Moral Dissonance

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Jack Slate (who at this point has brutally killed at least 50 criminals): They were judge, jury, and executioner, all in one nasty package.
Slowbeef: That is YOU!

Let's Play Dead to Rights: Retribution

Moral Dissonance is the result of having a hero who has a double standard and no one notices. It can include pretty much any unintentional Double Standard on the hero's part that becomes obvious to the viewer during a walk to the fridge. It's important to point out the hero isn't necessarily acting the Jerkass, Anti-Hero, or morally myopic villain, and may in fact be likable and decent, but their actions simply don't line up with their rhetoric and no one calls them on it.

Usually results either from using an old aesop or trope that's a genre staple with different values to those of the hero, usually resulting in a Broken Aesop. For example: Hero believes in giving the villain a Last Second Chance and will go the extra mile to Save the Villain from his own devices regardless of previous backstabs and never consider killing him because If You Kill Him You Will Be Just Like Him. The Punch Clock Villain minions? Doesn't even flinch when he has to kill them because they inconvenience him. Since they don't have a name, it doesn't really matter. This gets its own subtrope: What Measure Is a Mook?

With an Omniscient Morality License the old Mentor character, especially a Trickster Mentor, can do anything because of their absolute knowledge over what will occur. Anyone else even approaching that level of arrogance would be smacked by the plot and smacked hard. Obviously Sociopathic Heroes are exempt as they are expected to act this way.

This trope is named partly for Cognitive Dissonance, the concept psychologists use to describe the tension one feels when holding two conflicting ideas or viewpoints simultaneously. In this case, it can be that the character seems to hold two incompatible beliefs - thus having literal cognitive dissonance - or it can be that they are acting against their supposed moral beliefs, for whatever reason. Moral, because the hero can be The Messiah and a Technical Pacifist while being very Immoral.

This is very much Truth in Television (sadly). Even the most moral of Real Life individuals can and do have this kind of disconnect all the time, if only because they failed to think about the implications of their actions that time. In fictional cases, it may be up for argument whether the dissonance was on the part of the character or the writer.

Compare Values Dissonance, where the cause is cultural. Compare also Family-Unfriendly Aesop, where the hero's actions line up with morals that the reader might not agree with. Also compare What Do You Mean It's Not Heinous? Contrast Not So Different, where the double standard is noticed; What the Hell, Hero?, where they are expressly called out in a way that can even serve as a driving force of the plot; It's All About Me, where the villain actively holds this kind of double standard, and it's noticed; Tautological Templar, where another character also actively thinks he can do no wrong. For The Rival holding a grudge, it's Disproportionate Retribution. Protagonist-Centered Morality is something of a similar case.

See also Jerk with a Heart of Gold, who is at heart a good guy but often behaves badly.

Consider No Endor Holocaust, where often hero's actions should have had some negative effect, but doesn't because they're supposed to be the good guys. Pay Evil Unto Evil is the concept where it's acceptable to commit crimes against evil people.

Expect the Mary Sue to do this. Oh, so very often.

The trope is about internal inconsistency — the dissonance is on the part of the character, not the audience. The hero saying one thing and doing another is the trope. The hero making an argument for his actions that is considered unconvincing, or acting in a way that you don't consider moral, is not the trope.

Examples of Moral Dissonance include:


Anime and Manga

  • The Black Knights of Code Geass, particularly Ohgi, fall victim to this when they fall for both logical and moral incongruities put forth by Schneizel to turn them against Lelouch. Ohgi, despite believing that people should not be treated as pawns, nevertheless allows himself and the others to be manipulated by Schneizel in order to get rid of Lelouch. He probably thought of it as choosing the lesser of two evils. In the same scenario, Villetta Nu, while acting out of concern for Ohgi, leaves out a number of details (that she may or may not even have been aware of herself, given that it's likely all her information on it came from Emperor Charles and who knows how honest he was with her) that would have cast a favorable light on Lelouch, namely the limitations of said power, thereby needlessly (or maliciously) hurting the latter's case.
    • On top of that, Ohgi uses Kallen as a pawn to draw out Lelouch, who he intends to sell out to Schneizel, as a pawn no less, in exchange for Japan. Not to mention that for all the complaints of Lelouch going AWOL during the Black Rebellion, Ohgi did the same a few episodes before the current predicament here on account of Villetta. Speaking of which, one of the charges brought against Lelouch is that he's a Britannian Prince, even though no one takes issue with Ohgi's tryst with Villetta, a Britannian agent, one who had been monitoring Lelouch while he was captured no less, and was the one responsible for incapacitating Ohgi in the first place partly due to the latter dropping his guard with her, and that they were taking the advice of Schneizel, a current royal, and one of the most powerful ones at that, whereas Lelouch had been in exile. To top all of this off, such a deal, if it were to go through, would likely result in something tantamount to Lelouch abandoning the Black Rebellion, only magnitudes worse: the Black Knights essentially abandoning their duties as military front of the UFN, and thus their duty of liberating the world from Britannia.
      • There's also the dash of Fridge Logic thrown in there: As Zero, Lelouch encouraged the Black Knights not to lash out at people just because they were Britannians and to focus their efforts on evil people regardless of their nationality. They instantly condemn Lelouch based on the fact that he's a Britannian prince, and further still, nobody thinks to do any research on him, which would reveal the fact that he was disowned by the Emperor after a "terrorist attack" killed his mother and crippled his little sister and therefore he has extremely little reason to support Britannia and the royal family.

Comic Books

  • Batman has no qualms with killing Dracula in The Batman crossover film (or Red Rain crossover comic) or with blowing away Aliens in another crossover. What Measure Is a Non-Human? applies to Batman's moral code as well, apparently. Though Dracula comes Back From the Dead so many times that death is equal to a stint in Arkham for him anyway, this argument isn't used, and Batman justifies offing him simply by the fact that he's a 'monster', though his "crime" is hardly worse than even this series' comparatively tame version of Joker tries in every episode he's featured in. Of course, Dracula is also a vampire, and in most variations on the vampire mythos vampires technically are medically dead anyway (no heartbeat, no pulse, no breathing, nothing), thus making this a tricky example.
    • It bears mentioning here that Aliens, or "xenomorphs" are essentially very fast, very strong killing machines that are incredibly hard to contain and damn near impossible to non-lethally restrain, with no thoughts at all that don't relate to their own survival, so Bats has an excuse here.
      • This is pretty much his reasoning behind Dracula too: he's a centuries-old humanoid monster who has caused (directly or through his progeny) untold death, destruction and corruption through those years, and who will continue to do it for untold years more if not stop, potentially killing the entire human race and can ONLY be stopped by death as, to him, any prison is literally as solid as a wet cardboard box. That said, in Red Rain at least, he DOES have some internal conflict over the issue, and only finally goes through with it in the middle of a life-or-death struggle after already having detonated the Bat Cave and causing Wayne Manor to collapse into it, and oh yeah he was halfway through the process of becoming a vampire himself at the time.
    • In JLA Classified, Batman threatens Gorilla Grodd with "My code doesn't apply to apes, Grodd." and "I've killed apes before. Don't tempt me." Plus, he seems to have little hesitation against using deadly tactics on a rogue Superman or Martian Manhunter (but this might be justified by the sheer severity of the threat—think a sapient reusable nuke and you've just about got a small idea of the tiniest fraction of Superman's considerable power and even less of Martian Manhunter's.)
      • This does bring up a bit of Fridge Logic though, when one wonders: why has Batman killed apes before? In what possible situation could killing apes have been a valid course of action?
      • When the ape is trying to kill you? There's sort of a reason they're regarded as aggressive, dangerous animals.
    • The very first story with Catwoman (or 'the Cat' as she was known at first) has Batman sternly Break the Fourth Wall to remind the readers that crooks should never be admired and be fought at every turn. Four pages later he allows the Cat to escape (and deliberately foils Robin's attempt to stop her) for the sole reason that he finds her sexy - other than being non-violent there are literally no other extenuating circumstances in favour of letting her go.
  • Every time Brainiac shows up, Superman always states how "my code against killing doesn't apply to machines". This despite the fact that Brainiac is portrayed as anywhere from all but sapient to perhaps more sapient than humans, depending on the writer, and Superman knows other so-called machines who are treated as being basically human. This gets really stupid in JLA: Earth 2, when Superman trots out the above line, when facing the alternate universe Brainiac but stops himself when it turns out that rather than an advanced AI, this universe's version of Brainiac is an "organic syntellect"—either way, it's still an artificial life form, and the only difference is what it's made of.
    • In fairness, Brainiac's frequently shown to be a Hive Mind, and the ability to store his coding elsewhere. Superman may be referring to the bodies Brainiac inhabits, which can be replaced.
  • Wonder Woman has a different take on this problem, as when Superman, Batman and the rest of the Justice League were discussing the treatment of Dr. Light (had his mind wiped to forget him committing a rather heinous crime) Superman was at a loss to see what else they could have done. Wonder Woman replies simply with, you should have killed him. Supes and Bats are horrified and she explains, Dr. Light is a monster and she's killed those before, the fact that he's in the shape of a man shouldn't matter in the long run. She says this while she was blind after a fight with Medusa that had been broadcast on live television (remember that) and had ended said fight by decapitating the monster and was hailed a hero for it. It's brought up again later, once Diana killed Maxwell Lord (he had control of Superman and wouldn't stop using him for evil until Max was dead) and the act was, again, broadcast on TV. Diana defends her actions in the same way, but is warned people are afraid of her now, because for all he was a monster, Max looked like everyone else, which is an example of in-universe Moral Dissonance right there.
    • Wonder Woman wasn't talking about executing Light on national television, but even had she, Light was an infamous costumed supervillain. Max Lord, in contrast, did not wear a costume, and was a noted philanthropist. The real Moral Dissonance was when Batman and Superman said that she should have found another way. Superman's killed people when he felt absolutely certain he had no alternative, and Batman didn't share how Lord could have been stopped given Lord had made Superman his slave.
    • They could have at least rendered Lord unconscious and thought about the situation. If he can't think, he can't mind control. Then they could have consulted any of a number of psychic colleagues to at least see if there might be another option. This is standard operating procedure and these three are the reigning champions of taking a third option. Wonder Woman made the decision in seconds after a two minute conversation with Max Lord. Just because Max thinks he can't be stopped doesn't mean he's unstoppable. It's a common villain trait.
  • Most absurd version of this (that didn't actually happen)? Spider-Man made a deal with Mephisto. You, know, big demon guy? Makes deals with people and then screws them over? The deal in question? He wiped his and his wife's minds, aborting their unborn baby in the process, just so his aunt who, even in terms of comic book aging is older than the Bill of Rights, can recover from a gunshot wound to live for a couple more years before finally kicking the bucket. And to add insult to injury, she only got shot in the first place because Spidey revealed his Secret Identity to the public, making the exact scenario he has been harping about for bloody years as to why he specifically shouldn't take off his mask. In other words, Aunt May was shot because of Peter's mistake and he was unwilling to take responsibility for his actions. And we were meant to think this act is heroic somehow. The Moral Dissonance? Spider-man not taking responsibility for her death goes completely against the saying "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility."(read: THE MOST DEFINING PART OF HIS ENTIRE CHARACTER) Yes, before you ask, Joe Quesada is a moron.
    • Don't forget to mention that his aunt actually tells him more than once that she feels she's ready to die and that he should let her go!
    • Ah, but let us not forget the best part! According to Joe Quesada, forcing a person who has accepted her death back alive, undoing your marriage, and killing your unborn child is more moral than just having a divorce. That's right kids, having a divorce is bad. Making a Deal with the Devil to screw over years of reality is good.
  • Most superheroes in the Marvel Universe don't get along with The Punisher due to the fact that he kills the bad guys, but are A-okay with Wolverine who does the same thing.
    • Most of Wolverine's kills are in 'hot blood', or during fights when the bad guys are already trying to kill him. The exceptions are invariably against such Complete Monsters that the heroes can feel legitimately conflicted on the issue. Frank, on the other hand, spends the vast majority of his time premeditating the deaths of criminals in cold blood, and the vast majority of his targets are ordinary street criminals with guns. Still potentially dangerous under the wrong circumtsances, but people that the average superhero has long since gotten over being horrified or threatened by. In essence, while ethically they might or might not be on the same level, emotionally the two men come across as substantially different to their peers, thus making the cognitive dissonance far more believable.
      • There's also the simple fact that very few people outside the X-Men actually know how many people Wolverine has killed, and his teammates are on the average far more ethically flexible than the typical member of the superhero community.


  • Star Wars: The clone issue in Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. There's moral dissonance in the practices of the Jedi and the Republic, the good guys of the Star Wars universe, who supposedly outlawed slavery: they use an army of mass-produced living slaves as cannon fodder for a war in which the soldiers have no stake. Forced into live-fire training, killed if they didn't meet the standards of the cloners, and deprived of even names — all between the ages of 2 and 10, before the war even starts. When the fighting begins, they're given no civil rights, no citizenship, no legal standing at all in the society they're fighting for, they're aging twice as fast as naturally born beings, and if they're too injured to continue fighting, they're left to die or euthanized. They were bound to serve for life or until old age inhibited their ability to fight, and any attempts at desertion were met with an assassin squad. However, the Clones had people fighting for their civil rights, citizenship, and legal standing in the Senate. Palpatine always obstructs them, however, and gets REALLY pissed when his attempts to create more cannon fodder are shot down. (Mentioned in the comics too: a group of horrified Jedi meet to find a way to end the war after they discover that the clones view themselves as cannon fodder. Palpatine sends an assassin to kill them.)
    • This is a case of Fridge Brilliance -- who masterminded the clone army? Palpatine, the saga's Magnificent Bastard Big Bad who was out to, among other things, rot the Republic and Jedi from within and corrupt the ideals they stood for. Creating an army of what are essentially slaves, then creating a situation where the Republic is forced to use them to ensure it's own survival... all part of the plan.
    • The novelisation of Attack of the Clones actually goes into this. Upon seeing the clone army and hearing its creators talk about them like simple products, Obi-Wan is horrified. He wonders how someone could have such a lack of conscience and empathy towards any sentient being they create. Wondering if the reason they are so effective is because of the lack of morals displayed by the Kaminoan cloners. The only reason he doesn't speak out is because he is to get more information about the army's origins.
    • Also a case of What an Idiot!, since Obi-Wan finds conclusive proof that they were created, as clones of one of the Seperatists, by the same people behind the Seperatist movement and the Jedi just accept delivery and use them without any further questions.
    • Actually, Obi-Wan assumed that the seperatists were simply planing to swoop in and take the clone army, in addition to the one they already had. Also part of the movie was about the fact that the Republic didn't actually have an army of their own. Chosing not to take the army would have almost certainly resulted in the seperatists showing up with their attack fleet and wiping the floor with them. It was take the clones or a major curb-stomp battle.
    • There is also that the Jedi Order was presented with the existence of the clones as a fait accompli and were suddenly burdened with the responsibility of what to do with them. Sure, the most ethical choice would have been to not create the clone army in the first place, but the Jedi never had an option to pick that choice. The clone army does exist, through no fault of the Jedi, and the Jedi can either let them do what they were created to do (which is also what the clones themselves want to do, to the limited extent they have free will), leave them standing around to no purpose (as the clones aren't equipped to lead any other life other than warfare), or exterminate the clones entirely (obviously not a viable option). Add in that they're in the middle of a war, don't have time to leisurely ponder the situation, don't have resources to engineer a perfect solution, and will lose the war without the clones, and the Jedi are basically facing Hobson's Choice here.
    • For that matter the ultimate decision to employ the clones as the Army of the Republic was not made by the Jedi Order, but by Chancellor Palpatine.
  • Boiler Room. In the end, Seth convinces Chris to "do one thing right" and sign a ticket sale making one schmuck client good by stealing from another anonymous buyer on the market.
  • This may be a borderline example, but in Superman II, Supes, who is basically the poster boy for Thou Shalt Not Kill, lets Zod and his minions die. Yes, in Richard Donner's cut he reverse the Earth so the Zod crud never ended up happening, and some TV airings have a scene where an "arctic patrol" picks up the villains (and Luthor), but in the theatrical version and most airings on TV, he does nothing to prevent them from falling to their deaths (and since they lost their powers, they most definitely died).
    • In fact, he actually throws Zod into a crevice himself, instead of just standing there and letting it happens like in the others.
    • May be more an issue of adaptation dissonance. Viewers today are more familiar with the modern comics interpretation of characters with a strong code versus killing, like Superman and Batman. This may lead to a perceived dissonance on behalf of their movie incarnations, even if said movies are a different take on the character and may never have stated such a vehement belief.
  • Dorothy from The Wiz, like her precursor from The Wizard of Oz, is sent off by the Wizard to kill the Wicked Witch of the West. However, in 1939 original, Dorothy had been attacked by the Wicked Witch on more than one occasion, and knew her to be a threat. In The Wiz, she's only been told that the witch is a threat. Moreover, where the original Dorothy is a twelve-year-old girl who has nowhere else to go, this Dorothy is a grown woman who, as the film suggests, could easily just stay in Oz. She essentially becomes an assassin because she "could never be happy here."


  • Twilight. The fact that Bella is worth fighting for and dying for the Cullens and all the werewolves, but the concept of fighting to stop the vampires from eating anyone else is ignored. She is the only one they are willing to protect, because nobody could ever be as perfect as Bella. Everyone else is considered food whenever their vampire friends from out of town stop by and Bella doesn't have any objections.
    • Actually, Bella does cringe about the other vampire's diets in the fourth book, but she doesn't bring it up around them because she knows she will be out-voted. In fact, it is stated in the first book that Carlisle has already had this discussion with other vampires before, and that his appeals fell on deaf ears.
    • She also thinks her father is creepy because he checks in on her at night. Despite the fact that a) he's her father; b) he's a police officer; c) she endangered her life numerous times and his worrying is entirely reasonable; and d) her vampire boyfriend has been watching her sleep before they even started dating and even oiled her window frame so that it doesn't squeak.
      • It's creepy that her dad checks on her, but it's totally charming and sexy that her 70-years-older boyfriend BREAKS INTO HER CAR whenever she gets back from any outing so he can check the odometer and determine where she has been.
      • Again with her car, at one point Edward mentions he damaged it in some way to stop Bella from going somewhere. If that isn't deeply sinister (horror movie slashers cutting the brakelines of cars comes instantly to mind) nothing is.
  • Also from Stephenie Meyer, in The Host the Souls are loving, peaceful, serene, can't-tell-a-lie adventurers—who routinely commit mass genocide by means of destroying the minds of entire sentient species just to experience other worlds. When they get bored, they move on to the next planet of poor shmucks.
  • In the V. C. Andrews book Seeds of Yesterday (the final book in the Dollanganger series) the protagonist Cathy reacts with anger and disgust when she discovers her son and daughter-in-law's adulterous affair (the woman is married to her other son), and when she realizes the extent of her teenage daughter's promiscuity. Meanwhile, she's carrying on an incestuous relationship with her brother and acts as if this is perfectly acceptable and normal.
  • In David Eddings' The Elenium and the sequel books The Tamuli, we meet Kring, chief of the Peloi, a tribe of savage horsemen. In his first appearance, his troops have joined an allied army to fight a joint enemy. He asks about the army's policy on raping. He is told that it is not allowed and he sighs, saying it will be hard to explain to his men that they can't. Later, his fiancée talks about how she murdered men who attempted to rape her. He clearly shows how he thinks rape is wrong and he is glad they died. No one in the story seems to recall or mention that he was unhappy that his men weren't allowed to rape women earlier.
    • This could be justified though, since he could be pro-rape but not let his fiancée know about it. It's not the kind of thing you open up about to the woman that has agreed to marry you. Or he could simply be pragmatic- he doesn't approve of rape himself, but knows his men might.
    • It's also possible Kring was joking or that he expects people of "civilized" countries to act differently than the Peloi. Though his people are pragmatically savage, Kring's a bit of a Deadpan Snarker now and then, and it would fit into the often bleak humor of the various soldier characters in the story.
    • Considering the time period The Elenium is set in, Kring might see a difference between taking a woman as a war trophy (as was commonly done long ago) and men simply setting upon a woman in the night. Values Dissonance explains values dissonance!
  • The death of Helsa in Shirley Rousseau Murphy's The Catswold Portal. Was striking her down in cold blood because she put up a fight when taken prisoner really necessary? Sure, the character in question was being used as a catspaw by the Big Bad, and was a Jerkass in her own right; she was still more of a sucker than a villain.
  • Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: As the series goes on, this sets in, due to Double Standards. It's like this: the female Vigilantes feel that only women are good enough to get the job done, and that men are only dumb robots who need to be ordered by someone smarter, namely women. In fact, the women will happily use their men as muscle, but they will certainly not include them in the planning. No one seems to notice this...until Deja Vu where this gets a big subversion. The men, getting sick and tired of being excluded, just up and leave without a word. Charles Martin has to explain to the Vigilantes why that happened. The author herself has said that "Characters are human just like the rest of us mortals."
    • Vendetta has the Vigilantes capture John Chai, son of the Chinese ambassador to the USA. His crime was to drunkenly hit-and-run Barbara Rutledge and her unborn child and kill them both, as well as pull a Karma Houdini due to Diplomatic Impunity. Myra decides that the perfect Revenge for John is caning, which somehow translates to skinning him alive (Critical Research Failure)! The author seriously expects us to believe that this is not only a perfectly justified way of balancing the scales, but that John deserved it just because he's Chinese (Yellow Peril)!
    • The Jury has Jack Emery take Nicole Quinn and the Vigilantes' side. She tells him everything, including that part about skinning John alive! Jack's reaction is to say "Whoa, you skinned him alive?! I would have paid money to see that!" Up until this point, Jack, a prosecutor, had been trying to take down the Vigilantes due to them breaking the law, and he supposedly has a great deal of ethics and standards. The fact that he didn't even get upset about John's punishment is more than a little disturbing. Perhaps Love Makes You Dumb.

Live-Action TV

  • In Doctor Who, the Tenth Doctor deposing Prime Minister Harriet Jones in "The Christmas Invasion". Since he does it with just six words, it seems only fair to bring up four counterpoints: the first three on why this is such a morally messed up thing for him to do, and the fourth on why this is a case of Moral Dissonance.
  1. Prior to this moment, Harriet Jones had been depicted as a thoroughly sympathetic character whom the audience was encouraged to root for, so even on the most rudimentary level of audience empathy, the Doctor just does not look good here.
  2. Even after committing the action that supposedly crossed the Moral Event Horizon (ordering the destruction of the retreating Sycorax ship) motivating the Doctor to depose her, she gives her reasons why she did it, and they are reasons that the audience can understand, and a good many viewers actually found themselves agreeing with.(Harold Saxon in Doctor Who and Brian Green in Torchwood) plus Harriet Jones' own Heroic Sacrifice in "The Stolen Earth"—indicate that the Doctor didn't just change history, but that he also changed history for the worse.
  3. Lastly, the act was wrong because the aliens had already surrendered, but this was less than five minutes after their leader "surrendered" to The Doctor, then immediately tried to kill him as soon as his back was turned (The Doctor, of course, casually killed the leader at that point).[1] And, at the time Harriet ordered the attack she did not know the terms of the enemy's withdrawal. Neither of these points is ever mentioned. Counterpoint: Of course, she did clearly see that the enemy was withdrawing, which seeing as how Earth had neither won the battle militarily at that point or surrendered to the Sycorax is sufficient on its own to tell her some kind of truce has been arranged. Which means she should have asked the Doctor what was going on re: terms of the truce before choosing to take irreversible action, particularly as she was not facing an immediate time pressure.
    • Caveat: She was facing a time pressure in that the enemy starship would soon be out of range. However, this is not sufficient justification because basic weapons safety rules and common ethics are that if you are not certain of your target (and in this context 'not certain its still justifiable to kill it' counts), you don't shoot it.
  1. Finally, what makes this a case of Moral Dissonance is that to date the Doctor has not received any kind of onscreen, in-story condemnation for what he did here (the Master of all people was going to call him on it in an early draft of a later script, but it was never filmed). And with both Harriet Jones and the 10th Doctor gone now, it's unlikely he ever will.
      • However, the series does have Harriet Jones state, in "The Stolen Earth", that she has thought through her actions very carefully, and still maintains that she did the right thing. She then dies heroically while bringing the Doctor to Earth and thereby being instrumental in saving all of reality. That does look a lot like Russell T Davies (who wrote both episodes) acknowledging that yeah, the Doctor kinda messed up with that one...
  • In Supernatural's first season, Sam, Dean and Bobby make a huge case out of what happens to the host of a demon when they exorcise it, or use the Colt to kill one. Dean is wigged out that he doesn't have a Heroic BSOD after using the Colt on a demon that was attacking Sam. They debate over exorcising Meg, as the demon is the only thing keeping her from dying of the wounds she suffered in previous episodes, and Dean overrides those doubts because he considers being human more important than being alive.
Come later seasons, that concern retreats into the background, especially once the boys acquire Ruby's knife and a new supply of ammo for the Colt. A lampshade is hung when the human Meg returns as a ghost, accusing the brothers of having caused her death by not figuring out that she wasn't in control of her own body and exorcising her demon until after she fell out of a window. But through season three, the brothers appear less disturbed by the sheer number of possessed humans they've wasted.
This is likely intentional, to show how both are being adversely affected by the war they are embroiled in, and justified by the sheer number of demons they have to deal with under time constraints.
    • In season four, part of Sam's justification for using his powers to exorcise demons is that it doesn't kill the hosts like using the knife (or the Colt, when they have it) does.
    • Even the angels (which might not be so surprising, in retrospect) kill the hosts when they kill the demons within them.
  • Power Rangers:
    • In several incarnations the eponymous heroes are told (or even have it be part of their song lyrics) to only use their powers for defense. This explains why they never use the Megazord to stomp the monster before it grows (they won't risk the property damage until the enemy forces their hand) or why they never directly attack the villain's base (although they did so in Dino Thunder after they found it's location; guess Tommy'd become Genre Savvy). However, there have been more than a few occasions where they blew up the monster while it was basically helpless and in some cases practically begging for mercy. There's one particular instance in MMPR where the Red Ranger seems downright sadistic...

Jason: Give up, birdbrain!
Monster: (terrified squawks and "I surrender" gestures)
Jason: Then we have no choice! (kills the monster)

    • In Power Rangers in Space, the Megazord goes completely medieval on Monster of the Week Clawhammer, who was attacking them, to be sure... but maybe ripping out his tendrils, kicking him repeatedly in the groin, and throwing him into lava was a tad excessive. Maybe whatever Clawhammer had done in the Super Sentai episode the fight footage came from was a lot more evil than his Power Rangers actions of simply being a literal Giant Mook.
      • In the Sentai version he was thrown into lava because his shell was made out of the same stuff as the robot's sword, and thus couldn't be penetrated by it.
    • Recent series have the Rangers being more likely to chase down and kill fleeing monsters that the original Rangers would have allowed to pull a Villain Exit Stage Left. Strangely, Power Rangers RPM isn't one, despite the higher consequences of letting a bad guy go free.
    • A horrible case in Power Rangers Wild Force. There Animus actually takes the Wild Force Zords away because humans have polluted the planet (ignoring that the Orgs would probably win because of this and make the planet even worse). He does give them back eventually, claiming that it was a test for the Power Rangers but that ignores the fact that the Rangers had already been fighting the Orgs for quite some time before Animus did a thing to help them.
  • Babylon 5: Minbari do not lie, being such an honourable, morally-superior-to-humanity kind of race. Of course, to get around this, they've made an artform out of evasiveness and stretching the definition of truth to breaking point.
    • And, of course, they will lie to help another save face, so they could in fact lie all they want as long as they can come up with a vague justification (like the Minbari who lied to help implicate Sheridan in the murder of another Minbari).
    • And don't forget about the Vorlon and Shadows, whose ships are powered by Moral Dissonance, to the point that they no longer even remember why they're doing what they're doing. That is, until they get called out on it.
  • In the Blakes Seven episode "Gold", the Seven decide to steal some gold from the planet Zerok, which isn't even part of the Federation. (Okay, they trade with them but that's stretching the point.) In the process, they are responsible, directly or indirectly, for the death of at least fifteen security guards who were just doing their job, one of whom actually had his weapon lowered and could easily have been taken prisoner. Then, their ally Keillor kills a doctor who was trying to raise the alarm and they all treat this as a heinous crime. The stated reason that he wasn't armed doesn't really hold water. Apparently the moral is it's okay to kill innocent bystanders if they're carrying guns.
  • Smallville is undoubtedly so full of them that one could spend hours yelling at the TV in frustration of Clark's repetitively poor and self destructive decisions. For example, he will often lecture other heroes, or Lois, or earlier Lana, on how important honesty is, and in the case of the heroes, encouraging them to unmask themselves to their significant others, while causing huge problems and creating danger out the wazoo for his own while protecting his own secret. The entire Superman franchise is founded on this, however.
  • On VH-1's I Love New York, it's unforgivable to say something horrible about New York's mother Sister Patterson, but it's perfectly fine for her to insult a contestant's family members! There's a reason why Tango dumping her at the reunion show (because she insulted his mother, no less) is considered a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • There's an episode of Star Trek the Next Generation in Season Two, in which a population of clones is dying out from a lack of genetic variation in their people. They ask if they can use the Enterprise crew to make clones to help them expand their population but when the entire crew refuses, they drug Riker and Pulaski and create clones of them anyway. Awful though this is, when Riker and Pulaski find the room with their growing clones, they calmly murder them all without the slightest moral qualm. These are living, sentient beings but no-one calls Riker or Pulaski out on this, despite the fact that she is a doctor and (you would think) therefore should do no harm.
    • Especially weird since this could have been intended as an abortion parallel (the clones not yet being 'active', they were not fully 'alive') and been a big moral issue story of the sort that Star Trek used to like tackling, but instead it's glossed over as completely unimportant.
  • In the failed Wonder Woman 2011 pilot, they make the bad guys out to be complete and utter scum who use trafficked humans and underprivileged ghetto kids to test their steroid-type drugs and use their lobbyists to avoid being investigated, and that whatever means that Wonder Woman uses is justified. Unfortunately, Wonder Woman is a brutal, vicious killer who goes after people without any actual evidence, tortures people for information, and uses her contacts with the police to avoid prosecution. Pants to be darkened, indeed.
  • The BBC's Robin Hood often insists on a "no-killing" policy, telling his allies and enemies alike that he only kills people when absolutely necessary. total rubbish. By the end of the series, he had needlessly shot countless guards (often in the back), a mentally-deranged man who was holding his friend hostage (this was after trying to kill him whilst he was unconscious, only to be stopped by a guest-star), and a corrupt churchman who wasn't doing anything more threatening than just standing there making bitchy comments. The worst example is when he barges into a woman's bedroom to find that she's just killed her sadistic husband in self-defence. He grabs her around the throat and accuses her of murder, literally minutes after shooting dead an executioner who was just doing his job. The fact that the show had long since established Robin as a flawless archer means that all of these deaths could have easily been non-fatal injuries if he had so chosen.
  • Merlin can be quite bad at this at times, particularly in the portrayal of Merlin and Morgana. The show would have us believe that the former is good and the latter is bad, and to be fair, there are justifications for why Merlin is the hero and Morgana is the villain (albeit a designated one). Yet when you look at what each character does with their magic, there's very little difference. Both have used magic to kill enemies, to take away a person's free will, to manipulate events to their own advantage, and both have expressed delight in doing these things (when Morgana tells Merlin that he condemned Morgause to "a slow and painful death," he replies that he's "quite proud" of that accomplishment). Furthermore, Merlin often uses magic to humiliate Arthur (forcing him to belch in front of a princess, bray like a donkey in front of his men, or magically pulling his pants down in front of his council).
  • Deliberately played with in Angel. The gang has just caught up to Eldritch Abomination Illyria and her high priest Knox, shortly after Knox has facilitated the horrible death of beloved cast member Fred to fuel Illyria's rebirth. They announce their intention to inflict horrible vengeance upon Fred's killers, only for Illyria to reply with what she thinks will be a moral conundrum:

Angel: What you're trying to do- raise your army, reclaim your world- innocent people would die, like Fred. I can't let that happen.
Illyria: You are the protectors of these creatures?
Angel: Yes.
Illyria: You'd fight for their lives?
Angel: Yes.
Illyria: Even this one? (looks at Knox)
Knox: Is that an issue? Is my life in peril, boss? King?
Angel: You're about as low as it gets, Knox, but you're a part of humanity. (to Illyria) That isn't always pretty but it's a hell of a lot better than what came before and if it comes down to a choice between you and him, then yes, I would fight for his life, just like any other human's. Because that's what people do. That's what makes us-
(Angel's speech is interrupted by a gunshot, and Knox's corpse falls to the floor. Angel turns to Wesley, who is standing there still holding the smoking pistol.)
Angel: Were you even listening?

Professional Wrestling

  • Sometimes, there's a moral double standard concerning faces and heels where faces can get away with things heels would be condemned for, such as assaulting non-wrestlers and cheating. A good example could be at Backlash 2000 where The Rock and Triple H used very similar tactics but where Triple H was lambasted by Jim Ross on commentary for it (such as when he low blowed the Rock), the Rock was more or less given a pass whenever he skirted the rules (like low blowing Triple H) as acting "in desperation".
  • It's A-OK for Hornswoggle to get involved in other people's matches and wreck other people's stuff but when the heels finally put the little punk in his place we're supposed to believe they're the bad guys.
  • One Raw found Triple H at the mercy of Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, when Brian Kendrick and Paul London (who were feuding with Cade & Murdoch at the time) ran out to rescue Hunter. How'd he repay London and Kendrick for the assistance? Pedigree to each of them, and the commentators just laughed it off and said they had it coming.
  • R-Truth's heel turn. He turned heel because he lost a match to John Morrison that meant he wouldn't get to compete in a WWE title match. Except he had earned his shot in the match and Morrison came out and manipulated Truth into putting it on the line. So basically Truth is a bad guy for attacking a manipulative sore loser who robbed him of his spot?
    • R-Truth wasn't manipulated. He only granted John Morrison the match because the audience popped when Truth asked them if they wanted to see a rematch between the two, and Morrison pinned him clean. The fact that trying to please the audience is what factored into him losing his title shot was also a major reason for his heel turn.
  • The Bella Twins switching before their Face Heel Turn. The announcers called it "twin magic" and it was treated as fun and whimsical. Their feud with Jillian started because they pulled the switch on her in a match, unprovoked, yet Jillian was meant to have deserved it somehow.
    • Now that they're heels, of course, the moral viewpoint is flipped.
  • Stone Cold Steve Austin gave Stacy Keibler a stunner because she wouldn't share a beer with him. Right, except he actually saved her from two abusive men. JR even said "I might not agree with him but that's the way he is" right after vilifying Test and Scott Steiner for abusing her.
  • Good ol' Randy Orton has picked up where Stone Cold left off. Not only is he in many ways a complete Karma Houdini, but even as a face he continues to launch sneak attacks on his opponents out of sheer malice or annoyance, and still the crowds cheer him. His popularity is even used by management to justify giving him a World Heavyweight title shot within his first ten minutes back on Smackdown for doing absolutely nothing against a guy who just won the championship for the first time ever in a ladder match mere DAYS ago. Even worse, whenever one of the heels rightly claims that Orton has assaulted or ripped him off, whatever authority figure who is in a position to punish Orton will either mock the heel or tell him to shut up.
  • In the spring of 2001, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit were involved in a feud which included Benoit taking Angle's medals. Angle was a heel at the time, so everyone cheered. A few months later a heel Austin would do the same exact thing, only this time it was Played for Drama.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

Ash: You're wrong! Though this world may be wicked, life itself is precious! Good and evil, love and hate. Each man contains the potential for both. You would exterminate mankind for their sins? I would fight the gods themselves to save them!
Dolf: Sanctimonious whelp! How many souls have you yourself released from their corporeal bondage?

  • One particular example in World of Warcraft involves Egomaniac Hunter Hemet Nesingwary and a group of Druids calling themselves D.E.H.T.A. (obvious reference to P.E.T.A.) who are out to stop his hunting party from mass-killing wildlife in the name of his "hunt". How do they do this? By sending the player to mass-kill the hunters, of course!
    • It could be their version of Pay Evil Unto Evil, although since the player has had an opportunity to work for Nesingwary and his crew in the original version of the game and again in the first expansion (and probably has done some quests for him) it seems odd that D.E.H.T.A. would trust the player to begin with. This could also be the game lampshading the fact that working for Nesingwary prior to this and killing so much of the wildlife may not have been very nice. For instance, in one of the first quest lines you need to kill a grand total of 31 tigers. In the real world, of course, tigers are endangered in large part because they have been hunted so much in the past.
    • If that weren't enough, some time after being hailed as a hero by D.E.H.T.A., the player can head to another zone where Nesingwary and his group are camped. Nesingwary happily allows the player into his hunting party and sends you off to mass-kill the zone's wildlife. Moral dissonance for everyone!
    • The game also tends to portray graverobbers as villainous, but the players robbing the corpses of freshly killed soldiers, and in some cases, civilians, is considered OK.
  • Similar to Star Trek, the Star Ocean series has an interplanetary law known as the Underdeveloped Planet Pact and, like the Prime Directive, it is rarely, if ever enforced despite how often its "values" are preached.
    • In fact, the fourth game, which is a prequel, explains that the Pact was made because the hero got himself directly involved in multiple underdeveloped planets' affairs and screwed things up royally each time.
  • Dragon Age II, the player has the option of hunting down mages or diplomatically talking them into returning to their confinement; equally unfortunately, the option to actually free them only once or twice. Hawke is either a mage or sheltering his/her mage sister through most of this. The dissonance is probably intended, and Hawke does get called in this by Anders if s/he is a mage and is opposing Anders' efforts to free mages.
  • Fallout: New Vegas features this in its Honest Hearts expansion. If you help Joshua Grahmn kill the White Legs, at the end of the campaign you'll see him take the leader and two others prisoner. He will then immediately fatally shoot the other prisoners in the head, and the leader will plead with you to make Joshua see sense. Which ending you get for the campaign depends solely on how you talk Joshua into dealing with the leader - and not on the dozens of White Legs you can let Joshua kill to get to this point.
    • The White Legs on the way may be justified (that is, not actually an example of this trope) - they're actively fighting against you, both of you have reason to want to get to the leader quickly, etc. What is, however, dissonant is how the two prisoners Graham shot in the head are treated as disposable where the White Legs' leader is not.
      • It's not that they're disposable, just that you didn't get a chance to save them. From a writing perspective, it's to make it clear that Joshua isn't going to stop unless you stop him. From an in-game perspective you basically just haven't had a chance to shout "Wait!" or whatever yet. Either way it's not "Oh, they didn't matter, only the leader matters", it's just "The leader's the only one I've got the chance to save".
  • Fallout 3 has two side quests where you can help people with romantic complications. In Girdershade, Ronald Laren wants you to get him a full case of Nuka-Cola Quantum so he can wow his neighbour Sierra (a nuka-fan and arguably addict) and convince her to put out for him. This gives you bad karma, even though he's not forcing her (addiction notwithstanding) and it won't lead anywhere anyway as she is too naive to understand his intentions. (Also, they're the only people in Girdershade, far away from any civilised communities, so Ronald would have every opportunity to just rape her outright if that was his plan.) In Rivet City, Angela has the hots for young, celibate alcolyte Diego, who is uncomfortable with her advances because he really wants to become a priest. To "help" them, you have to provide Angela with ant-queen pheromones, which will make her irresistible enough for Diego to do the dirty deed with her... and once it wears off, he's kicked out of the priesthood and forcibly married off to a woman who practically date-raped him. Your helpful assistance nets you good karma, of course. Wait, what?
    • There's also the Tenpenny Tower mission. Roy Phelps is being denied permission to buy an apartment because he is a ghoul, and Alistair Tenpenny hates ghouls. As he storms off, Phelps makes various death threats against Tenpenny, and one of the three solutions to the quest is helping him murder everyone in the tower by unleashing a horde of ghouls into the building. Bear in mind, the main reason the inhabitants don't like ghouls is because they think they're all mindless, murderous zombies, which is perfectly justified by Phelps' reaction. Similarly, even if he weren't a ghoul, he's willing to murder everyone in the tower (which includes the Retired Badass and kindly old man Herbert Dashwood) because they wouldn't let him buy/rent a room. For of the other solutions, you convince the tower's inhabitants to give Roy a chance, and they let him in and give him a room...a few days later, he's murdered all the human inhabitants, and proved their bigotry right again. And if you kill this man who has proven himself to be a psychotic murderer, Three Dog declares you to be a monster and a bigot.
  • In Armored Core 4 the second to last mission requires you to destroy a company's headquarters given the universe this doesn't sound to bad, until you find out it's an office building and you pilot a Humongous Mecha. Then for Answer hinted that that company wanted to open the way to space due to the planet being polluted and the earths orbit is covered with kill sats. Thankfully one of the endings fixes this, the other two...
  • Near the beginning of Uncharted 2, Nate is forced to rob a museum, and balks at the idea of killing the guards. At one point, he throws a guard about a hundred and fifty down to the water without a second thought, in a series that averts Soft Water.
    • If the player waits a few seconds after doing this, you can see the guard swimming to a nearby rock, so he doesn't die outright. Even the animator who made this little extra admits it was a cheap cop-out though.
  • As Yahtzee points out in his review of Dead Rising 2, the game refers to one of its main antagonist groups as "looters," but at the same time, the player is encouraged to break open ATM machines and acquire wealth to buy Zombrex (from those same "looters").
  • A particularly infuriating example in Chrono Cross: early on, you hear about the dwarves inhabiting Hydra Marshes in Home World. Later on, the Hydra is killed by humans, which kills the marshes and drives the dwarves out. Some time later, your party goes to Water Dragon Isle and discovers the dwarves slaughtering the fairies to give themselves a new home. When you finish off the dwarf chieftain, he calls Serge out on the death of the Hydra, asking why humans can't just live in harmony with other species - never mind that the dwarves just massacred the fairies!!

Web Comics

Western Animation

  • Teen Titans: At the end of "Mother Mae-Eye" the Titans, freed from the spell of the malign entity who brainwashes her victims to love her unconditionally and then eats them, wonder what to do with the pie that contains her spirit. They decide to leave it anonymously to the Hive-Five. It was meant to be humorous, but Fridge Logic essentially makes it an attempted murder by proxy - what happened to the code against killing?
    • What makes this so unsettling is that "Mother Mae-Eye" was a Season 4 episode, which was at the time going to be the last season. Basically, if not for Season 5, this would've been the Hive-Five's last appearance ever, and we would've known why in-universe.
    • Although, Thou Shalt Not Kill was only ever brought up in The Movie. In the series itself, the Titans never mention a code against killing, and there are a few episodes where they unintentionally cause a villain's death and don't seem too broken up about it.
    • Fridge Brilliance if you factor in the comics. The Titans, especially The Bronze Age of Comic Books ones, were less concerned about killing enemies than their mentors in the Justice League of America. Starfire, in particular, is the product of some brutal warrior training and even more brutal slavery. The only one with an explicit Thou Shall Not Kill code was Robin, due to his training under Batman. Otherwise, every other Titan (even Beast Boy) has acted with lethal intent at one point or another.
      • And even Nightwing later crossed that line when fighting Gordanians on Starfire's home planet. To be fair, that was explicitly a wartime situation, not a superhero one.
  • In Beast Wars, when Blackarachnia eventually joins the Maximals, she strenuously objects to having her Predacon shell programme removed on the grounds that it would make her something other than what she is. Come Beast Machines, she herself reformats the Vehicon general with Silverbolt's spark despite him giving pretty much the same objection. He doesn't take it well.
    • Though these two things sort of explain each other. Blackarachnia still has Predacon programming, thus allowing her to be an unrepentant Hypocrite. She wants Silverbolt back so she's going to get him back. (Of course, there are numerous other issues that also cloud the whole thing, such as whether Blackarachnia was self-aware before she was reformatted as a Predacon, while Silverbolt was undoubtedly a person with a personality before being reformatted into a Vehicon.)
  • The Hobbit has this when the men of Lake-town and the wood elves both demand a share of the treasure after the death of the dragon Smaug. First, Bilbo instantly agrees with Bard, the new king of Lake-town, and the wood elf king, that there is more than enough treasure to go around, and that all three factions should get a share. Now, Bilbo is clearly presented as being in the right, and as being the reasonable, sensible one, in contrast to the greedy and intransigent dwarf king Thorin. Except that Bilbo is offering to give away treasure that does not belong to him; he could offer to pay the men and elves out of his own fourteenth of the treasure, but does not, even though he ends up keeping much less than a fourteenth anyway.
Secondly, the Lake-towners have a reasonable claim, since they helped the dwarves and were, after all, the ones who killed Smaug in the first place, and Bilbo and the dwarves brought Smaug's wrath down on Lake-town, leading to much suffering for its residents. But the wood elves actively hindered the dwarves, imprisoning them without any provocation. Why should they get a share? In fact, how are the wood elves any different from the goblins in this story?
  • The book version is somewhat different, since there the elves are acting in conjunction with the humans, so the elf claim can be argued to be subsidiary to or an extension of the human claim. In the animated movie, however, the elves have simply shown up with their army and demanded a share of what is, after all, Thorin and the dwarves' rightful property, and no one thinks to point out that this is nothing but plain banditry.
    • They sort of try and explain it with the Elf King's claim that his people have suffered from Smaug as well, but even if this were true, it is not as if the Dwarves invited Smaug there or are in any way responsible for anything that he did to them.
    • If Smaug took treasure from the elves then the elves are justified in asking for their property to be returned, as with the men of Dale. Of course, the key words are "ask" and "their property", as opposed to "demand at spearpoint" and "a plurality of the entire pile".
    • Also the "without provocation" part is debatable, and the Elf King's actions make far more sense when you read the novel and not the abridged cartoon. See it from the Elf King's point of view. If dwarves were trespassing on your property after riling up the spiders (after ignoring Gandalf and Beorn's warning, which Thorin actually mentions before that happens) and refused to even explain why they were there, you'd probably be suspicious yourself. Not to mention, the dwarves were injured and poisoned, and in a state where being taken prisoner was the better option. In fact, Bilbo himself states that he is not only a prisoner in all but name, but a lot worse off than they are, being "like a burglar that can't get away, but must go on miserably burgling the same house day after day." Also notably, Bilbo holds no animosity towards the guards, going so far as to return the keys to the Steward after stealing them and using them to free the dwarves, hoping the King wouldn't blame them for the dwarves escape. Even though it was their fault for drinking too much while they should have been watching them.
  • Early episodes of Codename: Kids Next Door often had the heroes commit outright criminal acts which were "justified" because the victims were villains. Or suspected of being such. "Operation: P.O.I.N.T." is a notable example, where the heroes attack and destroy the teenagers' roller skating rink under false assumptions; "Operation: L.I.C.E." starts with Numbuh Five stealing nacho chips from the Delightful Children - even Numbuh Four tells her she could have just gone to the deli down the street.
    • Some later episodes show this too. "Operation: A.F.L.O.A.T." starts with them crashing the villains' barbecue (and ironically, Stickybeard is the one who rescues them later, asking them nicely not to tell the other villains about it lest they not invite him to the next one), while Numbuh Four gets called out by them for the Bully Fights in "Operation: M.A.T.A.D.O.R.", while actually punished for extorting four bad guys in "Operation: M.I.S.S.I.O.N."
  1. Which is entirely proper, as attacking someone under a truce flag voids your protection under the truce. The Doctor just took the position that the entire Sycorax race was not responsible for the leader's individual action.