Authority in Name Only

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"Now, despite rumors to the contrary, I did not just buy a crown at the costume palace and ask people to start calling me the King of Town. I earned my title the same way I earned a free combo meal: by purchasing one of equal or lesser value."

The King Of Town, Homestar Runner

An Authority in Name Only is someone who claims to hold a title, but that title is a sham. Either it is a purely symbolic function with no actual power, or the title itself is made up, and it has no genuine authority over its "subjects". As such, most characters of this trope have no one (except for the occasional Yes-Man or Professional Butt-Kisser) who actually respects their non-existent authority.

In terms of the ranks of Authority Tropes, the next steps up are The Caligula, The Good Chancellor, and Evil Chancellor, Standard Royal Court, and Deadly Decadent Court.

Contrast Mayor of a Ghost Town, where the person is a recognized authority figure, it's just that there's no one left to rule over. Also contrast Just the First Citizen, where the figure doesn't claim a grand title but holds the real power nevertheless—the diametric inverse of this trope. For characters who actually do wield tyrannical control over some place, see I Own This Town. Can overlap with Kicked Upstairs if the title is actually bestowed by someone else who does have real authority, often specifically to appease the victim or move them out of the way.

Examples of Authority in Name Only include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Elephant King of Mari Land, in Onegai My Melody.
  • The President from Super Milk-chan.
  • In Code Geass, the position of "Sub-Viceroy of Area 11 (formerly Japan)" was created for Euphemia by Cornelia. However, the position is basically just a figurehead's job, which several characters mention during her tenure. Even her creation of the Specially Administrated Zone of Japan was the result of her going to Schneizel for help.
    • Turns that Nunnally, when appointed as Viceroy, has even less power than Euphemia had as sub (note that she is the same age Euphie was at that point). Gino even has to remind Lohmeyer who is supposed to be Viceroy.
  • At the beginning of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's, Jack Atlas was known as the King of the Riding Duels. He didn't know that his title meant nothing. He was a puppet being manipulated by Rex Godwin to entertain the people of Neo Domino and maintain the illusion of a utopia, and a lot of his victories, like the one against Dragan, were rigged without him knowing. Bommer even called him out on this during the Fortune Cup, calling him a "poor king" (and when Jack tried to hit him for the insult, knocked the punch aside as if he didn't care). In Jack's defense, after Godwin's fall, he would later prove during the WRGP that he was capable of defeating Dragan in a fair duel when the two faced each other again. Although, to be honest, this was after Jack had acquired Burning Soul, an ability he didn't have the first time.
  • Princess Charlotte in Princess Principal, who has so little authority that she's called a "princess of the air" as opposed to a princess of a particular location. Even her uncle, a mere Duke, has more real power than she has.
  • In One Piece, the Cross Guild is an organization of smugglers and mercenaries whose leaders include such powerful and notorious pirate captains as Sir Crocodile and Dracule Mihawk, the leader being... Buggy? Yes, and here's how it went down: In order to fund the new organization, Crocodile went to Buggy to call up on a huge debt Buggy owed him; Buggy, whose own smuggling operation was failing, offered to advertise the Cross Guild free of charge, in exchange for being made a member, and agreement that he felt would help him pay back Crocodile and gain reputation for his own business in one move. However, it worked only too well. Buggy's employees, being completely enamored by his (undeserved) fame from the Impel Down fiasco and mistaking Crocodile saving him out of loyalty, created flyers that portrayed Buggy as the leader of the Guild, and distributed them worldwide, before Buggy could even review them. Thus, everyone who learned of the Cross Guild mistook Buggy for the leader, with Mihawk and Crocodile as his subordinates. Even the World Government took notice, naming him one of the new Four Emperors. Naturally, Crocodile and Mihawk were... upset, but then Mihawk (being a pragmatic type) convinced Crocodile that having Buggy as a puppet leader would stave off unwanted attention from them, and that it would be a simple matter to eliminate Buggy if they had to. Thus, Buggy is now leader of one of the most powerful pirate organizations in the world, but only in name.


  • President Skroob of Spaceballs. "I can't make decisions! I'm the president!"
  • Bill Murray as the Mayor of Ember in the movie adaptation of The City of Ember.
    • This example may not fit: the Mayor of Ember actually performs a function and/or has real power, and the citizens of Ember except the main characters actually look up to him.
  • The Mayor in The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to come from the same political school as President Skroob:

Mayor: Jack, please, I'm only an elected official here, I can't make decisions by myself!

  • In Woody Allen's "What's Up, Tiger Lily", there's this exchange

High Macha Of Rashpur: Good afternoon. I am the Grand Exalted High Macha of Raspur, a nonexistent but real-sounding country.
Phil Moscowitz: Uh-huh.
High Macha Of Rashpur: Yes. We're on a waiting list. As soon as there's an opening on the map, we're next.


  • The Redemption of Althalus: The ruler of Wekti is the Natus, meaning 'father', who has no authority whatsoever but believes himself to be the complete ruler of Wekti. The real ruler is Exarch Yeudon, the leader of the Church.
  • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy , Zaphod Beeblebrox is the former President of the Imperial Galactic Government. The position's purpose is not to wield power, but to draw attention away from it.

Live-Action TV

  • Rare non-kids'-show example: Gilmore Girls‍'‍s resident Control Freak Taylor is technically Town Selectman, and is only briefly voted out of office before his replacement becomes sick of all the small-town residents' endless complaining and quits.
    • Which brings up another important point about your average King of Town: as long as you don't do anything to shake their delusions of authority too badly, they'll be so busy enjoying said delusions of authority that you can put them through all sorts of shit real people wouldn't even begin to take. So even if nobody likes them, they can be useful to have around as sort of a idiocy sink (like a heat sink, but for stupidity).
  • Mr. Show featured a sketch that was opened with a ribbon-cutting by the Mayor of Television.
  • In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Worf convinces Chancellor Gowron to give a clone of Kahless (the legendary founder of Klingon culture) the vacant position of Emperor, just as a symbolic function for the empire to rally around.
    • Lwaxana Troi liked to introduce herself with a handful of titles; it was never explained what any of these titles meant in terms of importance. It can be assumed that they were legitimate titles but that they held only ritual significance. Deanna once said that the "sacred chalice of Riix" was a moldy pot stored in the closet.
  • The Office: Dwight Schrute may well be the only middle-management example of the trope. Although he's very proud of his title, "Assistant to the Regional Manager," his supposed authority is wielded over people who barely respect him enough to acknowledge that he's the same species they are. In one episode Michael admits that it isn't even a real position, he just made it up one day to keep Dwight quiet; Dwight takes this very hard.
  • This trope is played straight at the beginning of the second season of Dan for Mayor. Dan got elected to be mayor of Wessex on a fluke and everyone in the city government is trying their hardest to make sure that he has no real authority. When he figures this out, he tries to become relevant and Hilarity Ensues.
  • King Uther in the first few episodes of Merlin season 4. He's still king in name, but Arthur and (to a lesser extent) Agravaine (as The Mole) are calling the shots since Uther is broken and half mad.


Tabletop Games

  • Leave it to Dungeons & Dragons to turn this trope into a Complete Monster. The Dread Emperor is an incredibly powerful magic user who claims to rule the world. He doesn't, and he lives in isolation(with the exception of children he keeps chained to his armor at all times), but if anyone tells him he doesn't rule the world, he'll kill them. And he won't hesitate to kill hundreds of bystanders in the process.
    • In Eberron Prince Oargev is the the last surviving claimant to the royalty of Cyre following the country's mysterious and near instant destruction and proceeding civil war where three fifths of the line rebelled. Since Cyre is destroyed and its former territory is now the inhospitable and deadly Mournland, Oargev is merely mayor of a frontier town (which is part of another nation) of 4000 survivors. Despite this, everyone (even many of those on the other side of the now ended war) still calls him Prince.
  • Lord Mishima of Mutant Chronicles is nominally the undisputed ruler of the Mishima corporation, and as such one of the six most powerful people in existence. In reality, he's been Kicked Upstairs to being Mishima's representative in The Cartel, with all important corporate decisions being made by one of his sons, and the only ones who actually obey him are his ten-thousand or so personal retainers.


  • Cora Hoover-Hooper in the musical Anyone Can Whistle. She demands being treated royally despite having achieved a 0% Approval Rating.

Video Games

  • King Dedede claims to be the ruler of Kirby's land, but the most it gets him is a castle for our pink protagonist to storm through once per game. He seems to have vast independent wealth, but that's about it.
    • The anime version makes more of a show of it; he even has a Prime Minister (Cabinet Minister) and the dubious loyalty of Meta Knight, but his rule seems to be even more dubious. In one early episode, he actually plants archaeological evidence that his ancestors were royalty. Meanwhile, the actual Mayor seems to be the legitimate authority figure, while the Prime Minister doesn't seem to ever do anything beyond being the father of the Kid with the Leash.
  • Mayor Pirkle of EarthBound fame.
  • Mayor Bo in The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess is among the more competent examples of the trope. On the other hand, in a village populated by eight adults, two teenagers, and five kids, it's hard to imagine there's a lot of competency required.
  • Mayor Doteur in The Legend of Zelda Majoras Mask mostly just sits around saying "uhm...well" while the Captain of the Guard and the lead carpenter argue the issue of whether they should evacuate.
    • Though he does resolve the issue if Link wears the Couple's Mask to the meeting- whichs consists of "Screw it, the world's ending, do what you want."
  • From Final Fantasy VII, Palmer. As a Shinra corporation executive, he has a massive salary and an impressive title. However, his department, Space Exploration, hasn't received any funding in years and fired all of its employees. He doesn't actually have to do anything except show up for the occasional board meeting and tag along with the President whenever he goes to Rocket Town, the site of the failed launch of the ShinRa No. 26 rocket and the place where all the ex-employees of the Space Exploration department live.
    • Played more literally with Mayor Domino of Midgar, who has no actual power to speak of since Shinra runs everything. Mostly he hangs around the Shinra building being useless. He actually ends up helping AVALANCHE during their raid on the building just because he's bored.
  • Lars' position as the leader of Bladehenge and the resistance in Brutal Legend is mostly symbolic. The man rarely ever takes charge and he's just a symbol. Eddie actually leads the troops in battle, forms strategies, and does pretty much everything. This suits Eddie fine though, as he's a roadie, and a roadie's job is to make someone else look good.
  • Viscount Dumar from Dragon Age II should be the most powerful man in Kirkwall, but the word on the street pretty much says Knight-Commander Meredith's the one with the real power. And all around him, extremist clerics, taciturn Qunari and who knows what else threatens his already delicate rule of the powder keg that is Kirkwall and he is unable to do anything about the problems that crop up except to turn to you. A shame, really, since he's the one of the Reasonable Authority Figures in the blighted place.
  • Fallout 3 lets you play as one in a couple situations. Upon entering the settlement of Big Town, you're confronted by a guard, who obviously has no idea what he's doing, who asks who you are. One option is to tell him "I'm the king/queen of the wasteland, what's it to you?". Later you can talk to him again, demanding a new greeting speech that acknowledges your title as royalty.
  • In the upcoming[when?] Nintendo 3DS iteration of Animal Crossing, you can become the mayor, and thus act out this trope if you wish.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • Not quite the king, but the Emperor of The Town is a nudist lech who does no ruling, and is, currently, completely vanished.
  • As noted above and the former Trope Namer, the King of Town in Homestar Runner. He's treated as a rather loopy old relative who isn't going to let go of his delusions, and he does own a castle, which he lives in, but he rarely shows any signs of having any kind of authority. In the "Strong Badia the Free" episode of Strong Bads Cool Game for Attractive People, however, he imposes a retroactive e-mail tax, and no sooner does Strong Bad find out about it than he is put under house arrest for failing to pay it. Strong Bad and several of the other characters get fed up with him and secede from his rule, addressing him as "The Of Town".
    • Because it's also his name, see.
    • While he doesn't hold any actual power, he is the actual employer of The Poopsmith, who is also his sole enforcer for The Municipality, the Ko T's armed riot police. So, in essence, his authority extends as far as The Poopsmith and anyone who's on the far end of The Poopsmith's billy club. "Strong Badia the Free" actually lampshades the fact: Strong Bad is in the middle of answering an email, telling the writer that the Ko T is pretty much harmless since he's too old and demented to do much damage, when the King barges in, Poopsmith in both riot gear and tow, to inform Strong Bad that he's delinquent on his taxes.
      • In the end of that chapter of SBCG4AP, Strong Bad discovers that not only was being KOT more stressful than he thought, but the King orchestrated Strong Bad's rebellion just so he wouldn't have to be King anymore!
    • Strong Bad himself is sort of a King of Town over his micronation Strong Badia.
      • In this capacity he does minimal damage, because his subjects consist of a small array of inanimate objects, and anyone willing to put up with him for an hour or so while they hang out on a small patch of tilled ground that Strong Bad rents from Bubs (that's right, rents).
  • President Critic of Kickassia, following the takeover and renaming of Molossia (see Real Life section).
    • The Critic of the That Guy With The Glasses site too. He tries to reassert his authority, really he does, but he will nearly always get walked over and then give up.
  • The Mayor of Ink City presents himself as an Ultimate Authority Mayor, but is generally viewed by the residents as this. It doesn't help that he tends to keep to himself and not interact with anyone unless they manage to hit one of his Berserk Buttons hard enough. When he lies low during the World Split crisis, he gets called out HARD upon his reappearance.

Western Animation

  • Futurama's Professor Farnsworth is a professor, but he only teaches one class, in a non-existing field. Fry's the only one to sign up for it.
  • The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack: In "Over the Moon", K'nuckles declares himself to be 'the Moon King' and starts giveing orders to the moon.
  • King Plasto, the villain in one of the original Superfriends stories. The opening narration even calls him a "king without a kingdom", although his scheme does involve gaining the funds and materials to build one.
  • Colonel Stinkmeaner in The Boondocks; nothing in any episode involving him shows any proof his title has anything to do with the military, and he is all talk.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, Numbuh 3's Stalker with a Crush King Sandy isn't king of anything. In fact, it's very likely that he and his three cousins simply have incredibly overactive imaginations, although telling him he's a phony is a good way to make him angry.
  • Zigzagged with Captain McAllister on The Simpsons. In his first appearance, Lionel Hutz accuses him of not being a real Captain, and McAllister sadly admits it. However, Depending on the Writer, McAllister is sometimes seen commanding ships now and then.

Real Life

  • His Imperial Majesty Norton I, Emperor of these United States and Protector of Mexico. The citizens of San Fransisco loved this character, and even provided for him.
  • Kevin Baugh, President of Molossia. Here, there's an interesting twist: Molossia is incredibly small, consisting primarily of various properties owned by Baugh, meaning that not a lot of competence is required. Still, he does his best to cultivate good relations with the United States, which completely surrounds Molossia, sending them "aid" every April 15. Unfortunately, none of this protects him from film invasion.
  • The Mayor of Hollywood, a position created by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to supposedly represent the entertainment industry. The main focus of the job is to appear at Walk of Fame ceremonies and to arrange for lavish yet tacky floral arrangements to be placed on the stars of recently deceased honorees. (Attendance at funerals is also part of the job.) The position has been vacant since the death of Johnny Grant, who in lieu of pay had all his (admittedly modest) needs supplied by grateful Hollywood businesses.
  • When a monarchy is deposed, the surviving head of the family will often style himself or herself the sovereign in pretence - in other words, the pretender to the throne. Almost every former monarchy has at least one pretender, and some have more: France has three, one from each royal family (Bonapartist, Orleanist, and Legitimist).
  • The Roman Catholic Church requires that certain positions in the Vatican administration be held by bishops. But a bishop is supposed to be the head of a diocese, and a bishopric in a real diocese is a full-time job. The church instead assigns bishops intended to work in the Vatican to a "titular see", which is a diocese that's no longer extant. (Most are located in the Middle East or North Africa, areas that were wholly Christian before the advent of Islam.) The best-known titular bishop might be Nicolaus Steno (aka Neils Stensen), the Titular Bishop of Titiopolis, a geologist and the subject of an essay by Stephen Jay Gould.
  • In Pre-Norman England the Cinque Ports ("five ports", because there were originally five) made a treaty with the king to supply ships for defense in return for internal self-determination as well as various and sundry privileges some rather arcane. The royal official in charge of this arrangement was the Warden of the Cinque Ports. After the Conquest the deal was continued because both parties liked the arrangement. After a standing Royal Navy became the core of British naval defense this became obsolete, and the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is mainly a post for retired gentlemen of dignity rather then a serious position - albeit a position for life that has previously been held by The Duke of Wellington and Winston Churchill.
  • He did indeed serve in the U.S. Army, but Colonel Harland Sanders, founder of KFC, was not a Colonel in any military sense. Rather, he was a Kentucky Colonel, a title of honor in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, given by the governor and the secretary of state to individuals in recognition of noteworthy accomplishments and outstanding service to a community, state, or the nation. Sanders was given the honor twice for his work in the food industry. More info on it here.
  • His Excellency Sheikh Professor Alhaji Dr. Yahya Abdul-Aziz Jemus Junkung Jammeh Esquire. The despotic "president" of Gambia did indeed rule the small nation until 2017, but most of those titles were made up, as he had the odd habit of inventing honors to bestow upon himself. incidentally, he also claimed he would rule Gambia for a billion years or until Allah told him otherwise.[1]
  • Ugandan dictator Idi Amin was even worse than Jammehc. His "official" title (self-appointed) was "His Excellency President-For-Life Field Marshal Al Hadj Doctor Idi Amin Dada, VC, DSO, MC, Lord of the Beasts of the Earth and Fishes of the Sea, Conqueror of the British Empire and Africa in General and Uganda in Particular". Only one part of that was true, the part about conquering Uganda.
  1. Apparently, Allah dropped him a line.