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While Rome Burns

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Because any disaster needs a little ambient music.

"The earth died screaming
While I lay dreaming
Dreaming of you."
Tom Waits, "Earth Died Screaming" from the album Bone Machine

Something awful is happening. The world is ending, the economy collapsed, there's an earthquake, and rioting in the streets is commonplace. Everyone's in a panic — except this person.

They're still reading a book, listening to music, browsing this site, whatever. Maybe they just don't care. They might have seen the disaster coming, and having taken every precaution and preparation beforehand, can now relax while everyone who put it off runs around like headless chickens. Perhaps they approve of what's going on, or even masterminded it and are letting their Evil Plan come to fruition. On the other hand, maybe they figure that if they're going to die, they might as well go out with quiet dignity rather than in a panic or with Rage Against the Heavens. If combined with Dissonant Serenity it might have heroic or stoic overtones.

The trope is named after Roman Emperor Nero, who is purported to have been singing and playing his lyre (not what we call the "fiddle" despite Pop-Cultural Osmosis) while Rome was ravaged by a massive fire (though there are no detailed accounts of the fire from contemporary historians, thus there is debate about how true that is), and as such implies an authority ignoring the pleas of its subjects, or simply not caring enough, although it has broadened to mean simply carrying on as normal when the whole world falls to pieces around you.

Compare with Holding Out for a Hero, Refusal of the Call, Achilles in His Tent, Cosy Catastrophe, Slept Through the Apocalypse, and Strolling Through the Chaos. If the survivor seems to be actively enjoying the destruction, see Dancin' in the Ruins and Conducting the Carnage. If it's more an example of heroically attempting to avoid letting nasty situations get you down, it's probably Screw the War, We're Partying. If someone tells them This Is No Time for Knitting, whatever they're doing is likely an attempt to save the day. Not to be confused with Stiff Upper Lip, where people aren't in denial of the problems around them. Opposite of sorts of Watching Troy Burn. Contrast Crying Wolf and Mistaken for Apocalypse. See Watch the World Die, while this is about not caring the world is ending, that trope is watching it from a safe vantage point. Compare Last Day to Live.


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  • Hungry Days: In "Finale", a young couple confesses and gets together while multiple apocalyptic catastrophies blow the city around them apart. Right when they've made it official, a meteor descends behind them to wipe them out.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Played straight in One Piece. Sabo hears a rumor that the slums of his city will burn from a planned arson fire and thousands of citizens will burn. Sabo decides to go around the upper-class area of the city to investigate. He sees that the rich nobles are calm and happy, so concludes that the fire won't be happening, until the nobles calmly mention it. Sabo is confused, wondering why no one is in a panic like he is. He talks with a wealthy elder, who confirms that the slums will burn and people will die, but the nobles don't care. In fact, some nobles want the poor to die because 'they don't deserve to live if they aren't rich'. The old man actually warns Sabo not to save the citizens.
  • In Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School, at the end of the Despair Arc, a prequel for Danganronpa. The Tragedy is set into motion, causing worldwide devastation, and all members of the Reserve Course are brainwashed into commuting suicide, all while the ones responsible watch from afar and deem it be a pleasurable experience.
  • In X/1999, Seishiro and Fuuma stroll through Nakano Sun Plaza eating ice cream and chatting amiably. It all seems well and good until you realize that as they're doing this they're actively destroying the place.
  • Dragon Ball Z: Frieza's destruction of Planet Vegeta, laughing maniacally and declaring it a great fireworks show.
  • Kasumi Tendo, of Ranma ˝, is known for doing this as various crazy things happen in her house. Honestly, who can blame her? Considering the commonplace shenaigans of their lives, she may well have reached the point where the stability of getting dinner ready after the rampaging Interpretive Dance Ninja is dealt with was comforting. Or she's just cool like that.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion:
    • As the latest powerful Angel draws close to bringing about the Third Impact and the annihilation of humanity, Kaji Ryoji is found watering his watermelon garden. He explains that since he can't pilot an Eva, there's nothing he can do to make a difference, so he might as well spend his final moments calmly doing something he enjoys.
    • In Rebuild 2.22, in the end, while Shinji is causing Near-Third Impact, Kaji and Mari just take it easy while everyone else is scared out of their minds. Later, at the end of Rebuild 3.33, Mari is sitting around in Unit-08's entry plug, drinking tea while Unit-13 is causing the Fourth Impact.
  • In Highlander: The Search for Vengeance, Marcus does this a LOT. He actually nearly replicates the Nero myth in one flashback as he's painting a landscape of Rome... While the barbarians are in the middle of sacking it. He actually justifies his dissonance to Colin, who joined the barbarians for revenge: to Marcus, an experienced Immortal, it doesn't matter if his current empire fails. To him, the real Rome is an ideal in his head, and as long as he's alive, he has plenty of time to join one autocracy or another until he can fashion his utopian empire.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Golden Wind: Cioccolata uses his Stand, Green Day, to unleash a deadly mold all over the city of Rome, killing a handful of civilians. Amidst the ensuring chaos, all he does is casually talk about how the night is a perfect time for a date at the coliseum.
    • JoJolion: Tooru cheerfully listens to music while he sends Wonder of U to the Higashikata estate to attack the family with the flow of Calamity. Even while Yasuho is crawling in the yard begging for someone to help her.
  • Happens in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED Destiny as fragments of Junius Seven bombard the Earth and massive destruction is being shown, Lacus Clyne sings a gentle song to calm some kids in her shelter, also providing epic Soundtrack Dissonance.
  • In Future War 198X, Laura still sits behind the piano at the underground jazz bar in Tokyo after hearing that enemy jets are inbound, playing a mournful tune while thinking of Wataru. Michael heartbrokenly sings "Eidelweiss" to himself while looking at the white flower his dead girlfriend once wore in her hair after blasting the nuclear warhead and shaking the whole war.
  • Toward the end of Speed Grapher, Suitengu seals up a majority of members into the Roppongi club with intent to demolish it, if the JSDF doesn't do it first. Relatively few of them are shaking at the barred entrance in panic while most continue indulging in Hookers and Blow.
  • Sekirei has Natsuo Ichinomia, who is the Ashikabi of the feared Disciplinary Squad, combine this trope with Dissonant Serenity as he explains key info to Minato while a battle rages around them. They are almost killed and he resumes the conversation as if nothing is happening. None of the chaos caused by Sekirei Plan bothers him because he no longer cares what happens to him or the world.
  • In Red River (1995), one of Nakia's plans to discredit Yuri involved hiring a pretty peasant girl to pretend to be her. Said peasant girl proceeded to lounge around in luxurious clothing, demand high-class foods and constant entertainment, and basically make life hell for everyone waiting on her, causing them to think "Ishtar" was just another spoiled noblewoman. As she performed this charade, meanwhile, most of the people outside her palace were dying of a plague. In a later chapter, Yuri is none too impressed to find a fortress she broke into was basically having an orgy while they were being invaded.
  • Near the end of Mahoromatic, it's quite clear that something calamitous is going to happen to the planet. However, most people just calmly go throughout their day, with one woman proclaiming happily she's getting the ingredients to cook her husband's favorite dinner.
  • While Millennium reduces London to a corpse filled, smoldering wreck in Hellsing Ultimate, The Major nonchalantly enjoy a nice dinner in his airship.
  • Played for Laughs in Kill la Kill. Mako gets forcibly taken to Osaka to help with the battle there, but winds up going sightseeing as the city descends into ridiculous amounts of chaos.

    Comic Books 
  • A rather chilling scene in The DCU miniseries 52: In Superman's absence (due to power failure), Lex Luthor has started a program to give ordinary people superpowers, and soon Metropolis is swarming with self-styled superheroes. But Luthor becomes obsessed with a new hero, Supernova, and to call him out, on the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve, during a huge rally for the new "heroes," he switches their powers off. Luthor spends the next few moments waiting for Supernova's arrival chatting casually on a cell phone as hundreds of helpless people fall out of the sky and onto the pavement. The funniest part is when one of them is about to fall on top of him while he's on the phone. He excuses himself, walks out of the spot and continues talking as the guy plummets just behind him.
  • Watchmen: while millions of people are dying from a monster in downtown New York, Ozymandias, its creator, enjoys a nice dinner. The arrival of the heroes hardly deters him.
  • Has shown up in several of the tie-in comics to Secret Wars (2015):
    • In The Punisher: Last Days, during the Final Incursion, the Kingpin decides to invite a bunch of other supervillains to drink with him and quietly watch all their various enemies die on the frontlines of the cosmic war before they themselves are wiped from existence. Given the comicbook that this happens in, no prize for guessing that Frank Castle ruins the party by killing the attendees.
    • In Wolverines, upon finding out that plan she was following from her dead lover Destiny was supposed to revive Wolverine, and not Destiny herself, Mystique throws a fit and refuses to complete the plan, deciding she would rather let the entire universe be destroyed if it meant reviving Wolverine instead of Destiny.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Galactus Trilogy: Sure, Gah Lak Tus may have fired a missile at 99% of light speed directly to earth, but did anyone remembered to put some vodka on Tony's armor?
    • The Ultimates: Earth is about to blow up, but Herr Kleiser does not care. All he wants, all he wanted since WWII, is to best Captain America and have him say "I surrender, Herr Kleiser. Make it quick". Good luck with that.

    Fan Works 
  • Zigzagged in Shadowchasers (Cyber Commander) The fic takes place in Neo Domino City, chronologically at the same time the Dark Signer Arc of the canon series. Right after the Arcadia Building is destroyed by the Earthbound Gods, Mistle and all the Neo Domino Shadowchasers except Shichiro are watching old episodes of The Three Stooges on basic cable. (And when Shichiro tells them how foolish it is, Ember says, "Not only that, it's an episode with Shemp in it." However, it quickly made apparent that they're all very frightened and are doing it to stay calm.
  • In The Weaver Option as the Imperium and daemons devastate Commorragh, a heavily-injured Asbrudael Vect climbs the tallest tower still standing and enjoys a bottle of wine while watching the destruction.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre Dame has an almost literal version of this; "while Paris burns" to be precise. Frollo threatens to burn down all of Paris and manages to burn down a considerable portion of it, but while Quasimodo and the gargoyles are looking out at the fire, they're discussing (and eventually singing about) whether or not Quasimodo might have a chance with Esmeralda after all.
    Hugo: Paris, the city of lovers, is glowing this evening. True, that's because it's on fire but still, there's l'amour.
  • At the end of Invader Zim: Enter the Florpus, The Tallest's words are of premature and stubbornly placed celebration as they fly headlong into the Florpus hole, dooming their entire race and them for presumably eternity.
  • The Lion King (1994): Under Scar's terrible reign, the Pridelands become a barren hellhole and everyone under his command is facing starvation. Even Scar's hyena minions grudgingly acknowledge that while Mufasa didn't like them, at least he was a far more competent ruler than his younger brother. Scar is fully prepared to let everyone drop dead instead of allowing them to leave all for the sake of preserving his hold on power, and if that weren't enough, the Pridelands actually do burn as a violent storm sets fire to the long-dead savannah surrounding his domain, and he isn't the least bit fazed by it as he prepares to murder Simba. In a nutshell, this trope essentially deconstructs Scar's bratty "I'm the king, I can do whatever I want" attitude, as he proved to be an incompetent king, and he even refuses to acknowledge for his disastrous reign out of pride. As a result, all of his subjects, including his hyena lackeys, despise him for this reason.
  • It's small and easy to miss, but in Meet the Robinsons, Lizzy can be seen smiling evilly as she watches the chaos that ensues when Lewis's invention malfunctions.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman Begins: A couple instances:
    • When the Red Triangle gang is doing their initial rage of terror, Batman is quite calm walking through the carnage as are some of the people in the background.
  • Batman trying to appeal to Catwoman at the end of the woman to put down the taser has this effect, considering radioactive waste is spewing all around the sewer, mayhem is going on outside, and the Penguin is about to croak.
  • Batman Forever: Considering Edward Nygma hasn't been publicly exposed as the Riddler, there's the appearance that he's doing this when his launch party is invaded by Two-Face and his goons.
  • Orphans of the Storm: The Chevalier, being the Only Sane Man in the French aristocracy, is well aware that The French Revolution is coming, and makes remarks to that effect at a debauched upper-class party.
    "But enjoy our privileges while we can—there is but a short time left."
  • Quo Vadis: Pictured above is a poster from the 1913 Italian Film of the Book. In the more recent 2001 Polish version, Nero is an Extra Large Ham.
  • In the The War of the Worlds remake, Tom Cruise's neighborhood mechanic ignores all the ominous signs of the impending alien invasion in order to rush-fix a Dodge minivan. He keeps ignoring the aliens while Tom Cruise steals that same minivan, up until they shoot him in the back with the death ray.
  • Jenny from the film Deep Impact ends up spending her time at home with her dad as a huge comet approaches the Earth. A minute later, as a huge wave is destroying New York, we see a man on a park bench quietly reading a newspaper just before he's swept away. One wonders what could have possibly been in the newspaper.
  • The Australians in the On the Beach while expecting the lethal radioactive clouds to arrive.
  • Titanic (1997): The ship's architect Thomas Andrews, bandleader Wallace Hartley, and Captain Edward John Smith. Andrews stands in the first class lounge, calmly watching the clock tick away, Hartley and his band are playing a hymn, and Captain Smith remains at his post on the bridge.
  • The two Dawn of the Dead movies are effectively this, they hide away in their own little paradise while the rest of the world is destroyed by the zombies.
    • In the 2004 remake a man starves to death just across the road while they're making lattes. They do try to send him food, they just fail miserably and eventually the entire mall is overrun with zombies.
    • The original has another great example with the "Hunting Parties". While in its predecessor they are doing an effective, if indiscriminate job of clearing the countryside, by this point it is evident that they are likely going to fail, so what we see is a bunch of soldiers, cops, and assorted rednecks grilling, getting drunk, and doing their damnedest to enjoy their last hours of life.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005), there is an old lady sitting at the street side table oblivious to or uninterested in what's going on around her while the world is being destroyed. This is Douglas Adams's mother. The director didn't give any acting directions to her or anybody else in the scene for what they were supposed to do, to simulate chaos, so she just sat there reading a newspaper.
  • Con Air depicts the increasingly chaotic results of a bunch of convicts hijacking a prison transport plane. Toward the climax, while the plane is rapidly descending on the improvised landing strip in Las Vegas and the surviving passengers flail about in a state of panic, Steve Buscemi's character sits unperturbed in his usual seat, cradling a Ken doll and singing "He's Got the Whole World In His Hands."
  • Der Untergang, or Downfall, features quite a few scenes of drunken revelry as high-ranking members of the Nazi party await the inevitable as the Allies close in on Berlin. In one scene, a dance party comes to a halt when an artillery shell blasts down a wall and fills the room with dust and smoke.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, there is a scene where British officers calmly go about their business as African aboriginal warriors brutally slaughter the troops in camp.
  • In Fight Club the ending scene features the main character kissing his romantic interest while watching various skyscrapers explode and collapse to the ground throughout the city.
    Narrator: You met me at a very weird point in my life.
  • Metropolis: The False Maria/Machine Woman eggs on the partygoers of Yoshiwara to take their revelry out into the streets after the power to the city goes out, and all of them blindly follow along, unaware their idol also just staged a workers' revolt underneath the city, and destroyed the power generators to begin with.
    "Let's all watch the world go to the devil."
  • Nicholas and Alexandra: Prince Yusupov sees more clearly than most people in Tsarist Russia that the good times (for nobles, anyway) are going to end real soon, but that's not going to stop him from partying.
    Yusupov: You ministers never cease to amaze me. You think you are in control, but you are going to be swept away just like us princes. I am throwing a little soiree on Thursday, why not come? I cannot stop the revolution, but until it comes, let us have some fun. Even if it only for a few more days.
  • During the sequence in Superman II when Superman and the Kryptonian villains are destroying half of Metropolis in the wake of their fight there is a crazed hobo in a telephone booth who laughs and talks to no one on the other end while the booth gets blown sideways down the street by super breath.
  • Batman Returns: As his Red Triangle Gang riots in the streets mere blocks away, Gotham City mayoral candidate Oswald Cobblepot (a.k.a. The Penguin) goes for a stroll in Gotham Plaza. Batman eventually makes his way to the plaza and demands to know what Oswald is up to. "Touring the riot scene. Gravely assessing the devastation," Oswald replies with mock seriousness.
  • Shaun of the Dead plays it for laughs. The protagonists are too inattentive to notice the zombie apocalypse has already started around them.
  • In Mean Girls, after the female population of the school has descended into madness over the Burn Book, Regina George stands at the top of the stairs and admires her handiwork as people run past and debris flies through the shot.
  • In Fish Story, a comet is on a direct collision course with earth. The full effect is somewhere from Societal Collapse to Total Extinction on a planetary scale. The streets are abandoned, people having fled to higher ground. On the other hand, there's a record store that isn't going to open itself, and so the proprietor goes about business as usual, insistent that everything will be fine. He's right.
  • The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961). Water rationing is imposed as the Earth hurls toward the Sun. At one point, the protagonist has to fight his way through a street full of teenagers high on drugs having a water fight. He eventually makes his way to the apartment of his Love Interest, and they spend more quiet time together.
  • Carry On Up the Khyber: When the Governor learns that the Residency is about to be attacked, he resolves to do nothing and instead holds a black tie dinner. The officers and ladies sit down to a fine dinner as the Residency is being shelled around them, completely ignoring the chaos going on. Only the chaplain Brother Belcher, who is the Only Sane Man, comments on the destruction or takes any precautions.
  • The Addams Family: At the start of the Mamushka scene, Gomez proudly announces, among other things, "we danced the Mamushka while Nero fiddled".
  • Lola Montes: King Ludwig is lounging around in his castle reading scenes from Hamlet to Lola while revolution is breaking out in Bavaria and rioters are rampaging in the streets outside. Finally his courtiers manage to get him to get up and flee for safety.

  • In Altina the Sword Princess, Johaprecia had the Emperor host a party with wild abandon while a war was going on just outside, and convinced the Emperor and a second concubine of indeterminite gender to simply not care. It gets her killed.
  • As depicted in A Tale of Two Cities, Madam Defarge and the rest of the tricoteuses sit beside the guillotine and knit furiously while people are executed to show support for the Revolution and its Reign of Terror.
  • The Masque of the Red Death: They shut themselves in a tower to avoid plague and hold a party. The whole point of the story is to give them a massively karmic death, a red death. The source tale, The Decameron, did not kill off the characters. It's just an excuse for a frame tale that shuts people in a room so they'll tell stories to pass the time.
  • Stephen King's Cell has the 'Sprinters', people who steal the most expensive/fast looking vehicles they can find and drive them down the street after the Zombie Apocalypse renders their owners either dead or insane. On the two occasions when specific Sprinters are mentioned, they manage to get themselves either injured or killed spectacularly.
  • In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, during the climatic fight with Voldemort's forces, Ron's concern for the house elves in the Hogwarts' kitchen ends up being the catalyst for him and Hermonione to complete their Relationship Upgrade and they have a Now or Never Kiss, even as the castle shakes and rumbles around them and Harry looks on with a deadpan expression. Eventually, he has to shout at them that they're still in the middle of a battle.
  • Averted in The Roman Mysteries: Rome literally burns, but the characters are certainly not indifferent or distracted by irrelevancies.
  • Subverted in the Kim Newman short story "Soho Golem", in which an investigation into a supernatural gangland murder takes the heroes to a very decadent party being held by a local porn baron. However, while there's certainly plenty of hedonistic fun being had, it's not being had by any of the people who are potentially involved or are potential future victims of the killer — all of whom, the heroes note, look very, very worried.
  • Sentinel Prime is guilty of this in Transformers: Exodus. As Cybertron descends into chaos and civil war, he goes to attend a comedy show under the protection of his armed guards... one of whom happens to be Starscream. Tired of Sentinel's apathy, Starscream and his fellows Skywarp and Thundercracker kidnap him in order to buy their way into the Decepticons.
  • In Eclipse, Edward reads a newspaper article about how countless people are dying and disappearing in Seattle. He notes that it's the work of a newborn vampire...and then helps Bella fill out college applications. Later, when Alice finds out that an entire army of newborns is coming to kill Bella, she insists that they still go ahead with the graduation party she planned for Bella. It's arguable whether either of these were meant to be examples, however.
  • In The Witchlands, Merik notes sourly that while there's a new superpower rising right in the middle of the continent, the politicians at the Truce Summit prefer gossip and merry dancing to any serious discussion.
  • Referenced in The Trials of Apollo, wherein Emperor Nero himself appears, and promptly points out how false this was, even saying "Fiddles weren't even invented yet!" Apollo notes that while that might be true and he might not have started said fire, he certainly didn't hesitate to take advantage of it.
  • Comrades of War by Sven Hassel. In a luxurious restaurant constructed in an underground bunker, high-ranking officers and Nazi officials enjoy unrationed food and wine while a firestorm devastates Hamburg.
    A lady pointed to the people who were laughing, drinking and dancing and whispered to her partner: "Don't they have any heart at all? Don't they know that a whole world is going to ruin, burnt to cinders by incendiary bombs?"
    Her partner, an elderly SS officer, put a piece of juicy red meat into his mouth and took a sip of red wine. "Today the brain is more important than the heart, my dear. People without a heart have a bigger chance to survive."
  • In Worm when whole worlds are falling apart, Khepri is gathering all remotely useful powered people and sees The Sleeper... sitting on a lawn chair idly reading a book. The fact that she thought he was more trouble than he was worth has spawned endless theories.
  • This is an ongoing theme in Watchers of the Throne - the High Lords current and previous keep trying to play political games and jockeying for power while the Imperium is burning down around them.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Band of Brothers had an interesting example that happened after the disaster. The opening of one of the episodes showed a quartet of German violinists playing somber music as their fellow villagers were working to clean up the rubble from their ruined town.
  • The Day of the Triffids: A man is shown playing the violin while panicked policemen who've lost their sight gun down civilians. After he's finished playing, the man calmly walks to the balcony and throws himself off.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995) episode "The Human Factor", commander Ellis Grover sabotages the colonization project he was in charge of after finding out his superiors started a nuclear war that killed off most of humanity, including his family. This is after he spent the entire episode trying to stop his Robot Buddy Link from doing the exact same thing out of the belief that Humans Are Bastards. Having come to agree with Link in the end, he reactivates him. When Link notes that Grover's sabotage leaves them with about two hours before the base is destroyed, Grover decides they might as well play one last game of chess. They spend the last scene setting up the chessboard while the base and all hopes of humanity's survival fall apart around them.
  • In the final episode of Kamen Rider OOO, Kosei Kougami indulges in his hobby of singing "Happy Birthday" and baking birthday cakes while the city outside is gradually being devoured by a monstrous construct out to absorb everything, and the building he's in grows increasingly damaged.
  • While Rome doesn't burn, there's an orgy in Cleopatra's throne room as the army of Octavian closes in, and an emissary demands unconditional surrender. Cleopatra pleads with Antony to flee or come up with some clever military trick.
    Antony: I'm not a fucking magician. Look around us, woman. Whores, hermaphrodites, and lickspittles. This is our only now.
  • Aptly present in the ITV miniseries The Great Fire, in which King Charles's courtiers and mistresses carry on with their fun and games while London burns.
  • In Dead Set, since the cast was originally supposed to be for Big Brother before the Zombie Apocalypse broke out, there's an element of this to the setting as a whole. More specifically, there's Marky's constantly obsessing about what the papers are saying about him (completing ignoring that most of civilisation is, y'know, collapsing) and Pippa ignoring the way a zombie is banging on the door between them to read a magazine.
  • The villainy of a couple of characters in Game of Thrones is highlighted by acting this way while witnessing the atrocities they perpetrate:
    • Walder Frey gleefully slurps down his wine during the Red Wedding where he has the King in the North and his bannermen slaughtered in a horrific violation of Guest Right.
    • Cersei Lannister smiles and triumphantly sips a glass of wine as she watches the wildfire cache burn down the Great Sept of Baelor, along with all of her rivals in it, in the distance. She's clearly enjoying the awful spectacle.
  • In Grimm, according to a secret histories grimoire, Nero hired a specialized were-elemental to burn out the Christian district. Unfortunately for everyone involved, said were-elementals are pathological sadists and the arsonist wanted a burn for the history books. The Grimm who was recording and hunting him down failed to stop him before he could move on to the rest of the city.
  • Foyle's War: One Body of the Week takes Detective Foyle to a resort where English Idle Rich are riding out World War 2 in leisure, with plenty of luxury food that contravenes rationing rules. Foyle, a WWI veteran whose son is an enlisted pilot, is deeply unimpressed with the frivolity.
  • In Battlestar Galactica (1978), with the refugee fleet facing food shortages to the point of starvation, Captain Apollo investigates a report that food is being hoarded on the luxury ship, The Rising Star. Sure enough, Apollo and Boomer discover Sire Uri and his cronies gorging on an abundant supply heedless of the starvation looming amongst the fleet. Captain Apollo is not having any of that and instantly orders all the munchies confiscated for redistribution as far as they will go.
  • Downplayed towards the end of The Heavy Water War. As Werner Heisenberg is walking through the ruins of a bombed-out German city, he finds a burning piano half-buried in the rubble, but he just plays a few notes and the next scene shows the piano wreathed in flame.
  • Referenced in Mr. Robot by Whiterose during the post-credits sequence of the first season.
  • In the penultimate two episodes of Power Rangers Dino Charge, the newly-reformed but largely de-powered Heckyl realizes that the Earth is doomed thanks to an inevitable kaiju invasion, and spurred by depression and self-pity, he spends what he believes is his last day alive treating himself to junk food, skydiving, and rollercoasters. It's not until the chaos begins and he helps a little girl reunite with her mother that he decides to get back in action with the heroes to try and save the world.

  • The song "Dancing With Tears in My Eyes" by Ultravox is about a man driving home from work and hearing that a catastrophe (presumably a nuclear war) is on its way. He then goes home to his wife, they get drunk, make love to their favorite music and the last verse ends with "it's time, and I don't think we really care." In the video, the catastrophe turns out to be a nuclear power plant Going Critical.
  • "De Bom" ("The Bomb") by popular Dutch band Doe Maar revolves around this trope:
    Laat maar vallen ("Just let it fall")
    Het komt er toch wel van ("It 'll happen anyway")
    Het geeft niet of je rent ("It doesn't matter if you run")
    Ik heb jou nooit gekend ("I've never known you")
    Ik wil weten wie je bent ("I want to find out who you are")
  • It's the end of the world as we know it...
  • Prince's "Sign O' The Times": As an inner-city neighborhood descends into anarchy and the Soviets threaten to bomb the United States, the protagonist proposes marriage to his fiancee and talks about having a baby.
  • Steve Taylor's "Smug" lambasts Christians who take sick pleasure in thinking the rest of the world is going to hell. "Rome is burning, we're here turning smug."
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic:
    • "Why Does This Always Happen to Me?" has shades of this.
    • "It's Christmas at Ground Zero" if taken more seriously, also sounds exactly like this.
    • In "One of Those Days," Weird Al recounts a number of tragedies, great and small, as if they're all minor annoyances. In the last part, he mentions that he cut himself shaving and "they're dropping the bomb" in the same breath.
  • Lit's music video for "Over My Head" starts with the band performing in a nightclub while the Drej are attacking the earth.
  • Macabre's "Nero's Inferno" is about the trope image.
  • The video for Mythos & DJ Cosmo's "The Heart of the Ocean", a techno version of the main theme from Titanic (1997), features a dance party on a sinking ship.
  • "We dance to the sound of sirens, and we watch genocide to relax." Covenant, "Theremin". More recently, there's "Last Dance".
  • The song Accordion Player by Voltaire is about an accordion player who refused to take part in a war in his country, even when the fighting came to his town. The song ends with the musician declaring repeatedly "I want to die playing", the music becoming more frantic and impassioned as sounds of battle rage around it.
  • Young Marble Giants' "Eating Noddemix" is about a wealthy socialite who engages in leisurely and vain activites such as gazing in her bathroom mirror, putting on her makeup, painting her nails, drinking wine, watching television, and nibbling the titular Swiss candy bar while at the same time enough people are dying in a train-car collision for it to be an "all-night job" for the city workers.
  • There Is No Depression In New Zealand by Blam Blam Blam. The song, released in 1981, is told from the viewpoint of then-Prime Minister of New Zealand Robert Muldoon, who insisted everything was hunky-dory and that those who said otherwise were nothing more than rabble-rousers. Later the same year, that sense of security was loudly interrupted by the Springbok Tour which bitterly polarised the public.
  • Daniel Amos's "Dance Stop" (from Vox Humana) is another song about the masses dancing while the atomic bombs fall.
    Well, tell me please how love can be
    With a kick/snare giving you a fantasy
    If I could dance, I might agree
  • Sixpence None the Richer's "Paralyzed" is about an encounter with a journalist who lost a friend in Kosovo, which left guitarist Matt Slocum feeling that the band, with its three-minute pop songs, was doing this. The chorus even invokes this trope almost by name:
    Feels like I'm fiddling when Rome is burning down
  • Tocotronic "Gesang des Tyrannen" (Song of the Tyrant) references the Trope Namer incident, although heavily metaphorically.
  • "Lights Go Out" by VNV Nation is about participating in a (literally) underground dance party while the world above burns in a nuclear war. Fittingly, the song begins with a klaxon alarm.
  • Bastille has "Doom Days", about dancing while the world has problems like climate change and internet addiction.
  • "Death Stranding" by Chvrches (the Ending Theme for the game of the same name) is about finding hope and togetherness "at the end of the scene"
    You can take my heart
    And hold it together as we fall apart
    Maybe together we can make a mark in the stars we embark
    And keep us together as the lights go dark
  • DJ Earworm's "United State of Pop 2011 (World Go Boom)" is about throwing a party and not caring about anything during an apocalypse.
  • In "Have a Good Time," Paul Simon sings about maintaining an attitude of easygoing hedonism even as his life and the world around him fall apart.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • The maxim of the 'three wise monkeys' is commonly interpreted in the West as 'turning a blind eye'.

  • The first act of You Can't Take It With You ends with a lot of fireworks exploding offstage and a lot of people wildly shouting and rushing about onstage. The imperturbable Grandpa, however, just says "Well, well, well!" and sits down. "If a lot of people weren't in the way," the script suggests, "you feel he'd like to throw some darts."
  • In Les Misérables, as Paris recovers from the tragic deaths of the students and soldiers who fought on the barricades, Thenardier and his gang cheerfully go about grave robbing the corpses.
  • George S. Kaufman's comedy sketch "The Still Alarm" is about a group of people in a house who seem remarkably unconcerned about it being on fire. The sketch ends with a fireman literally fiddling while the house burns.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The BattleTech sourcebook Jihad: Final Reckoning features The Master on a balcony, laughing maniacly as the city in the background is being nuked from orbit.

    Video Games 
  • During the battle against the Colossus of Rhodes in God of War II, Kratos ends up crashing through the ceiling of a bathhouse, where he finds two nameless, topless ladies who act notoriously nonchalant about the fact there is a raging battle on their city with a giant statue destroying everything on its wake. They also have no issue having a threesome with Kratos (the guy leading the invasion on their city) right there.
  • Near the end of Metal Gear Solid 2, there's a soldier patrolling and listening to his Walkman, totally oblivious to the fact that the entire facility he's in is getting destroyed in six minutes, give or take.
  • Final Fantasy:
    • Final Fantasy VI. When Emperor Gestahl (pretends to) repent for the evil he's done and pledges to restore peace, balance, and harmony, he invites the heroes to dine at a truly lush and expensive banquet. Meanwhile, his Empire is in ruins, his soldiers are restless and skittish, his people are dying, and his capital is burning to the ground.
    • Final Fantasy VII:
      • President Shinra looks calmly out of his window at the destruction of a whole sector of the city, a Haydn piece playing in the background.
      • When the giant monster known as Weapon fires on Midgar, Rufus Shinra just stands and watches the energy beams heading right for the Shinra building before they blow out the entire floor he's on in a massive firestorm. He does duck at the last second. Somehow, that seems to have helped him, since he got better.
    • In Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, the world is thirteen days away from being destroyed by Primordial Chaos. The leader of the last major city in the world hosts a continuous celebration to encourage everyone to have fun and live up their final moments since there's no stopping the comming end.
    • In the Final Fantasy XIV expansion Shadowbringers, the nation of Eulmore was once at the forefront on the First in fighting the sin eaters so what's left of the world can try and carve out a future. But when Vauthry took power and showed the mysterious power to control the sin eaters to keep people safe, they gave up the fight. Now the rich and prosperous flock to Eulmore to indulge in hedonistic luxury while calmly waiting for the world to come to a complete end, to enjoy today rather than futilely fight for a tomorrow that will never be.
  • The opening cutscene of StarCraft: Brood War features a marine who is saved by another marine with a rocket launcher. The rocket launcher marine is black, wears sunglasses, has football face-stripes on and is rocking back and forth to rock music. When the marine he saved asks where the air support is, he calmly points to the battlecruiser hovering overhead (which the other dude somehow missed). At the end of the scene, the battlecruiser takes off, and the marine seals his suit with a reflective gold face-covering. The scene ends with a pull back from the two marines as an impossible number of Zerg units overruns them. The black Marine jamming out during a battle is possibly a Shout-Out to Apocalypse Now.
    • After the marine notices the battlecruiser hovering overhead, the camera jumps to the ship's observation lounge for a conversation between its two admirals about the attack below and their upcoming evil scheme. The scene is backed by a quiet vinyl record sung in latin, and ends in the admiral giving the order for his ship to just leave.
    • This cutscene is given a Call-Back during a Flash Back scene in Starcraft II, when Raynor remembers the day Sarah Kerrigan was abandoned. Faintly audible for a few seconds, Arcturus Mengsk is listening to the same record that the admirals were listening to when they gave the order for their ship to leave.
    • And it then gets a second Call-Back later on, when Raynor boards Valerian Mengsk's ship, and Valerian is listening to a cover of that record while Raynor tears through his ship and busts into his cabin. However, this time it's subverted, as the ship isn't hovering over a colony being eaten by the Zerg and Valerian manages to de-escalate and negotiate Raynor into not shooting anyone else.
  • You can probably find countless examples from The Sims. One sim decided to take a bath while the kitchen was burning wildly and killing the sim's poor family members. At least it's impossible to catch fire in the bath...
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Trials and Tribulations, Larry Butz sees a bridge burning, and instead of running for help, he sketches the scene. Larry's like that.
  • Mother 3: Porky's ultimate motivation for reuniting most of the human population of the Nowhere Islands in New Pork City is to see everything being destroyed by the Dark Dragon. Simply because he was bored.
  • The Team Fortress 2 "Meet the Team" videos have a few.
    • In "Meet the Engineer", the Engineer is casually strumming his guitar and drinking beer while his turrets do all his fighting for him.
    • In "Meet the Heavy", there is a scene of the Heavy on Dustbowl loudly yelling and laughing as he fires his minigun at the enemy team. This same scene is also in "Meet the Sandvich", only this time the Heavy just stands there munching on his Sandvich while the fighting happens around him.
    • The first half of the Meet the Medic video is like this. While most of the team is getting utterly owned, the Medic and the Heavy are back in the clinic cracking jokes and making comically bad medical decisions. Promptly subverted in the second half of the video, in which the result of those comically bad medical decisions solves the crisis rather handily.
    • Done very weirdly in the Meet the Pyro video. The Pyro is constantly in a self-inflicted oblivious state of this, so while in real life he's slaughtering people by the dozens and razing entire villages to the ground on his own, in his mind he's giving children lollipops and blowing bubbles and making rainbows.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask:
      • After finally reuniting Anju and Kafei and obtaining the Couple's Mask, they remain in their room while encouraging Link to seek refuge, apparently aware and accepting of the fact that the moon is about to crash into the town.
        "We shall greet the morning... together."
      • On the eve of the final day, the good ending for the Romani/Cremia sidequests has the two sisters tending to their cow. Romani seems oblivious to the danger of the moon, but Creamia ignores mentioning it in front of her sister and handles their impending doom with calm acceptance.
      • In South Clock Town, the carpenters will continue to build their scaffolding even as the moon comes closer and closer. Tragically subverted on the third night, as all of the carpenters except the boss flee the city, leaving the boss to scream in disgust. If the player speaks to him as Deku Link, he apologizes for being unable to finish work and wishes he could make the moon go away.
    • This is how the Kinstone subquests can come across, in The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap. Monsters to defeat? Dungeons to explore? Not now, there are Kinstones to be fused! Link can even do one with the King, as Zelda is frozen as a statue and Vaati is on the loose, and all the King says is "You want to fuse Kinstones at a grave time like this? Very well!"
  • Gears of War 3: All of the government officials and "important" scientists went to Azura, an island that has very lavish buildings the likes of which aren't seen anywhere else on Sera. The soldiers, on the other hand, are forced to fight in a Hopeless Forever War against the Locust. When Delta Squad finds out, they're suitably disgusted.
  • Halo:
    • In the Sadie's Story extras in Halo 3: ODST, an overweight butcher stays in his store, happily trying to sell or outright give away his meat to refugees fleeing New Mombasa, though he's doing this so that people can have food while getting out of the city, and you can hear a woman thanking him profusely for giving her a number of kabobs. He also admits that he is extremely fat and would take up space on a bus or train that would be better spent on thinner people.
    • Halo: Reach's "New Alexandria" level has, as an Easter Egg activated by a switch on another building, a dance club where a Brute DJ is spinning "Never Surrender" from Halo 2 (and "Siege of Madrigal" if you hit another switch on the roof) while the city burns. The Grunts even dance to the music.
  • Dwarf Fortress: Yet another display of dwarven stupidity. When civilian alerts are called in zones, usually due to hazardous anything, they will still wander over to grab a drink, or take a break in a rock garden or waterfall, while their fellow dwarves are dying splattery limb-flinging deaths to murderous abominations. In later updates, they will cancel tasks that take them outside the safe zone... but they won't go back into the safe zone, just mill around outside randomly self-assigning and canceling tasks because they're outside and too dumb to go inside.
  • In Fallout 3, you can stumble upon a bizarre building owned by a Russian ex-mercenary named Dukov. All he does all day is party, drink, get high, and have sex with his two "party girls". He seems completely ambivalent to the fact that they are in the middle of a hilariously dangerous city full of mutants, and the only reason his whores stick around and put up with him in the first place is for self-preservation, though one of them asks you for a safe escort out. Of course, Dukov is old, and likely both out of practice and drunk off his ass, so he's easy enough for you to kill. It helps that he wears pajamas.
  • Near the end of the second act of BioShock, Andrew Ryan activates the Self-Destruct Mechanism of his underwater city. When you finally reach his office, he is calmly playing Office Golf. Things get worse from there.
  • At the end of Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, there are alot of guards still hanging around while Fort Schmerzen burns and collapses.
  • If you count player action, the option to invoke this becomes a trope itself.
  • In Saints Row: The Third, the antagonist Killbane, upon being humiliated on live television, (either by de-masking him or by defeating him) actually quotes the origin of the trope itself...
    Killbane: This is MY city...and I get to fiddle while it burns...
  • The title screen for Rescue Team 3 shows the team members in question playing around on their laptop, counting their money and drinking coffee while reading a newspaper, with "help" written on the sand in front of them and a hurricane raging in the background.
  • You are able to invoke this trope (and Bystander Syndrome on top of it, as if that wasn't enough) in Pokémon X and Y in Geosenge Town after Team Flare activates the Ultimate Weapon that not only is going cause a lot of destruction but will absorb all the life force of the residents in Route 10, by having your picture taken in front of it where Phil the Photo Guy still offers his services. Yes, the Nebulous Evil Organisation is unleashing their Doomsday Device that they intend to destroy the world with, but at least you can get a great picture of it. Ironically, since your mission is to stop the villains' Evil Plan, this overlaps with Permanently Missable Content, since the Ultimate Weapon gets destroyed. If you want that picture, you have to take it before infiltrating Team Flare's secret lab.
  • Mass Effect 3:
    • The Reapers are overrunning the galaxy, worlds are falling left and right, and the remaining military powers in the galaxy are desperately throwing together a plan to try and stop or at least delay the onslaught. Meanwhile, various characters and NPCs get into romances, focus on their own small-time ambitions, and at least a couple of businessmen figure out a way to make a modest profit helping the war effort.
    • Joker and Shepard can have a conversation where they discuss this sort of thing and why it can happen.
      Joker: Hey, Commander. Check it out! Big news: the Blasto movie is breaking opening-week records! There's also a big expose on quasar tournaments, tips on how to make your apartment look bigger, and... oh yeah, a big-ass Reaper invasion.
    • An asari aligned with Matriarch Aethyta has this view of her own people
      Asari military strategist: The Nimbus cluster has fallen, and our people are here, dancing instead of fighting.
    • The Citadel DLC is about Shepard's crew being ordered to take some time off for R&R while the Normandy is undergoing needed maintenance and repairs. You can go to a casino, hit an arcade, compete in an American Gladiators-esque game show, and throw one last glorious party with your crew. You actually get two sets of War Assets for it, one since the Normandy is now functioning better than ever (it was just repaired) and two the party solidified you all as True Companions.
  • The Trope Namer is humorously referenced in Mass Effect, where Shepard can say, "I'd give [the Citadel Council] fiddles but I doubt they read history."
  • In Shin Megami Tensei IV's Chaos Ending, Flynn and Lucifer sit at Mikado Castle's battlements as the kingdom burns around them, with Tokyo's survivors and the imprisoned demons rapidly escaping their hellhole. Knowing this will result in a Social Darwinist populace, hardened by war, Lucifer all but assures Flynn that, as the strongest, he will be crowned king of the new humanity. Given Flynn's a Heroic Mime, it's a bit hard to see if this falls here or in Dancin' in the Ruins.
  • While roaming around Endercon in Minecraft: Story Mode, you can find an oddly nonchalant NPC hopping on a slime block. Later, when the game's Eldritch Abomination shows up and everyone begins to flee in terror, you can see the NPC continuing to hop amidst the chaos until he gets picked up by the monster's tractor beam.
  • Masayoshi Shido's Palace in Persona 5 takes the form of a cruise ship where he and his cronies party it up as they sail over a sunken Japan.
    Haru: Even though this country may sink, he alone will survive… That’s what this cognition is about, huh…?
  • Francis in Left 4 Dead sees the Zombie Apocalypse as a giant bar brawl and sometimes asks during a horde wave if the other survivors are having as much fun as he is. The comic backstory shows Francis looting a store during the outbreak and then going to the roof of a bar with his friends (while also dragging up a jukebox) and picking off zombies down below for a night of fun. Francis is also the only player character that doesn't show any fear of the zombies unless he gets pinned by a Hunter or Smoker or is being beaten to death by a Tank.
  • During the Agent's Corellia storyline in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the wealthy elites have gathered for a nihilistic "Apocalypse Party" on an airship as the planet burns down around them. Hunter brought them there specifically to keep them from using their resources and influence to minimize the bloodshed. If brought along for the mission Doctor Lokin will mention something similar having happened when Coruscant was sacked in the previous war.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Everyone at the end of the first Lostbelt. The protagonists have left, and the Lostbelt is about to be erased from existence by the next dawn, leaving the Yaga at a loss. However, the clouds at the sky have cleared for the first time in centuries, and Antonio Salieri starts playing music for them, which they had never heard before. The world dies with its residents experiencing true beauty and peace for the first and last time.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: While Vale descends into chaos, Cinder Fall and Mercury Black are watching and taping the whole thing. Emerald seems at least regretful but Mercury and Cinder are enjoying it.

  • Homestuck,
    • Rose has roughly two minutes to save John from being killed by an incoming meteor. She spends the first forty seconds playing a violin refrain. The game sarcastically compliments the player's time management skills.
    • More figurative use of the trope would be when Dave and his Bro battle it out on the rooftop, with Houston being obliterated in the background. The battle itself is completely pointless.
    • Dave also seems perfectly fine continuing to update his absolutely awful webcomic, Sweet Bro and Hella Jeff, even though the world is ending.
  • Gunnerkrigg Court has a flashback to the great fire of Rome. The entity who will eventually be known as Jones is there, watching, completely unconcerned. Not even her dress catching fire can make her act.
  • In Penny Arcade, Tycho and Gabe are so addicted to Titanfall that Gabe thinks that the game crashing is a good thing since he'd never be able to stop playing otherwise. Tycho's house is burning down around him and he still won't stop playing, though he hopes the game crashes soon. He is already on fire too.
  • Gunshow has a comic featuring this dog, who continues to drink his coffee while his house burns down around him. Also used as an [adult swim] bump. This has become rather infamous as a meme for head-in-the-sand behavior.
  • Alluded to in Darths & Droids when Palpatine complains about the Galaxy burning down around him, to which Luke responds by asking him if he ever considered taking up the fiddle.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: Emil's recurring dream, the full narrative of which has yet to be revealed, apparently involves him having dinner while buildings in his town are burning, with the fire being visible from a window of the room in which he's eating. At some point, he mentions that the fire eventually spreads to his house.

    Web Original 
  • In Dino Attack RPG, there's a mass evacuation of LEGO City just before the Final Battle, which absolutely reduces the city to ruins and ashes as the Dino Attack Team and their allies battle the largest army of Mutant Dinos they've ever faced... while Walter, Dude, and Donnie decide to go bowling in one of the city's abandoned bowling alleys.
  • Survival of the Fittest v3: A particularly notable version occurs where Carson Baye plays on his DS while a gunfight is starting around him.
  • The song "Distraction" from TGWTG film To Boldly Flee is all about this. In-universe, it was written by the Kryptonians after learning that their planet was coming apart, basically using this song to enjoy their lives a little longer, ignoring the imminent disaster until it actually comes. Granted, this doesn't play any part in the film other than as a nod to how one of Doug Walker's characters that play a part in it is a parody of General Zod, and the lyrics serve as a perfect lampshade to how the characters who are singing it are doing so as part of a distraction.
  • Episode 24 of the Jandrew Edits, "Flaunting danger", sees Picard deciding to learn to play the flute in the middle of what appears to be the Federation's desperate war against a Borg-Klingon alliance. He is greatly annoyed by his subordinates' attempts to get him to care about said war.
    Riker: (on the viewscreen, with the smouldering remains of the bridge in the background) THE FEDERATION IS GONE! THE BORG IS EVERYWHERE!
    Picard: (completely disinterested) Yes. This is all very interesting, Number One.
    Riker: Please. You've got to help us! (screams as he is killed by an explosion)
    (Picard continues trying to play the flute)
    (cut to credits)

    Western Animation 
  • Animaniacs (2020): In the first episode of season 2 Nero plays an anachronistic fiddle while singing a Major General Song about himself, halfway through the Warners hijack the song, starting with pointing out that Rome is on fire.
  • In the Futurama episode "Parasites Lost," Scruffy the Janitor continues reading a porno mag while Fry and Bender's botched repairs cause the boiler next to him to overheat and explode.
    Scruffy: Scruffy's gonna die the way he lived.
  • In the season 4 finale of The Batman, Alfred and Lucius Fox watch helplessly from a balcony on Bruce's mansion while an alien invasion ravages Gotham City, drinking tea as ash falls like snow around them, before deciding that they're not that helpless. It's possibly the best scene in the entire series.
  • Played for laughs in an episode of Justice League. While the rest of the population of Las Vegas has fled because of Joker's bomb threats, a single old lady continues feeding coins into a slot machine.
    Joker: I love this town!
  • Subverted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Swarm of the Century". Pinkie takes one look at the crisis of the day and rushes off in search of a tuba. Everyone dismisses it as Pinkie's usual harmless psychosis and sets about trying to get the parasprites out of town, while Pinkie passes through periodically asking if anyone's seen yet another piece of the polka ensemble she's been diligently assembling. Just when it looks like all hope is lost and the parasprites are going to be the end of civilization, Pinkie marches by strapped into a one-pony band, and the parasprites follow her in Pied Piper fashion. It's implied throughout the episode that Pinkie's dealt with parasprites before, but couldn't communicate this fact to the others because they have trouble with the idea that Pinkie is capable of lucidity.
  • In one episode of Darkwing Duck, Negaduck used a magical artifact to steal the powers of the other four members of the Fearsome Five, which made him grow to giant size; he then proceeded to flood St. Canard and use electricity to heat the water to the boiling point. As Darkwing wracked his mind to think of a way to bring him down, the four powerless villains were doing nothing but sitting down and sadly drinking weak tea. (Of course, this is a Zigzagged Trope, because they were doing it because they were too depressed over the loss of their powers at the moment to help.) This also leads to a "Eureka!" Moment when they realize that Negaduck had their weaknesses along with their powers.
  • In Star vs. the Forces of Evil, thanks to the mind-altering properties in the Realm of Magic, Star pretty much abandons Marco to his luck, despite her best efforts to remain grounded.
  • Played with in Star Wars: Clone Wars. As the Confederacy attacks Coruscant, Chancellor Palpatine remains in his office, sipping tea and ignoring the Jedi's encouragement to take shelter. And when the Jedi-killer General Grievous smashes through the window, Palpatine reacts by scolding Grievous. But this is all for show: unknown to anyone present, Palpatine is also Darth Sidious, the shadowy leader of the Confederacy. He makes no effort to protect himself because had arranged his own kidnapping.
  • In the Superman: The Animated Series episode "Solar Power", Luminous hijacked LexCorp's communication satellites to block off the sun's yellow radiation and cripple Superman. Despite the fact that Luthor's denial of wrongdoing was hard to believe (even though he wasn't involved) and the crisis was costing his company millions in revenue, he spent at least part of the time calmly practicing archery.

    Real Life 
  • Trope Namer: According to legend, Emperor Nero played the fiddle (or lute, or lyre) while Rome was burning down. Supposedly, his men actually helped set the fire. This story was more likely than not circulated by those who disliked/despised him. All actual evidence found suggests he wasn't even in the city at the time and quite possibly wouldn't have been in any position to help. It is quite certain that he didn't have a fiddle (as he's often portrayed in cartoons) since they weren't invented until a thousand years later. According to Tacitus, he rushed back to Rome when he heard of the fire and funded the relief effort, and while he may not have set the fire, there is little doubt that he benefited from it; the section of Rome that burned, Nero had had plans to raze it to build something. This fact probably contributed to the suspicion that he deliberately set the fire.
  • In perhaps the most iconic moment in British naval history, Sir Francis Drake was playing a round of bowls in Plymouth when he learned of the Spanish Armada approaching England in 1588... and breezily declared that there was time to finish the game before he had to rush off. He was right: Being a veteran sailor who'd called Plymouth his home port since the very beginning of his career, Drake knew for a fact that the Spanish were struggling to sail against the tide and wouldn't reach sight of land for many hours. The English fleet made preparations to sail in relative leisure and intercepted the Armada well off-shore, where they inflicted a painfully one-sided defeat.
  • Lou Henry Hoover did this a lot when stranded in China during the Boxer Rebellion. One time she was playing solitaire when an artillery shell crashed through her front hall. She kept on playing.
  • According to a letter written by his nephew, Pliny the Elder took a nap in Stabiae near Pompeii... while Mt. Vesuvius was erupting. Even though he was there in part to assist in the rescue of the villagers. He suffocated for being too close to the epicentre. Other accounts more generously point out that he was somewhat advanced in years, and had been doing sterling work up until that point.
  • A similar PR disaster struck the unpopular and gaffe-prone Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, who was heavily criticised for continuing to play a round of golf after hearing the news of the collision between the Ehime Maru and the USS Greenville.
  • English soldier Jack Churchill started playing his bagpipes while waiting for the Germans to capture him. Since he is also the guy who fought with bow, arrow and a claymore (the sword, not the anti-personnel mine) in World War II, we shouldn't be surprised.
  • Another famous example is Archimedes keeping on working on mathematical diagrams during the fall of Syracuse. He was killed by a Roman soldier who had come to arrest him. As the soldier approached, Archimedes was drawing some mathematical figures in the sand and shouted at the soldier, "Don't disturb my figures!" He believed that he was too valuable to simply murder, but he didn't count on the short temper of a random foot soldier. He was correct in that belief; the Roman general in charge wanted him taken alive. That might have saved him if he'd had the sense to identify himself instead of being snippy. For extra irony, popular depictions have the Roman soldier ask him where Archimedes is.
  • Former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner Christine Nixon was widely compared with Nero after admitting that she went out to dinner with her husband and two friends on the evening of the Black Saturday bushfires, in spite of being warned of the likelihood of a high death toll shortly before leaving. One of her critics was future Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who was later accused of similar behaviour when he went to Hawaii on holiday in the middle of the 2019-2020 bushfire season.
  • The eight-member band aboard the Titanic continued playing music even when it became apparent that the ship was sinking. While their reasons for doing so died with them, most depictions have them continuing to play to try to calm the panicking passengers, particularly once they realized that not everyone would be able to survive.
  • There are many stories about high-ranking Nazis who were still in Berlin as the Soviets were entering during the closing days of World War II, engaging in hedonistic parties and orgies. Joseph Goebbels was still making propaganda films in the final months before the Allied Forces finally conquered Germany. He was more preoccupied with making a good heroic picture of Germany's military past than actually looking at the state of his country's military at that moment.
  • So many people during the Black Death died, some people knew that they were likely to get it and die, so what did they do? Party! Similar things are apt to happen during any large-enough scale disaster. This trope, in fact, gave rise to an entire genre of mediaeval art called the Danse Macabre (or Totentanz).
  • An apocryphal story tells that even as Constantinople was on the verge of falling, the elders of the Byzantine Church ignored the threat and busied themselves discussing theological trivialities. Modern-day Turkish politicians occasionally bring the story up as a metaphor to criticize the hijacking of important debates by irrelevant non-issues. It's worth noting that they had no reason to believe that Constantinople would actually fall. The loss of the city can be linked to a single gate, which wasn't secured properly by the men manning it.
  • During the Siege of Sarajevo, the Serbs would shell the city every night. It was under this backdrop of shelling that cellist Vedran Smailović would play Christmas songs in the middle of the town square while the city was being shelled around him! He said he did this to prove that, despite all evidence to the contrary, the spirit of humanity was still alive in that place. According to The Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this act of bravery/craziness was the inspiration for their song Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.
  • During South Korea's MV Sewol Disaster, caused by a series of Disaster Dominoesnote  witnesses testified that the crew, of which many didn't survive, were all "relaxing themselves" drinking beer while waiting to be rescued. The surviving crew members then claimed that they were expecting that it was the Coast Guard's job to rescue the passengers, and this attitude led to the deaths of 295 (not including 2 rescue divers) out of 476 passengers, including 250 students from the same school (who the crew could have helped to safety because the disaster happened at daytime). The Sewol disaster also saw the infamous "missing seven hours", during which then-President of South Korea Park Geun-Hye was uncontactable while the ship was sinking in real time. Because of the lack of information, various rumours spread along the lines of this trope, including the president receiving plastic surgery, having a love affair with a married man, or even taking part in a cultist ritual.note  The latest theories say that she may have been sleeping during this timenote .
  • Barbara Tuchman in The Guns of August characterised Nicholas II as a grotesquely incompetent, apathetic leader, stating that when Nicholas received a telegram informing him of the Russian fleet's annihilation at Tsushima, he read it, put it away and then went on to play tennis.
  • During a World War II air raid, guests of the Savoy hotel were entertained throughout the night by an impromptu cabaret hosted by Noël Coward to lift their spirits. He later joked that it was every entertainer's dream: a captive audience.
  • On May 19, 1780, a cloud of darkness (a combination of forest-fire smoke and heavy clouds/fog) spread over New England. Some members of the Connecticut state legislature, fearing that Judgment Day was at hand, proposed adjournment; legislator Abraham Davenport convinced them to stay:
    I am against an adjournment. The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I move that candles be brought, and we proceed to business.
  • In his book Collapse, anthropologist Jared Diamond wrote that civilisations suffered terminal decline where the elites gated themselves from the increasingly dire problems around them.
  • On February 23, 2019, trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Venezuela attempted to cross the borders, only to be met with repression by the armed forces who fired upon them. At least three trucks loaded with food and medical supplies were burned, and many people were injured or killed in the scuffles. At the same time, Nicolás Maduro spent the day dancing salsa.
  • When Nazi Germany invaded Poland, an elderly woman decided to show her defiance by playing the piano during the seige of Warsaw. Thanks to her having a Germanic name, the residents decided she was a spy sending messages using her piano and tied her up in the basement, which saved her life when her home was destroyed a few hours later by German artillery.
  • During the terrorist attack in Vienna, Austria on November 2, 2020, the Wiener Philharmoniker gave an encore to terrified patrons sheltering under police guard in the Vienna State Opera against the shooter.
  • This is why the United Kingdom's 2022 Partygate scandal quickly became a national crisis: as countless people died alone in lockdown, told that it was to protect the country from the COVID-19 Pandemic, the government of Boris Johnson gathered together and held parties on a regular basis.
  • In a similar vein, many influencers and celebrities were heavily criticized for continuing to party and go to collaborative events during the pandemic, especially before a vaccine was available. While some influencers insisted they'd made sure everyone in attendance had tested negative for Covid and were vaccinated when it was available, the partying was seen as being out-of-touch at best, and downright selfish and dangerous at worst.


Video Example(s):


Painting amidst chaos

Alina Gray stands atop of a building painting her last masterpiece as Embryo Eve rampages through Kamihama City.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / WhileRomeBurns

Media sources: