Can't Stop the Signal

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"So I called that guy I know at NBC. And then I got to thinking -- You know what I hate? I hate those lame action movies where the good guy calls just one person who ends up betraying him. So I called ABC, CBS, The Post, The Times, the local news channel, and the FBI."

SmithShoot'Em Up

A character breaks The Masquerade by sending the details they have uncovered to the press—often to multiple publications at once. Usually happens at the end of a work.

Occasionally this is the posthumous revenge of a Dead Man Writing. This can be used to subvert a Shoot the Shaggy Dog ending—the protagonists achieved nothing and died in the attempt, but if it's subsequently revealed that they managed to get the word out, it might all be worth it. Can also be played ambiguously, with the audience unsure of whether the information gets delivered or not (or whether or not it has any effect if it does).

Naturally, this is the modus operandi of the Intrepid Reporter, especially when they're Going for the Big Scoop. If the messenger is relying on other people making a Last Stand to give him a chance, it's Bring News Back.

Compare and contrast the villainous counterpart, Do Not Adjust Your Set. See also Information Wants to Be Free and Irrevocable Order.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

As an Ending Trope, Spoilers ahead may be unmarked. Beware.


Examples of Can't Stop the Signal include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Episode 22 of Kiddy Grade has Chevalier, who hijacked the Deucalion in the previous episode, broadcast all the illicit background dealings and incriminating evidence of corruption by the Nouvlesse to every single news channel in the galaxy as well as the ship's true purpose: to disable the warp gates with a quantum virus then warp out of the galaxy, leaving the commoners to their fate of dying off as trade and planetary economies collapse while planets under terraforming will revert back to inhospitable, killing their entire population who can't relocate since the warp gates are kaput. Needless to say, the commoners didn't take it well.
  • Akumetsu uses this continuously. And, when the government decides to stop him from broadcasting his final "movie" on hijacked TV signals, he puts it all over the internet.
  • One could say that Gold Roger's final words before his execution started the signal, starting the First Age of Piracy and giving a headache to the Wold Government for years to come. The signal would only be strengthened years later with Whitebeard's final words before his death at Marineford, erasing any doubt of One Piece's existence and starting a Second Age of Pirates.

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • The original Watchmen plays this slightly differently to the film (see below) -- Rorschach puts his diary in a mailbox before the Denouement, and we only discover its destination at the very end. Whether the world finds out (let alone whether they should) is left ambiguous, and the reader is asked to decide.
  • A subversion in Milestone Comics' Hardware. This is the first thing the protagonist tries, anonymously sending the media all the evidence he's gathered on Alva's wrongdoing. And the media pointedly ignores it.
  • The Spider-Man What If issue "What If Gwen Stacy Had Lived?" concludes with a reversal of this trope, in that it's the villain who sends information to the press rather than the hero. The Green Goblin posts evidence of Spider-Man's Secret Identity to the hero's "second-greatest enemy": J. Jonah Jameson.


Film[edit | hide]

  • In The Movie of Watchmen, Rorschach sends his diary to Not The Weekly World News before the big showdown. At the end a writer is sent to dig through the "crank file" for a story, but it's ambiguous as to whether the journal was chosen or not.
  • Serenity, the Trope Namer—the heroes use the late Mr Universe's equipment to broadcast the truth about Miranda and "Pax" to the four corners of the 'verse.

Mr. Universe: Mal. Guy killed me, Mal. He killed me with a sword. How weird is that? I got a short span here. They destroyed my equipment, but I have a backup unit. Bottom of the complex. Right over the generator. Hard to get to. I know they missed it. They can't stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal.

  • The Core: The Rat sends the details of the government earthquake-weapon research to all the world's news outlets.
  • The Bourne Ultimatum.
  • In The Constant Gardener, when Justin sends a letter to his friend containing details of a pharmacy company's unscrupulous testing methods for their medicines, knowing he's about to be murdered for knowing too much. His friend reads it out as his eulogy.
  • The Movie of Harrison Bergeron.
  • They Live! inverts the trope; the villains are the ones sending the signal (which maintains their Masquerade as humans like us), and the heroes wind up stopping it in the end.
  • Smith from Shoot Em Up does this out of Genre Savvy—see the page quote.
  • This is how the Mystery Science Theater 3000 "classic" Parts the Clonus Horror ends; the Retired Badass Intrepid Reporter Jake Noble is murdered, but manages to get a tape exposing the Clonus project to the media.
  • In Chain Reaction, the good guy releases to the world the details of the machine allowing production of functionally unlimited energy by faxing it to news offices everywhere.
  • A very different version of this particular trope: two people in the Apocalypse film series movie Revelation who have taken the Mark of the Beast try to stop the anti-Day Of Wonders virus program from uploading by pulling out the disk from the computer and even shooting the computer it's uploading on, all to no avail as it miraculously continues to boot up. Unfortunately, this plan only delays the Day Of Wonders program from being released worldwide, as it shows up in full use in the following movie Tribulation.
  • The climax of The Net.
  • Edge of Darkness sees Elle Craven's whistleblowing video sent to the press by her father, who knows he's dying of thalium poisoning courtesy of her employers.
  • The entire plot of The Book of Eli is his attempt to deliver the Bible to someone capable of disseminating it.
  • The Shawshank Redemption has a small-town variation on this. As he escapes and takes all of the secret kickback money out of false bank accounts, Andy drops a package of hard proof of the warden's crimes into the outgoing mail. That gets sent to the local newspaper; in the next scene, the front page article indicting the prison warden is shown.
  • The second half of Blue Thunder involves getting a video tape to a TV broadcasting station, despite various attempts by the conspirators to intercept it.
  • Subverted at the end of Three Days of the Condor. Turner reveals to CIA chief Higgins that he's had told everything to the New York Times. But as Turner walks away...

Higgins: Hey, Turner! How do you know they'll print it? How do you know...


Literature[edit | hide]

  • Isaac Asimov's short story "The Dead Past". A man discovers the secret of chronoscopy (a machine that can view the past), which has been placed under government control. He releases the information to several publicity outlets so it will become public, then learns why the government suppressed it: it can be used as an unstoppable spying device, which means privacy as we know it is ended.
    • Of course, the reason he had so much trouble is because the government had been using it as an unstoppable spying device - releasing the information simply turned the tables on them.
  • Frank Herbert's short story "Committee Of The Whole". A man uses the broadcast of a U.S. Senate hearing to describe a cheap, easily-built laser that could cut the Earth in half like a ripe tomato. He then spends several pages trying to justify distributing information that could allow any madman to destroy the planet. He later admits he had distributed the information far and wide earlier.
  • Sherlock Holmes does this before he ends Moriarty once and for all.
  • The old Interactive Fiction adaptation of/sequel to Fahrenheit 451 ended with Montag publicly broadcasting the contents of a lot of the banned books.
  • Robert Harris' Fatherland ends with an ambiguous use of this. The film of the book plays it straight.
  • In Greg Iles' The Footprints of God, the main character exposed the AI project he's working on after he recovered from a coma.
  • At the end of Firestarter, Charlie gives her story to the one major publication she can trust not to be controlled by the government... Rolling Stone Magazine.
  • Serpico makes futile attempts to get his various police superiors and the Mayor's office to do something about police corruption, but it's only when he and his colleagues go to the New York Times that a proper enquiry is held not only into corruption but how it's allowed to flourish. This only makes Serpico a greater target however.
  • The Yiddish Policemens Union ends with the protagonists calling a journalist to reveal the Government Conspiracy, despite having already been bought off.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Push Nevada (Ben Affleck's gimmick show where a viewer could win the money stolen from an In-Universe casino) -- the protagonist sends his evidence to every email address he can find.
  • Averted, barely, in Highlander the Series only because Duncan uses the quickening to fry Paris' power grid—and the computer holding the disk which holds information about Immortals and Watchers.
  • Attempted in the season finale of Alphas when Dr. Rosen broadcasts testimony of the existence of alphas and the government's response. They eventually cut him off, but not until it's far too late.
  • Played with rather cruelly in the second season of Sherlock. Whoever said the unstoppable signal had to speak the truth?


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This is the Yatagarasu's entire schtick in Ace Attorney Investigations. The Yatagarasu steals evidence of corruption from businesses and political offices, then sends it to the media to expose the truth. They do this because they've lost faith in the legal system, and it's the only way they can bring some measure of justice to people above the law.
  • Some of the endings in Alpha Protocol involve Michael Thorton carrying this out against Halbech and Alpha Protocol.
  • This is what drives one of StarCraft II's branches, the Revolution/Matt Horner missions. They manage to bring the truth to the Dominion's civilians, thus starting a revolution.


Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • In Schlock Mercenary, when the crew finds out about the Wormgate Corporation's Ancient Conspiracy to suppress the teraport drive, Kevyn turns the invention open-source and submits the schematics to literally everybody. He ends up sparking a galaxy-wide revolution, as practically everybody who had been prevented from fighting each other due to the Wormgate Network can suddenly go shoot each other whenever they want. Or, to put it in perspective for him:

Kevyn: I just spammed something like two thirds of galactic society.

    • When Kevyn is later arrested by the UNS for treason (having submitted his schematics to, amongst others, known enemies of humanity), he asks if there's any chance he can plea-bargain down to the charge of "Grand Spamming". The narrator helpfully informs us that's not a very large step, and that if you have to plea-bargain down to Grand Spamming you were really deep in it to begin with.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Debatably WikiLeaks, more specifically the attempt by the U.S. government to shut them down and the campaign by pro-internet freedom collective "Anonymous" to defend WikiLeaks and its founder and to keep the information online. See The Other Wiki for more information.
  • Arguably, this is how a lot of Conspiracy Theories start.