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The Man Is Keeping Us Down

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Your heroes have been working themselves to the bone. Victory is in sight! But what's this? Oppressive forces outside their control have undermined their plans.

Typically the work of some kind of bigoted, narrow-minded Straw Character. The heroes have failed through no fault of their own, but rather due to factors in the world beyond their control which are largely a problem with their society. Expect a Downer Ending with a possibly Anvilicious message about the real-world social ills that motivated the author to write this. Alternatively there's a message of redemption where the heroes manage to overcome the otherwise insurmountable obstacles. In this case it becomes an inspirational story. In either case, the villains tend to be treated more as a general group to be avoided/overcome/defeated/etc. than one man who has problems with the heroes.

Historical settings can frequently find justification without objections from the audience, but more modern settings tend to garner objections from the demographic being portrayed badly. When done well and properly thought out, a good case of fiction mirroring life can prompt change. Moral Guardians tend to be involved either way.

This may or may not involve "The Man" himself.

Compare with Glurge, where it's the villains or pitiable background characters who meet this fate- the heroes are safe in siding with the morally upright side.


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  • The French film Z does this well, portraying the work of an unnamed junta taking power in an unnamed European country... but the Greek government that prompted the movie's creation is always mentioned in the same sentence when the film is described. In this regards it is similar to Missing, by the same director, which is set in Chile, though never stated, and they even mention a few of the cities (including Santiago and Valparaiso). A similar film is It's Raining On Santiago, except that was explicitly about the 1973 military coup d'etat in Chile.
  • Parodied in Undercover Brother, in which there really is a 'Man' who is keeping African-Americans as second-class citizens and controls a massive secret organisation devoted to this purpose. Also parodied with 'Conspiracy Brother', a parody of black activists who often goes on rants of this nature; however, he's also spectacularly ill-informed, liable to fly off the handle at the slightest provocation and construe anything as being part of a conspiracy to keep black people down regardless of how innocent or nakedly ludicrous it really is, and really rather stupid.
  • Also parodied in Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood, which has an actual random white guy running around the hood, doing everything he can to keep the black man down, to the point where he shoots one of the main character's friends to keep him out of college.
  • They Cloned Tyrone: The conspiracy of the film is made up of white scientists running mind controlling experiments on the black population of the Glen with the ultimate goal of spreading their products nationwide and, over generations, suppress the physical attributes of black people. They use cloned pimps and drug dealers to keep the neighborhood in squalor so that people do not come investigating.

  • Nineteen Eighty-Four features a man in an oppressive dystopia finding a small measure of freedom, only to lose it when the secret police catch him.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Wire does this, albeit in a more nuanced manner than most - the failure of systems, and conflict between individual and group interests, are major themes of the story. At first it paints the higher-ups as Obstructive Bureaucrats, but later seasons explore the restraints that they too experience as well as the burdens of leadership. In the end, the whole city and all its dysfunctional institutions are shown to be perpetuating themselves.
  • The Resident shows how bureaucrats, corporations, and corrupt oversight result in patients getting inadequate care. The heroes get the occasional win, but the problems persist.
  • This is Homey D. Clown's worldview in In Living Color! It reaches an apex in a two-part sketch (played out over two episodes) in which he is convinced by white ad executives to go in a Lighter and Softer direction, becoming a mascot for a cereal brand. He is so successful that he eventually gets an audience with "The Man" himself as a result. However, rather than kissing his ring Homey bops him over the head, and reveals that his "selling out" was all an I Surrender, Suckers gambit to get the opportunity to bop The Man, whereupon he walks away from stardom on their terms and returns to his old Angry Black Man / Monster Clown ways.
  • Chris Rock's character Nat X on Saturday Night Live would pepper his show The Dark Side with remarks to this effect about the Man, who personifies institutionalized racism.
    Alright now, itís time for the Top 5. Why 5? 'Cause 10 would make the Man nervous.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • This trope is as old as the concept of oppression is understood by humanity. Central to Gnostic cosmology is that the God of the material universe, who the Gnostics call the Demiurge and is but a pale imitation of the true God, is very evil, as He keeps people from succeeding in breaking out of the prison that is reality and thus from achieving true wisdom. More mainstream Christians take this view of Satan and demons.
  • Satanists (the non-Hollywood kind) believe that God intended to keep us ignorant and subservient to Him, and that the serpent provided us with true free will through the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Mage: The Awakening: Here, the Exarchs are "The Man" that is keeping your player characters down.

    Web Comics 
  • Jahad's monarchy in Tower of God. It especially has a tendency to go against Irregulars and princesses in love.