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Yeah, because we can never get to see how awesome that book within the book really is. note 

"Uh, remember us? The audience? Can we see it, please?"
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When something is supposed to be breathtakingly good or astonishingly bad — such as a really moving poem or a really hideous person — a frequent strategy is to not show or describe it at all, to instead give us only the characters' reactions. This allows the audience to imagine exactly how good/bad it is, manipulating their emotions indirectly and relying on their minds to create something more effective than an actual example. It can come across as a violation of Show, Don't Tell if it is used poorly, and there's always the risk that The Reveal later on will be terribly underwhelming in the face of all that build-up, resulting in Humor Dissonance and/or Narm.

A staple trope of comedy and horror genres, albeit for different reasons. In comedy, often the humour revolves around the characters' reactions instead of the item itself, such as their exaggerated disgust over something that couldn't possibly be that bad. In horror, this takes advantage of Nothing Is Scarier, fear of the unknown creating greater fear than actually showing the horrible thing, and a character reacting with terror at some unseen menace or horrific scene helps the audience to internalise that character's emotions. This can also be invoked in works — especially those which are "family-friendly" that wish to portray something in the story that could offend their target audience, so, in order to keep the show from being too salacious, if a scene is extremely disgusting or lewd, all we'll get is the characters describing it (or just their reactions) instead of actually seeing the scene play out.

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Smells and tastes are a common form in visual media, as the audience has no other way to detect these aside from character reactions. Literature doesn't have this limitation, although as everything needs to be described anyway it's usually less overt.

This trope is Older Than Feudalism, dating back to The Iliad where Helen is never fully described, especially by the standards of the rest of the work which has long, detailed descriptions of just about everything.

See also Brown Note, Undisclosed Funds, Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure, Ultimate Evil, Noodle Incident, Informed Ability, Orphaned Punchline, Lost in Transmission, You Cannot Grasp the True Form, You Do NOT Want To Know, Head-Tiltingly Kinky, Offscreen Afterlife, Offscreen Moment of Awesome, Narrative Profanity Filter, Nothing Is Scarier. Compare Showing Off the Perilous Power Source, where the characters are the ones who can't have the direct experience; Great Offscreen War, where a vast budget-busting world-changing war is only obliquely referred to as Backstory; and Obscured Special Effects, where the special effects assets are partially concealed to prevent budget-busting.

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Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Heavily lampshaded in a series of commercials for Sharp Televisions featuring George Takei, which constantly reminded us that, if you don't have a TV like this which is based on four colors instead of three, you can't actually see how the picture quality is any different.
  • In a radio commercial for GEICO, part of their rhetorical questions campaign is, "Could switching to GEICO really save you 15% or more on car insurance? Does a rolling stone gather no moss?" We hear the sounds of a stone rolling, then he says "No moss. You'll have to trust me on this one." (Well, MythBusters back them up, at least.)
  • In a "This is SportsCenter" commercial, San Francisco Giants Pitcher Brian Wilson shows two sports anchors why people should "Fear the beard," after they say that it's not intimidating. We then go behind his head where we see tentacles coupled with a roaring sound. Apparently seeing the sight from the front is so scary, one of the sportscasters claims he's going to be sick.

    Comedy 
  • Brian Regan's comedy album All By Myself opens with Regan doing a double backflip and landing on his pinkie. Naturally, this being a CD, we don't actually see him do it... but the audience goes wild.
  • Neil Hamburger's album America's Funnyman includes a track called "The X-Rated Hot Dog Vendor": It's supposed to be some sort of raunchy physical humor sketch with no dialogue. Of course, because it's on a comedy album, you don't actually get to see anything, so you're left with 5 minutes of nothing but sound effects and roars of audience laughter.

    Comic Strips 
  • Gary Larson once drew a strip for The Far Side with the caption "Suddenly, two bystanders thrust their heads into the frame, ruining what would have been the funniest cartoon ever." Behind the huge heads of the waving "bystanders", all the reader can make out is a man sitting in a chair holding a chicken and a woman standing beside him. We are left to speculate as to what the strip might have involved.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • Calvin's favorite bedtime story, "Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie". As Bill Watterson explains in the comic's 10th-anniversary book, "Hamster Huey and the Gooey Kablooie (like the Noodle Incident I've referred to in several strips) is left to the reader's imagination, where it's sure to be more outrageous." May be inspired by Emil, who's basically Calvin a hundred years earlier, and has been involved in one incident the narrator repeatedly informs us he or she "Has promised the parents not to talk about."
    • Taken to another level where Calvin's father is frustrated with Calvin wanting to hear the story every night despite having heard it enough to have the whole thing memorized, so he changes it a bit. The only clue we get is a terrified Hobbes asking Calvin "Do you think the townspeople will ever find Hamster Huey's head?"
    • One strip had Calvin and Hobbes about to sled down a hill, but at the last second, Hobbes jumps off. Then we see Hobbes looking down the hill, and his expression morphs several times as he watches the sled's journey, ending in a snow-and-stick-covered Calvin crawling angrily back up the hill. Another very similar strip had Calvin using a snowman on the sled as a test dummy to scout the hill first while he and Hobbes watched it, which ended with predictable results.
      Hobbes: Ooh, I think I'm going to be sick.
      Calvin: Well I wouldn't have steered like that! He deserved it!
  • In Li'l Abner, a woman named Lena the Hyena showed up for one Story Arc. She was so ugly, so incredibly hideous, that her face was never shown because one look at her would cause anyone to go mad. In reality, Al Capp realized that this way would simply be funnier. Still, readers wanted to know what she looked like, so he held a contest where he picked a face summoned up by cartoonist Basil Wolverton, something that Don Markstien described as "a quasi-human creature that simply can't be described, the only way to do it justice is to show the picture itself." A toned-down version of Lena the Hyena showed up in Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • For Better or for Worse: Lynn Johnston has Michael Patterson get some very sweet book deals from a book he wrote. You might think that Johnston would use this trope. Instead, she gave an excerpt of Michael's writing, which people will tell you stinks. So remember, folks! Sometimes it's better not to avert or subvert this trope!
  • Garfield's and Jon's reactions upon seeing the picture of Doc Boy's girlfriend.
  • A lot of the strange things that happen in Peanuts qualify. For example, Linus supposedly painted a mural depicting the entire story of civilization on the ceiling of Snoopy's doghouse, Snoopy was once trying to beat Babe Ruth's home run record before Hank Aaron could, and Linus' grandmother is so addicted to coffee she once drank thirty-two cups in one sitting. We have to take the characters' word on all of this.

    Films — Animation 
  • Atlantis: The Lost Empire. Milo and his crew are sharing their personal stories around the campfire. The discussion ends with a cut to Mole excitedly lowering himself into a hole; Milo asks "What's Mole's story?" to which Dr. Sweet replies "Trust me on this one. You don't wanna know. Audrey, don't tell him. You shouldn't have told me, but you did, and now I'm tellin' you— you don't wanna know!" In the sequel, Audrey ultimately tells Milo Mole's story, which can induce a Double Take.
  • Princess Mononoke goes to great lengths to build up a climactic battle between the representative factions for man and nature near the end of the movie. They even go as far as to throw the title character into the fray. What the audience sees is a brief storm and the sound of gunfire in the distance after the scene switches back to the hero. The aftermath is what will stand out. A mound of rotting animal carcasses, lines of fallen men from Iron Town, the leader of the boars covered in blood... There may only be a few visions or flashbacks to give you an idea of what took place, but it was brutal. This was actually quite effective in staying true to the movie's theme of the horrors of war by simply giving you a few pieces and some enough grisly evidence to leave the rest to your imagination rather than actually depicting the kind of epic battle that few movies can resist.
    • It's also a very spirited attempt at proving the old adage "You can't make an anti-war movie" wrong. If you don't show the actual battle, you can't make it accidentally seem glorious, which is a fairly clever way of getting around the problem.

    Music 
  • Tenacious D
    • The song "Tribute" is about the Greatest Song in the World, but isn't itself the Greatest Song in the World, so we don't know what it sounds like. The original version of "Tribute" includes a sequence from "Stairway to Heaven" at the point in the story where the Greatest Song gets played, which tips their hand just a bit, and in Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny the song is heavily implied to be Beezleboss.
    • In "Warning" the pair are "not at liberty to say the details of our most peculiar warning. Suffice to say, all of you here are in grrrraaaaavvvveeee danger!"
    • The feats mentioned in History.
  • Paul Simon never thought of what "the mama saw" when she caught "Me & Julio Down By The Schoolyard", except that it was against the law and maybe "something sexual".
  • In Swedish comedy singer Povel Ramel's Den franska biljetten, a French girl gives the singer a note, and every time he asks people to translate the note for him they get angry with him. (He is thrown out of his hotel, fired from his job, etc.) Finally, he buys a dictionary and translates the note himself. This makes him laugh hysterically, and the audience never finds out what the note says.
  • In the 1950 novelty song "The Thing", the narrator finds a box, which has something in it that scares and disgusts everybody. When the lyrics call for it to be named, the vocals simply pause for three drum beats.
  • Likewise, in the 1956 novelty hit "(The) Green Door" we never learn what is behind the titular door. The lyrics describe a mysterious private club with a green door, behind which "a happy crowd" play piano, smoke and "laugh a lot", and inside which neither the singer — nor the listener — is allowed.
  • Gorillaz bassist Murdoc Niccals has never canonically been heard to sing but apparently, his Giftedly Bad voice is a big part of the reason why all his bands prior to Gorillaz never got signed. He has been described as sounding "like someone treading on a duck".
    • In one interview, in which, while 2D is mocking Murdoc, Murdoc reveals that he was the vocalist in "White Light". As might be expected, the voice in that song is much more guttural and atonal than 2D's usual singing voice.
  • The narrator of Such Horrible Things states that "nothing much happened" when he was fourteen. Except for "that ONE TIME..." There's no description of what he did, just people screaming, meaning that you should be able to tell that it was probably the absolute worst thing he ever did in his life.
  • From Tom Lehrer's "My Home Town", on Songs by Tom Lehrer:
    That fellow was no fool
    Who taught our Sunday school,
    And neither was our kindly Parson Brown.
    [spoken] We're recording tonight so I have to leave this line out.note 
    In my home town.
  • Frank Sinatra's "Too Marvelous for Words":
    You're just too marvellous, too marvellous for words
    Like "glorious", "glamorous" and that old standby "amorous".
    It's all too wonderful, I'll never find the words
    That say enough, tell enough, I mean they just aren't swell enough.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • In the WWE, before his climactic unmasking, the character of Kane was said to be hideously scarred by burns. Some characters had even seen him unmasked before (notably DX) and reacted, horrified. A later Retcon after his unmasking explained that his scars had healed, but that he can still see them in the mirror.
  • Invoked and played for drama with a heel persona of Cody Rhodes. Originally, he had a "Dashing" gimmick, about how good looking he was. Then Rey Mysterio him in in the face with his 619 Finishing Move, and Cody said that the kick scarred his beautiful face, hiding it behind a brown paper bag. Once he actually showed his face, Rhodes looked the same as he always did. The implication was that Rhodes only thought he looked ugly, and he'd gone Ax-Crazy as a result of a minor slight.
  • Another time is when DX had a bounty on them all night, Triple H has to use the bathroom and has Shawn watch his back. When HHH enters the stall, Chris Masters is seen waiting for him. We don't see what exactly happened other than it ended with Masters unconscious.

    Radio 
  • The game Mornington Crescent, as featured on the Radio 4 comedy panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, is played (allegedly) according to a set of arcane rules (several variants exist) which are never revealed to the audience except through gnomic and unrevealing references by the players. All we can be sure of is that it is based on a London Underground map, and the players have to jump from station to station, following these unknown rules, the goal being to reach the Mornington Crescent station first.
    • At least one game was won by a participant shouting "MORNINGTON CRESCENT!" as soon as the game began. This led to some grumbling from the chairman, Humprey Lyttleton. "I can't stand frivolous Mornington Crescent."
    • An ISIHAC special centers on finding the origins, and the rules, of the game. The outcome is, predictably, somewhat less than enlightening.
  • The Goon Show used this trope for comedic effect on a number of occasions, for instance in The Spanish Suitcase, where Neddy Seagoon is smuggled into prison:
    Grytpype-Thinne: We would like to show you how it was done, but well... we may want to use the method again.

    Theatre 
  • Cyrano de Bergerac: Between Act I and Act II, Cyrano fights (and defeats!) one hundred thugs. Between Act II and III, he saves Ragueneau's life doing an Interrupted Suicide. Between Act III and IV, he manages to write love letters beautiful enough to make Roxane a heroine and to pick De Guiche's scarf from the battlefield. It would be impractical to show all those things in scene, so other characters refer it, and at Act I Cyrano has been firmly established like a character that can do every one of those things.
  • In Shakespeare's Henry V, the Chorus specifically serves to stand on stage and basically say, "Look, we don't have enough space, not to mention enough money, to make it look like a real war is going on here, with thousands of soldiers and horses and a sea of tents and trenches and fortifications all that, so just take our words for it, okay?"
  • This was the Greek rule of ''decorum'' in a nutshell. A particularly egregious example occurs in Medea when her two children describe their own murder from offstage while the Chorus wonders if maybe they should do something.
  • In Iolanta by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, we never get to see or hear Matilda. We just have to believe Robert's famous aria on how no other woman could equal her.

    Video Games 
  • Sega's games Project Rub and The Rub Rabbits have the lead characters as shadows. The idea behind this is that the gamer will think of the girl character as whatever is attractive to them, not what the developers thought was attractive.
  • Disgaea:
    • Laharl is blackmailed with a humiliating photo of himself that leaves both Flonne and Etna on the floor laughing. It's never shown, however, and the only hint we get is Flonne's, "I didn't know you were into that." (Fanon takes a stab at it in fanart here, at about 0:48.)
    • In an earlier scene, Volcanus comes across a book with something both horrifying and fascinating on its pages. It's only until the Prinny Commentary from the Updated Re-release that we get a hint as just what was in there.
  • In Quest for Glory IV, after retrieving Punny Bones' funny bone, he tells you the worlds funniest joke, that will make absolutely anybody fall into uncontrollable laughter (but only once). Instead of him telling you the joke audibly, the narrator mentions that he whispers it into your ear. Later, when you actually use the joke, since you don't have an actual voice, the narrator mentions that you tell him "the one about the wizard and the farmer's daughter" and can barely keep himself from falling into laughter.
  • At the end of the second Golden Sun game, the first town of the first game has been destroyed, but none of the effects are shown on-screen—only the characters' reactions are shown, and for that matter, purely as white text on a black background.
  • Granblue Fantasy: the game renders scenes in a manner not unlike a Visual Novel, which means that most of its "action" can only be displayed to the player as static character images moving around, trembling or crashing into one another. Specific images for particular scenes do exist, but are very rare, so anything that features a fight or performance of any kind is bound to be mostly described and reacted to, not shown.
  • Shadowverse: Like other Visual Novel-type narratives of Cygames such as Granblue, the movement of characters during dialogue is represented by static images moving around, shaking, or suddenly jumping. There are also cases when a character is mentioned to be lying or sitting down, with their static portraits simply adjusted downwards. The greatest offender would probably be the depiction of combat, where the two character portraits simply "bump" each other, while animated strikes and special effects are included whenever they connect attacks.
  • Most of the second half of Xenogears is told via narrative, sometimes using still pictures. There are only two navigable areas in the entire disc. This was due to budgetary constraints.
  • Tales of the Abyss: Whatever happened in Keterburg Hotel, when Jade gets information about Mt. Roneal from Dist.
  • Silent Hill overlaps this trope with Nothing Is Scarier more often than one would care to count, for the purpose of making the player void themselves. The most famous example is whatever happens to Lisa near the end of the first game, the player only seeing blood oozing from her head before Harry flees and blocks the door.
  • Persona 3:
    • Chidori is supposedly an astonishingly good artist, eliciting surprised reactions from her peers and seniors. Even when one of her sketches becomes vital to the characterization, we only ever see her sketchbook from the back. (One of the Japan-only sourcebooks shows her sketch of Junpei. It is quite good.)
    • Mitsuru's "execution," which has the effect of the victims "not wanting to talk about it" or simply describing it as a "fate worse than death." The Manga implies that the "Execution" is her freezing them; because this breaks several elements of the plot (The Masquerade and the fact that it was stated Persona can't be summoned outside of the dark hour), as well as killing the unknown, fans tend to ignore it.
  • In Sam & Max Hit the Road, If you try to get the main characters to go upstairs in their office building, they'll say they don't go upstairs, "not since the accident".
    • In Night of the Raving Dead, the game is told in flashback as Sam is reminding Max of how they got here. When Sam gets to "the most epic battle of our career", Max interrupts and says that he remembers the rest now.
  • Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones does not have a facial portrait for Orson's dead and reanimated wife. After beating Orson, our heroes are visibly disgusted when they find his wife and immediately destroy it. Orson never noticed, probably because he was mad with grief.
    • In Path of Radiance, after rescuing Leanne and investigating the tower where she was imprisoned, the characters presumably stumble upon the results of the experiments done with the drug used to turn Laguz into insane killing machines. They are utterly horrified.
  • Players of Knights of the Old Republic are treated to this little exchange on Dantooine:
    C8-42: I'm afraid my owner became a bit too attached to me. Obsessed even. She...she tried to treat me as her dead husband. It was not healthy for her.
    Player: Er... ALL the time?
    C8-42: You don't want to know...
    Player: Um... probably not...
  • The Secret of Monkey Island: The battle in the governor's mansion surely belongs here. All we see/hear are sound effects, and vague descriptions once the scene is over. Although we get a bit more than that, thanks to the status line showing up the various commands. Guybrush pushes a red button and uses the wax lips on the 500-pound yak, among other heroic actions...
  • In Runescape player has to help a dwarf to get some rats out of his home. The dwarf is also a heavy smoker, and the player character has to help him to catch his breath, so the PC pats his back and he dislodges something nasty from his lungs then comments it to player that he does not want to look at it and we should take his word that you do not want to know about it.
    • Also happens for certain "gore shots" that take place in certain quests. For example, in The Great Brain Robbery, instead of seeing our hero return the brains to the bodies of zombie monks (Long story), we're treated to pleasant imagery of kittens and soothing music, leaving us to imagine what a medieval brain surgery would look like...
  • The instruction manual for the original Super Mario Bros game actually shows sprites of each character from the game accompanying their descriptions, but for some reason, Princess Peach's description is accompanied by a question mark! And for a good reason: GAH!!!
  • The NES game Nightshade includes a sequence where the titular hero rescues a cat from a lamp post it has climbed up. Though it is a graphic game, the cat's rescue (which involves amazing feats of acrobatics) is described all in text.
  • Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow makes reference to the extremely epic Demon Castle's Wars in which Dracula was finally defeated and Castlevania was sealed in the eclipse. Apparently the thing was so awesome that, to this day, Konami thinks no game should represent those events as it ought to be the best Castlevania game ever made.
    • In the same vein, Julius Belmont at full power. He is considered the most powerful and badass Belmont in history, though his powers are never shown in all their might thanks to Laser-Guided Amnesia).
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages, Link has to tell a joke. Since Link is a Heroic Mime, this results in a bizarre interpretive dance.
  • In MapleStory, after the player had rescued a mushroom princess from an arranged marriage they get to see her face. The character's speech under their breath indicates that they're revolted and the princess's face is obscured by a text bubble reading "Oh~!!", implying that her race's standards for what qualifies as "beautiful" are far, far lower than the player's. (And considering that with the veil on, she looks like the male characters from the Kuso Miso Technique—a.k.a. the infamous "Yaranaika" meme faces—one can only imagine what she looks like without it.)
  • Cave Story only makes a few oblique references to the war ten years ago, which nearly wiped out the Mimiga and scared the people of the surface so thoroughly they sent an army of Killer Robots to try and destroy everything on the island. The characters' reactions to the prospect of another war like it tells the player all they need to know.
  • This can occur with Tali in Mass Effect 3. At the conclusion of the Rannoch arc assuming the player's decisions allow Tali to live, there's a scene where Tali takes off her helmet's mask but the cutscene only shows her from behind. Both versions of Shepard make a comment implying that they consider her beautiful. If Male!Shep has not romanced Tali or the player is Fem!Shep, her face is never revealed to the player. If the player is Male!Shep who is in a romance with her, Shepard will eventually get a portrait of her in his cabin.
  • Shantae and the Pirate's Curse has the Ammo Baron doing a quick sketch of the Ammo Town uniform he plans for Shantae. We don't get to see it, but we do see the deadpan reaction of the already Stripperific title character.
    Shantae: That's... small.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: In the Dragonborn DLC, arch-wizard Neloth asks the player to help test a spell so he can study an eighth order of silence; however, the spell misfires and turns the player's eyeballs (and possibly their tongue) into writhing tentacles, which is so horrific that Neloth's apprentice pukes in the corner. Naturally, since the player's eyes are missing, you don't actually get to see any of this (and switching to a third-person perspective doesn't help, either).

    Visual Novels 
  • In the CLANNAD visual novel, we are told that Kotomi's violin playing is absolutely unbearable, but thankfully, the audience isn't privy. In the anime, we aren't so lucky.
  • A critical portion of Danganronpa's backstory revolves around something called "The Worst, Most Despair-Inducing Event in the History of the Human Race." The nature of the event isn't elaborated upon, but purportedly it caused human civilization to collapse entirely. We do get to see parts of it throughout the series, and we might have seen what started it in Dangan Ronpa 3, but we never see the whole event.
  • In Little Busters!, if you choose to go on the test of courage with Kurugaya and Mio, you'll get this after Kurugaya decides to abandon Riki and Mio and scare them herself:
    What we heard was a [voice to instill fear from the deepest pits of man's subconscious]. For humanitarian reasons, the voice is not replayed here.
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Godot apparently can do an excellent impression of a previous witness, but seeing as the games are text-based all that happens is that his Leit Motif changes.
      • Godot gets to perform impressions of two witnesses. When he's impressioning a female witness, the speaking-beeps switch to the higher-pitched female ones too.
    • Averted in a clever way with Lamiroir in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. She is considered a world-class singer, with an angelic voice. How do they put this on a DS game? They don't record vocals, and instead give her voice as a musical tone. The effect works, her voice sounds brilliant, but it isn't quite Show, Don't Tell, as it's clear each of those tones represents her voice.
  • While Saya no Uta shows plenty of Fuminori's warped vision after the surgery that causes him to perceive everything as gore, blood, and organs, we never get to fully see how he perceives humans (only describing them as "repulsive piles of flesh") nor does the game show Saya's true form, only being informed that most people who see it would go completely insane.

    Web Animation 

    Webcomics 
  • 8-Bit Theater. Thief and Fighter consider it unbelievable that Red Mage was capable of getting them out of a burning Deathtrap (an airship) with the use of an Ice spell, an immovable rod, and a Bag of Holding. The audience is left to wonder.
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja the Dinosaur/Human ambassador's speech isn't shown. Readers are informed that the text was omitted because of the effects it had on early readers, and if you had read it then best-case scenario, you would leave your family, and go do nothing but hug dinosaur bones. Or you'd be dead.
  • Bob and George has an example where the creator admits that the best way to make something sound good is to not show it, and proceeds to say that he probably wouldn't be able to make it look as good as it sounds. Here's the quote:
    In this case, I knew I could never do the super-cool battle between Proto Man and his imposter justice, so I just had it take place off-screen, where you could only hear it and see how other characters respond to it, making it more super-cool than I could possibly hope if I'd actually shown it, especially using the spriting skills I had at the time. That and this was way easier to make.
  • The Zombie Apocalypse finale of the story within a story from Brawl in the Family. We have no idea how it specifically ended, but it was horrific enough to make King Dedede's mouth drop in shock and leave everyone else queasy.
  • Near the end of Darths & Droids Revenge of the Sith arc, the characters roll a giant custom-made die. Since we only see what happens in-game, we never see this die, but it has to be taken outside to be rolled, the roller must wear gloves and goggles, and eventually the die falls apart and catches fire.
  • Sam Starfall's appearance, from Freefall
  • Gunnerkrigg Court:
    • Zimmy's science fair entry. Annie calls it "an abomination," none of the other students will even stand near it, a demon is afraid to touch it, and it eventually is carted off by a hazardous material response team (in spite of Zimmy's protests that it is not dangerous). All we ever see of it is a microscope on a bare table.
    • Also, we don't see much of Annie's entry proposal, but the whole class reacted towards it with "Ewww!"
    • We only see Annie's reaction to Jones's unsmile.
    • Kat either can't or just doesn't perceive the ether the same way the other characters do. Sometimes the audience sees the outlandish sights that Kat can't see, other times we're limited to Kat's perspective and told that whatever Kat isn't seeing is amazing and indescribable.
  • Homestuck: Gamzee's and Dave's rap-off, stated to be "one of the best rap-offs in the history of paradox space".
    • On the other hand, Gamzee's and Tavros' rap-off, stated to be "one of the worst rap-offs in the history of paradox space" is eventually shown.
    • There is also a conversation between Jade and Dave that the former shares with Kanaya; the contents of daveisafunnyguy.txt are not shown, but Kanaya assures us that she is Laughing Pretty Hard At All That.
    • The alternate timeline battle between God-Tier Vriska and Jack Noir is only alluded to, with Doc Scratch saying it would be epic enough to devote multiple animated segments to... but he's not going to show it because it's largely irrelevant to the main plot. The comic's commentary by Hussie admits that originally he was going to show the battle, but it kept growing in scope and scale and eventually he had to admit that it was just too much for him to do justice to, and gave up.
  • The exact nature of "robot sex" in the Insecticomics has always been kept a secret from the humans (and thus, the readers). When Wreckage finally shows Sassy Devine one of the "Debbie Does Daebola" films, all we get is her reaction to the film (mostly confusion).
  • In this strip from Narbonic, Dave's drunkenly expressed lustful desire for Helen is apparently not physically possible.
  • Nodwick did it in this strip. They also had a story arc which revolved around "That Which Man Was Not Meant to Know," which reportedly made your head explode. It turned out that women could know what it was just fine, leading to the following exchange:
    She Who Must Be Obeyed: "This? This makes male heads go pop? This?!!"
    Piffany: "Uh-huh. They're kind of sensitive about stuff like that..."
  • The Order of the Stick
    • All we see of Vaarsuvius using the spell Evan's Spiked Tentacles of Forced Intrusion ("Wait, what?") in this strip is the horrified reactions of the rest of the party and screams of the victim. Never mess with a wizard if he/she hasn't used up all his/her spell slots.
    • In the aptly named strip "Words Fail", about Roy and Celia's first date, we can see that they're having a great time talking to each other... but what they're actually saying is omitted.
    • In the prequel book Start of Darkness, we see varying reactions of a crowd seeing the Monster In The Darkness. Reactions range from vomiting to "Hideous, yet strangely beautiful..."
  • There were two interesting cases in Something*Positive:
    • Mike's baby has a gut-wrenchingly horrible face that only his parents can love. Davan, at one point, goes as far as comparing the baby's face to decomposition. Unfortunately, the example wasn't at all intentional — it's just that it took over six years for the artist to nail down a sufficiently hideous character design.
      So, yesterday I finally revealed the face of Shazzy, Mike and Tamara's son. A few people have asked why it took me so long. The truth is I'd never really intended to drag out the "unseen face" thing as long as I did. The problem was getting his face design right. I felt i'd built up how horrifying the kid looked that there was no way he could actually live up to the awful

      More than a few of you have happily informed me he lived up to your expectations.

      I dunno if I should be proud of myself or apologize.
    • The comic that reveals his face also has Meta Guy Silas musing that the unknown scares people to build it up to a greater horror, leading to disappointment when it comes to light.
    • We usually see very little of the terrible plays the core cast are involved in in the earlier years, and nothing of Aubrey's TV sitcom My Neighbour Cthulhu, which was so bad that the State of Massachusetts issued a restraining order to keep her away from cameras and production equipment.
  • In Joss Whedon's Sugarshock, Dandelion saves mankind by playing the saddest song in the world. We're told it's, well, very sad. (Unless you're a squirrel.)
  • In Tweep, Julie makes a list of things Milton could do if they hired someone new at the coffee shop. Thing #17 is apparently of some interest.
  • In Orbit, all we get to see is Moon's reaction to Earth's story of how he was created. Lampshaded by The Rant:
    "If only we returned to the flashback just one.. panel.. earlier.. We'd have the answers to life."
  • Spellbooks in El Goonish Shive are very dull and wordy. They seem to take on average 20 to 30 pages to describe a spell, and it's not like they spend all that time describing every possible interaction with other spells. It's just a simple description that rambles on and on. According to the author, we'll never see an excerpt longer than two or three words because he simply cannot write something so unreadable.
    Elliot: I swear this thing makes up words to pad its length.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Icelandic is this world's Common Tongue, and the cast has one native speaker (Reynir) and seven people who have it as a second language. Among the latter, Onni's is established to be quite bad via Onni himself describing it as "Some. Enough.", Reynir's reaction when speaking with him over the radio for the first time and author notes suggesting Onni has a horrible accent. However, all languages get Translation Convention into English, which causes Onni's Iclelandic to not be visibly different from Reynir's.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation: A number of details about each SCP are covered up with Censor Boxes or deleted text marked with [REDACTED] or [DATA EXPUNGED]. These are usually the worst results of the SCP's unchecked behavior or influence because leaving them to the reader's imagination makes for better horror or comedy than pinning them down.
    Once a normal community of 387 [Lego that becomes animated when built into objects] was constructed, a small mound of Megablocks (a common copy of Lego) was placed near the community. When this happened, everything constructed of 387 stopped moving, turned slowly towards the Megablocks and [EXPUNGED].
    Addendum 387-6: Jesus fucking Christ. - Dr. Arch
  • Whateley Universe example: Chaka's combat final happened all off-screen.
  • From The Onion: "New Study Too Frightening To Release."
  • The Cinema Snob:
    • The Snob used this in an episode reviewing Caligula. Since he couldn't actually show the infamous orgy scene in a blip video, instead we just get shots of him reacting to it, along with various comments describing the action: "Wait... is that a fucking snake?"
    • Also did it when discussing the depiction of a talking vagina in Pussy Talk, a certain sex act in Beaver and Buttface, and how he recognizes how the actor from Italian Batman is the same guy from Porno Holocaust.

    Real Life 
  • In 1637 Pierre de Fermat wrote, in his copy of Claude-Gaspar Bachet's translation of the famous Arithmetica of Diophantus, "I have a truly marvellous proof of this proposition which this margin is too narrow to contain." It wasn't until 1995 that anybody actually managed to prove Fermat's Last Theorem — with a proof lengthy enough to fill an entire book and using mathematics unknown in Fermat's time. It is still unknown what Fermat's proof could have been. The general consensus among mathematicians is that he thought he had a proof at the time he wrote that note but realized later that his proof was flawed, or that he was simply bluffing from the start.
  • Most "reaction videos" rely on this for their humor. We never see what it is that they're watching... but most of us have a pretty good idea of what it is.
    • This website is a (worksafe) collection of photographs of people looking at Goatse, a notorious Shock Site image of a man's distended anus, for the first time. We don't see Goatse, but God, do we see the horror. One of those pictures is of Ron Jeremy... and he looks horrified.
    • Similarly, there are several sites out there dedicated to capturing the unsuspecting's first exposure to "2 Girls, 1 Cup". (don't Google it if you're not already aware of what 2G1C is.)
    • One memorable picture is Christoph Waltz's reaction upon seeing Inglourious Basterds yaoi fanfiction for the first time.
  • No known film footage exists of The Doors' notorious 1969 Miami concert, where Jim Morrison got arrested for indecent exposure. Some people said he unzipped his pants and dangled his finger to the audience, while others said that he unzipped his pants and exposed himself. Either way, it's a mystery as to what really happened at that concert. Only bootleg audio recordings survive, which show Jim Morrison drunkenly slurring and cursing through the songs, abruptly interrupting his songs with rants at the audience ("You're all a bunch of slaves!")
  • During the 2006 World Cup Final, the Italian player Marco Materazzi insulted French player Zinedine Zidane. Though the incident was caught on camera, there were no microphones pointed at the pair at the time. The insult was apparently so vile that Zidane headbutted Materazzi and was ejected from the game, which France ultimately lost. This led to enormous speculation about what could have caused this reaction; popular consensus holds that Materazzi said something lewd about Zidane's sister.
  • Grizzly Man mentions that there is an audio-only recording of the fatal bear attack that killed Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend. Director Werner Herzog is the only one who listens to it. Herzog refused to put it into the film and informs Treadwell's ex-girlfriend to destroy the tape. There are some descriptions, including evidence of a desperate fight against the bear.
  • Steve Irwin's final moments were caught on tape as he filmed a nature documentary. The only footage of the incident was turned over to his widow, who says it was destroyed unwatched.
  • Invoked on this wiki's page for The Human Centipede. Trust us, you do not want to know.
  • In the Game Grumps episode "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time Part 3", Jirard is shown a video off-screen called Pizza Time. "Okay, so we're looking at the pizza now, it's OH MY GOD. OH GOD! Oh God, it's just like—it's just paper! and they're just—they're, like, fake! They're so fake! But—OH WATERMELON! There's a WATERMELON involved?!?! Do turtles like watermelon?! Why are they boning a watermelon?!" Subverted as the video itself actually does exist and they tell you how to find it, they just don't want to edit the video into their own video.
  • Before his execution in 1936, infamous serial killer, pedophile, and cannibal Albert Fish gave his final statement to his defense attorney, James Dempsey, in written form amounting to several pages. When asked to reveal his statement by journalists after the execution, Dempsey said that he would never reveal what Fish said, stating that it was the vilest string of obscenities that he had ever read. To this day, Fish's final statement has never been revealed to the public.
  • For the people of modern times, the genius of Sappho has largely been reduced to this trope. There are many, many records of her poetry being gushed about in ancient times, but very little of her work has actually survived to the present day. Aside from the scraps which have survived, we just have to trust that the ancients knew what they were talking about when they were calling her "the tenth muse" and counting her as one of the Nine Lyric Poets. Only two or three of the eight others have fared any better than her, so she's not alone in that regard.

 
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Alternative Title(s): Take My Word For It

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They Cut Off His Head

We don't see Dr. Ensler's incredibly mutilated body, but judging by everyone's reaction it's probably for the best.

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