Peer Pressure Makes You Evil

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search

Bad Horse, Bad Horse
Bad Horse, Bad Horse
He rides across the nation, the Thoroughbred of Sin
He got the application that you just sent in
It needs evaluation, so let the games begin
A heinous crime, a show of force

(a murder would be nice of course)
—a message from Bad Horse, leader of the Evil League of Evil, to Dr. Horrible
Always give in to peer pressure.
Homer Simpson

The protagonist is surrounded by "cool" and powerful friends who are a bad influence on him/her, and under the peer pressure and in his hopes of winning their approval he commits more and more questionable acts. In the end, he may have recovered his moral compass just in time to redeem himself (and usually he is not required to die for his sins), or he has fallen completely off the slippery slope.

In this type of plot, the protagonist is often a newcomer to some place, i.e. an immigrant, a new recruit or a new student at an boarding school, who faces the choice between either becoming part of the "in" group or being bullied mercilessly as an outsider. Perhaps his new friends ask him to bully or betray someone weaker, or to commit theft or murder as an initiation ritual into their elite circle. Often the peers will start out just being inexplicably really nice and friendly, before asking the new person to do something bad or dangerous. They may start with small things, just to see how far they can push the character.

The polar opposite of Love Redeems and The Power of Friendship, in that the new circle of friends or role models is a bad influence on someone who started out as a good person. Can also be considered the opposite of The Complainer Is Always Wrong in which the Aesop is about how you should go along with the group.

Often used in Sit Coms to deliver Anvilicious lessons about not mindlessly following one's peers.

Different from a story in which a newcomer joins a group of likeminded people (i.e. elite university, medical students, law firm, biker gang), only to find out there's an evil conspiracy operating in the background or that all the bikers are vampires; in this case the protagonist has to uncover the conspiracy and fight to survive.

Of course, the very concept is Fridge Logic. The willingness to do morally questionable things reflects poorly on their morality regardless of their motives. Peer pressure didn't make them evil; it brought the evil that was already within them to the surface.

Overlaps with Toxic Friend Influence. Can overlap with If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten if the peer pressure is coming from, say, a gang.

Examples of Peer Pressure Makes You Evil include:

Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

Film[edit | hide]

  • Any teen movie where the protagonist starts out as a loser, then makes the wrong choices in an attempt to become part of a popular crowd of jerk jocks and rich kids.
  • Tom Cruise's character Mitch McDeere in The Firm (1993). Quote from Internet Movie Database:

"A young lawyer joins a prestigous law firm only to discover that it has a sinister dark side."

"Deep within the hallowed walls of Ivy League's most prominent campus exists a secret society where power and elite are bred. Only a few are chosen to join where Presidents are groomed, wealthy bloodlines bond, and plots thickened. (...) Luke McNamara [played by Joshua Jackson], a college senior from a working class background joins a secret elitist college fraternity organization called "The Skulls", in hope of gaining acceptance into Harvard Law School. At first seduced by the club's trapping of power and wealth, a series of disturbing incidents, such as his best friends suicide, leads Luke to investigate the true nature of the organization and the truth behind his friends supposed suicide. He starts realizing that his future and possibly his life is in danger."

  • Mean Girls (2004), in which the Alpha Bitch and her Girl Posse take the No Social Skills protagonist under their collective wing.
  • The Lost Boys, wherein peer pressure makes you evil and a vampire.
  • Clint Eastwood puts a stop to this in Gran Torino.
  • The Basketball Diaries is the epitome of this trope. While Leonardo DiCaprio's character wasn't exactly squeaky clean to begin, he could still be considered a normal teen. Over the course of the movie he becomes a heroin addict and a prostitute.
  • In the first Scream, Stu makes the feeble claim that he'll blame peer pressure for his and Billy's homicidial rampage if they're caught.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Secret History uses this trope for most of the book. Henry may have planned the central murder, but Richard, Charles, Camilla, and Francis were standing at the edge of the cliff as well.
  • In Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix Lupin recalls with shame the times he and his fellow Marauders bullied Snape. Sirius tries to comfort him by reminding Lupin that he never joined in the bullying. Lupin then reminds him that he never tried to stop it either, because he was afraid of alienating his friends.
    • Snape himself may be an example, as it is pointed out that he fell in with a group of fantasy racists early in his school career, which informed his behaviour with other students.
  • The second half of Valley of Fear is a lot like this, though the Scowrers are less amiable than most peer sets. But that's just on the surface. It's a glorious subversion.
  • In Lauren Myracle's Rhymes with Witches, peer pressure can quite literally make you evil. Jane is willing to do anything to join the Girl Posse that rules her school, the Bitches. They show an interest in her, and she finds out that they use evil witchcraft to maintain their popularity and want her to join them.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • A popular variation is having to commit a felony to get into a group as a type of initiation rite. In Gilmore Girls, Rory is goaded into breaking into the headmaster's office and ringing a bell while reciting some lines about loyalty. When she gets caught, she complains that the only reason she joined the sorority is because the headmaster complained she was a loner. As proof here's the TV.com recap of the episode.
  • Stanford Prison Experiments (see below) were depicted on both Veronica Mars and Life.
  • One episode of Father Ted had Dougal fall in with a bad-influence priest named Father Damian. At one point:

Ted: Honestly, Dougal, what next? Will he be giving you crack cocaine or something?
Dougal: Crack cocaine! Now come on, Ted! [Dougal looks away with a hilariously shifty expression.]

  • In one of the very first episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Cordelia befriends Buffy and tries to turn her against Willow. It does not last many minutes, though.
    • Cordelia doesn't try to turn Buffy against Willow, it's the first episode, and Buffy doesn't know Willow yet, and Cordelia befriends Buffy, thinking she's another Alpha Bitch. (Which she was before she became the Slayer). When Buffy sees how mean Cordelia really is, when she insults a shy girl (Willow), Buffy befriends Willow instead.
      • However, it's implied it's the reason Cordy is such a bitch to begin with. In the episode Out of Mind, Out of Sight, she tells Buffy how she feels alone even when surrounded by her Cordettes, but "it beats being alone by yourself".
    • Giles also assumes in "The Pack" that this is what's happening to Xander. It turns out to be possession by hyena spirits, however.
  • Among the fandom of The Shield, This trope is the excuse of choice amongst fans of Ronnie Gardocki Curtis "Lem" Lemansky, the show's duo of Draco in Leather Pants.
  • Happens with Jenny on Gossip Girl.
  • Glee, it is pretty clear from Finn very first scene that he doesn't like bullying, but he doesn't stop the bullies neither, this happens again in episode 8 and 12.
  • Happens in The George Lopez Show in one episode where Carmen bullies her geeky former best friend in order to become popular.

Theatre[edit | hide]


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog: The titular Villain Protagonist in Joss Whedon's online musical is a wanna-be Super Villain and Mad Scientist who is put under pressure from the prestigious Evil League of Evil. After he applies for membership, they demand that he prove by his actions that he is ruthless enough to be admitted into their elite circle... or else. ("Some murder would be nice, of course.", "The Evil League of Evil is watching so beware / The grade that you receive’ll be your last, we swear.") Unfortunately for Billy/Dr. Horrible, he has a genuine aversion to killing, claiming it's not his style. Of course, it's kind of his fault; he sought them out for membership, not the other way around. What did he expect?

Dr. Horrible: "I deserve to get in, you know I do. But... killing?"

    • Interestingly, he could have gotten in with just an impressive heist. But after that failed, he was told that now the league wouldn't accept less than a murder.
  • There's a parody of anti-drinking peer pressure videos in which all of the dialogue was taken verbatim from Green Eggs and Ham. It's not hard to turn Sam I Am into a pusher.
  • Nigahiga deconstructs this in How to Be Nerd. The nerd doesn't listen to the guy even to wash his hands or call the hospital.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Done at least once on The Simpsons. But then, what hasn't?
    • In the fourth/third (depends on the reruns) episode, Bart is pressured by Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney into getting into the movies without paying, and, later, cutting off the head of the Jebediah Springfield statue. After he does cut it, the bullies change their mind, saying that only a monster would do that.
    • In "Marge Be Not Proud", Jimbo, Dolph and Kearney pressure Bart into shoplifting.
  • In The Emperors New School episode "Girls Behaving Oddly", 'bad girl' Moxi persuades Kuzco and Kronk (masquerading as girls) to break into Mr. Purutu's office and steal his windchimes.
    • But then, Kronk is continually doing evil things for Yzma, and most of the good things Kuzco does are because his friends call him out.

Truth in Television[edit | hide]

  • Gangs use peer pressure to get new members to let go of their moral qualms about doing evil things.
    • This happened to Saint Augustine, resulting in the infamous pear-stealing caper.
  • Psychologists and sociologists hang their heads in shame at the aborted Stanford prison experiment.
    • Hang their heads in shame about the implications for the nature of mankind, of course. The experiment itself taught us a lot.
      • Actually, the experiment's methodology was horribly amateurish and it's mostly ignored in professional circles.
      • Nonetheless, the lesson was important and remains so to this day: If some college idiot could come up with your experiment and there's no way to establish a control group, your experiment is a bad idea and probably won't teach you what you want to learn.
      • The experiment taught us almost nothing about human psychology, at least partly because it was horribly designed. What it did show was how easily people could be coerced into doing bad, anecdotal evidence is sufficient for that case. That said, I see no reason for anyone to "hang their heads in shame about the implications for the nature of mankind". If anything it suggests that people who do bad things only do so because of their environment, not because they are evil mutants.
      • Or did it?
    • Similarly, the Milgram experiment raises some distinctly discomforting conclusions of this nature.
      • Technically, that's authority. They tried it with peer pressure. It doesn't work.
  • That said, peer pressure doesn't necessarily have to be bad. If all of your friends pressured you into studying for an exam instead of partying, they would still technically be exerting peer pressure, but to convince you to do a good thing.