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Wicked Pretentious

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Wanda: But you think you're an intellectual, don't you, ape?
Otto: Apes don't read philosophy.
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

A villain whose air of cultured good breeding serves to enhance their evilness, but they only put it on as an act. A Wicked Cultured villain is genuinely educated, refined, and well-mannered; this guy is crass with mere delusions of class. Perhaps the soft spoken "respectable" businessman never got out of the habit of carrying a switchblade, or the ruthless Rich Bitch social climber keeps can't help but drop cues as to her humble upbringing. Sometimes this can be explained as lack of culture driving the character to villainy, as they can't find acceptance among high society and so decide to say Then Let Me Be Evil.

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Compare and contrast with Wicked Cultured, of course, and with Lower-Class Lout; Nouveau Riche characters who are outright evil are usually this trope, but nothing's stopping old money from also fitting it. See also Delusions of Eloquence, Delusions of Local Grandeur, Feigning Intelligence, Inferiority Superiority Complex.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Penguin from Batman is from an upper class family but is also a brutal gangster. Several stories show that he just doesn't fit in among Gotham's social elite despite his best attempts. This is Depending on the Writer though as sometimes he is shown as genuinely Wicked Cultured and sometimes even more refined (if also more murderous) than the elite he hobbles with.
    • In the comic book series based on the animated series, one of the first things the Penguin is shown doing is to encourage his personal gang to learn new words on their own, then — as an encouraging teacher — show that he's ahead of them by defining whatever they bring up... even if he doesn't actually know and has to make something up.
  • In Starman, Simon Culp is a violent racketeer, cultist and murderer, delighting in taking his revenge on society, which has ostracized him for his proclivities and dwarfism. He makes it a point to dress immaculately and very much prefers to limit himself to talking in French, especially since he feels his own native Cockney makes him look vulgar.
  • Likewise, Wilson Fisk actively cultivates his image as a Self-Made Man and a philanthropist with refined tastes, hiding from the public at large the violent mobster he truly is.
  • Burt Schlubb and Douglas Klump from Sin City, who are described as having "Delusions of Eloquence", and who are nearly incapable of not peppering every sentence with pretentious twenty-dollar words delivered in the most stilted, wordy ways possible. This in spite of the fact that they're two no-name thugs who get no respect from anyone, least of all the story.
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    Film — Animation 
  • An American Tail: Warren T. Rat pretends to be quite cultured, quoting Shakespeare and playing the violin...neither of which he's able to do correctly.
  • Coco: Ernesto de la Cruz. He's a musician, singer, and actor who's proficient with folk songs like "La Llorona" as well as modern ones, and he takes the time to admire Miguel's performance. However, he has no genuine appreciation for whatever art form he performs. Everything he does, he does to attract attention to himself.
  • The Great Mouse Detective has Professor Padraic Rattigan, a Moriarty Expy who tries to pass himself off as a Mouse of Wealth and Taste, but his Berserk Button, coupled with his Villainous Breakdown, only serve to show the audience how classless he really is.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Batman Returns, the Penguin was born deformed due to inbreeding and his parents, to avoid scandal, quietly disposed of him. Growing up as a carnival freak, he returns to Gotham but doesn't fit in among the upper crust because of his atrocious manners.
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service: Richmond Valentine, who rolls in high-class circles but is an upstart tech mogul who dresses poorly and serves fast food at meetings. This contrasts with the protagonist, Eggsy, who is generally regarded as a street thug but whose journey is all about finding his own variety of class.
  • A Fish Called Wanda: Otto is a violent thug who thinks reading Friedrich Nietzsche makes him much more intelligent and cultured than he really is.
  • Django Unchained's antagonist Calvin Candie. He thinks he is charming, intelligent and cultured; he is actually cruel, petty, stupid and disgusting (albeit genuinely Affably Evil within his Villainous Friendship circle). The greatest challenge facing Schulz and Django is flattering and playing along with him without revealing their disgust.
  • The titular thief Albert Spica from The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is a mafia boss that has taken control of the La Hollandais restaurant were he dines every day with his wife and crew. He fancies himself an intellectual and elite, ordering French food (while mispronouncing the words), musing about philosophy and shaming his group for using improper utensils. In reality, he is a gross, abusive, heartless man. He tortures and kills people he believes have crossed him (regardless of whether they actually did it or if it warranted the punishment), publicly brutalizes his wife and various patrons at the restaurant, harasses Michael for reading while at the dinner table, and this is just what we see on screen. He is so bad, that both the kitchen staff and his own men turn on him by the end of the film.
  • Santino, the Big Bad of John Wick: Chapter 2, fancies himself a sophisticate and the perfect candidate for a seat at The High Table, when really he just thinks he is above the rules that the Criminal Underworld has established and has earned few real friends for it. His father passed him for his sister to inherit the position and instead inherits an impressive collection of Renaissance art that is put on display at the Met, something he views as just "paint on canvas."
  • In Blood and Bone, the Big Bad James does everything he can to preserve his image (wearing fine suits, avoiding alcohol and swearing, owning a painting of Genghis Khan), but the mask slips every time he is inconvenienced or even contradicted. Other characters wind up dead soon after.
    Mob boss: I've heard you've become quite the golfer.
    James: Yes. But unfortunately, I've just lost my golfing partner.
  • Die Hard: Hans Gruber is sharply dressed and brags of his classical education, but mangles a quote about Alexander the Great badly enough to reverse the meaning, to say nothing of comparing himself to one of the world's most famous conquerors while he struggles to maintain control of a single office building long enough to rob the owners.

    Literature 
  • James Bond villains get this treatment a lot. The average Bond villain is Nouveau Riche, vulgarly showy with his wealth, adorns himself with attractive female assistants a fraction of his age, has notable deformities that he calls attention to by trying to hide, and one or two of them even cheat at "gentlemen's" games.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Tywin Lannister is a variation; he makes a big deal about maintaining regal composure in public, but he can stray into hypocrisy sometimes, like when he arranges for his enemies to be killed over dinner, something that's the epitome of bad taste in the Sacred Hospitality culture of Westeros; plus, despite calling it unfitting, he's apparently been seeing whores secretly for some time. However, he ensures the former is carried out by another house (who do indeed get ostracized by their peers,) and he is so discreet about the latter that his own family are shocked to discover it, so unlike most examples on this page he is smart enough to both maintain appearances and avoid the backlash when convenience requires him to play dirty. His understanding of the pretenses necessary to stay in power fully fit with his reputation as "the king who never wore a crown."
  • The Godfather: It's noted that the oldest and most experienced wiseguys try to seem the most respectable but also wear the cheapest suits. This is deliberate on their part; they want you to know they are accustomed to getting their hands dirty and respectability hasn't changed that.
  • Patrick Bateman, the yuppie serial killer from American Psycho, makes a pretense at being an aficionado of fine food, clothing, and music. Close inspection will reveal that he's only interested in these things because they're popular fads, and actually has little understanding of any of the subjects.
  • Chrysler Peavy in Mortal Engines is a pirate leader who began having delusions of being a respectable mayor after seizing control of the suburb Tunbridge Wheels and now plans to turn it into the world's first respectable pirate suburb... a task which he utterly fails at since none of his crew share any of his ambitions, and he himself is still a ruthless pirate at heart.
  • The Hound Of The Durbervilles makes Colonel Moran out to be a strange inversion. Despite being raised in a good family and famed for his distinguished military career, he just doesn't give a damn about his reputation and is quite happy living as a thug and a murderer who only feels at peace when his life is in danger.
  • Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter, like any good paparazzi, uses a very flowery vocabulary in her writings that does nothing however to hide either the gossipy nature of them or the cheap, petty mean-spiritedness that they possess.

    Live-Action TV 
  • American Horror Story
    • Freak Show has both halves of its Big Bad Ensemble:
      • Dandy Mott, a wealthy heir who attempts to present himself as a cultured gentleman to the people he's trying to charm, but it's all an act. It takes remarkably little resistance from the other party to make him lose his cool and cause his real personality, that of a murderous childish sociopath who throws temper tantrums the instant things stop going his way, to show through.
      • Stanley, who attempts to put on an air of a charming, worldly salesman type, but is actually a sleazy Con Man who will commit murder for a quick buck and spends much of his time in the company of male prostitutes.
    • 1984 gives us Margaret Booth. She displays shades of this early-on, but it's initially overshadowed by her faux-fundamentalist personality. She really dives headfirst into this trope following the timeskip, however. She cultivates the image of a stylish and fashionable businesswoman, but her modus operandi of buying up famous murder sites and turning them into tourist attractions is seen as in extremely poor taste even in-universe, as she's on the verge of losing money over it.
  • While adults in A Series of Unfortunate Events (2017) are all Too Dumb to Live in one form or another, Count Olaf takes this to another level with his delusions of eloquence and sophistication. He believes himself to be a Master Actor when really people only fall for his disguises because they are all dumber than him, and even then he is considered terrible while on stage. He is terrible at math and grammar and he uses words incorrectly at a failed attempt to seem smart. Even his title - Count Olaf - is a title he gave himself to make him seem more impressive. In a lot of ways his home acts as a perfect visual metaphor for himself; a massive mansion that is clearly uninhabitable inside and out in plain sight of an otherwise lovely neighborhood. Ironically, later on in the series, it's suggested that much of his Wicked Pretentious status is, in itself, an act, as he is able to quote a Philip Larkin poem while bleeding to death. This suggests that Olaf fashions himself in opposition to the intellectual and cultured members of VFD, and therefore gives the outward impression of a Lower-Class Lout.
  • In the first season of Daredevil (2015), it's made clear that Wilson Fisk is a violent gangster despite his attempts to pass himself off as an upper-class philanthropist. He owns a closet full of suits with the same black color, owns a bunch of cufflinks he never wears, flips over a table with imported Chinese tea on it because a fellow mob boss insulted him, and his idea of "beautifying" Hell's Kitchen is forcing all the inhabitants out so he can bulldoze it to put up luxury condos. More subtly, he has to get a recommendation from James on what wine to bring on a date, and shows bad manners by smudging the glass with his fingers.

    Music 
  • Tally Hall: Mr. Fluglemeyer in the unreleased song "Cuckoo" dreams of being in the upper class, but it's clear from the lyrics that he's a crude and horrible person who cheats his customers, uses child slaves, and just wants everyone to do his bidding. The song itself uses the tune of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fur Elise," just to hammer in how he attempts to appear cultured.
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    Video Games 

    Western Animation 
  • Still more Penguin:
    • Batman: The Animated Series: Especially in the episode where, after a recent release from prison, he befriends a wealthy young socialite, only to learn that the whole thing was a Prank Date and her friends were laughing at his crass mannerisms the whole time. This leaves him so embittered and humiliated that he gets back into crime on the spot.
      • Then totally flipped around after the retool; not only did he lose any similarity to the deformed Burton version, but as a fence and nightclub owner, he was a lot more Wicked Cultured, and lost any interest in avenging himself on high society. Although, in his words:
      "Living well is the best revenge."
    • The Batman: His Establishing Character Moment involves him crashing a gala he wasn't invited to, quickly making a spectacle of himself with bad manners, feigning offense when he's asked to pay the cover charge (which he can't really afford) and then sneaking off with the silverware. He has a Freudian Excuse; his family used to be eminent and influential in Gotham before the Waynes started overshadowing them. Basically, he's a Spoiled Brat who never grew up, even after losing the means to be spoiled.
  • One-off villain Mad Dog from Courage the Cowardly Dog is a crude, unsophisticated, low-class thug who does dirty jobs for quick pay, yet nevertheless he has a high opinion of himself and his lifestyle.
  • South Park gives us Gerald Broflovski. As a lawyer, Gerald likes drink A Glass of Chianti and acts smug and sophisticated. However Season 20 reveals that Gerald is nothing more than an immature man, who trolls women on the internet for his own twisted amusement.

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