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They Just Don't Get It

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The floating sign unnerves me. I'm not sure why or what it means, but I look forward to learning in class tonight!

A character, or more often a whole group of people, has something elementary and basic explained to them, but for some reason, they just aren't getting it.

They aren't being deliberately obtuse and stupid. They simply do not understand the rather obvious implications of what has been said to them. To the character trying to do the explaining, and to the audience, the train of thought is painfully easy to make work logically, but the target simply isn't getting it. Usually, this is because the concept is so foreign to them that they cannot grasp it. This is not a case of What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?, where an alien species has no concept of the idea, but rather a case of a greedy character not understanding the concept of charity, or someone with a Complexity Addiction failing to grasp a Mundane Solution.


Sometimes this is because of Selective Obliviousness or Obfuscating Stupidity, but only rarely does the audience know this at the time. Compare Sustained Misunderstanding, Cassandra Truth, and Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. Contrast with Too Dumb to Fool.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Touta from UQ Holder! Ikkuu and Jinbei convince him that he needs to go "all the way" with Kirie during their trip to Kyoto; she is told the same thing by Karin (everyone in UQ Holder is shipping them pretty hard). When the two are using an outdoor bath in their hotel room, he tells her he's going to go all the way with her (both of them are naked), and... he just kisses her. When she gets confused, he tells her he thought that kissing in a romantic context was going "all the way." In the very next scene she tries to explain what sex is through a flower metaphor. He doesn't get it. She then explicitly tells him what it is. He still doesn't really get it. She puts on some porn. He (apparently) finally gets it.

  • Aziz Ansari has a bit where he claims that he was sitting in a restaurant when he overheard 50 Cent asking for grapefruit juice, receiving grapefruit juice, and repeatedly not understanding why the grapefruit juice wasn't purple.
  • French comedian Fernand Raynaud had a very famous sketch where a patron in a café asks for a coffee and two croissants. When the waiter explains they are out of croissants, the patron says he understands and changes his order into a tea with two croissants, and it goes on like this for a while with the patron changing his order into any other beverage with two croissants as the waiter tries to make him understand that croissants is what they don't have. In the end another patron comes to berate the first one for wasting the waiter's time, and tells the waiter that if he had been in his place he would already have hit the first patron in the face with his bloody croissants.

    Comic Books 
  • The Mighty Thor: The mortal Bill Cobb is dating the goddess Kelda and so is allowed to live in Asgard. At one point, Bill decides to teach the Asgardians how to play basketball. When he tells them about the scoring system, the Asgardians are completely unable to understand what points are no matter how much he tries to explain.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery:
    • During a discussion of Austin's teeth.
      Vanessa: And then there's this. [shows Austin a dental hygiene kit complete with floss, toothpaste and toothbrush]
      Austin: Let me guess. The floss is garrote wire, the toothpaste is plastic explosives, and the toothbrush is the detonation device.
      Vanessa: No, actually. Since you've been frozen, there have been fabulous advances in the field of dentistry.
      Austin: What do you mean?
    • Cleverly inverted in the scene where Scott Evil wonders why they are going to all the trouble of putting Austin and Vanessa into a deathtrap.
      Scott Evil: I have a gun. In my room. You give me five seconds, I'll get it, I'll come back down here. BOOM! I'll blow their brains out!
      Doctor Evil: Scott, you just don't get it, do ya?
  • Idiocracy. Joe Bauers encounters this problem in every scene where he tries to explain something to someone, or tries to be subtle about something, because everyone in the future is Too Dumb to Live. The most notable instance is when he is explaining to the Cabinet his plan to use water on crops instead of Brawndo energy drink. He has to pretend that he can talk to plants before they listen to him.
  • In John Wick, Iosef has a hard time grasping that he's just pissed off Death incarnate by stealing the title character's car and killing his dog, just a few days after the death of his wife. He repeatedly brushes off his father's warnings, and at one point even says that he'll go back and kill Wick himself. It takes a club full of mooks getting systematically slaughtered right in front of him before he starts to grasp just how screwed he is.
    Iosef: Father, I can make this right.
    Viggo: Oh? How do you plan to do that?
    Iosef: By finishing what I started.
    Viggo: What the... did he hear a fuckin' word I said? [...] John will come for you, and you will do nothing because you can do nothing.
  • In Kaamelott: Premier Volet, Arthur tries to explain the concept of standing guard to Perceval and Karadoc. They simply can't understand what "going some way on the path and standing guard there" means.
    Perceval: So we go along the path and if we don't see anybody coming, we come back, right?
  • In The Last Samurai, when the samurai Katsumoto learns the story of General George Custer and Custer's Last Stand, he admires him as a warrior who fought to the bitter end without fear of death. Algren tries to tell him that Custer was an arrogant fool who needlessly got himself and all his men killed and not a man to be admired at all, but Katsumoto fails to see Custer's faults.
  • This happens in Mystery Men when one of the characters realizes that Captain Amazing is just Clark Kenting. The other characters don't understand the way this train of thought works, since without glasses, Captain Amazing would not be able to see.
  • One of the most famous moments in Spinal Tap cuts both ways from the point-of-view of the other character. Marty can't seem to make Nigel get that "ten" could be made louder to make for a more intuitive numbering system, while Nigel can't seem to make Marty get that "eleven" is clearly better than "ten".
  • In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Cal Naughton Jr. just doesn't seem to understand why his friendship with Ricky Bobby should be affected by something trivial like Cal sleeping with Ricky's wife.

  • In Alien in a Small Town, the Jan seem to be like this about lying. They understand it well enough to know that other races may lie to them, but for themselves to say something they know to be false is practically beyond their comprehension. This is because they evolved from hive insect-like communal prey animals for whom cooperation was absolutely necessary to survival.
  • In Robert J. Sawyer's novel Calculating God, one of the alien races we meet is perfectly self-aware and in some ways extremely intelligent; but is utterly, neurologically incapable of even the most basic mathematics. Even counting is essentially beyond their ability.
  • Discworld:
    • In the novel Sourcery, Rincewind doesn't understand that he can just leave the growing wizard problems behind if he stops being a wizard, which would be easy for him since he can't do magic. Subverted later when he finally does get it, but says that he can't just stop being a wizard since it's more than just the ability to do magic.
    • In Wintersmith, the Feegles encounter a caravan of travelling librarians who have just run out of firewood in the middle of winter. They try to hint that they could use their books, but the librarians are simply unable to understand the connection between books and lighting a fire. The Feegles in turn can't understand the librarians' befuddlement over something so simple.
  • In Watership Down, when Blackberry figures out that the rabbits can escape on the humans' boat if they chew through the rope tying it to the shore, he has a very hard time explaining it to the other rabbits because they are, well, rabbits, and even the simplest human technology is beyond their comprehension. We're told that even many of the rabbits who participate in the escape and see exactly how it was done still can't quite wrap their heads around what has happened, let alone explain it to anyone else later.

  • One of Frank Muir's Feghoots on My Word! ends with him having to explain to a man that his fiancée and his best friend have just eloped. Frank attempts to explain this in several different ways, but the man's mind is just incapable of grasping the concept. Finally Frank works out that the only way he can comprehend the message is if it is expressed as a nautical metaphor.

  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Jenna realizes that she has no clothes on and starts to panic. However, at this point, she's been turned into a mass of insects with no recognizable human biology, so the people around her are left confused about what she's freaking out about.
    • It takes a good minute for Ivy to explain to her parents that she has superpowers. They first take her confession to mean that she's an alcoholic, and then that she's doing drugs, only to finally realize what she means when she uses her power to reconstruct their TV remote.

  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 2013 musical), Willy Wonka sings the I Am What I Am song "Simply Second Nature" when he realizes that the adults in the Golden Ticket tour group don't understand why he created the beautiful but largely "useless" Chocolate Room — he simply loves to create beautiful things. The lead-in dialogue is as follows:
    Mr. Salt: [a businessman] Look here, Wonka, the waterfall makes sense, but what's the point in all the rest of this stuff?
    Willy Wonka: The point?
    Mr. Salt: Well, what's it for?
    Willy Wonka: It's my creation.
    Mr. Salt: How does it make money?
    Willy Wonka: It doesn't.
    Mrs. Gloop: [a Fat and Proud glutton] It's a little cupboard of treats for a midnight feast.
    Willy Wonka: No, madam.
    Mr. Beauregarde: [a showbiz Shameless Self-Promoter] You use it for photo shoots.
    Willy Wonka: Certainly not.
    Mrs. Teavee: [a Stepford Smiler housewife] It's therapy.
    Willy Wonka: No.
    Mr. Salt: Well if it isn't for anything and it doesn't make money then why on Earth does it need to exist at all?
    Willy Wonka: You really don't see, do you?
  • In A Very Potter Sequel, when Lucius Malfoy explains the evil plan he had just choreographed to travel back in time and kill Harry Potter, the other Death Eaters just don't get it. Ironically, it's not until he explains it in a more convoluted way that the lightbulbs go off and they all suddenly get it.
    Lucius: The Dark Lord would have survived, had they never met.
    Death Eater #2: So you're saying that he wouldn't be destroyed?
    Lucius: He'd be alive, what don't you get?
    Death Eater #3: Still not understanding...

    Video Games 
  • Dawn of War II: Retribution had its beautiful example of "Orky logic".
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: 'ang on a squig! If dat Kyras git is anglin' ta zog da whole sector...
    Miss'ta Nailbrain: Right...?
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: ... an' Kyras is in da sector...
    Miss'ta Nailbrain: Okay...
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: ... an' Kyras don't want ta get zogged...
    Miss'ta Nailbrain: Yeah... yeah... right...
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: an' dose big humie ships won't dakka dat place dey dakka'd before...
    Miss'ta Nailbrain: Yeah?!
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: Den Kyras... would go... to da place... dey wouldn't dakka! Which is dat place!
    Miss'ta Nailbrain: [Beat] Still not followin' ya, Kaptin.
    Kaptin Bluddflagg: Kyras is dere! OOOOOOH! Get ready, ya great, posh, tin-plated stomp bait! DA ORKS IS COMIN'! WAAAGH!!!
  • Ensemble Stars!: No matter how many times someone tells him, Souma just can't seem to understand that it's a bad idea (for both legal and social reasons) to constantly carry around a sword. By the time of the Main Story Keito admits that he puts up with it due to Souma being his junior in Akatsuki and instead just tries to at least keep him from brandishing it when he can.

    Visual Novels 
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: Gonta Gokuhara, upon leaving a virtual reality simulation, claims to not have any clue what anyone's talking about when they mention a "ver-chew-ul world". Justified in that he's an idiot and plugged the cords into his VR headset incorrectly so that his memory of the virtual world was wiped upon logging out.
  • Henry from Double Homework is prone to this. The protagonist is used to just giving up and feeding Henry a bullshit explanation that he understands rather than trying to hammer in a real one that he doesn’t.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All: Adrian Andrews doesn't seem to understand that refusing to testify, legally permissible or no, will not help her frame Matt Engarde for murder when the evidence now points to her instead. Justified however in that she does have a mental illness that would cause this behavior.

    Web Animation 
  • In the How It Should Have Ended video "How Frozen Should Have Ended", the Elder Troll tells Elsa that she must control her powers and fear will be her enemy. Elsa's parents ask if he's saying they should do what they did in the movie, which the Elder Trolls points out what they're suggesting has nothing to do with what he said and just flat out tells them The Power of Love will save their daughter. The Elder Troll decides to just take them someplace who can actually help Elsa: Charles Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.
  • Season 6 of Red vs. Blue sees Sarge completely unable to grasp the idea that in the time Red Team was split up, Grif got promoted to captain. Once it gets to the point where Sarge asks where their invisible captain who has the exact same name as Grif is, Grif tells Simmons to stop trying to explain it to him, noting that he just doesn't have the mental capacity.
  • In the RWBY episode "New Challenges", Jaune decides to get the rest of Team JNPR to defeat their opponents through tag team attacks similar to what Team RWBY does. However, when he does so, tossing out the names "Flower Power" and "Arkos", the entire match grinds to a halt as Pyrrha, Ren and Nora are confused about Jaune's talking about and their opponents are confused as to why they're arguing in the middle of a match.

    Web Comics 
  • In this strip of Ctrl+Alt+Del, a man is confused about the phrase "Exit Mech" while playing the demo for Titanfall. Another man explains that its for when you want to leave the giant robot suit, however the man playing the game claims to hear only gibberish when the other man talks about anything other than piloting the suit.
  • Jennie of The Devil's Panties has a bit of an addiction to cake.
  • Ennui GO!: When Dr. Bald bemoans he won't makes money from his failed "Frankenhooker" experiment, Noah points out to him that he invented reanimation, which he could easily be monetized. Dr. Bald doesn't get how people could want their departed ones turned into hookers. Noah insists that he doesn't HAVE to turn them into hookers.
    Dr. Bald: I don't follow.
  • Agatha of Girl Genius has trouble understanding the idea of not bringing lots of tools.
  • Girls with Slingshots: No matter how many times or how extensively Hazel's lesbian friends try to clue her in, Hazel can't let go of the idea that lesbian sex isn't primarily "taking turns with a strap-on."
  • Subverted in Gunnerkrigg Court, where Annie keeps trying to explain her completely rational reasons for splitting her psyche in two rather than dealing with her anger over her father's actions, but Ysengrim keeps dismissing the explanations, and she eventually tells him this. In actuality he understands quite well; he's trying to get her to face the real reason she's angry by pointing out how feeble her given reasons are.
  • Loserz: When Ben asks high school playboy Adam for advice about asking his crush Jessica out to the spring dance, Adam tells him that Jessica is notoriously chaste, and no-one has ever even been able to get past second base with her. She's actually gay. Ben, who's fine just spending time with her, tells Adam that they don't have to have sex just because they're on a date. Adam reacts like he's speaking utter gibberish.
    Ben: You know? Not have sex?
    Adam: There's words coming out of your mouth, but they're not making any sense!
  • The Order of the Stick: Because their god Thor occasionally strikes trees with his lightning, the dwarves as a whole consider trees as their mortal enemies. Trying to argue with them that they are inoffensive, inanimate plants is bound to failure. Including when the explanation is given by Thor himself to a pair of his clerics.

    Web Original 
  • Binder of Shame: Blobert is entirely incapable of understanding the use of drama cards in TORG. Al Bruno tries to explain that they're there to enable cinematic stunts that go beyond the normal dice-rolling system and uses specific scenes from movies as examples of what it would look like, but that just confuses Blobert even more since movies are movies and not roleplaying games.
  • Dream High School opens with a floating sign telling you you're dreaming. Your response? "The floating sign unnerves me. I'm not sure why or what it means, but I look forward to learning in class tonight!" Readers could have voted on an option to invoke this trope again immediately: "I pinch myself." You even quote the sign on Page 5 and still don't get it.
  • Shown in many Not Always Right stories. For example:
    • A woman enters a bakery and asks them to create a wedding cake and bill her for it, totally ignoring the submitter's insistence that they don't sell cakes or send bills out before she leaves; naturally, none of what she asks for is accomplished. She then begins sending attorneys to the bakery, apparently oblivious to the reason why they all immediately drop her case against the bakery, and ends up going through four of them, probably wasting thousands or even millions of dollars in the process, before she gives up (or, less charitably, before she gets enough of a bad rep amongst attorneys that they won't take her case).
    • To summarize this story, "Do I need bags for this vacuum?" "No you don't need bags." "Okay, but do I need bags?"
    • Another perfect case, where a woman drops a pair of dogs off at an animal shelter — please note, by "drops off" we mean that literally: dropped from the top of a five-foot fence just so she didn't have to pay a fee —, then comes back long after said dogs have been adopted by someone else looking for them, assuming the place was a boarding kennel and refusing to believe otherwise. She ends up dragging a police officer into the mess, who immediately arrests her for animal cruelty and neglect — and the story ends with the reveal that she also had contempt of court charges added to that, for still not understanding that the place was not a kennel and even spitting in a judge's face for siding with them in the case.
    • To this elderly customer, "born and raised here in this very town" is apparently meaningless gibberish.
    • "I don't care if the Washington Monument is closed, I want to visit it now!"
    • "I don't think you understand the whole 'you're not allowed in here' part."
    • This customer completely fails to comprehend the bartender telling her three times they don't have any Carlsberg. Especially odd in that she does understand the other half of what he's telling her, it's just "we don't have Carlsberg" she's completely tuning out.
    • This customer asks for a Green Card photo, and the photo tech in charge explains that the software won't allow it. Multiple times. As the customer in question speaks very good English, and is accompanied by his wife (who speaks even better English), it's not a case of Language Barrier. When the customer finally gets what he's being told, he has the gall to ask:
      "Well, why the h*** didn't you just tell me that?!"
      "I did, love. Five separate times. Have a great day, folks!"
    • This person doesn't seem to understand the concept of a yard sale, and threatens to report them to the BBB for selling used items.
    • This customer refuses to listen to a pizzeria worker when calling in an order: no response when asked whether it's a delivery or carryout, to two requests to pause the order when the computer crashes, or to a request to be put on hold. After the worker gets the computer fixed, the caller hangs up, calls again, and asks why they were hung up on.
    • This customer seems to be interpreting "we know what you're asking for, but we don't have it" as "we don't know what you're asking for", because the customer restarts his description of the part every time he gets the former answer. Eventually the manager passes the buck by telling the customer to try a big box retailer... who he knows doesn't have the part either.
  • The Surprised Pikachu meme is all about people being surprised by the incredibly obvious, usually detrimental outcome of a stupid action.

    Web Videos 
  • Achievement Hunter once features a scene where Gavin marvels at his newfound realization that Star Wars is not set in the Milky Way Galaxy in the distant future, while the others marvel at how he never picked that up from the fact that every movie begins with the words "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away", which he still fails to grasp is pretty explicit as the conversation goes on.
    Gavin: It has actually blown my mind that it's way in the past and really far away. They should have put that at the beginning of the movie.
    Everyone Else: THEY DID!!!
  • In the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series movie, when Yami finally confronts Anubis, he asks him why he wants to destroy the world. Anubis doesn't understand the question, even as Yami exasperatingly repeats that he surely must have a reason for destroying the world, considering all the trouble he went to to do it.

You still don't get it, do you?