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Trial Balloon Question

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Anders: Yeah, and then you wake up one day and discover you're another [thing]. Still doesn't change who you really are. Still doesn't change the fact that I love you, no matter what.
Starbuck: ...You are a better person than I am, Sam, because if I found out that you were a Cylon, I would put a bullet between your eyes.

Alice has been going through some rough times lately. She discovered something about herself — something about her interests, preferences, or even species — that wasn't exactly conventional. It could range from the silly, like being a fan of a bad sports team; to the serious, like being a lesbian; or the fantastic, like being something other than human. This discovery caused Alice a fair amount of personal anguish, but eventually she came to accept it.

This trope is about the fact that she's now keeping a huge secret from those around her, and she wants to let it out rather than live a lie. Complicating matters is that mainstream society (or at least her social circle) does not approve of the group to which Alice now belongs. To them, "those people" are acceptable targets for mockery, violence, or worse.

So she tests the current by floating out a metaphorical balloon to find out what happens — asking her dear friend Bob a Trial Balloon Question. She asks (hypothetically, of course) if he would still love her if she turned out to be a member of this new group. What she hopes is to hear that The Power of Friendship would overcome this social obstacle — but what she often hears is that he'd be the first in line to cut off her head.

The truth about Alice will eventually come out, forcing Bob to decide if he loves her for who rather than what she is. If enough people reject her before and after the revelation, she may switch factions entirely either due to disillusionment or for simple survival.

If the answer to Alice's question "Would you still love me?" is "Mostly", expect it to be followed with Have You Tried Not Being a Monster?

If the answer is "Of course I'd still love you", Bob's actual reaction when learning the truth could still go either way. He may have an unrealistic picture of his own prejudices.

The only safe answer is "Meh", really, as it would mean Bob couldn't care less, and this really wouldn't change anything at all.

Due to prejudice this trope can be Truth in Television for some people, notably LGBT folks who field a hypothetical question about another LGBT person to gauge the safety of coming out to someone before doing so.

Compare I Have This Friend, Comic Role Play, Rhetorical Question Blunder, Suspiciously Specific Denial. Not to be confused with the Armor-Piercing Question, where the one posing the questions is trying to force a realization in another (hence "armor piercing").


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Early on in the anime Esper Mami, Mami has developed Psychic Powers, and her teacher catches her daydreaming about being a superhero. He quickly warns Mami's parents that she's letting her imagination run away with her, and they'd better stifle it for her own good. So when Mami starts querying her parents about their thoughts on special abilities, they mention that in the old days, people with such powers were known as "witches", and if they existed today, well, we'd just have to Burn the Witch!, wouldn't we? Mami decides not to tell her parents.
  • In Genesis of Aquarion, Sirius asks Reika what she would do if it turned out that there was a Shadow Angel in their midst. She thinks he's talking about a mole, so she reacts rather aggressively to the idea. When she finally finds out the truth she decides she doesn't care, but she hesitates a half-second too long to prevent his Faceā€“Heel Turn.

    Comic Books 
  • A variation in Power Pack: Julie's mother tells her that she'd still love her "even if you sprouted wings and flew". Well, while Julie never grows wings...
  • In Superman's Girl Friend, Lois Lane #106, Lois uses a transformation device to become African-American for a day. On the cover/inside, she directly asks Superman if he'd still love her if she wasn't white. Surprisingly progressive for the time, anyway, just for raising the question.
  • In an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man, in a crowd scene with various different conversations running in the background, one is of a couple asking each other a series of "Would you still love me if I was..." questions, one of them being a reference to Spider-Man enemy Scorpion.

    Fan Works 
  • From Calvin & Hobbes: The Series:
    Calvin: Andy, quick! If you got a chain letter mailed to you saying you were going die a horrible death if you didn't forward it, WHAT WOULD YOU DO?
    Andy: Uuuuuh...
    Calvin: Hypothetically, of course!
  • Deny Thy Father And Refuse Thy Name:
    Harry: If...if you found out that..err one of your friends were gay...let's for example...what would you say?
    Ron: Harry, I wouldn't have to say anything because I know you're as far from being gay as I am. Arrows couldn't be straighter then we are eh, mate? So why even worry about what I'd say.
  • In Ellie, Harry unintentionally becomes pregnant.
    Harry: You're doing so well [professionally]. W-What... What if we were to accidentally... you know... have a baby now?
    Draco: Well we would have to give it up of course.
  • Im Giving You A Nightcall: On two seperate occasions, Roy is asked what he would do if Edward turned out to be the Vigilante Man Fullmetal. Both times, Roy misses the point, outright refusing to consider the possibility and stating that there's simply no chance he could be... and if he was, then obviously he'd arrest him.
  • Marinette Dupain-Cheng's Spite Playlist: After Gabrielle's ex-boyfriend gleefully reveals that her family is no longer wealthy, Marinette tries to test the waters with her friends in this fashion in order to gauge whether anyone else sympathizes with her situation.
  • Not the intended use (Zantetsuken Reverse): Done in a roundabout way in A Game of Cat and Cat. Soma Cruz is Dracula's reincarnation, and when discussing reincarnation with Kazuya, he asks if Kazuya considers Aoi's reincarnation to be the same person as her. Kazuya answers in the affirmative, which Soma takes as confirmation that he shouldn't tell Kazuya about his past life.
  • Ocean Stars Falling: Rather than telling Kei directly about his heritage, Ace tests the waters by asking what she'd do if she ever met the Pirate King's son. She responds that she'd treat him the same as everyone else.
  • Secrets:
    Harry: I was just wondering...what if I liked other guys? Is that ok?
    Sirius: Your last name would not be Potter and you would not be my godson. Potters are not fags, it's unnatural.
  • In She Thought She Knew, Hermione asks if Harry and Ron would have sex with a woman who was raped. Harry says that he would if she were willing, but Ron never answers the question.
  • In Shimmering Sunsets, Evowizard25's Crossover Recursive Fanfic between The Shimmerverse and The Sunsetverse, the Shimmerverse's Octavia asks the Sunsetverse's Twilight about her AU counterpart's stallionfriend:
    "Out of curiosity, what's the social standing on same sex couples in this Equestria? Just curious since we mentioned intertribal relationships and all that." Twilight asked, sweating a bit nervously.
    ".......I'm a lesbian over there, aren't I?" Octavia deadpanned.
  • In Swinging Pendulum, Kaien tells Ichigo that he and the Shibas have Ichigo's back, Ichigo asks if they would stand by him if he was declared a traitor. Kaien answers seriously that he would help Ichigo because he believes that Ichigo would have a very good reason for being traitor or was framed.

    Film — Animation 
  • The Jungle Book (1967): After Bagheera convinces Baloo to take Mowgli to his own kind in the man-village, Baloo struggles to find a way to get Mowgli to see it the same way, including asking the same hypothetical question that Bagheera asked him.
    Baloo: Now, how did old Baggy put it? Uh... Um, Mowgli... Hah! You wouldn't marry a panther, would you?
    Mowgli: (giggles) Gee, I don't even know what you're talking about?
    Baloo: Mowgli, don't you realize that you're a human?
    Mowgli: I'm not anymore, Baloo. I'm a bear, like you!
  • This happens in Megamind, which goes well for the currently disguised Megamind, with Roxanne saying that it's what's on the inside that counts. Of course, when the disguise fails, Roxanne immediately dumps him because inside, Megamind is a Supervillain through and through.
  • The Simpsons Movie: When Bart tries to tell the police that he skated nude through town because Homer dared him to:
    Homer: And what happens to me if it's my fault?
    Chief Wiggum: You'll have to attend a one-hour parenting class.
    Homer: IT WAS ALL HIS IDEA! HE'S OUT OF CONTROL, I TELL YA! I'M AT MY WIT'S END! [sobs hysterically]

    Film — Live Action 
  • Inverted in But I'm a Cheerleader, where everyone except the main character knows she's a lesbian: It's her friends and family who ask her the question and she doesn't react well.
  • Eli in Let the Right One In asks Oskar, "Would you still love me if I weren't a girl?" The audience assume Eli means "I'm a vampire", but actually Eli was given an involuntary, non-surgical penectomy.
  • One version of Peter Pan, which took a lot of liberties with the source material, had Wendy telling stories and acting like a mother to both the lost boys and the pirates. When Peter Pan finds out the pirates have a mother, she nervously asks what he'd do if he found her...
  • In A Safe Place (1971), Mitch asks Noah how she'd feel if he murdered his other girl, Rita. When Noah asks him if he actually murdered her, he replies that he did. Neither Mitch nor Noah seems terribly upset about it.

  • A glurgy Urban Legend has a mother and father getting a letter from their son in the service asking them what they'd do with a friend who had had his arm and leg amputated and had nowhere else to go. The parents said they wouldn't be able to take such a friend. The next letter they get is one stating that their son is dead from suicide. When they get to the morgue, they find their son...with an arm and a leg amputated. (There's a sci-fi short story with exactly that plot, but in space, naturally.)

  • Older Than Feudalism: In The Bible, King David slept with a married woman named Bathsheba, got her pregnant, sent her husband Uriah to die on the front lines, and took her as his new wife. He is approached by a prophet named Nathan, who tells him a story about a poor man who had only one little lamb that he deeply cared for, that was taken and slaughtered by his wealthy neighbor who already owned a very large flock. David says the rich man deserves to be put to death, and Nathan tells him simply, "You are the [rich] man." Then David realizes Oh, Crap!, My God, What Have I Done?.
  • "Fairest of All": Everyone needs to know their heart's desire in order to get through the portal to a different realm. Brogan asks Siofra what her desire was, and she answers "Freedom." This disappoints Brogan, whose answer would have been "You," and was hoping Siofra felt the same way about them.
  • Friday:
    • The story features a plot twist like this when the eponymous character asks another member of her line marriage if she would still be accepted if she were an Artificial Person. The revelation ends up breaking the family apart.
    • Later on, Friday puts the same question to a man she's planning to have casual sex with, only for him to do a runner — it turns out that he's also an Artificial Person, and he assumes from the question that Friday would be prejudiced against him.
  • In Charles Chesnutt's The House Behind The Cedars, the main characters are a mixed-race brother and sister, John and Rena, who work their way up in society by passing for white. Rena tests the loyalty of her white fiance by asking if he would still love her if she were black. Unfortunately, he misunderstands the question, and when he eventually discovers her secret he rejects her.
  • Secret Vampire: After James tells her she can get rid of her cancer by becoming a vampire but would have to fake her death and never contact her loved ones again, Poppy asks her mother what she would do if, 'hypothetically', she could travel far away to be cured but would never be allowed to return. Her mother says that while she'd miss her terribly, she'd let Poppy go wherever she needed to be saved "but there isn't such a place". Hearing this helps Poppy to make up her mind to accept James' offer.
  • In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Jim diGriz asks a member of the local gentry who is helping him overthrow the local Banana Republic regime how he would react if diGriz advocated redistributing estates to the peasants. He responds, "I would shoot you on the spot." Jim disclaims having any such intentions, while thinking to himself that it will ultimately happen, but at a pace that the local culture can handle.
  • Sophie Kinsella's The Undomestic Goddess has a main character who's a lawyer, but currently working as more of a maid, and the guy she loves hates lawyers.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the second to last episode of the J-Dorama, Akai Ito, Yuri lies to Natsu, telling him she's not 4-months pregnant. She then asks what he would do if she actually was, and he does not respond in the way she would like (he would have her abort).
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • In Season 4, Anders says he'd still love Kara if she were a Cylon, and she replies that if he were a Cylon she'd put a bullet between his eyes. Little does she know that he is a Cylon, and that wasn't exactly what he wanted to hear.
    • It happens in season 1 with the copy of Boomer on Cylon-occupied Caprica (later known as Athena) and Helo, after she decides to run away with him for real. She suggests Cylons can, y'know, love? And maybe they were misguided and indoctrinated into nuking the Colonies? Helo's 'No, they knew perfectly well what they were doing, they're just machines' visibly upsets her before she hides it.
    • In both of these cases, after they actually learn the truth, Starbuck and Helo decide they love them more and accept their partners for what they are. Kara violently defends Anders and Helo bandages up Athena after shooting her. In the latter case, her being pregnant by him helped turn him around.
  • In the season 1 finale of Breaking Bad, Skyler discovers that her sister has been shoplifting. Her husband Walt (who just robbed a chemical depository in order to make meth, while claiming he was away at a Navajo sweat lodge) asks her what she would do if it was him. She says she hopes she never has to find out.
  • In the 2006 TV movie Coup!, one of the conspirators in the plot to take over Equatorial Guinea is aghast to hear a less-than-bright colleague raise a 'rhetorical' question over whether such a plan would succeed with a 'former' member of British Intelligence at a cocktail party. Needless to say, this just tips off the British government that something is afoot.
  • Done a couple of times in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier:
    • In Episode 3, Sam immediately shoots down the idea of breaking Baron Zemo out of prison so that he can help them track down the Flag-Smashers. Bucky, unfazed, proceeds to lay out a "hypothetical" plan that would allow Zemo to escape. His explanation is intercut with a series of flashbacks of the plan being put into action, and just as Sam realizes that it's too well-thought-out for a hypothetical, Zemo walks in.
    • The following episode, John Walker asks Lemar whether he would take the Super-Soldier serum if it were offered to him, and whether he would be scared about the serum "changing" him. Lemar enthusiastically states that he would take it, and that the serum only makes a person "more of themselves". Unbeknownst to Lemar, Walker has the last remaining vial of serum, and Lemar's words convince him to take it.
  • The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: At the end of "Mistaken Identity", Carlton — refusing to believe that the cops that arrested him and Will earlier were targeting them for being black — asks his father a hypothetical question and gets an Armor-Piercing Response in return.
    Carlton: Dad! ...If you were a policeman, and you saw a car driving 2 miles an hour, wouldn't you stop him?
    Phillip: I asked myself that question the first time I was stopped.
  • At the start of Season 2 of Iron Fist (2017), Davos asks Danny Rand whether he'd give up the Iron Fist if he had the chance, not mentioning that he knows of a way to transfer its power to someone else. Danny says he wouldn't, so Davos feels free to enact his Evil Plan, acting like Danny has refused a Last-Second Chance to avoid violence.
  • In the Smallville episode "Visitor", when a delusional Freak of the Week claims to be an alien, Clark casually asks Chloe and Lana how they feel about the possibility that it's true. Chloe thinks it would be cool; Lana finds it scary. Unfortunately, it's Lana he's had a crush on forever, not Chloe, the latter of whom later finds out in Season Four and accepts him completely.
  • Space Force: Mark asks his daughter Erin how she would feel if he started dating, despite still being married to her mother, who is incarcerated. Erin reacts with horror, and naturally that's when Mark's new love interest comes down the stairs after staying over the previous night.
  • In That '70s Show, Eric says that he and Donna should keep their engagement a secret. To demonstrate, he asks Donna's father what he'd do if they got engaged. The answer is "I'd kill you", prompting them to keep it a secret for a while.
  • In The West Wing, when President Bartlet considers announcing that he has multiple sclerosis, the staff decides that it would be a good idea to have Joey Lucas do a poll asking voters how they would react if a governor announced a comparable illness. They're briefly concerned that it might look like they're announcing the illness because of the poll, but C.J. points out that this would be ludicrous; the lies that Bartlet has told (mostly by omission) would eclipse any other political fallout. Joey Lucas does the poll, and the results are not encouraging, but they go ahead with the announcement anyway.
  • In Will & Grace, Leo grows bored of living in New York and wants to go back to Doctors Without Borders in Cambodia, but he has to tell Grace first.
    Leo: Grace, you'd want me to be happy, right?
    Grace: Not if it affects me in any negative way. (smiles sweetly)

  • Chris LeDoux's "Silence on the Line" is about a cowboy who calls his wife after his last rodeo. He says he's got this friend whose rodeo career left him unable to walk, and would like to bring him home with him, but the wife says no. The cowboy, crippled himself, goes to Mexico instead.
  • The opening verse of Poets of the Fall's Obsession Song "Carnival of Rust" asks the listener not only if the feelings the singer has are mutual, but in a twisted exercise in Wishful Projection, whether the listener has an equally warped outlook on their romantic feelings.
    D'you breathe the name of your saviour in your hour of need
    N' taste the blame if the flavor should remind you of greed.
  • "tolerate it" by Taylor Swift is a Love Martyr lament to her partner who doesn't appreciate her. At one point, the narrator asks, "But what would you do if I / Break free and leave us in ruins?"

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • One strip has this exchange between Calvin and his dad:
      Calvin: Do you love me, Dad?
      Dad: Of course I do Calvin.
      Calvin: Would you still love me if I did something bad?
      Dad: Well, of course... I... would...
      Calvin: I mean something really, really...
    • In one Sunday strip, Calvin is sneaking about, preparing to throw a water balloon at Hobbes, only for Hobbes to catch him. Hobbes then asks Calvin a totally hypothetical question, that if he knew today was his last day on Earth, but also knew if he did something different, it might not be his last day on Earth, would he do something different?

  • In the "Mr Strawberry" episode of The Alan Davies Show, Alan stars in an embarrassingly bad advert for a soft drink, which he desperately tries to keep his girlfriend from finding out about because she believes he's a serious actor. When she mentions that a lot of her actor friends have been in adverts, he offhandedly asks her if she still respects them, only to be told that no, she thinks all of them are cheap whores.

  • In Avenue Q, Rod asks Christmas Eve what he can do to help his "friend" who is struggling with his sexuality, and what might happen if this friend, hypothetically, were to come out. Christmas Eve assures him everything will be just fine. (At least until she finds out said "friend" is a Republican.)
  • In Little Shop of Horrors, Seymour was only keeping Audrey II (the plant) alive because he thought that if it died Audrey (the girl) wouldn't love him. He asked her if she would still love him, and she said that she definitely would. This is presumed to be an honest response but it is never confirmed because she dies.
  • In the musical Spring Awakening, Moritz tries to ask his father what would happen, "hypothetically speaking," if he failed his exams. His father immediately sees through it.

    Video Games 
  • In Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow, Soma asks Mina if she'll still like him if he's Not Himself. Confused, she tells him that no, she wouldn't if he changes too much. Unlike most examples, she immediately realizes that something is amiss for him to suddenly ask that but doesn't figure out what exactly prompted the question in the first place (since Soma tends to run off if she tries).
  • Veronica in Fallout: New Vegas tells the player character she had a run-in with the Brotherhood of Steel and asks them to fill her in. There are a variety of possible answers, ranging from (paraphrased) "Don't they shoot lasers from their eyes?" to "I know enough to kill them when I see them." Once she's a companion, she reveals that she's a member of the Brotherhood herself; the player has another variety of reactions correspondingly.
  • Tales of Symphonia:
    • Played withLloyd skips having the question asked by Colette — and in two cases directly tells her that no matter what happens to her or what she becomes, he will never treat her any less.
    • Colette later repays the favour by reminding Lloyd he's still him after he finds out his dad is Kratos.
    • Also played with/subverted a bit with Genis to a degree. In one of the skits, Lloyd is ranting about how much he hates Desians (half-elves), and how much better the world would be without them. Genis, also a half-elf (though posing as a full-blooded elf; half-elves... aren't well-liked in Symphonia's world... it's complicated), asks him if he thinks the world would really be better that way. Then comes The Reveal that Genis and his sister are in fact half-elves aaaand... Lloyd doesn't care, they're still friends and all that jazz.
  • Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia: In the Celica/Mae B-support, Mae asks Celica if she thinks girls need to be all delicate and proper, but quickly figures Celica's opinion can't count because she's too nice. Celica asks what Mae actually wants to know, and Mae describes a completely hypothetical situation where she likes a boy and has always been close to him but worries that he doesn't see her as a woman.


    Web Video 
  • Dragonball Z Abridged: When Krillin is tasked with explaining the opening incident to Chichi, he nervously asks how she'd respond if someone told her that her husband was killed and her toddler son was kidnapped by his greatest enemy. Her answer ("I'd castrate the messenger with a rusty carving knife!") isn't encouraging.

    Western Animation 
  • Johnny Test: In "Johnny Mint Chip", after Dukey gets sucked into an ice cream packaging tube, Johnny proceeds to ask the tour guide what would happen if someone fell in a giant vat of ice cream, to which the guide (completely oblivious to Dukey behind him) cheerfully responds that they would be swirled into ice cream, chopped up into three-gallon rolls, and placed into a super-cold freezer where life would become unsustainable after the three-minute timer for the final freezing process. Johnny makes a mad dash to save his dog after hearing all that.
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Maggie runs away from home whilst Marge is on vacation. When Marge calls home, Homer takes the opportunity to put up a test balloon by asking how she would feel if the dog ran away. Marge reacts with horror. Homer finds this discouraging.
  • In an episode of Transformers: Prime Smokescreen (keeping the fact that he was almost a Prime a secret from the rest of the team) asks Bumblebee if he'd ever like to be a Prime himself. When Bumblebee responds that he'd prefer the rank of warrior, Smokescreen can't help but agree.


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Unclear Manslaughter Laws

The Onion anchor is very curious about the ambiguities of manslaughter laws.

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