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Tall Poppy Syndrome

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"Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish for its ability to climb up a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking itself stupid."

Named from the phrase "the tall poppy gets cut down", an aphorism used in much of The Commonwealth of Nations to describe resentment of those whose accomplishments elevate them in prominence above their erstwhile peers. Tall Poppy Syndrome is in play when a character or characters act to achieve parity with another character who is presented or perceived as somehow "better", not by improving themselves but by bringing the other guy down to their level.

This trope is often found in Dystopias and Crapsack Worlds, and may also show up in Crapsaccharine Worlds. Indeed, in a Crapsaccharine World, Tall Poppy Syndrome may be the first clue that everything isn't as sweet and nice as it appears on the surface. Common in social ghettos and places where institutionalized categorism (e.g. racism) results in Aggressive and Internalized categorism, with people of a certain category (e.g. race, gender, sexual orientation, species, mutant etc.) believing — even on a subconscious level — that they are inferior and should act in a certain way, and hence pull down and demean anyone who acts differently, rises to greatness, or escapes the social ghetto. Expect this variation in alternate and futuristic worlds that have social divide or contain Dystopian elements, and from writers who are trying to write social commentary about Real Life — with whom it's a particular favorite.


The term comes from a story about Tarquin the Proud, last king of ancient Rome. Tarquin was asked what to do with the leading men of an enemy city his soldiers had captured. He sliced the heads off the tallest poppies in his garden and so the enemy leaders were put to death by beheading. The idea, however, is even older: Herodotus describes Thrasybulus, the tyrant of Miletus, doing the same thing in a grain field as advice to Periander, who had just seized power in Corinth.

This attitude is prevalent in collectivist and hierarchical cultures, as evidenced by the various names that many cultures have for it. For example, the Japanese proverb Deru kugi utareru — "The nail that sticks out gets hammered down" (in English, the phrase "proud nail" often has the same implication), which not only refers to ambition, but anyone who fails to conform; the Scandinavian concept of the "Jantelov" ("the Law of Jante"; see in Literature below); the Philippine Crab Mentality or "Crab Bucket Syndrome", based on the myth that if you have at least two crabs in a bucket, you don't need to have a lid, because the other(s) prevent any one member from trying to climb out of it; and the Dutch proverb boven het maaiveld uitsteken, more or less literally, "standing out above the level at which the field is mown". In Chinese, "the tall bird must be shot at". In Korean, "An angular stone is bound to be chiselled.". A Russian proverb "Вот радость — у соседа корова сдохла" (Vot radost' — u soseda korova sdokhla "What a joy, a neighbour's cow has died") describes the schadenfreude borne out of such mentality.


It's one of the reasons for someone to engage in Obfuscating Stupidity or an Obfuscating Disability.

Compare Do Well, but Not Perfect, The Complainer Is Always Wrong and Too Qualified to Apply. Contrast Social Darwinism, which is about those on top making it harder for those at the bottom to climb up, rather than those below acting to bring down those who try to rise, Bullying a Dragon, where trying to hammer down those clearly superior to you in magnitudes result in catastrophic consequences, and Beware the Superman, where the short poppies should be afraid of the tall. The Paragon actively tries to avoid this trope by bringing others up to his or her level, rather than letting them push him or her down. Contrast also the American aphorism "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." See also Ambition Is Evil; Enemy Mine; It's Popular, Now It Sucks!; and Enemies Equals Greatness (where it's people who hate an individual for being great). This is one of The Perils of Being the Best. It should also be noted that, regardless of what the Tall Poppies themselves might think, it's not this trope if their own actions have legitimately brought a negative response on them.


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  • In one Cheerios commercial, a father with a pair of little twin girls is trying to read his newspaper when one of them complains that the other has more Cheerios in her bowl than she does. To even things up, he digs a spoonful out from the other twin's bowl and eats it... only to decide upon tasting it that he "needs" to take some more scoops from either bowl to make them equal. Numerous scoops later, he leaves exactly two Cheerios in each bowl. "There. Now they're equal." The twins stare at their bowls for a while, and then the other one says "She's got more milk."
  • Mocked in a commercial for Cadillac.
    Martin Henderson: You can practice risk avoidance. You can aspire to blend in quietly. You can live in, drive, wear social camouflage. And you can believe in the philosophy that the nail that sticks out gets hammered can be the hammer.

    Anime and Manga 
  • In Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai Yozora frequently attempts to sabotage, belittle or humiliate others who she feels are getting in the way of her friendship/potential romance with Kodaka. She refuses to make any sort of attempt herself.
  • Averting this trope is the reason Nico Niyama from Kiznaiver acts the way she does. Being rich, smart and cute, she fears that she'd be resented for it and end up a Lonely Rich Kid. Her Cloudcuckoolander act is her way of appearing less perfect, and therefore more normal, to others.
  • In My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU, heroine Yukinoshita Yukino says that she's been the victim of this for much of her life, having few friends because the other girls resented her superiority, and having to deal with the frustration of being surrounded by lazy people who'd rather drag her down than raise themselves up.
  • In Naruto, Kakashi uses the nail proverb to describe Sasuke during the bell challenge.
  • In Shokugeki no Soma, this is something the titular character very much endures in his Social Darwinist school. A good majority of the student body resent his talent and achievements and frequently try to downplay them. One notable example is in the Tournament Arc where despite making it all the way to the finals along with two other top chefs from his generation, Soma is treated as a complete afterthought between them by the students. True to form, the students are jealous of his hard-working attitude and acknowledging that would mean acknowledging that they do not work as hard as Soma does.
  • Discussed in Tokyo Ghoul. While the younger generations of Ghoul Investigators practically worship the legendary Kishou Arima, it turns out that the older generation almost universally resent him. Many were shown to have been openly rude to him as a rookie, viewing him as a threat that made them look bad in comparison. As such, it's very clear that most of his career has been spent isolated from others through a wall of resentment or worship.

  • There's a joke where a dead guy of [insert Acceptable Nationality Target here] is in Hell and is escorted past the cauldrons that hold members of various nationalities, each one with a devil or multiple devils standing guard to push back in the ones trying to get out. At the cauldron for his people, there are no devils, because of the given trope. A particularly common Russian one—possibly the original—has Jews in a cauldron with hundreds of devils furiously spearing them, Poles in another cauldron with a few, largely idle devils, and Russians in the last one with no devils.
  • A more serious joke: A man sits in his room and complains about his bad life. Then, an angel appears and tells him: "God cares about you, so He decided you get one wish - but whatever you wish for, your neighbor will get twice of it!" The man thinks about it: "So if I wish for a house, he'll get two? If I wish for a million dollars, he'll get two?" The angel nods. Then the man states: "I want to be blind in one eye!" The angel leaves weeping.
    • A more subtly spiteful joke has the protagonist use his only or third wish to donate a kidney. Other common variants include the man wishing to "be beaten half-dead" or to have half his property be destroyed or to have a "mild heart attack".
    • Similarly, this one from the Soviet Union: A man is visited by a genie, who offers to grant him a wish. The man responds that his neighbor has a cow, but he himself has no cow. The genie asks if the man wants a cow of his own too. The man says no, that he wants his neighbor's cow to die.
  • One of Louis C.K.'s daughters broke one of her toys, so she went to him and demanded that he break one of her sister's toys "to make it fair". What horrified him the most was that he actually did it, while she watched him the whole time with a huge, creepy smile on her face.

    Comic Books 
  • In one story of The Smurfs, they found a magic egg which fulfills wishes. One smurf wishes for a big cake, but doesn't want to share it. (Not nice, but justified if anyone else can have as many wishes as he likes.) The next smurf then wishes for said cake disappearing.
  • Some comics in the Marvel Universe speculate this is why heroes there receive such poor responses from the general population. Super-heroes are extraordinary people with amazing abilities and dedicate their lives to improving the world around them, so normal humans feel weak and selfish by comparison. The Kingpin ties this into I Just Want to Be Normal and Muggle Power in a “The Reason You Suck” Speech in Ultimate Spider-Man #80.
    The Kingpin: They, "society," hate you because they don't want your help. You remind them of how weak-willed and sheep-like and unspecial they are. How gleeful they are, deep down, to be ordinary. They don't want heroes. They don't want special people around them. Because if there are special people and they aren't one of them— well, who wants that? Who wants a constant reminder that they aren't even trying to be special? See, the difference between you and I is that you really are just a child. You benefit from the wide-eyed optimism of youth. I do envy that, somewhat. But... like many of your decisions in life... it's just naive. And I don't envy that harsh cold slap of reality that will come your way soon enough. But I guess it's inevitable. People don't want to be special. I do think that. It is my philosophy. They— people want to be told what to do and how to live and they want men like me to tell them. They want to go to work and do as little as they can possibly get away with, and they want a big cookie at the end of the day for doing it. And they want men like me to give it to them.
  • One early Spider-Man story revealed that J. Jonah Jameson suffers this in regards to Spider-Man. Hence his relentless persecution of the webslinger.
  • This trope was given as the reason the depowered superheroes receive no outside help in JLA: Act of God, because it turns out that all the Muggles and world governments are secretly happy that their superpowered protectors are now "on the same level" as everyone else. That's right, everyone is happy that Superman is gone. Doug Moench doesn't read many comics besides Batman. Considering the very long list of alien conquerors who have tried to take over Earth, these people may not be so happy later that all their super-powered protectors are gone.
  • Scrooge receives this treatment in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. When he returns to his hometown after making his first billion, he's immediately pelted with tomatoes: "The Highlands were nae good enough fer ya, eh?".
    • Which is hilariously built upon when Scrooge rages at the treatment, and the villagers are honestly shocked that he took offense.
    • Scrooge had previously gotten this treatment after winning the battle for the Anaconda copper mine. Upon returning to town he is reviled by those he previously counted as friends. Howard Rockerduck informs him that this is what happens when you get rich.
  • Lex Luthor feels this way about Superman, he states no one man should have that much power. However, Lex's logic is that no one but him should have that much power...
  • Supergirl has several times gotten this poor treatment:
    • Daily Planet journalist Cat Grant hates Supergirl, among other -mostly petty- reasons, because she can't stand seeing a super-powerful teenager around.
    • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Lena Thorul hates super-powered beings, feeling they make baseline humans look bad. As soon as she finds out her best friend Linda is Supergirl, Lena turns on her.
      Supergirl: Lena... I'm still me! I'm your best friend!
      Lena: Not anymore... Not now that I know the truth! You're my enemy now. I have no choice but to destroy you!
      Supergirl: But why? I'm the same person you've been friends with for months! Why do you have to hate me?!
      Lena: Because your kind offends the natural order! You float through the sky as if you own it! You change the course of rivers without a thought to the consequences! Your very existence undermines the purity of true human achievement!

    Fan Works 
  • The village of Sunny Town in the fangame Story of the Blanks has the reveal that the blank-flanked ponies murder anypony who finds their purpose in life and earns a Cutie Mark.
  • Referenced in Turnabout Storm for the reason why Ace Swift's death is being kept under wraps. The Judge tells Twilight that they don't want to worry the other racers, because the murder "may give them the idea if they become 'too good' the murderer will go after them next".
  • Cloud's SOLDIER prep squad-mates in Once More With Feeling first start bullying Cloud when he's shown to be a genius, testing out of every academic class in a week each. They actually try to cripple him once Cloud starts excelling physically as well (due to training for hours every night to relearn how to fight in his younger body).
  • In The Bald and the Esper, a lot of Saitama's detractors are either people who failed to join the Hero Association or ones who succeeded and are less successful than him. When Saitama's rank skyrockets from 388 (dead last) to 5 among the C-Ranks, one person insists that he must have cheated because it was impossible to change ranks, even though the Hero Association has several rules pertaining to changing ranks.
  • Sabrina in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines really doesn't like this. She believes that those who cut down the exceptional rather than working to improve themselves deserve to die, and Dario found this out the hard way.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, the Ultra-Humanite sees himself as a victim of this for being suppressed into mediocrity despite his supergenius intellect. He comes to see Izuku in the same light, as the boy is also amazingly powerful but is confined by society's anti-alien rhetoric.
    Ultra-Humanite: [to Izuku] Do you know why I was playing "The Cunning Little Vixen", boy? Because I feel a kinship with the titular character. In the first act, the vixen is forcibly made a pet by the forester and forced to live with a conservative old dachshund. After years of this, she becomes fed up with a life of conformity and escapes back into the wilderness. It’s perfectly understandable; when you’re forced to live with people who only want to suppress your talents and are satisfied with mediocrity, you eventually reach a point where you can’t stomach it any longer and lash out against the world. That’s me. For all the decades I’ve been alive, everywhere I’ve been has been filled with idiots and layabouts who have no appreciation for the things in life with even a modicum of substance. Worst of all, they expect me to just play along with their stupidity! Could you even imagine that? Bringing yourself down to everyone’s level and never allowing yourself to be at your best?

    Films — Animated 
  • One of the major themes of The Incredibles revolves around this idea, where the superheroes are forced to give up "hero work". Originally this was because of a series of lawsuits and increasing public outrage and mistrust of supers in general; years later, this means Dash isn't allowed to go out in sports because he'd be too good with his Speedster powers, as well as outing him and his family as supers. The villain, Syndrome, wants to make all of his "superhero" inventions and weapons available to the public so that "when everyone's super, no one will be". Syndrome's philosophy is actually the antithesis of this trope — raising everyone else so the people who naturally excel are average. Not a bad idea in principle, but there are three major problems with his implementation:
    • Syndrome is motivated by megalomania and revenge, and his fondness for dangerous weapons means that "making everyone super" could result in catastrophic destruction.
    • He's murdered dozens of superheroes in the process of improving one of these weapons, the Omnidroid, so it will be powerful enough to kill Mr. Incredible; the focus of his revenge and - from what we're shown - one of the best superheroes in the world.
    • He explicitly states that he's going to hand out all of his advanced technology after he's "grown old and had my fun", meaning that he's going to be more special than anyone else until he decides to retire.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen: The Rt. Ordinary Horatio Jackson is presented with a heroic soldier who singlehandedly destroyed six enemy cannons and rescued ten captive soldiers. Instead of awarding him a commendation for his bravery, he is ordered executed so as not to demoralize soldiers who are less brave and capable. He later snipes and fatally wounds the Baron while the town is celebrating his victory over the Sultan, partially because of this.
  • The movie Blue State actually has a Canadian cite the tall poppy metaphor approvingly as part of introducing an American would-be expatriate to Canada.
  • In A Fish Called Wanda, this is one of the many, many insults that Otto hurls at Archie and Britishness in general, telling him, "You know your problem? You don't like winners!"
  • Unique case in Good Will Hunting as it's self-inflicted, and inverted completely when Chuckie tells Will that he owes it to the rest of them to make something out of his life.
  • Harrison Bergeron, the film adaptation of the Kurt Vonnegut short story, starring Sean Astin, is also about a brilliant young man in a society where everyone is forced to be mediocre. For example, a C grade is considered the best grade in school, and the title character gets in trouble for repeatedly getting A's.
  • This is used to set up the plot in Hot Fuzz. The protagonist, London police officer Nicholas Angel, is reassigned to a small village in The West Country because his hypercompetence is making the entire rest of the Met look bad in comparison. Unfortunately, their figures go "a bit squiffy" (as in a 400% increase in London's crime rate) without him, forcing them to swallow their pride and ask him to return... only to be told he's come to like the village.
  • Land of the Blind: Referenced in the reeducation camp slogan of "The nail that sticks up gets hammered down" and explicit with the revolution's (claimed) egalitarian goals (though as with most such regimes they end up very unequal).
  • Used as a threat in The Night We Called It A Day. Bob Hawke (portrayed by David Field) educated Frank Sinatra (Dennis Hopper) about Australian customs with the phrase "You are what we call a 'tall poppy'. We have a way of dealing with tall poppies in this country: we cut their heads off."
  • The Purge: The reason why the Sandins will be killed by their neighbors, with them even invoking The Only One Allowed to Defeat You on the teenage Purgers, is because the Sandins make a lot of money from having sold security systems and have "flaunted it" by making additions to their house, breaking the standards of the neighborhood.
  • In the DCOM Tower of Terror, this is ultimately revealed as the villain Abby's motivation: as the older, non-talented sister of child star Sally Shine, she felt neglected by both her parents and the world at large, and so used black magic to send Sally, as well as the four other people unlucky enough to be in an elevator with her, into the Twilight Zone, forced to live on as ghosts. Thankfully, a healthy dose of The Power of Love convinces Abby that Sally and her family really did care about her, which reverses the spell.
  • In Transcendence, there are several discussions on the notion there will always be people who fear change and will violently fight to prevent it. RIFT's goal seems to be achieving this trope on a global scale, by ridding the world of technological advancements.
  • Interesting inversion in Wristcutters: A Love Story in Kneller's tale of the crooked tree. While the proud, tall-standing trees do get cut down, the crooked tree survives because it is an exception to the otherwise tall trees.
  • Invoked and subverted in The Wolf of Wall Street. Jordan is disdainful of the idea of FBI Agent Denham investigating Stratton-Oakmont's rise to Wall Street stardom, pointing out that Denham had tried and failed to get his broker's license and is now only taking out his frustrations by ruining the accomplishments of people who pulled it off. He even remarks "Every time someone rises up in this world, there's always gonna be some asshole trying to drag him down." But in actuality, this is only because Jordan is the narrator, and the film makes it clear he's a hedonistic, morally-bankrupt scumbag whose rise to power was accomplished by illegal means, so Denham, as an FBI Agent, is just doing his job and is justified in taking him down.
  • It's not explicitly stated as such, but the Joker in The Dark Knight does talk about how he "took Gotham's White Knight (Harvey Dent) and brought him down to our level." Harvey was a popular political figure, had a beautiful girlfriend-come-fiancée, and was poised to actually bring hope back to Gotham without dressing up like a bat and jumping off rooftops. The Joker tore him down and convinced him to do a Face–Heel Turn, destroying everything he used to stand for.

  • In The Adventures of Pinocchio, the blue fairy promised him he'd become a real boy if he's always well-behaved and gets good grades in school. Then one day, the other boys tell him that the monster whale was seen near their place, and that they should skip school to look for it. Pinocchio hesitates, but then decides to join them because he cares about Geppetto. When they go to the sea, no whale. Pinocchio gets suspicious, and wants to know what's going on. Then, the other boys tell him, that they'll look bad if he's an A-student, but if everyone in class was as lazy as they are, they'd be just average. This fact is often omitted in the adaptations, with the major exception of the Giuliano Cenci version.
  • This is the entire point of the book Among Friends by Caroline B. Cooney. Jennie Quint is regarded as pretty much perfect (except for math) at her school and she's a super-overachiever. Jennie herself isn't an egotist or a snob, but even her very best friends are getting really fed up with constantly being overshadowed by Jennie's perfection.
  • Repeatedly touched on in the works of Ayn Rand, such as Atlas Shrugged, and the the philosophy she founded. It's always portrayed as the greatest evil society perpetuates, with repeated connections to Marx's slogan, "From each according to their ability, to each according to their need" which the novel's government and Twentieth Century Motor Company interpret as "punish those with ability, and reward those without." In fact this is the central motivation of all her villains in all her novels.
  • In A Brother's Price, Corelle Whistlers tells Jerin Whistler that "some people" think the Whistlers are "giving themselves airs" by talking the Queen's English instead of the local dialect, and insists they should try to fit in better. They talk like this because their grandfather was Prince Alannon, and he presumably liked it that way, and had his wives twisted around his little finger. The family eventually evades the tall poppy syndrome when Jerin manages to marry into the royal family. Her sudden interest in fitting in is explained by her chasing after the neighbour boy's pants - it's their neighbours who are most offended by their way of talking.
  • More literally than most examples, the narrator of Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came describes one scene he passes through this way, with the actual weeds jealous of any that grew above the rest.
  • Discworld: In Unseen Academicals when Glenda is resistant to her friend Juliet taking an opportunity for a lucrative and glamorous life as a fashion model, she's told by Pepe that this is an example of "Crab Bucket", but doesn't understand, and Pepe doesn't elaborate. When a fishmonger later tells Glenda that you can keep crabs in a bucket with no lid, since any crab that tries to climb out is pulled down by the others, she realizes what the reference meant. The lower class in Ankh-Morpork suffer from such a case of Tall Poppy Syndrome that anyone trying to elevate themselves is seen to be "giving themselves airs" and "having ideas above their station" and dragged back down by their peers — or, just as often, by themselves, these habits having become ingrained. Overcoming the "crab bucket" mentality is a big part of Glenda's Character Development.
  • The Scandinavian term Janteloven ("the Jante law" or "the law of Jante") comes from the 1933 novel A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks by Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. In this book, the first-person narrator comes from a small town called Jante in Denmark, where the working-class inhabitants follow the unwritten Jante law, which consists of rules that basically boil down to "You're shit just like us, and don't you dare forget it."
    1. Don't think you're anything special.
    2. Don't think you're as much as us.
    3. Don't think you're wiser than us.
    4. Don't convince yourself that you're better than us.
    5. Don't think you know more than us.
    6. Don't think you are more than us.
    7. Don't think you are good at anything.
    8. Don't laugh at us.
    9. Don't think anyone cares about you.
    10. Don't think you can teach us anything.
    11. Don't think there's anything we don't know about you.
  • This is a major theme in Girl in Translation. The main character, Kimberly Chang, is repeatedly shown to be jealous of her much wealthier classmates. On a more serious note, Kimberly's aunt forces her and her mother to live in a dangerous, roach-infested apartment and work long hours of hard labor in a Chinatown sweatshop from fear that Kimberly will be more successful than her son.
  • Taken Up to Eleven in Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, where everyone is literally handicapped to the lowest common denominator. Athletic people must wear heavy chains to make them slow and clumsy. Smart people wear earphones that randomly play loud noises to disrupt their thinking patterns. And beautiful people must wear masks.
  • In Huckleberry Finn, Huck's father (a slovenly, abusive, and neglectful drunkard) is absolutely enraged by the fact that Huck is getting an education and a chance at a decent shot in life, because he thinks that now Huck is going to think he's above his dad.
  • In Invisible Man, one day when the protagonist is working for the Brotherhood he receives an anonymous, unstamped letter warning him, "Keep working for the people but remember that you are one of us and do not forget if you get too big they will cut you down." Only too late does he recognize who the familiar handwriting belongs to.
  • Jonathan Livingston Seagull features a seagull (the titular character) who discovers that the true purpose of life is to learn to fly as high and as fast as physically possible. When he shares this discovery with his flock, he is savagely driven out. Later, he returns in a transcendent spirit form and recruits followers, all of whom suffer the same fate.
  • In Matched, Ky does this on purpose so, as an Aberration, he won't be selected to fight in the war.
  • The short story "Null-P" by William Tenn describes the rise and (extremely eventual) fall of a future society so afraid of individual variation that all rewards (e.g. scholarships or public office) are given to those whose performance is closest to the exact average of their group.
  • The Thorburn family in Pact have been twisted by the desire for a massive inheritance from Rosalyn Thorburn, and actively sabotage any attempts to better themselves-if one gets into a good college, another will ruin her chances. At this point, it's largely reflexive for them to spitefully verbally attack one another whenever they meet. Blake Thorburn, the narrator, is The One Who Made It Out by running away.
  • Discussed in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" from The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape, a senior devil from Hell, discusses how Tall Poppy Syndrome can be used to undermine democracy. While a full discussion would become a lengthy entry, the short version is that Screwtape says the Devils can undermine democracy and education - the government least inclined toward the Hellward road and one of humanity's greatest achievements, respectively - by introducing mediocrity in a citizenry that refuses to accept excellence. Talented individuals become ashamed of their talents because their excellence elevates them. In short, while "the Enemy" (ie God) would want humans to excel while remaining humble and kind, the devils want humans to be proud but mediocre. Screwtape best summarizes it as confusing the message "All men are created equal," meaning all humans deserve rights, equal protection before the law, and to be valued as individuals, with "All men are created equal," to mean no one is truly more virtuous, more talented, more industrious, or more capable. The full lecture goes into much greater detail.
  • This is a major factor in most of the Sharpe stories — the Establishment is deeply offended that a common soldier born to poverty could have become an officer. Then even more offended when he goes around being better at it than them. Similarly, a lot of the common soldiers resent being given orders by a "jumped-up Sergeant". To the point where they attempt to frag him several times.
  • In the Star Wars Legends continuity, the book The Truce at Bakura introduces a religion called the "Cosmic Balance", which essentially advocates this, as if you attempt to better yourself a great deal then other people will suffer to keep the balance. The religion doesn't like the Jedi due to their having had vast power, seeing their eradication by the Emperor as a balancing effect.
  • The Imperial Order from the Sword of Truth series is a very literal embodiment of this trope. Under their belief, everyone is meant to give to those who have less than them, and anyone who doesn't should be put to death. They want to kill all who can use magic because there are many who can't. They sack entire cities because the people who live there just want to live their own lives rather than join the Order. Though the leaders often openly contradict their own beliefs (just being leaders shows they think they are superior and, by their own ideals, should give up authority) it is often a society run by mob rule. As Nikki eloquently puts it, "The Order teaches us that to be better than someone is to be worse than everyone."
  • In To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus complains that "All men are equal" has led to schoolteachers who promote all students instead of holding back underachievers.
  • In The Tower and the Fox Calatians are treated as second-class citizens by the British Empire. When one of them, main character Kip Penfold, dares to apply to a college for sorcery, his family are ostracized by most of the local Calatian community for fear of reprisal for one of their number "reaching above his station", to the point where they have to move.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Arrested Development, George Bluth Sr. would deliberately denigrate Michael's achievements and suggestions as a way of keeping Michael looking for his approval (while privately acknowledging that Michael actually does well), while the rest of the family mostly looks on Michael's work ethic and financial sense as him lording it over the others (which Michael occasionally admits is slightly true).
  • Babylon 5: The Inquisitor in his eponymous episode accuses Delen of delusions of grandeur regarding her position in the resistance against the Shadows. He even references the nail getting hammered down, punctuating it with "Bang, bang, bang". Delen counters by accusing him of engaging in Tall Poppy Syndrome.
    Delenn: You are a creature who has received pain, and given pain, and taken too much joy in its application. You have aspired to dreams and been disappointed because you were not strong enough, or worthy enough, or right enough. So you lash out at anyone who believes they can make a difference because it reminds you of your own failure. You have to prove their just as bad, just as flawed as you are. Am I close, Mr. Sebastian?
  • One episode of Cold Case involved the death of a black man who had managed to pass himself off as white in the 1950's. The murderer was motivated by this, accusing him of 'betraying his people'.
  • Doctor Who:
    • "Rose": After the department store that Rose worked at is blown up, her mother Jackie expresses the opinion that working there was giving her "airs and graces".
    • "The Parting of the Ways": After Rose has been sent back to the 21st century and is in a Heroic BSoD, Mickey's contribution to the discussion is to bitterly ask if she thinks that saving worlds with the Doctor makes her better than everyone else.
  • "Three on a Couch", an episode of The Golden Girls, sees Rose, Dorothy, and Blanche visiting a psychiatrist when they seem unable to stop fighting with each other. The girls complain about each other's flaws, with Rose's Cloud Cuckoolander status and Blanche's insatiable sex drive as targets for derision. Dorothy's, though, is the fact that she's largely rule-abiding and level-headed; Rose and Blanche complain that she "lords it over" them and acts superior just because she has her life in order.
  • I Love Lucy has a rather humorous take on this: Frustrated at Lucy's perpetual mistakes, Ricky draws up a very tight, rigorous schedule for her to do her chores. It actually seems to help the scatterbrained Lucy, until Ethel and her friends complain that Lucy's efficiency makes them look bad, that, "How can we say we can't get everything done in one day, when you're doing just that?" An appeal to her vanity makes Lucy herself decide to derail the schedule, naturally when Ricky has friends over, and Hilarity Ensues.
  • Happens a number of times in The Inbetweeners. When a character shows signs of making some form of progress in their social lives, the others conspire to bring them back to their level. Examples include Jay's football friend and Will's romance with Daisy.
  • Probably closer to "crabs in a bucket" than tall poppies, but whenever one member of the Gang from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia seems to be pulling things together and potentially escape the squalor and misery of the others, the rest of the group will sabotage them.
  • Kamen Rider Agito's antagonists, the Overlords, see themselves as humanity's shepherds and want to protect them from outside threats (like the Grongi, according to the backstory). However, also try to kill any humans who develop the Seed of Agito, under the logic of "We're protecting you, so you don't need to be exceptional."
  • On Longmire a Victim of the Week was a Cheyenne man who left his tribe, got a college degree, married a non-Indian and then decided to come home so he could help others out of the crippling poverty that plagued the tribe. Quite a few of the Cheyenne considered him a traitor who sold out to the white man and was acting like he was better than them. He ended up being force-fed alcohol and painted red so he appeared more like a 'real Indian'.
  • Played for Laughs with Rita Glossner on The Middle. She and her family are rednecks and she sees the Hecks as rich snobs when they're middle class at best.
  • Suits reveals in a flashback that Mike sold answers to an exam in college (and was expelled for it) because some frat boys cheated him and Trevor out of money that Trevor needed to pay to a drug dealer. The frat boys did it because Mike's Photographic Memory made him an A+ student and they felt that he made them look lazy and stupid in comparison. So they essentially robbed him of all his money so they could show him that he wasn't smarter than them.
  • Survivor and just about every other reality show based on Voted off the Island. If someone makes too good of a showing, the other contestants deem him/her a threat and vote them out. Hence, why Obfuscating Stupidity has shown itself to be a popular strategy.
  • In True Blood, this is the motivation behind a group of normal humans driving around and killing all humans with super-abilities. They don't try to hide it either.
  • The Wire is often made of this type with its bleak neo-realist worldview saying that nothing changes and you can't break the cycle, especially with characters wanting to leave the game. In Series 1, it was Boadie and Poot shooting Wallace; Series 2 had the murder of D'Angelo (just after his depressing, crab-barrel analysis of The Great Gatsby); Season 3 went gloriously big with Avon setting Stringer up to be killed for wanting to go legit.
    • Averted with Cutty's gym in Series 3.
    • Frank's speech to the lobbyist his union employs, who always talks about his grandfather's working-class roots despite his own upper-middle-class status.

  • Referenced in "Lobster Bucket!" by The Aquabats!.
    People too, me and you
    Can also be like lobsters in buckets
    It's all just one big mess
    Please don't be a lobster, friends are best
  • From Ani DiFranco's "32 Flavors":
    And god help you if you are a phoenix
    And you dare to rise up from the ash
    A thousand eyes will smolder with jealousy
    While you are just flying past
  • "The Trees" by Rush is this trope by way of Ayn Rand, although lyricist Neil Peart claims the song wasn't intended to have a political interpretation.
  • The first verse of Son of a Scoundrel by Shel Silverstein gives this impression when the narrator disapproves of his neighbor suddenly acting more stereotypically high class after coming into money, noting that Australians are all 'children of convicts' and loudly questioning the neighbor's parentage when he passes in the street. This notion of bringing down people acting above their station (IE, better than everyone else, making the narrator out as The Everyman) is also used to rebut a Parental Marriage Veto in the second verse and backtalk a judge attempting to shut down a brothel in the third verse.
  • This is why critics in the U.K. hated Progressive Rock so much. A lot of music critics on both sides of The Pond think that anybody who strives for anything more ambitious than Three Chords and the Truth is "pretentious." For critics, "experimental" is not a compliment.
  • Briefly discussed in Gang Starr's "Moment of Truth" with these lyrics:
    See when you're shining, some chumps'll wanna dull ya
    Always selfish jealous punks, will wanna pull ya
    Down, just like some shellfish in a bucket
  • Nineties roots-rock band The Badlees riffed on this with their song "I Liked You Better When You Hated Yourself", about a former friend who embraces the self-help lifestyle, although it's not completely one-sided; it sounds like the song's subject is suffering from some Acquired Situational Narcissism.
    Last time I saw you, you were on Donahue
    Discussing your book and everything you've been through
    Now you've got your glamour, your fame and your wealth
    But I still liked you better when you hated yourself
  • The Norwegian Progressive Metal band Leprous' debut album is literally named Tall Poppy Syndrome, and the Title Track is about this trope.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin lampshades this in Calvin and Hobbes when he's proud of getting a "C". He finds life easier the lower he keeps below peoples' expectations.
  • Zits
    • Jeremy is initially excited to get an "A" on a test...then suddenly has a vision of his parents saying they're proud of him and from now on, will expect him to bring home As on every test. Cut to the next panel where he says he thinks he blew it.
    • For that matter, he often feels this way towards Chad, part of the reason being that whenever Chad comes home, he takes up everybody's attention. Even to the point where nobody asked him how his break was because they only wanted to know about Chad.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Carly Colon, who was nearly an overnight success in WWC, was hit by a case of this notable enough to get a newspaper article on the subject when he got a WWE developmental deal. Granted, that paper was The Sun and he's long since become popular again.
  • In response to hearing the RoHbots thank Eddie Edwards during their departure, Jimmy Jacobs and Roderick Strong attacked, later joining with BJ Whitmer: three wrestlers who had been "loyal" to Ring of Honor for a decade who were tired of seeing celebrations for those going to larger companies. This degenerated into Decade attacking people returning from larger companies (The Addiction from TNA), commuting between larger companies (AJ Styles bringing in the IWGP heavyweight title and Bullet Club from New Japan) and then attacking "rookies" who they suspected of using ROH to get to larger companies (Adam Page, TaDarius Thomas, Andrew Everett, Cedric Alexander, ACH)
  • Much of the mid-card in WWE there is what's referred to 50-50 booking where wrestlers in a feud would will exchange wins and losses with no clear winner so that no one looks weak. However, no one ever looks strong, either and don't really develop a strong following amongst casual fans. Only the few wrestlers at very top don't suffer from this. This leads to situations where a champion will often lose non-title matches, but win when the belt is on the line.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • Straight from the Gospels, and thus Older Than Feudalism: No man is a prophet in his own land (on how Jesus Himself is panned in his own home village, Nazareth, when he tries to deliver His message). This trope is pretty much Word of God, for some.

    Tabletop Games 
  • If you're one of the "lesser" evils (i.e., fiends), so to speak, in Dungeons & Dragons, everybody above you keeps bullying you just for kicks (and everyone below you keeps trying to take your job). The top-level guys have no one looking down on them, at least not honestly (as archdevils and demon lords often don't think much of each other, but they're on more or less equal footing) but on the other hand, they're surrounded by legions of Starscreams...
  • In any game with three or more players and mechanics that allow them to attack each other or otherwise impede each other's progress, anyone who pulls ahead of the pack is likely to be targeted by the others.

    Video Games 
  • In Jak 3: Wastelander, after Jak beats Kleiver's high score at the Gun Turret challenge, Kleiver, ever the good sport, remarks, "The tall poppy has to be snipped sometime." Incidentally, Kleiver is depicted as having an Australian accent.
  • In Harvest Moon everyone will berate and snide you for using Golden Lumber for a fence because of how ridiculously expensive it is.
  • A combination of this, genuine bitterness, and her own position probably being worse in its own way is why Goldanna, Alistair's half-sister, is so disdainful of him in Dragon Age: Origins. (Of course, if you were just trying to scrape by as a washerwoman and your half-brother walked in wearing elaborate armor and accompanied by three other people all dressed up equally fine...)
    • According to the novel The Calling, Alistair isn't even her blood relative, being a Half-Human Hybrid who doesn't have any of his elf mother's features.
    • The same novel both plays straight and inverts this with the brother and sister Grey Wardens Geneveive and Bregan. Geneveive wanted to be a Grey Warden all her life, but when the time came the recruiter refused to accept her unless Bregan took the joining as well. Throughout their careers Geneveive watched as Bregan was loved and respected as commander and knew she would never be like him, this made her resent him. Meanwhile Bregan hates his life, despite how well he did as a warden he never gets over the fact that he was forced into it and he resents Geneveive for wanting to be a warden and dragging him down with her.
  • In the Deus Ex: Human Revolution tie-in novel Icarus Effect, the title effect is described as a biological as well as a social phenomenon where, to maintain "stability", if a small number out of a large group attains some distinct advantage, those lacking that advantage will attack the abberants until that advantage is gone. This is part of the reason that everything goes to hell in the actual game as well. Augmented people are discriminated against in society because they're both seen as "unnatural" due to supposedly going against the natural order, and with their abilities being superior to those of a regular human. This even extends to people who need those augmentations to live.
  • In the Dead Money DLC of Fallout: New Vegas, the reason Dean Domino tried to ruin Frederick Sinclair is because he was happier and more successful than him, which Dean interpreted as Sinclair showing off and thinking he was better than everyone else. If you don't go out of your way to placate his ego, he'll develop similar feelings towards you as well and turn on you, requiring you to kill him in order to proceed. If he doesn't betray you and therefore survives the DLC, he'll learn about the final fates of Sinclair and his love interest Vera Keyes, and feel a bit sad for some strange reason he cannot identify, so he puts it out of his mind and decides to head to New Vegas.
  • Andrew Ryan complains about this during the introduction of Rapture in BioShock, though the game can be seen as evidence that his opposite is just as bad if not worse.
  • Any city that becomes too big or technologically advanced in Final Fantasy X will be attacked and normally destroyed by Sin in short order. The only exceptions are the city it was made to protect and the most popular city whose warriors fight extra hard to protect.
  • In Persona 4, Ai Ebihara's family used to be poor, but after her father struck it rich, they had to move because their neighbors got jealous.
  • Enforced in Total War: Shogun 2 with the Realm Divide mechanic. As you win battles and conquer rivals, your clan's reputation will increase until it reaches the point that the Ashikaga Shogunate feels threatened by your success and declares you an enemy of the state, prompting every other clan in Japan - even your allies and vassals - to gang up on you to prevent you from rising any further. The cinematic that announces this even warns that "The tallest tree is the first to feel the axe."

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: Marzipan's 'pre-school' in a Strong Bad Email about coloring. makes fun of this trope. Marzipan gives Homestar, Strong Mad, and Homsar crayons that don't actually color, "so that no one Life Blossom shines brighter than any other".
  • In RWBY, Ruby got chosen as the leader of Team RWBY. This greatly upsets Weiss, who in class next day tries to talk one of the teachers into making her the leader and demoting Ruby. Said teacher called out on her spoiled brat attitude and told to be the best member a leader could ever have instead. She takes this lecture to heart and apologizes to Ruby later that night.

  • Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger: The Empire of the Seven Stars can give eternal life, a near-endless supply of energy and resources, and a general end to poverty. But even if you can give everyone "a magic box that provides anything you can think of", a few people just want to make others miserable for having something. Like the Sho'faxti, a terrorist nation plagued with famine and civil unrest, while the rest of the world was green and flourishing (but broke as hell); when they finally got their hands on matter replication technology, instead of finally ending world hunger in their country, they performed a Colony Drop.

    Web Original 
  • Cracked's article "The Crazy Sociology Experiment Buried in a Russian Game Show" notes that, in the Russian version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, contestants "quickly became wary of asking the audience anything, because they'd almost always give the wrong answer." The theory is that the Russian audiences were deliberately sabotaging the contestants, to prevent them from rising above their peers.
    In Russia, the audience viewed the million-ruple prize as a reason to mourn the fact that there's one less person to share the rampant poverty and despair with. That's harsh, Russia.
  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, Prometheus is a paramilitary terrorist organization whose goal is the elimination of all superhumans. Their reasoning is that the presence of such beings hampers the growth of, and makes irrelevant the accomplishments of, normal humanity. Surprisingly, they don't have any problems at all with Batmanesque "trained supernormals" (people who are merely superbly trained athletes and martial artists) or those whose powers come from technological ingenuity (like powered armor pilots).
  • On websites that show a user's karma score, such as Reddit, users with high karma often attract hatedoms just for having high karma.
  • On an early episode of Game Grumps, Arin complained of Jon's ability to figure out how to play Nickelodeon's Guts videogame. Arin got legitimately mad at Jon for knowing how to play the gamenote  while he himself couldn't get the timing down and demanded he be told how to play better so as for it to be fair, despite the fact they both went into the game with the same level of knowledge of how to play (ie, none).
  • Common in the Furry Fandom with the demonisation of 'Popufurs'. There are some people who will look for anything they can use to 'ruin' said people in an attempt to make themselves more popular (which in fact rarely works).

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons
    • Homer's hatred of Ned Flanders stems from not being able to stand how satisfied he is with his life, whether or not he's succeeding. The rare moments Homer will empathize with him are usually when Ned experiences something even he can't stand.
    • In "Simpsons Bible Stories", after the family realize that they had just Slept Through the Apocalypse, they see the Flanderses ascend to heaven. Lisa then begins to ascend to heaven, but Homer pulls her back down and says "Where do you think you're going, missy?" The family then descends into hell together.
    • "Four Great Women and a Manicure" has Marge tell a story — a parody of The Fountainhead set in a preschool — that suggests the educational system does this.
    • In "I'm with Cupid", Apu's many elaborate shows of affection towards Manjula cause Springfield's married women to feel neglected by their cheapskate husbands, so they give them the cold shoulder in response. While most of the men realize that they should put more effort into showing their wives they love them, Homer instead redirects their anger at Apu, convincing them that he is the problem, not them, and organizes them into a mob determined to sabotage Apu's next spectacle.
  • The central conflict of the first season of The Legend of Korra revolves around the fact that some people are born with the ability to "bend" the elements around them, while most people are not, with the Equalists trying to bring everyone down to their level. Naturally, their leader is a bender, and a very good one too.
  • The rather chilling My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic season 5 premiere deals with a village where all of the ponies have had their special talent drained to enforce equality and prevent this, led by the unicorn Starlight. All ponies, that is, except the founder of the village, who secretly kept her magic and uses it to drain the others of theirs, making her the Tall Poppy in this situation.
    • It later turns out that in the Season 5 finale her entire villainous motivation is also this. Her motivation is that when her best friend got his cutie mark for being very good at magic, she lost him (his parents put him into Celestia's school) and figured that the only way she could prevent that from happening would be to make sure that no one has a cutie mark so that no one seems to have to go through the same situation she did.
    • The season 6 premiere adds a layer of irony to the whole mess with The Reveal that Starlight's former best friend, Sunburst, is actually an Inept Mage (well, in actuall spellcasting. His knowledge on magic and spell lore surpasses even Twilight's) and that one of the reasons he never contacted her again was because he was too ashamed to tell her the truth. Starlight is utterly shocked by this.
  • In Mixels, this is the reason the Nixels hate Mixels. Mixels are creative and have the ability to Mix. Nixels are uncreative and can't mix. So, they'd rather a bland world of uncreativity and no power that fits their personalities.
  • The Recess episode featuring the Perfect Kid. He's best at everything without even trying, and so falls from the most popular kid in school to a social outcast in less than a week. He's used to it though since it happens every time he moves to a new school and besides he's still got that job for the President (cue Harrier jet landing to pick him up for said job).
  • Gravity Falls: It's implied that Stan dislikes people who are smarter than him. He goes out of his way to mock Dipper, the more intellectual of the Pines Twins, and in "Little Gift Shop of Horror", tells a story of Waddles the pig becoming super-intelligent then giving it up to stay Mabel's pet. It's possible that this stems from a resentment he has for his genius brother, whose intellectual pursuits led to a schism between the two. When said brother is kidnapped by an evil wizard with intent to eat his brains, Stan considers letting the wizard take a few bites if it means the two of them becoming mental equals.

    Real Life 
  • The Kung Bushman enforce this in their own tribes through a practice called "insulting the meat". For example, if a hunter were to get a sizable kill, and bring it back to camp boasting about it, the other tribal members would insult it, claiming it was worthless. When an anthropologist found this out the hard way, an elder explained to him that it was done in order to prevent a skilled tribal member from walking around like he owned the tribe, which would lead to trouble.
  • The origin of this trope may be that humans have a great sense for when outcomes are unequal, which doesn't mean the outcome is unfair. This is coupled with a sense of indignation when we're on the short end of the stick.
    • In one of the early experiments on game theory at RAND, two scientists were asked to play an iterated prisoner's dilemma game against "the bank" (ie: they could simply win money from a third party). However, the pay-off matrix was purposefully imbalanced so the best player A could do was win a sum ($5 USD, which went a lot further back then) by allowing player B to win twice as much. Rather than maximize his own profits by cooperating, he kept tanking them both because he felt the game was unfair, defecting about 30% of the time. Player A really has no reason to screw player B, since a third party made up the game and recruited them to play it.
    • In another experiment, two participants play a game called Ultimatum. They flip a coin, and both are offered a sum of money by a third party. The winner of the coin flip can offer any amount to the loser, but the loser of the flip must approve the deal or neither gets any money. It's rational for the loser to accept any deal that gives them something, but a deal usually can't get much worse than 60-40 before most participants wind up rejecting it. Most players who win the coin toss also intuit this, and while they take a majority of the money, they give a substantial portion to the loser. Contrast this with Dictator, where the winner simply divides the money and keeps as much as they want, while the loser has no choice in the matter. The Dictator rarely gives away much of their windfall.
  • People who support progressive income redistribution are often accused of having this mentality toward rich people.


Example of: