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The War on Straw

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Man #1: You really shouldn't be making strawman agruments.
Man #2: Oh? Then I guess we should just not have arguments at all!

You've set out making your latest work with the intention to speak your piece on some contested issue, but you've found it's harder than you expected. You have to write both sides of the issue, after all, and that means fairly representing the other side of the argument. What if you're not entirely clear on what the other side is?

Simple: declare war on straw! You're the writer, aren't you? You control what the "other side" has to say. All you need to do is present the opposing position as a laughable shadow of its true self and you can easily knock it over. You'll always be the winner! Everybody loves a winner. Bonus points if the opposing side is violently murdered afterwards (with the killer never being punished, naturally, because why would you ever punish someone who's right?).

Some of the tropes here are not strawmen every time they appear; for instance, a Corrupt Church, Animal Wrongs Group, or Amoral Attorney can sometimes be used as a villain a la Acceptable Targets without any (deliberate) intention of making a larger political statement. Sometimes people use those things with the justification that they do exist in reality to a limited extent — but they are still strawmen when used, implicitly or explicitly, to try to make a larger argument against anyone who shares their beliefs (especially if they happen to be particularly extreme and/or alienating to even other people who do share them but are decidedly more moderate about the topic in question).

Sometimes the existence of non-corrupt/wrong/amoral versions is acknowledged in the setting to indicate that there's no hard feelings; on the other hand, sometimes those good versions are really a Fox News Liberal used to try to make an actual strawman less obvious.

It is also important to note that caricature, itself, can be a perfectly valid way to make an argument; Voltaire, Swift, and many other writers have used it effectively and incisively against their opponents. The distinction is that valid caricatures use exaggeration and hyperbole as rhetorical devices to present nonetheless legitimate arguments, exposing the victim's failings and flaws without misrepresenting them. But the line between the two can be extremely thin, especially in unskilled hands or when the author does not truly understand what they are trying to caricature; many authors have produced strawmen that were painfully obvious to others while believing themselves to be penning biting Swiftian satire.

For more detail about the fallacy upon which this series of tropes is named, see the "Strawman Fallacy" section of Logical Fallacies.

The flip side (where a position is so off-the-wall that it's impossible to distinguish between a genuine statement and an exaggeration/parody) is Poe's Law. The actual inverse is sometimes referred to as steelmanning, where a debater attacks the strongest possible interpretation of their opponent's argument (in essence, an armor-plated strawman), even if it is not the argument they necessarily made. This is often used against evasive "guerrilla debaters" who attempt to avoid actually presenting their own arguments, in the hope of constantly taking shots at their opponent without having to defend their own position.

A related fallacy is called nutpicking, a portmanteau word of "nut" and "cherry picking." Nutpicking is selecting a few extreme, easily attacked members of a group and dishonestly holding them up as typical members of that group.

If you are a content creator, a way to avoid attacking a straw man is to study what the other side says, and why, well enough to pass an ideological Turing test as a member of the other side.

When you fought the straw and the straw won (in the opinion of your readers/viewers), it's Strawman Has a Point.

The War On Straw has many fronts; among them are:

Main trope:

Related indexes:

  • Agent Scully: Used to portray skeptics, scientists and other people who don't believe in god(s)/magic/the paranormal as closed-minded and dogmatic.
  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: The writer demonizes drug dealers, and even advocates, portraying them as monsters who want to get your children addicted, through intimidation or violence if necessary.
  • All Issues Are Political Issues: Can be used against any political ideology.
  • Ambulance Chaser: When the strawmen are portrayed as In-Universe unacceptable targets.
  • Amoral Attorney: Lawyers are depicted as slimy and untrustworthy due to the nature of their job (which usually involves defending unscrupulous clients).
  • Angry White Man: When used to portray/generalize a majority as ignorant towards the suffering of historically oppressed minorities.
  • Animal Wrongs Group: Portrays advocates of animal rights as uncaring towards human lives.
  • Anti-Role Model: In order to discourage kids from doing something perceived as bad, the writer portrays a character who does said bad things in the worst possible light, ignoring anything remotely good about it.
  • Assimilation Academy: Schools are portrayed as soul-sucking institutions designed to remove the personality of their students and mould everyone into being completely identical drones with no will to stand up to corrupt authority.
  • Belief Makes You Stupid: A work with an anti-religious slant portrays believing in the existence of deities as committing intellectual suicide.
  • Berserk Button: The opponent is easily offended by something trivial.
  • Blonde Republican Sex Kitten: Women with conservative values are portrayed as young, attractive, fit and blonde to combat the stereotype that conservatives mostly consist of men from the baby boomer generation.
  • Bomb-Throwing Anarchists: For Order vs. Chaos stories where people on the chaos side are portrayed as Ax-Crazy and unsympathetic.
  • Category Traitor: When the writer creates the false idea that anybody from a group of people who doesn't follow the same beliefs as that group is betraying them.
  • Corrupt Church: If that trope is used to portray a real-world religion or religious institution, or an obvious Expy of one.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Frequently, when one of these appears in fictionland, it's to either be, or set up, a strawman.
  • Crapsaccharine World: In a similar vein but instead everyone except the characters who are in the right benefit from this setting.
  • Crapsack World: Often a society in which everything the writer is against has taken over.
  • Cruella to Animals: Writing anyone who uses animal products of any kind as if they actually take pleasure in animals dying.
  • Deconstruction Fic: If it ends up turning into a Revenge Fic against particular characters.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: When presented in an Anvilicious way.
  • Demonization: When the strawman is not only wrong but evil too.
  • Designated Evil: The writer decides that a character's action is bad without much thought as to why.
  • Designated Hero: Happens when the character we're expected to side with fails to give reasons why we should think they're right.
  • Designated Villain: The only reason this character is demonized is because they disagreed with the protagonist.
  • Dry Crusader: When this character is in the right, everyone who drinks alcohol is considered to be worse than the Devil. Can also be used to assume that anyone who refrains from alcohol acts this way towards drinkers.
  • Dystopia: Not always straw, but straw is a frequent component.
  • Easy Evangelism: The strawman has never considered the opposing view and immediately converts once they hear an explanation.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Making the villain object to the strawman's point, implying that you are worse than the villain for agreeing with the strawman. The villain is usually made unforgivable to both sides in order to emphasise this.
  • Executive Excess: The portrayal of business executives as hedonistic and wasteful, to the point that they're rarely seen actually putting in a full day of work, sometimes as a criticism of the corporate lifestyle or capitalism in general.
  • Family-Values Villain: If combined with the Heteronormative Crusader.
  • False Dichotomy: Two fronts for the price of one!
  • Flat-Earth Atheist: Portraying atheism as being out of touch with reality.
  • For Science!: Depicting scientists as willing to do anything (usually immoral) for no practical purpose.
  • Fox News Liberal and its counterpart, the MSNBC Conservative: If the author fails to present opposing views properly, thus creating an echo chamber.
  • The Fundamentalist: Can be used to portray a religious stereotype.
  • Fur and Loathing: To make someone look bad just by what they are wearing.
  • Gay Conservative: When used to imply that one cannot be politically conservative and homosexual at the same time or to assume all openly homophobic conservatives are secretly gay.
  • Godwin's Law: Comparing anything you don't like with one of the worst dictators in human history.
  • Golden Mean Fallacy: To declare that both sides are extreme and the "correct" side is somewhere in the middle. The fallacy can be used to strawman anyone who tries to find a middle ground, regardless of how reasonable they are.
  • Good Is Dumb: Portrays goodness and idealism as utterly moronic and out of touch with life.
  • Greedy Jew: When Jews are conspiring against Western Civilization. Or if not that, when they're written as amoral, monetarily greedy and generally unpleasant people.
  • Hate Fic: Often transforms the cast of the attacked show into unsympathetic caricatures.
  • Hate Sink: The author creates the strawman to attract hate to promote a point.
  • The Hedonist: Those who live pleasure seeking lifestyles are portrayed as self-centered and materialistic.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Can either crop up in Slash Fics where a character is hit by Ron the Death Eater, Gay Aesops via Compressed Vice, or Cure Your Gays stories where this character is the one who's right.
  • Holier Than Thou: When being a Christian (or in some cases religious more generally) tends to mean a character is a jerk, if not an outright evil hypocrite.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Portraying people who don't believe in god(s) as immoral, miserable, or venomous towards believers.
  • Hollywood Satanism: Likely to be used against religions that are not fundamentalist Christianity.
  • Hunting Is Evil: Hunters are a target of strawmen.
  • Informed Wrongness: The Strawman is in the wrong for weak reasons.
  • Internal Affairs: The higher-ups for police forces are portrayed as corrupt.
  • Internal Retcon: Crops up in works that promote denialism.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope: Insisting that doing one morally ambiguous thing leads to a life of crime.
  • Lady Land: You have two options: You have a Utopia, or a Dystopia. Either way, strawmen are a very frequent feature. (There are a few non-straw examples of this trope, though. Just note that most versions of Lady Land are somewhere between 60% and 90% straw by volume.)
  • Lawful Stupid, Chaotic Stupid: For a series where Both Order and Chaos are Dangerous.
  • Loners Are Freaks: Anyone who isn't a people person can only have something suspicious to hide. Why else would they stay away from any company?
  • Madonna-Whore Complex: The idea that virginal, modest women are pure and perfect and thus deserving of a Happily Ever After with The Protagonist, and women who aren't virgins or don't dress or behave a certain way are irredeemably evil and deserving of violence, if not death.
  • Malcolm Xerox: Portraying a left-leaning black man in a work as a paranoid loon that thinks "the white man" is out to get him.
  • New Media Are Evil: Portraying newer technologies as inherently evil, even though Old Media started out as a NEW media in its time.
  • The New Rock & Roll: Used by more paranoid writers when attacking new fads and ideas they don't understand.
  • "Not Making This Up" Disclaimer: When the Strawman in question is an honest representation. Can sometimes become a more typical example if the specific Strawman is a fringe part of the targeted group but the author acts as if they represent the entire demographic for the sake of fighting an easy target (see discussion of nutpicking above), or if the Strawman's "not made up" words are twisted out of context.
  • No Mere Windmill: For stories where the protagonist is dismissed as crazy but is actually right all along.
  • No Woman's Land: When used to demonize a nation that isn't as progressive in women's rights as one's own.
  • Old Media Are Evil: The opposite of New Media Are Evil, portraying older "traditional media" as outdated and untrustworthy.
  • Outgrown Such Silly Superstitions: When used as a way for the author to say religion is evil/encumbering on society.
  • Outside Joke: A joke based on a misrepresentation or misunderstanding of the subject.
  • Parody Religion: Often takes the form of several religions lumped together regardless if they have anything in common.
  • Path of Inspiration: Same as Corrupt Church.
  • Poe's Law: When a strawman is mistaken for the real thing, or vice versa.
  • Political Correctness Is Evil: Social justice activists are easier to attack if you caricature them into prissy pricks who make mountains out of molehills. It's even easier if they come from privileged backgrounds.
  • Politically Incorrect Hero: When used to portray a strawman as a flawed hero to promote them in a negative light.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: When used to portray a strawman as an evil bigot for the heroes to destroy.
  • Politically Motivated Teacher: In its most basic form.
  • Political Overcorrectness: Political correctness is Played for Laughs by exaggerating it to the point of absurdity.
  • Pompous Political Pundit: Used to potshot prominent news reporters that don't share one's political beliefs.
  • The Presents Were Never from Santa: When the trope is used to dismiss authority and undermine legitimacy.
  • Revenge Fic: Canon characters are transformed into strawmen.
  • Revolutionaries Who Don't Do Anything: Can be used to show certain political groups as ineffectual or to imply that those who claim to belong to these groups don't actually intend to do anything.
  • Ron the Death Eater: Demonization applies to a canonical hero for their flaws and/or evil sides.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: Things that the writer opposes are portrayed as having horrible consequences if one does/associates with them.
  • School Is for Losers: Characters who disagree with/aren't interested in basic public education are presented as idiots.
  • Sub-Par Supremacist: Character claims a group they're a part of is better than others while failing to exhibit any of that group's traits.
  • Straw Affiliation: In the same vein as Category Traitor, people who are a part of a certain group are portrayed as not being allowed to endorse things that are typically not associated with them (e.g., gays and women can't be conservative).
  • Straw Civilian: In a military-focused work, any and all non-military characters are shown as being actively hostile towards soldiers.
  • Straw Critic: Media critics are portrayed as snooty and uptight. Often used by writers who can't take criticism.
  • Straw Fan: Used to caricature the worst aspects of one's fanbase, all too often to dismiss any criticisms said fanbase has for the author's work.
  • Straw Feminist: Assumes that feminism is inherently hostile towards men.
  • Straw Hypocrite: The hypocrite doesn't even believe what they preach; as with Amoral Attorney or Corrupt Church, not always a subtrope of the War on Straw, but a frequent one nevertheless.
  • Straw Loser: Characters who don't conform to what the writer believes or thinks is awesome often get portrayed as deserving of ridicule.
  • Strawman Emotional: The writer treats characters who act on their emotions as irrational.
  • Strawman Has a Point: What happens when bad writing or authorial myopia creates a front in the War on Straw that the author actually has a chance of losing.
  • Strawman News Media: News media are almost never portrayed as being trustworthy in fiction.
  • Strawman Product: Promulgating a false image of another product.
  • Strawman U: Certain types of schools are portrayed as attracting people who are politically opposite of the writer.
  • Straw Misogynist: A particularly Anvilicious portrayal of He-Man Woman Hater characters.
  • Straw Nihilist: Those with nihilistic views get Flanderized as using this to justify acts of villainy.
  • Straw Vegetarian: Vegetarians and vegans are portrayed as intolerant of meat eaters and actively try to force their dietary ways on others.
  • Straw Vulcan: The writer treats people who are logical thinkers as cold and emotionless.
  • Strawman Ball: The author's opposing ideas are passed between different characters, usually similar to Flip-Flop of God.
  • Theory Tunnel Vision: When the writer is convinced that their opponents won't accept their views even when they're proven to be correct.
  • There Are No Good Executives: Businesspeople are all greedy jackasses within the setting.
  • This Loser Is You: A negatively portrayed protagonist meant to represent the audience. Not always a strawman, but it can often come off that way if the writer assumes too much about their audience.
  • Too Incompetent to Operate a Blanket: To make a product appealing, advertisers portray people who aren't using the product as incompetent morons who can't even do the simplest tasks without it.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Essentially a strawman version of The Idealist.
  • Windmill Crusader: What the writer comes off as if the opponents they're railing against aren't even an actual threat.
  • Windmill Political: The writer tries to convince their audience that what they're attacking is a threat when it really isn't.

Alternative Title(s): War On Straw, Strawman