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Unintentionally Sympathetic

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"When a TV show makes you feel sorry for potential child rapists, you know it's doing something wrong."

A case of Misaimed Fandom. When a character is Unintentionally Sympathetic, it means they get a lot more sympathy from the audience than the writers were expecting. But unlike Draco in Leather Pants, this isn't a case of audience members downplaying an antagonist's flaws because they think the character is sexy, cool, or funny. Rather, something about the narrative itself — the character's motivations, their actions, the others' response to said actions, the framing of the scenario, etc. — does the job for them. On the low end, you have characters the audience still acknowledges is in the wrong, but think the punishment they received outweighs whatever the wrongdoing was. On the high end, not only is the audience wholeheartedly on the side of the wrongdoer, but they've now started hating the "heroes" instead for punishing or opposing the character when said character is either harmless, not at fault for the actual problem, or completely justified in their actions. Plus they donate to charities and help out the community, so where's the part we're supposed to hate?

Possible reasons for unintentional sympathy include:

Remember that different people have different standards, and the author can't necessarily account for every audience member's reaction: some people are going to sympathize with the villain no matter how unspeakably vile you try to make them. In adaptations, especially ones made long after the source material, it's not uncommon to see these characters re-interpreted as outright Tragic Villains. It is also worth noting that the un part of the title is important here. Characters only belong on these lists if they were intended for the audience not to like them. If it is intended for the villain to be sympathetic, you have Cry for the Devil.

Compare with Strawman Has a Point, where a character who is intended to be unsympathetic makes a point that's better than the author's own, and who doesn't necessarily become more sympathetic in the process (although the two may overlap); Karmic Overkill, when audiences feel they deserved punishment but what the narrative treated as fair was excessive; Jerkass Woobie, for characters who were supposed to be seen primarily as Jerkasses but are instead more seen as Woobies by many fans; and Unpopular Popular Character, where a character isn't liked in-universe, but has plenty of fans in the real world. Contrast with its inversion, Unintentionally Unsympathetic, although both are very likely to occur together. For example, if a character is written to be cheered by the viewers but fails to do so, the character who's meant to be unfavored for opposing them tends to be Unintentionally Sympathetic. Both tropes, particularly together, often result in an Esoteric Happy Ending.

Not to be confused with Rooting for the Empire, which is about liking characters in spite of the fact that they're explicitly bad guys, although they can overlap.


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    Comic Books 
  • Chick Tracts:
    • Many Strawman Political. Particularly those who end up in hell when they have not done anything really wrong other than disagreeing with the protagonist. The missionary couple in "Flight 144" are the most infamous example. Most of Chick's Designated Villains are at least given some genuine vices, but these two are genuinely good people and devout Christians themselves, and yet we are supposed to root against them simply because they aren't subscribers to Chick's far-right brand of Christianity. Granted, there's likely intended to be a certain level of tragedy involved when good people go to Hell, but it often seems as though God is being unfair in those cases.
    • Esau. Apparently, not fully appreciating his birthright and trading it for some food when he's (most likely literally) starving is bad enough for God to hate him, even if he's largely a victim of his brother Jacob's trickery. He later reconciles with Jacob, but apparently, this, like the conflict between Isaac and Ishmael, is meant to be a parallel to the Israel-Palestinian conflict in Chick's eyes.note 
  • Rayek in ElfQuest comes off as this in the first book. Yeah, he's an arrogant Jerkass, but Cutter won the trial of wits by openly cheating, and the judge let him skate on a flimsy technicality based on the fact that he didn't know any better. Nothing breeds sympathy like watching a competitor being unfairly mocked because he had the audacity to follow the rules while his opponent was ruled the winner for being ignorant.
    • The other two trials aren't any better. The first trial is a hand-to-hand, blindfolded wrestling match, where Rayek is a hunter for a peaceful village that has no enemies, and Cutter is a seasoned veteran of an endless conflict between humans and elves for his entire life. In the third, Savah lays it out that Rayek's fear of losing is a more difficult one than Cutter's fear of heights to overcome, but she chose a contest for both that only tested a fear of heights and made Cutter go first, meaning that the best Rayek could do in that trial was tie for winner, depending on whether Cutter succeeded or failed.
    • However, it's not really fair to say Cutter cheated in the Trial of Wits. The Trial of Wits required him to retrieve his sword from a crevice where it was out of reach, without using magic. He did it by using Skywise's magnetized lodestone that Skywise had lent him for luck. No magic involved, although it looked enough like magic that most of the onlookers, and Rayek, thought it was magic. But Suntoucher, who was judging the contest, apparently knew enough basic physics to know it was not.
    • Similarly, the Trial of Hand is a Sun Folk game. If anyone had the advantage, it should have been Rayek. It's hardly Cutter's fault that Rayek challenged him to a contest where Cutter's natural advantages were enough to overcome Rayek's experience.
  • Writers have a habit of painting anyone who reacts negatively to The Incredible Hulk's destructive temper as being in the wrong. Thaddeus Ross is the most frequent victim of this but even other superheroes aren't immune:
    • World War Hulk: The decision of the Illuminati (Iron Man, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt, Charles Xavier and Dr. Strange) to shoot the Hulk into outer space is treated as an unforgivable crime and a terrible betrayal of a close friend, ally and hero. Except the impetus for the Illuminati's decision was the Hulk going on a rampage which killed 26 people. This was also a period in which anti-superhero political forces were just LOOKING for an excuse to enact registration laws. Exiling him was being pretty lenient, and arguably doing him a favor since "Leave Hulk alone" is one of the Hulk's catchphrases. That's not even getting into the fact that the Illuminati meant for the Hulk to land on a peaceful uninhabited planet, only for the ship to accidentally crash on Sakaar, something none of them could have predicted. And while the Hulk's Roaring Rampage of Revenge was caused by the ship later exploding and killing his wife, the Illuminati had nothing to do with that, since it was the Hulk's rivals on Sakaar who planted a bomb in the first place. Worse, one of the Hulk's new allies was aware of this and chose to keep it a secret so the Hulk would become the World Breaker.
    • Giant-Size Hulk #1: The story "Green Pieces" has the Champions of Los Angeles (Black Widow, Iceman, Hercules, Darkstar, Ghost Rider and Angel) about to be recommended for freeing the U.S from the mind control of Dr. Doom in an older story when they receive word that Banner is back in town. Knowing what tends to happen when the Hulk is around, they scout the city for him. Angel encounters him first when Banner hulks out in the middle of a traffic jam. The Hulk throws a car door at Angel who has to intercept it from hitting a nearby couple. The other Champions arrive and engage the Hulk until he decides to leave for a hospital and turn over a woman who was in the car to the doctors. This woman turns out to be Jennifer Walters (best known as She-Hulk), Banner's cousin, and after her surgery she explains that Bruce was trying to get her to the hospital because her appendix burst. When Hercules asks why the Hulk did not simply explain his troubles, Jen responds that the Champions never tried to ask him what his problem was. The story tries to make it look like the Champions jumped to conclusions and attacked the Hulk without cause but the Hulk did not make himself look sympathetic by attacking the first person who approached him and endangering nearby civilians. And considering that Jen was in the car when Banner hulked out, it's a miracle she was still alive when he got her to the hospital.
  • Wonder Woman in Infinite Crisis. The story portrays Diana killing Maxwell Lord as cold-blooded murder. However, this ignores that Max had taken control of Superman and was trying to use him to start a war between humans and metahumans by having him kill thousands of innocent people. Diana herself had begged Max to cease his villainous actions, had used the Lasso of Truth to determine that the only way to stop Max was by killing and was doubtful she could survive if she continued to fight Superman. Diana killing Max was less her committing cold-blooded murder and more her being backed into a corner and taking the best option available to her. It's not helped that this was not the first time Diana had killed a villain before but it was the first time she killed one who looked human... which doesn't paint the people angry at her in a good light. Not helping things was the fact that on the verge of defeating Brother Eye, the rogue satellite projected footage of the death scene worldwide in an attempt to drag her reputation down with itself. Some of the heroes that still took her side, like Superman and Batman, were upset for a different reason, regardless of how bad a man is, heroes don't kill, period. Ultimately, the incident causes Wonder Woman to turn right around and convince Batman to spare Alexander Luthor Jr. when the villain puts Nightwing in a coma in what was originally intended to be the hero's death scene.
  • Marvel spent a lot of effort to destroy Cyclops's legacy as a hero during their push of The Inhumans as essentially a replacement for X-Men, which all came to a head during the infamous Terrigen Mists storyline. Essentially, the Inhumans' Terrigen Mists got released into Earth's atmosphere, creating two large clouds that floated around the Earth. Terrigen Mists caused two things to happen. Firstly, they unlock superpowers in any human that has the Inhuman gene, making the Mists important (and even holy) to the Inhumans as a whole. Secondly, they cause infertility and eventually death in anyone who has the mutant X-gene. Over the course of months, many many mutants died from the Mist. Cyclops, in an attempt to save the rest of mutantkind led a mission which ultimately destroyed one of the clouds. In retaliation, Black Bolt and Medusa killed him on the spot. Then somehow, society as a whole came to see Cyclops as a monster for this act, with one character explicitly comparing him to Hitler for destroying the cloud. That's right; the character opposed to gassing innocents to death is compared to Hitler. And it's clear that the audience is supposed to agree, even though the Mists were killing Mutants while the Inhumans didn't really care at all. And to top it off, the Inhumans don't need the Mists to survive. They can live their whole life without ever being exposed, they simply don't develop any powers.
    • The worst part is that Cyclops didn't even do these supposedly-terrible acts; he'd actually died from Terrigen poisoning early on, and the "Cyclops" seen afterwards was secretly just a mental projection by Emma Frost. Even after this revelation becomes public knowledge, other characters still talk badly about Cyclops.
  • There is a very old comic story starring The Spectre back when he was just a normal superhero and not the personification of the wrath of God, which opens with a scientist who receives telepathic messages telling him to build a rocket and follow the source. He does, only to be tricked into freeing the villain, and is rewarded by being immobilized forever by the ray which had trapped the villain. And he isn't freed at the end, since the villain never tells anyone how he escaped. The scientist asks for a reward immediately after freeing him, so he’s meant to come across as an Asshole Victim who only helps people for selfish reasons. However, we see so little of his personality and his punishment is so disproportionate to his vice that readers just feel sorry for the guy.
  • Terra from the Teen Titans storyline The Judas Contract is referred to repeatedly as an insane, unrepentant monster who has no one to blame but herself for her behavior. It's hard to believe this one-sided characterization for her. There are several signs towards Freudian Excuses for her. She had a bad home life, was ran out of her home country, and ultimately met Deathstroke. Their sexual relationship is supposed to make Terra seem gross, however instead many view Deathstroke (who is at least thirty years older than her and an adult) as grooming and manipulating the vulnerable teenager. Not helping is that Beast Boy, the teammate most romantically interested in her, was very much an immature womanizer towards her yet received no consequence for it. Terra being unintentionally sympathetic is a large reason why DC retconned her later on, with a movie and several later cartoons applying outright Adaptational Heroism to make her sympathy more intentional (often with a dose of Adaptational Villainy for Deathstroke's manipulative nature), complete with her making a Heel–Face Turn, though the former two works make use of Redemption Equals Death (outright in the film and depicted as petrification in the Teen Titans cartoon), and the latter cartoon had her survive but her brother Geo-Force replaces her in the villains' schemes. A 2000s issue implies that Deathstroke drugged her into being how she was, which was demonstrated to also have happened to Cassandra Cain, while Rebirth depicts Deathstroke seducing Terra as a Moral Event Horizon.
  • The author of Watchmen was genuinely surprised to find out that everyone loved Rorschach. This is despite the fact that he wrote the character as a paranoid nutcase and exactly the opposite to Alan Moore politically. The most likely explanation is that, 1) even though Rorschach's methods are excessive, they're still cool to watch, 2) Walter Kovacs is very clearly traumatized, and 3) most of the people he fights are even worse than he is.note 
  • Wonder Woman (1942): While it's pretty easy to feel uncomfortable at Wondy having any of her villains locked in a Venus Girdle, Byrna Brilyant (Snowman/Blue Snowman) really gets the short end of the stick. While her initial crime is attacking and holding for ransom an entire community she does so using "blue snow" which does not actually harm any of her victims physically. She's then taken, without trial, to Reformation Island and locked in a Venus Girdle indefinitely alongside serial killers and horrific war criminals. She never falls fully under the Girdle's mind controlling sway so while she has no choice but to follow every order given to her and can tell the thing is forcing her to act happy about it she's horrified and doing everything she can to escape. When she joins Villainy Inc. with new armor she secretly made while imprisoned her anger feels extremely justified.

  • "På låven sitter nissen" is a Norwegian Christmas Song about a nisse who angrily refuses to share his porridge with the rats in the barn, and sics the cat on them when they keep trying to get some. It's not uncommon that people feel sorry for the rats, who just wanted to enjoy a little porridge. It helps that the song presumably takes place near Christmas, so you'd most likely expect to see some generosity.
    • There have in fact been several parodies and "unofficial" sequels where the nisse either gets his comeuppance for his selfishness (he ends up getting a stomachace because he ate too much) or feels bad about his behavior and makes sure to give the rats some food. The most popular one is probably the Danish song "Søren Banjomus" (sung to the tune of the song "Skidamarink"), in which the rats (in this song presented as mice) wait until the nisse and the cat have fallen asleep and then raid the pantry.
  • "Before He Cheats" by Carrie Underwood tells the story about her or her self-insert taking revenge by destroying her boyfriend's truck after he cheats on her...yet, when you look at the lyrics, its clear she has no hard evidence ("Right now, he's probably..." Is a common line starter) and comes off like she's acting violently on her own fear and paranoia while destroying a truck her boyfriend clearly has a fondness for.

  • Modern audiences usually view most of the gods of Classical Mythology as Jerkass Gods. Both of the gods often viewed as sympathetic by modern audiences, namely Hades and Hephaestus, were The Scrappy to the Ancient Greeks. Hades was so hated and feared that there were no temples officially named for him, Greeks would avoid speaking his name, and they'd turn away if they ever had to make offerings towards him. Why? Because he's the ruler of the underworld, the place where the dead go, and the Greeks didn't like dying. Hephaestus was hated simply because... he was an ugly cripple (the Greeks were big believers in Beauty Equals Goodness). Poor guy.
    • Not limited to modern times: Ares was originally one of three gods of war, the others being his sisters Enyo (who rarely got a big role) and Athena (who was the goddess of war strategy in particular). Of the two more well-known gods, Athena was the skilled general and protector, and Ares was a slavering bloodthirsty madman that just wanted to see the world burn... and he usually lost when the two came into conflict. In fact, he usually lost in basically any interaction with any other god, and occasionally with mortals. However, the Romans later came to identify Ares with their own god Mars who had both aspects in his portfolio, along with being the protector of soldiers, farmers, and Rome itself (among many other things). This caused them to see the character in a much more positive light.
  • Plenty in The Bible, due to Values Dissonance.
    • Ishmael and his mother Hagar are treated badly by Sarah because Ishmael is Abraham's bastard son, despite his conception having been Sarah's idea in the first place, and because Hagar rubbed her pregnancy in Sarah's face. Because their presence caused tension in the community, they are forced to leave. Fortunately, they are not forsaken by everyone, and God helps them both survive in the wilderness.
    • Leah, Rachel's older sister, is forced to marry a man she knows does not love her (her father tricked Jacob into marrying her instead of Rachel, who Jacob really loved, because of a custom that the oldest daughter must be married first) and is forever The Un-Favourite, despite giving Jacob six sons and one daughter as opposed to Rachel's two (the other four sons were the children of Leah and Rachel's handmaids). None of this is her fault, and she can come across very sympathetically to modern audiences. Though, to be fair, God also sympathized with her and made sure she had kids while Rachel was barren to try to get Jacob to treat her better. Not only that, but two of her sons were Judah and Levi—the fathers of the Royal and Priestly tribes, respectively.
    • Famously, Judas Iscariot given how he almost immediately regretted his betrayal of Jesus to the point of hanging himself which the narrative plays as a shameful end rather than an Alas, Poor Villain. It doesn't help that his betrayal was part of God's plan of salvation, that the Gospel of John has Jesus telling him "What you are about to do, do quickly" or that the Gospel of Luke implies that he was possessed by the Devil yet verses like Mark 14:21 still implies that he went to Hell after his death.
  • For that matter, in modern religions, there are people with genuine (and sometimes literal) Sympathy for the Devil. This may actually have some roots in earlier mythologies. In Classical Mythology, Prometheus was a hero who challenged the gods and stole fire (forbidden knowledge) for humanity and in effect allowed humanity to progress beyond what the gods would have us do. As a result, Prometheus was punished by the gods for all eternity. Many parallels exist in the story of the devil, but with the obvious exception that he's not supposed to be viewed as the hero.
    • Hell, there's an entire sub set of Christianity that operates on this belief referred to as Gnosticism, that believes that there are in fact two gods, the evil Demiurge that created the world and the true god Aeon that blessed man with knowledge of right and wrong with the serpent as his avatar.
    • Doesn't really help that, depending on which of the Abrahamic Religions you believe in, The Devil's role can change entirely and the context for why he's doing things changes along with it. For example, Muslims seem to lean towards him being DELIBERATELY placed in his position and is actually a loyal servant (in that his job is to tempt humans and punish the wicked, and he obeys this, and thus is obeying the laws set down by God), and the Bible is full of parts where the Jews themselves had BAD short-term attention spans when it came down to worshipping God - despite everything - and would often go off and worship some other pagan deity instead, the most infamous case of this being Moses (he was only gone for A SINGLE DAY on the mountain before the rampant paganism over the golden bull started spreading).
    • Regardless of the form of Satanism, in Satanism Satan is seen as the original free thinker, and thus respected and sometimes revered by Satanists as the conceptual idea of rebellion, disobedience and free-thinking. Some forms of Satanism believe in a literal Satan, and take the viewpoint that Satan is a Hero with Bad Publicity fighting against the demands of a cruel, selfish and egotistical God thanks to Yahweh's control of the narrative and the fact that The Bible really doesn't refute these views of Yahweh. Alternatively, atheistic Satanists don't believe in a literal Satan (because that inherently would require a God), but take on the moniker and honor the conceptual Satan as the metaphorical spirit of rebellion and free-thinking and take the term Satanist either out of this honor, because they subscribe to the philosophies of a Satanic "faith" or just to troll those they see as enemies of these ideals. This philosophy's most public appearance can be seen in the activism of the Satanic Temple, who promote liberty, tolerance and rationalism above all else (which has led to everything from demanding Baphomet statues when courts erect the Ten Commandments under freedom of religion laws, fundraising for scientific activism, a Toys for Tots type program, to helping out in free speech lawsuits and doing a "Pink Mass" over the then-leader of the Westboro Baptist Church Fred Phelps's mother's grave to turn her gay in the afterlife because Phelps made it clear that he subscribed to a Clap Your Hands If You Believe mindset). The now all but defunct Church of Satan (the classic Satanism from the 1960s founded by Anton LaVey and originally espoused in The Satanic Bible) promoted an ideology very similar to Libertarianism, with self-interest being the number one ideal, but generally had more restrictions on the behavior that was acceptable in the name of this.
    • Later Greek writers had a similar reaction to Prometheus, seeing him as much more heroic than the original tellers intended. Thus in later versions of the tale he's eventually rescued from his torment by Heracles, and Athens even had a shrine to him.
  • The part where Zhu Bajie is recruited to join the pilgrims in the Journey to the West can be uncomfortable to modern and/or Western audiences, because the crux of the incident is Sun Wukong being hired by Zhu Bajie's father-in-law to drive him away or kill him because "it's undignified to have a monster for a son-in-law". Even though, as the man admits, Zhu Bajie's superhuman strength and stamina has only made the farm prosper, as the disgraced spirit can do the work of dozens of men at a time. The worst that can be said of Zhu Bajie's behavior is that he will not let his wife speak to her parents, and even that could be cast as him punishing them for their Fantastic Racism. Because Xuanzang agrees with the man, Son Wukong promptly beats Zhu Bajie to a pulp and would have killed him had Zhu Bajie not revealed he was one of the redeemed monsters that Xuanzang was supposed to take with him on the pilgrimage for protection. It's telling that many adaptations try to make Zhu Bajie less sympathetic; Monkey portrays him as becoming a drunken wastrel after his marriage and this is why his in-laws want him gone, whilst his counterpart in the early arcs of Dragon Ball Oolong is a pervert and thief who was introduced abusing his shapechanging powers to bully innocent villagers.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Big Nate:
    • Mrs. Godfrey is depicted as an often Sadist Teacher who often targets and is harsh with Nate, but Nate often does things that would seem just as bad to her when looked at from her perspective, such as drawing mean cartoons and blatantly disrespecting her in front of class.
    • Big Nate himself as the strips are meant to show him as a jerk who deserves everything bad that comes to him, but the comics end up presenting it as a Kafka Komedy with Nate continuously being manhandled by Kim with her suffering no consequences, his friends being toxic and no better than his enemies, and even random background characters beating on Nate for petty reasons.
  • Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes is meant to be a Bratty Half-Pint, but the things that his Unintentionally Unsympathetic parents, Hobbes, and Susie can sometimes do in retaliation tend to be rather nasty as well, and sometimes he doesn't even do anything wrong but still gets screwed over. For example, one storyline has him asking Hobbes to tie him to a chair so that he can escape, dubbing himself "the Great Calvini". And then his mom calls him down for dinner. Calvin finds himself unable to escape, and Hobbes is no help at all, then proceeds to just stand there reading Calvin's cub scout manual and taking his sweet time while Calvin begs him to find the part about knots and untie him. As if that wasn't enough, Hobbes acts as though he's not at fault in the slightest. Eventually, Calvin's dad walks in and sees Calvin tied up, and berates him for somehow getting himself tied to a chair (granted, Hobbes' Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane nature means Calvin's dad has no reason to think that the stuffed animal did it, but still). The storyline ends with Hobbes mocking Calvin as the boy angrily rubs his sore rear end, the implication apparently being that his father spanked him. It's really hard to blame Calvin for being ticked off.
  • Therese, Anthony's ex-wife in For Better or for Worse, is portrayed as being a needlessly vindictive harpy toward Liz, openly expressing discomfort whenever Anthony even tries to speak to her for a few minutes. Her rudeness seems bad, except... well, it's obvious to anyone reading between the lines that there's still latent attraction between the two, which is confirmed when Anthony asks Liz to "wait for him" when the marriage seems to be going south. Unusual among examples in that Lynn Johnston later devotes a few weeks to strips explicitly making her sympathetic — it's in these that we find out that Anthony and her parents pressured her into having a child when she really didn't want one, and that she had suffered from post-partum depression after the birth.
    • Note that the above was revealed by Anthony while begging Liz to wait for him — he even explains that he made false promises to Therese so she'd have his child, assuming having a baby would make her fall into line. He thinks this makes him more sympathetic.
    • As The Un-Favourite, April also falls into this. Supposedly a rebellious teen, she constantly gets the short end of the stick and is supposed to be grateful for it. One week-long arc involves April not immediately going downstairs when Elly announces that dinner is ready. Is she playing video games or chatting with her friends? Looking at Internet porn? Shooting heroin? Nope - she's finishing her homework. Elly reacts like this is the end of the world and sends John to loom threateningly over April until she comes down and apologizes.
  • Cobra in Rip Haywire. It's highly likely the only reason she's evil is because people hate her and mistreat her. It's possible that she wouldn't be so bad if she was treated with more respect.

  • In The Men from the Ministry, the General Assistance Department's boss Sir Gregory is a Bad Boss to the core, being a mean and unnecessarily cruel as well as occasionally violent towards his underlings. However the General Assistance Department is also the most incompetent office in the whole Whitehall, so his anger is often more than justified.

    Tabletop Games 
  • A recurring problem for orcs, goblins, kobolds, and other evil races in Dungeons & Dragons is that they can end up being this. Many of these races live in caves and wastelands and swamps, with limited technology and magic and no stable society, making their habits of raiding and conquering seem less like brutality and more like survival. They hate Good races, sure, but the Good races hate them right back. It's hard not to look at them and see an oppressed minority driven to extremes by circumstance, even in the cases where the "good guys" aren't wiping them out for the sake of XP. Add in decades of players mining "good member of an evil race" for drama with their Monster Adventurers, and feats and prestige classes and abilities dedicated to murdering those races start to look pretty suspect. Because of the Values Dissonance, material released after the 80s has begun rolling with the sympathy, showing these races with detailed cultures and personal values on their own terms - even if the average member isn't someone you'd want to have a drink with, it doesn't excuse genocide.
    • That said, it's not always rolled with; it heavily depends on the setting being used as a base and the group in question as well as the sourcebook in question. The Forgotten Realms based "Volo's Guide to Monsters" portrays kobolds in a very sympathetic light and fleshes out orcs a fair bit, but has the least sympathetic portrayal of gnolls of virtually any edition to date.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
  • In Witch Girls Adventures, the organization Malleus Maleficarum are supposed to be a Fantastic Racism murder-cult who have dedicated their lives to the complete extermination of all Witches, even small children — the power can awaken in 6 year olds at the youngest. The problem is that, thanks to the source material's extremely Unintentionally Unsympathetic portrayal of witches, killing them all actually comes off as the most rational thing to do.

  • It's really, really hard not to be sympathetic to Harry Beaton in Brigadoon, given that all he wants to do is leave a village where he is utterly miserable - he can't marry the girl he loves, and he can't go to seek a better life elsewhere - and in which he has been essentially imprisoned for all eternity without his consent.
  • In 2018, Christiano Chiarot viewed Carmen as this, misinterpreting the applause after the opera's grim finale as the audience approving of it. For context, Carmen is a Hot Gypsy Woman who loves and leaves men. Don José, a Nice Guy soldier, falls in love with her, only to become a Crazy Jealous Guy because he's too attached to her. Carmen doesn't like that and resolves to leave Don José. Towards the end of the opera, she falls in love with a laid-back matador named Escamillo, much to Don José's chagrin. When Don José confronts her for it, Carmen defiantly refuses to return to him! In the end, she is killed by Don José. By 2018, in the context of the #MeToo movement, Chiarot mistakenly believed that the audience's praise of the singer's art was approval of Domestic Abuse, so he created a controversial production that ended with Carmen shooting Don José, who in turn is vilified as a domestic abuser from the start.
  • In Les Misérables Javert is presented as being, well, an Inspector Javert when he refuses to let our hero go look after Cosette, instead insisting that Valjean has to come with him now. Of course, Valjean has already tried to escape prison (multiple times) and did violate the terms of his parole, so it's hardly surprising that Javert refuses the request.
  • Shylock from The Merchant of Venice to modern readers, who are much more prone to sympathize with an oppressed Jew getting some payback on an antisemitic society and see his final fate—losing most of his wealth as a result of the court's judgment against him and his daughter stealing from him, and being forced to convert to Christianity—as quite tragic. While Shakespeare gave Shylock some sympathetic motivation, he very possibly did not intend the audience to root for him. Shylock is, after all, a heathen who wants to murder a Christian over injured pride.
    • In modern productions, he is often intentionally portrayed as sympathetic and sometimes even as the victim.
    • There are those who believe that Shakespeare may have intended exactly this interpretation, having written the play as a veiled attack on anti-Jewish bigotry.
    • One possible source of inspiration theorized is Rodrigo Lopez, Portuguese physician to Queen Elizabeth who had Jewish ancestry (he left Portugal after the Inquisition had accused him of secretly practicing Judaism). He was then accused of treason (with confessions by his supposed accomplices, plus Lopez himself, gained by torture or the threat), convicted and executed. Anti-semitism, unsurprisingly, played a large role in this. Even so, Lopez declared his love for Christ before dying, only to be mocked by the onlookers. Queen Elizabeth herself appears to have had doubts about his guilt, because she delayed signing his death warrant for three months, and returned for his family nearly all of his estate (the crown kept it all usually in treason cases). Since The Merchant Of Venice was written only a couple years later, the inspiration is plausible, and even that Shakespeare intended for some sympathy towards Shylock (he had villains similar to this in other plays after all). He's allowed to deliver a long speech denouncing anti-semitism and basically says it's this treatment which induced his desire for vengeance, supporting the idea of intended sympathy.
  • In the original run of Miss Saigon, Kim's fiancee Thuy is portrayed as a violent Jerkass who, among other things, attempts to murder Kim's part-American infant boy who she had with the soldier Chris. On the other hand, Thuy REALLY gets the short end of the stick. He's a Vietnamese guerrilla fighter who hasn't seen his fiancee in a long time because of said war, and since he and Kim are also related, NEITHER of them have any family left. Combined with how Kim is one of many young women who had mixed-race children with departed soldiers, and the revival's portrayal of Thuy as much more sympathetic than the original run made him, it's easy to wonder if Thuy's actions are actually a result of untreated PTSD.
  • My Fair Lady: When it was first made, Eliza Doolittle came across as much more unacceptably uncouth to theater-goers, and therefore just as bad as Henry Higgins. But nowadays, it's getting more and more common to see Eliza as being put down by Henry the misogynistic, snobbish villain. Basically, they're both meant to be a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, but current values don't look favorably on characters like Higgins.
  • The Phantom of the Opera: Carlotta is hated by lot of fandom, just like intended, but some fans have pointed out that she is harassed and physically attacked by the Phantom, then lashes verbally Christine - falsely but genuinely thinking that Christine is in cahoots with her tormentor - and is then "punished" for this crime.
  • In Take Me Out, a play about Major League Baseball player Darren coming out as gay, the main antagonist is Shane, a racist, homophobic teammate who's an expy of John Rocker, a player who came under fire for making blatantly bigoted comments in a Sports Illustrated interview in 1998. However, the play exaggerates Shane's "dumb hick" personality to such an extent that he instead comes off as autistic: withdrawn and asocial even when directly approached, excelling at one specific skill and nothing else, having certain rituals that he must perform on game days, and a complete lack of social grace. When Shane leads the team to victory, he's interviewed by the press and he makes a comment about being on a team with "coloreds, spics, and showering with a faggot." This is based on John Rocker's comments about New York City, but whereas Rocker knew exactly what he was saying, Shane's odd behaviors make him sound less like a bigot and more like someone on the spectrum who genuinely didn't realize the impact of his words due to his upbringing, especially since he never directly harasses Darren or the other teammates. When Shane returns to the team after getting suspended, it's hard not to feel sorry for him when he finally reaches out and begs someone to talk to him (which no one does because they all hate him). And when Darren angrily confronts Shane in the shower and plants a kiss on him, the intention was to "freak out the redneck," but instead it seemed more like sexually assaulting a mentally-challenged person. Shane had every reason to hate him after that.
  • Many fans of the musical Wicked think of the Wizard as sympathetic and think that Madame Morrible is the real villain. It's not entirely without reason; his songs are entirely about how he wants to make people, including Elphaba, happy, and he's genuinely heartbroken when it's revealed that he was Elphaba's father. Plus, his Fantastic Racism towards the animals is actually a Genghis Gambit. Therefore, it's hard to determine if he even qualifies here and was actually meant to be sympathetic despite his antagonist status.

    Web Animation 
  • GoAnimate:
    • The troublemakers in the infamous "X Gets Grounded (or otherwise punished)" videos made with the program. While one can't deny that many of these troublemakers have it coming, in other cases the punishment is too disproportionate. A character getting grounded for an absurdly long time over doing something like hitting their schoolteacher, breaking a car, or turning their peers into Kirby characters could still be funny. A character being executed for saying something stupid or causing a mess on accident? Not so much.
    • Some fairly more specific examples would be anyone who is a "baby show" character such as Caillou or Dora the Explorer. Yes, they have taken levels in Jerkass, and yes, oftentimes they truly have their groundings coming. But in some videos, the Disproportionate Retribution that the "Grounded" videos are famous for gets too disproportionate, if it isn't just extremely mean-spirited towards Caillou and others of his ilk. In still other videos, everyone in the world, including their own families, hate their guts just for existing and will be all to happy to punish or even kill them for the pettiest of slights. Add the fact that some users' interpretations of their parents, family, and friends are just as jerkish as them, if not worse, and it makes sense why Caillou and Dora are considered Jerkass Woobies to some facets of the fandom (both ironic and non-ironic).
    • Macusoper, while he does have a bit of a temper problem, he frequently suffers back luck, nobody listens to him, and he has an abusive dad, so it's easy to see why he has a temper problem in the first place.
  • Happy Tree Friends:
  • Terrible Writing Advice: The "Grimdark" episode has a rare In-Universe example of this. The villain is supposed to come across as worse than the hero, but he ends up coming across as more sympathetic than him, as the villain was actually given some depth and redeeming qualities. Naturally, the author should respond by making the villain a Hate Sink who randomly crosses the Moral Event Horizon.

    Web Video