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"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

Suppose people agree that symbol X represents Y, where Y could be a person, or a group of people, a place, or a group of places, or perhaps Y is just some abstract idea. Whatever Y is, the point is that while some may be more fond of Y than others are, people agree that symbol X represents it.

However, attitudes can change over time. Often, a way to express that attitudes towards Y are tending further towards contempt is to symbolically destroy at least one version of symbol X.

In real life, this was a major aspect of the storming of the Bastille, the destruction of the Berlin Wall, and of the toppling of statues.

This can occasionally overlap with Allegiance Affirmation. Insignia Rip-Off Ritual and Monumental Damage are both subtropes of this. Compare Symbolically Broken Object. See also It's All Junk, where something that once had sentimental value to a character is destroyed by them to signify it losing it.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Fairy Tail: At one point during the "Lucy vs. Flare" fight in the Grand Magic Games arc, Flare adds insult to injury in the eyes of the Fairy Tail mages watching by threatening to burn Lucy's hand in such a way as would disfigure her guildmark. This bites her hard later on because it constitutes insulting Fairy Tail in front of Laxus.
  • My Hero Academia: After recovering his memories during his fight with Re-Destro, Shigaraki destroys his father's hand declaring it unnecessary. His family's hands were meant to keep his old memories as Tenko Shimura locked away while aggravating his aggressive tendencies to help him embrace his need for destruction. By deliberately destroying his hands, Shigaraki has truly left his past behind him and now fully embraced his role as a vehicle of destruction.
  • Naruto: In a flashback Itachi throws a kunai into an Uchiha clan symbol, while going into a rant about having lost hope in the clan.
  • One Piece:
    • When Nami reaches her Rage Breaking Point in the Arlong arc, she angrily stabs the Arlong Pirate tattoo on her shoulder repeatedly. Luffy has to stop her before she can mutilate herself further. Later on, Nami takes the less harmful approach of tattooing over it to make something else.
    • At the climax of Luffy's battle with Arlong, Luffy's final attack smashes through the ceiling of Arlong Park, knocking down the Arlong Pirates flag, and eventually Arlong Park itself, signifying the end of the tyrannical Fish-Man's rule of the Conomi Islands.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, a crowd pulls down the enormous statue of Kamina during a period of social instability caused by the impending destruction of Earth. This is likely a reference to the Lenin-statue-toppling example from real life.

    Comic Books 
  • Earth 2: Issue 20 features the parademons destroying places of worship all over the world. A building labeled "SCIENTOL—" (the panel cuts off the rest) is included in the destruction. Rather conspicuously, this panel is the one that features a line from Superman calling religion "fiction".
  • In an Elseworlds story, "Ring Of Evil", featuring the Green Lanterns set in a Nazi-controlled world, John Stewart upon gaining control of the Green Lantern ring destroys a Nazi symbol on top of a building and replaces it with the Green Lantern symbol.
  • In the middle of Knightfall, when Commissioner Gordon finished an inconclusive and frustrating argument with the Anti-Hero Substitute Batman, he struck the Bat-Signal out of anger, leaving it cracked but not destroyed.
    • Sometime before Knightfall, Gordon's wife Sarah gets into a heated exchange with Batman on the station roof. After he leaves, a livid Sarah pulls out her gun and puts a bullet square in the center of the Signal (though as with the above example, the bullet didn't shatter it).
  • This Superman cover is a villain-against-hero example.
  • In the Superman The Dominus Effect story arc where he is trapped in four different time period realities, the Superman of the Golden Age era smashes a giant Nazi symbol after he had saved it from toppling right on top of the crowd during a Nazi rally headed by the Atomic Skull.
  • V destroys the statue of Justice in both the comic and film of V for Vendetta.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Bait and Switch Shared Universe of Star Trek Online fanfics, D'trel's portrayal has gradually been evolving beyond "Romulan with massive PTSD on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Tal Shiar". This culminates in Beat the Drums of War when her ship, RRW Vengeance, is damaged beyond repair in battle. She transfers her flag to a new ship, RRW Sword of Hope.
  • In the Empath: The Luckiest Smurf novel, Empath destroys a statue of himself when he realizes that it has been used as an object of worship by his fellow Smurfs, as his way of saying Stop Worshipping Me.
  • In Purple Days, after killing Aegon Targaryen for the final time, Joff raises the sword Blackfyre, the symbol of Targaryen authority, power, and rebellion, and casts it into the sea, symbolically breaking once and for all the family's right to rule over Westeros.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • The Dark Knight: Towards the end, the bat-signal is smashed with an axe. This moment is after Batman said he would take the blame for Harvey Dent's murders; it's implied that people are smashing the bat-signal to symbolize their increasing disapproval of Batman. This is a somewhat unconventional approach to this trope, seeing as how rather than portraying it as destroying the symbol of a villain, it is instead destroying the symbol of a hero who is (willingly) being mistaken for a villain.
  • The climax of the Trucking strike in F.I.S.T. is when F.I.S.T. tears down the Consolidated Trucking sign.
  • The opening scene of The Mask of Zorro has a peasant climbing a flag pole during a riot in order to rip down a Spanish flag.
  • Judgment at Nuremberg opens with Stock Footage of the giant swastika at the Nuremberg Rally site being blown to smithereens by US Army engineers.
  • The Sound of Music - at least in the film adaptation, Captain von Trapp starts tearing up the Nazi flags hung outside of his house once he's decided that he doesn't want anything to do with them.
  • Star Wars:
    • In the finale of Return of the Jedi, the Ewoks are using Stormtrooper helmets for percussion. In the Special Edition, we get a view of Coruscant where a statue of the Emperor is pulled down.
    • In Revenge of the Sith, Yoda and Palpatine's final battle takes place in the Senate Chambers. Palpatine pulls the Pods the senators use off the wall and hurls them at Yoda, destroying them and whatever additional pods are hit by the projectiles. The fight is destroying the very symbol of democracy.
    • In The Last Jedi, after Supreme Leader Snoke chews out Kylo Ren for his failures from The Force Awakens, Kylo Ren smashes the helmet he wore throughout the previous film. It is welded back together for The Rise of Skywalker, but Kylo discards it for good when he restores the good man that he was.
  • In Summer Camp Nightmare, Mr. Warren's butterfly collection board, which serves as a sort of symbol for the camp director's rather oppressive rule over the campers and junior counselors, gets smashed and taken down by the revolution as they take the supports for it and use it for roasting a pig over an open fire.
  • At the end of This Is England, Shaun takes the St George's flag given to him by the nationalist gang leader and hurls it into the sea following his Broken Pedestal moment.
  • V destroys the statue of Justice in both the comic and film of V for Vendetta.

  • In The Red Tent, Jacob destroys the household gods of his wives and father-in-law, believing them to be the cause of all his problems since leaving Padan-Aram. In particular, he finds one that he missed and is particularly harsh about smashing it to pieces, and then urinates on the shattered remains. Zilpah witnesses this and is Driven to Madness over it.
  • In Sewer, Gas & Electric, Dufresne's eco-pirates have a hideout in a replica Nazi submarine base hidden under the Statue of Liberty (long story). When they took possession of the site, Jewish techno-genius Morris Kazenstein blew the swastika out of the clutches of a giant eagle statue, using a magnetic rail-gun that fires kosher salami.
  • In The Two Towers, when some of the protagonists leave Isengard after Saruman's defeat, they ride by the huge White Hand, the symbol of Saruman's realm, and see that it has been broken.
  • In post-apocalyptic Victoria, the armies of the Northern Confederation burn and bulldoze the capital of Azania's high-tech Lady Land after defeating its Amazons, and literally salt the earth there to symbolize the utter and final defeat of the ideas of women's rights, human rights, and human progress through technology.
  • Geralt's drifting away from the Witcher ideal of a True Neutral monster hunter throughout The Witcher saga is underlined by the (involuntary) loss of symbolic items that identify him as a Witcher: his steel and silver swords are lost during the Thanedd coup in The Time of Contempt and his silver wolf medallion is accidentally melted by magical fire in Tower of the Swallow. He does get another medallion towards the end of Lady of the Lake and a new pair of swords in the video game sequel.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A minor example, but well-timed in its execution and subtle implication. In season 3 of Babylon 5, Captain Sheridan is forced to declare Martial Law. Meanwhile, there is a general riot in the Zocalo as station residents fight back against the oppressive Nightwatch. Then, just as Sheridan finishes the declaration, a thrown chair smashes one of the monitors displaying him: like a nonverbal Precision F-Strike against the order.
  • Death Note: In the beginning of the finale, Light comes across the doll of Mello on a road. But as he comes closer, a truck tips a ton of debris right on top of it, while Light manages to evade being crushed. This was basically Near giving a hint to Light that their Split-Personality Takeover was faked.
  • The Firefly episode "Jaynestown" ends with Jayne toppling the statue of himself after the ugly truth about his "selfless" act after which the town has been named comes to light.
  • In the Lois & Clark episode "Super Mann", Nazis disable Superman and take over Metropolis. After the Man of Steel has recovered and stopped them, he heat-visions a swastika flag, revealing the Daily Planet globe behind it.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Word of God confirmed that the destruction of the Galaxy-class starship USS Odyssey by the Jem'Hadar in their introductory episode was meant to establish the Dominion's threat level, that not even Jean-Luc Picard's USS Enterprise would've survived that one unscathed.
  • In The Twilight Zone (1959) episode "The Little People", an astronaut finds the race of tiny people and forces them to build a life-sized statue to him. After his karmic demise, they topple it.

  • In a Dragon article about the Dungeons & Dragons evil war god Hextor, one illustration shows the symbol of his twin brother, the good war god Heironeous, broken in half.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • After winning the 2004 Leyenda De Plata, Perro Aguayo Jr smashed the trophy El Hijo Del Santo awarded him and pronounced Perro Aguayo a greater legend than El Santo, which made him the CMLL equivalent of a heretic.
  • At the 2005 Final Battle, Ricky Reyes decisively defeated Davey Andrews and smashed the rookie's Ring of Honor Top Of The Class trophy.

  • In the Book of 2nd Kings from The Bible, Jehu after slaying the Baal worshipers in the northern kingdom of Israel proceeded to destroy the temple and turn it into an outhouse. Later on in the same book, the Babylonians come and destroy the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem.
    • In the apocryphal books of 1st and 2nd Maccabees, the Jews under the leadership of Judah Maccabee remove the "abomination of desolation" that King Antiochus IV had set up in the Temple and restored it as a proper place of worship of the one true God.
    • In the Gospels, Jesus tells His disciples that the Jewish temple that was standing during the time of His first coming would be destroyed.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • ANNO: Mutationem: In the bad ending, after Amok uses Ann's Moment of Weakness to take over her body, she delivers a massive slash towards the mark of The Consortium just before unleashing destruction on the world.
  • In Guild Wars 2, many Renown Hearts can be partially fulfilled by destroying symbols. Many events targeting the Grawl involve smashing their religious totems. The Path of Fire storyline includes a segment where you deface the symbol of Palawa Joko as part of a False Flag Operation to draw the government's attention.
  • Half-Life 2 has its scene of rebels pulling down a Breencast monitor. Gordon also inadvertently causes this during his narrow escape from Nova Prospekt. Attempting to leave via teleporter, they are interrupted and attacked with Combine dark energy weapons. This evidently backfires and destroys much of the facility, which La Résistance takes as its cue to rise up and begin open warfare.
  • One way to "increase chaos" in Just Cause 2 is to topple statues of "President" Panay. To save on explosives, you can yank them down in the classic fashion by grappling the statue's head to a vehicle.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time: Throughout Hyrule, there are several destroyed stones with the mark of the royal family by unknown forces. Whenever Link uses the ocarina, the stones are restored.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess: Prior to the beginning of the story, Zant destroyed the Mirror of Twilight to prevent passage to the Twilight Realm after he took over.
  • The "People's Ending" of Republic: The Revolution features a crowd smashing the statue of Novistrana's now-former dictator.
  • Resident Evil: The Umbrella Chronicles: One of the first things Wesker does after his resurrection in the "Rebirth" section of the game, is take off his sunglasses with the Umbrella logo on them and destroy them. He gets a new pair soon afterwards without the logo. This represents how he no longer works for Umbrella and has his own agenda.
  • Starbound: Apex settlements sometimes feature huge statues of their leader Big Ape, as well as posters of his face with the word "OBEY" over it. Apex rebel camps have the same... except the statues are headless and the posters are defaced with silly moustaches and hats.
  • In an odd example where the meaning is established out-of-universe but not within it yet, in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed, Darth Vader ends the tutorial level by hurling Kento Marek through a door bearing what most players will recognise is the Rebel Alliance symbol - but in-universe the Alliance doesn't even exist yet. The symbol is actually the Marek family crest. Kento's son, Galen/Starkiller, goes on to found the Rebel Alliance and make a Heroic Sacrifice to save its founders, and they adopt his family crest as their insignia to honour him.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar:
    • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
      • When the White Lotus members take Ba Sing Se back from Fire Nation rule, they pull down a statue that Ozai had put up of himself. In the same scene, Iroh burns a Fire Nation flag that had been hung over an Earth Kingdom symbol.
      • When King Bumi reclaims Omashu on the day of the Eclipse, he defaces an Ozai statue with smiley face bits of stone and then pulls it down.
    • General Iroh takes a turn in The Legend of Korra by crashing the plane he had just hijacked into the Equalist mask that they had placed on the statue of Aang. The statue, which is apparently the most durable thing in Republic City, is unscathed, but the mask is trashed.
  • In the Conan the Adventurer episode "Dreggs-Amon", Dreggs, after getting the Black Ring and gaining control of the Serpent Men, starts destroying anything connected to the former ruler, Wrath-Amon. The fact that he did this despite the fact that Wrath-Amon gave him the ring and the authority voluntarily so that Dreggs could hold down the fort while his boss took a short vacation for health reasons demonstrated how power-mad and unfit for authority Dreggs really was.
  • Hilda: In "The Troll Rock", the mother troll destroys the new statue of the town founder Edmund "The Troll Slayer" Ahlberg, which features a troll's head under his boot.
  • Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness: The statue of Po as the Dragon Warrior is threatened by Hundun, but is actually destroyed by Ke-Pa.
  • Steven Universe: Garnet crushes the console that was displaying Homeworld's plans for Earth.
  • Transformers: Robots in Disguise: Steeljaw slashes his Decepticon insignia which he says served a dual purpose, both to separate himself from the Decepticons and to disable the tracker device the Autobots have on him. He also does this to any Decepticon he recruits.

    Real Life 
  • The Real Life Trope Codifier is The Iconoclasm.
  • The destruction of the Stalin Monument in Budapest was one of the iconic moments of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.
  • The toppling of statues and monuments relating to a hated regime has been a regular feature of the revolutions since the fall of Communism, and the general change on management in many countries in the latter part of the 20th century and the early 21st. The regime-change in Iraq saw wholesale destruction of statues of Saddam Hussein, for instance. Any leader who aroused strong reactions of hate and revulsion is vulnerable: a statue of Margaret Thatcher was decapitated by a lone protestor in London, for instance.
  • Following World War II, the occupation forces in Germany engaged in a thorough process of de-Nazification. Swastikas and other symbols of the Nazi regime were destroyed and erased from buildings, roads and parks renamed, monuments destroyed or defaced, and flags and banners gathered up and burned. Not everything escaped destruction, though; for example, many thousands of postage stamps bearing Adolf Hitler's face were used post-war, because an efficient postal service was considered so important to the administration and reconstruction of the country that they couldn't wait for new ones to be printed up.
  • Flag desecration and burning effigies, especially during street protests.
  • The destruction of Catholic imagery in churches by Protestants both during the English Reformation in the 16th century and the Civil War in the 17th century. In fact, outbreaks of iconoclasm (as it's called) can be found in many religions. The Taliban blowing up ancient statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, mentioned on Monumental Damage, is another instance.
  • In The French Revolution, the Storming of the Bastille was the destruction of a fortress and political prison that represented the despotism of the Ancien Régime.
  • And of course, the especially historical destruction of the Berlin wall.
  • The tale tells that in World War II Soviet pilots were instructed to avoid aiming at big black crosses on their foes' planes. Yep, it was the greatest crosshair bait ever — but Germans knew this too and usually tried to not paint these over anything really important.
  • Arab–Israeli Conflict: After Jordan conquered part of Jerusalem and what is now usually known as the West Bank, they destroyed dozens of synagogues, and used Jewish tombstones to make urinals and latrines.
    • Jewish settlers in the Occupied Territories are inclined to return this favour on the occupied, and their targets now include Christian churches which have been burnt, desecrated, and spray-painted with obscenities in Hebrew.
  • This trope is actually Older Than Dirt. Sometime around 1350 BC, the Ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten abolished the worshipping of Egyptian gods and replaced it with a new monotheistic religion centered around the sun god Aten. Under Akhenaten's rule, temples and monuments dedicated to the old gods were defaced or destroyed. Once Akhenaten was dead, the old gods were restored, and a new wave of iconoclasm targeted the temples and monuments dedicated to Aten (and Akhenaten).
  • The mass scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia in 2022 caused several instances of this upon some remaining Soviet era and Russian monuments:
    • Several Ukrainian memorials to the Soviet-Hero Cities (which resisted the Germans during World War II) were purged from the names, statues, and symbols of Russian and Belarusian cities (since Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus is a passive ally/pawn of Vladimir Putin and served as launchpad for the failed Russian assault on Kyiv in February and March 2022 and for missile attacks upon Ukraine).
    • In Kyiv, a poll was organized in early 2023 to replace the Soviet emblems on the shield of the giant Motherland statue by the Ukrainian Tryzub, and 85% answered "yes". The Soviet symbol was removed on July 31, 2023 and replaced by the Tryzub, on time for the country's Independence Day (August 24).
    • Several remaining Soviet-era memorials were destroyed in Poland and the Baltic states (in Lithuania especially) following the Russian aggression. They're among the countries where support to Ukraine is at the highest due to having been dominated/occupied/annexed by Russia/the Soviet Union for centuries or decades.
  • As the alt-right's influence in the Republican Party of the United States has increased and the Republican Party has grown increasingly unhinged, a growing counter-movement, identifying lingering idealization of the Confederate States as a root cause, has pushed for the destruction of monuments of the Confederate States of America in order to establish that the Confederacy was evil and should not be revered.

Alternative Title(s): Break The Icon