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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.

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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 option 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.

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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.

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This trope 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. This trope is for people claiming to belong to a radical group but who never do anything radical.

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


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • A common feature of Persepolis. In particular while in Europe during her teen years, Marjane befriended an anarchist and later would spend weekends at an anarchist compound, noting that the government didn't have much to fear from these anarchists.
  • In Runaways, Gert Yorkes professes to be a radical leftist, but is never really seen doing anything radical beyond being rude to adults.

    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 Aberwald. 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.
  • 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.

    Literature 
  • 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...

    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 who's 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 shows 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 to outmatched, thus the Doctor is able to galvanise them into something far more effective.
    • "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 so 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 where 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 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.

    Theatre 
  • 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 
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Because We're Here, Laurent is a socialist who lives in 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 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 who's 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.
  • 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, 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.
  • 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.
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