Contractual Genre Blindness

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You're a supervillain. Your efforts are supposed to be foiled by your ambition and hubris. Failure is the surest sign of success.
The Green Grocer's henchman played by a black pawn, Terror Island theorem #092

Apparently, there is such a thing as being too Genre Savvy. Genre Savvy villains are evil, and they know it. For every complicated villain with abandonment issues that has a chance to redeem themselves, there are ten Card Carrying Villains out there who are just in it because they love being villains.

But what happens when you have a Genre Savvy villain who understands that to be a good villain, you have to be Genre Blind? You're left with a villain stricken with Contractual Genre Blindness. This is the man who captures the hero and uses overly complicated Death Traps, not because it's the smart thing to do, but because it's what a villain is supposed to do.

While usually reserved for a Genre Savvy Card-Carrying Villain, this trope does reach out into the realms of the Affably Evil, the Punch Clock Villain, the smarter Harmless Villain, Spies trying to keep their job secret from their spouse, and the Deadpan Snarker who gives up and "plays along."

Slave to PR to the extreme. Villains who say "Screw it" to this policy instead become Dangerously Genre Savvy. If a villain, usually a Mad Scientist, has a mental handicap which forces them to act like this, even when they know better, that's Science-Related Memetic Disorder.

Examples of Contractual Genre Blindness include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

James: Why didn't we try this before?
Jessie: We had to fill up the half-hour!

Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Empowered, by Adam Warren: The bad guys do this as a survival mechanism. Smack around the hero and leave him (her) tied up and escape with the diamonds? Good show, whatever. We'll get you next time! Shoot the hero? Every other hero will be after you.
  • When Doc Seismic from Invincible captures many of the world's superheroes but doesn't attempt to kill any of them, Atom Eve wonders why not; Invincible suggests that he's "old school".

Film[edit | hide]

  • Dr. Evil from Austin Powers. He criticizes his son for being practical, saying he's just not nearly as evil because he's Genre Savvy.
  • Who Framed Roger Rabbit?: Toons, as cartoon characters, tend to act very poorly when it comes to being Genre Savvy and acknowledge it, because for them it's very hard if not outright impossible to jump away from the "role" they've been created for. (Roger tells Eddie that he wouldn't ever be capable to murder because "My wohle purpose in life is to make people laugh!"). Double-subverted with Judge Doom, who is able to repress his basic toon urges to maintain his human disguise, but can't fight his villain "role" and places the heroes in an overly-dramatic and slow-moving Death Trap which eventually causes his own demise.
  • Megamind: Megamind appears to accept that defeat is inevitable in his conflict with superhero Metro Man and operate accordingly. To the extent that he begins winding up his latest plan under the assumption that it's failed without actually checking to see that it has failed; when it turns out it's succeeded, he's as astonished as everyone else.
    • Even after Metro Man is defeated, this type of thinking persists. Megamind realises that to be evil, he needs to have a hero to fight. He needs to base his actions on what's the "most evil". And eventually, when he begins to fall in love, Minion points out that he's not allowed to get the girl.
  • The Devil in Tenacious D has this almost literally. He is pissed when the main characters challenge him to a rock-off, since the "demon code" prevents him from declining. He has never lost before, but he is still reluctant to accept.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • Discworld
    • In Carpe Jugulum, the old Count de Magpyr explains that it's better for a vampire to display a sense of fairness (having big open windows with heavy drapes and easily breakable furniture in your castle) and get let yourself be killed every so often, than to become a hated tyrant and have people actually trying to get rid of you in a more longlasting way.
    • Evil Harry Dread in The Last Hero is constrained by the Dark Lord Code of Honour, later defined in this Pyramid article.

Contractual Genre Blindness is a clever survival technique. In the case of the Old Count, he knows that deliberately obeying old stereotypes is much better than subverting them and earning the total enmity of the local villagers, risking them putting him in a coffin full of garlic and posting a guard every year. Evil Harry Dread's continued "I'll be back" survival also works because he abides by the same rules as the heroes. If they killed Harry once and for all, they would be depriving themselves of a future job. As such, Harry is considered a close friend, even though he is still a "bad guy".

In Harry and Cohen's case, in typical Pratchett fashion, the Dangerouly Genre Savviness of both sides, resulting in their mutual Contractual Genre Blindness curved right back around to being Dangerously Genre Savvy about Contractual Genre Blindness. When Harry seems genuinely surprised that they were expecting him to betray Cohen's Silver Horde exactly at the culmination of their grand plan, they explain that they expected nothing less from someone like Harry and congratulate him on being one of the best Evil Overlords they had ever encountered. Harry tears up not only from the respect he receives from them, but also the idea that they may be parting ways forever. One last note: in much the same way that Cohen and the Horde are the "Last Heroes", Harry is the Last Dread Lord - he always stuck to his end of the code, but the other side didn't. "The first thing they do these days, they block up your secret escape tunnels."

  • Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman: villain Dr. Impossible does many things because that's what villains are supposed to do, but with a lot of realistic consequences Dr. Impossible dons his supervillain costume to impress the C-list villains at a local hangout, gets beat up and thrown out, and has to change out of his costume in nearby bushes before getting on the local Greyhound bus to go home..

In other instances, he manages to stop himself just before pulling a classic supervillain move. In one scene, he's being laughed at by some prison guards, which gets him so annoyed he begins to retort by saying "You won't be laughing when I..." Then he stops, and chides himself for always giving away his master plan.

    • This is all because he suffers from a mental illness -- "Malign Hypercognition Disorder." He knows his actions are irrational, and most of his struggle in the books are with himself, alternately denying his problem and pitying/hating himself for it.
  • Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A rare heroic example; Tom Sawyer insists on breaking Jim out in the most elaborate, difficult way possible because "that's how it's supposed to be done." Given all the trouble this causes, you can tell Mark Twain had gotten sick of Tom Sawyer by the time he wrote Huckleberry Finn.

To elaborate on how idiotic the breakout plan was: one step of it involved moving a boulder into Jim's cell (don't ask). The two boys aren't strong enough to move it in themselves, so Jim helps them. That's right, Jim walks out of the cell and goes back in voluntarily. And then lets himself be locked back in again. Poor Jim. Jim is legally already free; Tom Sawyer just refused to tell him until he had 'broken him out' first.

  • Bridge of Birds: The Duke of Ch'in does this out of fear: tough as he acts, he's still confused and frightened, so he mimics the villains in fairy tales rather than think on his own.
  • In the book "Heroics for Beginners", the evil overlord mentions trying to foreclose the mortgage on an orphanage and chase down puppies to kick because that's how one becomes an evil overlord.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • In what may be Truth in Television, the actors in the George Reeves The Adventures of Superman show actually said that they never noticed Clark and Superman looked the same because they wanted to keep their jobs.
  • Pearl in Mystery Science Theater 3000 attempts at first to get accredited by, and then follow the rules of, the Board of Mad Scientists. She is perpetually annoyed at following the mad scientist rules when she knows there are easier ways to do things, but it's "illegal to rule the world if you're not board certified" so she just goes with it.
  • Classic Doctor Who's the Master fell into this a lot. New Who manages to make him Contractually Genre Blind and Dangerously Genre Savvy at the same time.

Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Exalted, arguably most raksha would fit into this, although it would be quite possible for them to be wrong about what genre they're in. Also, the Infernal Exalted have Acts of Villainy that they can use to lose limit. These include telling their opponents their evil plan, leaving them in a deathtrap, and forcing people into marriage.
  • In a fairly meta example, anyone who plays roleplaying games for any length of time will develop this, and also become Dangerously Genre Savvy, because of the Fourth Wall. To elaborate, while anyone who's played for any length of time will pick up on the cliches and tropes that the Game Master uses due to dozens of exposures, the character being played will not, so the player must act as if genre blind, or risk Breaking the Fourth Wall which most GMs frown upon. If you forgo the contractual genre blindness and go with No Fourth Wall, this leads to powergaming, Munchkins, a Killer Game Master and, when it all comes crashing down, Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies.

Videogames[edit | hide]


Web Comics[edit | hide]

"You're a supervillain. Your efforts are supposed to be foiled by your ambition and hubris. Failure is the surest sign of success."


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Spoony's review of the Dragonstrike video board game pointed out how painfully obvious it is that the king's jester is the Big Bad and suggests just stabbing him then and there. Of course, the characters in the video miss this and just go off on the adventure anyway
    • The reviewers of the site are well aware of this trope. In the Channel Awesome Three Year Special Suburban Knights, all the characters have to get dressed up into fantasy costumes and start Becoming the Mask. Obscurus Lupa is Snow White, so she knows that she's contractually obligated to be horrible in battle.
  • In Melee's End, Zelda gets kidnapped. She then simply waits to be rescued, even though she's a perfectly competent fighter, and the dungeon she's in has no doors or guards. When Mewtwo wonders why she hasn't tried to escape, she says that that's not how getting kidnapped works.
  • Lindsay and Jenny in Human Centipede the Musical tend to dismiss any suspicions that would hinder the plot.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Kim Possible: Señor Senior Sr. is a particularly Genre Savvy old man who took up supervillainy as a hobby and has since adhered to Contractual Genre Blindness. In fact, it's a tradition followed both by the villains and the heroes. So much so that the characters get upset when one villain refuses to follow the rules. He considers it to be good form.
  • The Venture Brothers
    • Most supervillains are members of the Guild of Calamitous Intent—a Weird Trade Union whose bylaws obligate them to behave in this manner. It's suggested that the Guild enforces this as a protection measure for both their members and for society at large. An episode where Jonas Jr does not play along has Brock Samson warning him that a psycho with a private army, flying machines and so forth needs to be indulged if only to keep him away from committing real crimes.
    • Baron Undherbeit and The Monarch are both try to kill Dr. Venture at the same time. After coming to an agreement to combine their forces, Undherbeit asks if they should run the decision by the Guild first. After a brief pause, they both laugh at the suggestion and decide to 'screw protocol'. However, by the time they have finally decided upon this, all of their henchmen have been massacred by one of Venture's specially built robots.
  • Jack Spicer of Xiaolin Showdown.
  • Dr. Doofenshmirtz of Phineas and Ferb. In "No More Bunny Business" we see that he actually writes a script for his latest encounter with Perry the Platypus (presumably Perry goes Off the Rails, though.) When Perry is reassigned to other villains, he finds the new villain and helpfully tells him where he's doing it wrong and commends Perry for his methods.
  • Xanatos always wanted to try his hand at cliche villainy. Played with, as his inevitable defeat was all part of the plan.
  • In his second appearance, the Justice League version of Gorilla Grodd brings up the concept of propaganda. According to him, just killing Earth's greatest heroes won't make humanity bow down to him—he needs to kill them publicly in an utterly humiliating fashion to prevent further resistance. This means that he gives up two opportunities to kill some or most of them easily in favor of a traditionally villainous scheme, and while he plans for most of the potential pitfalls, the premise of the show necessitates that he accidentally miss one.