I probably should never have been there anyway, and it served me right when the two alert police officers fired up their siren, pulled me over, and pointed out that my car's registration had expired. I had not realized this, and as you can imagine I felt like quite the renegade outlaw as one of the officers painstakingly wrote out my ticket, standing well to the side of the road so as to avoid getting hit by the steady stream of passing unlicensed and uninsured motorists driving their stolen cars with their left hands so that their right hands would be free to keep their pit bulls from spilling their cocaine all over their machine guns.
Not that I am bitter.
One character sees another getting away with something that is against the rules. If he speaks up everyone ignores him. So he decides to join in, and commits some very minor violation. He is immediately caught and has the book thrown at him.
Almost always played as comedy trope, this trope can range from a single scene to a whole plotline. It is is rarely done as drama, despite the dramatic potential. It is a fairly subversive trope, showing a poor fit between actions and consequence.
See also Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. Can be related to Can't Get Away with Nuthin', or Can't Get in Trouble for Nuthin'. If someone tries to imitate the Karma Houdini, they'll end up like this. Protagonist-Centered Morality would be a subtrope of this. This is very much Truth in Television - in some online forums as well as in Real Life.
- This tends to happen with Rito oh so much in To Love-Ru, especially with Yami. She is quick to beat the crap out of him and throw death threats whenever it looks like he does something perverted, but when real perverts like Risa grope her purposely, she just meekly tells them to stop (it's been suggested, and evidenced, that Yami is a Covert Pervert who enjoys female affection).
- Iznogoud: In "Official Trip", Iznogoud tries repeatedly to have the Caliph commit a diplomatic faux-pas with the Sultan Pulmankar which would force him to either step down, resign his position or possibly even be killed on the spot by the outraged sultan. Everything the vizier suggests, however, results in the Caliph getting a cheerful, happy response for somehow following some bizarre and obscure tradition of his visiting guests. Then Iznogoud says "drat" in response to the last one, which results in the sultan angrily taking offense to that word and demanding the vizier's life in slavery lest war be declared on the spot. The Caliph gleefully agrees, insisting that "his good vizier would surely agree in the interest of peace." Gilligan Cut to Iznogoud jailed and angrily trying to escape.
- Rosario Vampire: Brightest Darkness:
- During most of Act III, Headmaster Mikogami repeatedly does next to nothing about the various bullies and Jerkasses who deliberately go out of their way to torment and harass Tsukune and his friends, but punishes Tsukune and co. for simply acting in legitimate self-defense against said bullies and Jerkasses, to the extent that he threatens to separate them if they get into another fight. He changes his tune after chapters 29 and 30, after the girls are blackmailed and nearly raped by Kano, who took advantage of Mikogami's warning to do exactly that.
- Throughout Act VI, after discovering Arial's Jerk with a Heart of Gold nature and reconciling with her, Dark more or less sits back and does nothing while she repeatedly attacks Mizore, both physically and verbally, in response to Mizore trying to win her approval and make peace with her. While this case is somewhat justified, since Arial is his guardian angel and Dark needs her approval to live, it doesn't change the fact that he lets Arial get away with it when in the previous five acts, he had, at the very least, put numerous other people in the hospital for merely looking at Mizore the wrong way.
- A lot of Ranma ½ fanfics include this plot device.
- In fights between Ranma and Akane, nobody will take Ranma's side in any argument no matter what, with everybody siding with Akane no matter what.
- During fights between Ranma and Ryoga, Ryoga will use his curse to pose as P-chan, Akane's favorite pet. So when Ranma and Ryoga get into disagreements, all Ryoga has to do is turn into P-chan, and Akane will always side against Ranma for "picking on a poor defenseless pig".
- Anger Management centers on this trope. An excessively passive man is sentenced to anger management classes for allegedly (but not really) starting a commotion on an airplane. And it happens again, each time with him accidentally insulting or harming a woman/ disabled person/ ethnic minority that would ensure that no jury would pity him. It was all a Massive Multiplayer Scam, with these manipulative folk being presented as the good guys. Except the guy with the tazer. He was just having a bad day.
- Bicycle Thieves: A non-comedic example is this classic Italian film. The protagonist, Antonio, has his bicycle stolen which he needs for his job. Eventually, he tracks down the thief, but the police lets him go, because Antonio doesn't have any proof and his neighbors lie for him. Out of desperation, Antonio tries to steal a bicycle himself, and is caught immediately.
- Deewaar: The mother of the young bread thief Ravi shot in the leg accuses the police force of this, saying only poor people get shot by them, while the ones who are up to their ears in black market affairs go unpunished.
- Outlaw playes the trope straight for drama. In the film, the London Metropolitan Police is horrendously ineffective at dealing with professional criminals and hooligans, but when the protagonists form a vigilance committee and start beating up dealers and robbing money launderers a corrupt cop turns them into public enemy #1. 2/3rds of the remaining protagonists wind up getting gunned down by armed Flying Squad members in the end.
- The general rule of thumb on game shows is if a contestant starts saying an answer before the time's up buzzer starts to sound, it counts. However, quite a few shows have been lax about allowing answers after the buzzer. Family Feud has always been notoriously bad at this.
- Password: In all incarnations, contestants and celebrities were not allowed to use hand gestures. However, a few gestures slipped by from time to time while others got zapped.
- Pyramid: Some clues got by in the upfront game and the Winner's Circle and others got cuckooed or buzzed. A bad example is the Winner's Circle clue "Mulberries" for "Things on a Bush", both on the 80s versions. One time, it led to a $25,000-win and another, it was buzzed. The kick in the pants? On the latter, the contestant had to match $10,000 to come back the next day.
- Jeopardy! can be strict with spelling during "Final Jeopardy". The general rule is if a misspelling affects the pronunciation, then the answer is ruled incorrect.
- In the Wayside School books, Todd always gets in trouble three times over the course of the day and is always sent home early on the kindergarten bus. On multiple occasions, this is due to a selective enforcement plot when the rest of the class gets away with things, but he gets caught for a minor infraction. For example, the whole classroom will be talking loudly with the teacher not paying attention, but the second Todd opens his mouth, the entire class is silent and he's caught talking in class. Similarly, one scene has Joy bugging him over what page he's on in the math book, and mocking him for being so far behind her. Her mocking gets very, very loud. But when he finally loses his cool, he's the one who gets in trouble. Immediately after he saved the lives of everyone in the class.
- Snape from the Harry Potter series is biased and unfair towards the Gryffindors - deducting points from the protagonists and giving them detentions for no cause or for minor infractions - while typically ignoring wrong-doing by Slytherins.
- When Umbridge joins the staff in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix not only does she partake in choosing whom she feels like actually punishing she selects a group of students, seemingly all from Slytherin, who do the same, strongly favoring their own house.
- In Becker, Dr. Becker makes several attempts to go see a particular movie which fail because of loud, disruptive people in the cinema. At a later attempt he practically gets crucified because Margaret keeps talking to him.
- In Friends, Ross finds out that students are sneaking into the library stacks for sex (particularly the aisle containing his thesis). The library refuses to do anything about it. He decides to monitor the aisle himself, meets a pretty grad student... and ends up getting caught by the librarian.
- How I Met Your Mother: Marshall talked his way out of a ticket by offering to bring the cop to his barbecue. Robin, being a pretty girl, can get out of a ticket easily. Barney? No way.
- It doesn't help that he takes getting out of a ticket as a challenge and proceeds to get a dozen tickets as a means of proving that he can get out of one.
- Used in Police Squad! when Frank Drebin is trying to goad "The Champ" into accepting a prize fight with Bobby Briggs.
Frank Drebin: Bobby Briggs could break every bone in your body.
The Champ: Yeah, well he must be a pretty good boxer.
Drebin: Well, how would you know? You never won an honest fight in your life.
The Champ: Hey, take it easy. Nobody wants to get hurt. Just cool off.
Drebin: Why should I? The only reason you're champ is cause of guys lying down or dying.
The Champ: Hey, let me buy you a drink.
Drebin: I wouldn't drink with you, you two-bit phony excuse for a fighter.
The Champ: You're just tired. [pats Drebin on the cheek] You didn't mean it.
Bobby Briggs: [to Drebin] Aw, forget it.
The Champ Forget it? Nobody says "forget it" to me! [takes a swing at Briggs]
- Happens a lot on The Andy Griffith Show whenever the plot requires it. Andy seems less intent on actually enforcing the law than he is in promoting his own sense of values, and it always seems to work out. Barney, on the other hand, can't seem to tell where to draw the line on anything he's involved in.
- Drake & Josh when Drake does something wrong no one does anything about it, but when Josh tries to do the same everyone has almost laser precision of what he is doing.
- Throughout The Elder Scrolls series, this is the case with guards. If you break any law, from shoplifting an apple to outright murder, the guards will descend on you in no time flat. However, they won't lift a finger to help you with that assassin trying to kill you... Even bystanders who witness your crimes may attempt to exact vigilante justice on you and, unlike guards, they may not stop after you've paid your fine. That said, this has been improving over the course of the series along with overall enhancements to NPC AI. For example, by Skyrim, guards are capable of identifying the aggressor in a situation and will assist the player against unlawful attackers.
- An early Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas mission has you fleeing on bicycles from gangsters shooting at you with machine guns from a car. The police won't respond even as they stand in the gangster's line of fire, but so help you if your bike bumps into them.
- This is pretty much the standard for virtually anything in GTA. Although it's common to see officers chasing after other people, the cops will never bust the psycho with the SMG shooting at you from a pimpmobile. Oh, and you'll get stars for shooting back.
- Subverted in Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, while you get stars for shooting back, you also get rewarded for stopping (non-lethally) criminals who are fleeing from cops.
- In sharp contrast to GTA tradition, the police in Saints Row 2 will help you in firefights with rival gangs if they see the other gang firing first and if you don't hit any police or civilians.
- Saints Row 3 downplays it slightly. The police leave the fighting between the gangs if neither hits police or bystanders. However if the Syndicate takes a cop as a human shield and you free them without harm by killing their hostage taker they will show their gratitude by attacking the syndicate and leaving you and the Saints alone.
- Averted in Bully. You cause a problem in front of a police officer or prefect you will get taken down. Some NPC causes a problem (even if it's against you) in front of a police officer or prefect he or she will get taken down just the same.
- The Warriors has the police go after you if you rough up a civilian in their presence, but they won't give two shits if you attack an enemy gang since it's less work for the cops. A cop will even go after your enemies should said enemy's attack hit a cop.
- Dead or Alive: The whole situation with Kasumi and the Mugen Tenshin Clan has shades of this. Raidou had raped Kasumi's mother Ayame, stole the Torn Sky Blast, their most sacred technique, and broke Hayate's spine and put him in a coma, and the Mugen Tenshin decided not to bother going after him, whereas Kasumi decided to pursue Raidou herself because no one else would and is immediately branded a traitor and Marked to Die.
- South Park:
- In the episode, "Fingerbang", the mall security guard allows a mad scientist with a jar full of anthrax to pass by, but will immediately attack anyone else with pepper spray for even a minor rule breach, if even that.
- Butters could have his entire life summarized as the Can't Get Away with Nuthin' side of this trope. It reaches Dude, Not Funny! levels.
- The Simpsons
- In one episode of Lenny and Barney play pranks on Moe which involve setting him on fire and setting a cobra on him. Homer, in an attempt to join in the "harmless" fun loosens the lid on a sugar cellar, resulting in what Moe angrily calls "the old sugar-me-do". This gets Homer banned from the bar.
- A darker comedic version is played out with Homer and Frank Grimes. When Frank Grimes tries to live and work like Homer does, but quickly discovers that only Homer can grab high-voltage wires without safety gloves and live.
- In "The Monkey Suit," Chief Wiggum arrests Lisa for teaching her classmates about evolution (which got outlawed and she was rebelling against that rule). She protests that there are much worse crimes, pointing to Snake, who is shooting people from atop the Kwik-E-Mart. Wiggum explains that it's because they only have enough funding to enforce the most recently created law (thus literally "selective enforcement") although Wiggum does admit is "not the best system - in fact it's pretty much the worst."
- In "Burns' Heir", Homer will allow Bart flinging peas at Lisa, but he grounds him for feeding his meatloaf to the dog (especially because it was an endpiece).
- Burns also laughs his butt off when Homer throws pudding at Lenny. But the moment he throws one at Carl, Burns snarls at him and goes to help Carl.
- A series wide case, Sideshow Bob has been foiled multiple times by the Simpsons family, but has outright admitted he is apathetic to all of them except Bart, who he is obsessed with killing in revenge for exposing his first instance of villainy. This is especially apparent with Lisa, who as time has passed has foiled Bob more times than Bart, though regardless he has outright lampshaded his disinterest in getting back at her or anyone but Bart.
- In the Tracey Ullman shorts and early series episodes, Lisa was just as bratty and dysfunctional as Bart, though Homer tended to only target Bart for discipline. This was excused by the creative team, they were apparently a lot more uneasy when offered gags with Homer strangling Lisa compared to Bart.
- Homer and Marge usually do this to Bart for example in Today I Am A Clown gets Homer to use his newfound fame to talk about the important issues. This causes his fan base to turn against him and his star plummets. Yet he is never shown to be angry at Lisa but strangles Bart when he calls him out for listening to her even though Lisa shows no guilt about what she did. This is also inverted as Homer and Marge would often go to great lengths to help Lisa while ignoring Bart. In Lisa the Simpson Homer immediately stopped caring about the Simpson Gene when it’s discovered that it only affects Bart. Marge will also chastise Lisa for trying to sabotage Maggie but when Lisa accidentally cripples Bart Marge tells him that he should feel sorry for her.
- Invader Zim: In the episode "Parent Teacher Night", everybody is conveniently staring silently in the opposite direction of the mess loudly made by Zim's robotic parents. But after they leave, and Dib tosses his juice cup to the ground in frustration, someone turns around and shouts "Hey! That kid's throwing punch!" and the episode ends with Ms. Bitters descending on Dib like the wrath of
Godsome kind of snaky demonic Satan thing.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends: Inverted as a Springtime for Hitler in the episode "Crime After Crime". The episode's B-plot has Frankie cooking something disgusting for dinner, so Bloo causes trouble in an effort to get sent to his room without dinner. Unfortunately the episode's A-plot was Mr. Herriman acting hyper-paranoid over someone discovering his addiction to carrots, leading him to punish everyone else in the house for relatively minor infractions due to thinking they're "on to him" while completely ignoring or even congratulating Bloo.
- SpongeBob SquarePants:
- In Bikini Bottom, harassing your business rival to near-suicide, destroying stuff because you've got the IQ of a turnip, or being an all-around annoying jackass with No Indoor Voice is perfectly acceptable. Littering, however, can get you an orange jumpsuit. Just ask Squidward or Mrs. Puff.
- Lampshaded in "Shanghaied". Squidward ends up the Flying Dutchman's punching bag just for talking, Spongebob and Patrick's antics and attempts to escape get only very light snark. Squidward angrily demands why they get off so easy, only to get struck by a punishment bolt again. Deconstructed afterwards, when Squidward won't stop babbling the Flying Dutchman loses patience and kicks him out of his ship, while the other two are kept his prisoners and drive him crazy due to lack of punishment.
- In "Slide Whistle Stooges," Squidward, after being complemented by SpongeBob and Patrick, performs random antics around town with a slide whistle, and the Bikini Bottomites are so annoyed with it that they form an angry mob and chase after him, going so far as to cheer when Squidward unwittingly drives a gas truck off of a cliff. At the end of the episode, Sponge and Pat perform very similar antics with slide whistles around the hospital... and everyone finds it funny.
- King of the Hill: After Bill is jailed for public intoxication, he refuses to see anyone - so Hank tries to get himself arrested and get thrown in with him. The cops don't care about him jaywalking on an empty street, and wearing "No shirt, no shoes" in a convenience store only breached store policy. However, a low-speed collision that scratches an officer's kid's "honor roll" bumper sticker gets him cuffed and thrown to the wall.
- Family Guy:
- In the episode "420," after Peter accidentally kills Quagmire's pet cat in a prank gone wrong, he and Brian go to bury the body and get pulled over by the police. The cops blatantly ignore the fact that Peter has a small body bag in the backseat and is not only covered head-to-toe in blood, but driving drunk, but when they discover Brian in possession of a quarter-ounce of pot, they arrest him on the spot and throw him in jail.
- In the episode "Model Misbehavior," while voicing his support for Lois' modeling career, Peter states that he'll "pleasure himself" to Lois' photos, to which both Chris and Meg say "Me too!" In response, Peter calls out Meg, and only Meg, for saying such things about her mother, and when Meg says she was just trying to fit in, Peter responds by punching a hole in the wall and screaming at her to get out of the house.
- In one 'Mr. Know-It-All' segment of Rocky and Bullwinkle, Bullwinkle tries to show how to get noisy neighbors to be quiet. After trying and failing to get Boris to quiet down his party, Bullwinkle decides 'if you can't beat them, join them' and blows on a party favor. Boris then has Bullwinkle arrested for disturbing his peace.
- Hey Arnold!: In the episode "Girl Trouble," Helga relentlessly torments Arnold throughout the episode, and eventually Arnold gets sick of it and throws paint on her in retaliation. Mr. Simmons does nothing about Helga's bullying, but punishes Arnold for dumping paint, vocally expressing his disappointment in him.
- In Tex Avery's short, Shhhhhh, the hotel management is oppressively strict about quietness when Mr. Twiddle checks in, but then allows the doctor to bring in a trombone and make a huge amount of noise without stopping him.
- This trope is a recurring theme in Tom and Jerry shorts that feature Spike. When said shorts open, Spike is generally doing his own thing, minding his own business, and gets caught up in Tom and Jerry's antics. Even when Spike clearly sees Jerry causing trouble as well, he always singles out Tom and places all the blame on him, which Jerry proceeds to milk for all its worth throughout the rest of the cartoon.
- The Amazing World of Gumball: In the episode "The Prank," Nicole calls out Gumball and Darwin for pranking Richard, while ignoring the fact that Richard pranked them first. When Gumball calls her out on it, Nicole justifies herself by saying, "You know it's too late for your father."