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The Fourth Wall Will Not Protect You

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"Meet the League of Misunderstood Maniacs! We're giving Orderrealm an enema. And when we're done, who knows where we'll crash next? Maybe we'll come to your house and slip live grenades under your pillow. Maybe we'll gut your favorite pet. Or maybe we'll just... BREAK YOUR TV RIGHT NOW!"
The Joker's Ladder Ending, Mortal Kombat 11
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A monster is on the loose terrorizing a bunch of innocent people. As long as the monster and the victims are characters in a fictional world, one would usually be correct to assume that the boundaries of the Fourth Wall will be respected. But then, Breaking the Fourth Wall, the monster assaults the omniscient narrator, or leaps out at the audience. Definitely Paranoia Fuel.

Much easier to pull off with visual media like film, but a few literary examples also exist.

An easy way to invoke this trope is to describe a Brown Note, and say that a series of horrible events happened to anybody who experienced it before, and specify that the first symptom is a sense of foreboding. Since foreboding is a base response, even rational people who know that they cannot be negatively affected by a work of fiction will feel the visceral reaction thanks to the nocebo effect. Paranoia Fuel can then set in; mission accomplished.

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This trope can be done far more effectively in video games due to the interactivity of the medium, especially on computers where it's easy for the game to directly refer to the player by account names, talk to the player or execute this trope in the most literal fashion by actually attacking and harming the machine, as demonstrated by Imscared, or preserving information beyond replays and reinstalls, most famously shown by Undertale.

See also Second Person Attack, Rage Against the Author, Scarily Specific Story, and The Most Dangerous Video Game. May involve Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You or a Tome of Eldritch Lore, or may implement Fission Mailed. The Computer Is a Lying Bastard is a game specific version of this, though it usually involves trickery instead of threats. If an action from the video game affects something beyond the game or its display or usual sound device, such as something in the real world, then it may be a case of Reaching Through the Fourth Wall. Abusive Advertising is a related trope where advertisements threaten to cause harm to the audience if they don't buy what's being advertised. In-universe examples may fall under Deadline News or Spectator Casualty. Can be subverted in a combination of Fourth Wall Psych and Shock-and-Switch Ending.

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Real life does not have a fourth wall, so no real life examples, please.

Examples:

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    Advertising 
  • Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca ran this series of ads in Japan warning of the dangers of arteriosclerosis. Set up like a comedic variety show, the presenter gives a short talk before saying "There are no outward symptoms, so even if you feel fine..." when someone on the set very non-comedically collapses from a heart attack. In the final version of the ad, it switches to a POV shot of the viewer at home collapsing and their vision dimming.
  • One very ill-advised campaign for mental health awareness in the early noughties featured a video advert that would play quiet whispering sounds while you browsed the webpage it was on. Only finding and hovering over the advert would reveal it as the source: an attempt to raise awareness about paranoia.
  • This is a huge factor of why the Viacom "V of Doom" closing logo is so infamous (and frightening). Aside from having to deal with the logo's ominous soundtrack and often dodgy quality (the filmed versions are infamous for often having film scratches, visible splices and/or shifted frames, though the concurrently-used videotaped versions didn't have these problems) the large, oddly-fonted "V" itself would slowly or quickly approach the camera and advance on the viewer like an oncoming train only for the screen to cut to black at the last moment. (Some versions avert the effect by having the "V" stop at the end, though.)
  • The commercial for Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins has Wario trying to hypnotize the viewer to become his slave and fight against Mario.
  • Several Wilkins Coffee commercials involve Wilkins directly threatening the viewer.
    Wilkins: With this camera, I shoot pictures of people who don't drink Wilkins Coffee.
    Wontkins: I'm ready. Shoot!
    (Wilkins shoots Wontkins with the gun hidden in the camera)
    Wilkins: (swiveling the camera towards the viewer) Anybody else?

    Comedy 
  • Denis Leary's infamous joke about Jesus's death and comparing it to Elvis's not only had Leary said "I'm Going to Hell for This," but says that everyone who heard the joke will be accompanying him.

    Comic Strips 
  • In a Calvin and Hobbes strip, Calvin's Dad does this by his intention to read Calvin a bedtime story about a severed hand that strangles people. Calvin faints around the point Calvin's dad sticks a hand through the neck hole of his own shirt and grabs his own throat, screaming. This proves to be the most effective way of getting Calvin quiet and into bed.

    Films — Animation 
  • Beyond the Mind's Eye is an in-universe example, showing a man being attacked by his TV under the control of a character on the screen.
  • The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Creature Under the Bed and the Creature Under the Stairs are two Things That Go "Bump" in the Night featured in the opening song, "This is Halloween." Both monsters look at the camera and say that they are under your bed and stairs, respectively.
  • In Disney's animated Robin Hood, Alan-a-Dale the narrator is seen in prison. Like the rest of Nottingham's residents, he's been arrested for being unable to pay his taxes. "Yep, I'm in here too."
  • In Wreck-It Ralph, when King Candy reveals himself to be Turbo, his appearance flickers between his disguise and his true form. Watch closely as he says " I am Turbo, the greatest racer ever!": as soon as he finishes saying "Turbo", the aforementioned flickering provides a Freeze-Frame Bonus, with his thumbs-up pose lifted from his TurboTime sprite rendered in full CGI, Slasher Smile included. He's looking at the audience while doing that.
  • At the end of Yellow Submarine, The Beatles appear in live-action photography. John Lennon looks through a spyglass pointed outward toward the audience and announces, "Newer and bluer Meanies have been sighted within the vicinity of this theatre." (Fortunately, there's a way to defeat them: by SINGING!)

    Music 
  • Songdrops has a song "Tarantulas", which tells the audience that tarantulas could be anywhere, even on their ceiling or head (but they only do bad stuff if you're afraid) and they might eat your hamster (or your dinner, depending on what version you're listening to).
  • "Future Shock", from Stratovarius' 1989 independent debut Fright Nightnote , contains such a line at the end of the second verse:
    I saw it on the screen
    The day that changed our lives and history
    There goes our dream
    Nuked into the sky don't know why
    In the heat of the blast
    Watch the beauty of the mushroom cast
    It won't take long
    You won't live till the end of this song
  • At the end of Immortal Technique's "Dance With The Devil", the singer reveals that he was one of the gangsters in the story and says this:
    And listen cause the story that I'm telling is true
    Cuz I was there with Billy Jacobs and I raped his mom too
    And now the Devil follows me everywhere that I go
    In fact, I'm sure he's standing among one of you at my shows
  • Eminem
    • "Who Knew" has this lyric, accompanied by a tape sound effect:
      Shit, you probably think I'm in your tape deck now
      I'm in the back seat of your truck with duct tape stretched out
    • "The Real Slim Shady":
      And every single person is a Slim Shady lurking
      He could be working at Burger King, spitting on your onion rings
      Or in the parking lot, circling
      Screaming, "I don't give a fuck!"
      With his windows down and his system up
  • David Bowie came to feel this way about his stage personas, ultimately giving up on Alter-Ego Acting (not to mention cocaine) out of fear that he was getting too deeply Lost in Character. This was especially troubling with the sinister Thin White Duke from his album Station to Station, who became something of an Enemy Within once Bowie began drawing controversy for emulating the character's fascist persona a bit too keenly.
  • "The Number One Song in Heaven", by Sparks, implies that the listener can only hear the song because they're close to heaven (read: death).
    This is the number one song in heaven
    Why are you hearing it now, you ask
    Maybe you're closer to here than you imagined
    Maybe you're closer to here than you care to be

    Music Videos 
  • The music video for Will Smith's "Men in Black" has him using their neuralizer (which causes people to forget things) on the audience. A commercial for the film also did this:
    Announcer: For those who have already seen Men In Black...
    Will Smith: Sorry! [activates neuralizer]
The idea for the ads was so that you could see the movie "again, for the first time." The Men in Black: Alien Attack ride at Universal ends similarly.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • Played for laughs in the music video for Weird Al's song "I'll Sue Ya", where he points at the screen at one point and shouts "I might even sue YOU!"
    • Also in "Don't Download This Song", which is The Long List of Very Bad Things that will happen to you if you pirated the song off the Internet. Of course, part of the joke was that this was a preview track for the album it was on that was available as a free download.

    Podcasts 
  • Welcome to Night Vale has The Faceless Old Woman Who Secretly Lives In Your Home. While since her initial introduction she has been shown living in several in-universe characters' homes, it's still implied she lives in the listener's home, hiding just out of sight somewhere and occasionally messing with your stuff. Maybe she lives in EVERYONE's home.
  • The Message has the titular Message. The creator broadcasts it before anyone finds out that it's a delayed-action Brown Note.
  • Kakos Industries has its own listenership be immediately deemed a Shareholder to the company prior to accessing the announcements. You can never not be a Shareholder, no matter how good you think you are. This is taken to be pretty frightening extremes during the sixth episode in which the executive prompts the idea that he is holding a gun to your head and if you think to turn around, he will shoot you.
  • Spooky Hal, the narrator who opens and closes the "Beyond Belief" episodes of The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a Will-o'-the-Wisp, a creature who feeds off human energy. To do this, he lulls them off their guard by telling them stories.

    Radio 
  • In one of Bill Cosby's comedy routines, the "Chicken Heart" story of the radio program Lights Out ends with the eponymous monster paying the audience a visit. "It's in your home state!" *bump-bump* *bump-bump* "It's outside of your door!" *bump-bump* *bump-bump* "And it's going to eat YOU up!" It scares Little Cos badly enough to both smear Jello all over the floor and set the sofa on fire.

    Tabletop Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • In You and Me and Her, a visual novel by Nitro+, the end of Aoi's route has this apply in full force. You can only play Aoi's route after you finish Miyuki's and then replaying from the beginning. At the end of the route, Miyuki walks in and starts killing everyone, saying that Shinichi "broke their promise of love." Even though that happened in a different game entirely. "I'm talking to YOU, who promised me eternal love in the first route." What's worse, after she finishes killing you, she calls God and asks him for a patch, at which point the game will close and run an autoupdate from DOS. On opening the game, Miyuki will tell you that your ability to save, load, or restart the game are now gone, and closing the game causes your screen to cut to static for with a distorted voice speaking to you before shutting down.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! is much like the You and Me and Her example above. The Literature Club president Monika - the only character the player is unable to romance - gains Medium Awareness and the ability to rewrite and delete files within the game itself, and becomes a Yandere, deciding that they love the player directly and will do anything to get them to love her back. Ultimately, she ends up deleting all the other characters, forcing the player to choose her by virtue of being literally the only character left in the game, and the player can defeat her by going into the game files and deleting her character data. Strangely enough, Monika actually a more sympathetic example than Kimi to Kanojo to Kanojo no Koi; much of the poetry she produces (poetry being a huge part of the game) is about her existential dilemma about being a fictional character, and when the player is actually given an option to spend time with her in the first cycle the game railroads them away from her in favor of one of the love interests. When her character data is deleted she finally accepts defeat and tries to put everything back to normal (minus herself), only to realize that anyone who becomes the Literature Club president in her stead will gain the same self-awareness that she has and become as obsessive and dangerous as she is, and finally deletes all the game's assets.
  • Everyday Misanthrope, as the name implies, stars a Misanthrope Supreme and scores your performance by how many lives you ruined that day. At the very end of the day, if your resources have gone into the negative (to absolutely no effect), the game will ask very pointedly if this bothers you, and then increment the "lives ruined" counter by one.
  • Super Surprise Party: During the game, you're asked to "share your location" with the narrator. At the end, they boast that you've only given them time to track you down in real life. Of course, the game itself doesn't actually track location- but the horror is still there all the same.

    Web Animation 
  • On the Homestar Runner website:
    • There is a Strong Bad Email where Strong Bad gets a computer virus that quickly takes over and messes up the entire website.
    • At one point, a bunch of popup windows with Homestar's face in it appear, including one actual popup window! Although, it only works if Pop-Up Blocker is disabled.
  • Death Battle:
    • "Goku vs Superman 2" first aired live at a SGC convention. At one point, Goku and Superman crashed into the SGC building. Suddenly, the video stopped, and then two actors dressed as Goku and Superman appeared and started fighting each other in front of the crowd. Eventually, they got knocked out of the building and the video resumed.
    • Deadpool vs. Pinkie Pie technically ended with neither killing the other, but realizing both can break the fourth wall and going around annoying people in past videos, until Wade decided to pay a visit to the staff of ScrewAttack for the whole thing, with Pinkie whisking Deadpool off to throw him a birthday party after he mentions it's his birthday before he could hurt the staff. The whole thing leaves Wiz and Boomstick, the hosts, completely and utterly confused.
  • While the Inanimate Insanity Kickstarter was running; the crew would put up quiz games. However, when the last fact was released, it turns out that Taco was telling the crew what questions to ask the audience, in order to gain information.
  • In-universe in Awesome Gaiden. The Ninja Gaiden game is so relentlessly difficult that it manifests in the real world to trash the player's house.
  • The Red Room, a Japanese horror flash animation, is about an internet popup that behaves strangely and causes anyone who tries to close it to die. The twist ending is that once the animation ends, the exact same popup will appear on your own screen. Unless you, like pretty much everybody nowadays, have a pop-up blocker.
  • At the end of almost every Caillou the Grown Up short, Caillou will threaten the viewer into subscribing to the channel.
  • Hazbin Hotel: When Alastor pulls his Nightmare Face, the picture starts glitching uncontrollably until he stops. Word of God hints that if any character in the show could mess with the fourth wall, it would be Alastor, and one of the animators even imagines him as a fourth-wall-breaking Reality Warper.
  • In the Puffin Forest episode "Last Orders at the Yawning Portal Tavern" one of Ben's players makes an incredibly lame kraken pun. Ben then narrates how the beast in question kills the player while sparing his in-game character.

    Webcomics 
  • The Bongcheon-Dong Ghost controls your computer.
  • Homestuck:
    • Lord English not only somehow enters author Andrew Hussie's house but kills him as well.
    • A character encounters a tower broadcasting the story and beats it with a time crowbar, breaking the website. Said character also interrupts the narrative, and is in fact a younger version of the aforementioned Lord English.
    • A subtle example in the massive fan project "Let's Read Homestuck": Doc Scratch is aware of the change between comic and video format. This implies that he's aware of the fourth wall. Which in turn implies that he's aware of us. Just a reminder, this guy is a malevolent, omniscient, reality bending Humanoid Abomination.
    • Kurloz is the only character in walkarounds whose talk sprites are directly facing the reader, while everyone else is drawn at a 45 degree angle to show that they are talking to other characters. When the control switches to him and the player tries to make him go near Meenah, Kurloz will directly tell the reader that there's no reason to talk to her. It is not likely a coincidence that he is a servant of Lord English.
  • The Abimor. Before each of his murders, he forces someone to tell the victim his story, from a scribe in Ancient Egypt to a news broadcaster in the modern day to the creators of the comic you yourself are reading. We're sorry. We had to list this example. He's coming. RUN.
  • But Crowley from Roommates is the most terrifying of them all! He drinks the author's (and readership's) beer!
  • Remarkably, Drowtales actually features an inversion of this trope: the fourth wall will not protect the characters. Cloud Cuckoo Lander Kiel's Power Born of Madness makes her aware of the audience, allowing her to address them directly. (To the rest, she's just talking into thin air.) After the Time Skip, she gains the ability to actually summon her fans as Living Shadow minions.
  • The main cast of The Dragon Doctors all seem to die, with the leader Mori last, having been sucked into a black void. A demon devours Mori's life story (taking on her appearance in the process) and watches her sink into oblivion. Then it turns to the reader and starts addressing them, saying that by doing this it's attacking everyone who ever had the idea of "Mori" in every universe, including the readers of this very webcomic.
  • This trope actually provides the karmic punishment for a denizen of hell in the webcomic Jack. A soldier in life who had been ordered to massacre women and children, the central character of a story arc spent the entire storyline narrating what it was like in hell, as well as repeatedly insisting to other characters that he wasn't responsible, that it was all fate and he couldn't be blamed for his own actions. At the end of the story arc the Devil finally has the damned soul collected from his misadventures and brought in for a personal interview — and to show off the lovely comic the Devil has been drawing. The very last few panels are of the fool asking, "but if this is just a comic, who's been reading...?" And then slowly, with horror suffused features, turning to look over his shoulder...
  • Dark Star from L's Empire started to insult the readers in the comment section after becoming an author. Then he got into multiple flame wars with one of the other authors. After being defeated, he would occasionally comment on the stupidity of the story or (rudely) respond to the reader's posts.
  • Awful Hospital:
    • The X-ray skeleton looks directly at the audience and makes a "sshh" motion before attacking Fern.
    • The Double Doors vandalize actual reader comments. a hidden link in the next update reveals that the commenters trolled him right back, successfully enough to release Fern from his influence.
    • According to Word of God, the in-universe beings who the readers and commentators represent influence humans in our world, as in us, as well, it's just a lot less noticeable here.
    • At one point, Crash goes and "debugs" a bunch of the commentators. Canonically, there were once a bunch more commentators, who were deleted from reality itself. The next page, the viewpoint character even mentions that the comment-buzz seems quieter.
  • Sleepless Domain usually has Alt Text giving sassy comments on the events of the page, but it's afraid of The Purple One and won't show up when she's on-panel. Cassidy's Dying Moment of Awesome marks the one exception.
  • The Monster of the Week strip based on "War of the Copraphages" homages the above The X-Files example under Live-Action TV by making the comic secretly an animated gif where the same thing happens.


 
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Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Fourth Wall Wont Save You

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Why are you looking at me?

Crime of the Age, a bad Christian mystery movie, gets unexpectedly creepy in its last scene.

How well does it match the trope?

4.86 (7 votes)

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