Follow TV Tropes

Following

Rightly Self-Righteous

Go To

"You won't kill me, out of some misplaced sense of self-righteousness..."

So let's say we have a character who comes across as extremely self-righteous, touting their moral standing as above that of most others. Surely someone so self-righteous ought to just be projecting their faults or sins onto everyone else, right? Surely if we look closely enough we could find out that this character is a hypocrite of some sort or least not as virtuous as they think they are...

Advertisement:

Nope. This character sees themselves morally superior because they actually are. Such portrayals do not require the good-does-not-call-itself-good approach either; to the contrary, it requires good to be blunt about it, because Good Is Not Nice, and if others do not like this Brutal Honesty, it must be because the moral fallings of others reduce their appreciation for it.

Basically, the Rightly Self-Righteous are to morality as the Insufferable Genius is to intelligence. They don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk. As such, they are fully confident and even vindicated in how they portray themselves. Where the Insufferable Genius loathes stupidity, the Righteously Self-Righteous loathes hypocrisy.

If there's a race who hold this trait, it's Can't Argue with Elves. Compare Well, Excuse Me, Princess! Multiple Closer to Earth relationships are conveyed this way.

Advertisement:

If they are The Protagonist the author intends for them to be truly morally superior but comes off as pompousness or truly insufferable, then Designated Hero is the result (otherwise, they're just an insufferable character). This can also be the case if they have hypocritical shades that go unnoticed. It can also overlap into Jerkass Has a Point.

In most cases, no matter how consistent they are to this trope, you can expect them to fall off their high horse at least once. After all, stories can only go so long without Breaking The Haughty.

Contrast Small Name, Big Ego, Know-Nothing Know-It-All, and Hypocrite for characters who similarly believe they are a bastion of goodness but are usually just full of hot air (naturally it is possible for examples to merge into these cases, especially if they are badly written). Compare Good Is Not Nice where a character is good in spite of their meanness whereas this trope is where a character is good because of their meanness. Compare also The Extremist Was Right. This may lead the character in being Unintentionally Unsympathetic. Sheep in Sheep's Clothing is likewise for "good" characters who are actually good - but who are much more sympathetic. See Reflexive Remark of Reverence.

Advertisement:


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Zolf J. Kimblee from Fullmetal Alchemist is a very dark, sociopathic, twisted version. He absolutely hates hypocrisy and praises people who stick to their convictions to the bitter end. He also has no problem killing civilians or innocents, and is one of the participants in the Ishvalan Genocide. Multiple characters have tried to argue morality with him, only to receive an Armor-Piercing Response. For instance, Riza expresses her regret in taking other people's life, to which Kimblee simply asks why does she even join the military in the first place, knowing that's the kind of job they are strongly associated with. And doesn't she feel a shred of pride on being such a good shot? Later on, Ed faces him and only disarms him to stick with his conviction not to take a life. Kimblee praises Ed's conviction but mocks Ed for underestimating him, lectures Ed that such conviction is dangerous in the battlefield as it gives the enemy a chance to retaliate, and makes good on that lecture by very nearly killing Ed.
  • Pokémon: In the early episodes of Kanto, Misty was often haughty, belittling, and temperamental to Ash regarding him and his Pokemon. However, Ash was a bit of a hot-headed rookie trainer and Misty was a Gym Leader (even if he didn't know) so a lot of her criticisms were pretty justified. Over time, her criticisms died down as she got to know Ash better and he became a better trainer.
    • Additionally, as revealed when arriving in Cerulean City, Misty's temperamental and haughty attitude was heavily implied to be compensating for her inferiority complex because of her older sisters. Misty's older sisters are known as the "Sensational Sisters", the original Gym Leaders of the Cerulean Gym as well as local celebrities lauded for their beauty and talent. All three are fairly older than Misty (a flashback in a later season shows the girls were schoolgirls when Misty was a baby) and thus, Misty is considered the "runt of the litter" by fans and not as celebrated. As such, she likely vented out her insecurities on Ash when given the chance to show off what she can do. She does outgrow this when she becomes Gym Leader full-time and grows closer to her sisters.
  • Naofumi, the main character from The Rising of the Shield Hero, treats the other three Chosen Heroes dismissively at best and with outright contempt at the worst. When he does interact with them (usually because he's forced to), he doesn't sugarcoat how lackluster their abilities are, how many problems they cause that he has to fix, and how little help they are in a crisis. While Naofumi is a jackass about all this, he's also entirely right; the Sword, Spear, and Bow heroes are short-sighted, entitled, gullible, brainless, and incompetent. They not only cause as many (if not more) problems than they solve, but are of limited help in a disaster, meaning Naofumi usually has to shoulder everything himself. All that said, he does gets called out on his behavior because, whether he likes it or not, Naofumi DOES have to work alongside the other three heroes, and while his attitude isn't the main reason they can't get along, it definitely doesn't make things any easier.

    Comic Books 

    Film 
  • Lancelot in Camelot (1967). He is insufferably arrogant about his purity (as shown in his "I Am" Song "C'est Moi" below), but he really is that pure: His prayer to raise a slain knight from the dead is granted.
    The soul of a knight should be a thing remarkable, his heart and his mind as pure as morning dew. With a will and a self-restraint that's the envy of ev'ry saint, he could easily work a miracle or two. To love and desire he ought to be unsparkable, the ways of the flesh should offer no allure. But where in the world, is there in the world a man so untouched and pure? C'est moi!
  • Mary Poppins is, "practically perfect in every way". The film version of Mary is even nicer than the novel version.
    [Mary measures herself with her tape measure and reads what it says]
    Mary: As I expected. "Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way."
  • Hayley of Hard Candy sees herself as morally superior to Jeff, even though she's a vigilante whose toolset includes all-out torture. Then you have to consider that Hayley is a fourteen-year-old girl who's torturing a child molester.
  • Osmosis Jones has this with Frank's daughter Shae, who constantly scolds him about not taking care of his body due to his disgusting habits (among other things, he eats a hard-boiled egg that had been in a chimp's mouth and then had been on the floor of its cage).
    • Another incident was when he consumed oysters at a school gathering... that were raw and polluted. (which had caused such a big incident that she had been forced to change schools.) You can hardly blame her.

    Literature 
  • Ayn Rand loves this trope, as her works are primarily meant to service her Author Tract first and serve as a work of fiction second. Her protagonists, in particular Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, and John Galt from Atlas Shrugged represent moral ideals, heroic idols to be looked up at and aspired towards. The villains, in contrast, are explicitly labeled "moral cannibals" and worse while their Altruist/Collectivist/Statist ideals corrupt and bring the world to the brink of ruin. John Galt's famous, massive Author Filibuster is a gigantic "Reason You Suck" Speech detailing all of the reasons why one should come over to his (Rand's) way of living.
  • In the backstory of Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, the Beast's ancestors were so holier-than-thou and proud of their virtue and piety that a local wizard put a curse on them to take them down a few pegs - except that they genuinely possessed the Incorruptible Pure Pureness they were so proud of, and as a result the curse wouldn't stick. It had to wait around a few generations for a member of the bloodline to step out of line a little, whereupon it turned him into the Beast.
  • Galahad in T.H. White's The Once and Future King. He's the perfect knight, has no moral failings, and everyone finds him completely insufferable.
  • Similarly to the Ayn Rand examples, John Rumford in Victoria. He can be quite judgmental in his treatment of others who don't live up to his conservative Christian standards — but is totally sincere in doing so himself. While not everyone in the story agrees with his philosophy, no one can doubt that he is true to it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Antonia the Younger, as depicted in I, Claudius, acts as though she's the only one in the room who understands and respects Roman values and is quick to castigate anyone who falls short of her high standards. She even berates Sejanus' ex-wife Apatica for being upset that she lost her children in the divorce because she knew what kind of a man he was when they married in the first place.note  But it's hard to argue that Antonia is wrong in any of her complaints. Tiberius devolves into a sexual predator who outsources the work of ruling to the tyrannical Sejanus. Caligula, whom Antonia caught sleeping with his sister once, is even worse. By her old age, Antonia decides to end her life because pride in her country was all she had left after all her personal losses—and there is absolutely nothing about Rome to be proud of anymore.
  • Carla of Scrubs can be demanding, belittling, and short-fused, especially to her boyfriend (later husband), Turk, but this is usually represented as mandatory given he and most of the other staff at Sacred Hearts hospital tend to act like overgrown children when they're supposed to be in charge of the seriously ill, and almost everybody appreciates her role as Team Mom. That said, it takes a few seasons of Flanderization, but her Control Freak tendencies eventually become more pronounced and acknowledged (both by her and the rest of the characters). Even then, though, she's generally portrayed as in the right and usually backs down gracefully when called out for going too far.
    • One notable exception was when she was berating Elliot over not taking her advice (that her passive boy-toy, Keith, wasn't a pushover and might actually be boyfriend material). She's tearing into her when Keith overhears the barrage of insults (but not the context of Elliot wanting to dump him) and intervenes, telling Carla that nobody speaks like that to somebody he cares about. His assertiveness in standing up to the scary head nurse proves to Elliot that he isn't a doormat after all and she "realizes" Carla was only acting so mean to prompt Keith into defending Elliot. Carla smiles sheepishly and takes credit for the plan, but her husband is not fooled and she begs him not to reveal she really was just acting like a mean jerk because she lost her temper.
  • Angie Lopez from The George Lopez Show counts as a very perky example of the trope. She often acts as though she makes the more intellectually and morally superior decisions between her and her husband, especially in regards to their family, she is right though since she is dealing with a cast of people who came from dysfunctional families, make rash/morally questionable decisions, her children, and in one What If? episode George found that many of her traits are very helpful in communication.
  • Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H regularly gets the War Is Hell speeches and yelling at generals, but also regularly gets called out on his sanctimony ("the Jiminy Cricket of Korea" for example) and egotism.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • Nearly everyone in the Inquisition of is, by today's standards, a raging fundamentalist convinced of the righteousness of his/her path and would rather burn entire worlds than see them fall to heresy. The thing is, they're right: death is much preferable to falling victim to Chaos (and more to the point, corpses can't serve Chaos).
      • Inverted, in that there are those (Radicals) desperate enough to use the weapons of Chaos against it such as psykers and Demonic Possession who are shunned by the part of the Inquisition that thinks it heretical (Puritans) if not actively traitorous (and Puritans are in turn seen as a collective Accomplice by Inaction by Radicals). So in between the petty infighting and Inquisitors going rogue every other week, the only thing preventing Chaos from taking over is that they're just as disorganized and prone to getting in each other's way.
    • Zig-Zagged with the Eldar, who regard themselves as the only people in the galaxy capable of fighting against Chaos (well, the Necrons can too, but most people disagree with their methods. Or would if they were still there to do so.) and will happily sabotage human efforts if it makes their plan succeed. While it's true that they don't fall to Chaos the way humans so often do, it's their fault there's a fourth Chaos God in the first place and need to wear special soulstones in order to prevent it from devouring their souls.

    Video Games 
  • Bastila Shan of Knights of the Old Republic could be a first-rate, holier-than-thou code-spouting stick in the mud Jedi. Then the "righteous" comes into play when your Player Character reaches Padawan rank remarkably fast and she's ostensibly the senior Jedi on the ship. Not only are your crew not followers of the Code and (in many cases) of questionable background (a Mandalorian mercenary, a pair of street kids, the cheerful assassin droid), but seeing as you are the ex-Dark Lord, and the Council has ordered her to hold you on a very tight and short leash...
  • Persephone from Sacrifice. She is one of the good gods of the Fantasy Pantheon, always promoting goodness, virtue, and the advancement of life, and will never shut up about it either. The thing is, barring the fact that she is more eager than James to prosecute a war (where she was the offended party, due to Pyro invading one of her islands and abducting and enslaving its entire population into Slave Mooks for his realm), she actually is generally good and will offer mercy and redemption when prudent, unlike James who is very much a Beware the Nice Ones person underneath his easy-go attitude. Entertainingly she is also voiced by the exact same voice actor as Bastila above, making their holier-than-thou spiels sound almost exactly identical.

    Western Animation 
  • Lisa Simpson of The Simpsons is a neurotic Soapbox Sadie who constantly looks down at her family and the civilians that surround her. Of course since she is a child prodigy and rare bastion of virtue, while her family is inept in a variety of ways (one episode even revealing that all of the family males are literally biologically encoded to be losers) and Springfield genuinely is a Crapsack World, she is often proved to be justified. There are times when her pompousness costs her, or she is made to admit she isn't so different. Through it all, however, she takes a conscientious approach toward life that is often sorely lacking in otherwise materialistic and narcissistic Springfield.
  • Duck from Thomas & Friends boasts about his Great Western heritage, much to the annoyance of the rude and arrogant engines like Gordon, Henry, and James. However, as Duck puts it, "The Great Western Way" implies that he's a reliable engine who works hard and gets the job done without any complaints.
    • Some other engines are occasionally conveyed this way; e.g., Fergus, Toby, Donald and Douglas. They can often be smug and heckling to the other engines, but are competent hard workers. Usually, any attempts to ignore or belittle them only lead to a karmic accident or humiliation. It's usually avoided in later episodes, where each engine gets his shortcomings and arrogant moments spotlighted equally, with most of said characters being put Out of Focus or having a completely altered personality. (Toby, far from this role, is now a Shrinking Violet who usually underestimates his worth.)
  • Applejack in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. While she shares the role of The Straight Man with Twilight Sparkle, AJ is far more likely to take it to the point of arrogance, with one early episode even having the then-Once an Episode summation of the moral begin with her proudly gloating that "I didn't learn anything! I was right all along!" Downplayed in that she does have instances that show that she's Not So Above It All, usually when it comes to her competitive side, and her stubbornness has backfired a fair amount. The show is also more likely to favour Both Sides Have a Point when Applejack or another pony are right but take their argument to bluntly rude levels.
  • Hayley of American Dad!, despite being created as a hypocritical left-wing foil to Stan, often proves to have a far less destructive zeal and usually takes the role of the family's Straight Man.
    • For that matter, it's not rare to see the female leads of most of Seth MacFarlane's works start out being portrayed as this trope for the first season or two, before they inevitably slide into outright Jerkass Designated Hero territory. Lois Griffin of Family Guy and Donna of The Cleveland Show are prime examples.
      • Brian followed this pattern as well. Initially he was the socially conscious, intelligent foil to Peter's self-centered idiocy. But these days, Brian is better known for constantly going on loudmouth crusades about whatever irks him and being something of an Attention Whore with a Small Name, Big Ego over any meager success.
  • Kyle of South Park can have an overly preachy and temperamental attitude and his hatred of Cartman reaches obsessively petty and borderline Knight Templar territory at times as the seasons have gone by. But most of the time, Cartman, and to an extent the whole town, is completely immoral and deluded enough to justify Kyle's contempt. The majority of time things go haywire as a result of Cartman ignoring or hindering him.
    • Another example is Wendy in the episode The Hobbit. Wendy has always been seen as a Soapbox Sadie with some level of arrogance (though not to the level of Lisa Simpson and Wendy is probably even more justified since this is South Park.) In this episode, she fits this trope pretty well, however. It starts off with her chastising Butters for his refusal to date Lisa because she's unattractive while he has a crush on Kim Kardashian (an example of Negative Continuity, since she died in a prior episode). She tries showing Butters how people like Kim rely on Photoshop to look more attractive than they actually are, but it ends up backfiring as Butters thinks that how she genuinely looks and the entire thing escalates as more and more of the girls get into it. Everyone ends up missing the point of her tirade and think she is "jelly" of the attention and things get worse when even Stan gets sucked into it and Wendy ends up having to deal with escalating conflict, especially with people acting in the matter that they are accusing her of. The climax has Kanye West go over to her and explaining manners through a story (the B-plot being that Kim is a hobbit under her Photoshop appearance, with shoutouts to the Hobbit movie abound). By the end of the episode it has exacerbated so badly that Wendy tearfully resigns and Photoshops an image of herself.

Top