A Straw Character exists in a work to represent a caricature of a position which the author wants to tear apart. Authors use these Strawmen because they have a position of their own to defend, and they want to make it clear who is right (namely the characters who agree with the author's opinion) and who is wrong. Yet sometimes — either immediately or after some thought — the audience realizes that the Strawman made the better argument, even though their position was the "wrong" one.
A particularly persuasive Strawman can cause the audience to turn their empathy from the "heroes" and start Rooting for the Empire. The presence of this trope generally indicates bad writing because a good writer could make their case without needing a Strawman to demolish. Occasionally the Strawman's argument is as weak as intended in its native context, but Creator Provincialism and/or Values Dissonance cause different audiences to see its merits. Note that, while the Strawman in question often is a Designated Villain, they're not automatically so. If need be, the hero can be a strawman just as long as they see the error of their way of thinking by the end of the story.
Alternatively, the Strawman in question can be a usually neutral character or even a protagonist who doesn't exist as a vessel for the creator's disliked leanings. The writers could be trying to spread an objectively good message to a potentially young audience or explain why a bad thing happens later in the series continuity, only for the character to have more of a point than the writers intended.
Using this trope cannot be done directly: the whole point is that it's a reaction the writer never intended. To purposefully use it, the writer would either have to be criticizing some other work or use a Show Within a Show format (or, failing either, be secretly against a position they're required to take because of censorship or Executive Meddling). If there's any awareness of this from the writers (and one might suspect subconscious awareness), expect a lot of unrelated Kick the Dog moments from the Strawman in an attempt to discredit their position as much as possible, which to the audience may only make it more obvious that the writers have no actual counterarguments against it. Alternatively, the author may attempt to work around this trope by revealing that the villain may have been using a valid argument, but only as a cover to let them do whatever they want. Or maybe they really do believe what they argue, but they think this gives them license to whatever "needs" to be done to make their beliefs a reality. This is also not a scenario where two people have a disagreement and Both Sides Have a Point. A Strawman is, by definition, an overly simplified position that is so flimsy it can be easily toppled. If everyone is partially correct, no side is a true Strawman, so it's not this trope. Above all, remember that a Strawman argument isn't inherently wrong, only poorly stated, as per the Fallacy Fallacy.
Contrast Jerkass Has a Point, Dumbass Has a Point, Hypocrite Has a Point, and Villain Has a Point, where the author deliberately has a non-credible character hit the nail on the head. Compare and contrast Misaimed Fandom, which results when the characters opposing the author's view are wrong but the fandom misinterprets the story as saying they were right, and Both Sides Have a Point, where both sides are treated as having legitimate arguments. See also The Extremist Was Right, Informed Wrongness, Designated Evil, No Mere Windmill, Alternative Character Interpretation, Do Not Do This Cool Thing, Broken Aesop and Unintentionally Sympathetic.
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- Western Animation
- An early 2000's ad for Kit Kat bars shows a male model talking about how exhausting his job is, with the implication that he's a wimp for complaining about a job that involves nothing more difficult than making a pouty face. The slogan is "If he deserves a break, you certainly do". The thing is that while being a model may not be the most intellectually demanding work, it can still be pretty draining — in addition to having to keep their bodies up to the standards demanded by the industry, models work very long hours, often for very little pay, for extremely demanding clients. As for "smiling all day" - well, holding your face in a specific expression and your body in a specific pose exactly as directed is not as easy as it sounds.
- Calvin and Hobbes
- Calvin is meant to be seen as paranoid for fearing his babysitter, Rosalyn. Whenever he tries to tell his parents how "evil" Rosalyn is, they defend her and imply that Calvin has so many problems with her because he brings them on himself with his bad behavior. But while Rosalyn isn't evil, she's still a bad babysitter, especially by modern standards. She repeatedly charges Calvin's parents more money in exchange for doing practically nothing, since instead of actually watching Calvin, she works on her homework or calls her boyfriend Charlie while gossiping about Calvin and his parents, and reacts to the antics of Calvin, (who is 6) by threatening him with bodily harm and death and has once even forced Calvin to sleep in the garage at one point. One can understand her frustrations at Calvin's many pranks and misdeeds, but Rosalyn wouldn't have so many problems if she interacted with Calvin to make sure he didn't get into trouble. In fact, the one time that Rosalyn plays Calvinball, where she's shown to actively pay attention to Calvin, there are no problems the entire night. So while Calvin's bad attitude isn't helping things, Rosalyn is actively making things worse by refusing to meet him halfway.
- Calvin's disdain for school is (in most cases) meant to show him as being Brilliant, but Lazy and having Skewed Priorities. While his attitude certainly isn't healthy and the lack of effort he puts in is a genuine problem (and not always just for him; one story arc had him partnered with Susie Derkins for a project, and his refusal to do any research in favor of making things up hurt her grade as well), it's not hard to sympathize with him, considering Ms. Wormwood's curriculum includes abnormally challenging subjects such as a leaf project that involves six year olds collecting fifty different kinds of leaves. Even beyond that singular project, many of the math problems shown are at the very least, at a 7th grade level, and Calvin is obviously far younger than that,
- A September 2009 Funky Winkerbean storyline has Susan defending Wit, the story of a middle-aged woman dying of cancer, as the choice for the School Play against parents who want their kids to perform something light and fun instead of a drama with challenging and potentially depressing ideas. The message being True Art Is Angsty and should be explored over lighthearted fare. However, the snarking blogs The Comics Curmudgeon and Stuck Funky, comments sided with the parents in this situation, pointing out it would be tough to stage with high school students and lack appeal to teens and their families. Thus they would not sell tickets which would cause them to lose money thus possibly forcing cutbacks in the art department. Why not do something light and fun that many people will want to see instead? It did not help the argument that the story was interpreted as a giant Take That, Critics! at readers unsatisfied with Funky's Cerebus Syndrome.
- In a December 2021 story line, the Atomik Komix creative team meets a hostile fan in a comic book store. He says "the covers stink, the art stinks, and the writing stinks." The quality of Atomik Komix is an Informed Ability at best. Despite the huge number of comic book publishing stories in Funky Winkerbean, and the accolades their staff gets, we almost never see any in-universe art or writing. And when we do, it's the result of a tortured creative process. We do see in-universe comic book covers (they're practically a recurring feature in the strip), but it would be hard to call them masterpieces of the art form.
- For Better or for Worse:
- Liz is attacked by a coworker and rescued by Anthony. The trial takes several months to get underway, and various characters tut about how it should have been obvious that the coworker was guilty and all of this is unnecessary; representatives of the system are portrayed as coddling criminals. While the complaints are not completely unmerited, saying that someone who's accused of a crime should get a fair trial isn't exactly out there. Moreover, no one mentions the police being anything other than helpful and sympathetic, the trial does actually happen, and the perpetrator is convicted.
- April and Thérèse both flat-out accuse Anthony of infidelity for continuing his emotional loyalty to Liz through his marriage to Thérèse (including asking her "wait for me" after the above attack). These are dismissed because April is a teenager and Thérèse never wanted kids, and nobody ever offers any real counter-argument beyond considering it romantic. Not exactly helping Anthony’s case is that he’s bad at hiding his feelings about Elizabeth, to the point where he waits for her to show up during his wedding day and is constantly by her side instead of being with his pregnant wife during a New Year’s Eve party. Thérèse takes a lover of her own later, but it's frankly hard to blame her.
- Knights of the Dinner Table: Bob's dad seems harsh and unreasonable for forbidding Bob to game, but given that Bob ultimately gets fired from his job for feigning illness too many times to game, it seems he has a point, at least about Bob. As of Issue 194, Bob's dad reveals that he knows that Nitro is teaching his grandson Hunter gaming and actually COMMENDS him for giving Hunter lessons in assertive self-reliance. This, combined with his objections during the Cattlepunk game he played, indicates that he's objecting to Bob's Comedic Sociopathy and personal irresponsibility, not to gaming in general.
- Happens In-Universe in Thatch, which was an early 1990s Author Tract about political correctness at a Berserkeley-type Strawman U. The title character has been demoted to the "Protest Beat" for the school newspaper. He encounters a guy holding a banner reading "US Out of Vietnam." Thatch asks, "Um, isn't the War over?" The guy says, "We never shoulda been there in the first place!" The final panel shows Thatch holding the banner and thinking, "Can't argue with that logic."
- The Clash: While the sharīf pettily placing a ban on music in "Rock the Casbah" that's punishable by carpet bombing is an extremely tyrannical act, he's not wrong for ordering his oil workers to pay attention and harvest the erupting oil, as oil spills are known for causing serious adverse health effects and environmental damage.
- The Older Son in the parable of the Prodigal Son is probably one of the oldest examples. The guy mostly exists to complain about the fact that his turd of a little brother is getting all the respect for dragging his sorry butt home after wasting all his inheritance money, while the older son has been obedient and worked hard all his life and has never been rewarded. Dad scolds him for not celebrating that his brother is once again part of the family. Yeah, it's a metaphor about the value and meaning of repentance, but the older son does have a point: why bother working hard when the rewards for being a turd are so much better? The father does point out that the older brother will still be getting all of the remaining inheritance, and Dad's just happy to have his other son back.
- According to Jewish legend, Lilith was the first woman in existence. She was created by God at the same time as Adam with the purpose of being his wife, but after she refused to receive an unjust treatment in comparison to Adam's, she was turned into a demon and kicked out of Heaven. While this tale fit with the Hebrew people's patriarchal society, due to Values Dissonance, today Lilith has turned into a large symbol of feminism and generally viewed in a much more positive light.
- The "Pipe Bombshell" from A.J. Lee, in which the champ verbally eviscerated the Total Divas cast as "interchangeable" women who only got air-time because of the reality show, and not because they were the best in the business like her; that AJ got over with ring work and charisma and not by being "useless" eye candy who could wear $4,000 heels but couldn't "lace up my Chuck Taylors", and that AJ single-handedly restored credibility to the division and was in it for the job and not in it for the modeling fame. This was supposed to make AJ look like a petty mega-bitch heel... except that to pretty much everyone, all of that was true. The wrestling audience gave AJ a huge ovation as all the Total Divas cast could do was yell things like 'bitch' at her. The promo proved so ineffective in getting the crowd behind the Total Divas and away from AJ that there was no follow-up, giving AJ the first and final word on the subject.
- CM Punk frequently prompted this reaction.
- During his 2009 feud with Jeff Hardy, Punk was portrayed as the villain for pointing out that Jeff, who had twice been suspended from the company due to his drug issues, was hardly a good example for people to let their children look up in contrast to himself, who wore his straight edge lifestyle on his sleeves - Jeff didn't really have a response better than "I'm a free spirit!" and "I admit I've made mistakes!".
- During his 2011 feuds with John Cena & Randy Orton, Punk frequently pointed out the Draco in Leather Pants/Designated Hero tendencies of both men. Punk even called out the audience for giving John Cena the "Superstar of the Year" Slammy Award for 2012, despite the fact that Punk had spent literally all of 2012 as WWE Champion.
- His July 2012 Face–Heel Turn was motivated by the fact that, despite being the WWE champion since November the prior year, he was frequently being set aside in favor of John Cena, to the point that Punk's WWE Championship match took place before the Money in the Bank ladder match. While other superstars like Cena and Triple H said that Punk hadn't earned respect yet, it rang hollow considering that Punk's 2012 title reign lasted over one consecutive year. Anybody else doing such a thing would be called one of the greatest of the modern era.
- The night after Unforgiven 2008, Chris Jericho told the crowd that Shawn Michaels was a hypocrite for claiming to be a born-again Christian and yet belting Jericho so hard during their "Unsanctioned Match" the night before that Jericho passed out and was left with ugly red welts all over his body, and could barely walk for the rest of the night (though he did somehow manage to win the World Heavyweight Championship). Now, it wasn't as if Jericho didn't have all that coming: it was an "extreme-rules" match, after all; and he had goaded Michaels into the match by punching his wife in the mouth and refusing to apologize for it (even if it wasnote an accident), and even saying that Michaels had brought it on himself by bringing his wife into the ring in the first place. But he was right about one thing: since returning to WWE in 2002, Michaels had never demonstrated that his Christianity had at all changed him for the better; other than being nominally a face, he was still at heart the same arrogant and immature tweener character he had always been.
- Paul Heyman may be a Jerkass and a treacherous snake, but it's hard not to side with him sometimes because — with the exception of when he was General Manager of the new ECW in 2006 and therefore fully in charge of his assigned sphere — he tends to come off as a flunky at the mercy of the real power in WWE, the McMahons - and even when the McMahon family are the faces (which isn't often), it's impossible to forget that they're a clan of arrogant, bullying, childish megalomaniacs that the audience always wants to see get some kind of comeuppance. Never is this more true than when there's a McMahon/Heyman confrontation and Heyman is at least Faux Affably Evil while Vince or Stephanie (or whoever) is rude and nasty, spewing insults just because they're powerful enough to do so. Once when Heyman got this treatment, he tried to shame Stephanie by asking if she taught her children to say such things - and Stephanie responded by angrily threatening Heyman never to mention her children again, apparently because he had insulted them at some point in the past. So not only did Heyman make a valid point, but Stephanie had to fall back on a fit of phony outrage because she couldn't refute it.
- Right to Censor were deliberately written to be pompous, hypocritical Moral Guardian killjoys with no redeeming qualities. However, more than one modern commentator has pointed out that the WWF in the Attitude Era was directly marketing its product to a young audience while featuring an awful lot of sex and violence for the express purpose of invigorating crowds of randy young men, and that they, and by extension the critics they were meant as a parody of, had a point that someone probably ought to clean it up. Indeed, it's been suggested that Right to Censor were the WWF's backdoor way of doing just that, having a heel stable shut down the rowdiness and bring the company back to the kid-friendly product it had in The '80s while taking all the heat that would've gone to the company's management had they done it any other way.
- In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, the Anti-Templars, who draw upon the corrupting power of the Reckoners so they have the strength to try and save everyone are supposed to be the villains, and the far more self-righteous and judgmental Templars the good guys, to the point that in the Last Crusaders sourcebook, the authors outright state that the Templar's way of abandoning those who do not meet their standards is the right way, under the adage "if you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem". Many fans, however, see the noble intentions for which the Anti-Templars are willing to damn themselves and consider them more heroic than the Templars will ever be. Given that the Templar archetype in the corebook comes with fluff-text about him punishing a town for looking down on him when he was pretending to be a harmless beggar by forcing the adults to be Cannon Fodder for a Suicide Mission against a bandit camp and the children to be slaves to help a town he does consider "worthy" prepare its defenses, well...
- Mage: The Ascension wavered on this one. At first, the Technocracy was portrayed as an evil force of crushing banality out to murder 'Reality Deviants' for the crime of existing, making them fodder for scrappy Traditions to rebel against; never mind that the Technocracy was created in the first place because the Traditions were out-of-control magical despots, and they created the idea of science both to allow humanity to use some magic without Awakening and to kneecap mages who were using their powers to terrorize the masses. By the third edition, White Wolf agreed and started portraying the Technocracy and Traditions as essentially opposing political parties who maintain an uneasy 'focus on winning the argument' truce, with both sides being distinctly grayscale, allowing the Technocracy to be playable and ultimately giving both sides their own Time of Judgement scenarios and good endings. When Mage: The Awakening came around, they then made certain that the anti-magic conspiracy were completely and definitely evil this time.
- The Coalition States. On the surface, they're a hardcore anti-magic, xenophobic tyranny whose leader is deliberately Putting on the Reich because he considers the post-apocalyptic remnants of lore about Nazi Germany to depict a culture worth emulating. On the other hand, a lot of the depicted Dimensional Beings in the setting are either highly unscrupulous or outright evil and more powerful than human beings, whilst magic isn't necessarily entirely Black Magic, but does have a lot of bad elements to it that means that seeing it as The Corruption isn't entirely wrong. While the game insists the Coalition is evil (probably), extended play tends to convert many players to something like the Coalition mindset: possessing superhuman powers that allow you to kill people on a whim makes you extremely dangerous and you should probably be closely watched if not actively kept away from other people.
- Doc Reid's Rangers, from the sourcebook on the Vampire Kingdoms of Mexico. There's a lot wrong with most of the Rangers, especially Doc Reid himself, but when it comes down to the "Nazi concentration camp like" experiments on vampires, it's kind of hard to not see them as Asshole Victims. Wild Vampires are little more than mindless, blood-sucking animals whose bite is infectious; they are basically nothing more than a blood-drinking Zombie Apocalypse. A Master Vampire is a monster who willingly sold his or her soul to a Vampire Intelligence and then chose to create as many vampires as possible in order to let it manifest itself on Earth. The only arguably innocent vampires are Secondary Vampires, who were merely the victims of the Master Vampire... and even then, they're still ruthless blood-sucking predators whose bite spawns Wild Vampires, making them heralds of the swarm.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Wyrm, strangely, has a point. The other aspects (creation and stasis) broke the balance first. It's just trying to bring things back to the original intended balance by covering their roles itself... poorly, because it's Destruction (also Corruption, but only because of the broken balance), but still.
- Early editions of Eclipse Phase heavily favored Anarchist and highly posthuman-focused factions to the point of essentially assuming that the players wouldn't want to play as members of corporate or bioconservative factions at all, which led to a lot of the relatively valid points or useful features of the factions being ignored in favor of casting the corporatists as Captain Planet villains and the bioconservatives as space racists.
- The bioconservatives, who state that transhuman augmentation should be partially or strictly limited to the necessary and that humanity probably shouldn't be creating or uplifting new species, get the worst of it, with an entire in-game civilization created to equate their philosophy with literal space nazis. This is despite the publicly-known cause of the event that made Earth uninhabitable being artificial self-improvement by a created species, and the secret cause of it being those created species finding an alien info-organism and deciding to uplift it and join it to human civilization without sufficient delay or precautions.
- Nomad of Nowhere: For all Red Manuel's bluster, he has a point about Toth being a subpar leader. She nearly got them all killed in the forest when she ordered its burning and was willing to abandon her troops to the fire (the fire was not in any way an obstacle to the Nomad's leaving, it slowed him down only because he stopped to help them and they only survived due to the Nomad returning to help them). She interfered with the Twindleweed Brothers Traveling Circus' capture of the Nomad by distracting them, allowing the Nomad to escape. She abandoned her mission to capture the Nomad when Skout got grievously injured despite abandoning her other men to die in a fire in the first episode. Arguably, she's in charge mainly because everyone else is even less qualified than her.
- In Super Mario Bros. Z, Shadow argues that they should leave Princess Peach in Bowser's hands while they instead focus on finding the last of the Chaos Emeralds and stopping Turbo Mecha Sonic, which Sonic uses as an excuse to call him out on how he's become more of an asshole since Mobius was destroyed. However, while he was a jerk in how he put it, Shadow is completely and utterly right in his perspective. Bowser is a Harmless Villain to begin with, and in this situation he's outright told them that he wouldn't hurt Peach whilst he waits for them to gather the Chaos Emeralds and bring them to him. Meanwhile, Turbo Mecha Sonic is an Omnicidal Maniac who will happily butcher his way across the Mushroom Kingdoms looking for the last Chaos Emeralds while they are distracted. To say nothing of the fact that, once the team has those last Chaos Emeralds they can transform into a group of Super Mode versions of themselves and lay waste to Bowser's whole army in the blink of an eye. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever to go rushing off to Peach's rescue, and every reason to focus on gathering the Emeralds first, even if it is a rather unemotional decision.
- This comes up a lot in the works sporked by Das Sporking. Usually, it's the Weasleys who do it. A few examples:
- The Real Us (a H/Hr shipping story about the events that really took place during the Harry Potter series, the canon events being a series of lies told by Harry and Hermione) has the pair tell a crowd of people how Hermione gave Harry a blowjob in thanks for him saving her from the troll (Remember, they're 12 and 11 respectively by this point). Molly Weasley points out to Harry that maybe the girl who forced herself on him was not a nice person. Harry mocks her for saying this, and her intent in this story is to force Harry to be with Ginny and Hermione to be with Ron, but what Hermione did is (in Muggle Britain) considered sexual assault.
- Harry Potter and the Girl Who Lived (a story where a post-Voldemort Harry is brought into an alternate universe where he's a girl) has Harry strike up a relationship with Rose Potter, and help her out in various ways. Dumbledore is portrayed as a meddling old man for investigating what Rose has been up to and being suspicious of Harry, but the thing is, from his point of view, Rose has suddenly started spending time with a person that no one knows anything about. That kind of situation is very suspicious in the real world.
- Protectors of the Plot Continuum: Agent Laburnum shouting, "Get the behind me, spirit of bad smut! THE POWER OF GROENING COMPELS YOU!!" during the mission "Moaning Mary, Simpsons Sue" is supposed to be irrational behaviour brought on by a disease called Bloodwrath, but it seems like the behaviour of a non-afflicted human being in her shoes. A character from her favourite show, The Simpsons, had been replaced by a hideous-looking creaturenote who'd convinced Bart to want to have sex with her even though he thought she was Lisa and had caused Bart to have some disfigurements of his own,note and PPC agents are always cheesed off when stuff like that happens. Not only that, but she was performing an exorcism, and you have to shout when performing an exorcism in the PPC, especially when the spirit is strong, which Laburnum explicitly says it was.
- Professor Steven Dutch of the University of Wisconsin used to have a blog where he reviewed movies and pointed out their scientific inaccuracies. He reviewed Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull at the time when people hated it out of proportion to its flaws, largely due to the “nuke the fridge” scene. Professor Dutch pointed out that the movie has many more factual inaccuracies than that, and made his mocking catch phrase “only the fridge doesn’t make sense” whenever one showed up on screen. His point was that the haters were blinded by the Nostalgia Filter (causing them to think the original trilogy was better when it wasn’t) and it’s just a movie, but considering that people hated the fridge scene because it’s inaccurate, one would think this would only reinforce the haters’ belief that the film is awful. He would have served his point better by reviewing an earlier Indiana Jones film and gone through its inaccuracies with a fine-toothed comb instead.
- You Know Whats Bullshit: The Bullshit Man is a caricature of people who complain about things that can't be helped. At the same time, why is he the "bad guy"? There is nothing that actually "can't be helped" and getting angry about it is step one in finding a way to change it. Many fans even find themselves agreeing with his rants. For example, the one about warranties is something that would certainly be a valid complaint, as after he bought a warranty it ended up proving worthless.
- SMOSH's Worst Army Ever, like the Bullshit Man, is meant to be Exactly What It Says on the Tin. Though the alliance of Hecoxia's soldiers are certainly immature and somewhat stupid, they do raise many valid points and poke holes in medieval society and warfare. A trumpeter points out how he has no real weapon, which leaves him as vulnerable as their castle which they have left totally unguarded. They also show a healthy amount of reluctance to fight, because they know their enemies are not the barbarians their king claims them to be, and when the king claims they will win because God is on their side, they explain that their enemies worship the same God they do, and claim He's on their side. Their proposed solution, to bribe God, is Played for Laughs, but making a sacrifice to win a battle is a time honored tradition that worked in the Bible.
- An episode of Filthy Frank has the titular character (actually an impostor) rant about vegans and their obnoxious demands for others to follow suit in their lifestyles. This culminates in the arrival of a strawman in the form of Veggie Cunt, basically an offshoot of previous strawman Weeaboo Jones. Veggie Cunt forces Frank to eat a vegan chicken sandwich... which much to his surprise actually tastes pretty good. Essentially showing that while the people might be very annoying and even bullying when telling people to become vegans, there's a reason that this diet even has a following. Too bad vegan chicken sandwiches cost $19.