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Skepticism Failure

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And he's even wrong about that.

Senator Stampingston: Gentlemen, it's clear that we're in a universally precarious situation. Dethklok has summoned a troll.
General Crozier: That's impossible, there's no such thing as trolls.
Senator Stampingston: Then how do you explain the dead unicorns? (The screen behind him shows butchered unicorns)

The paranormal has a way of creeping into TV shows, even those which don't have a paranormal premise. In real life, being neither strongly skeptical nor accepting of various paranormal forces is the default, and usually a better option than either dogmatic belief or dogmatic skepticism. On TV, characters are far less likely to express any doubt, and those who are skeptical are often treated as naive or ignorant, and the plot will go out of its way to prove them wrong.

For example, a character receives a psychic reading which foretells tragedy. He spends the rest of the episode actively worried about it. Various details foreseen by the psychic are borne out in the episode. A character who challenges the legitimacy of Psychic Powers will often be confronted with at least one detail he can't explain how the psychic knew.

This also comes into play in shows that deal regularly with paranormal subjects. Characters who don't believe in aliens, magic, or whatever, are presented as hopelessly naive. Even when they're proven right about the main conflict being a hoax, something about the situation will turn out to be Real After All.

Ironically the more heavily focused on the paranormal a show is, the less likely this seems to be the case. In settings with a masquerade ordinary people are often depicted as being so utterly skeptical that clear evidence of paranormal goings on is dismissed with a flimsy and wildly implausible 'rational' explanation, which itself is a form of skepticism failure.

There is Truth in Television in that people do believe in "mystical" things without proof. It just depends on exactly which things and who is being asked to believe.

Compare Arbitrary Skepticism, If Jesus, Then Aliens, Flat-Earth Atheist, Religious Russian Roulette, How Unscientific!, and Skeptic No Longer. The most common manifestation of this trope is Psychic Dreams for Everyone. Compare also with Apathy Killed the Cat, where people are curiously un-inquisitive about fantastic things and events.

Contrast with Invisible to Normals and Weirdness Censor in which an alien, a robot and a werewolf can be having a fight in right front of someone's nose and still be ignored or dismissed. Also contrast Puff of Logic, when skepticism causes the subject to be erased from existence.


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     Anime and Manga  
  • City Hunter II—an anime which features lots of A-Team Firing but no science fiction or fantasy elements, has a girl in episodes 41-42 who can read minds with perfect accuracy.
  • Dandadan begins with Okarun, a boy who believes in UFOs, and Momo, a girl who believes in spirits, trying to disprove each other by visiting a relevant site. The result: Momo is Strapped to an Operating Table by aliens who try to harvest her reproductive organs, while Okarun is possessed by a ghost that ends up stealing his penis. They only make it out because the respective encounters unlock Momo's telekinesis and grant Okarun Powers via Possession.
  • Kyon in Haruhi Suzumiya experienced this trope when he realizes that aliens, espers, and time-travellers exist. He now regularly spends much of his time in damage control to make sure more of this weirdness doesn't manifest — i.e. he tries to prevent Skepticism Failure in the local unconscious Reality Warper, Haruhi in case she ends up destroying the world accidentally.
  • Seto Kaiba from the Dubbed version of Yu-Gi-Oh! is a shining example of a disbeliever to the point of seeing the past, his ancestor and/or previus incarnation, and still brushing it off as fake. The original Japanese version has no such delusions.
  • This Ugly Yet Beautiful World: Everybody is surprisingly easily convinced that Hikari and Akari are aliens. Also, nobody bats an eyelid when Hikari's servant, a Ridiculously Human Robot, shows up.
  • An episode of xxxHOLIC had Watanuki being tricked by his friends into thinking the house he and his friends were staying at was haunted (in an attempt to make him realise he can ask them for help). At the end of the episode they admitted to staging everything, except putting a blue flower in the kitchen when they first arrived. The episode ends with Watanuki looking up at the house to see the real ghost looking out at them.
    • One episode, Watanuki nearly got killed because he cut his toe nails at night.

     Comic Books  
  • DC plays with this trope with Batman. A lot. Here's one priceless conversation from JLA #55:
    Nightwing: She's the one, right?
    Batman: Latest in a growing line of fortune tellers and "psychics" reportedly stalked by ectoplasmic entities.
    Nightwing: It's OK to use the word "ghosts," you know.
    Batman: If I believed in them, Nightwing, I suppose I could.
    Nightwing: Funny. Let's play word association. The Spectre. Samsara. Deadman...

     Films — Live-Action  
  • Leap of Faith (1992) shows fraud and skepticism versus "real miracles".
  • Night of the Demon walks a very noble line past this trope with a skeptical protagonist who approaches situations in a reasonable way right to the resolution of the film.
  • The protagonist of 1408 is deeply skeptical right up until he realizes he's in a ghost story.
  • In The Reaping, Hilary Swank's Hollywood Atheist character is a professional debunker of miracles, who's pretty much shown to be a fool for her lack of belief. One particularly bad example is her claiming that listeria is responsible for a variety of things including a river turning red and maggots instantly appearing on a barbecue grill, which no real life debunker would be quick to do.
  • Star Wars:
    • Han Solo is a good example, as he ridicules the Force at first and later comes to believe in it and respect it.
    Han: Kid, I've flown from one side of this galaxy to the other. I've seen a lot of strange stuff, but I've never seen anything to make me believe there's one all-powerful Force controlling everything. There's no mystical energy field that controls my destiny. It's all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.
    • The coming of the prequels makes this somewhat strange, as Han is old enough to remember a time before the Empire when Jedi were pretty common sights, making him similar to a Flat-Earth Atheist. Some Expanded Universe material says the Republic has a million inhabited worlds but only a few thousand Jedi so most people have only heard stories, making this skepticism somewhat more justifiable, but only just.
    • In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Han makes a point of saying everything Finn and Rey have heard of the Force is "all true".

  • A running theme in The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries is that Sookie is a telepath, a fact she hides with mixed results. But most of the people of Bon Temps, up to and including her own brother, would rather believe "Crazy Ol' Sookie" just has a knack for reading people's body language than accept the fact that they have no privacy around her. Averted in the series based on the books, where those who don't know her mistake Sookie for stupid, but those close to her know she hears thoughts.
  • Judge Dee often proclaims that he is not an impious man, as not believing in the supernatural was positively irreligious in Imperial China. However he temperamentally prefers natural explanations for apparently ghostly phenomena and usually finds one. Usually. There are however distinct indications that the Judge himself is 'psychic'. Certainly he is extremely sensitive to atmosphere, often sensing evil before he even knows there's been a crime.
  • The doctor known as Mr. Chillingworth in the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire plays this role, both with regard to the vampire and the literal interpretation of the Bible.
  • The Dresden Files has this in spades - basically any recurring character has to have this - except Sanya, a parody of the Straw Atheist archetype who survived possession (most of the puppets end their careers more abruptly), and is now employed by God. note 
    • Dresden's theory is that the supernatural is damn terrifying, and it's a pretty normal reaction to not want to believe it. Like just about everything in the series, it's plausible to a paranoia-inducing extent. Possibly corroborated by Murphy's PoV short story Aftermath, where she mentions that she's terrified of Let's Get Dangerous! Dresden, and if any muggle were to acknowledge the reality, they'd feel they'd have to kill him preemptively.
    • The majority of the Fey go to war over Chicago? Storms.
    • Necromancer showdown on Chicago campuses? Hallucinations from poisoned food.
    • Butters had this - in his first interaction with the supernatural he continues to point out impossibilities during a car chase involving Necromancers, wind magic, and zombies. Harry invokes this trope, and Butters has a brief BSOD.
    • It's a sign of how bad things get when even the muggles start to shed this trope.
  • In The Wheel of Time, this mixes with superstition in wacky and zany ways. People will believe the absurd of Aes Sedai, and not the mundane. Aes Sedai openly acknowledge that they have no idea how ter'angreal from the last Age work... and refuse to believe in new discoveries or rediscoveries. Nobody believes Mat about the gholam, despite the presence of magic and previously-unknown artifacts. Admittedly, they haven't been seen in 3000 years and appear to be made of magic, but still, from someone who controls people who can call thunder from the sky, fire from their hands, and rip the earth asunder, it's a little absurd.
  • In The Mermaid Summer, everyone in the village believes that a mermaid lives in the nearby waters and takes care not to offend her, with the exception of Eric Anderson, who laughs at the others' superstitions. He stops being a sceptic after the mermaid uses her enchanted voice to crash his boat, almost drowning him and his crew.
  • Dragonvarld: Educated people like King Edward in Idlyswylde didn't believe in dragons before one attacked their kingdom. This also went for magic, which had been dismissed as only tricks and fraud before that turned out to be quite real too, indeed their only hope for stopping the dragon.
  • Legend of the Animal Healer: When Martine was born, Grace warned her parents that their daughter was The Chosen One who would have Healing Hands that work on animals. They dismissed her as a superstitious native. Then she pointed outside, where all kinds of animals had gathered outside the fence to welcome Martine into the world.

     Live Action TV  
  • CSI: the episode "Stalker" had a man who kept claiming that he was receiving visions related to the crime, and knew stuff that the CSIs hadn't released to the press. By the end of the episode, he's dead, and there's no explanation either way for how he knew what he did.
  • Almost this exact same story appears in an episode of Now and Again, an ill-fated science fiction series from the late 90's about a man who was rebuilt out of spare body parts by the government.
  • The early run of Battlestar Galactica employed this trope in an ambiguous and unique way; several characters have had experiences that can be interpreted as prophetic or prescient, but whether they are in fact seeing the future or merely hallucinating was never explicitly revealed.
  • A major plot point of the second season of Lost revolves around characters being convinced to push a button every 108 minutes in order to save the world. Jack vehemently protests the belief that anything will happen if they don't push the button, and the others treat him as if he is being completely irrational. Locke later losing his faith in the button is also treated as a bad thing, even though evidence seems to suggest that the whole thing is a hoax. Now granted it turns out pushing the button was necessary, but there was nothing wrong with disbelieving on the available evidence, which remained true of their situation for the most part, up until the end of season 4 (when anything was now possible and should probably be believed).
  • In the MacGyver (1985) episode GX-1, MacGyver helps a Russian psychic who is portrayed as real, despite Mac's skepticism.
  • Seen in an episode of NUMB3RS where Charlie scoffs at a psychic who's brought in to work on a case; Charlie is treated as the unreasonable one, surprisingly for a show that focuses on math and logic in solving crimes. He returns in a later episode. And by the end of the episode he's dead and everyone wonders if he was the real deal.
  • Touched by an Angel claims revolves around how God works in mysterious ways even when you don't believe it. In one episode, God (represented or channeled by the main character) is "put on trial," but the opposing counsel falls victim to fallacious reasoning, both committing fallacies in his own arguments and being (especially for a trained lawyer) overly credulous of the opposition's reasoning. This in effect sets up the prosecuting attorney as a Strawman for the defendant.
  • The X-Files:
    • Played straight in virtually every episode — in fact, it's the raison d'ĂȘtre for Agent Scully, who remains skeptical of Agent Mulder's explanations throughout the series, despite the number of times Mulder is proved correct. However, after Mulder left the series, Agent Scully then became increasingly written as the more eager believer, with the newcomer to doubt her.
    • Subverted in the episode "Humbug" when Scully explains that she saw the killer, and what he was, but the local sheriff makes fun of her outlandish story (which the viewer knows happens to be true). Mulder, who had been skeptical of her theory himself, walks by and comments "Now you know how I feel."
    • Also, it is implied that Scully, especially in the later seasons, remains skeptical on purpose to make Mulder come up with proof for his Epileptic Trees.
    • Whenever the subject was religion, especially miracles, Scully was the believer and Mulder the skeptic.
  • There was an episode of Diagnosis: Murder where a series of people were murdered in methods that pointed to a vampire or something similar. It was all played as if the killer was mentally ill and only believed she was a vampire until she flew across the room at Dick Van Dyke. Very unusual for a show that was, as much as a TV show can be, very realistic.
  • In the finale of season 4 of NCIS, Tony's girlfriend Jeanne (a doctor) sees a little girl wandering around alone in the hospital several times, often close to people who end up dying soon. One coworker says she's seeing the Angel of Death, another says that it's just a regular girl separated from her parents. Near the end of the episode, the second coworker points out to Jeanne that the girl's parents found her. But when Jeanne looks, it's a different girl, leaving the mysterious first girl's identity unknown.
  • An episode of Stargate Atlantis puts the characters on both sides of this debate. The character of the week is able to show others his oracle visions. Rodney is at first skeptical, until the vision he has is proven exactly correct, just not his interpretation. All the visions are shown to be technically correct, though it is impossible to know exactly what the context is until the event comes to pass and various characters come over to the side of believing (more or less) as events play out.
  • The Bill:
    • There's an episode called "Haunted" in which police officers on a stake-out in an allegedly haunted building recounted spooky but just-about-plausible things that happened to them (a lost girl with uncanny similarities to a murder victim; a woman who dies at the around same time as her psychotic and jealous husband, who left a message on her machine saying "I need you with me"), before ending with DS Stanton (the Agent Scully) quite definitely encountering a ghost.
    • Another episode set at Christmas revolved around Sgt. Boydon helping out a guy who eventually disappeared into thin air, with the definite implication being that he was a ghost.
  • In the circus episode of Murdoch Mysteries "Lady Minerva"'s fortune telling appeared to be genuine, predicting two murders before they occurred. (Although, since she knew more about the case than she was letting on, she may have "predicted" them more conventionally, but didn't want to say anything directly in case she was next).
  • My So-Called Life, "So-Called Angels." As Angela tries to help out her friend Ricky, who's just been kicked out of his house, she keeps running into a girl who gives her advice on how to help him. Finally, Angela's mother figures out that the girl's a ghost who froze to death years ago.
  • In different episodes of Psi Factor: Chronicles of the Paranormal, this is either played straight or subverted. In one episode, one of the investigators is temporarily replaced by an alien clone with reversed fingerprints. The entire team simply refuses to believe him when he returns to Earth and assume that he was drunk or just playing around. Heck, one of them assumed that it was a Doppelganger, preferring a supernatural explanation over aliens. In another episode, a rich elderly widow complains about her house being haunted. After the team do their investigation, they find out that there are no ghosts and that her family have set up a sound system and countless projectors in the house so that they could drive her insane and get her money.
  • Quantum Leap:
    • In the episode "A Portrait for Troian," Sam Beckett leaps into a paranormal investigator. Over the course of the episode, he plays the skeptic regarding the existence of ghosts, and Al plays the believer. By the end of the episode, he has proven the primary haunting is a hoax, but then discovers that one of the secondary characters was a ghost all along. This is enforced with a shot of the ghost vanishing.
    • In the episode "Blood Moon", Sam leaps into a man who appears to be a vampire. Sam spends the entire episode telling Al this is ridiculous...until he glances into a mirrored surface at the very end of the episode. You can guess what he doesn't see.
  • Castle:
    • In the episode "He's Dead, She's Dead" a psychic is murdered, and supposedly leaves a letter about her own murder for the police. Beckett is skeptical while Castle believes it wholeheartedly. In the end of the episode, everything is wrapped up, except for one tiny point in the letter that Castle reminds Beckett of that seems to indicate the letter actually was from the psychic, proving her amazing Psychic Powers.
    • There's also the mummy mystery episode. Castle is supposedly cursed for disturbing a mummy's casket, and murder victims have been killed by apparently unfortunate accidents. Castle has horrible luck throughout the episode, while Beckett is laughing the whole time.
    • Another even more striking example comes from the episode "Time Will Tell," involving Time Travel. In short, there is no way the actions of the killer make sense unless he is a time traveling assassin.
  • In the Criminal Minds episode "Cold Comfort", a psychic mentions that the victim will be found near a rocky shoreline. She's actually found in the middle of the city, but then the skeptical team member looks out the window... and there's a huge ad with a rocky shoreline on it.
  • Bones: For a show that usually promotes basing everything on cold-hard science and facts and mocks the very concept of the supernatural, there are several hints that despite the main character's skepticism, there is actually something to it.
    • Zig-Zagged with season 4's The Hero in the Hold. Throughout the episode, Booth escapes imprisonment in a Navy ship while seeing and hearing the ghost of a dead war friend. In-Universe, this trope is Subverted, since all hints of supernatural activity are explained away by Brennan in a later episode as side effects of Booth's brain tumor. Save for the fact that several of the doors in the Navy ship required two people to be opened, and that she unknowingly saw the same ghost at the end of the episode.
    • In the season 5 premiere Harbingers in a Fountain, Angela's psychic friend Avalon Harmonia locates a mass grave. By the end of the episode, even Bones, the Agent Scully of the cast, is a believer.
    • The entirety of The Ghost in the Machine is seen from the point of view of the Victim of the Week's spirit, trapped inside the skull.
      • Actually, any episode with Avalon in it can count as this.
    • The Shot in the Dark has Brennan being shot. While in the real world she's unconscious in a hospital bed, Brennan goes to an imaginary version of her childhood home with her long-dead mother inside. Brennan doesn't believe in an afterlife and rationalizes that this is her brain hallucinating. Except her mother's "hallucination" tells her that she knew her father's first gift to her was stolen. In the real world, Max confirms this and claims he never told anyone about it.
    • Other instances where spooky stuff comes up, however rare, tend to turn into cases of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane by the end.
  • Witches of East End: Ingrid spends the first episode declaring herself a "rational skeptic" who doesn't believe in witchcraft, until of course she's proven completely wrong.
  • Mysterious Ways runs on this trope. Declan firmly believes in paranormal explanations for the phenomena he investigates, while his psychiatrist friend Peggy always insists on finding a rational explanation. Declan's other friend, Miranda, is a brilliant physics grad student who is usually pretty open to the idea of miracles, though she has her limits. Some episodes give a fully rational explanation and Peggy gets to be smug, but most leave at least the possibility that something miraculous and inexplicable happened.
  • Downton Abbey had one subplot where Ms. O'Brien bought a Ouija board during the spiritualism craze after World War I. Almost none of the characters believe that it works and several of them intentionally manipulate it to mess with other characters. In the last ten minutes of the episode, Anna and Daisy see it spell out, "may they be happy." They're confused by the message and accuse each other of pushing the tile. What the audience knows, but neither of them do, is that Matthew is proposing to Mary at that very moment.
  • Zero Hour (2013): Hank is not only a skeptic, he publishes Modern Skeptic magazine, and of course his doubt toward conspiracy theories quickly gets disproven when he encounters a real one in the show. This appears to be the only reason he begins as a professional skeptic, with a dramatic contrast.
  • Taken: In "Maintenance", Tom Clarke, a leading UFO debunker, realizes that aliens are real after finding out that his half-brother Jacob is half-alien.

     Theme Parks  
  • In both versions of the former Ghostbusters Spooktacular show at Universal Studios Florida, there's a character who for a large part of the show makes it clear that they don't believe in ghosts, only to find themselves getting proved severely wrong by the events that follow.

     Video Games 
  • Dragon Age II: If brought along for the Legacy DLC, Anders will reveal that he doesn't believe the Chantry's stories about the Magisters Sidereal, a group of seven Tevinter Magisters who invaded the Golden City and were turned into the first Darkspawn as punishment, instead insisting that they're "magic boogeymen" meant to justify mage oppression. A Magister Sidereal is the final boss of the DLC, and Word of God has confirmed that Anders already faced a different Magister Sidereal in the first game's expansion.
  • Saints Row 2 is a mostly mundane Wide-Open Sandbox game where one of the rival gangs is the Sons of Samedi. For the most part, they just seem to be drug dealers who happen to worship the loa. Then you end up fighting one of their bosses, who has a voodoo doll that can make your character fall on his ass.

     Western Animation  
  • Played with in The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron episode, "The Phantom Of Retroland": Jimmy scoffs at the phantom that supposedly haunts Retroland at night. However, Cindy points out that everyone knows it's fake, but only he would be such a party-pooper about it. At the end, after a string of impostors of the titular ghost, the real Phantom shows up.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender included an episode in which Sokka runs himself ragged trying to discredit a Fortuneteller that all the people of a town came to rely on. The problem was, she was always right... technically. Of course, this is specifically a world with mysticism of many stripes, so Sokka's main concern was that the town was letting predictions run their lives, to the point where they would not escape from a volcanic eruption because they were told it would be fine.
  • The South Park episode "The Biggest Douche In The Universe" had Stan say at the end that John Edward was a fraud and there were plenty of things in the real world that people could be fascinated by. It's a sort of strange message seeing as how the exact same episode featured Kenny's ghost being taken out of Cartman's body. An even weirder example is the episode "Dead Celebrities" where the Ghost Hunters come to look for ghosts and look like complete idiots for believing in ghosts, despite that fact that ghosts existing is the premise of the entire episode. Belief in ghosts aside, they mostly mock John Edward for being a fraud, and the Ghost Hunters for jumping at shadows and imaginary noises.
  • An episode of Fillmore! involves a crime that takes place during the magic act at the school talent show. While working on the case, Fillmore tries to figure how the trick at the finale was done but kid who did the trick keeps shaking his head no. At the end it's implied he really did do the trick through magic.
  • Winston Zeddemore initially didn't believe in the supernatural when he applied to become one of The Real Ghostbusters, and only signed up because he was having trouble finding a job after getting out of the army. He quickly changes his mind once he starts seeing the ghosts and goblins for himself.
  • Brian from Family Guy is a Flat-Earth Atheist, and the show seems to agree with him... which would hold more water if Brian hadn't met God and Jesus personally, and that Peter hasn't died and met Death several times. Of course, the God and Jesus he runs into bear little resemblance to the religious figures beyond outfit and name. Then again, they're still shown to have genuine miraculous powers, and Brian never states that they aren't who they appear to be. Actually, he never comments on them at all, one way or the other.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Feeling Pinkie Keen" is all about this, as Twilight Sparkle spends almost the entire episode trying to debunk Pinkie Pie's accident-predicting "Pinkie Sense", but eventually has to accept it as a real phenomenon that just defies her understanding.
  • Kaeloo: Every time Mr. Cat is skeptical about something such as aliens or ghosts, they turn out to be real and the cast encounter them wihin the span of that same episode.
  • DuckTales (2017): Violet Sabrewing experienced this prior to her debut in season 2. She describes her past self as "rational, never giving things like magic a second thought" until experiencing the season 1 finale where everyone's shadows (including hers) were brought to life by an evil sorceress. Violet then obtains said sorceress's amulet by a fluke, and became obsessed with studying magic after that point.

Alternative Title(s): Scepticism Failure


The wizard is real

Turns out magic does exist.

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