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Undermined by Reality

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"This episode was produced before certain facts about Justin were known. Had they been known, the tributes would not have been done. It remains online, with the original ruminations in place, for historical purposes as an episode of this show and as a reminder that I made this terrible mistake, but it has been demonetized and comments disabled."

Life can be a bit of a tightrope walk for some actors, especially those appearing on children's television. Some fans have the unfortunate habit of mixing up the fictional entity with the real person who plays the fictional entity, and can get rather disappointed — rightly or wrongly — when their idols fall off of the pedestal. The companies producing the shows are aware of this, and sometimes hold their actors to nigh-impossible moral standards, punishing them for "crimes" such as trying to live a normal, adult life.

However, there's a flip side to the coin. Sometimes, the premise of a television program, book or song really can be undermined by the actions of the presenters, or even by the actions of those who work behind the scenes.

When a show is actively preaching to its viewers, it is not unreasonable to expect the people doing the preaching to uphold the standards that they are promoting. If they don't... well, then you have got the real-life version of Holier Than Thou, but with more air time. If the talk show marriage counselor verbally abuses his wife, or the professional dog trainer ends up in court after his Rottweiler attacks a child, it is easy to understand why viewers might decide that they are better off not taking advice from these people.


The trope also applies to figures such as presenters when they themselves are being held up as role models, rather than a character that they portray. Those who front children's television shows have to be particularly careful about their real-life conduct — there will be red faces all round if it turns out that the woman sternly warning children against the dangers of drugs is using some less-than-legal substances. It is not particularly fair that other entertainers, such as rock stars and soap actors, can get away with these things (and far more) while others are pilloried for it... but it is Truth in Television. If a builder or window cleaner gets into a violent brawl while off the job, their employers won't care as long as they can still do their jobs. If a teacher or doctor is found in the middle of a fight, however, their career could be on the line.


It's worth noting that occasionally it's not actually the actors'/production team's fault that things go wrong. Sometimes, life has just decided that it's not going to be their week. This is especially true on shows that involve people from the wider public with the actual members of the show who could say or do anything they like on or off-camera. The program isn't really responsible, but they will be held to account regardless.

Mainly, it's non-fiction shows, or songs, that qualify for being Undermined by Reality. Fictional shows only really merit the trope if the actor does something that's actually illegal, or at least morally reprehensible enough that it's not just the usual suspects who are up in arms over their off-screen behavior. If the actors are being held to ransom over normal, fairly innocuous behavior simply because said behavior doesn't mesh with their fantasy persona, then that's Contractual Purity.

See also: "Funny Aneurysm" Moment (where the irony of a situation is particularly cruel but affects the actor rather than the production), Holier Than Thou (for the fictional equivalent), and Artist Disillusionment/Fan Disillusionment (for the likely results of this trope). For the advertising variant, see We Care. If the marketing causes the undermining of a work, this can overlap with Misaimed Marketing. See Role-Ending Misdemeanor. One reason for Posthumous Popularity Potential.

For when the message of a story is undermined by behavior within the story itself, see Broken Aesop.

This page is not an excuse to be Complaining About Shows You Don't Like. And please don't add internet drama.


    open/close all folders 

  • Super Bowl 52 featured a Dodge commercial using Martin Luther King Jr.'s famous Drum Major speech. However, later in the same speech, he talks about how advertisers use persuasion to trick people into buying things and specifically mentions car companies by name.
  • Teddy Ruxpin, during The '80s, was chosen to be "Official Spokesbear" for National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and included Too Smart for Strangers lessons in his storybooks. This partnership ended when it was revealed the Teddy Ruxpin toys were manufactured by child labor. Oops.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Often cited as the biggest problem with Digimon Adventure: Last Evolution Kizuna. The main message of the film is learning to let go of your childhood and move on to your future life as an adult. By itself, this wouldn't be so bad, but the fact that advertising seems specifically geared towards nostalgic fans of the original series, combined with how much Bandai Namco and Toei Animation had been milking nostalgic Digimon Adventure fans prior, including a Continuity Reboot being revealed not two months later, which also seems to be trying to appeal to nostalgic Adventure fans, and Digimon Adventure 02's Distant Finale - which clearly shows the adult Digidestined still having their Digimon with them - remaining in canon, just ends up making the Aesop of the film feel both incredibly tasteless and tone-deaf towards its main audience.
  • The main moral of BanG Dream!'s second season is that artistic integrity is important — soulless, paint-by-numbers corporate music, as exemplified by CHU2, is wrong, and artists must be allowed to make the kind of music they want to create instead of doing what someone else tells them to. However, the franchise is a multimedia project created by a media giant designed to sell as much music, merchandise and mobile game microtransactions as possible, and whose songs are written by people who have no relation to the performers — effectively the same type of corporate music the series railed against. Ensemble Stars!, a male idol series, and the second season of the main story campaign of Love Live! School idol festival ALL STARS also have roughly the same moral and suffer from the same dissonance.
  • One prominent moral of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is being able to recognize, own up to, and improve upon your mistakes and shortcomings as both a person and a creator. Several months after the anime adaptation ended, author Sumito Ōwara was discovered to be following photorealistic child pornography artists on Pixiv, and when fans took him to task on this, he responded with a series of Tweets expressing his indifference on the matter and attempting to shift blame on his fans for calling him out in the first place, rather than taking accountability for his actions. While he did unfollow the artists, the tone of his response— which read more like him getting irritated at people's reactions— felt hugely dissonant to Eizouken's emphasis on acknowledging and learning from your faults and errors.
  • This could happen to Pretty Cure, a franchise known for its progressive attitudes towards gender and the LGBTQ community, amid reports that producer Toei Animation displayed signs of homophobia in response to a good faith attempt at labor negotiation.

  • Comedian Jimmy Carr performed a sketch on 10 O'Clock Live that satirized the tax avoidance of Barclays Banks. A few months later, it emerged that Carr was himself party to a K2 tax avoidance scheme.

    Comic Books 
  • The Team Achilles spin-off of Stormwatch was cancelled after writer Micah Ian Wright was discovered to have grossly exaggerated his claimed military experience. The controversy was especially severe due to Wright's anti-Iraq-War activism, which he had used his alleged past to give greater weight to.
  • Many of the works of Geoff Johns, particularly Infinite Crisis and anything involving Superboy-Prime, focus on the idea that the Nostalgia Filter is wrong, and fans shouldn't idealize the past and reject the present and future. This ends up going counter to a lot of Geoff Johns's career, which is largely fueled by attempts to revert the DCU's status quo, often through Cosmic Retcon or getting rid of current Legacy Characters in favor of the old ones, back to what it was when he was a kid. Many of his stories also end on the suggestion that from now on, the world will resolve to be nobler and kinder, which gets undermined by the fact that Johns himself is a big fan of Bloodier and Gorier action and killing off the C-List Fodder in droves. You can jump from the hopeful ending of Blackest Nightnote  talking about a new dawn, to the first issue of its immediate sequel featuring a Silver Age villain murdering three civilians with a fillet knife on-panel.
  • Modern comic books focusing on the Justice Society of America tend to focus on their status as the "first superheroes" and the inspiration for all who came after (including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) as a reason for why the team and its members are still important. However, in real life, the vast majority of the JSA were also-rans during The Golden Age of Comic Books, and if anything, they were usually attempts to Follow the Leader of Superman's explosive popularity. Many members of the team, such as Wildcat and Doctor Mid-Nite, were on the team because their solo efforts ended up being quickly cancelled. And on top of all that, the reason for why the JSA, in-universe, are treated as older than Superman and company is because their books were cancelled, which allowed DC to lock their adventures in the 1940s while Superman got the benefit of the Sliding Timescale. Essentially, the JSA are allowed to be the first superheroes because their books were all demonstrably less successful than those of the actual first superheroes.

    Fan Works 
  • The Conversion Bureau author Chatoyance openly states that her version of Equestria, the Princesses, and the ponies is "more in line with Lauren Faust's original vision" than that of the show. But the show's pilot, written by Lauren to set up their vision for the series, had Princess Luna become Nightmare Moon and bring about The Night That Never Ends, which Faust stated would have ultimately killed all life on the planet, out of jealousy. While Chatoyance handwaves other antagonistic ponies as descended from a ponified human, they portray Luna as an infallible Big Good without any acknowledgment of Nightmare Moon which would invalidate the point of their work to portray ponies as morally superior if one as great as Luna could fall and commit such evildoing.

    Films — Animation 
  • The numerous corporate tie-ins to the Green Aesop film The Lorax, many of which made no effort to be ecologically friendly. The Mazda tie-in is probably the worst offender, as even though Mazda claimed to be ecologically friendly, it turned out that their cars actually scored worse than their competitors when it came to emissions.
    Peter Sagal: I am the Lorax. I speak for a fee!
  • The Emoji Movie teaches you to Be Yourself despite being a by the numbers mish-mash of other, much better films such as Wreck-It Ralph, Inside Out, and The LEGO Movie to the point that it lacks its own identity. There's also the fact that it's a blatant cash grab of a popular trend.
  • The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie features one scene in which Bugs Bunny shows that he has many "fathers," displaying a wall decorated with the directors responsible for his cartoons. A nice tribute, until you realize that someone crucial to Bugs' development is missing. The reason is that the movie's director, Chuck Jones, held a massive grudge toward Bob Clampett, who was not only his polar opposite in directing style but had also recently claimed sole credit for the creation of Bugs, so he is the only famous Bugs director not on the wall. (Frank Tashlin isn't either, but he only directed two Bugs cartoons).
  • As noted in the Associated Press' review of Over the Hedge, a film that satirizes commercialism and suburban people who keep buying stuff, the movie had tie-ins with brands such as Walmart and Wendy's.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • During the release of the live-action How the Grinch Stole Christmas!, quite a few products emerged based on the movie, which were at odds with the original story's Aesop warning against the commercialization of Christmas. The 2018 animated adaptation suffered from the same problem.
  • After the movie 300 was released, almost every fitness and weight loss company used it as a piece of their marketing strategy toward men. ("Look like the men of 300!") However, when you look at the Training from Hell they endure and the fact that Gerard Butler developed a problem with painkillers from the abuse his body took and even had to check into rehab (although it wasn't just the training, there was also the typical abuse any actor in an action film must endure), maybe 300 isn't the best movie to reference. (It's telling that most of the companies have switched over to Captain America and Thor from The Avengers.)
  • In Dreamgirls, Effie White is the lead singer and most talented member of the Dreams, but their corrupt manager Curtis demotes her to backup singer in favor of Deena Jones, who is more marketable. This is unambiguously presented as a Jerkass move on Curtis' part, and it ruins Effie's life. Then, in the movie version, Jennifer Hudson played Effie, the lead character of the movie, but the studio designated her a "supporting actress" and gave top billing to Beyoncé Knowles (playing Deena), who is more famous. Then again, Hudson won an Oscar for her performance (for Best Supporting Actress; had she been nominated for Lead Actress, she likely would have been blown out by Helen Mirren), while Knowles only got a Golden Globe nomination that most people assumed her manager father bought for her, so perhaps it averages out.
  • Atlas Shrugged, being an Objectivist treatise, is all about how the markets will inevitably select the most skilled and deserving people. Despite this, the creators kept working to make the films despite each one flopping horribly in the box office, thereby ignoring the markets. As if that wasn't bad enough, they turned to Kickstarter to get the last one funded, breaking one of the central tenets of Objectivism by asking others for help instead of doing things themselves.
  • Derek Savage's actions towards his critics make the anti-bullying message of his film Cool Cat Saves the Kids very ironic.
  • The 2008 documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster saw its director Chris Bell challenge the "conventional wisdom" about the health risks of anabolic steroids, questioning doctors and lawmakers about the real health risks and grilling a father whose son committed suicide over whether steroids really were to blame. The film heavily featured Bell and his two brothers Mike and Mark, both of whom were active steroid users. Within less than a year, Mike Bell (a former WWE jobber) had committed suicide, and both were shown to be at a significantly elevated risk for heart disease due to their steroid use.
  • Moonwalker has a message about how Celebrity Is Overrated in a movie that does little more than celebrate Michael Jackson.
  • Viva Knievel! revolved around the idea that Evel Knievel was a Christ-like motorcycle jumper who easily forgave everyone who wronged him. Less than a year later, Knievel was arrested for attacking Shelley Saltman with an aluminum baseball bat for writing an unflattering biography, repeatedly hitting him with it and breaking his arm. He spent six months in jail, Saltman won almost $13M in a lawsuit, and Knievel became a persona non grata, his career abruptly over.
  • The Hobbit trilogy as a whole, but especially The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, have the message that greed is bad to the point where it's Anvilicious. However, the whole movie wouldn't even exist if it weren't for greed, as it was originally planned for there to only be two movies before Executive Meddling. Moreover, New Zealand even changed its labor laws to favor Warner Bros after it was feared they might film in Eastern Europe instead.
  • Kill Bill is a movie about female empowerment, produced by Harvey Weinstein. No points for guessing what he was exposed for nearly 15 years later. Making things worse was how he had physically mistreated leading lady Uma Thurman herself, who was very pissed at him following the incident.
  • The main reason United Passions bombed so badly was that it was a film about the greatness and morally uplifting nature of FIFA as an institution (with particular focus placed on its executives, of all people)... released right in the middle of a massive corruption scandal with the organization at its center. Special mention goes to Sepp Blatter, whom the film goes out of its way to present as a heroic figure despite his corruption being well-known by practically everyone.
  • One of the broader aesops of Mulan (2020) is that repressive governments and societies should be resisted against, especially those that would oppress women. However, this is undermined due to Mulan's actress speaking in favor of the police brutality in Hong Kong, leading to the creation of the hashtag #BoycottMulan. This got worse when barely even a day after the the film was released, viewers discovered that Disney directly credited several Chinese agencies directly involved in alleged human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims.
  • An odd case with Intolerance, which is about the evils of... well, intolerance. Except the entire reason this movie was made to begin with was that people called D. W. Griffith out on his vehemently racist (even for the 1910s) prior film, The Birth of a Nation, and he refused to accept that it was, in fact, racist and therefore massively intolerant.
  • Tess, the 1979 film adaptation of Tess Of The Durbervilles starring Nastassja Kinski, retains the anti-rape Aesop of the source material, which is undermined by the film being directed by convicted pedophile Roman Polański.

  • In-Universe: A man starts imparting a seminar titled "How to raise your children", after he got kids of his own he renamed it as "Suggestions for raising your children", and when his kids became teens he canceled the seminar.

  • The Twilight series is about the romance between Ordinary High-School Student Bella Swan and a brooding, hundred-year-old vampire named Edward Cullen. While it wasn't written as a religious story, it attracted a large fandom among conservative Christians due to the chaste nature of the series, with Bella waiting until marriage before sleeping with Edward — though only because he forced her to — and choosing to give birth to her dhampir baby even in the face of it possibly killing her, and attempts by her husband, doctor, and best friend trying to force her to abort the child. (The author, not coincidentally, is a devout Mormon.) It is still unknown how the final film in the series, Breaking Dawn Part 2, was affected by the revelation that Kristen Stewart (who played Bella) cheated on her then-fiance Robert Pattinson (who played Edward) with the director of her film Snow White and the Huntsman.
  • The bestselling book Rich Dad, Poor Dad claims it contains all the secrets for becoming rich and it's full of financial advice on real estate investment. However, a few years after the book was published, its author Robert Kiyosaki declared bankruptcy, and it turned out that all his financial advice was sound... in 2007, before the 2008 real estate bubble burst and took down the world's economy with it. And that's ignoring the parts of his advice that were outright illegal.
  • The various aesops in the work of Ayn Rand rather suffered from Rand herself cheerfully making proclamations about what was and was not morally right that tended to contradict them. Collective action is wrong and you should never force decisions on others... unless Rand is telling you to vote for a specific Presidential candidate, in which case, everybody vote for that person. It's wrong to enrich one group at the expense of others... but the colonization of the Americas was totally okay in every respect because they weren't capitalists. When a tycoon leverages a situation to maximize their earnings, it's the free market at work. When laborers do the same, it's parasitism. And so on.
  • The Darkover series has been retrospectively tainted by the posthumous accusations of child abuse and incest against Marion Zimmer Bradley, especially due to the allegations casting a darker light of some of the depictions of incest, and sexual activity involving very young characters, in the novels. The Mists of Avalon got it even worse, considering it’s an Author Tract and glorifies both incest and rape. Taking the above revelation into account, why should anybody believe or do anything Bradley says? Not helping this was that her husband Walter Breen had been convicted of molesting boys.
  • The Cold Equations exists to show sometimes there isn't a solution that can get a desirable outcome. However, the writer did come up with several such solutions that the editor refused to publish because it would contradict the point of the story. As a result, the story leans so heavily on Contrived Coincidence that it's obvious the mission should have never made it that far.
  • A minor but still important theme in the Harry Potter series is that your genes, family, or even history don't make you better than anyone and that regardless of birth or family lineage, people are capable of great things regardless. Hermione, for example, is a skilled Wizard despite being a Mage Born of Muggles, and one of the many reasons why the Big Bad Voldemort is evil is because of his belief in the idea of "pure-blooded" Wizards and desire to exterminate any that aren't. However, the series writer, J. K. Rowling, has been known to express controversial views about gender and gender-expression, even going so far as to treat transgender people as being wrong about themselves (especially in the case of trans autistic people), declaring that transgender women aren't women on social media, and giving donations to groups that have similar viewpoints. It makes the books' themes and points harder to view, since it comes across as the story saying your birth doesn't define you, except in regards to your gender.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

  • Life is hard for straight actors who play gay roles. Every interviewer will insist on asking them if the love scenes (or more often, kissing scenes) were difficult to play. If they say yes, they risk undermining the role, and the interview will attempt to frame this as homophobia. If they say no, this may be inferred as coming out, and will certainly start (or fuel) rumors. If they try to Take a Third Option it may be seen as a cop-out. At any rate, reading such interviews can spoil a viewer's enjoyment of an otherwise immersive romantic scene.
  • There's a reverse problem for gay actors. They no longer have to hide their sexuality to work - but it can be difficult or impossible for them to secure non-homosexual roles. (Of course, some Straight Gays can have the problem of people insisting that they're "not gay enough" for certain roles, as is the case for John Barrowman when he tried to get a main part in Will & Grace).

By Creator:

  • The posthumous revelations of Jimmy Savile's crimes as one of the U.K.'s most prolific sex criminals has ruined the reputations of all the shows he helped present — Top of the Pops, Clunk Click, and Jim'll Fix It were all aimed at children or teens, and he used them to find victims. The scope of his crimes, which he was never tried for in his lifetime, effectively undermined the entire BBC (particularly the revelation that many people knew about it there, but didn't act as he was so popular then).

By Series:

  • America's Next Top Model Cycle 10 contestant Whitney Thompson was a confident plus-sized model who had her main platform be that "girls need a role model" (i.e., someone who wasn't Hollywood Thin), which the judges apparently agreed with by praising her to the moon and back, portraying her as being much more assertive and competent than the previous heavier models of cycles past and declaring her the winner of that cycle. Unfortunately for Thompson, her body type (coupled with diminished credibility for appearing on the show in the first place) allowed for limited opportunities in the fashion world to the point where she had to lose weight in order to receive more work.
  • Arrowverse: This article argues that Supergirl's fifth season aged badly before it had even finished airing, due to its anti-technology message coming as the coronavirus pandemic of early 2020 pushed people into using technology to connect with each other on a massive scale as people were encouraged to physically avoid others to slow the spread of the virus.
  • Even the most venerable of children's shows can fall victim to this, as Blue Peter found out when presenter Richard Bacon was caught taking cocaine in 1999.
  • Networks pulled reruns of The Cosby Show after Bill Cosby had literally dozens of rape accusations against him. In fact, everyone's tried to avoid all entertainment with him as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids also disappeared from airwaves and it's pretty obvious Jell-O Pudding Pops won't be using him anymore.
  • Extreme Makeover: Home Edition:
    • The show ran into a snag when two cohabiting families for whom they had built a massive house began fighting, causing the larger, adopted family to move out. ABC legally washed its hands of any responsibility.
    • One of the more special houses they had built was later almost foreclosed on. It wasn't directly the show's fault, but they paid the mortgage on that one, and they will probably tone down future makeover houses just a little so that the people moving into them can afford to maintain them.
    • In a Thanksgiving special, they built a house for a family that runs a soup kitchen, complete with a commercial-grade kitchen and a cafeteria area for serving. Months later, the local government denied the zoning request that would have allowed them to actually use that kitchen and cafeteria to serve food.
    • One makeover program involved building a The Flintstones-themed bedroom, complete with fake rock walls and a straw floor. Needless to say, when it came time to revisit the house a while later, the room was in the process of being redecorated after the inhabitants tired of the decor and of having to clean a straw floor.
  • This is believed to be a big reason for the failure of the Netflix series Girlboss. The series revolves around Sophia Amoruso, founder of the Nasty Gal fashion company, and was designed to portray her as rebellious and unconventional but ultimately talented and the intention was to show her as an unlikely business success story. However, in the months before the show premiered, the company filed for bankruptcy and went from being an inspiring success story to a huge failure, largely due to Amoruso's mismanagement. In addition, Amoruso was hit by multiple lawsuits for actions such as firing women who got pregnant, undermining the show's feminist aspirations, as well as claims that the work environment was toxic. Without Amoruso's success to justify her behavior, the show was ultimately stuck revolving around a selfish, rude, immature, and overall unlikable character and ended up being cancelled after a single season.
  • Late in its run, Home Improvement was going to do A Very Special Episode centered around drunk driving. During the writing stage Tim Allen was arrested for DUI and the creative team realized it would be hypocritical of them to do the episode so it was scrapped.
  • One of the main recurring themes of Mad Men is the casual sexism of the '60s, criticizing the sexualization of the workplace, harassment, and other abuses women had to suffer through back then. However several years after the series concluded, its creator Matthew Weiner was accused of sexually harassing a female writer on the show.
  • In the film (1970) and first seasons of M*A*S*H (1972-73), The Korean War was, of course, a metaphor for The Vietnam War. After the USA lost the war in 1975, with the annexation of the south by the north, the series stopped pushing the metaphor quite so hard. However, today it's risible to even imagine taking the early seasons' face-value message that U.S. intervention in the Korean War accomplished nothing and North Korea wasn't really that bad anyway seriously. Granted, no one could have known the two Koreas would turn out that way at the time the show was made, to say nothing of when the war actually took place—in the 1970s, both Koreas were poverty-stricken dictatorships, and if anything, the North was doing considerably better. South Korea didn't become a democratic state until the late 80s, and North Korea took some major hard knocks in the mid-90s due to flooding and famine that created much of its current reputation.
  • Notably averted by Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, who really was as wholesome and benevolent as the show made him out to be. No matter what the internet would have you believe. He really was. The closest thing to a real controversy regarding Fred Rogers was his having told Francois Clemmons to keep his being gay a secret, but that was due to concern about Clemmons's job as coming out as gay while working on a kids' show at that time would have destroyed his career. Privately, Mr. Rogers was very supportive of Clemmons.
  • One of Frankie Boyle's jokes on Mock the Week had him talking about how he'd heard that the women in government were there to be window dressing. He then said "where on Earth would those women be considered window dressing? The London Dungeon?" Anyone who's ever been to the London Dungeon and met the women normally employed there... that joke could be taken as a compliment now.
  • An article in TV Guide once followed up on some of the Pimp My Ride's more memorable cases. They found that quite a few of the kids were encountering serious financial problems thanks to it. The kids are often driving these old, beat-up cars because they are broke and that's all they can afford. They found that their insurance rates went through the roof after Xzibit and Co. got a hold of them. Possibly adding to it, all of the extra things they added into the car had to have ruined their gas mileage as well.
  • The original Roseanne featured an episode about racism and the short-lived 2018 revival included an episode condemning Islamophobia — both of which became this as the Roseanne Barr's tweet that caused the latter to be short-lived (and subsequently retooled into The Conners) was itself racist and Islamophobic. Indeed, part of the point of the revival was to present a sympathetic, positive portrayal of Donald Trump-era Republicans, only for Barr's offscreen behavior to reinforce the worst stereotypes of them.
  • Sesame Street is well known for treating their characters outside of the show as actually what they are and not as puppets...unless it involves dealing with something controversial. After gay marriage was legalized in California, someone posted a petition online suggesting they have Bert & Ernie get married to teach tolerance about same-sex marriage. Sesame Workshop refused, citing that Bert & Ernie are only puppets, and therefore, have no gender.
  • Smallville: One of the morals on "Unsafe" was that your first sexual experience is to be approached carefully, and even Allison Mack was used to promote it (Her character Chloe said it in-universe as well). This moral loses credibility when Allison Mack was accused of being involved with sex trafficking for the cult NXIVM and in April 2018 arrested for that. Her mentor Keith Raniere, who led NXIVM, was accused of raping children. She ultimately pleaded down to racketeering and is expected to testify against Raniere who didn’t take a plea deal.
  • Gene Roddenberry's vision of a future moneyless utopia in the later incarnations of Star Trek (which was never part of the original series)note  falls rather flat when you learn that the man himself was a quite ruthless businessman, pulling shady moves like writing completely irrelevant lyrics to the show's theme song that were never intended to be used just so he could steal part of the composer's paycheck.
  • Aaron Sorkin's show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was essentially a season-long Take That! at modern network TV, arguing that the American people don't really want to watch poorly-written schlock and trashy reality TV and that all the networks would need to win their affection would be to give them quality product and stop dumbing everything down for them. Specific examples of what networks ought to do were provided by a screenwriter character who was clearly an Author Avatar for Sorkin and an In-Universe proposal to do a TV series set at the U.N. that bore many similarities to Sorkin's previous show The West Wing. The counter-argument? Well, Studio 60 ended up getting cancelled two-thirds of the way through its first season. Why? Horrible, horrible ratings.
  • Averted on That '70s Show when actor Tommy Chong was sentenced to prison time as part of a federal crackdown on businesses selling bongs. Tommy feared he would lose his role on the program, but the producers reassured him that he had been cast as an aging hippie in part because of his drugged-out comedy persona in the first place, and actually doing time for marijuana-related charges would not affect his place in the cast.
  • A weird one with Two and a Half Men. Instead of the actor engaging in depravity, one actor has become a Christian and denounced the show. In November 2012, a newly Christian Angus T. Jones urged viewers not to watch his show because it was full of "filth". On other occasions, he has told the Seventh Day Adventist church that he no longer feels comfortable on his show because it does not promote God.
  • The TV Land series Younger is about a forty-year-old woman lying about her age and pretending to be in her twenties to find a job. As such, the show has made a few digs at the fact that modern society favors younger employees over older, more experienced ones. Noble intentions, but the problem is, the show's publicity push spent as much time (if not more) trumpeting the fact that the show was twenty-something Hilary Duff's return to TV as it did focusing on the actual star, forty-year-old two-time Tony winner Sutton Foster.
  • Joy Junction's attempt to warn kids off of looking at "dirty pictures", already suffering from the usual '90s problem of children's television being allowed and even encouraged to warn against these sorts of things but forbidden from actually telling kids what these terrible things are, was later made worse with the revelation that the puppeteer in question was arrested for having child pornography in his possession, alongside openly conspiring to do even worse things to a child.
  • Ellen DeGeneres has received awards for her talk shows advocating acceptance of others, kindness, and so on... which became a bit harder to swallow when, in 2020, multiple accusations of racism, mistreatment of employees, and overall toxic conduct within the workplace and such hit her show. Ultimately Downplayed as further details emerged, revealing that said accusations were not directly against Ellen but rather her inaction regarding several problematic senior production staff. Ellen took responsibility for allowing said situation set in, expressing regret for what seems to have been the product of allowing herself to become distanced from the operations of her show, and taking steps to clean house and create a culture more in line with her message.
  • Early Power Rangers as a highly idealistic series that promoted acceptance of other cultures, environmentalism, and the like is somewhat undermined by its Troubled Production and Hostility on the Set, particularly with David Yost (Billy) being bullied by the production crew for being gay and apparently at one point told by the producers that a gay man didn't deserve to play a heroic character, several of the original cast members walking off the set because they said they were paid "less than fast food workers", Sarah Brown (Heather) saying she was abused by her fiancé who was also a co-creator of the show, and Jason David Frank (Tommy) and Austin St. John (Jason) having their infamous feud. Fortunately, the series has gotten a lot less exploitative since then.
  • Much of Kung Fu deals with the folly of racism and the importance of the wisdom of the east, which gets undermined a fair bit by the fact that the producers went the Yellowface route when choosing their lead star and cast the lily-white David Carradine, who did not actually know martial arts, as a supposedly half-Chinese martial arts expert. What's more, it's generally believed that they passed up Bruce Lee for the role, despite him being one of the best martial artists of his generation, one of the main figures behind the show, and actually mixed Chinese-American.
  • Joss Whedon won acclaim in the 1990s and early 2000s for the themes of female empowerment that carried into most of his shows, including Buffy the Vampire Slayer's general 'verse and Firefly. However, in the late 2010s and early 2020s, many of the women behind his shows accused him of being rather terrible to women himself, including serial adultery, harassment, creating a generally miserable environment, and pressuring and eventually firing Charisma Carpenter for being pregnant.

  • Michael Jackson's reputation as a true eccentric was seen for years as just a funny bunch of quirks that his genuine talent and extensive charity work, especially with children, balanced out. Then he was accused of molesting a young, male friend in 1993. He settled a civil suit out-of-court (and made a payout to a maid who had similar claims regarding her son) and supporters claim the evidence against him was sketchy all along, but his career was never quite the same; a second round of child molestation accusations that resulted in a court trial came along in 2003. While he was declared not guilty in 2005, his career never even approached his former heights until he died, at which time his popularity again rose and it became risky to say anything about his checkered past. However, the release of the 2019 documentary Leaving Neverland brought the child molestation accusations back into the spotlight and again made his reputation toxic. Additionally, the Drugs Are Bad theme in his film Moonwalker is soured by the revelation that he was a prescription drug addict for decades, as that was how he died.
  • A much darker example. "Pack Up Your Troubles" ("in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile") is known as one of the most optimistic songs ever written. Its writer George Henry Powell later committed suicide. The context of the song and the suicide, however, are different. He wrote the song in 1915 when he was 35 years old with the explicit intent to raise morale for the British troops during World War I. And it worked. Powell may have committed suicide in 1951 when he was 71 years old and a mostly forgotten relic from another era, though his cause of death is disputed. His brother Felix Powell, the one who wrote the music for the song, actually did commit suicide in 1942, by shooting himself in the heart with a military rifle. Felix was supposedly enthusiastic during his service in World War I but was much less enthusiastic when serving in the Home Guard during World War II.
  • Brian May of Queen felt uncomfortable about the closeted Freddie Mercury writing a gay anthem like "Body Language" from Hot Space in 1982, not so much due to Freddie's sexuality as fearing it would alienate the straight Queen fans.
  • Russian girl-group t.A.T.u. became famous for the supposed love affair between singers Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova. Not only were the two a fake couple guided by a manager who relied on producing scandals for publicity, but they ditched the manager and the lesbian gimmick within two years of achieving fame, have both since married men, and Volkova has made comments condemning male homosexuality.
  • "Coming Home" by Keith Urban celebrates the joys of escaping city life for the simple pleasures of the countryside...over very urban-sounding synthetic drum beats.
  • Gary Glitter's image as campy rock n' roller that the whole family could enjoy was destroyed forever in 1997 when he was convicted of possessing child pornography.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Professional Wrestling is very vulnerable to this phenomenon. In the past, when kayfabe was maintained, heels and faces wouldn't be allowed to be seen out in the real world together, and popular wrestlers were required to live their gimmick (not so bad if you like beer and play a beer-swilling redneck, but think of poor Gorgeous George...). In the modern age, despite the finishes and certain spots' predetermination being acknowledged, there are still many situations where Real Life Writes the Plot after faces are caught doing something they shouldn't, and a quick Face-Heel Turn occurs (Edge and Lita springs to mind — after the two were caught having an affair, Lita had a Face–Heel Turn and was paired with Edge (already a heel), whose gimmick changed from "bitter asshole" to "sleazy man-whore").
    • Even worse, in recent years, pro wrestling's role as fun escapist entertainment has been near-fatally undermined by what wrestlers call "the sickness" — the scores of performer deaths due to abuse of performance-enhancing and recreational drugs, with Chris Benoit's murder of his family and subsequent suicide (Benoit's autopsy revealed one of the highest testosterone ratios known to man and post-concussion syndromes similar to Alzheimer's) as a horrific capstone. In addition, unlike most TV shows or real sports, financial abuse is fairly common; TNA (a wrestling promotion owned by a $1 billion level energy company and airing on TV every week for millions in rights fees) kicked up a shitstorm when Jesse Neal tweeted about qualifying for food stamps, and one of their champions was outed working a minimum wage mall kiosk job.
  • The WWE Divas being touted as "Smart, Sexy and Powerful" gets undermined when you hear stories from many former Divas about how much pressure they were under to maintain their good looks 24/7 (Krissy Vaine got addicted to botox injections, Kristal Marshall became dangerously underweight), perfectly healthy women being told to lose weight (Rosa Mendes, Maria Kanellis) and being hugely restricted by management in various areas — Gail Kim claimed that one week they were told "no punching" and the next "no kicking". The knowledge of this makes the ones currently in the company seem like living Stepford Smilers.
    • In a curious flip side to the above point, it's something of a fun hobby for many fans to hate the so-called "model Divas" who were not trained on the indies and were offered WWE developmental contracts as they are assumed to be break-a-nail types that don't care about wrestling and only want a stepping stone to other forms of entertainment. This gets undermined when you hear the horror stories of vicious bullying many of these women received from other members of the roster — Amy Weber quit because Randy Orton found flyers from when she used to work at a strip club and posted them up all around the backstage area, Bobbi Billard was released after getting injured in developmental because the women training her (Ivory and Jacqueline) were deliberately going too hard on them. Add that to the knowledge above and the knowledge that a good portion of the girls were actually wrestling fans which is why they agreed to become wrestlers and people might feel a tad guilty for abusing them.
    • WrestleCrap brought up another one; when interviewed on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's podcast, Triple H was asked why Chyna has never been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, despite being a big part of the Attitude Era, with him replying it was due to her being a porn actress and WWE not wishing to be associated with that. However, as the writer pointed out, Sunny is in the Hall of Fame and she did/has done porn, and Jimmy Snuka (possibly) murdered someone, so he comes off looking like a hypocrite. In Hunter's defense, most of the Internet believe that he was lying — the generally accepted real reason as to why she had not been inducted into the Hall of Fame yet is because she couldn't be trusted with a live microphone while she was alive; she was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019 as part of D-Generation X's group induction.
  • WWE Tough Enough has a lot fewer success stories because of this trope. The premise of the show was having ordinary people off the street train to become wrestlers in a span of two months or so. In reality, it takes most of the year to get decent enough to wrestle on TV, and this if you are a once in a generation prodigy. It usually takes two or four years, as opposed to a matter of weeks. Most successful wrestlers also spend years on several different shows, in front of several different kinds of crowds, facing hundreds of different opponents across the nation/continent/planet before they hit their stride. As such, any winners of the show would be too green to get any kind of meaningful push. Even given time, there is only so much they can learn from WWE alone and it is not exactly famous for letting its "independent contractors" actually operate independently of it. The only people from Tough Enough to have any WWE success were in the company for several years by then, long after momentum from the show had dissipated. It's to the point that people forget that John Morrison, the most successful winner (and the second most successful alumnus of TE, after The Miz), was even on the show to begin with, let alone a winner, and even wrestlers with entirely non-WWE success like Kenny King weren't remembered for Tough Enough by the time they made headlines.
  • WWE has frequently recycled the Vince McMahon vs "Stone Cold" Steve Austin feud in order to make a wrestler look like an anti-authoritarian rebel... the problem being that the wrestlers cast in this role are ones the company likes and wants to push. See the Montreal Screwjob for what happens to a wrestler who actually gets on Vince's bad side.

    Video Games 
  • One of the major themes of the YIIK: A Post-Modern RPG is personal responsibility. Andrew Allanson, one of the co-creators, took to The Dick Show sometime after release to complain about the people who didn't like the game, stating that people who play video games can't handle complex themes and that video games are little more than toys, which many people considered an attempt to dodge the blame for the shortcomings of the game. Irony abound as a creator of a game is unable to grasp his game's theme. Compounding this is that Andrew claimed that the main character, Alex, was written to be intentionally unlikeable - only to then complain about how players didn't like the main character.
  • Blizzard Entertainment's games have, like most games, a theme of doing what's right, even if it costs you (Jim Raynor fought against the oppressive and dictatorial government to put a better one in place in StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty; Saurfang's entire arc in the Battle For Azeroth expansion for World of Warcraft is him coming to terms with the fact the Horde has been rotten from its inception, ultimately sacrificing his life to force it to change for the better; Overwatch's plot, for what little there's of it, is about heroes returning to defend the world, despite it being illegal to do so) which makes it glaring that, less than a month after Saurfang's arc ended, Blizzard banned a Hearthstone pro-Hong Kong protests champion, took his prize money, cancelled the launch event for the Switch port of Overwatch and fired the casters of an interview where said champion voiced support for the protests, showing that, like most corporations, Blizzard cares more about the money it can get from cooperating with the Chinese government than about human rights. Eventually, the champion got his money back and his ban time was halved, and many employees within Blizzard itself protested against the immediacy and severity of the punishment, including Overwatch director Jeff Kaplan, downplaying the trope somewhat, though the aftermath has left many still resentful.
  • Spec Ops: The Line
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • Heartbeat was once a pretty popular indie game for having themes of love, empathy, and overcoming hatred and prejudice. It was particularly popular among the LGBTQ+ community... which made it all the more upsetting for them when it was revealed that the lead developer Shepple had posted transphobic tweets on Twitter since the game's launch, and then, after intense backlash, doubled down on her transphobia by offering discounts on the game and its soundtrack where the discount for the bundle was 41%, the same percentage for trans suicide rates in the US. Given this happened shortly after the backlash to her tweets, it wouldn't be far-fetched to believe this was a cold calculation. Despite all the other developers thoroughly denouncing and distancing themselves from Shepple after her transphobia became known, her blatant hypocrisy has become more well-known than the game itself.

  • Vegan Artbook preaches a lot about compassion and nonviolence — both of which the author, Yerdian, sees veganism as the pinnacle of — and condemns omnivores for allegedly being violent and callous. This falls flat when it also endorses Gary Yourofsky, a man who's infamous for unabashedly advocating violence (including rape as punishment for wearing fur) against everyone who's not vegan.
  • The infamous "Troll Arc" of Zen Pencils was basically about how bad "trolls" and critics are. The problem is that it attempts to use Hayao Miyazaki as an avatar of art and creation produced without criticism. Miyazaki is well-known in the anime community for his dislike and critique of the modern anime industry, and even gave a rather poor appraisal of Tales from Earthsea, which was directed by his son.

    Web Videos 
  • Many Channel Awesome videos were struck by this after #ChangeTheChannel, showing the upper management was very inadequate and at times incompetent. Of particular note is the crossover film To Boldly Flee, documented as a hellish production where Doug Walker and his brother mistreated everyone (not to mention the film being an end to The Nostalgia Critic when he came back a few months later with all that "wanting to be good" stuff forgotten), and all the tributes to JewWario, as noted by the page quote - at first it was just an homage to a friend who tragically killed himself, but then said friend turned out to have been a sexual predator and everyone regretted it.
  • During the Angry Video Game Nerd's review of Lightspan Adventures, he points this out when criticizing using Calamity Jane as a role model in an educational game for kids that teaches math, reading, and grammar:
    Nerd: Calamity Jane? According to common history knowledge, she was an illiterate alcoholic prostitute. Really great role-model you dug up there, Lightspan!

    Western Animation 
  • The Arthur episode "The Great MacGrady" became this when it was revealed the guest star, Lance Armstrong, had taken steroids in his Tour de France runs. Worse yet, this was A Very Special Episode about cancer and the fear of losing Mrs. MacGrady when she was diagnosed with it.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • The Simpsons episode "Lisa the Vegetarian" where Lisa became a vegetarian ended with Lisa learning not to force her beliefs on others. The episode featured a brief guest appearance by Paul and Linda McCartney, but they insisted that they would only do the episode if Lisa's vegetarianism was made permanent rather than the show's usual Status Quo Is God approach.
  • South Park:
    • Parodied in the episode "Up the Down Steroid", where Jimmy participates in the Special Olympics while using steroids, with the medals given out by athletes known to have done so in reality. Jimmy then makes a speech where he comes clean about using steroids, with the camera focusing on said athletes as he says steroids are for pussies.
    • The moral of "Canada on Strike", a metaphor for the 2007 WGA Strike, is that it's unfair for writers to expect a massive profit from streaming services given how new Internet distribution was at the time. Thing is, Trey Parker and Matt Stone had already negotiated with Viacom to receive royalties from streamed episodes of South Park, resulting in massive profits. In fact, the South Park deal is what inspired many people to participate in the strike, as it supported their point that writers could profit off of new media.


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