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Sweeping the Table

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Well, that's one way to clear your desk...

"Then I laid my arm on the counter-top and swept all his books and scrolls off on to the floor."
Polgara, The Belgariad, Polgara the Sorceress

Sweeping the Table describes any scene where a character, in need of a flat surface to work on right now, lays their arm on the table and pushes everything off the table in one large sweep. (Alternately, they can upend the table, or pull off the contents with the tablecloth, or similar.) It usually appears in tense moments, such as immediately following an Oh, Crap! or "Eureka!" Moment, and it helps to heighten the tension and urgency of the scene, which is why it tends to be quite popular among creators.

For all its dramatic flair, however, Sweeping the Table isn't exactly practical. After all, sweeping everything onto the floor makes a huge mess, can break anything fragile that happened to be on the table, and can completely disorganize any important documents as they hit the floor and scatter. As such, it's probably not a coincidence that the cleanup of the messy floor is rarely shown, discussed, or even mentioned afterward. Instead, a cut to a different scene or a Time Skip to a later time when the floor is spic-and-span are much more likely to occur... if we even see that room again at all.

Sweeping the Table tends to happen more often in domestic settings or work settings that are likely to be heavily cluttered, like a teacher's desk or a desk in a newsroom. Settings like large business offices or medical settings generally have more potential work surfaces available — operating tables, conference desks, and round tables — and are much more likely to keep these places free of clutter. These things are rarely found in shacks or houses, so the largest surface available in a typical domestic setting is the table, which can often be quite cluttered.

Compare Desk Sweep of Passion, which involves Sweeping the Table for a surface to make love on, and Desk Sweep of Rage, which is Sweeping the Table out of anger rather than for practical reasons. See also Flipping the Table, a much more extreme version of this trope usually done as a temper tantrum.


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    Films — Animation 
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, Jake the kangaroo mouse is playing checkers (the board is as big as a table to a mouse) when he gets a call from Wilbur the albatross, who is about to land on the runway. Jake hurriedly turns the checkerboard over, scattering the checkers in the process, to look at the bird identification guide on the other side. It confirms his suspicion that the runway is too short for Wilbur to safely use.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Apollo 13, after the situation with the CO2 buildup has been made clear, the NASA tech brings a bag full of stuff into a room (the stuff being everything the astronauts have in the ship), sweeps the table clear, and then dumps all the gear on the table. He then tells his crew that they have to make a filter out of that gear.
  • In Dressed to Kill, when Holmes has his "Eureka!" Moment, he sweeps everything off his desk to clear space so he can decode the message hidden in the music box.
  • In the 1987 horror-comedy film Evil Dead 2, Ash Williams sweeps a bench clear to make enough room to attach a chainsaw to the stump where his right hand used to be.
  • In the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only, The Russian sweeps stuff off a desk to make room for the MacGuffin.
  • Home Alone, After Kevin comes home from church on Christmas Eve, he sweeps the toys off his desk and places a map he drew to layout all the booby traps.
  • In The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Katniss and Prim's mother and Prim herself sweeps off a table to put an injured Gale on to help heal him from the whipping he had received.
  • In Johnny Mnemonic, when Johnny and Jane break into the backroom of an electronics store, Johnny swipes a pile of junk and tools off a work table with his right arm, in order to clear a space for Jane to build him an expensive VR rig with the store's products.
  • In Jurassic Park, Arnold sweeps a load of junk off Nedry's desk while trying to undo his sabotage of the power grid, angrily commenting on what a slob Nedry is.
  • Downplayed in Now You See Me, where the detectives remove a vase from a table in order to place their printouts and files on it for a rushed Mission Briefing.
  • In Searching for Bobby Fischer, one teaching tactic Bruce uses in teaching young Josh is to rather violently sweep the board of all its pieces, the clattering noise echoing a bit as they bounce all over the floor before Bruce asks Josh to find the correct move — Bruce had noticed that Josh kept looking at the queen and was being distracted by it when the best move on the board at that moment was by a knight.
  • Parodied in Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over: Gregorio Cortez is on the verge of a scientific breakthrough, having just created the "Fifth Brain" (an advanced form of Artificial Intelligence). However when he gets notified his children need his help, he proceeds to sweep his arm across the desk causing the brains to smash against the camera before he goes off to help his kids.
  • In Thor: The Dark World, Prof. Selvig clears out a table full of food for him to draw lines on the map which shows the coordinate for where the Convergence happens.

  • The Belgariad: In a prequel of the series, Polgara the Sorceress, Polgara decides she is going to do the cooking for her father, Belgarath, and sister, Beldaran, and immediately sweeps all of the scrolls/pens/etcetera off the kitchen benches, much to Belgarath's annoyance.
  • The Famous Five: A couple of downplayed examples.
    • At the very beginning of Five go to Billycock Hill, a table is not big enough for their huge map, so the Five push one out of the way, remembering a previous time when in their haste, they pushed the table right over.
    • In Five go to Demon's Rocks, Uncle Quentin immediately spreads a great sheaf of papers over the living room table, as soon as Professor Hayling arrives. Aunt Fanny shoos them to the study.
  • In Lords and Ladies, Granny Weatherwax sweeps a bunch of stuff off King Verence's dining room table to clear a space where she can put down someone who needs medical attention. Lampshaded:
    Granny swept a candlestick and some crockery on to the floor with a dramatic motion and laid Diamanda on the table. In fact there were several acres of table totally devoid of any obstruction, but there's no sense in making an entrance unless you're prepared to make a mess.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Barney Miller: When Yemana has a heart attack they need to lay him down on a flat surface until the paramedics arrive, Wojo picks up one side of his own desk, dumping the stuff on the floor.
  • On The Red Green Show, a parody of outdoorsy/DIY shows, Red informs the viewer that "a good handyman knows to start each new project with a clean workspace." He then proceeds to upend a table filled to overflowing with tools and other junk, and then sets it back down and proclaims, "Done!"
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Witch", Giles knocks some bottles and stuff off a table to lay down the sick Buffy while he casts the spell to reverse all of the witch's.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: In "Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places", Quark is seeking advice on courting a Klingon woman he's sweet on. Worf is Playing Cyrano.
    Worf: Grilka is from the Mekro'vak region. It is customary among her people that the man bring a leg of a lingta to the first courtship dinner. Make sure it's fresh, as if you had just killed it. Then use the leg to sweep aside everything on the table and declare in a loud voice, "I have brought you this! From this day, I wish to provide food for you and your House! All I ask is to share your company and do honor to your name!"
    Quark: Then what?
    Dax: Well, either she accepts your offer or she has her bodyguard shatter every bone in your body.
  • Friends: David says he wants to do this in order to make his and Phoebe's first kiss suitably romantic, but fears he's not really the type. After some encouragement he gets up the nerve, then realises there are actually a lot of expensive & breakable things on the desk that he needs to move (Phoebe: "OK, now you're just kinda... tidying"), but once it's down to some papers and takeaway containers he finally does it.

    Video Games 
  • In Octodad: Dadliest Catch, this is the first thing the player does. Octodad needs the key to a mirror, which is under a bunch of cosmetics on the counter. The player is prompted to sweep all the junk onto the floor, toss the cushions aside, and grab the key.

    Web Videos 
  • Game Grumps: Most episodes of "The Ten Minute Power Hour" begins with the guys finding some way of clearing their dinosaur toys and pencil-cup from the table to make room for their activities. Tactics include simply shoving them off, neatly putting them away, and animating the objects running off.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Goofy short "No Smoking", Goofy decides to quit smoking, and he shoves all the tobacco-related items off his work desk and into the trash bin next to it.
  • Parodied on The Simpsons when Principal Skinner and Edna Krabappel sneak into a classroom to have sex. They decide to do it on Martin's desk ("It is usually the cleanest.") and Edna dramatically sweeps off a single pencil with her whole arm.
  • Steven Universe:
    • In "Buddy's Book", Connie dramatically swipes her study materials aside when Steven shows her the old journal he found in the library.
      Connie: Forget studying!
    • In "Steven's Dream" Connie does it again, swiping a stack of paper, a pen, and a paper cup off Steven's table to make room for Buddy Buddwick's journal.
      Connie: Ah! Sorry, I'll clean that up later!