A common form of an Escalating War is when one character lets slip something about another character, and the two start flinging truths back and forth, until a fact comes out that can't be topped.
There are a few variations on what is actually being said. In a sitcom it is usually back and forth reveals of embarrassing moments or events.
A dramatic version is two characters getting into a verbal altercation and angrily telling each other negative and hurtful personal statements, that even if truthful are still hurtful to hear from someone who is usually a close friend or relative.
Occasionally a characters will be telling truths about themselves - generally because they want to show solidarity with someone else whose secret has just come out. This variation inevitably ends with one of them revealing something that, even in this situation, goes miles too far.
Often capped by a stupid or clueless person accidentally saying something that humiliates themselves instead of the other.
When someone goes too far in the dramatic version lives can be put on the line and friendships can be split apart in an instant.
In a romantic or friendship setting the final insult is often met with an Armor-Piercing Slap followed by immediate remorse from the guilty party. Or remorse then the slap.
One thing clearly demonstrated by these exchanges is that any given character has more to be ashamed of than everyone you've ever met in real life combined, even if you're Ozzy Osbourne (as can be seen on The Osbournes).
- Subverted in the anime Azumanga Daioh. When the students quiz Nyamo the gym teacher about what sort of student their homeroom teacher Yukari was, Yukari waltzes by humming "love letter" over and over again. This preemptive strike causes Nyamo to grudgingly say that Yukari was a normal student. Later on, when rather inebriated, they indulge in a Truth-Telling Session on the streets.
- The iCarly Fan Fic Beneath The Pale Moonlight uses the dramatic variation (although it includes some embarrassing moments) in the 20th chapter. Freddie has kept the secret that he cheated on his girlfriend (who already has issues with Carly) with their other best friend Sam, from Carly and that enrages her. They both get defensive and angry about the secret, the secret keeping and each others attitude.
At least I have a mother that cares. Where's your father? That's right. He's spent years avoiding you. I don't blame him either.
- Freddie calls her irrational and to 'calm down'. Carly rolls her eyes at Freddie. Freddie chews Carly out for wanting to be the centre of attention. Carly brings up Freddie's cheating. Freddie sarcastically suggests that Carly is jealous he cheated on the girlfriend with Sam. This makes Carly tell Freddie that he is way out of her league. Freddie tells her that only assholes like her. Carly calls Freddie a loser nerd mommas boy who spends all his time on his computer. And she rolls her eyes at him again.
- Freddie then gives Carly an epic (but Jerkass) verbal smackdown, bringing up reasons why his girlfriend dislikes Carly, calls her a egotistical bitch, reminds that the time on the computer is spent on the webshow that makes her a minor celebrity without a word of thanks, and she throws herself at hot guys even if they are complete assholes. He continues to negatively compare Carly to Sam. Carly calls him a jerk, brings up an embarrassing obsession with a Princess Leia Expy, weird porn habits and his girlfriend is frigid and won't put out. Freddie graphically tells Carly the only reason guys care about her is so they can 'pop her cherry' and brag about it to their friends. Carly finally gets the upper hand in the verbal fight by calling out Freddie for his jealously, that never in a million years would she sleep with him, and his mother is a psycho 'whore' who sleeps with their crazy doorman. Carly smugly thinks that she'd won.
- Freddie, utterly furious about being called out for his jealously, the insults against his work for her and the insults to his mother, then tells Carly:
- It breaks Carly, she starts to tear up, gives Freddie an extremely well deserved Armor-Piercing Slap, throws him out of her house and the chapter ends with both of them silently crying from the damage of hurting and being hurt by each other.
- Our Miss Brooks: In the film, Miss Brooks and Mr. Boynton have an argument that rapidly turns into one of these.
- 2010: The Year We Make Contact starts with one. The Russian representative who meets with Dr. Floyd at the start simply declares that he's not in the mood to do the usual dance of half-truths and deceptions expected of them when talking to each other and declares that for the next 60 seconds he will only speak the truth, inviting Floyd to do the same.
- In Before Midnight, (sequel to Before Sunrise and Before Sunset) the bulk of the movie is a huge fight Jesse and Celine, now parents, have after having been together for the last nine years. Previously unsaid things are brought out into the open, mostly in a very confrontational and hurtful way due to how long their resentments and regrets have festered over the years. But it ends promisingly with another go at making their relationship work even with all those voiced flaws.
- In an episode of Frasier, Frasier's current girlfriend has a Jewish My Beloved Smother, and at the climax have a massive teary-eyed airing out of dirty laundry in front of him and Martin. When Frasier offers to mediate, the mother turns and smoothly tells him, "Relax! We're nearly finished!" At the end, they hug and reaffirm their mother-daughter love. After they leave, Frasier and Martin attempt to reconcile in the same way but fail badly. Frasier cries, "We shouldn't have tried it! WE'RE NOT JEWISH!"
- In a Girls episode "Beach House", Hannah, Shoshana, Marnie, and Jessa wind up drunkenly arguing after Marnie's efforts to have a Martha Stewart-approved dinner go south:
Hannah: Marnie, I dont feel like being honest.Shoshana: Why not? Being honest is fun.Hannah: What are you talking about, Shosh?Shoshana: Im talking about the fact that youre a fucking narcissist. Seriously, I have never met anyone else who thinks their own life is so fucking fascinating. I wanted to fall asleep in my own vomit all day listening to you talk about how you bruise more easily than other people.Hannah: Are you serious? Okay, well, people have been calling me a narcissist since I was 3, so it doesnt really upset me. You have to choose something more creative.Marnie: Yeah — it really has no effect on you.Hannah: Now you? So were untabling our issues then.Marnie: I wanted to do this at dinner.Shoshana: Oh, my God. Can you chill the fuck out about dinner? Seriously, that duck tasted like a used condom and I want to forget about it.Marnie: Shosh has gone totally insane.Jessa: I dunno, maybe shes gone sane.Shoshana: You guys never listen to me — you treat me like Im a fucking cab driver. Seriously, you have entire conversations in front of me like I am invisible and sometimes I wonder if my social anxiety is holding me back from meeting the people who would actually be right for me instead of a bunch of fucking whiney nothings as friends.Hannah: She is a cruel drunk, and she is also not an intellectual.Jessa: Actually, she is. Im gonna stick up for Shosh on this one and say that I have seen her read the newspaper on her phone.Hannah: Then why when Im around her do I feel like my brain is going to atrophy? I would call you a little unstimulating.Shoshana: Unstimulating? What are we in like a fucking Jane Austen novel? What, do I want to be like you? Like mentally ill and miserable?Marnie: Whoa, when did we start with all this name-calling guys?Hannah: We didnt start with name-calling, Shosh started with the name-calling.Shoshana: Um, I did not start with the name-calling, I started with your fucking honesty idea, Miss Tan Legs.Hannah: [to Marnie] I would never talk to you that way.Shoshana You are tortured by self-doubt and fear and it is not pleasant to be around.
- Our Miss Brooks: Happens in "Trying to Pick a Fight".
Miss Brooks: Do you want to make something of it, frog boy?
- A major plot point in the season 2 opener of Happy Endings, it comes out that Dave isn't allergic to shellfish, he just didn't want to eat Alex's terrible jambalaya. Jane encourages them to share more truths because they're not a couple anymore and honesty will help their friendship. It doesn't go well, and leads to worse stuff happening throughout the episode for the pair of them.
Alex: Ok, um, I never really liked your goatee.Dave: Oh. Didn't, was not really aware of that. Um...ok, I don't really love your favorite perfume.Alex: I hate your mom. *Dave laughs, surprised and offended, Alex covers her mouth.*Jane: Ok I think that's a good start for today.Dave: No no no, she wants to play, I can play. I'm not really afraid of dogs. I was just afraid of what would happen to a dog if you owned one.Alex: Ok, you know those stupid webbed barefoot running socks? They weren't bad for your calves, they were bad for my ability to want to have sex with you?Dave: Oh! Ok, Richard Gere is not a Hurricane Katrina denier, I just said that to you so we didn't have to watch Pretty Woman for the 74th time.Alex: Well you know your friend Glazer? He didn't actually steal my bra and sell it on Craigslist, I just couldn't spend another Sunday watching you two play Frolf?Jane: Frolf?Alex&Dave: Frisbee Golf.Dave: Ok, you know that thing under your mantle that I told you was a tiny brick closet? Its actually a working fireplace, I was afraid you were gonna burn the building down.Alex: Ok well I hated that song you wrote for me.Dave: 'Love to the power of Love?' You said it made you cry.Alex: It was twelve minutes long! Oh, and terrible!Dave: You wanna know terrible? That stupid hoola-hoop dance that you do.Alex: This one here? *Alex begins dancing* You don't like this?Jane: Ok, let's hoop it on down! Wow...that was healthy.
- On The Big Bang Theory, after Leonard confesses to sleeping with Raj's sister (betraying not only Raj's trust but also Howard's, with whom he'd made a pact that they'd never hit on Raj's sister), the following exchange occurs:
Howard: Well, Raj, I just want to say that I'd never betray your trust. Unlike Leonard, I respect you.Leonard: Really? Was it out of respect that you didn't tell Raj about the time you dropped his iPhone in a urinal?Raj: Dude, I put that thing on my face!Sheldon: I think a more amusing violation of Raj's trust is when Howard convinced him that foreigners give presents to Americans on Thanksgiving.Howard: And as long as we're talking about betraying our friends, how about the month Sheldon spent grinding up insects and mixing them into Leonard's food?Sheldon: Excuuuse me, that was not a betrayal. That was an experiment to determine at what concentration food starts tasting...mothyLeonard: You put moths in my food?!Sheldon: For Science!.Raj: I can't believe you kissed my sister with moth mouth.Leonard: Well, I can't believe you used Sheldon's toothbrush.Sheldon: YOU USED MY TOOTHBRUSH?!
- It goes the other way around in the final episode of Black Books. Manny accidentally blurts out that Bernard's ex-fiancée, whom he has long believed to be dead, in fact faked her death to get out of their marriage, subsequently becoming a very good friend of Fran's; Fran not only didn't tell Bernard that his ex-fiancée was not dead, but in fact informed seemingly everyone else but him that this was the case. The resulting truth-telling slanging match between Bernard and Fran gradually gets turned to smaller and pettier truths, with Bernard eventually winning by pointing out that Fran went to a party that night with a rather daft haircut.
- Brothers & Sisters: Beside the occasional thanksgiving meals, which are usually more civilized, the Walker family have a great tendency to involve two or more members of the family revealing dozens or more shameful truths about each other.
- In the Firefly episode "Shindig", Mal and Inara suddenly end up telling each other what they really think about the choices the other one made.
Inara: You're always breaking the rules, no matter which society you're in! You don't get along with ordinary criminals either, which is why you're constantly getting in trouble!Mal: You think following the rules will buy you a nice life, even if the rules make you a slave.
- This is particularly popular in Friends. It happened in a Thanksgiving episode, the "Space Mountain story" episode, and the episode where we found out about Chandler's third nipple, amongst others. One time it found an interesting variation by using a temporary love interest as the secret-hearer, and having all the secrets be things that had happened in previous episodes. In an episode where Rachel and Monica pretended to be each other while dating doctors, they began to reveal ugly secrets about each other in the first person ("In high school, I was a cow"; "I use my breasts to get other people's attention." "We both do that!")
Monica: Mom! Dad! Ross smoked pot in college!Mr. and Mrs. Geller: What?!Ross: You are such a tattletale! Mom, Dad, you remember that-that time you walked in my room and smelled marijuana?Mr. and Mrs. Geller: Yes.Ross: Well I told you it was Chandler who was smoking the pot but it was me. I'm sorry.Mrs. Geller: It was you?Monica: And Dad, y'know that mailman that you got fired? He didn't steal your Playboys! Ross did!Ross: Yeah, well, Hurricane Gloria didn't break the porch swing, Monica did!Monica: Ross hasn't worked at the museum for a year!Ross: Monica and Chandler are living together!Monica: Ross married Rachel in Vegas! And got divorced! Again!Phoebe: I love Jacques Cousteau!Rachel: I wasn't supposed to put beef in the trifle!Joey: I wanna gooooooo!Mrs. Geller: That's a lot of information to get in in thirty seconds!
- One of the lengthiest was in "The One Where Ross Got High":
- In Hey Dude! (on Nickelodeon), the four main characters tell each other an embarrassing (but still rather tame) secret about themselves. Naturally, all four of them have spilled the beans before the half hour is up.
- On How I Met Your Mother, in order to convince Barney to tell a painful story from his past, the rest of the gang tell the most embarrassing stories of their own lives to make it easier for him. Turns out Barney's story isn't humiliating or sad at all (at least from his perspective), he just pretended it was hard for him to talk about so he could get embarrassing stories about everybody else.
- Also, the episode "Spoiler Alert" has everyone revealing each other's annoying habits, and suddenly they notice them.
- A weird take on the idea in Mad About You, where the Buchmans wind up shouting their own most embarrassing secrets to a video camera (it's complicated).
- The exchange in That '70s Show which ended with the revelation that Laurie was born with a tail.
- Gazpacho soup!!
- Veronica Mars makes it clear that you never play I Never with friends, or else it can turn into a Truth-Telling Session with booze.
Logan: I never...took matters into my own hands in the boys' locker room after watching cheerleading practice.
Duncan: *glares, drinks*
- Rose, Dorothy and Blanche on The Golden Girls get into one of these after being stranded on a deserted island.
- On Everybody Loves Raymond, the revelation that Marie's dislike of Debra was because she wasn't a virgin when Ray married her ends in everyone finding out that Robert was conceived out of wedlock, and Marie and Frank had lied about his birthday (which happened to be that day).
- In the Israeli sci-fi teen drama [HaShminiya]s first seasons episode 40 Blackout, the eponymousnote octette are stuck in their classroom due to a potential threat to their lives. The power goes out, and one of them, Natasha, mentions a custom she and her family have: as long as the power is out, they can tell whatever theyve been keeping secret, and when the power goes back on, they pretend it never happened. Most of the episode is structured around this trope, ending with her classmate Dori confessing his love for her. Before she can say anything, the light goes back on, and he refuses to listen.
- From Malcolm in the Middle:
Hal: I accidentally spent $800 on phone sex.
Lois: I was doing my makeup in the rearview mirror, and I ran over your golf clubs!
Hal: I burned a hole in your favorite dress!
Lois: You didn't get that promotion because I called your boss a fatass at the Christmas party!
Hal: I lost my wedding ring three years ago! This is part of a lawnmower!
Lois: Your Aunt Lucy isn't angry with you. She's dead, I just forgot to tell you!
- Appears in Norse Mythology, in which Loki effortlessly embarrasses every single god in the pantheon.
- The Act I finale of The Addams Family, "Full Disclosure", is one of these gone horribly wrong.
- In Gunnerkrigg Court, Antimony and Reynardine end up in one that gets kicked off by Reynardine confronting Annie about her copying answers form Kat's homework and culminates in him letting out an Awful Truth about Annie's mother that he regrets as soon as he reveals it and leaves Annie utterly distraught.
- Happens once on Total Drama, but in a rather disappointing turn we don't even get to hear any of them.
- Parodied in the American Dad! episode "Camp Refoogee". While the rest of the family is away, Roger and Francine disguise themselves as a couple to socialize at the country club. On the fly, Francine changes Roger's backstory (calling him an economics professor, instead of a political scientist). Roger responds by inventing a fake weight problem for Francine, and the situation devolves from there.
Francine: And the fourth guy I should have married instead of Jordan was Bradford Dorn III. He had a yacht. And a backbone.
Roger: You're boring our guests with your pathetic rants, dear.
Francine: Make me another drink, Jordan. He justifies his existence by mixing a passable cocktail.
Roger: Yes, Love, whatever Love wants ... Amanda wears a hairpiece!
Roger: Oh yeah, worst case of female pattern baldness the doctor's ever seen.
Francine: Well, maybe if you'd studied medicine rather than economics, you'd be able to help me.
Roger: In the words of every sitcom character in the early '90s, and everyone in the Midwest through the rest of the '90s, "Don't go there."
Francine: Come on, Professor. Tell the kids about all the economics conventions you attend discussing economics with the economics people.
Roger: *after a lengthy Dramatic Pause* Tell them how you killed our baby, Amanda.
Francine: Jordan, no!
Roger: Real, real tragedy. Amanda was drunk, of course, and she wasn't watching the pool. We were at Lake Geneva. I was receiving an award for my work in... what was it, dear? Economics?! I wanted to have another child, but her uterus was polluted from all the syphilis.
Francine: You bastard!
- Anglo-Saxons and other Germanic cultures considered this a noble art form and one of the manly pastimes (Íþróttir, in Icelandic). The Old English name for this contest of wits is a Flytting.