Batman: Because I've heard it before... and it wasn't funny the first time.
Here come The Cynics, sporting a nice pair of Jade-Colored Glasses, and when the Wide Eyed Idealists call them out on it, they are quick to say I Did What I Had to Do, or Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! They are convinced their attitude is more logical and realistic, and that those without it are too childish to accomplish anything. As far as they're concerned, altruism and selflessness are for fools and will only hinder you and get you taken advantage of, and open displays of it are, at best, hopelessly naive, and at worst are hollow, performative, attention-seeking displays. It's a Darwinian world where everyone either has a hidden dagger or is too naive or deluded to realize it, and the only way to succeed is to carry a bigger dagger and have a faster hand.
They are wrong. It turns out that their cynical attitude made them turn lazy and selfish and waste their philosophical intellect in their lamentations, and in their apathy they have allowed otherwise managable problems to ferment and fester, while missing several golden opportunities to make the world a better place due to thinking about themselves in the Despair Event Horizon for all eternity and/or actually made it a worse place by assuming that everyone was out to screw them and thus opted to screw everyone else over first, thus proving themselves to be just as blinded and dogmatic as they think the more idealistic characters are. He or she is summarily questioned out for his wangst, often by the very people that he/she had regarded as fools. It can also happen when a character tries too hard to be what he/she thinks an adult is, like a Perpetual Frowner.
This trope is the Inversion of Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!, showing that being more cynical is not necessarily better. Yes, extreme idealism results in foolishness and is bad, but extreme cynicism results in laziness and callousness and is just as bad. This is to show that The Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism does not always stick to one end, but tends to lie somewhere in the middle, and that you need a bit of both to really see the world for what it is. Can be a trait of The Anti-Nihilist or the Knight in Sour Armor, and used to deconstruct the Straw Nihilist mentality.
The argument can be abused if it's used to stifle legitimate protest, such as when someone justifiably complaining about some social ill is told to shut up and stop ruining everyone's fun — or, worse yet, blamed for the misfortune, or it can also be used to demonstrate a character's naivety. It can also meet somewhere in the middle; the character doing the calling-out may be overly idealistic and may be oversimplifying the situation but still has a point, while the cynic may be doing the same about the idealist having an overly sunny view of a truly bad situation. The dividing line is if, after justifiably complaining, the cynic uses the same argument as an excuse to do nothing about the problem or to do something horribly selfish.
See also Grumpy Bear, or Sour Supporter for character types that can fall into this. May invoke Good Is Not Dumb. A subtrope of The Complainer Is Always Wrong if this means that characters who don't agree with idealists are frowned upon. Often overlaps with Wangst, typically when the character is using it as an excuse for inaction, or when they are immature and conflate extreme pessimism and nihilism with maturity.
- Sailor Moon: Sailors Uranus and Neptune can't seem to get through their heads that choosing the more cynical options will only make the end results worse. At the end of the story, the selfish actions of Uranus and Neptune have amounted to absolutely nothing, whereas the optimistic characters like Moon and Chibi-Moon are the ones who end up prevailing over the forces of darkness.
- Usagi became one of the targets of the Death Busters halfway through the third season, which meant Uranus and Neptune may have had to kill her if her pure heart held one of the talismans. After learning of her real identity, Haruka and Michiru haven't yet grasped that they were willing to kill the girl whom they're trying to ensure will live long enough to become Queen. And once the threat of Death Busters is gone, they attempt to kill Usagi anyway because they were angry at her for not being cynical enough.
- Even after they finally concede defeat on Usagi, Uranus and Neptune still don't let go of their cynical viewpoint until the final arc, where they kill Sailors Saturn and Pluto in a desperate attempt to reach Galaxia. Uranus and Neptune manage to get to Galaxia and attempt to take her Star Seed, only to discover after all of their efforts that Galaxia doesn't have a Star Seed. Uranus and Neptune end up dying in front of Sailor Moon, Chibi-Chibi, and the Starlights. This means that the cynical Uranus and Neptune have nearly killed their own charge, actually killed two of their closest friends, and committed a Senseless Sacrifice, all because they just couldn't accept any viewpoint besides the most cynical one.
- Great Teacher Onizuka: Often a particularly jaded character (such like Urumi, Miyabi, Ms. Daimon...) will go in a rant about the rotting of society, Adults Are Useless or abusive/perverted creeps, kids are delinquents, you can't trust anybody or they'll abuse you or take advantage of you... Only to be told they're just blind cynics and that mindset is one of the roots of those troubles. Onizuka went so far to tell Urumi her outlook is not logical; it's cowardly.
- This is a major theme in Naruto:
- The younger generation of ninja that Naruto belongs to are idealists, while the older ninja are cynics. Somewhat understandable in that Naruto's generation are young and haven't lived through a war yet. However, the narrative frequently depicts the cynical views that peace is impossible and people can't understand each other as completely wrong. The people who buy into this cynicism most are villains, some of whom are fallen idealists that turn around and help the heroes when Naruto or another challenges their cynical outlook.
- Nobody embodies this trope better than the Big Bad Duumvirate. Madara and Obito Uchiha; both have completely given up on the world and plan to use Infinite Tsukuyomi to trap everyone in a "perfect" dream-world with them. Obito is clearly shown doing this because his life experiences have turned him into a nihilist that doesn't care about anything but leaving behind the reality he's come to hate so much, while Madara, the biggest cynic in the series, is also depicted as the biggest loser of all, talking about how much life sucks and how people are always destined to be losers as long as winners exist anywhere. Yahiko, Zetsu, and many of the readers see right through this to observe that Madara's spiel is mostly self-pitying Wangst about the misfortune Madara himself experienced in life, but is too proud to admit was almost entirely self-inflicted.
- Danzo also embodied this mindset. Playing the dark to Sarutobi's light, he was quite the Well-Intentioned Extremist. Unfortunately, his actions contributed to the Start of Darkness of Nagato, Kabuto and Sasuke, among other indirect consequences of his actions. By the time Danzo was killed off, he ultimately left behind a huge mess for everyone else to clean up while he utterly failed to accomplish anything.
- Invoked in the final episode of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, by the main character, after Homura had espoused the opposite for much of the series. "If someone says it's wrong to hope, I will tell them that they're wrong every time. I could tell them that countless times." It's not just idle talk, either: Madoka uses her wish to rewrite the laws of the universe, saving magical girls past, present and future from a Fate Worse than Death and becoming the embodiment of Hope.
- Black Lagoon: Revy gets this from "the little maid" Fabiola at the end of the "El Baile de la Muerte" arc, but it's doubtful it had any effect.
- Valvrave the Liberator's Haruto has this quality. Not only does he deal with an Expy of the bitter Lelouch, but also villains who believe humans and immortal vampires can never live together. At the cost of his life, he succeeds, and his ideals are honored by his friends and allies.
- While Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann doesn't endorse blind idealism, the series is a battle between idealism and cynicism, where idealism tempered through experience wins through. This is shown in the final battle where Team Dai Gurren counters the Big Bad's Shut Up, Kirk! and Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! with this trope and Shut Up, Hannibal!. While the villain might have had a good reason for doing what he did, the heroes counter that it doesn't excuse his actions, since he never attempted anything else.
- This is Sakura's stance in Zombie Land Saga. Sure, she's an amnesiac zombie caught up in a madman's plan to restore Saga's reputation through singing, and that is a situation that is both extremely traumatic and completely bonkers... but that's no reason to give up on life, and in the second episode she calls out the other zombies for assuming there's no hope in their situation. While Battle Rapping with the one that thinks she's just a doormat. Bonus points for turning to the old people watching them and telling them their lives aren't over yet either, so they can do something about it (despite them living in a retirement home). And then when she falls head-first into cynicism when she gets her memories of her frankly shitty life back at the cost of forgetting her accomplishments as a zombie, thinking that she should just stop in order to keep from failing yet again, the rest of the cast turn this back on her.
- In The Promised Neverland Emma is frequently criticized for her seemingly naive plan to escape Grace Field with all of the children, rather than just with Norman and Ray, which would be significantly easier. And while she does have to make a small concession to practicality, namely only escaping with the children that are old enough to walk on their own two feet, with the intent to rescue the younger children at a later date, in sticking to her beliefs she is on track to achieving her ideal ending, something that would be impossible if she gave in to cynicism.
- A Certain Magical Index: Kakeru Kamisato calls Touma Kamijou naive for wanting to save everybody. He says the smart thing is to concentrate on saving one or a few and leave the rest to die, because if you waste time trying to save everybody, you won't save anybody. However, Touma consistently manages to save everybody by never giving up and using methods Kakeru never thought of, causing Kakeru to admit he was wrong.
- Superman's Arch-Enemy Lex Luthor frequently laments that Superman has caused mankind to become lazy and kept people from progressing. Luthor claims that without Superman, scientists (especially Lex himself) could have time and motivation to make world-changing inventions to end the suffering of millions. Superman retorts that he isn't stopping anyone from doing such things; the reason Lex doesn't use his genius to benefit mankind is because Lex doesn't want to, with or without Superman in the picture. Superman once said as much, point-blank, to Luthor in All-Star Superman, where Superman is dying and Luthor is trying to get in one final parting shot. During a Villainous Breakdown, Luthor ends up saying that he could have saved the world if it wasn't for Superman's interference. Superman's response is "You could have saved the world years ago if it mattered to you, Luthor." This actually makes Luthor drop the Mask of Sanity and admit as much.
- In Elseworld's Finest: Supergirl & Batgirl, Batgirl (paranoid and mistrustful) tells Supergirl (idealistic and innocent) that she has no clue what real life is, but Supergirl replies that Batgirl doesn't know the real world as well as she likes to believe.
- In Daredevil, Matt encounters a female protégé of the Punisher (who lost her fiancé) and tries to sympathize with her by bringing up heroes who also lost loved ones. However, when she says that nobody can be as driven as her and Matt without a tragedy, he ultimately throws his billy club at her face, and gives a speech stating that the idea that you need a tragic event to fight for justice is ludicrous.
Daredevil: ...That is a repellent statement. It's a vomitous insult to every cop — every fireman — every soldier alive who steps up to fight for those who can't! I am sorry for your loss! But if you genuinely believe that only the death of a loved one can motivate a human being to take up a cause... then get your pathetic, cynical ass out of my way so I can do my job!
- In Maximum Carnage, Peter confronts his father on his Crapsack World view. Peter points out that the world is full of people who listen to their hearts and do the right thing, every single day, because that's who they are. As such, people like Carnage can never win as long as ordinary people are decent and kind.
Peter: This world is full of men and women who have the courage to listen to their hearts... and who believe in doing what's right! I'm not just talking about heroes, Dad. I mean everyday people... like you and me! The devils can never win... as long as we have hope! That's why you can't give up! You mustn't surrender to despair... or you'll run the risk of becoming a monster yourself!
- In one short story in the Batman: Black and White series, a battle between Batman and the Joker ends with the two of them at the top of a ferris wheel, but the Joker in captivity. On the way down, the Joker taunts Batman about his mission and points out that he'll never stop crime (the societal ill). After a moment, Batman smiles and retorts that he stops crime (people breaking the law) every night. Point being, it just depends on how you look at it.
- My Little Pony: Totally Legit Recap:
- The show's cynical creator/narrator DWK, and by extension the characters, regularly act like the world is just a sad, messed up place, viewing anyone who shows lots of optimism and has a positive attitude as abnormal. At the same time, it also portrays the cynics as miserable and often empty, with many of the show's lessons shifted to say that sulking in cynicism and misery just wastes time that could be devoted to having fun and improving ones self.
- When Maud is nearly Driven to Suicide because she can't tell herself she's happy in her lonely existence anymore, but feels trying to improve her situation would be too much work, Pinkie helps snap her out of it with "We All Die Someday, so don't speed it along and try to enjoy the time you have. Worst case, you'll get what you wanted in the end anyway, but you might actually be happy.."
- The recaps of Equestria Girls preach the lessons that "you'd be surprised what people are willing to forgive, but you've got to make the effort," along with "age and maturity are two entirely different things."
- In the German film Sterne, Walter, who is disillusioned both by his service on the Eastern front and by the treatment of prisoners in a nearby concentration camp, gets this response from Ruth, a Jewish woman, who eventually convinces him that even if he's powerless to put a stop to the evils around him, he can still make a difference — no matter how small.
- Star Wars:
- The film-era Luke Skywalker walks away with this one. Han Solo disbelieves he can do much of anything on a galactic scale, only wanting enough cash to get Jabba off his tail. Obi-Wan and Yoda have written his dad off as a total, irredeemable loss. Hell, even Vader himself doesn't see any sort of personal redemption coming. Luke matures over the course of the films, but doesn't ditch the idealism. He brings Han around first, enough that Han himself becomes more idealistic later in life (even if he fails to talk his son into leaving the Dark Side), and then proves his masters, his father, and the Emperor dead wrong about Anakin.
- This is one of the main messages of The Rise of Skywalker, Zorii Bliss tells Poe that the forces of darkness are actually depending on people's fear and cynicism, reminding him that the forces of good and decent people greatly outnumber those of the dark. She is proven correct, during the climax of the Film.
- Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises isn't exactly a sunny optimist himself, but he never loses faith that cynical, hardbitten thief Selina Kyle can be a better person than she is — even after she betrays him, much to her incredulity. He's eventually proven right. In the previous film The Dark Knight, Bruce is also confident that the Joker's scheme to prove that deep down everyone is as ugly as him will fail. The people of Gotham prove him right in the end. And in the film before that Batman Begins, he rejects Ra's Al Ghul's belief that Gotham is beyond saving. By the end of the trilogy, Bruce is vindicated.
- The message had also existed in the earlier Batman films. Joel Schumacher's Batman convinced Dick Grayson to let go of his anger in Batman Forever and convinced Mr. Freeze to help him save Alfred in Batman & Robin. Even the Burton films, which usually proposed the opposite trope, occasionally challenged cynicism, if more subtly. In the 1989 film, both Alfred and (much more tactfully) Vicki Vale try to tell Bruce that being Batman is a waste of time ("I have no wish to spend my few remaining years grieving for the loss of old friends — or their sons" / "It doesn't have to be a perfect world"); Bruce doesn't listen in either case, and Gotham City is so much the better for it. And Batman Returns contains this little gem:
The Penguin: You don't really think you'll win, do you?
Batman: Things change.
- Hornbeck, having spouted off cynical one-liners at everyone for most of Inherit the Wind, gets a "The Reason You Suck" Speech from Drummond at the very end.
Drummond: Don't you understand the meaning of what happened here today?
Hornbeck: What happened here today has no meaning.
Drummond: You have no meaning! Your whole life has no meaning. You're like a ghost pointing an empty sleeve and smirking at everything people feel or want or struggle for. I pity you.
Hornbeck: You pity me?
Drummond: Isn't there anything? What touches you? What warms you? Every man has a dream. What do you dream about? What do you need? You don't need anything, do you? People? Love? An idea just to cling to? You poor slob. You're all alone. When you go to your grave, there won't be anybody to pull the grass up over your head. Nobody to mourn you. Nobody to give a damn. You're all alone.
Hornbeck: You're wrong, Henry. You'll be there. You're the type. Who else would defend my right to be lonely?
- In Cinderella, a key divide between Ella and her stepmother is that Tremaine has grown bitter after spending years unloved and poor while Ella has kept herself hopeful. Because of this, Tremaine resents Ella even more for not breaking like she has, and keeps abusing her in hopes that the young woman too will crack. Then when interrogating Ella about her glass slipper, she cannot believe that it was just given to her when Tremaine has had to pay and bargain for everything. The idea that Ella's idealism would be rewarded is unthinkable to her, and in her Motive Rant she suggests it's unfair that Ella would just receive a happily ever after with "no effort" while Tremaine's "hard work" would come to nothing.
- Paths of Glory: Colonel Dax turns General Broulard's dismissal of Dax's idealism back on the General with a single resigned remark.
General Broulard: We're fighting a war, Dax, a war that we've got to win. Those men didn't fight, so they were shot. You bring charges against General Mireau, so I insist that he answer them. Wherein have I done wrong?
Colonel Dax: Because you don't know the answer to that question... I pity you.
- Tomorrowland features this as an underlying theme, as the Big Bad himself admits people choose apathy precisely because it requires no effort, and only idealistic Science Heroes are willing to put in the work of making things better.
- The Guns of Navarone has Corporal Miller, played by David Niven who uses his cynicism as a means of avoiding responsibility for they kinds of decisions the need to be made in wartime. Captain Mallory calls him on it.
- In Wargames, the death of his son left Stephen Falken with the attitude that if humanity is going to eventually be extinct, anyway, there's no point in stopping the computer from launching missiles at the Soviet Union. David responds that if we're all dead, it's just stupid.
- Mission: Impossible Fallout challenges Ethan Hunt's refusal to compromise his morals even if it jeopardizes his missions. In the beginning, terrorists manage to steal plutonium right from under his nose when he refuses to sacrifice Luther for it. The CIA chief Erica Sloan is not happy about this and thinks this is proof that IMF is a bunch of "grown men running around in Halloween masks". Hunt's superior Hunley however believes that Hunt's refusal to sacrifice one life for the "greater good" is actually his greatest strength since it means people trust Hunt. The movie ultimately ends by vindicating Ethan. Erica Sloan even comes around and realizes the value of having someone who cares about individual lives as well as the mission (if only because that means she doesn't have to care). To emphasize this even further, it was Sloan's own cynical refusal to trust IMF that jeopardizes the mission and culminated in Hunley's death.
- In The Catcher in the Rye, both Phoebe and Mr. Antolini try to get Holden Caulfield to see that he's just as narcissistic as the "phony" people he claims to hate, and that much of his unhappiness is self-inflicted. In the end, Holden at least concludes that he has to let Phoebe grow up and be her own person. Holden also tries to prevent kids from seeing a giant graffiti spray of the word "FUCK" on a wall during the final chapter, implying they at least partially got through to him.
- In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth's cynical outlook on life allows Wickham to completely dupe her about Darcy's true nature. The irony is that Elizabeth acted this way in order to avoid being played for a fool; she was still played, but it just happened in a different way.
- In the Green-Sky Trilogy, the cynical Neric tells Raamo that Genaa cannot be trusted and is too steeped in Ol-Zhaan privilege to be sympathetic to their plans. Not only does Neric turn out to be wrong, but Genaa turns out to be the one with the tactical savvy to pull off their scheme.
- C. S. Lewis:
- This is what happens to the dwarves at the end of The Last Battle — they end up in Aslan's country with everybody else, but they're too cynical to believe it, and manage to delude themselves into believing they're still locked in the dark stable they were thrown into. Even when Aslan makes a feast appear before him, they change it in their minds to the yucky stuff you might find in a stable (hay, donkey water and so on).
- The Hard-Bitten Ghost of The Great Divorce has lost his ability to enjoy anything, including Heaven, partially because he doesn't trust anything. He is a conspiracy theorist that thinks that every Wonder of the World is the product of a World Combine that's there to extort money out of travelers, and that Heaven and Hell are on the same side, playing a scam on the Ghosts. He is in sight of eternal happiness, but he can't accept it because he's too cynical to believe it exists. The Author Avatar, being the kind of person who would generally trust the kind of person the Hard-Bitten Ghost was in life, can't quite shake off the other man's cynicism and finds himself asking his (eventual) guide why the people of heaven don't rescue the people of hell (as it turns out, that's an ability exclusive to God. Given that the Author Avatar himself had arrived in heaven via riding a bus, that raises interesting implications as to who the driver was).
- Somewhat common in Discworld, especially with Rincewind. The guy would be so obviously right in his cynicism... but Twoflower would come out fine anyway, leaving Rincewind looking like an idiot.
- This is part of the point of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. At the end of the story, it's implied that the main characters could leave at any time they wished to, but their own character flaws and lack of empathy with each other prevent them from doing so.
- In Animorphs, the team cynic Marco notes this to Rachel while Jake is out of commission. They need a fast, straightforward plan for a high-risk rescue, and he explains that that's not his territory — his cynicism makes him too cautious to address that situation, so she needs to lead.
- Oscar Wilde called a cynic 'a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing'.
- Haroun and the Sea of Stories: Haroun's problem is that he has become so cynical he can't accept the reality of the sea of stories despite being beaten over the head with it. Pointed out by Blabbermouth.
"That's the problem with you sad city types. You think a place has to be boring and dull as ditch water before you accept it as real."
- 1632: In the Author's Notes of the first novel, this trope is all but named as the driving source for the tone of the series, as a response to the cynicism that had flooded the Sci-Fi genre at the time. Eric Flint specifically calls Cynicism weak and narrow-minded as a philosophy.
- In Dragon Age: Asunder, the Divine Justinia V gives a retort to the cynicism of Lord Seeker Lambert:
Justinia: Idealism is our stock in trade, Lambert. A religion without ideals is tyranny.
- One of the main themes of The Lord of the Rings and Tolkien's Legendarium in general is the evils of cynicism and despair. Evil triumphs because people believe it can't be fought and give up (Denethor and initially Théoden) or join it (Saruman). The only way for good to triumph is fight against despair, even if things look hopeless. And it's the acts of good by the smallest of people that end up saving Middle-Earth.
- The fifth book in the Wings of Fire series focuses on Sunny, and spends a good deal of time showing why idealism is so important to her. Her friends have a tendency to dismiss her idealism... which has naturally been less than psychologically helpful to her. However, she makes it a very clear point that she believes in making the world better, because that is how the world gets better—and if nobody tries to improve things, then nothing will improve. Her actions make her friends start to see her in a new light.
- This is a major theme in Brandon Sanderson's The Stormlight Archive. In Alethkar the nobility are very suspicious of each other to the point where any sense of honor is a façade at best and true friendships impossible. Normally an alliance results in a Gambit Pileup as the allies work against each other from the outset. However, the series looks like its making the argument that in such a cynical system, no matter how sensible mistrust would be, is ultimately unsustainable and self-defeating.
- Beka Cooper: In Terrier, the first book, Beka's Dog (police) mentors, Tunstall and Goodwin, don't search for the Shadow Snake (a comfort/profit serial child killer who's terrorized the Lower City for three years), or the person who was mining fire opals and killing the people who dug them out to keep it secret (eight or nine at a time), because, as they explain to Beka, idealism just doesn't work in the Lower City. There's just too much crime, and they advise Beka to forget about that before she commits suicide in despair over not being able to help everyone. Beka nonetheless continues her search, enlisting the help of the lovable rogues who share her house, and in the end is able to catch both the one responsible for the Opal Murders (as they have been dubbed by the time of the next book) and the Shadow Snake. Now you know why they call her Terrier...
- Animal Farm: Zig-Zagging Trope with Benjamin the Donkey. His cynicism makes him one of the only characters to see past the pigs' lies, but at the same time, he's too jaded to do anything about their oppression, which makes him somewhat complicit in their crimes.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor calls out various cynical, dark mindsets throughout the series. Those who attempt a Breaking Speech on the Doctor will often end up themselves on the receiving end of the same. Or a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. Maybe both.
- The Doctor in most incarnations relies on the Doctors companions to help the Doctor out, begrudgingly or otherwise. This often puts the Doctor at odds against the scum of the universe that the Doctor faces down, who believe It's All About Me and act accordingly. The Doctor is very quick to correct this attitude.
- The Thirteenth Doctor is a rather dorky Genki Girl after her regeneration. However, she refuses to consider the possibility of a cynical outcome, even outright ignoring the most hardcore cynics.
- Star Trek is very big on this trope.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "A Taste of Armageddon", the Eminian leader insists that peace is impossible and that their 500-year-old simulated war with declared casualties reporting in to be neatly and cleanly killed is the lesser of two evils. Kirk insists that they can make peace if they just try harder. Kirk helpfully provides them with motivation to do so by shutting down the war computer and forcing them to choose between real-world messy warfare and swallowing enough pride to find a peaceful solution.
- Even Deep Space Nine — quite possibly the darkest show in the Star Trek franchise — has a number of episodes railing against cynicism. It often shows cynics as self-hating losers who do nothing but whine, while idealists do something to fix the problem.
- The Babylon 5 episode "Intersections in Real Time" focuses on a State Sec interrogator attempting to break Sheridan's will and get him confess to a laundry list of political crimes. The interrogator consistently displays a very cynical outlook, stating that the preeminent truth of the time is that you can't fight City Hall, and tries to paint Sheridan's idealism as futile. Sheridan disagrees at every turn, remaining true to his ideals even in the face of grueling torture. At one point, he sums up his attitude by stating that all he has to do to win is to say "No, I won't," one more time than the people trying to oppress him can say "Yes, you will." The interrogator asks him if he thinks he can win, and he says "Every time I say 'no.'"
- Learning this is essentially Jeff Winger's whole character arc on Community. He's a jaded ex-lawyer who, initially at least, honestly believes that everyone is selfish and out for themselves, the world is corrupt and other people only exist to be used to benefit you before being cast aside when you're done with them before they do the same to you. It's pretty clear, though, that his cynicism has left him lonely, miserable, and objectively speaking just as big a failure as everyone else at Greendale no matter how much he may disdain them.
Jeff: The truth is—the pathetically, stupidly, inconveniently obvious truth is—helping only ourselves is bad, and helping each other is good.... It's that easy. You just stop thinking about what's best for you, and start thinking what's good for someone else. And you can change the whole game, with just one move.
- In an episode of Bringing Up Daddy, Danny Thomas's oldest daughter has fallen for a Beatnik, and he and Danny end up having a fairly well-written argument about the beatnik's relentless cynicism just being an excuse to avoid doing anything about the social problems he's endlessly complaining about.
- Craig Ferguson said something to this effect as a summary of the main theme of Doctor Who. Indeed, the arc of the very first Doctor was that of a bitter old man realizing the importance of kindness and empathy. Since then, the main theme of the show is the triumph of these ideals, no matter how dark the world gets.
- Angel gives a speech like this to Kate at the end of an episode in which his enemies were trying to make him lose hope.
Angel: If there is no greater plan, then the smallest act of kindness is the greatest thing there is.
- House, M.D. gets a speech like this at least once a season, hammering him over and over that he's only so miserable because he chooses to be miserable. It never sticks... until the Grand Finale where his subconscious finally gets through to him that he can either die or change, and he chooses the latter by faking his death.
- In Samurai Gourmet, this is sometimes what Kasumi would like to say to say to a fellow patron, but can't because of Japanese Politeness. Then the samurai demonstrates that it's really the right thing to do. Occasionally, Kasumi will actually follow through on this inspiration; other times, it will be made moot before Kasumi can embarrass himself.
- It's not just cynicism that makes the world of Kamen Rider Build seem terrible. It really is a terrible place that just keeps on falling apart because Humans Are Bastards. Sento Kiryu believes that it can be better and uses what meager existence he has to make it work. It's hard to stay a true hardcore cynic when hanging out with him as several people found out.
- Supernatural: When Dean goes back in time and finds out that Eliot Ness was secretly a monster hunter, Dean asks him who he lost. Ness doesn't understand the question. Dean tells him that every hunter he ever met became one as a result of a personal tragedy, even relating a little bit of his own life story. Ness calls Dean the most depressing person he ever met, and tells him that he hunts monsters because it's fun.
- The core message of the Misery Index songs "The Weakener" and "Gallows Humor": evil loves lazy cynics and blind nihilists, especially the vocal ones, and it really doesn't matter how little you care when it's at your doorstep and ready to take you away.
- This is the underlying message of The Offspring song "Cool To Hate." The opening lines contain the lyric "I like to hate stuff, 'cause then I don't have to try and make a change," as a way of showing how pointless the mindset is. The singer of the song is presented as a total loser, singing about how he hates "anyone who's cool", implying he doesn't really hate people for any reason beyond a petty and shallow one.
- Louis Armstrong is famous for his recording of "What a Wonderful World" from 1967, but he did another, less-famous version later. For this second take, he added a spoken-word "preface" that directly addressed naysayers who pointed out that the world wasn't so wonderful after all.
Louis: Seems to me, it ain't the world that's so bad, but what we're doing to it. And all I'm saying is, "See what a wonderful world it would be, if only we gave it a chance."
- Phil Ochs's "Love Me, I'm a Liberal" does this at the end of the song. The singer — a Bourgeois Bohemian Rule-Abiding Rebel Hypocrite — explains that the singer used to be a genuine believer in social change, but now that the singer has "grown up", the singer realizes that revolutionary politics will never work and anyone who "goes too far" is not to be trusted. Naturally, the intention is the opposite; the message is that claiming that real change is impossible only holds water because of pessimists like the singer who actively try to prevent change because they think it won't work.
- The Adventure Zone: Balance: Merle's interactions with John in The Stolen Century are built on this trope.
Merle: You can continue wallowing in your sadness and your oblivion and seeing nothing but the negative, and I'm gonna go on my way. And I'll tell you whatif we ever meet each other somewhere in infinity, you can apologize to me and tell me you were wrong.
- Fear Effect: Royce Glas is the cynical one. Hana Tzu-Vachel is the idealistic one. Glas is treated as the Butt-Monkey and The Lancer. Hana is treated as the Iron Woobie and The Hero. It probably won't surprise you that the best ending in the first game essentially has Hana winning out without having to shoot Glas.
- As dark as the games can sometimes get, this is a recurring theme of the Final Fantasy series.
- Final Fantasy VI has this as its central theme. As bad as things can sometimes get, you can still find something to live for and hold on to. And it's never bad to hope. The game's villain, Kefka, is a Straw Nihilist who says that nothing has meaning since everything will die one day. The characters go through Hell and back, but they prove him wrong.
- Final Fantasy VIII: Squall seems aware that his dark attitude denies him opportunities for what he thinks would be brief moments of happiness, but he does it to avoid feeling further pain as a result of the loss of those moments. The whole game is about Squall overcoming this mindset and learning to be better for it.
- Final Fantasy IX centralizes this with Vivi. After learning that he's going to die at an early age, Vivi doesn't let it get him down. He still chooses to keep going, because he has friends who need him and care about him.
- Both Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 give Yuna a choice: do what's easy and sacrifice others, or do what's hard and push yourself. Yuna, being The Hero, always chooses the hard options. The cynical maesters, and those who say Sin can never be defeated, at best, end up worse off than before for their selfish actions, and several end up dead. Yuna, however, is ultimately rewarded.
- This is the crux of the conflict in Injustice: Gods Among Us (and its follow-up Injustice 2 and related media): The Joker has performed what he believes is his ultimate achievement, make Superman suffer that "one bad day", and Supes is so blinded by his grief that he decides to ditch heroics altogether and Take Over the World alongside other superheroes that have been driven to similar levels of cynicism by various misfortunes (some of which are Supes' fault). The heroes that fight against them are all banded together under the banner that shit happening to you doesn't means that you should take it out on the rest of the universe, and in the majority of the Multiple Endings they go on to become the symbols of hope that the world desperately needs, not to mention that in a few crossover appearances of the Injustice-verse in comics the heroes of the tale (and even a few villains) have essentially called the Regime a bunch of super-powered emos.
- In Mass Effect, the more cynical Renegade decisions Commander Shepard can make tend to go badly. Most notably, choosing to let the Council die in the first game ends with humanity being generally hated by the other races, while the human Council isn't even willing to meet with Shepard. This really comes out in the third game. A Shepard who has tried to do right by others throughout the series, and is willing to give others the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to prove they can do right, ends up being responsible for eventsnote that make them a legendary figure even before the defeat of the Reapers.
- In Oracle of Tao, Ambrosia at the end of the First Disc (so to speak) heads off for the second world. Unless she bothered to do the romance sidequest (or can get past the Beef Gate of skipping a key romantic scene and heading directly through the entrance without stopping at the vacation town first), the plot requires you to visit Nevras at his castle. If you decide not to, or if you didn't get the memo, the story suddenly gets much darker, most notably in the endings. The point is, because Ambrosia decided her love life with Nevras was doomed, things got a whole lot worse for her.
- Tales of Symphonia: It doesn't matter if the current system of how the world works has been used for 5,000 years or if prejudice and hatred prevents things from getting better. Lloyd will absolutely never stop believing that there's always a better way that can save everyone without somebody or a world needing to be sacrificed.
- This is one of the recurring themes of the Lunar series: in the (remakes of the) first game, the villain is convinced that humanity needs the Goddess Althena to rule because people aren't capable of solving their own problems by themselves. Obviously, he's wrong. In the second game, The Hero and his friends believe they can fix things even when the local God of Evil just swallowed the local God of Good and become The Omnipotent while they are Brought Down to Normal. It is no exaggeration to say that their optimism is what causes the downfall of the Big Bad. It restores their magic power and then inspires Lucia to break free.
- Every rebuttal by the heroes to the villains' You Can't Fight Fate talk in House of the Dead carries such an element - a "Fuck you" to Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids!.
- Kid Icarus: Uprising: Pit has a song that goes "you gotta stay upbeat, upbeat, upbeat. Or you're gonna be dead meat, dead meat, dead meat". Dark Pit, naturally, thinks it's annoying.
- A recurring theme in the Persona series. As self-perception heavily influences the cognitive worlds and Persona abilities, the idealistic protagonists are able to grow and find new possibilities for themselves thanks to how they see the world in a positive light. Meanwhile, the cynical antagonists gain a lot of power very quickly, but also level off just as quickly, leaving them stuck in a rut because of how close-minded their way of thinking is.
- In the Ace Attorney series, the people who subvert or use the law as a means to an end tend to get what they want in the short term, but lose out in the long run when their cynical way of thinking slams into a metaphorical brick wall. The last case of Apollo Justice exemplifies this with its Big Bad, who says that "the law is absolute" and professes the cynical belief that humanity is a collection of "ignorant swine" who will do nothing but make the world worse. The Big Bad gets called out on this behavior by everyone in court, with the Judge in particular saying that the law is constantly changing based on what humanity thinks is good, and that the question of To Be Lawful or Good should always be answered with "be good", because humans are inherently good people.
- In Fate/stay night, this is Shirou Emiya's eventual response to Archer's constant mocking of his idealism and hope for being a Hero, to which Archer responds that he's only saying that because he doesn't understand the full ramifications of his dream. This becomes much more poignant when one learns Archer is actually a potential future version of Shirou, who took that dream to its conclusion and fell into despair at realizing all the pain and suffering he brought upon himself and others didn't amount to anything in the end, which is why he hates Shirou and wants to kill him to potentially create a Time Paradox to erase himself. Despite this, Archer in all the routes does begrudgingly admit that Shirou's idealism might not be so bad after all, and dies content that one way or another he won't follow the same path as himself.
- In Umineko: When They Cry, this is the whole point behind the final game. Battler deliberately shows Ange an idealistic scenario where the entire Ushiromiya family's on their best behavior, and Ange quickly catches on that this isn't the actual truth of what happened on Rokkenjima. Battler responds by challenging Ange's negative preconceptions of the family that led her to become so bitter and resentful in the first place, and points out that remembering how much she was really loved is more important than knowing the truth of what happened. Interestingly, this allows Bernkastel to try pulling the opposite lesson on Ange, and it works for a bit before Ange discovers the truth for herself and eventually sides with Battler. This is further reinforced in the Magic ending and the manga conclusion, where Ange goes on to become a bestselling author and reopens the Fukuin household that Kinzo had founded.
- In If the Emperor Had a Text-to-Speech Device, it's the Grumpy Old Man Emperor of all people who berates Magnus for doubting his utopian vision for the future. Magnus believes that men are just a herd of squabbling animals, but Emperor claims that they have potential for greatness.
- In RWBY, the Eldritch Abominations called the Grimm are attracted to negative emotions. In short, the worse you expect the world to be, the worse it actually will be, both figuratively and literally. As Roman Torchwick demonstrated by going on a Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids! rant while Grimm were swarming around him, getting himself eaten by a giant Nevermore. There's a reason for the "victory is a simple soul" motif, and why the show is Anvilicious in its portrayal of how pointless cynicism can be.
- Salem, in a somewhat unusual stance for a villain, holds firmly to this, believing that humanity can overcome any problem so long as they work together. Of course, as she is a villain, her ultimate goal is thus to encourage cynicism so that nobody can trust each other long enough to overcome her.
- Raven Branwen gets her own cynical plan thrown back into her face by Yang, who points out that there is no third option when fighting a war against total annihilation; for all her posturing, Raven is just scared of Salem.
- This is one of General Ironwood's major flaws; while he genuinely wants to save the world, his deeply-ingrained militaristic mindset (and a generous dose of PTSD) has firmly convinced him that nothing can be gained without sacrifice, which is why he plans to take Atlas away from Salem rather than stay and fight for the city of Mantle. And when Cinder nudges him into a mental breakdown, he becomes fixated on these views to the point of total irrationallity.
- Volume 8 features the team themselves starting to fall into cynicism, particularly Yang, Ren, and Ruby, with their recent failures leading them to believe that they're simply not able to affect any meaningful change in the war against Salem. Learning that they need to accept the risks inherent in trying to save people and that they have made a difference despite their failures is key to their character arcs and arguably the volume's Central Theme, which is what finally allows them to Take a Third Option and find a way to save both Atlas and Mantle.
- Red from Overly Sarcastic Productions is a firm believer in this. While discussing grimdark as a trope on "Trope Talk", Red openly states that she finds the whole prospect of grimdark to be inherently boring, and she doesn't see the appeal. Just looking at history shows that things have objectively gotten better, so going around and saying that everything will only get worse is firmly disproven by human history.
- Gunnerkrigg Court in Chapter 29 has Paz, of all people, setting straight Kat (who is at that moment quite disenchanted with the Court after stumbling upon some of its old secrets).
- The Order of the Stick:
- Ian Starshine, Haley's father, is very much this. After the death of his wife, he raised Haley in their town of Greysky City (a wretched hive where most of the population are rogues) to have a strong sense of paranoid and distrust. While it did serve Haley well in survival, it left Haley an emotional wreck and she was able to find happiness through trust, especially in Elan. Contrast this with her dad who remains in prison and distrusts Elan despite Elan's blatant open kindness (though the fact that Elan's the preferred son of Tarquin explains it.) When she calls him out on it he does temporarily crack and reveal that he did indeed feel problems with everything he did. They do reconcile before they part ways and Ian manages to start getting along with Elan.
- This also seems to have been the case for Girard Draketooth, who distrusted paladins to the point where he expected his paladin friend Soon Kim to break an oath not to investigate other gates and gave him false directions, which ended up biting everyone in the rear since the heroes got their directions from Soon's successors. Soon, of course, never broke his oath and made the rest of the order swear never to do so either. Rogue-like types are subject to this, it seems. note
- In Roommates Javert of all people called out Disbelief on being too cynical by stating that even he wishes sometimes to believe.
- It's Walky: Anti-Hero Knight Templar Sal, who is attempting to destroy every alien abductee in the United States (and, by extension, the continent itself) tells Joyce, the quirky, innocent goofy girl trying to stop her, that she's just a naive, deluded little girl. Joyce shoots back that Sal is the 'little girl'; Joyce has been through as many difficult and painful moments in her life as Sal has, but has matured enough to be able to cope with them without letting them poison her essential goodness and optimism, whereas Sal has been weak enough to let them corrupt her, and her reaction is the world-destroying equivalent of a childish attention-seeking temper tantrum. Sal has no comeback to that, and later events in the strip prove Joyce to be correct.
- In his (otherwise negative) review of Disney's The Fox and the Hound, Irish playwright and animation blogger Neil Sharpson/ Unshaved Mouse defends Disney's use of this trope in its other animated films.
Part of the problem might be the source material. The Fox and the Hound, a 1967 novel by Daniel Mannix, doesn't exactly scream "Disney". It screams "MISERY!" in case you were wondering. I don't mean that it's dark. Disney can do "dark". But "dark" isn't the same as "bleak". Disney does not do bleak. Disney does not do sad endings. A Disney movie will never leave an audience feeling worse about the world and their place in it than when they came into the cinema. And you know what? There's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing wrong with hope. There's nothing wrong with optimism. Depressing people is easy. People are naturally pessimistic (we'd scarcely have survived this long if we always expected everything to be fine) and we're uniquely receptive to anyone who'll tell us that everything is fucked. One of the hardest things in art is to create something beautiful and uplifting.
- While Some Jerk with a Camera tends to mock the Disney corporation and their theme parks, the Jerk tries to do it lightheartedly, since he's really a fan of Disney. This means that he also comes down hard on works like Shrek and Escape from Tomorrow, which attack Disney as kids' stuff, or say that escapism is for losers who can't grow up.
Jerk: Do you know why I review Disneyland? ...It's because I love Disneyland! I didn't want to be a hater! I wanted to show the Reviewaverse that you can be entertaining without resorting to constant negative whiny cynicism!
- The Nostalgia Critic takes this approach to his rather scathing review of the 2013 dystopian sci-fi film The Purge, spending much of his review's running time skewering the film's implausibly bleak vision of the future, and of humanity in general. As his review points out, extreme cynicism does not always translate to authenticity, and being cynical does not mean that a film actually has something intelligent to say.
- This is the main message of The Veronica Exclusive. Veronica's final monologue essentially sums up to, "Yeah, the world sucks, and yeah, people can be terrible — but that doesn't mean we should all give in and become as horrible as life can be sometimes. If we all work together, things can get better, and mindless cynicism isn't helping anyone."
- Brows Held High: This is the ultimate thesis of Kyle Kallgreen's review of Melancholia. While he understands and appreciates the insight of Lars von Trier into depression, he also points out that depression is not something that should be romanticized as it is in the film, and for all of the issues and shallowness of modern life, it is still life to be lived and enjoyed for what it is.
Kyle: Depression is a disease, make no mistake. Von Trier can romanticize it all he wants, but it's a stasis. A dead end. Succumbing to it is to surrender to death. And he can go on and on about how hollow our culture is and how shallow life is, but what of it? I'm alive, and I can experience the new, and share it. Here, now, I'm alive, and what happier thing can be said?
- Critical Role has Caduceus, The Heart of the Mighty Nein, say a speech to this effect to Trent Ikkithon in a "The Reason You Suck" Speech. It looks like Caduceus is going to compliment Ikkithon before taking a left turn into an insult, and about how The Power of Love saves people and that Ikkithon is a fool for trying to control people through fear. It's enough to firmly rattle Ikkithon, as he gets up and leaves immediately after Caduceus gives the speech. Given the reaction by Ikkithon's servants, it's likely that no one had spoken that way to him in a long time. When Trent Ikkithon shows up at the home of Caduceus as the last encounter of the campaign, Trent Ikkithon is defeated in spite of his power, left to rot in a jail cell while being unable to move, cast spells, or do much of anything besides being force-fed to keep him alive. The Mighty Nein, meanwhile, each manage to Earn Their Happy Ending, including Trent's abused student Caleb.
Caduceus: Before you go, I think perhaps you are one of the most powerful mages that I've ever had the pleasure to be in the presence of, and for this, I would offer a gift. I think it has been a long time since anyone has pointed it out to you that you are a fool. Pain doesn't make people. It's love that makes people. The pain is inconsequential. It's love that saves them. And you would know that, but you have none around you, you said so yourself, you surround yourself with lies and deceptions, and... I wish for you, in the future, to find someone who will mourn for you when you are gone. Respectfully.
- A key theme in Over the Garden Wall,
- The defeatist Wirt expects the worst of everything he encounters. Constantly anticipating humiliation or rejection, his cynicism has stopped him from interacting with people normally, and he gave up The Quest much quicker than his brother did. He only gets better after realizing he has to stop being afraid.
- The villain himself invokes this - he can only feed off those who have given up, and purposely waits for his victims to cross the Despair Event Horizon.
- The thrust of Batman's Shut Up, Hannibal! to Owlman in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths.
Batman: We both stared into the abyss. But when it stared back into us...you blinked.
- In Smiling Friends, Charlie & Pim end up with Straw Nihilist evil twins who start a rival company called the Frowning Friends across the street from them. The Frowning Friends then go across town, spreading their pessimism to others and trying to undo all of Charlie and Pim's work. When their boss snaps and confronts them with a rifle, Pim's double breaks down crying and begging for his life moments after saying life doesn't matter since we're all going to die anyway, making them lose their audience. The episode carries An Aesop that while it's important to be aware of the issues with the world, unrelenting cynicism is just as unhealthy and useless as unrealistic idealism.
- Mayor Bill Dewey from Steven Universe is cynical, and very much a loser. He pessimistically assumes that elected officials are incapable of enacting any genuine change, so he never even tries. Instead, he's content to keep the populace distracted with pointless civic projects and self-aggrandizing speeches while the problems either work themselves out or are handled by someone else. The people of Beach City inevitably turn against him once his usual leadership style fails to prevent a series of kidnappings, and once Nanefua Pizza runs against Dewey as Mayor and proposes radical and well-thought-out solutions to problems (ideas that require actual effort and planning on the part of the Mayor), Dewey sees how wrong his cynical attitude has always been and concedes that Nanefua would make a better leader.
- The point of Existentialism.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, despite the association with fatalism, nihilism, anti-idealism and the darkest and edgiest of cynical philosophy, actually wrote against being an extremely skeptical and life-hating nihilist, while suggesting that it's better to just love life to the fullest while living up to your own ideals no matter how blue or orange they are.
- Jean-Paul Sartre, the key thinker of the movement, wrote that "Existence precedes essence." You are born, and then you are defined. You are what you make of yourself. If you are a villain, you were not doomed to villainy, your choices made you so. If you are a hero, you were not destined for greatness, it was the combination of your choices that made you that way. Under this philosophy, great heroism and great villainy are both possible by choice. Albert Camus, in his Myth of Sisyphus, went even further, insisting that even when you know you're going to lose, that's no excuse to not keep trying.
- Conan O'Brien
- In his first show after 9/11, he recounted going to St. Patrick's Cathedral to pray (he's Catholic but admitted that he had not been to church in 8 years until the horrific events of that day spurred him to seek out some kind of comfort and guidance). He claimed that while sitting there, he suddenly realized that although the Twin Towers had been knocked down, that this beautiful building was still standing, and as such, despite the ugliness that had happened, there was still a lot of beauty in the world. This was the first time he urged his viewers to shun cynicism.
- He ended his run on The Tonight Show by asking people to please not be cynical, saying "It doesn't accomplish anything".
- Stephen Colbert gives us this gem:
Remember, you cannot be both young and wise. Young people who pretend to be wise to the ways of the world are mostly just cynics. Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it. Because cynics dont learn anything. Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us. Cynics always say no. But saying "yes" begins things. Saying "yes" is how things grow. Saying "yes" leads to knowledge. "Yes" is for young people. So for as long as you have the strength to, say "yes".
- John Lennon
- He mentioned in an interview that the reason he was first attracted to Yoko Ono was because he had been used to and indifferent to avant-garde art exhibits in The '60s that veered towards cynical, negative, destructive messages, but Yoko's simple, direct exhibit, where one climbed a ladder, peered into a hole in the ceiling, and saw the word "Yes", was in John's opinion more valid in its positivity, hopefulness and affirmative message than the True Art Is Angsty approach other Sixties avant-garde artists took. It inspired the often naturally cynical Lennon (at the time suffering through a drug- and fame-aggravated Creator Breakdown) to see the other exhibits, and later to meet and befriend Yoko.
- For all that he himself tends to be viewed as the dark, cynical and 'deep' member of The Beatles — which, in the first two elements at least, is not an unreasonable viewpoint to take — part of him clearly subscribed to this trope (or at least wasn't very happy being dark and cynical and wanted this trope to be true). For all his Creator Breakdowns and darker sides, anyone who describes the man who wrote "All You Need Is Love", "Imagine" and "Give Peace A Chance" as an irredeemable cynic is clearly overlooking something.
- Seth MacFarlane stated that one of the reasons he pitched The Orville was because he was tired of seeing cynical grim and gritty sci-fi shows that are contemporary, and wanted a classic better-future-space-adventure science fiction show, not quite explicitly stated in homage to Star Trek.