In real life, pepper spray is beyond the point of agonizing. Pepper spray's main agent is capsaicin, which is in a lot of peppers and spices, which give it that familiar bite. However, while spices ranking a little over 10,000 on the Scoville Scale can send a lot of people diving for milk jugs (or water bins, which actually don't work), a lot of pepper sprays rank over five million on the scale. Even worse, pepper spray is intentionally designed to be an inflammatory, which constricts the throat, prevents breathing, and provides one hell of a runny nose.
In real life, a taser disrupts voluntary control of the muscles by constantly constricting and releasing them in a miniature spasm, and not only results in an incredibly painful blast but also instant incapacitation. It's almost impossible to fight off a taser's effects (much less any other attackers) when your muscles aren't even in your control.
Not so in fiction-land. These, along with other self-defense products, get a massive beating with the nerf bat — it just really wouldn't make for engaging storytelling if the big dramatic evil guy could be easily taken down with something bought at common hardware stores, or if the hero just started flopping around at everyone's mercy. So, unfortunately, characters tend to be either "immune to it" or "tough enough" to shrug off the effects.
Now, to be fair, this can be Truth in Television, but only to an extent. In fact, this is usually only true for people who are seriously drunk or high on stimulants, as in these cases your nervous system is too toasted to feel much of the effects of such weapons. In all other situations, though, even special forces-grade training can only provide moderate resistance to less-than-lethal weapons.
The instances where pepper spray or tasers are shown as being effective are often Played for Laughs. Of course, playing it for laughs usually means that there must be no lasting injuries, basically treating pepper spray and tasers as Amusing Injuries: It hurts like hell, and the recipient of the blast is incapacitated for as long as the plot requires; but the viewers aren't going to see certain realistically possible repercussions like a visit to the hospital emergency room, or a Brick Joke two episodes later where a character is still feeling the pain every time he gets up out of a chair.
Compare My Car Hates Me and Cell Phones Are Useless, for other times when technology fails for the sake of drama. Not to be confused with Self-Defense Ruse, when the claim of self-defense is actually a lie.
- In Psycho-Pass, Nobuo Okura continued his violent actions despite getting tased by Kagari.
- Gunsmith Cats:
- Bean Bandit collapses onto a table when he is hit with a taser... and then got straight back up again. However, Bean is described as a "gorilla in a flak jacket" — a taser has realistic effects on other characters. This isn't new to Bean. Riding Bean had Rally attempting to wake him up with a taser. It doesn't work.
- Averted in the main series; Rally gets tased by a kid suckered by some mobsters, and only escapes because of her Improbable Aiming Skills. And the next day, she's still shuddering from the effects.
- In Higurashi: When They Cry, the fight between Shion and Rika demonstrates both pepper spray and tasers being used to cause...momentary irritation, and not much else.
- In the "Battle for Mahora" arc of Negima! Magister Negi Magi, Ku Fei is tased by a Chachamaru replica, only to shrug off the effects a few seconds later.
- Abominable: When a cornered CJ sprays pepper spray into the Yeti's eyes, the monster roars in pain for a few seconds but is otherwise unaffected.
- In Batman Begins, Rachael's taser is completely useless against Batman (fair enough, given that it hits him squarely on his bulletproof, insulating breastplate). It is, however, rather more realistically effective against Scarecrow...
- In Rock N Rolla One Two gets maced, point-blank, in the face by one of his mates. It's certainly shown to hurt, and he needs nursing along for a minute or so, but he seems fine shortly afterwards and it never seems to affect his breathing. Also worth noting that the guy he was grappling with at the time, quite possibly within splashing range under the circumstances, suffered no apparent ill effects.
- Played for Laughs in the movie The Hangover. In demonstrating taser use at a school, it takes two shots in order to down the second participant. After the first went right into the forehead.
- A faceful of mace is one of the least painful things done to the villains trying to break into the home in Home Alone.
- Steven Seagal likes this trope. Exit Wounds has a bunch of corrupt cops use their tasers on each other for the sake of showing off, bets, and entertainment. In Under Siege 2: Dark Territory, one of the bad guys takes a can of pepper spray and squirts it into his own mouth to prove that he has become accustomed to the taste, pointing out to his attacker that she only had civilian issue pepper spray rather than full strength mace.
- It should be noted that although it's not possible to tough out a taser, it's not the case with pepper spray. Training (including repeated exposure) may render it less effective. Also, certain drugs may suppress the effect and some people can withstand the pain even without them. There are also some hypotheses stating that some people can be naturally immune or somehow can acquire immunity.
- People can be naturally immune. In the Navy, they're called two percenters, for reasons that should be obvious.
- Intolerable Cruelty has two lawyers break into a house armed with pepper spray, trying to find a thug they'd previously hired to kill the owner. They split up and unknowingly back into each other in the dark. When they collide, each spins around and peppers the other straight in the face, but they're both fine a few minutes later.
- Played surprisingly straight in an early scene in Kick-Ass. When Kick-Ass hits Razul with a taser whose prongs get stuck in his forehead, he does go down, but the second it runs out of power, he gets right back up. Lampshaded when Hit-Girl later tells him that was a pretty crappy taser.
- In Crank: High Voltage, protagonist Chev Chelios is tasered by police officers, which does absolutely nothing in preventing him from turning around, stealing their guns, and beating them all down. Questionably justified in that Chev's heart was removed and replaced with a high-powered electronic battery, and the taser blast only powered him up.
- Averted and Played for Laughs in Iron Man 2. After the Black Widow mops the floor with most of Justin Hammer's goons, she effectively dispatches the last one with a spray of mace.
- Hilariously subverted in Thor. The title character, recently banished to the mortal realm and stripped of his powers, is found by the good guys and goes on a rant that makes Plucky Comic Relief Darcy nervous enough to aim her taser at him.
Thor: You dare threaten the god of thunder with such a puny weap— [*TZZZZZ* *WHUMP*]
- Pepper spray has no effect on vampires, as Bella finds out when she tries it on James in Twilight.
- In Bloodsport, some agents try using a taser on Frank Dux, but he catches the wires in midair and throws them back, stunning them.
- Averted in Next Friday. Day-Day gets maced by his ex-girlfriend, and needs to be sprayed off with a hose for twenty minutes before he's okay.
- Dancing Aztecs: When Frank and Floyd decide to kidnap Many after she recognizes Frank, she tries to mace them with a can of pepper spray that she's carried in her purse for six years in case anyone tries to mug her. After six years without being used, the mace can doesn't have enough pressurization to shoot anything more than a brief trickle of white foam.
- The Cape: In the pilot, Orwell tasers Vince before realizing they're on the same side, but his chest armor absorbs it.
- In an episode of CSI, a man was hit with some potent mace, yet kept running. Of course, the show does a 180 when he catches on fire after being tased, and of course dies.
- Averted in the Burn Notice episode "Comrades". Fiona manages to kidnap a tough member of The Mafiya after hitting him with a taser. Because he managed to grab hold of her just before she got him with the taser, she's just as incapacitated, although because she's Fiona, when she eventually is back on her feet she cracks a few jokes about how refreshing the experience was and how an electric jolt work wonders for clearing the mind.
- Used in Stargate SG-1, where the zat gun supposedly operates on principles similar to a taser but you can acquire some resistance to its effects if you get shot too many times.
- Wraith stunners on Stargate Atlantis work similarly. Humans who are taking the Wraith enzyme have increased resistance to them.
- Like Quagmire, Christopher Walken's SNL character The Continental has been sprayed so often he is no longer affected by pepper spray.
- In an episode of Highlander: The Series, Duncan MacLeod is hit with a taser. He is stopped for a few seconds before managing to cut the wires with his sword (that he had already drawn). Once it's stopped, he's able to resume going after the bad guy, although slowed down a bit.
- On Just Shoot Me!, Jack buys a taser to protect himself. Dennis' tough father tries it and finds it only tickles him. Jack thinks he bought a defective taser and tries it on Elliot. For some time afterwards, Elliot is a convulsing, incoherent mess, and right when he's supposed to meet Tyra Banks, who thinks he's some kind of weird pervert and hits him with her can of mace.
- On Shameless (US), Frank hears a Scary Black Man claim that he can stay on his feet after being tasered, doesn't believe him (most likely because he has been tasered a fair bit himself) and bets him $10,000 that he will go down if Frank tasers him. The man is able to withstand the taser and Frank is forced to make a run for it since he has no money.
- 24 averted this a couple of times, and in fact it's one of the few things Jack Bauer can't just shake off.
- The original concept (and indeed an early stunt) for Jackass had Johnny Knoxville hit with pepper spray, a taser gun and an electric prod. He states that the pepper spray is by far the worst.
- Averted in season one of Daredevil, when Leland hits Matt with a stun gun to the neck and leaves him spasming on the ground. Played straight when he tries this again on Wilson Fisk, since Fisk is a large man and so hopped up on Unstoppable Rage that it only stuns him for a second or two.
- Dilbert has the misfortune of being on the receiving end of an aversion of this trope when Dogbert shows how he plans to use pepper spray as an "external antidepressant". It's especially noticeable in the animated version, where Dilbert can be heard screaming in pain throughout the whole clip.
- A taser is a fairly common weapon in wrestling, which usually results in the victim spazzing out for a couple minutes before pushing himself back up like nothing happened. Case in point, Kevin Nash VS Goldberg.
- Averted by GURPS where pepper spray doesn't wear off until the victim goes somewhere and washes it off.
- d20 Modern, however, has pepper spray that incapacitates for less than a minute, and stun guns that a healthy, average adult has a 25% chance of resisting. Probably Competitive Balance, as the game's Almost Lethal Weapons are pretty cheap.
- Averted in Vampire: The Requiem. The Daeva clanbook has a mortal escape a vampiric pursuer with pepper spray.
- Night's Black Agents explicitly carves out a special rule that specifically says vampires are immune to tasers. It even has a piece of art depicting a vampire shaking it off to accompany it. Although non-vampires can be beaten by self-defense weapons as per normal.
- In Mortal Kombat, Stryker's taser does minor damage and really only makes the opponent stumble back a bit. Though, frankly, when dealing with a cast who routinely shrug off missiles to the face, even that is pretty impressive.
- In City of Heroes, the Taser in the Devices powerset just has a short five-second stun. The Taser Darts temporary power gotten at level one are worse, doing possibly the worst damage in the game—but, hey, free power.
- SWAT 4 is a mixed bag. Tasers will result in 100% compliance, but all of your other potent less-than-lethal weapons (beanbag shotguns, pepper spray/paintballs, flashbangs, tear gas, sting grenades, and a mean left hook in the expansion) sometimes take multiple shots in order to get suspects to comply. How inappropriate/necessary/realistic this is is variant on your personal cynicism/optimism level.
- Toyed with in GoldenEye (1997), as the "Tazer Boy" acts as a close range rifle, capable of doing major damage and killing minor NPCs in a single (ranged) shot. This is not at all how a taser works, but it prevents it from being useless in a run-and-gun FPS.
- Pepper spray and tazers provide brief incapacitation in Saints Row 2, although the latter weapon is still lethal when applied directly to the face in a human shield execution.
- Averted in Star Ocean: The Second Story with Chisato's weapons: All of her equippable weapons are stun guns, but her application of said weapons comes in the form of Kamehame Hadoken.
- Within Deus Ex, one shot with the stun gun will only temporarily stun an opponent. A second (sometimes a third) is required to actually knock them unconscious. The pepper spray is even worse with the effect fading seconds later. The tranquilizer darts, on the other hand, can deliver Instant Sedation if aimed at the head.
- Averted in Human Revolution: one stun gun dart instantly renders unconscious any human enemy but one of the bosses, including augmented and heavily armored enemies that can survives dozens of gunshots. Even the bosses are temporarily disabled by it, as are security cameras, turrets, and robots the size of cars. With enough darts for the thing you can even defeat the bosses by just using the thing over and over again. It's quite a useful weapon even for someone not explicitly going for a Pacifist Run, though it may randomly kill some people (probably a bug, though maybe not considering how ridiculously powerful it would have to be).
- Inverted in the early Syphon Filter games. The taser is hilariously overpowered, causing people to catch fire if applied long enough.
- Glenn Quagmire in Family Guy gets sprayed in the face, but comments that it has happened so many times that he's developed an immunity.
- In an old episode of Spongebob Squarepants, Spongebob accidentally sprays himself with mace, rendering him useless for only the next 10 seconds.
- A similar joke occurs in Chowder: "Pepper spray? That sounds delicious! [gets sprayed in the eyes] AAAAH, I WAS WRONG, I WAS HORRIBLY WRONG!!" Then he's fine a few minutes later, despite getting several cans' worth of pepper spray emptied into his faces.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, a woman tries to use pepper spray on Grim out of fear, only for it to have no effect due to his undead nature.
Grim: ...It doesn't hurt. I don't have eyes.Note
- The Simpsons: Homer likes pepper spray on his eggs, for that "South-of-the-Border" flavor.
Mmm, incapacitating... *Eyes water*
- Dan Vs.: Dan is immune to not only mace, but also tear gas (he doesn't even notice it when he's covered with so much that it's causes other people to have trouble seeing and breathing). He can even tell them apart by taste (mace is tangier).
- When Nicole of The Amazing World of Gumball goes on an Unstoppable Rage in a supermarket, a security guard hits her with his taser and it barely slows her down.
- Early in season two of The Critic, Jay's first interaction with Alice is to approach her on a rainy street, get a pepper-spray can to the face, and — having more to do with being a Big Eater than experience with the matter, but the other isn't out of the question — comment on what it tastes like. (She later apologizes a couple times for this, even so.)
- In an episode of Bob's Burgers, Gene sprays himself in the face with pepper spray after wondering if it's anything like butter spray. He screams for a few seconds, then declares it "not that bad".
- This trope has unfortunately given rise to numerous flame wars and debates as to whether tasers/pepper spray/etc are even effective for self defense. The fact that some companies willingly cut corners in the products in order to save a little cash doesn't help.
- There seems to be a lot of confusion over this issue in regards to public use for self defense. One police constable or officer might have a problem with it but her colleagues see it as legal. Security personal might see it as legal, but not for use on their premises. Another officer might think it okay but be overruled by their sergeant.
- Cue all the clips from 'Real TV' or 'Cops' where someone gets maced and continues to go on a rampage. If you're sufficiently high on crystal meth or PCP, pain is something that happens after you come down from it.
- There's been at least one documented instance of someone getting up after being tased... twice.
- There's a YouTube video of a drunk guy getting zapped a whopping five times before staying down and letting the officer arrest him.
- Admittedly this can be because the persons nervous system is so thoroughly toasted by alcohol that his brain just doesn't realize how bad it is.
- A self defense instructor/former Marine on Discovery channel's Fight Science demonstrated how it is possible for an extremely well-trained individual to unplug a taser's pins from oneself while falling to the ground from the shock and get back up afterwards.
- Tasers also have to penetrate the skin to be effective, and any sort of body armour will render them useless; some cheaper models will even have trouble with a leather jacket.
- There are also individuals who can apparently shrug off tasers due to the simple fact that not every body acts exactly the same to electricity. It would still be a considerable discomfort, however.