Follow TV Tropes


Slave to PR

Go To
Nothing gets in the way of a politician's smile before a camera.note 

"No, you need me. You wouldn't be much of a hero without a villain. And you love being the hero, don't you? The cheering children, the swooning women. You love it so much it's made you my most reliable accomplice. … You could have crushed me anytime you wanted. And it wasn't the law or the will of the people that stopped you. It was your ego. Being a hero is too important to you."

One smile is a vote gained, maybe; one frown is a vote lost, definitely.

Most Villains and Heroes catch onto their roles quickly — one wants to Take Over the World, one wants to save it; one wants to Kill All Humans, one wants to protect them. But for all their differences, once they choose a side, they have the same problem: they're a slave to Public Relations.


To both Heroes and Villains, reputation is everything. Actions don't determine your rep; rep controls your actions. If their reputation is ever at stake, they must act according to their role to reinforce their image.

Heroes always have to maintain a Good reputation. They have to Save the Villain, can never Shoot the Dog, must modestly declaim their own greatness, and above all, Thou Shalt Not Kill. It's the reason they stick around to help an Untrusting Community rather than leaving when they're obviously not wanted and why it hurts when you can't please everyone. On the flipside, once wronged a hero is perfectly justified in getting some amount of comeuppance since it's only "fair".

Some villains also want a Good reputation. If they're not a Knight Templar who completely believes they are good, they'll be a Villain with Good Publicity and pretend to do good. They'll secretly pour all their investments into a Kill Sat to cause The End of the World as We Know It, but they'll do it all under the radar (or control the radar) or tell people that it'll change the future. This good rep gives them a token Karmic Protection against a hero just barging into their homes to arrest them, as well. Some of them will even expend the effort on Bread and Circuses to actually do good.


Nowadays, though, a great majority of villains are going for a 0% Approval Rating. Evil Is Cool and Good Is Boring, and the Noble Demon and Card-Carrying Villain will do everything in their power to earn their Bad reputation and cover up their Hidden Heart of Gold. Villain Cred is a point of honor for these people. A hero could Blackmail them for life just by taking a snapshot of them being Licked by the Dog. Conversely, the villain will hit a hero where it hurts and complicate their life by orchestrating a frame-up.

This public relations mindset doesn't do much for the old "Be Yourself, do the right thing, and don't care about what others think about you" Aesop. It even gives the Big Bad some extra leverage. A Diabolical Mastermind doesn't have to shoot that meddling hero to get revenge for foiling that armored car robbery, just give some incriminating shots of him trespassing to save someone falling from a burning building to the local paper. And if that Cape is a real pain in your neck, if you frame them for a crime, you can count on them not trying to break out of prison since they're bound to follow all the rules. It's dangerous being a Slave To PR. They should have become an Anti-Hero.

Nothing solidifies the Hero/Anti-Hero line better than this trope. Anti Heroes do what they have to do, not what looks right. They do their own thing, whatever serves their purpose, and couldn't care less about what their reputation is. The town hails them as a hero for killing that drug dealer? They don't care. The cops are crying for their head on a pole for starting that street rumble? They don't care. They've been locked in jail while there are serious criminals out there waiting to be taken down? They'll break out. In fact, they'll often clash with the Designated Hero over this difference.

Mind you, Anti Heroes do prefer a fearsome, rebellious reputation, but that has more to do with appearing brave and tough than good/evil.

The Underling with an F in PR is the bane of these people no matter where they stand on the karma meter. See Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid for when this is taken to its extreme. Compare Contractual Purity. Contrast What You Are in the Dark.

Real-life actors and movie industry workers are slaves to this, too. It's Selling the Show.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Urusei Yatsura: Mendo Shuutaro is so dedicated to appearing suave and sophisticated to women that this can override his fear of the dark and enclosed spaces; As long as there are girls around, Mendo will keep his cool. The minute they stop looking, his composure breaks. Ataru tests this by having Lum and Shinobu look away and back during an excursion into a cave. He's rather stunned at how quickly Mendo shifts from Bishonen to crybaby depending on where the girls are looking.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: In two simultaneous Sword over Head scenes in the same building, Hell Kaiser and Edo admit that even though they would like to show their enemies mercy, as self-appointed antiheroes, they can't, and deliver the fatal blows.
  • Subverted late in the second season of Code Geass. Lelouch is actively trying to make his publicity worse, not because he wants to be bad, but because he needs to look bad for his plan.
  • Natsu Tanimoto from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple, a male Bitch in Sheep's Clothing who tries very hard to maintain his image as the school's Ace.
  • Being about a group of people in a city of corporate superheroism, none of the heroes in Tiger & Bunny can escape the insistence of their sponsors and director on the importance of creating a spectacle and raising ratings. Karina is expected to be the 'sexy' Ms. Fanservice to the detriment of her esteem and crime-fighting ability, Kotetsu is openly mocked for being an idealistic Destructive Saviour, and Ivan's Shrinking Violet personality doesn't go well with the theatrics of HeroTV. Barnaby comes across as very media-friendly, although the reasons why turn out to be suspect.
  • One Piece:
    • An aspect of the World Government that becomes more prominent as the story goes on; when Crocodile's attempted coup of Alabasta is made public, rather than admit that the situation was resolved by the Straw Hat Pirates, they claim it was the work of Marine Captain Smoker (much to his anger). After the Whitebeard War, it transpires that multiple super-criminals escaped from Impel Down; Fleet Admiral Sengoku wants to immediately warn the public, but the Government heads insist on keeping the matter covered up, much to his fury. The Government is essentially dedicated to appearing all-powerful and flawless, so they spend much of their time covering up anything that would make it look bad and sway public opinion to their enemies.
    • The Whole Cake Island arc gives us Charlotte Katakuri, second son of the Charlotte family, one of the Three Sweet Commanders, and the absolute strongest subordinate of Big Mom. To the public, including his family, he is The Paragon, a handsome, stoic, and supremely confident warrior that has never been beaten in a fight. However, this is just a facade that he projects to everyone; Beneath the Mask, Katakuri is just as gluttonous and goofy as his siblings and is deeply insecure about his imperfections — particularly his grotesque, "pelican eel" mouth. The thing is, while he was bullied for it, he didn't really care since he could always beat up his bullies if they gave him flak. However, it was after his little sister, Brulee, was attacked and scarred by said bullies' Revenge by Proxy that he started becoming the way he is, vowing never to slip up and let any of his siblings be hurt again. He is devoted to maintaining the charade as much as possible and only allows himself to forget the pressures of being the "perfect" brother and son during his daily "snack time", which he spends in isolation. He's even willing to kill to keep up the illusion, as seen when he killed a number of chefs who accidentally saw him during his snack time. It's only during his fight with Luffy, an opponent who has seen his physical and personality flaws and cared nothing for them, that Katakuri is finally inspired to break out of this mindset for the sake of fighting a truly Worthy Opponent.
    • The Whole Cake Island arc also explores this with the Four Emperors. What hasn't really been touched upon in the story until this arc is that the Emperors play a political game as much as they do a power one. Much like the World Government, the Emperors rely on their reputation to keep their respective empires in the New World, but whereas the World Government presents itself as competent and just, the Emperors present themselves as powerful and feared. They do this by killing or (usually forcibly) recruiting any that challenge them. It is because of this that the Big Mom Pirates so desperately chase after the Straw Hats and the Firetanks in the latter half of the arc, instead of just cutting their losses after the two groups managed to escape them the first time. It was already bad enough that they screwed up the Charlotte Family's plan to murder the Vinsmokes, and then attempted to assassinate Big Mom themselves, but if they were to escape without facing suitable retribution, it would almost irreversibly damage the name of Big Mom and open up the crew and their territories to attacks from the other Emperors or even the Marines (who notoriously refuse to challenge any Emperor seriously unless it's on their terms). It's why they muster all the forces they can just to capture Luffy at Cacao Island — as embarrassing as it is to send so many against one man, him escaping would be worse, no matter how minuscule a chance it may be. And when they finally do escape almost unscathed after a lot of damage done, the main reason they don't take a giant hit to their reputation is that the whole mess was so outrageous it instead massively improved Luffy's own, to the point he's thought to be in the same bracket as the Emperors now (much to Big Mom's displeasure).
  • Amai Mask from One-Punch Man is this, maintaining a perfect image with the public and brutally criticizing the other heroes who so much as mess up a little. Initially, it seems like this is just because he is a vain, shallow pretty boy; but later it is revealed that he is doing this entirely out of pragmatic reasons; the Hero Association depends on donors and sponsors to keep running. Having heroes raise doubts in the public eye through their behaviour could have far-reaching consequences. This is seemingly proved right, as once some of the corruption and misanthropic behaviour of some of the heroes is revealed, it severely weakens the Hero Association.
  • Griffith from the anime Berserk is the king of this trope never doing anything evil unless it will advance his goals and won't cause much of a negative publicity. Give him any reason profitable enough though, any reason, and he will cross the Moral Event Horizon like a chicken would a road. In fact only once in his life did he do something For the Evulz against this principle and that was because it was aimed at the one and only person who dared to make him doubt himself and forget his dream.
  • In Tokyo Shinobi Squad, Jin says that his squad's reputation would be ruined if they were to ever back out of a fight, prompting him to finish it instead of making a Tactical Withdrawal when given the chance.

    Comic Books 
  • Explored by Samaritan in Astro City, where he forces himself to make public appearances and accept awards so that the public, and possibly himself, do not think he's aloof and uncaring, thus complicating his efforts. He's also painfully aware that he could very well use the time and his Super Speed to save lives.
  • Subverted by Gail Simone in Secret Six, where the team decides that being "villains for hire" doesn't mean they can't take more "heroic" jobs if the money's right. This is lampshaded as being an unusual decision in The DCU.
  • In the world of Madame Mirage, the technology that allowed people to become superheroes and supervillains was outlawed, as were the superheroes and supervillains themselves. Dutifully, the heroes all turned themselves in - and, in gratitude, were arrested and thrown in prison. The supervillains, of course, merely opened up legit front organisations and carried on being evil.
  • Another comic book example: In Miracleman #14, innocent young Johnny Bates, in order to stop the other boys at his group home from raping him, reluctantly says the word that transforms him into the mad Kid Miracleman. Having dispatched all of his assailants, Kid Miracleman is about to spare the life of the one nurse who had been kind to him. He then says, "I'm sorry. They'd say I was going soft, wouldn't they?", and punches off the top half of her head.
  • In the comic book Superstar: As Seen on TV, due to the nature of the title character's powers, the more popular he is, the stronger his powers are. As a result, even though he hates the whole celebrity game, he continues to play it because it's the only way for him to stay an effective superhero.
  • Black Cat (Harvey Comics) is described as having become a superhero not for any kind of moralistic call to action or desire to pursue justice, but rather out of boredom from the restricted cage from her celebrity lifestyle.
  • Scrooge McDuck does indeed have a generous side. He once parted with a cache of gold to save his former lover from the poorhouse and gave up on a scheme to bilk the IRS when he realized it would bankrupt Duckburg. However, he can never, ever allow himself to be seen doing these things; if he parts with a prize, he employs Obfuscating Stupidity to make it seem like he lost it because of his own clumsiness or old age. He has an image as a cruel, greedy old miser to maintain.
  • The Ultimates: The team itself. As a government supersoldier program with a tremendous budget they were constantly threatened by public scrutiny and for a while had to justify their budget in spite of the lack of an immediate threat. This lead to a major plot point that stretched through two volumes when Bruce Banner hulked out and the Ultimates stopped him, SHIELD covered up the connection between Banner and Hulk turning a story about the team cleaning up its own mess into their first public success.

    Fan Works 
  • In The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, John and George rid an inn of thieves by making all the toilets fill up with sewage. Their triumph is rudely destroyed by the Guardians, for whom they were working; the Guardians chastise them for saving the inn in such an embarrassing and non-Guardians fashion. (Spectrem: "Look, guys, it's not that we aren't pleased you helped free the inn. We are! And we really like that you're concerned about the people. But, you know, you always gotta take lotsa little things into account before you do something. And the Guardians' rep is not all that little. You gotta understand that doing something inappropriate in our name can cause big harm to our image, which could endanger a lot of people in the future.") Because of this, they refuse to absorb the damage to the inn and end up taking more than half of John's reward money to cover it.
  • This Bites!: In the wake of the PR fiasco that was Enies Lobby, the Marines have effectively become PR's bitch for the foreseeable future. To the point that Sengoku has permanently reassigned every single Marine that follows "Absolute Justice" (such as Admiral Akainu and Vice-Admiral Onigumo) to the New World so that way they can't make things worse than they already have.
  • This trope is why Garon doesn't just get rid of his concubines in The Lost King despite all their infighting and treachery: some of them are noble and getting rid of them would anger their families, possibly to the point of rebellion. Indeed, after a concubine and her daughter died under suspicious circumstances, the concubine's brother hired an assassin to kill Garon out of revenge, blaming him for not protecting them. He gets Garon's wife Katerina instead. Other concubines are self-made women who are either powerful in their own right or have valuable assets that could be turned against Garon if they got expelled. So, to keep the peace in Nohr, he's got to keep them all, for all he's heartbroken over the deaths of his children and his two wives and is uninterested in womanizing anymore. (Note he does sleep with one more woman — Elise's mother).
  • Rivals Series:
    • While neither Viktor nor Yuuri personally care for their reputations, they recognize that having a bad one can damage their careers; hence, while Yuuri's hatred of Viktor is well-known, he's never been publicly rude about him.
    • This played a major part in the doping scandal. After the story broke thanks to a leak in the ISU, Viktor's immediate reaction had been to speed over to Yuuri and apologize and beg for forgiveness on bent knee; Yakov stopped him and forced him into a press conference to apologize for the accusations publicly, as the longer he put it off the more damage would be done to both his and Yuuri's reputations, and thus, their careers. The fact that this all happened in Yuuri's home country, causing him to lose the biggest competition of his career, made things infinitely worse. Just about the only thing stopping Viktor's reputation from going down in flames was his obvious distress over the situation, seen in his own performance at the competition, which he bombed even worse than Yuuri did, culminating in him running after Yuuri when it was over, clearly heartbroken and desiring to make amends (all of which was televised for the entire world to see). The entire Russian skating team faced backlash for what happened, forcing them to leg it out of Japan as soon as the competition was over, and they didn't face much sympathy anywhere else in the skating world for the following nine months (barring, of course, Russia). The only thing that caused the heat down permanently was Yuuri and Viktor having The Big Damn Kiss at next season's Grand Prix Final and publicly announcing they were a couple.

  • This ends up kick-starting the plot of Mystery Men. With his world lacking a Cardboard Prison and all his villains either locked-up, executed or reformed, Captain Amazing has fallen out of favor with the public and his sponsors, driving him to release his arch-enemy from prison to have a supervillain fight for the publicity.
  • The main reason why Emperor Commodus doesn't simply have Maximus killed in the film Gladiator. Because the Romans love Maximus, his gladiatorial prowess, and his willingness to defy the Emperor, Commodus can't do anything overt without risking the loss of the popular support of the people.
  • Stardust: Captain Shakespeare works hard to maintain his reputation as a terribly fearsome pirate. When his Camp Gay secret finally comes out, his crew tells him they knew it all along.
    • It should be noted that his fearsome act was more for his crew's benefit than his actual reputation. He wanted to be a high-class villain, showing mercy to Tristan while still doing a pirate's work, but his crew were more stereotypical and so maintained a rough-and-tumble attitude outside his quarters. His own name was for the pure personal enjoyment of hearing his crew cheer "Shakespeare! Shakespeare!", knowing they had no idea as to the writer the name alluded too, but enjoyed the passion that they put behind it.
  • In Schindler's List, there's a scene where in order to tone down his sadistic cruelty, Schindler tries to sell Goeth on an Übermensch kind of idea that showing mercy is something the strong can do. As a result, Goeth spares a slave who had made a mistake. Then, he looks in the mirror and realizes he can't live with himself if he's not a murderous psychopath, and he goes back and kills the slave.
  • In The Princess Bride, the Dread Pirate Roberts is a carefully-maintained persona of wealth and cruelty, secretly played by a succession of men.
  • Played With in Hancock. The eponymous superhero has a "devil-may-care" attitude when it comes to being a superhero, and often causes as much (if not more) damage than what he fixes while trying to help the citizens of Los Angeles, which has led to his terrible reputation. It takes an ordinary citizen (a PR executive who wants to help after Hancock saved his life) and an intensive "12-step program" (which includes admitting his past mistakes, voluntarily going to jail and adopting a new catchphrase) for Hancock to realize he can keep his good reputation if he plays by the rules and remains mindful of the environment he lives in.
  • In Mercenary Fighters, an African nation wants to modernize by building a dam, but numerous local villages would be flooded out as a result. When the protagonist questions why they don't simply go ahead with their plan, the answer is "We can't! The press!" Instead, the government goes with the much more PR friendly route of hiring mercenaries to massacre said villages before proceeding.
    • Just to further confound things, they outright mow down a British journalist in the process. So much for "the press" being an issue.
  • Dean Gladstone from Neighbors has an extremely high regard for "good headlines".
  • Briefly touched upon in Cinderella (2015): the King and Duke want the people to be happy, and are well aware that a small kingdom like theirs is at a disadvantage compared to other nations. They agree to go along with Kit's idea of inviting commoners to the ball as a small PR boost, though they still encourage him to marry a princess.
  • The Hunger Games: In-universe. Tributes must do several things during training and the actual game (impress the judges, achieve a high training score, make a good impression on Flickerman's show) in order to receive sponsorships and items to assist them. Katniss decides to play with the rules (via her training stunt where she shoots the apple out of a roast pig) and gets the highest Tribute ranking (11 out of 12) and more assistance during the game.
  • In Apocalypse Now this trope is thoroughly mocked by Colonel Kurtz and is cited as a reason for why America is losing the Vietnam War. He admires the Vietnamese enemy for they were willing to do cruel things in order to win, regardless of the perceived immorality of their actions. The Vietnamese were willing to do whatever it took to win, with no method being too cruel or unsightly to achieve victory — the Americans, by contrast, let judgment based on fighting a war "morally" defeat them.
  • In Vincent Wants To Sea, the main character Vincent's father is this (which makes sense, since he's a politician). Dr. Rose actually manages to get him to keep looking for Vincent, who's stolen her car to go to Italy, by threatening to report Vincent for car theft and then call the media - there's an election coming up, and the press would love to hear about the mentally ill criminal son of a candidate.
  • Long Shot: President Chambers only considers giving Charlotte his endorsement for her presidential run after she points out that supporting the first female President would be a positive step for his legacy. Charlotte herself gives a lot of consideration to public image.

  • Girls To The Rescue: In "Save Wellington Woods", a class successfully preserves their local forest with a demonstration. Ultimately, they find out that Mr. Dubois, who wanted to raze the woods, intends to run for office and discontinued his building plans just to avoid the negative publicity ignoring the protest would have caused.
  • Taken as standard behaviour in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series; where Whitemailing-"Threatening to reveal a mobster's anonymous donations to charity", is listed as an Anti-crime alongside "Proffering with embarrassment" and "Breaking and redecorating."
    • Come to that, just about every other thing in the Discworld seems to be affected by this trope in some way or another - people's expectations and beliefs frequently affect, at the very least, the aspects of supernatural entities not affected by the morphic field attributed to being human-shaped: a mistake on the part of a very inept sculptor resulted in the Ephebian Goddess of Wisdom carrying around a penguin instead of an owl; an entire separate timespace exists so the Hogfather can deliver all his presents in a single night; and Death's domain has a black-on-black, skull-and-bones motif because, quite frankly, it's expected. Though he did add some wheatfields in the background after the events of Reaper Man to brighten the place up a bit.
  • Ciaphas Cain: Cain quite literally blundered his way into becoming a HERO OF THE IMPERIUM, a reputation that he could do well enough without when it ends up getting him into trouble (as it almost inevitably always does). However, as running away at the first opportunity would disgrace him in the eyes of his followers and cost him the benefits of said reputation (as well as possibly his life), he is often forced to act against his own self-preservation instincts in order to keep up appearances. The possibility that Cain simply doesn't give himself enough credit is also left open.
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest: It's possible that this is the only thing restraining Randle P. McMurphy. He's perfectly willing to fleece you of your money, but he wants you to like him while he does it. Being put into a Bedlam House was one of the worst things that could have happened to him, since the respect the other inmates have for him is directly related to how much he rebels against the Head Nurse, and he'd rather be their hero than escape the brutal punishments that result from defiance.
  • A very powerful recurrent theme in The Hunger Games. Katniss quickly becomes aware, before the Games begin, that if she makes herself into a memorable, likable persona, she'll be more likely to earn sponsors. The love story that she builds between herself and Peeta makes the ratings of the Games soar. This theme only gets stronger as the books go on: the fabricated engagement, marriage, and expected child between her and Peeta is a dominating theme of Catching Fire, and it culminates in Mockingjay when it is strongly implied that the rebels bomb a town square full of children, in a hovercraft labeled as the Capitol, in order to convince everyone in the nation that the Capitol is evil. PR is possibly the most powerful weapon in The Hunger Games.
  • Baal, in Dora Wilk Series, is a fallen god who fought his way to top echelons of Hell mostly by the way of Klingon Promotion and got himself the reputation of a murderous bastard who uses everyone. While he has some of this quality, he's also very much a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but if he ever admitted openly that he likes anybody as a friend, he'd be knifed within days.
  • Good name in man and woman is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash. 'Tis something, nothing, 'twas mine, 'tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he who filches from me my good name steals that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.
  • Harry Potter
    • Gilderoy Lockhart, Harry's second Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. He set up quite a name for himself with his good looks and books about his fantastically badass exploits fighting magical creatures. Too bad he never did them. He just wiped the memories of the people who actually did them to take credit for them. Eventually he tries to wipe Harry and Ron's memories after they find out, but the spell backfires on him.
    • In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix Fudge refuses to acknowledge Voldemort's resurrection because he doesn't want to deal with the Wizarding World entering into hysteria. His solution is to make Harry and Dumbledore the scapegoats of a Smear Campaign. He even states that "He has to be seen doing something."
  • In Worm, the Parahuman Response Team (PRT), the agency in charge of the government superhero teams, is extremely concerned about the image that the heroes show to the public. The steps they take for good PR include things such as ordering heroes to attend charity events, giving assistance to media that portrays powers in a positive light, and classifying information about a given hero's power if the full details would be something the general public finds disturbing. Chapter 23.1 introduces Glenn Chambers, head of Image.
    Hoyden: All Glenn cares about is the image, the PR. Up to you to figure out how to hold yourself like a 'lady' while you're dealing with street thugs with guns.
    • Multiple layers of PR slavery as it turns out: Glenn himself is not stupid, he just knows that if anybody is going to expose the corruption in the PRT, they'll need public support. Which incidentally is something Taylor has trouble with.
    • Played With when it comes to the villains. They must maintain a reputation of being formidable, so their underlings respect them and their enemies think twice about attacking them. The Undersiders, for example, do a lot what they do to maintain their Rep. But villains can't have too nasty a reputation, lest they cross the fine line between "intimidating" and "dangerous". Groups like the Slaughterhouse Nine, for instance, have gone so far over that line that heroes and villains will team up to deal with them when they come to town, and anyone who manages to kill one of them are simply thanked for their service by the PRT. In short, being a villain is a balancing act between this trope and Godzilla Threshold, with slip-ups having potentially disastrous results.
    • The PRT was concerned about image because it wanted parahumans to be integrated into regular society, and thought that Fantastic Racism against people with powers would lead to civil unrest and riots with superpowers that would tear apart society. Worm's sequel, Ward, which is set after the collapse of the PRT, shows that these fears were well-grounded. Without the PRT, anti-parahuman sentiment is on the rise, with the protagonists' efforts to keep Earth Gimel safe being hampered by an increasing reluctance by civilians to cooperate with heroes.
  • In The Henchman's Survival Guide, most heroes and villains are bankrolled by the entertainment conglomerates, so their every action is in service of ensuring that their show continues to be funded. To a lesser degree, every citizen has a score based on their social media presence, which influences whether they can secure loans and employment.
  • Brightlord Amaram in The Stormlight Archive is widely considered across Alethkar to be the perfect model of an honorable, disciplined noble general. After Kaladin accuses him of a serious crime, Adolin believes him after pointing out that a) Kaladin stepped in during a duel to save Adolin's life, when Amaram stepped back and said that infighting would only cause chaos, and b) another man famed for his honor, Adolin's father, has a blemished record, making Amaram's pristine reputation suspiciously clean. Adolin concludes that Amaram isn't truly honorable, he just spends a lot of time cleaning up his reputation.
    • The crime in question? Kaladin was a commoner soldier in his army who saved Amaram's life by killing a Shardbearer. Anyone who kills a Shardbearer is allowed to claim their priceless Shardblade, no matter their origins. Amaram instead took the Shardblade, set up false witnesses, and killed everyone else involved except for Kaladin, whom he sold into slavery. Amaram's justification was that a Shardblade would be wasted on a commoner who didn't know how to use a sword.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Our Miss Brooks, Mr. Conklin shows himself to be desperate to maintain a good public image on a number of occasions. For example, in "Madison Country Club", he's desperate to one-up his rival Jason Brill. In "The Cafeteria Strike", Mr. Conklin's desperate to prevent the school's board food being exposed in the newspaper. Yes, Mr. Conklin is desperate to maintain a good front for the public. However, he never seems to care about the reputation he has amongst Madison's students and faculty.
  • In Firefly, resident Bad Boss Adelei Niska is obsessed with maintaining image and reputation, to a point where he tortures and kills anyone who fails to do a job for him, including his own wife's nephew. Zoe was confident she could walk in and out of his lair with a large pile of cash without being robbed and murdered, based on Niska's need to uphold his albeit twisted code.
  • Played for several laughs in Married... with Children, most obvious in the "Reverend Al" episode, where Marcy single-handedly crushes Al's "Church of NO MA'AM" by showing the congregation pictures of Al and Peggy at her birthday, eating in a restaurant, watching a performance of Cats (with all the proceeds going to the Chicago ballet) and disappearing into a motel, all the while being lovey-dovey with each other.
    Marcy: There you have it. Your leader. On a date! With his wife! Deeply in love!
    Disgusted church visitor: Reverend Al! Tell us you were with a hooker! Or at least a guy dressed like one.
    Al: I have sinned! crying I have consorted with my wife! people booing and leaving
  • In an episode of Hannah Montana, Hannah appears multiple times on a morning Talk Show (a paper-thin parody of Live With Regis And Kathie Lee) to be interviewed, and her every answer to a question leads to her fanbase slavishly imitating her, much to her embarrassment and annoyance. This leads Hannah to finally explain to the kids on the talk show that they don't have to do anything or not do anything Hannah does just because she does or doesn't do it.
  • In Babylon 5 the Minbari are so much this that one can stop a civil war with ritual suicide.
  • This gets invoked several times in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. The episode "Sex, Lies and Videotape" involves the villain trying to bring Superman down by... accusing him of sleeping with a married woman. Another episode, "Whine Whine Whine", involves Superman being sued for slightly injuring a man whose life he saved. With other people thinking this is a swell idea, Superman is stuck with hiring the only honest (if not particularly successful) lawyer in town, because his image and personal feelings prohibit him being represented by a slimeball.
  • The Palace explored the relationship between modern royalty, the media, and the public in every episode of its short run.
  • In Scandal President Fitzgerald Grant is a Republican president with a rather liberal agenda which makes him disliked by plenty of people in both parties. The only way he can accomplish his goals is to maintain high public approval which means that his various sins and indiscretions have to be swept under the carpet. His public image of a devoted husband and family man requires him to hide the fact that he is in love with Olivia and he started to despise his wife.
  • In The Wire, the Baltimore Police Department are slaves to crime statistics, arrest rates and public opinion of their efficiency and the political power games involved in maintaining their image makes it near-impossible to do any meaningful investigation. Ineffectual investigation methods, charging major criminals with minor crimes, relegating prodigious detectives to meaningless posts, ignoring connections between drug dealers and politicians are all used to maintain the illusion of effectiveness. Similarly, the Drug Kingpins themselves are shown to be equally hamstrung by their need to be feared by competitors.
  • Dick Roman in Supernatural is one. Having taken the identity of a CEO, Roman's one policy to his monster underlings is to stay off the news. Unfortunately, this backfires when Dean walks right up to him in public, knowing that Roman will be unable to do anything.
  • JAG: A very common trope for this show. The protagonists work for the Department of the Navy and although they are primarily concerned with the proper functioning of the military justice system, the overall PR and public opinion ramifications are never far away from their minds or actions. The news media, congressional people or other groups often play up various incidents. PR considerations are often hinted at by superiors (usually the SECNAV) and are often talked about behind closed doors (to avoid the appearance of unlawful command influence).
    • The Pilot Movie features an exchange between the CNO, Admiral Drake, and the JAG, Rear Admiral Brovo, where it's made clear that the mere appearance of things (the ongoing Seahawk murder investigation and an upcoming Navy strike mission) are more important to consider than the actual facts.
  • Exploiting this trope is how the titular character of USA Network's Rush 2014 makes his living as a doctor. His clients are primarily celebrities who for various PR reasons cannot go to the hospital and Dr. Rush makes house calls and is extremely discreet. A movie producer does not want the tabloids to know that he broke his penis while having sex so he offers Rush $40,000 to treat him. A star baseball player likes to beat up his girlfriends so Rush is called in to treat their injuries. When Rush finally has enough at the end of the pilot and beats the jerkass baseball player with a bat, the victim claims to have fallen down the stairs rather than let the cops and the public know what really happened.
  • Blue Bloods:
    • As NYPD Commissioner, Frank Reagan does have to deal with this. Or more specifically, his Deputy Commissioner of Public Information Garrett Moore is. Garrett often has to give Frank advice that is sometimes frustrating, but in the end this is exactly why Frank trusts him so much: He's loyal, but he's not a yes-man, and will often remind Frank of how certain statements or actions will look to the general public outside the bubble of Frank's office.
    • One episode in season 4 involves an actor shadowing Danny in preparation for a role in a movie. When said actor gets himself stabbed in a fight, he doesn't want the public finding out so Danny has to drive him to a secret clinic rather than call an ambulance for him.
  • Power Rangers Ninja Steel features Galvanax the Big Bad. As a previous battleworld champion, he's all about going after the rangers, but his advisers point out if he gets knocked down even once he could lose his fanbase and followers. As such, he keeps sending out proxies until the right time.
  • In the Voyagers! episode "Voyagers of the Titanic", Pasteur almost decides to give up his research on a rabies vaccine, afraid of the damage to his reputation if he continues. He snaps out of it later after Bogg gives him an Armor-Piercing Question and says that his success has made him cowardly.
  • This is shown to be a pervasive problem in Chernobyl among Soviet officials, as the party cultivates such culture. Admitting any fault is political (and, possibly, actual) suicide. Passing the buck is the normal way of doing things. This leads to numerous problems for the main characters, who are trying to stop a major disaster from getting even worse. In one case, Moscow spends months negotiating with West Germany for a robot that can withstand the official radiation level at Chernobyl (2000 roentgen). In fact, the real level is six times that amount, and the robot shuts down within seconds, as no amount of shielding can protect the circuitry of anything more complicated than a light switch from such amounts of radiation. Scherbina loses it and curses out top party officials on a phone line he knows is being monitored by the KGB. As revealed during the trial, the two officials in charge of the power plant are only about promotions, so falsifying test results and avoiding looking bad are their top priorities. The same applies to Dyatlov, who browbeats his subordinates into causing the dangerous situation, also hoping for a promotion. Finally, Legasov accuses the entire Soviet state of this, revealing that a flaw had been discovered in RBMK reactor design that would result in Failsafe Failure if SCRAM was ever initiated during a runaway reaction, only to be suppressed by the government as it would make them look bad.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This was one of the biggest flaws of Victor Steiner-Davion in BattleTech. At the age of 22, he became ruler of the Federated Commonwealth in 3052 after his father, Hanse Davion, died of a heart attack. He really wasn't up to the task and was far too prone to basing his decisions on what to do based on whether or not it was something his subjects would perceive as the "good" thing rather than what was a smart long-term decision. The largest one was when his sister, Kathrine, stole half his realm in 3057. Everyone in the Inner Sphere expected him to immediately try to retake it, but wanting to play peacemaker he let her keep it. This led to her mismanaging that side of the realm for several years, then in 3060, after he returned from fighting the Clans to protect the entire Inner Sphere, he discovered that she'd gone and stolen the other half of the FedCom. Every single soldier in the international coalition he'd commanded immediately pledged their support in going to get his realm back, even the soldiers from the Capellan Confederation, the FedCom's most hated foe. Victor again refused, backing down because he was so concerned about potentially being seen as a warmonger (despite the fact that he already knew that Kathrine had also arranged for the assassination of their mother). Unfortunately, leaving Kathrine on the throne turned out to be a disaster as she was an ambitious but incompetent ruler who's hamfisted policies of lashing out at anyone she perceived as not showing sufficient respect to her resulted in tensions boiling over until open issurection began on multiple planets, which finally motivated Victor to act against her in the FedCom Civil War.
  • Gaming fans of Dungeons & Dragons and Star Wars refer to this as "Lawful Stupid" and "Chaotic Stupid" when one's alignment rules force them to do something obviously detrimental. This often depends on one's interpretation of the various behavior codes.
    • The Sourcebook Book of Exalted Deeds, based around the Good alignments, devotes sections of its first chapter to avoiding the Lawful Stupid trap. The first lesson: when the villagers tell you "A dragon is attacking us!" it does not ding your alignment to ask, "How big and does it have friends?"
      • However, the book also establishes that performing an evil act to save a lot of innocent lives is still ultimately a victory for evil and that a hero may end up in a situation where they can't avoid doing an evil act. But since good and evil are actual forces in DnD, this makes sense. And the book stresses that the forces of good are forgiving, though heroes must pay a price to make up for what they did.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Paladins (the character class) must be Lawful Good and follow their chivalric codex of tirelessly slaying evil, upholding good, protecting the innocents... lest they fall from grace and lose all their abilities. Some dungeon masters take this to vindictive extremes, punishing the character (and by proxy the player) for even the slightest transgression. (The worst variety of DMs deliberately engineer no-win situations where the Paladin is practically forced to break their code.) And sometimes not even an actual transgression. You can fall for evil deeds performed inadvertently (this can technically include furthering a villain's Evil Plan), evil deeds performed while being mind controlled and evil deeds performed by other members of the party, though most non-vindictive DMs will allow for a little leeway in this regard. And paladins do options for atoning for whatever evil deeds caused them to fall, thus regaining their powers.
    • Conversely, Blackguards must be evil, being the opposite of Paladins.
    • Blackguards and Paladins have it easy compared to the variant Paladin of Slaughter, who must be Chaotic Evil. You must disrespect all authority figures that haven't proven their physical superiority to you, refuse help to those in need and sow destruction and death at all opportunities. All opportunities. It seems quite likely that if this paladin is ever given the watch for the night, someone will die horribly. The Paladin of Slaughter is also forbidden to associate with anyone who's not of Evil alignment, and forbidden to have henchmen, followers, and cohorts of any alignment other than Chaotic Evil. That's right, the Chaotic Evil Paladin variant has the strictest rules about who they can work with. Somebody seems to have forgotten what "chaotic" means.
    • And don't even begin to think about what it means to be a Paladin of Freedom: Chaotic Good. You must disrespect authority and sow freedom at all opportunities. Good luck figuring out what that actually means. This is especially difficult to understand given that an earlier book had contained the Holy Liberator, who was very similar in nature to the Paladin of Freedom except that the code of conduct was basically "Help people and fight evil, and beyond that it's silly to try to give a strict code to a chaotic class."
    • Fourth Edition changed all this, so now there is a single Paladin class who can be any alignment, but the alignment must be the same as the god the Paladin dedicates himself to. They retain their powers no matter whatnote , but if a Paladin strays too far from his god's tenets, his compatriots will hunt him down and drag him back to be judged by that god's followers.
    • Fifth Edition throws it all out. Paladins no longer have an alignment restriction of any kind (though they're still written as if Lawful Good) and instead have a Sacred Oath that they take at third level that provides them with part of their powers and spells and also gives a loose code of conduct. A Paladin who repeatedly breaks their oath might become an Oathbreaker, but there's a lot more wiggle room on behavior.
  • Exalted plays around with this trope a lot, on all sides of the equation. The main protagonists, the Solar Exalted along with the Lunar Exalted, are both hailed as "Anathema" by two thousand years of propaganda, which is one of the main obstacles in their work to save Creation. Of course, once they grow powerful enough they can simply make people love them anyway. That goes for pretty much everything in the setting except mortals, actually.
    • The most infamous example would be the First Age Solar Desus, who personally invented a Charm that made everyone see him in the best light. Whatever he did, it was Good, and if it wasn't Good, it was for the Greater Good, and he's an even bigger hero for taking up that burden. It says a lot that general consensus is that he was one of the lesser monsters amongst the First Age Solars. note 

    Video Games 
  • In Fate of the World the player is this. All the time. Some policies will improve your standing with a region, others will hurt it. Neglect a region too badly and your standing will suffer. Get a 0% Approval Rating, and you will be kicked out of the region for a couple of decades, which by the time they do let you back in will probably have more problems than before you got the boot. Wonderful.
  • Your character might become this in Heroes Rise trilogy if you are focused on getting as much Fame and Legend Points as possible. If your Fame stat is high enough, some of the options that include putting justice above glory will be actually disabled. And if you choose so, you can betray Jenny and ruin her mission just so you can stay in the Project and hopefully win it. But again, your hero might as well be focused entirely on helping people, so this trope is optional.
  • Iji has a unique take on this with the Komato: the council does what the general population wants, and the general population wants genocide. However, much of the council members are Punch Clock Villains, including the leader of the fleet in charge of finishing the job, and really don't want to do it. In other words, the leaders want to be good, but they also need to maintain an arguably evil reputation.
  • Prison Architect has the most wonderful and beloved Mayor, who is such a slave to PR the moment the media starts harassing him about ANYTHING prison related he'll slam you with stupid edits like "Remove all exercise equipment from the yards in 24 hours or be fined massively until you do." Of course, nobody asked you about this, so have fun with prisoners getting so angry they start a riot.
  • Ratchet & Clank: Captain Qwark was initially a Villain with Good Publicity who only cared about getting fame and recognition. As of the third game, he's more moral but still enjoys his publicity.
  • Reimu Hakurei from Touhou Project has her reputation as Gensoukyou's resident youkai exterminator to think about. The problem is that unknown to its human populace, Gensoukyou is actually a Fantastic Nature Reserve and Reimu is its warden, so she doesn't "exterminate" youkai as much as she "roughs up the ones who get too rowdy." Unfortunately, she's also a very popular warden... among Gensoukyou's youkai populace, that is. Meaning her shrine often has visitors in the shape of the many youkai she's "exterminated", and the "haunted shrine" run by its "youkai shrine maiden" is no longer popular with the humans. Long story short, Reimu has a hard time balancing her job with keeping up appearances and making sure she doesn't lose whatever little good PR she has left.
  • In Shadowrun Returns: Hong Kong "Kindly" Cheng, a mob boss in the Yellow Lotus Triad, takes the concept of "face" very seriously, "face" being essentially her reputation among the other bosses in the Yellow Lotus and her community. When two of her best shadowrunners get gunned down in the introductory mission, this loss of skilled personnel means a loss of face and as such she ends up supporting the Player Character and Duncan as replacements because your goal involves finding out who hired their assassins. Your first mission for her involves bringing a rebellious minion back under her heel, because to Kindly having minions who break away from your operation is a loss of face.
  • Fallout: New Vegas: Legate Lanius and his superiors have spent decades crafting the image of him as a terrifying, unstoppable monster, granting him incredible power through sheer reputation. This, however, means that he can't ever allow that reputation to be weakened in any way whatsoever; he must always act like a powerful beast and he must always win the battles he personally takes part in, otherwise his mythic image would collapse, and his army with it. You can exploit this in the climax, convincing him to retreat by convincing him that he might lose the battle for Hoover Dam, and that it's too big of a risk for too little reward.
    Ulysses: His strength lies in his title - and it is his weakness. He will not fight a losing battle and destroy what he represents. Put the idea of loss in him. Convince him the Bear will not be the twentieth tribe beneath his heel, it will make him pause like nothing on earth.

    Visual Novels 
  • Throughout Ace Attorney, it's made clear that every aspect of the legal system suffers from this, since results are nearly always given priority over justice. Defense attorneys will employ almost any trick to get their clients cleared, prosecutors will use every bit of their clout and influence to get everyone brought before them found guilty, and police officers arrest whatever suspects they can find and leave the actual question of guilt for the court to handle. It reaches its nadir in the "Dark Age of the Law", where Phoenix Wright can be disbarred for presenting forged evidence (which he didn't do on purpose, and no one could prove otherwise) and where a falsely convicted murderer can be allowed to prosecute without strenuous objection.
  • In Hatoful Boyfriend the reputation of the noble Le Bel family is neither heroic nor villainous, though like a good noble Sakuya would argue that it transcends heroism. It's basically all about ostentatious presentation, general nobility, and high, expensive quality. In Holiday Star, Yuuya and several other characters are able to manipulate him by bringing this up. Hiyoko gets him to try a kind of cafeteria food just by talking about its supposed aristocratic appeal.
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Rosé hesitates to act motherly towards a Creepy Doll because she has a reputation of haughtiness to uphold, even though Akira is her only witness. She eventually relents and soothes the crying doll, pacifying its spirit.
  • Teru of Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side 2 practically has a Split Personality due to this trope. He's very curt and snappy to the heroine, but if she reminds him that other people are watching, he immediately switches from Ice to Sugar so fast it'll make your head spin.

  • Khrima in Adventurers! wants to be seen as an evil supervillain because Evil Is Cool. He is hypocritical about his devotion to evilness, though.
  • In Friendly Hostility, Colin's job as a model is going to cause trouble for him when he becomes a dictator. Apparently, it's hard to consider someone a fearsome tyrant when there are photos of them smiling and playing volleyball being distributed by the resistance.
  • Angelo and Brian Souballou, in Our Little Adventure, are absolutely slaves to PR: the task of running their empire and a huge cult practically demands that they spend a lot of their time posing as respectable human beings. Otherwise, they wouldn't have much of an empire.
  • Virtually every big villain in The Order of the Stick does this: Xykon seems, for the most part, to care about style almost as much as he does power, but the biggest of all is Tarquin, whose Smug Snake affectation means his schemes really have to be drawn in part by public relations.
  • The Nightmare Knight of Cucumber Quest is a Noble Demon who needs to be feared, since he draws his power from fear and needs said power to keep his "children" the Disaster Masters alive.

    Western Animation 
  • Shego of Kim Possible, a Fallen Hero, is very much a Card-Carrying Villain. In one episode, Kim threatened to expose her heroic past in order to coerce her into an Enemy Mine, and Drakken infuriated her by suggesting that she was too "soft" to betray her brothers.
  • The Justice League and Batman clash over this issue in the episode when the American government won't believe someone hijacked their Kill Sat. Green Lantern at first suggests they let them think what they want to think and continue doing their job ("We're not here to be liked."), but Wonder Woman convinces them they need the people to have faith in them and turn themselves in until their names have been legally cleared. They ask Batman, the original Anti-Hero, to join them, but he unhesitatingly rejects such a plan and instead works to find the real culprit. As it turns out, it appears that having both options working in tandem was the best thing to do; the League gained credibility that they were being responsible, while Batman, who had a reputation as a loose-cannon anyway, was able to convince Amanda Waller of the truth.
    • A lot of the Cadmus arc was about this. To begin with, one of the reasons Cadmus exists in the first place is because of the negative PR superheroes gained when, firstly, Superman was brainwashed by Darkseid, and secondly when Justice Leaguer Hawkgirl was revealed to be The Mole for an alien invasion. Later on, after discovering Lex Luthor is behind the Government Conspiracy, the Question attempts to kill Luthor, knowing his public image as a "crackpot" will keep the League from being seen as part of the murder.
  • Aang of Avatar: The Last Airbender allows himself to be thrown into prison when an Untrusting Community accuses his past life of murder. Katara tries to reason that he can't sit in jail while he has a world to save, and Sokka points out there's a whole nation of Firebenders who hate him, so what's one little town? But Aang believes he can't do his job as the Avatar with people thinking he's a murderer and has Katara and Sokka spend the episode clearing his name. It looks like he would have been perfectly willing to accept their death sentence if they hadn't come under attack, putting PR even above the very duty that makes him The Chosen One.
    • Naturally, Prince Zuko would have the exact opposite experience in his Day In The Limelight. Like the classic Western Anti-Hero, he saves a child and a town from a gang of tyrannical "protectors," with their cheers and support, until he reveals he's a Firebender, not to mention the heir to the Fire Nation throne. The townspeople watch him leave with scowls and pitchforks and not the least bit of gratitude, and he doesn't say a single word in his defense.
    • The importance of PR or "honor" to Aang is brought up again in the season 3 episode "The Awakening" when the world believing that he's dead and has failed in his mission AGAIN causes an onset of Aangst.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo threatens to drop The Professor into a Lava Pit unless Blossom vows to serve him (and Kneel Before Zod).
    Blossom: How do you know I won't lie?
    Mojo Jojo: Because you're Blossom.
    Blossom: Shoot.
  • The Spectacular Spider Man's L. Thompson Lincoln, aka Tombstone, aka The Big Man, is the crime lord of New York, but he has charitable public image to maintain. To the point where when he and the other two potential criminal rulers of the city (one being the former Big Man, Silvio Manfredi and the other being Dr. Octopus) had a meeting and a quick agreement to stop fighting just long enough to kill Spidey, he turned against them and saved the wall-crawler because he couldn't be seen consorting with those two. Of course, the moment they were out of sight...
  • Darkwing Duck, tired of his Anti-Hero persona, became a nice, public hero. Negaduck, sick of Darkwing's newfound fame, realized Darkwing couldn't effectively fight crime like this and went on a rampage. Darkwing finally gives it up and reverts to his unpopular, but badass self.
  • It turns out Princess Celestia from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic absolutely hates having to attend boring social events like the Grand Galloping Gala year after yearnote , but she does so since her subjects expect their ruler to attend. In general, nothing brings her more stress than having to constantly maintain the air of a calm, confident ruler before her subjects. The Season 7 episode "A Royal Problem" partly deals with her envy over her younger sister having the "easier" job of monitoring dreams, confused why Luna would ever want to have her position.
  • Kaeloo: Pretty throws a big fancy party and plans to invite everyone in Smileyland, but since everyone else thinks Kaeloo is lame, Pretty decides not to invite her. When Kaeloo shows up anyway, Pretty yells insults at her so the other party guests, mainly Stumpy, Olaf and Quack Quack, will hear, but privately apologizes to Kaeloo and seems to genuinely regret having to do this to uphold her reputation.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Dr. Doofenshmirtz tries very hard to keep up his evil reputation. One episode has him trying to erase a video where he accidentally saves a falling kitten since everyone thinks he did it purposefully and hails him as a hero.

    Real Life 
  • Politics, dating, sports... Even in real life, a good reputation is really important. However, we don't want examples; it would only be asking for trouble, and more importantly, we don't want this section to be larger than the rest of the wiki.
    • A common problem with wars throughout history, but especially a problem in the modern era. The 24-hour news cycle combined with the phenomenon of Internet social media has made the public backlash to war more important than ever because the means by which war and its architects can be criticized with modern technology is greater than ever before in human history. If a war is deemed too costly to continue, too immoral, or if it was done for the wrong reasons — the public will let you know so fast that your head will spin.
  • Pretty much why Nonviolent Resistance and protests work today in the modern era thanks to the press being widely available where it's most important for governments and other organizations to protect their image and reputation.
    • This is sometimes exploited by foes of the movement, who may place agents of their own in a crowd of protestors in order to incite violence. This tarnishes the group's reputation and serves as justification for harsh crackdowns and mass arrests against them.
  • This is actually what the concept of honor used to mean, and what it still means in many cultures. Being "honorable" meant that one had a reputation for trustworthiness, reliability, and fair treatment of others, even if others might see it as putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Alternative Title(s): Slave To His Reputation


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: