Fiction Isn't Fair

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
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In works of fiction, characters tend to behave in a way that is largely exaggerated. However, sometimes the behavior of antagonists can fail to take into account laws, rules, and social conventions that exist in real life to prevent said behavior—as well as simple logic. This is usually done to drive the story, and won't always be unheard of in real life (see also Some Anvils Need to Be Dropped and Reality Is Unrealistic), but the viewer is still left wondering why anyone would put up with this kind of nonsense, rather than going straight to the police and/or their lawyer (or, less idealistically, just popping the offender in the mouth).

While some teachers clearly do get away with victimizing students and using abusive language, there are many instances in fiction in which said teachers would be treading on very thin ice at a lot of schools, particularly those in fear of litigation.

Employment Law is a complex and tricky area, so you have to wonder how some abusive bosses are able to fire employees that just happen to disagree with them, and how some abusive employees have managed to keep their jobs for so long. This can get especially absurd in public services like the military.

Judges on TV and in films seem to allow attorneys to act in a way that drives the narrative tension, even if their conduct in the courtroom should be contempt. Juries, meanwhile, seem to be persuaded by the cheapest of tricks. If anyone ever sat on a jury and heard a prosecutor cut off a defense witness who said "yes, he was there but..." just as she was about to elaborate on a key point, alarm bells would ring.

And let's not even start regarding how people are traumatized beyond any recovery without a system of help or family network.

Sometimes no one even disagrees with certain outlandish claims of superiority.

Compare Refuge in Audacity, in which the reason the characters are able to get away with such blatantly outrageous behaviour is because, simply, their behaviour is too outrageous for anyone to believe. Compare also No Delays for the Wicked, and Never My Fault.

Super-Trope to the Bunny Ears Lawyer—the accomplished and competent character whose behavior would be too eccentric to tolerate if s/he weren't so very good at what s/he does.

Examples of Fiction Isn't Fair include:

Anime/Manga

  • Ranma ½: The entire cast. Their regular actions include attempted murder and destruction of property, multiple characters engage in childrearing practices that could only qualify as child abuse, and the school principal is loony beyond question (he has a hidden dungeon in his office among other things).
  • From What an Idiot!: In Strawberry Panic!, sweet, shy, and cutesy Hikari has fallen in love with her older classmate Amane. However, as a result, she is being stalked, harassed, and almost sexually assaulted by a Psycho Lesbian duo who want to get Amane to join the Etoile Election by threatening to harm her. You'd expect Hikari and/or Amane to report these occurrences to either the school staff or the police.
  • The villains in Yu-Gi-Oh! get away with hospitalization quite easily. The Abridged Series doesn't even bother to call it out after the second episode. In this case it probably had to do with the fact that few people are going to believe that playing a children's card game can hospitalize someone.
  • In several episodes of Hell Girl the bad guy of the week would end up behind bars in five minutes if anybody involved acted in even vaguely rational manner. The cake goes to a teacher in the second season who started tormenting her student subtly in a manner that seems like bullying of another student, but then proceeds to trying to pour acid over the student, laughing maniacally!
  • Happens in Code Geass when Ohgi leads the Black Knights to betray Zero. The moral here is supposed to be that Zero failed to trust in his troops. It doesn't really work out when the Knights are ready to betray Zero, a leader who has brought them years of victory, after a 2 minute speech from Schneizel, someone known in universe as a massively untrustworthy Magnificent Bastard.

Comic Books

  • Bruce Banner; Ben Grimm; Dr. Ted Sallis. Just three examples of characters trapped in monstrous, inhuman forms that are more curse than benefit, through no fault of their own, but because Status Quo trumps all in Marvel, none of them will ever be truly human again.

Film

Literature

  • One plot point of C. S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe that's always been plenty annoying for readers is that Edmund Pevensie is allocated the demeaning role of the "traitor" who has to perform a Heel Face Turn, with many allegorical readings even going so far as to compare him to Judas Iscariot. In fact, a careful reading of the book makes clear that while, yes, Edmund's actions did amount to a betrayal of Aslan, outside of the context of the story Edmund never did anything wrong. Indeed, he's one of the more sympathetic and put-upon characters in the story, being treated as persona non grata by his older brother and sister simply for being the youngest of the siblings (and, to their credit, they eventually do admit that they were cruel to him), of course the White Witch would seem a kindly figure to him! Why should he suspect that the White Witch is villainous when he's never been to Narnia, and how can anyone accuse him of betraying Aslan when he had never even met Aslan?
  • Crossing over with Values Dissonance, the behavior of the staff at Hogwarts would get them immediately fired by almost any school in the Western world. From harassment and emotional abuse of students to blatant classroom bias to arbitrarily harsh punishments bordering on criminally actionable to outright academic sabotage[1], clearly it is only Hogwarts' status as a government-protected monopoly that actually keeps people sending their children there.
    • Let's not forget that during the time period covered by the novels, even if we leave out the academic year that occurred during an active wartime occupation we still average at least one attempted murder on-campus per year.

Live-Action TV

  • In the movie Lemonade Mouth, the principal of the school berates a band for preaching a message against him, and threatens to discipline them severely if they ever sing or even hum at school again.
  • Kyle XY, episode "Free to Be You and Me". The school refuses to allow gay couples into the dance. Teaches a moral about tolerance of gays, but totally fails to consider that the result of such a policy would be for some parent to call up the ACLU, who would then give the school an ultimatum.
    • Which is roughly what happened in April 2010, in a Real Life case of this event happening. Prom was officially cancelled and unofficially a group of parents established a separate private party and invited all of the straight kids there as well as teachers who acted as chaperones. It's splitting hairs, but legally somewhat distinct.
  • The whole Tritter storyarc in House.
    • Most of what House himself does qualifies. An established flaw of Cuddy, his direct superior, is that she turns a blind eye to the laws, policy, and safety regulations he breaks in literally every episode. Especially obvious after the third season when he is required to pick a new diagnostic team, choosing his employees not based on merit but on how much they interest him. He tells Cuddy and the candidates this, to their faces. Unfair hiring practices are very illegal, especially in hospitals where unqualified workers regularly kill people by accident. Both House and Cuddy are rather fortunate to still have their jobs.
      • Unless House is making hiring decisions based on legally protected categories (race, sex, national origin, religion, disability status, etc.), he is not breaking any US employment laws. Right To Work includes Right To Hire And/Or Fire For Any Random Reason (save for actual civil rights violations).
      • He keeps one candidate around in part because he's a black Mormon, one in part because she's a lesbian and one despite the fact that he doesn't have a medical degree or any real training. Surely those qualify.
        • If he was excluding them on those categories, certainly. However, since those are the very qualities that are getting them picked, House could and almost certainly would defend his actions as being part of some type of affirmative action program... which are entirely legal.
        • Except for that guy who has no medical training. Unless they're being hired for unskilled orderly-type duties, it would be illegal to assign them to treat patients because you need some kind of medical license to do that.
    • It might be justified because of how House is often the last resort, for people/patients who would otherwise simply die. They might have insurance waivers that need to be signed before anyone could see him. House could justify his hiring practice easily enough.
    • Cuddy mentions having a special fund for House-related lawsuits at one point early in the series.
    • As Cuddy notes almost to the word in the pilot, House is a classic example of the Because, Dammit, He's the Best subtrope: "That sunovabitch is the best doctor we've got!"
  • Principal Snyder on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is rather over-the-top in his freely-expressed hatred of students and the degree to which he openly and publicly gloats at the prospect of having them expelled. Possibly justified in that the Mayor of Sunnydale is a century-old evil sorcerer actively plotting to transform himself into a giant snake-demon, and the entire town was founded in order to further his evil schemes, so one can only assume that the Sunnydale School Board isn't likely to be very receptive to parental complaints.
    • This is at one point subverted. After Buffy was expelled and Snyder refused to let her back Giles threatened to make a formal complaint. Snyder tells him to take it to the school board. Giles tells him he was thinking of the state supreme court. This leads to a compromise.
      • Actually it doesn't. Snyder still refused and only relented after Giles basically threatened to beat the crap out of him.
    • Being fair, Snyder was originally the vice-principal, and in the typical high school administration the traditional role of the vice-principal/dean of students is to be the Bad Cop in Good Cop, Bad Cop.
  • iCarly: First, how the teachers at the school behave towards the students, but don't get into trouble. One example would be in "iHave My Principals" where one of the teachers gives Gibby a detention for being too Gibby, and they introduce uniforms in about a day. And an elaborate surveillance system.
    • Secondly, how Sam has managed to not get expelled. This is at its worst in the early episodes where Sam is a major bully. In the later episodes, you have to wonder how she even manages to pass through the grades, considering Sam appears to fail every class, is lazy, never does homework, and actively aggravates her teachers. This is after being held back once already in third grade.
      • It is mentioned in "iPilot" that Sam has actually been suspended before, and that another incident would lead to an expulsion.
      • And as for her grades, another episode revealed she knew how to hack into the school's computers to change grades. At one point, she's seen changing a poor grade to a B.
    • Speaking of Sam, one has to wonder why she hasn't been taken from her mother by Social Services by now. We discover that Mrs. Puckett, among other things, has driven to school while blind to pick up her daughter, doesn't do much of anything besides sleep all day, Sam mentions that her mom doesn't feed her (whether it's truth or exaggeration is never fully revealed, but she does eat at Carly's a lot), the police have been to her apartment numerous times to do searches... And Sam frequently mentions these things to Carly and Freddy, and within earshot of Spencer, who is a legal adult and should probably call the police! Yet absolutely nothing is done about her horrible home-situation.
  • Pretty much every soap opera or "drama show" on TV. In order to drive the conflict, no one ever calls the police for something like breaking and entering.
  • Last episode of Masters of Science Fiction ("Watchbird"), DVD-only and broadcast in the UK. A guy invents an artificially-intelligent mechanical bird that can fly around on its own and attack, and even kill, people who may be about to commit crimes. They get deployed. In the USA. The present-day USA. Anyone who tried that would be jumped on in a minute by all sorts of civil rights groups. The episode also heavily falls into Misapplied Phlebotinum territory (imagine what else you could use AIs for) and No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup (the system is designed so that only the one programmer and nobody else can reprogram the birds).
  • In True Blood, how the hell is the Fellowship of the Sun not on the FBI's Most Wanted list after sending a friggin' suicide bomber to a vampire gathering, and then gloating about it on public television? It's clear that vampires are considered people under the law, and there were many human participants in any case.
  • A skit on the 1980s updated version of The Mickey Mouse Club takes place in a supermarket, where an adolescent girl working at the checkout line is forced to deal with an item scanner endowed with a ridiculous level of artificial intelligence; the scanner has a Jerkass personality and keeps insulting shoppers in its obnoxious robotic voice (calling them fat, saying they have bad breath, etc.). The hapless girl gets blamed for all this rudeness (despite, you know, not actually being a robot), and is finally fired by her supervisor (although by that point she's almost happy to be fired, since she won't have to put up with the asshole computer anymore). It was obviously Played for Laughs, though.
  • From what we found out via the reminiscing on Frasier, Frasier and Niles had it rough too. Not only were they almost always picked on by their fellow students, but sometimes the teachers joined them in the jeering. Where are these schools located, Hell?

Video Games

  • No one in the Ace Attorney series seems to be particularly concerned by things like Manfred von Karma overriding the judge, his daughter Franziska attacking everyone in sight with her whip, or Godot throwing his coffee cup across the room to land on the defense's head.
    • Coffee cups? Bombarding Phoenix or otherwise humiliating him is commonly done not only by the prosecutors, but even by the witnesses.
    • This is because Real Life Isn't Fair; it seems over-the-top and cartoony to a Western audience, but it's based on Japanese court proceedings, of which the entire thing is only slightly exaggerated. The reason prosecutors seem to get away with everything in these games is because in Japanese courtrooms, everyone is on the prosecutor's side anyway because the defendant has committed an unforgivable act of bad manners just by pleading not guilty. Yes, really.
      • Truth in Television. Tokyo Vice by Jake Adelstein mentions a reporter who became famous when he broke a story about how an innocent man was put in jail, essentially just so the cops could arrest someone for the crime. Japan has a conviction rate of almost 100%. (Source, for those interested.)

Web Comic

  • In Sluggy Freelance Torg actually does try suing his talking, murderous pet rabbit Bun-Bun to make him leave Torg's apartment, or at least not be as much of a Jerkass. However, Bun-Bun manages to successfully counter-sue by having his lawyers claim Torg is an anti-rabbit racist and an anti-pain-in-the-ass racist.
  • Frequently used in Ozy and Millie.
  • In Dominic Deegan, assault doesn't seem to be a crime in Callan. Siegfried assaulted Dominic multiple times and faced no consequences. And it's not even a case of a corrupt government protecting one of their own. Taz attacked a guy with a garbage can for saying his music sucked and he's a massive anti-authoritarian, while Melna, a despised ethnic minority, routinely assaulted Dominic and faced no charges.
    • Taz has been shown as being bailed out of jail in a recent strip where he assaulted Dominic, but given the relative mildness of the assault, this may be Rule of Funny.

Web Original

  • In Survival of the Fittest, Danya managing to get away with extremely high profile abductions of hundreds of high school kids (including the child of a vice president, in one version), and keeping the game on the air for periods that can be upwards of two weeks without getting tracked down. In version two, the island was tracked down, but only just after the game ended. Equally, earlier versions had a couple of villainous characters who were insane prior to the game to the point that they most definitely should have been committed.
    • In version one, some of said villains were committed and subsequently broken out by the terrorists or escaped on their own. However, the other three versions have drifted away from that with the narrower focus.
  • Parodied in The Onion: "Romantic-Comedy Behavior Gets Real-Life Man Arrested".

Western Animation

  • Angela Anaconda might be the worst offender here: the teacher regularly gives the class pet straight A's, even when she doesn't do what the assignment asks for (she once brought a tea set when she was supposed to make a volcano) and constantly gives everyone F's and D's. For some reason despite that fact that 99% of her class is, you know, FAILING she never loses her job or even gets called on it...except when it involved a school play; even then, the only reason Mrs. Brinks let Angela get what she deserved (in a good way) was because she was surrounded by parents and couldn't be seen to be hypocritical.
  • On The Simpsons and Malcolm in the Middle, rarely, if ever, do any school faculty or parents make any attempt to deal with the ubiquitous bullying in school, even when students are commonly sent to the hospital (yup, the parents don't help either). Nobody cares about the scale of the bullying, even though in the real world this would cause a serious public relations problem—if the teachers and administrators don't care about the kids, they might care about the potential effect on their careers. (Granted, The Simpsons doesn't need to be realistic.)
    • Malcolm even turns this into a Spoof Aesop during an episode where Reese decides to stop bullying and the entire student body falls into anarchy as the lesser bullies attempt to fill the power vacuum left by his absence. When Reese returns to his tyrannical ways, everyone cheers.
    • At least one episode had the ACLU come in after finding out the school literary journal was censored. Which, while a subversion of the trope, is just as unlikely as anything on this page; school publications are privately funded and don't count as "the press". Therefore, the school may censor whatever they like.
    • The Simpsons episode "Homer's Enemy" revolved around how someone from "real life" might react to Homer Simpson's life.
    • In the flashback episode that shows Bart first attending the school, Principal Skinner introduces some members of staff to the new students, including school bully Jimbo.

Jimbo: (making a punching gesture) I look foward to wailing on all of you.

  • When Lucy pulls the football trick on Charlie Brown in It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown, it's not just the fact that she would be seen as unfair as to do it in an important game in front of hundreds of spectators, but the fact that everyone seems to blame Charlie Brown.
    • What about Charlie Brown's teacher assigning him, and apparently only him, to read War and Peace in the span of a week? The kid's in grade school, for chrissakes...and then after he slaves away his Winter vacation on the damn book and writing a report on it, she gives him a crummy grade solely because she doesn't believe that a kid his age could have possibly read it followed by assigning him an even longer, harder book. Why the hell wasn't she suspended?!
    • Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes fame has equally bad luck. Mrs. Wormwood assigns her students projects that would be more appropriate for a high school class (or at least a junior high school glass) than a first grade one. How she gets away with it, we don't know. Of course, the Rule of Funny might have something to do with it.
      • Although, given Calvin's imagination, he may just think the work's a bit hard.
      • Sometimes he also makes it hard for himself. Case in point, the leaf project:

Hobbes: Don't worry, Calvin, it's not that hard. You just need to collect three or four leaves a day.
Calvin: I'm not working on weekends.
Hobbes: All right, you'll need five leaves a day.
Calvin: And my weekdays are booked solid until Thursday 7:00 P.M.
Hobbes: So you'll need 50 leaves an hour.
Calvin: See? It's impossible!

  • Subverted in an episode of Daria: When the school alters Daria and Jane's poster, and then attempts to display the altered poster in an art show over their protests, they take action by destroying it. Principal Li calls Daria's mother, Helen, who, despite having earlier agreed with Li on the issue, gets an awesome Mama Bear moment:

Helen: All right Ms. Li, let me make sure I have this straight. You took my daughter's poster from her, altered its content, exhibited it against her will and are now threatening discipline because you claim she defaced her own property which you admit to stealing? Ms. Li, are you familiar with the phrase: "violation of civil liberties?" And the phrase: "big fat lawsuit?"

    • Another good example is the season five episode "Fizz Ed" in which Ms. Li effectively allows the school to be used as a cash cow by a soda company. Her antics continue to the extent that even Daria herself can't ignore it and makes an official complaint. Interestingly enough, the episode's Aesop was somewhat centered around this trope, or rather, combating it. Daria was forced to admit that there were many things she perceived to be morally wrong in the world, but she never did anything about them, she just made sarcastic comments and it never solved anything.
  • Danny Phantom has its protagonist undergo bullying that counts as physical assault. People get shoved in lockers, physically beaten, and the mascot is hung from the goalposts. For at least two hours. Add in the blatant favoritism shown to the football players and popular kids by the school system, and Casper High is BEGGING for a lawsuit...
    • In one episode, a teacher told Dash to get Danny into shape, and he replied "Is 'broken in half' considered a shape?", so it's not just that the teachers never see it.
    • Then there was that Ember episode where an entire SWAT team was called in to arrest every single teenager in town. That's bordering on parody.
      • To be fair, earlier in the episode, all the students ganged up and nearly trampled the Stern Teacher to death had it not been for Danny. In his perspective, he didn't know they were all hypnotized.
    • That sort thing shows up double-time in The Fairly OddParents (only with the "cool kids" instead of jocks). Butch Hartman, it would seem, has issues.
    • In addition, Vlad (through Jack) institutes several anti-ghost anti-teen measures, including a curfew, "confiscating" any handheld technology, excessive surveillance, escorts for all teens, et cetera.
  • The South Park episode "Goobacks" involved people from the future traveling to the present and taking everyone's jobs because they were willing to work for 20 cents an hour. At no point does anyone even try enforcing minimum wage laws.
    • Well, no, they don't. Employers of illegal immigrants like having cheap-as-slavery labor.
      • Certain government agencies tend to frown on it, though.
    • On the other hand, there didn't seem to be anyone obstructing the giant public gay orgy used to protest the future immigrants. Those guys must have been violating at least a couple of indecency laws.
      • Unless actual violence or destruction of property is going on, police departments occasionally develop selective blindness when it comes to large, excitable crowds of people engaging in behavior that is technically illegal. For example, while walking down the streets of Chicago puffing on a marijuana joint is normally a good way to get acquainted with the county lockup, whenever they had a Grateful Dead concert around here virtually the entire audience would be full of tens of thousands of people puffing away -- and the Chicago PD, who were working crowd control, would repeatedly fail to notice anything. The reason, of course, is that trying to arrest an entire large crowd that isn't already in the process of rioting is a great way to start a riot, and the cops would rather not have the grief.
  • So why hasn't Mr. Crocker of The Fairly OddParents been fired? Literally everyone in his class (except for AJ) is failing, he's thought to be insane by pretty much everyone who doesn't have fairies (and even those that do still think he has issues), and he's known to be outright abusive to his students (when March 15, the anniversary of the worst day of his life, rolls around you run). Also despite all of this, it's implied that he's got the highest salary he can get (it was used as a bit of a Hand Wave to explain why he could afford his fairy hunting gear, but still!).
    • Wait, March 15?
    • This was handwaved in one episode in which he mentioned in passing that he had tenure. This was his justification for going on with an experiment that would kill a human subject, to prove that Timmy's "parents" were fairies.
    • Not to mention that they have a "Mayor-for-life" just because that is what was on his ballot when he got elected more than thirty years ago. No one has a problem with this.
    • They did have a problem with this, until the Mayor-for-life brought up that they should've read the ballot in the first place. Still, you'd think at least one person would make a stand.
  • Severe case in The Powerpuff Girls episode "School House Rocked": the Gangreen Gang, who are enrolled in Pokey Oaks Kindergarten, cause all sorts of chaos in class, and the girls try to stop them, only to be called out by Miss Keane, who claims they haven't done anything wrong, even though they've been doing it in plain sight!
    • This is more a character flaw than anything really. They managed to convince her that all of that was just an accident and they really were trying to be good students, honest! She's always shown to be very forgiving and they really played the right notes with her. Noticeably, when she realizes what's going on and how she's been tricked she let's the girls rain down dodgeball-based vengeance upon them.
  • Total Drama. No matter how sadistic or life threatening the challenges get, Chris still gets away with abusing several teens on international television. No law enforcement official ever steps in, nor do the kids' parents. Even when he's shown killing interns onscreen, no one seems to care.
  • Inverted in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, where it's usually the heroes, their family members, and their neighbors who do most of the things that buck social convention, cause massive property damage and endanger lives. Often without consequences beyond maybe having to make an apology and occasionally doing a few extra chores. Sometimes, they even get thanked after doing stuff like destroy a major social event.
    • If you're referring to the Grand Galloping Gala, the person thanking them for destroying said major social event is the same person who invited them there specifically for the purpose of having their personal brand of chaos turn the place upside down. Admittedly, she didn't tell them that's what they were there for, but its entirely understandable that a person who deliberately schemed for a certain outcome then shows gratitude and pleasure at having received said outcome. One can only imagine that if the opinion of the rest of the Gala guests had been solicited, it would have been distinctly unfavorable.
    • Equestria has a culture that makes forgiveness and tolerance two of its highest virtues, and holding onto a grudge past its (very short) sell-by date into one of its worst sins. Equestria also has a hostile form of magical wildlife that feeds off of lingering hatred and resentment and can rapidly reduce an entire country to a frozen wasteland if allowed to reproduce out of control, so denying them a regular food supply is a matter of critical importance. Fans have speculated that these two things are related.
  1. Snape's destroying of Harry's properly made potions assignments and then marking him as a 'zero' for allegedly not turning any in, in book 4