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Selective Obliviousness

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"It's not denial. I'm just very selective about the reality I accept."
Calvin, Calvin and Hobbes

When a character refuses to comprehend a particular fact. They'll especially turn it up when someone attempts to tell them directly, which usually results in said would-be confessor aborting the attempt because not only was it a difficult subject to begin with, they can't bring themselves to smash this person's sense of reality.

Regarding unrequited relationships involving someone with Selective Obliviousness; even if everyone else is aware of someone's crush on that person, nobody will ever mention the possibility to the practitioner. Nobody likes to gossip about who is interested in whom. Stop laughing. This is one person's cross to bear alone.

This contrasts with Weirdness Censor, in which everyone except the main characters are oblivious to the bizarre occurrences around them.

Usually, this is supposed to denote a sense of innocence; however, to more cynical viewers, it may appear that the person either consciously or subconsciously knows, and just doesn't want to deal with it. Or more disturbingly, he refuses to consider it to the point of suppressing it and choosing his own reality, thereby being driven to insanity. It also seems inexplicably popular with characters whose main trait is (apparent) perceptiveness of other people's character. Selective Obliviousness is also a tool that the writers use to keep things in the air, such as for Will They or Won't They? or Belligerent Sexual Tension. Like all stalling tactics, overuse breeds contempt.

Less comically, a character may do this to avoid acknowledging his own guilt or envy in some manner. Often leads to Divided We Fall or Irrational Hatred. Similarly, when applied towards a boss' assumed infallibility, it leads to Blind Obedience.

If this tropes applies to a friend who is willing ignoring his Toxic Friend Influence’s bad behavior based on the belief that the toxic friend has Hidden Depths, it will often end in Post-Support Regret when the toxic friend does something too awful for the friend to Turn the Other Cheek.

If this happens in real life, it is called Canon Discontinuity, Fanon Discontinuity, or Confirmation Bias. noreallife

Plot-Sensitive Snooping Skills is a sort of involuntary Selective Obliviousness imposed on a character by the limits of the plot. Contrast with Failed a Spot Check, in which the character fails to comprehend something everyone else is aware of.

Oblivious to Love, Giftedly Bad, and No True Scotsman are common forms of this. Theory Tunnelvision is a subtrope. See also I'll Pretend I Didn't Hear That, in which a character feigns Selective Obliviousness in order to avoid the consequences of acknowledging the situation. May be related to I Reject Your Reality, Acquaintance Denial, and Captain Oblivious. Compare Arbitrary Skepticism.



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    Comic Strips 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A particularly black comedic example comes from the Danish film Adam's Apples with the story's Deuteragonist, Ivan. After a life that seems like nothing but one endless streak of extremely horrible things happening into him (his mother died in his early childhood, his father was both violent and sexually abusive, his beloved sister was Driven to Suicide, his son was born severely disabled, his wife also committed suicide, and finally he was diagnosed with a fatal brain tumor) this behavior has become pathological to him, to point where almost everything he says are Blatant Lies (though he fully believes them himself), such as claiming his son is a completely healthy and normal kid, and his wife is still alive and "around somewhere", and the criminals in his care are all reformed even though they clearly still frequently engage in their old crimes. Ultimately though, his obliviousness is what keeps him sane and alive.
  • The baker in The Baker's Wife insists that his wife left to visit her mother, even when it's clear to everyone that she left to be with another man.
  • Dr. Strangelove: When Gen. Turgidson is confronted with the refusal of president Muffley to attack Russia first with nuclear weapons (because a limited American nuclear attack is already in progress due to unauthorized orders, and would inevitably spark retaliation from the Russian), he insists that it's the smartest thing to do, because by striking first American casualties would be way smaller than otherwise. He seems to be completely unable to grasp that American casualties assessment is not really the point at stake because Muffley does not arguably want to kill millions of Russian citizens because of one American general who went nuts.
    Muffley: You're talking about mass murder, General, not war.
    Turgidson: Mr. President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say: no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops! Uh...depended on the breaks.
  • Godzilla vs. Kong: Mark Russell's entire role can be summed up as this trope. He's just as blind as Team Kong and the rest of the world are to the suspicion that should be falling on Apex Cybernetics in light of Godzilla's attack on their factory, but he takes it a step further. He irrationally descends into denial that there's any cause or reason for Godzilla's seeming hostility save for Mark thinking that HE is reliving a repeat of what previously happened with his Fallen Heroine ex-wife Emma in the previous movie. As a result, Madison is forced to give up trying to talk sense into the idiot. This gets somewhat subverted in the novelization, where Mark and Guillerman are conducting their own investigation into Godzilla's attack and they don't hesitate to suspect Apex.
  • This is what the title of An Inconvenient Truth refers to (specifically, being unwilling to observe something because your job depends on you not observing it).
  • In Lone Star State of Mind, Jimbo's father keeps trying to set him up on dates with pretty girls, even though Jimbo has been out of the closet for years and everybody else knows. Jimbo even screams, "I'm gay!" to him, to no avail.
  • Mars Attacks!. Art Land is so intent about selling the investors on building his casino that he ignores the all-out alien attack going on outside.
  • Charlie in Me, Myself & Irene is very willfully blind to the fact that his three sons are very obviously not his, even after his wife left him for her lover. The scene where they're born implies he realized something was amiss as soon as the first was born, but then aggressively chose not to accept it.
    Eric: Charlie, did you ever notice your kids have sort of a... year-round tan?
    Charlie: Uh, yeah, well, my great-grandmother's half-Italian, so...
  • The Superman example is lampshaded in Mystery Men. The Shoveller refuses to believe that millionaire Lance Hunt is really superhero Captain Amazing. He points out to Mr. Furious that Lance Hunt wears glasses, while Captain Amazing doesn't. Mr. Furious ripostes that he takes off his glasses when he transforms. The Shoveller responds "That doesn't make any sense! He wouldn't be able to see!"
  • A creepy example in Shutter Island. An asylum inmate subconsciously created an elaborate illusion of residing in her neighborhood and treated other patients and staff as neighbors or delivery men, flatly refused to admit that she's been committed for murdering her children. Then the unfolding story reveals that the protagonist suffers from that very delusion, and that he created a far more elaborate illusion that placed him in the shoes of a federal marshal investigating the escape of the aforementioned inmate from the asylum and secretly searching for another inmate that killed his wife. In fact, the nonexistent escaped inmate is his wife, who murdered their children and thus drove him insane and the nonexistent killer is himself.
  • In Some Like It Hot, Jack Lemmon, masquerading as "Daphne", gets a marriage proposal from Osgood, an elderly millionaire. Daphne tries to talk him out of it:
    Daphne: Well ... in the first place, I'm not a natural blonde.
    Osgood: Doesn't matter.
    Daphne: I smoke! I smoke all the time!
    Osgood: I don't care.
    Daphne: I have a terrible past! For three years now, I've been living with a saxophone player!
    Osgood: I forgive you.
    Daphne: (tearfully) I can never have children.
    Osgood: We can adopt some.
    Daphne: You don't understand, Osgood ... (ripping off wig) I'm a man!
    Osgood: Well, nobody's perfect.
  • In Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren knows his hero and grandfather Darth Vader was also Anakin Skywalker, who embraced the Light Side of the Force before dying, but ignores Anakin and worships Vader's legacy.
  • Young Frankenstein: Eigor the hunchbacked assistant is totally unaware that he has a hump. Yet, as Fronkensteen later points out, Eigor's hump seems to move places so Eigor must be aware of it somehow: he just denies its existence.

  • Bonnie Tyler: During the video of the song "Total Eclipse of the Heart", it isn't until Bonnie encounters the one boy at the end with Glowing Eyes that she gets a sense that something is wrong. Considering the surreal vibe and setting, it's surprising that it takes her so long.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The beholders in Dungeons & Dragons are like this by design. They have two brains. One is responsible for higher logic. The other hosts emotions and instincts, and is responsible for interpreting the data input from the senses. Thus, if something is against the beholder's beliefs, it will never get far enough to be considered on logical level. Too bad their genetic memory gives them the beliefs of rampant, murderous racists. The only reason they manage to survive at all with such a mindset is that their creator have also found it fitting to grant them massive amounts of innate firepower.
  • Amongst the Warhammer 40,000 fandom, Games Workshop is portrayed to have this reaction to any evidence of the existence of the now RetGonned Squats. Best illustrated here


    Visual Novels 
  • Masayuki refuses to see the bad in people in A Profile or to distrust his friends. He simply won't notice such things.
  • Junichi in Da Capo is actually perfectly aware that Nemu likes him and has for years. He wasn't just completely dense. On the other hand, she's his adopted sister, which makes things kind of awkward, so he simply did his best not to think about it.
  • Dennis from Double Homework, who is so good at manipulating people, can’t seem to tell when a girl is so repulsed by him that she wouldn’t touch him with a ten-foot pole.
  • Shirou in Fate/stay night seems to have a slight awareness of Sakura's interest in him, but considering he's in denial about his own attraction to her, she's made nearly no progress in over a year and a half of trying. Similar things happen with Rin and Saber, although the life-threatening situations they find themselves in during the Holy Grail War force him to confront those feelings up front during the three routes.
  • The Fruit of Grisaia: Amane doesn’t want to find out what Yuuji does for a living, because she senses it is something she's probably not supposed to know. So she doesn’t.
  • Shirogane Sakuya in Hatoful Boyfriend refuses to accept or understand that his brother Sakazaki Yuuya loves him and wants him to be happy, and he interprets everything Yuuya says in the most negative and insulting way he can. Partly this is because his backstab-happy aristocratic upbringing has him suspicious of good intent, partly because Yuuya is a "mongrel" half-breed and he's been taught to hate those of impure blood. Partly it's because Yuuya appears cheerfully oblivious to insults and continues to be friendly just to irritate him. Late in BBL, Yuuya makes a Heroic Sacrifice and reveals all, and Sakuya can no longer be oblivious.
  • Reiji actually does realize how Kyoko feels in Kara no Shoujo. He just thinks it wouldn't be right to start a relationship with her.
  • This is actually a pretty strong plot point in Umineko: When They Cry. Battler refuses to believe that a witch murdered everyone. Straightforward enough. However, he also refuses to believe that any of the eighteen people trapped on the island murdered everyone. Not only does he refuse to believe it, he actively rules out the possibility based on the fact that he doesn't want that to be the outcome, even when he acknowledges that the evidence points in that direction. Can you say "cognitive dissonance"?
    • This being Umineko, the truth of what's going is a bit more... complicated.

  • In 8-Bit Theater, Thief constantly denies the existence of dragons. Despite the Light Warrior's direct interaction with several of the mythic lizards, Thief maintains that dragons are extinct. When Red Mage calls him out on it in a later strip while they are being confronted by yet more dragons, Thief explains that it's "wishful thinking". He just wishes the horrible lizard monsters trying to kill him don't really exist.
  • Arthur, King of Time and Space: In the fantasy and future timelines, Arthur immediately resorts to Ignoring by Singing when the subject of Lancelot and Gwenevere's cheating comes up.
  • Demonseed Redux: When Rhoda first reveals herself as a succubus and offers him to become a king of a demonic harem (turns out to be a lie), he thinks he's dreaming and goes outside to get fresh air.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Melissa is so madly in love with Justin, she keeps asking him out even after it is revealed that he is gay. Justin, needless to say, finds this extremely irritating, especially since she is the one who (either directly or "indirectly") blew the secret.
    • Earlier in the series (though chronologically after Justin was outed), Elliot pretended not to notice Sarah's feelings towards him, because he was afraid that a romantic relationship with her would destroy their friendship; he may have had Justin and Melissa's ruined friendship in mind, since he'd known Justin for some time at that point.
    • Until Tedd directly told him, Elliot was genuinely oblivious to the fact that his anime-style martial arts, and his enthusiasm for using them to stop bullies and fight monsters (not to mention that he was always the one who encountered the monsters in the first place) meant the rest of the school did not see him as an average, borderline anonymous student. It's possible his lack of understanding as to whether things that happen are strange was inherited from his parents, who cheerfully accept just about everything.
  • In Fans!, club president Rikk is utterly oblivious to fellow member Rumy's painfully obvious attraction to him. When third member Katherine gets fed up with this and tries to inform him directly, he exhausts every other member in the club, Katherine included, as potentially having a crush on him. Not once does he even consider Rumy.
  • Randy, the tame fox in Faux Pas, is so naïve about sex that it's impossible to think this trope isn't going on. This alternately frustrates and amuses the wild vixen who wants to be his mate. We find out later that Randy does know about "the birds and the bees." But what he knows comes from human television, so anything that strays from Hollywood ideals of dating and romance leave him lost.
  • In Flipside, Blithe Spirit Maytag has a complete and utter lack of any sense of modestynote . And an equally complete and utter lack of understanding it in other people. To the point where she's openly baffled when everyone else is upset when their carriage driver is caught using x-ray specs to peep through their clothes. Given the grasp of human nature she shows when she's in Manipulative Bitch mode, this is almost certainly self-justification for her own exhibitionist ways.
    • Semi-confirmed later on: Turns out that as a child she had almost literally no emotion, barely even reacting to pain. Through conversations with her mother and one or two people that basically "forced" friendship on her, she eventually decided that she wanted to experience life more fully and essentially gave herself Multiple Personality Disorder on purpose; years down the line, she's finally come to realize that the emotionless her, the "shy" her and the "Maytag" her are all equally "her" and — after her costume was sabotaged and she was left naked on stage during a comedy competition — she literally went into exposition mode and explained this to both the audience in the theater and the readers. The whole reason she's "baffled" over other people not living life as "fully" as she does, is that she believes them to be in unnecessary states of self-denial.
  • In Girl Genius some of those living in the hidden cities beneath Paris insist that surface dwelling civilizations are all a giant hoax despite the fact that they get newspapers and products from the surface and their societies have diplomatic relationships with surface kingdoms and empires and they regularly get students from Paris running through. They complain loudly that any surface dwellers they come across are just people wearing costumes.
  • In Girls with Slingshots, a Running Gag has been made of Hazel's inability to grasp that lesbian sex isn't just "taking turns with a strap-on." Her lesbian friends have tried to clue her in, but it never seems to stick.
  • High School Lessons: Mrs. Wilson is blind to anything out of the ordinary, even when being mauled by vampires.
  • Homestuck:
    • Jake is an interesting example. He pretended to be unaware of his friends' feelings for him so he wouldn't have to give a response before he knew how he felt, but then accepted it without question when Jane claimed that he'd gotten it wrong and that she didn't have feelings for him after all, even when she acted very strangely about the whole thing. However, when he talked with a subconscious manifestation of these thoughts taking the form of Dirk in a dream bubble, thought!Dirk seemed doubtful that Jane had been telling the truth, an idea Jake waved away uneasily, indicating that deep down he probably is aware but just doesn't want to have to deal with it on top of everything else right now, especially after the way he reacted to everything.
    • Karkat admits late in Act 5 Act 2 that he is aware of and has been deliberately ignoring Nepeta's crush on him. The guy's a romantic expert, there is no way he didn't notice it. He says he's ignoring it because there are just too many other things going on that he doesn't have time to think of a way to let her down gently. The situation resolves itself when she dies without ever speaking to him.
  • In Misfile, Doctor Upton can hardly have failed to have noticed that his "daughter" appears to have developed some rather severe identity problems, especially considering that it was shouted out at full volume at one point. Despite this, the issue is never raised.
  • Pixie Trix Comix: Aaron is clearly somewhat attracted to Julian (who, for added fun, he hasn’t realised is gay), but thinks of himself as straight, to the point of homophobia. This leads to increasingly frantic and sweaty attempts at denial to himself.
  • Capt. Tagon and Sgt. Schlock from Schlock Mercenary: Tagon tends to have a one-track mind and has a hard time dealing with things that don't conform to "shoot it/run from it/run, come back with reinforcements" (at least without someone there to wield a clue bat). Whereas Schlock tends to mentally spin anything he's told into what he wants to believe. (So his orders tend to be simple and specific).note 
  • Sidekick Girl: Superherione Illumina goes into a Lustful Melt when she meets superhero Maelstrom, somehow missing that his secret identity is the boyfriend of her secret identity. (In all fairness, he's just as clueless as she is.)
  • Skin Horse: Unity does this to just about anything that doesn't involve blowing things up, especially specific instructions not to blow things up. At one point she cheerfully admits that her idea of logic is to start with what she wants to be the case and then work backward. Sweetheart, meanwhile, has a major blind-spot regarding her own feelings for Unity, which occasionally manifests as full-on homophobia.
  • Ruby of Sticky Dilly Buns suffers from a comedic Paralyzing Fear of Sexuality, and tries to deny that she has any interest in sex, or at least to claim that she can repress any interest in the subject. However, it soon becomes clear that she has a full set of (actually quite vanilla-heterosexual) sexual inclinations, which are triggered and stimulated by the various attractive men she keeps encountering. Her denial is Played for Laughs, and her justifications for things like acquiring a stack of Yaoi manga become increasingly baroque and transparent to anyone except her.
  • Van Von Hunter is sworn to destroy anything evil that he encounters. However, he "doesn't notice" that Ariana Rael, the Child Mage tagging along with him is ungodly evil. The fact that she could destroy him with a thought has nothing to do with why he's not picking a fight with her...
  • An interesting version from White-Hat Guy in the xkcd strip "Wrong". He can't admit he was wrong, but instead of denying the facts, he denies that he ever believed otherwise; his actual point was another level of abstraction up. This is a common rationalization.

    Web Original 
  • In Bleach (S) Abridged, Ichigo is generally more on the ball than his canon self, but he is an incredible blockhead on two things: romance, and Zangetsu. Despite his Inner Hollow outright telling him multiple times that he's the real Zangetsu and the Old Man is a fake, it never gets through.
  • In Death Note: The Abridged Series (kpts4tv) when L tells the taskforce that Light is Kira. (With solid evidence to back it up this time!)
    • Also Misa refuses to acknowledge that Light is gay.
      Light: Now I need a place to stay.
      Misa: You want to move in with me? Yay!
      Ryuk: Ha!
      Light: I... [Sighs\ this is the worst day ever!
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email "big white face", an e-mailer asks why Strong Bad is so mean to "the guy with the big white face and grey body", referring to Strong Bad's Butt-Monkey brother Strong Sad. Strong Bad goes through literally the entire cast aside from Strong Sad, before concluding that the e-mailer was looking at a picture of the Poopsmith in grey-scale, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • The Nostalgia Critic is extremely good at denial over things he doesn't want to admit are happening, only reacting when they're explicitly pointed out to him. His Distaff Counterpart, The Nostalgia Chick, is exactly the same.
  • In Red vs. Blue Reconstruction, Sarge is unable to understand that Grif is now the same rank as him. Grif actually suggests that he is physically incapable of comprehending that fact. Considering that he attacks one of the Reds who was trying to kill Grif (for attacking a superior officer e.g. Grif), Grif is probably right.
    • Seems to have grown out of this by the Chorus Trilogy, where he just reacts with extreme annoyance when Grif tells Sarge that he now outranks him (Grif was promoted to Captain at the beginning of the Season). Doesn't stop Sarge from asking the Federation of Chorus to promote him to Colonel, so that, once again, he outranks Grif.
  • RWBY: Emerald idolizes Cinder as a savior and views her as a mother figure, voluntarily helping her commit all manner of atrocities while refusing to acknowledge or admit that her boss is a ruthless, abusive, sociopathic narcissist who has never shown genuine concern for anyone but herself. Her denial runs so deep that in "Lost," when Mercury tells her point-blank that Cinder has never cared about her and sees her as nothing but a tool, Emerald flies into a rage and attacks him. Emerald finally loses this after Cinder isn't thankful for Emerald saving her after one of Cinder's plans nearly ended with herself being killed, which is the Last Straw that finally breaks Emerald's faith in her.
  • RWBY Chibi:
    • In Episode 18, Ruby and Nora fail to notice all the obvious signs that Cinder and Emerald are villains engaged in an Evil Plan, to the point of easily falling for Cinder's half-assed cover story about making a cake recipe for a kitten charity; they even think nothing of Mercury entering the room and talking about using a bazooka to kill kittens, which he aptly calls the "Kitten Killer 9000." Emerald even lampshades it:
      Emerald': They're messing with us, right?
    • In "Director Ozpin", Ozpin dismisses team RWBY's concerns that sabotage is occurring during the title sequence. As they talk, Mercury hits Ruby in the head with a boom mic; Ozpin notices the apology, but not that it's fake. Emerald pushes a spotlight that Blake has to save Yang from and which just barely misses Ozpin, but he doesn't notice. As he walks off screen, Cinder visibly pushes the giant Chibi logo on top of him and cannot believe he thinks it fell by accident.
      Ozpin: [muffled] Hello? Can I get some assistance? This giant rose seems to have fallen on me, completely by accident!

Alternative Title(s): Willful Blindness


You Have No Idea

Cal tells Grace exactly what he goes through as a Black teenager living in Northern Ireland.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (2 votes)

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Main / CallingTheOldManOut

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