for a vaguely defined point in the future when they will be ready to fight back. This infuriates the other members, many of whom are losing their families to the the three who rule. It takes the Doctor revealing the last Great Vampire is about to be awakened for him to agree to finally act.
    • "Rise of the Cybermen"/"The Age of Steel": The Preachers, led by Ricky, are fairly well organized and do have a smattering of competence in gathering information and reconnaissance. But they are completely hopeless at any sort of direct action against Cybus Industries, and Ricky's reputation as "Britain's Most Wanted" is greatly exaggerated (he's most wanted...for parking tickets).
  • The Cardassian Rebellion on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is initially effective because they have the element of surprise. But they soon bog down in mass confusion as they bicker over tactics and debate what will replace the puppet Dominion government when they topple it. Major Kira, an expert in guerilla warfare, spends a significant amount of time trying to teach hardened military officers that they are idiotic for trying to fight the Dominion as if they were a military force.
  • Yonderland: Despite supposedly being the front-line force against Imperatrix's tyranny and created a network of secret tunnels beneath her lands, the resistance are presented as a bunch of layabouts, who spend all their time eating rich food, drinking wine and discussing politics. This infuriates Debbie when she finally meets them. Thankfully this inspires them to actually act, with them successfully rescuing her from Imperatrix's goons at the end.
  • On a sketch on Thank God You're Here, Bob Franklin found himself thrust into the role of a revolutionary leader. While his followers were certainly ready to act, Bob himself kept sidetracking the uprising with all sorts of irrelevancies and general reluctance to do anything.
  • This is basically the whole point of Citizen Smith. In his own mind, "Wolfie" Smith is the leader of the Tooting People's Front, an urban Marxist revolutionary on the verge of bringing "power to the people", in emulation of his hero Che Guevara. In reality, the Tooting Popular Front is entirely composed of the small group of his friends who humour him, and Wolfie is an unemployed dreamer and small-time criminal, whose plans never go anywhere due to laziness or poor organisation. The one time in the series he actually accomplishes anything revolutionary, namely hijacking a Scorpion Tank - which itself was mostly down to luck - and using it to storm Westminster, his victory is immediately undercut when he finds the Parliament has already disbanded for Summer recess.

  • The satirical song "Bill Bailey, the Ultimate Sectarian" by Joe Glazer and Bill Friedman is about a would-be revolutionary who never accomplishes anything because it's too important to him to remain ideologically pure and never compromise. In the end, he burns to death and refuses to enter Red Heaven because he disagrees with everyone inside on something or other.
  • "I Was a Teenage Anarchist" by Against Me! is about singer Laura Jane Grace's own disillusion towards the politics of the Anarchist scene, particularly in the USA which she goes into detail about in her memoir.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Paranoia: Several secret societies may fall victim to this, but the Humanists especially spend more time debating the most pointless of minutiae involving their glorious revolution than actually trying to make that revolution come to pass. One noted example was forming a focus group to decide on the colour of the banners for the victory celebration.
  • Planescape: A common stereotype (which is also commonly true) is that most cells of the Revolutionary League spend more time discussing and bickering with each other than engaging in any revolution.

  • In RENT, while many of the characters fit this to some degree, most critics argue that Collins, being from an upper-middle-class background with the skills and connections to make a living himself, is probably the most egregious example.

    Video Games 
  • Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!: The Concordia Liberation Front is an over-the-top group of Granola Girls who pretend to fight against the tyranny of big corporations and protect the wildlife. The most they do is to stick a few of their posters, and even then, not downtown as they would get removed. They are also on a vegan diet and can't seem to ditch their mundane habits of sleeping until the afternoon or having snack times.
  • Deponia: The sequel Chaos on Deponia has a group of revolutionaries that are all talk and no action. Naturally, Rufus needs to change that as part of solving his own problem.
  • Cyberpunk 2077: All Johnny Silverhand's surviving fans are now in their seventies, and while they will praise Silverhand to the skies as "the man who took the fight to the MegaCorps, man!", they prefer to try to eke out a miserable existence in the cracks in society or sell out to the megas over actually trying to take up the mantle. Johnny rants that "[they] know all my songs by heart, but don't understand any of it!!!"
  • Deltarune: Sweet Cap'n Cakes, a band of three robots, consider themselves a rebel movement against Queen, but they don’t actually know how to rebel; the simple fact of getting into trouble is already too much for them. They mostly sell bagels, to fundraise. Ultimately subverted in the pacifist/neutral final boss, where they "modified" all of your recruits to work together, allowing you to create your Combining Mecha fueled by The Power of Friendship.
  • Disco Elysium: The Communism vision quest leads The Detective to discover a Revacholian cell of the revolution... A communistic book club. With two members, who do not include anyone else due to ideological differences. The Detective can possibly convince them to widen their requirements a little. The game repeatedly lampshades the trope, with Rhetoric (the skill closest tied to Communism) repeatedly highlighting how revolutionaries inevitably devolve into pointless bickering and never get to accomplish anything.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Because We're Here, Laurent is a socialist who lives in the hope that another revolution will come to end the reign of the Bourgeoisie in Levasseur, the world's Fantasy Counterpart Culture to France. However, he himself is a rather ditzy, friendly chap whose radical leanings never go far beyond reading prohibited literature and stewing in silence while the wealthy politicians of the council he works at argue amongst themselves.

    Web Comics 
  • Sergio from Ennui GO! is an ex-Cuban revolutionary who knows his way around bombs and "taking care of people." Despite that, though, he is generally laid-back, doesn't espouse his beliefs often, and is willing to do various odd jobs for Izzy, a billionaire.

    Web Originals 

    Western Animation 
  • Fritz the Cat features a few, including Fritz himself, though to his credit in the movie he did start a riot calling for people to rise up against 'The Bosses'. The original comics were even more blatant about this, with him being described as a poser whose posturing was taken seriously by everyone around him.
  • Sometimes invoked with Mr Small in The Amazing World of Gumball; in one particular episode, he was openly called out on the fact that his efforts to be environmentally friendly will still have a negative environmental impact.
  • The Boondocks: Robert Freeman was shown to have been this during the civil rights movement, shown in several flashbacks where he either missed various sit-ins or where he did actually do something but was overshadowed by a more well-known figure. In "Freedom Ride Or Die", it's revealed he didn't even want to be part of the civil rights movement but got pressganged into it by the leader of one of the Freedom Riders groups, who refused to let him leave, insisting that Robert had a "moral duty" to his people to participate.
  • American Dad!: For all her anti-capitalist and anti-government sentiments, Haley Smith doesn't seem to do much in the way of revolutionary actions (for added funniness, the bracelets she likes to wear look a bit like handcuffs), but she at least occasionally protests. Her (sometimes) boyfriend is a more obvious example, seeing as how he does very little aside from getting high. While originally it was more a case of Haley having rather poor judgement when it came to which causes to support, such as joining an environmentalist group led by a man who literally identified as a plant, in later seasons she's portrayed as a Lazy Bum who refuses to leave the comfort of her parents suburban home despite legally being an adult and at one point supported selling the mineral rights to the backyard to a salt company just so she could protest the mining operation without getting out of bed.
  • In Daria, Jane's older sister Penny seems to think selling knick-knacks will save the third world, however she doesn't even seem to bother to learn the local language, much less actually provide material aid to these people she claims to be helping.
  • The Resisty from Invader Zim are shown to have shades of this, though to their credit they did come close to destroying The Massive, if only because Zim inadvertently helped them.
  • In one episode of Star Wars Rebels, the Ghost crew have to put up with Iron Squadron, a group of snot-nosed teenage delinquents trying to play Rebel against the Imperial occupation of their homeworld. Their "revolution" mostly consists of flying around in their decrepit freighter stealing supplies and harassing Imperial patrols, surviving by virtue of being so harmless and insignificant that the Empire doesn't care enough to hunt them down. They are forced to wise up significantly after getting a taste of what war is really like, and are on their way to becoming legitimate Rebels by the end of the series.
  • South Park: The college hippies from "Die Hippie, Die", who constantly go on and on about fighting "The Man" and the establishment (and even manage to recruit Stan, Kyle, and Kenny with their rhetoric), are quickly proven to be nothing but a bunch of pretentious douchebags who do nothing but smoke an enormous amount of weed and listen to crappy music.
    • The show portrays environmentalist Paul Watson this way in "Whale Whores", showing him and his crew of anti-whaling activists as a group of attention whores whose "activism" consists mostly of pathetically minor amounts of sabotage such as throwing stink bombs on whaling ships. (It should be noted that the real Watson has been arrested for sinking whaling ships and other forms of eco-terrorism, just not on the series Whale Wars which this episode parodied, which for obvious reasons could not include anything that broke the law).
    • "A Scause For Applesauce" parodies the concept of "raising awareness" for social issues using merchandise like t-shirts and bracelets, showing them as having no effect at all on the causes they supposedly draw attention to, being nothing but a lazy form of activism that requires no actual effort from people.
    • The bikers from "The F Word" believe their lifestyle makes them counter-culture badasses, while in reality, everyone just finds their obnoxious behavior and loud bikes annoying rather than intimidating, seeing them as nothing more than pathetic, insecure attention hogs.
  • Bordertown: J.C., a pretentious college graduate who refuses to work to support himself, instead living off his uncle Ernesto while engaging in half-assed protests for social causes. After he almost ruins Ernesto's landscaping business by leading the workers in a strike (which he only organized because he was too lazy to put in the hard work needed for the job), J.C realizes what an ungrateful ass he's been, helps fix the damage he did, and this trait is toned down somewhat in the remaining episodes.
  • Wander over Yonder's Heist Episode "The Big Job" features the Insurgent Generals, an A-Teamesque Caper Crew looking to sabotage The Empire's latest piece of technology: Lord Hater's new hot tub. By their own admission, they're too scared of Hater to attempt anything worse than that.