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Skewed Priorities

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"Give me a minute, I'm almost at the save point."
"You said the same thing five minutes ago!"

"We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled."
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Common sense tells us that tasks and goals which have severe consequences if they are ignored—such as avoiding death, obtaining food and shelter, taking care of your spouse and children, or not getting fired from your job—are more important than optional desires such as looking fashionable, not missing your favorite television program, obtaining some rare collectible, or saving a trivial amount of money. If there's some kind of emergency, you're supposed to drop everything and deal with that emergency because nothing else is that important. However, there are certain people who seem to have it all backwards, and ignore big problems while spending their effort on things that are relatively meaningless. They might risk their lives by running back into a burning building to save some easily replaceable possession, spend money that they need for dialysis treatments by buying a flatscreen TV instead, drive a hundred miles out of their way to fill up at a station where fuel is only ten cents cheaper, or—as quoted from Hermione above—feel less concerned that their boarding school heroics might get them killed than the possibility it might get them expelled. Usually, this is to underscore how obsessed they are with a particular object or subject, and it tends to be Played for Laughs as long as their foolishness only backfires on them. It's more difficult to laugh about when the character's skewed priorities cause permanent injury to some other, innocent person.

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Can result in Disproportionate Retribution, And Then What?, or I'm Thinking It Over!. Compare with Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking. See also Honor Before Reason and Always Save the Girl. Major Injury Underreaction could overlap with this. Compare Bystander Syndrome, where everyone has Skewed Priorities. Compare This Is No Time for Knitting, where someone's apparent Skewed Priorities turn out to be on the right track after all, as well as Worrying for the Wrong Reason, where one character expresses some concern about a situation and another corrects them with a new concern. Advertising likes this trope, poking fun at the idea that their product is so awesome you should abandon everything else in favor of it. For when a character thinks social media is more important than safety, see Social Media Before Reason. The Indy Hat Roll is a high-speed example, if the item reached back for isn't actually vital.

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This trope is a favourite of the Cloud Cuckoo Lander, though anyone can be prone to it. See also Worst News Judgment Ever, for when it applies to the media.

Obviously Truth in Television.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A Bud Lite ad has a man and a woman driving down an empty road at night, and spotting a hitch-hiker with a six-case of Bud and an axe.
    Man: Hey, that guy has Bud Lite!
    Woman: And an axe!
    Man: But he has Bud Lite!
    Woman: ...and an axe.
    Man: I'm sure he has a good reason. [pulls over] Hey man! What's with the axe?
    Axe Murderer: It's a, uh...bottle opener.
    Man: Cool man, hop in!
    [advertisement proper plays]
    [see a hitch-hiker with a six-case of Bud and a chainsaw]
    Man: Hey, that guy has Bud Lite!
    Axe Murderer: And a chainsaw!
  • This 1999 ad from Sprite's "Obey Your Thirst" campaign has a bunch of film studio executives gathered around discussing the marketing campaign for their upcoming Summer Blockbuster Death Slug (a parody of the prior year's Godzilla (1998), which by then was already notorious for being an overhyped, overmarketed dud). They've got merchandise, kids' meals, and a tie-in rap single called "Slug Slam" all lined up. As for the actual movie...
    "Well, we don't have a script yet, but we can bang one out by Friday."
  • Subverted in a radio commercial for Jimmy John's sandwiches. A man orders Jimmy John's, and when the deliveryman arrives, points out that the house is on fire. The first man hands the deliveryman a bucket. Other Jimmy John's delivery people arrive, and they put out the fire together. When a fireman shows up, he asks the first man why he didn't call the fire department first. Except he did call the fire department first; Jimmy John's is just that fast.
  • An old cell phone commercial has a dad being more concerned about his kids running up their phone bill than he is about them getting an A on a test or accidentally backing the car into the garage.
    Dad: Ten calls in ONE DAY?

    Comedy 
  • Rowan Atkinson's "Fatal Beatings" sketch, wherein he (as headmaster of a school) is describing the way he beat a parent's son to death.
    "I find this morbid fascination with your son's death quite disturbing. What I am talking about is his attitude."
  • Christopher Titus admitted he came very close to suicide while going through his divorce. Not caring that his wife would get everything. The house, and the kids, all of it and was fine with that... until he realized that included his sports cars.
  • John Mulaney has called out the the witnesses in Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for this. Continuing to go about their business, as they're being questioned by detectives, like its no big deal.
    "Some of my personal favorites? There's guy-who-while-being-questioned-by-homicide-detectives-will-not-stop-unloading-crates. Doesn't matter to this guy! Double rape and murder? Naaaaaah. He's gotta unload that van!"

    Comic Books 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW):
    • Apple Bloom is more upset about not getting her cutie mark before she is (presumably) to be killed by Queen Chrysalis. Lampshaded by Scootaloo.
    • Everypony is awed, impressed, and somewhat scared when a magically-uber Twilight takes out the side of the castle wall. Rarity is furious that she ruined the curtains made of the finest silk.
    • Surprisingly in the second story-arc of, Apple Bloom actually has the sense to point out to Scootaloo that a potential Nightmare invasion may not be the best time to think about their cutie marks, though she does briefly indulge Scootaloo's thought.
  • In V for Vendetta, Lewis Prothero ran a concentration camp where people were routinely experimented on, tortured and killed. He never shows the slightest guilt, but is horrified when V threatens to destroy his prized doll collection. V naturally calls him out on this.
  • From an article in Marvel Year in Review 1993 (which was entirely a parody) on the Darker and Edgier trend in comics:
    And it's getting harder and harder to remember a time when heroes-gone-hardcore such as Phoenix and Yellowjacket had to be brought to heel for their less-than-heroic actions. Today, they'd be headlining two books apiece, with guest appearances galore. Think about it: cosmic genocide and spousal abuse pale in comparison to the ever-present threat of street hoods with guns.
  • Issue 42 of The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye features semi-invisible monsters that attack Transformers, able to use 'perceptive' camouflage to be effectively ignored by their victims. Nightbeat and Getaway are two of the first ones attacked on the Lost Light by the monsters after discovering clues to their existence that could not be ignored. Nightbeat narrates his explanation of the events aloud (as is typical of him given his Holmesian vibe), which causes Getaway to be sarcastic in response given how they're being attacked even as Nightbeat exposits. The two of them then proceed to spend the entire rest of their time bickering with each other rather than, y'know, calling for help and sounding the alarm.
    • Thunderclash, at one point, has to send a coded message via his medical equipment by modulating his life-signs. He makes sure it's perfectly punctuated, even though this will significantly shorten his life.
    • Played for Drama with Ultra Magnus, at least once Cerebus Syndrome kicked in; Magnus's clenched-jaw insistence on absolute correctness in the tiniest details and attempts to arrest people for punctuating signs incorrectly came about from a nervous breakdown he was suffering at the time.
  • In Wild's End the group is being pursued by a giant alien robot and have discovered an entire town in ruin. But hey, at least the local bar is still standing!
  • Issue 18 of The Powerpuff Girls (DC run), "The Trouble With Bubbles," has the girls battling a monster caterpillar in a lucha libre get-up. Bubbles misses her turn in the routine because she was too busy protecting a little butterfly from getting its wings wet, leading to her being ostracized by everyone for it. She eventually wins everyone over again when she uses this knowledge to defeat the monster when it turns into a brutal butterfly.
  • Ultimate Origins: The president wants a real supersoldier, not just a good soldier in a visible suit. To get a military advantage over the enemy? No: because "this is a war of images".
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Hermes reacts to Ares and Diana teaming up to rescue him from Hades, and Ares killing Hades to become the new ruler of the underworld with a cheerful What took you so long before immediately paying more attention to Pegasus than anything else. His reaction to Athena having usurped Zeus is to ask what happened but be far more interested in playing with Athena's computer than hearing the answer to his question.

    Comic Strips 
  • FoxTrot:
    • While storyboarding a Slug Man cartoon (Slug Man being his own creation) and trying to fit more action figures, playsets and merch (each dutifully trademarked), Jason wonders if it's customary to approach toy companies or TV networks first.
    • One arc has Jason create a strip for submission to the school newspaper. Asked for his opinion, Peter thinks the writing isn't good, that art isn't good either...
      Jason: But, will it sell T-shirts?
      Peter: My, but you do have pure motives...
  • Garfield:
  • In a strip of the Swedish comic Lilla Berlin (Little Berlin), the main characters, a group of hipsters, are approached by someone with a petition against the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar (for some of the reasons why, see here), but nobody even bats an eye. What really gets their attention is the fact that the games are scheduled for the winter months since it's too hot to play in the summer, ruining the characters' summer soccer plans.
  • Peanuts, this happens most during the sandlot ball games:
    • In one strip where it starts to rain, Lucy suggests that Charlie Brown call it because her cake's getting wet.
    • In another, Snoopy goes to the mound to request a time out because a bug is crossing the infield.
    • And of course, Lucy comes to the mound a lot to make rather silly suggestions or questions, like making a hopscotch team or to ask why they don't have astroturf.

    Music 
  • In the title track of Alice's Restaurant, singer Arlo Guthrie ends up convicted of littering, fined fifty dollars, and forced to pick up his garbage in the snow. Later in life, he ends up in the draft for the Vietnam War, but is deemed morally unfit to serve because of this charge. Arlo points out that the army has "a lot of damn gall" to ask if he's moral enough to "burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug."
  • In Lady Gaga and Beyoncé's video for "Telephone", Gaga is killing her boyfriend while Beyonce watches him die. After that, Beyonce's acting all upset about using the word "motherfucker", which was beeped out while she's putting her finger on her lips.
  • Jim Steinman's monologue "Love and Death and an American Guitar", released on the Meat Loaf album Back Into Hell as "Wasted Youth": the narrator beats people to death with his guitar, and is about to do the same to his parents "when my father woke up screaming 'Stop! Wait a minute! Stop it, boy! That's no way to treat an expensive musical instrument!'"
  • The Weird Al song "Why Does This Always Happen To Me?" is all about the narrator encountering horrific situations, only to be frustrated by the minor inconveniences they cause for him. News coverage of an earthquake leaving tens of thousands of people dead makes him mad because they interrupted an episode of The Simpsons to talk about it, a massive car accident leaving dozens dead makes him mad because it's blocking the road and making him late for work, and murdering his boss for telling him one too many times to go buy toner for the photocopier makes him mad because the tip of his knife got slightly bent during the stabbing and now it isn't as sharp anymore.
  • The Red Elvises song "My Love Is Killing Me" (which appears on the soundtrack of Six String Samurai, though this part doesn't actually make it into the movie) has a recurring bridge like this; the injuries get more risqué as the song progresses:
    I can forgive you the damage to my lips
    I can forgive you the bite marks on my hips
    But there is one thing I can't stand:
    Don't call me Chris; my name is Elvis.
  • Mark Dinning's Teenage Death Song "Teen Angel" is a skewed priority if ever there was one. The girl puts herself in the path of a speeding train because she wants to retrieve her boyfriend's high school ring.
  • Ninja Sex Party:
    • "Rhinoceratops versus Superpuma"
      • When Danny and Brian get a call from the President of Space, pleading with them to save Earth from the titular Kaiju:
        "You're the only hope to save billions of lives!"
        I said "I'm making baked potatoes and I'm about to add the chives
        We could be there in an hour if we really really tried"
        But we didn't, so they ate France. Sorry if you died.
        A couple hours later NSP hit the scene
        We know we could have been there sooner but we stopped for ice cream
        "Where have you been?" screamed the president. "We're all under attack!"
        "I had a craving for pistachio, get off my fuckin' back!"
      • Danny is also frequently more annoyed at minor property damage the Kaiju have inflicted on him—such as stepping on his lawn or scratching his car—than by all the carnage they've caused.
        I would be lucky if I live to see dawn
        They killed a million people and they just stepped on my lawn
        Danny: Fuck! I just had that re-sodded. That's gonna be like twenty-five dollars... at least. Damn it.

        Choose sex over murder even if you're from the stars
        Or you might kill a planet and also scratch my car
        Danny: Son of a bitch! I'm gonna have to lightly buff that out.
  • At the end of "Ridin'" by Chamillionaire, Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone crash their car. Krayzie Bone is clearly terrified and freaking out about their situation, while Chamillionaire just complains that his drink was spilled.

    Podcasts 
  • In the Firefly game of Cool Kids Table. When the group sees A shuttle piloted the Hands of Blue headed towards their ship while they're still on the refueler, Mickey and Roc are more concerned with their coats and hats than their lives.

    Radio 

    Theatre 

    Web Animation 
  • FreedomToons: The progressive character in "Defusing Radical Islam". Seamus is frantically trying to defuse a home-made suicide vest after punching out a muslim jihadist, but the former is more interested in virtue signaling to social media and trying to change the topic to christian extremists (read: cardboard sign protestors) and/or historical colonialism/the crusades. Eventually, they all get blown up because Seamus cut the wrong wire.
  • Craig and Todd from Dinosaur Office don't want to leave the office during a volcano drill. Why? Because they want to continue their conversation.
  • DarkMatter2525:
    • The video If Hitler Never Existed, a parody of It's a Wonderful Life, is about a man who wishes that Hitler had never existed, only for "the Gestapo Angel" to appear before him, to show him what the world would really be like if Hitler had never existed. The man is then brought to a futuristic utopia, which appears to be perfect - until the man sees his alternate self arguing with someone on the Internet, and being completely unable to demonize him; he can't compare him to Hitler, he can't call him a Grammar Nazi, and he can't Photoshop Nazi imagery onto his picture. The man quickly begs the Gestapo Angel to take him back to the real world.
    • In "God is Punishing Us!", When Jeffrey is put in charge of punishing sinners on Earth while God goes on vacation, he uses natural disasters to target only the sinners for actual wrong-doing (banks-robbers, pedophiles, etc). Not only does this make crime go down, but conversions to legitimate theism skyrocket because the events could only be possible by God's existence. When God finds out, he is pissed at Jeffrey for not enacting random disasters onto people for petty, unrelated reasons because he is being "obvious" about it and not "hella mysterious."
  • Sock Series: Despite all the terrible supernatural things happening to him, Sock's owner is more concerned about getting a snack.

    Real Life 
  • Politicians often get accused of this by whichever constituency feels left out of their agenda. Often said constituency will ignore the fact that a small group of people in power is going to find it very difficult to sort out an entire country's worth of problems, hence the need to choose their battles wisely. This is especially during a state of emergency or other urgent situation, in which certain issues—such as national defence or disaster response—must always take precedence over other issues, such as trade and investment or cultural affairs.
  • Many, many Darwin Award winners are subject to this trope.
  • This Greek radio moderator who can't be bothered to interrupt his news reading while his studio is on fire.
  • This Cracked list links to a number of real-life cases of Skewed Priorities. Of particularly terrifying note is the mother who locked her infant son in her car on a hot day. When rescue workers arrived, she refused to let them break a window to get him out, even as he started to show signs of heat stroke. Thankfully they just waited until she left to get her spare key and broke him out anyway.
  • A security consultant was brought in because a former worker had come to the workplace with a gun demanding reimbursement for some expenses he had incurred while working. The consultant asked why they had not paid him. Answer: because he had not filled out the form correctly.
  • Pierre Beaumarchais was a French playwright who also worked as an arms dealer, covertly supplying the Americans during the American Revolutionary War. Lafayette In The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell relates an incident where Beaumarchais was supposed to be undercover, supervising his cargo being loaded into ships, when he learned of a particularly poor stage production of his play The Barber Of Seville taking place nearby: He promptly blew his cover to barge into the theater and take over the rehearsals, "running back and forth from the docks to the theater, barking at actors and stevedores alike".
  • When recording the 1098 Siege of Ma'arra, Albert of Aix notes with horror that "the Christians did not shrink from eating not only killed Turks or Saracens, but even dogs..."
  • In late June 2016, Donald Trump in the midst of his 2016 presidential campaign, did a two day trip to Scotland and had a surreal ribbon-cutting at his golf resort in Turnberry. This was at the time that the "Brexit" referendum, on whether the United Kingdom should leave the European Union, was held in the U.K., and it passed with 52% "yes" votes. Trump came under fire because his little trip was over his business matters and not about Brexit, not to mention the awkward answers he gave to reporters asking him for a take on Brexit.
  • The Toby Keith song "Beer for My Horses" has gotten flak for being politically incorrect due to the line about giving beer to horses — never mind that the overall song suggests that all criminals should get the death penalty, and glamorizes lynching them.
  • This man, who decided during a tornado that mowing his lawn was a much higher priority. And in case anyone suspects this is fake, snopes has confirmed it as true. While it looked like the tornado was well away from the neighborhood and thus didn't pose as much of a danger as a tornado coming for them, tornadoes can move extremely quickly across the ground and are known for changing direction unexpectedly.
  • One thing that is often brought up in fire safety is that you should never waste valuable seconds collecting various items (i.e. things you don't want to lose in the fire), just in case there really are people out there who would actually do that, and end up dying because they took too long to escape.
  • Similarly, pre-flight safety and emergency demonstrations on passenger jet flights emphasize that in the event of an emergency landing, you should simply get yourself off the aircraft as soon as possible and leave your baggage and other difficult-to-retrieve or -transport items behind. Yeah, losing your $1,000 laptop or that gift you bought for a friend will suck...but losing your life and being the cause of dozens of others' deaths (because you were obstructing important escape paths) obviously sucks more, plus imagine if everyone (often anywhere from 50 to 300 passengers) had the same "I need to get my stuff!" mentality as you.


"She needs to sort out her priorities..."


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