Gravity Is a Harsh Mistress

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W. E. Coyote's Law of Cartoon Inertia: Objects in motion tend to stay at the same altitude until gravity is noticed.
Vaarsuvius, Order of the Stick

Sometimes gravity doesn't work. Or doesn't work immediately. Or evenly. Or fairly. This takes the following forms:

  • Gravitational Cognizance: A character will not fall until they realize they should be falling. For example, running unknowingly off the edge of a cliff—or walking on the underside of a diving board. Especially dense or focused characters may need to have another character point out their vulnerability. In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, the characters exploited this trope to pass over a gorge by stepping on thin air without looking down. Makes you wonder after a while why anyone looks down at all.
    • ... Oh. Right...
    • In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy flying is the art of deliberately (ab)using this trope. Specifically, throwing yourself at the ground and missing, and then making sure not to think about the fact that flying is impossible, or else gravity will notice you.
  • Creeping Gravity: Also known as Gravity Waves. Gravity will affect a character's body in sections i.e. legs, then torso and finally head. The character will demonstrate neither tissue damage nor pain as a result of this distortion, only on hitting the ground.[1]
  • Varying Gravity: Characters will fall faster than a heavy object—ensuring that the object lands on them. Everything falls faster than an anvil. In fact, on more than one occasion in WB shorts, a character who was falling to earth gently via parachute was handed an anvil... by another character who was falling at the exact same rate... and immediately went into a terminal velocity plunge.
    • Sometimes gravity will even shift around the relative positions of objects. For example, a character and an anvil are falling side-by-side, when suddenly the anvil starts falling a bit slower and moves laterally so it is now directly above the character's head. Wile E. Coyote is intimately familiar with this variant.
  • Dramatic Gravity: Gravity can be suspended for just enough time to give one last comment to your opponent. For example, Yosemite Sam, after being tricked into falling off a diving board by Bugs, rose back up for a moment to say, "Ah hate yew," before plunging again.
    • Gravity can also be suspended while a badly spooked character bobs up and down in mid-air while screaming, for example Tom of Tom and Jerry.
  • Out On A Limb: Gravity is less powerful than other physical forces, including friction, tension, torsion and all the rest. Static electricity appears to be the most powerful physical force. This allows objects to be stacked on top of each other across an unlimited space or height;[2] and will maintain stability even if the branch or beam they are standing on is sawed in half; so long as the pieces are touching. This also allows characters to balance an unlimited number of objects in their hands.
    • For instance, Where The Sidewalk Ends the characters are standing on an object that is clearly about to break, and yet it somehow still supports their weight at least momentarily. Which is to say indefinitely, since the artwork is in single-panel form, and therefore rules of cartoon physics regarding time dilation also apply.
  • Counterintuitive Gravity: Items which should fall don't, when items that shouldn't, do. The traditional case is a character chased up a tree and out onto a limb, as above. It is reasonable for them to trust their weight to a branch while the chaser is cutting through it, because sawing the branch off will make the tree fall. The section being removed (and the character on it) remains suspended in mid-air while the rest of the item (plus whatever object or structure had been supporting it) falls, presumably forever.[3] Diving boards and bridges are also prone to this effect.
    • Or the item could just fall the wrong way.
      • This is actually explained by Bugs Bunny in the short "High Diving Hare". At the end of the episode, Yosemite Sam tries to saw off the end of a diving board, with Bugs on it. However, the diving board ladder, and part where Sam is, fall down, leaving Bugs and the end floating. Bugs remarks "I know this defies the law of gravity but eh, I never studied law", suggesting ignorance of the law of gravity, equals it not noticing you, thereby allowing the situation.
    • The Road Runner and Coyote lampshade it in a cartoon where they use signs to communicate the same thing.

Named for a line in The Tick (animation) (who complains about gravity working all too well, at the time. Luckily he is Nigh Invulnerable). The author may or may not have stolen it from an earlier Garfield strip, which itself is a riff on the title of the novel The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, and where varying gravity is an important plot point. Which is in turn a play on the sailors' saying "The sea is a harsh mistress". Which probably goes back to The Bible "The Law is a harsh master" (Romans 7, 1-6). And then Cassandra Claire plagiarized it in The Draco Trilogy.

See also Not the Fall That Kills You, Gravity Sucks. Gravity as a "power" that is easy to create is covered by Artificial Gravity and Gravity Master.

See also Variable Terminal Velocity. Compare Gravity Is a Harsh Seamstress and Gravity Is Only a Theory.

The non-PG version is "Gravity's one mean mother, huh?" or "Oh Gravity, thou art a heartless bitch." (meme also used as the name of an achievement in the game Magicka).

  1. This does happen in the real world and is pronounced near small, dense bodies of high mass, such as black holes. In such cases it's a force more worrisome than that of eventual impact.
  2. Also true in Real Life, allowing an endless bunch of dominoes to be stacked across a room like a House Of Cards, this is the principle on which Corbel vaults and Mobiles are designed. However, they must be stacked or suspended in a catenary distribution, meaning you can theoretically cantilever a pile of bricks across a ridiculously wide gap, but you get vanishing returns as the pile climbs higher
  3. This could be because It's Turtles All The Way Down.