Somebody Else's Problem

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Information icon4.svg This page needs visual enhancement.
You can help All The Tropes by finding a high-quality image or video to illustrate the topic of this page.


"It's like a blind spot. It's something you don't see, or can't see, or your brain doesn't let you see because it assumes that it's Somebody. Else's. Problem."
Ford Prefect, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (though this is actually describing a Perception Filter)

Does somebody need a million dollars to pay off a loan shark? Is he bleeding to death on the street? Will a nuclear war start if he doesn't get the launch codes? Has he found out that young girls are vanishing into a house where the windows are coated with human blood? Whatever it is, he begs people for help—but no help is forthcoming. As far as they're concerned, it's Somebody Else's Problem. They're Apathetic Citizens and have more important things to worry about, like their back pains.

Sadly, this trope is often Truth in Television. People have died while an entire neighborhood watched and listened to them scream for help. When asked why they didn't call 911, most reply that they figured someone else would[1]. Sometimes this is used to demonstrate anviliciously that Humans Are the Real Monsters.

It can be one of the reasons why the heroes are The Only One group dealing with a problem, even if they don't have the adequate resources for it. It can also explain why they often grow to think that they must personally deal with everything.

May overlap with City of Weirdos. Compare Adults Are Useless and Police Are Useless, where people of authority are cursed with this. See also Dying Like Animals. Contrast Samaritan Syndrome, wherein people in authority aren't cursed with this and it drives them nuts, and Who Will Bell the Cat?, where they are deeply concerned until the onus is put on them. If someone with this view is pushing it onto others, it becomes Not Your Problem as well.

Note that the trope namer, the Somebody Else's Problem field from the third Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy novel, Life, the Universe and Everything, does not fit this trope (although it uses it), but rather is a short range Perception Filter created by Applied Phlebotinum and powered by the Weirdness Censor.

No real life examples, please; avert the trope and tell the police, not us.

Examples of Somebody Else's Problem include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In Code Geass: "My mother is dead!" "Old news, what of it?" This dialogue took place between a boy and his father. Just days after it happened.
    • Justified in that acting this way was part of the father's really bastardy Xanatos Roulette[2].
  • Ichigo Kurosaki attempts this in Bleach, but Can't Stay Normal and Chronic Hero Syndrome get the better of him and eventually he's stabbing bad guys with the best of shonen heroes.
    • What's odd is he's been able to see ghosts (called Pluses in Bleach) and cares for them, but when The Call finds him, he takes his new powers, saves his family, and then tries to hand it right back. To be fair, it's probably a heroic case of Not What I Signed on For. Ichigo's used to helping ghosts with last requests and the occasional bit of bully hunting at the most when he starts out. He didn't plan on fighting massive demonic monsters who eat human souls.
  • Kanako Oora in Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei has this as her defining character trait. To her, everything else is somebody else's problem. Like, say, a huge pile of corpses in the classroom after one of Chiri's rampages. On the other hand, everybody calls her magnanimous for not judging you for your problems.
  • If it doesn't involve his little brother Mokuba, his company KaibaCorp, his position as a duelist, defeating Yugi Moto, or owning the most powerful cards (particularly ones related to the Blue-Eyes White Dragon), this defines Seto Kaiba of the original Yu-Gi-Oh! to a T.
    • But at some point after the series ends, he starts caring enough to devote a significant part of his vast fortune into creating Duel Academia, a school intended to deal with all the magical consequences of Duel Monsters. Thus setting the stage for Yu-Gi-Oh! GX.
  • Invoked by Fate in Mahou Sensei Negima, when he tries to convince Negi not to interfere with his plans to destroy the Magic World. His argument was basically "This isn't your world, it's just a fantasy, and you really shouldn't interfere in it's affairs." This is before Negi discovers who his mother is.
  • Pokémon Special: During their encounter at Fortree, Ruby states to Sapphire that he has no intention of helping defend Hoenn from Teams Magma and Aqua - his reasons being that [A] he's only in it for the Contests and [B] he isn't Hoenn born and raised. Cue the fireworks.
  • Ah! My Goddess had a few instances when passer-bys decided to ignore the heroes' home because they were used to strange happenings there and didn't want to get involved.
  • Cowboy Bebop: "I don't know, and I have no opinion."
  • Madoka Magica: Kyuubey only cares about things related to his mission, and is perfectly willing to let the earth get destroyed.


Comics[edit | hide]

  • This is a regularly occurring concept in the Marvel and DC universes. Even in places where several super-powered heroes or organizations of heroes coexist, most notably the Marvel Universe's New York City metropolitan area, they tend to let everybody deal with their respective Rogue Gallery, regardless of the possible threat to civilians. This is averted on a fairly regular basis, but is still noticeable.
  • In DMZ, Wilson has kept his army of "grandsons" out of several fights and military incidents because it either isn't their fight, isn't their war, isn't something that concerns them, etc. Wilson's only concern is building up his power in China Town/among the Chinese, and working towards being the most powerful force in Manhattan.
  • In Watchmen, the material used to make Rorschach's mask was intended for a dress for Kitty Genovese, the namesake of Genovese Syndrome, also known as the "bystander effect".


Fanfiction[edit | hide]

  • In Kyon: Big Damn Hero, Kyon performs a more limited version of this trope. He doesn't want to rely too much on Yuki and Haruhi has a limit on her reality-warping, so he dumps all the problems he can't fix to Koizumi and his organization. What Kyon's guile can't fix, Koizumi's organization usually has the connections and resources to pull off.

Film[edit | hide]

  • In Airplane!, fully a third of the gags are set up by contrasting the terrible things happening and the passengers' complete indifference to them. Examples include the unconscious bodies of the pilots being dragged through the aisle, a little girl nearly dying after her IV gets knocked out, and the Offscreen Crash near the end.
    • The passengers in Airplane! II: The Sequel react with utter stoicism to being told that the lunar shuttle they're on is off course and being hit by asteroids. Being told they are out of coffee induces a full scale riot.
  • Seems to be a prominent theme in Brazil, notably at the beginning; when the wrong man is sentenced to death, all any of the departments care about is that the problem doesn't trace back to them.
  • Rick Blaine in Casablanca appears this way for a while ("I stick my neck out for nobody"), especially when he seems willing to turn over a resistance leader to the Nazis because he is married to Rick's former lover. Eventually, however, we see that Rick isn't nearly as selfish as he lets on.
  • In The Mummy 1999, O'Connell tries to convince Evy that the end of the world is Somebody Else's Problem, with little success.
  • A man on the street frantically screaming "They're here!" only to be ignored / assumed mad in most if not all versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
  • In Se7en, Somerset tells Mills, "The first thing they teach women in rape prevention is never cry for help. Always yell 'Fire!' Nobody answers to 'Help!' You holler 'Fire!', they come running." After all, "In any major city, minding your own business is a science." Presumably fire is less Somebody Else's Problem than rape because it can quickly become everyone's problem.
  • Big Jake: "I haven't interfered in anyone else's business since I was eighteen years old... and it damn near got me killed!" He changes his mind when he witnesses a Kick the Dog moment on the part of one of the goons.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • In Terry Pratchett's Making Money Moist von Lipwig notes that people pay more attention to small noises than big ones, because while small noises are immediate and threatening, loud noises are 'everyone's problem, and therefore, not mine'.
  • Richard Mayhew's refusal to yield to this trope, when he found Door bleeding on the sidewalk, led him into London Below in Neverwhere. His fiancee declared it Somebody Else's Problem, and so remained in London Above.
    • Residents of London Below tend not to be noticed by the Above folks in the first place. Later in the book, his fiance recognzies him for a brief moment, then is unable to even -see- him.
  • In the Gone (novel) series, 90% of the Perdido Beach kids have this attitude. An apartment is burning down with a kid inside? Sam can deal with it. We're running out of food? Sam can find more. The Human Crew is running around trying to kill the mutants? That's the Sam's problem, not ours. Caine and Drake have gotten into the Power Plant and are going to feed uranium to a monster? It's Sam's job to stop them!
  • The Trope Namer is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, specifically Life, the Universe, and Everything. We're introduced to the concept of the Somebody Else's Problem Field, a sort of stealth system that automatically triggers the Weirdness Censor of anyone who looks directly at it. When it first crops up in the book, Ford tries looking at it from odd angles to get through. Meanwhile, Arthur just calmly remarks that he can see through it (which, obviously, means that it's his problem).


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Four Man Band of Seinfeld is incarcerated in the finale for the many, many times they do this (as well as just being horrible). The breaking point is the four watching a man get mugged and laughing about it.
  • In one episode of The Young Ones, the characters have stumbled across a time warp and now have a horde of medieval peasants out to kill them. They are terrified, and wonder aloud how they are going to get out of this predicament, when Vyvyan says "Who cares?", and the housemates instantly lose interest in their own mortal peril. End of episode. Considering they die on a near-daily basis...
  • Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of It calls this trope NoMFuP: "Not My Fucking Problem".
  • Jack Bauer of 24, season 2 premiere. He's still haunted by his wife's murder, his daughter wants nothing to do with him, and he's on the verge of suicide. The reason he leaves is to warn Kim to get out of LA. Later, when seeing a mother with her child, Jack decides to do something about it.:

Mason: There's a nuclear bomb in Los Angeles. We believe it's going to go off today.
Jack: How good's your intel?
Mason: Very.
[Jack walks out]

  • This must be the reason Michael Westen gets away with so very many illegal acts in the middle of downtown Miami. Unless he wants the police to show up, people will safely ignore him when he sets off explosives, gets involved in car chases, and generally makes a mess of the local real estate. At least, until we find out that he's being specifically protected by various organizations, purposefully making it so the police barely take notice of his activities.


Music[edit | hide]


TV Tropes Wiki[edit | hide]

  • Certain tropers sometimes spot a mistake in an entry, but can't be bothered to fix it, considering it... hey, why are you looking at me like that?
    • Well, sometimes they're afraid of getting caught up in an Edit War. They might see something so wrong it makes them wanna spit, but they know if they fix it, whoever made the mistake will change it back, and before they know it, they're edit-banned because somebody couldn't admit they were wrong. Not that that's ever happened to me.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • This is the general attitude of most townspeople in video games. It will be The End of the World as We Know It, and they'll just be continuing on with their normal townspeople things, charging the heroes for supplies to save the world.
    • And asking you to deliver trinkets to some dude and generally just standing around doing nothing.
  • This happens in every single RPG in existence, even when there's a giant meteor hanging in the sky or the last boss is hanging over the earth in a huge purple blob and you're the world's only hope. Chalk it down to how confident they are in the hero's skills.
    • A notable subversion is Wizardry 7, in which competing parties are not only attempting to reach the same goal as your party, they can actually find and take important main-quest items before you, making the game more difficult to finish.
  • In the Baldur's Gate games, the lazy, lazy members of the world may well claim to be amazing warriors, but they'll still stand around waiting for you to reach them before they go to rescue their friend/kill rats/buy a book/retrieve something that was stolen.
    • In regards to characters the developers intended to be recruitable to your party, that's really more a case of Take Your Time mixed with Always Close. They are going to go do that in just a little bit, but you "happen" to show up before then.
  • Final Fantasy X lampshades this with a merchant charging the party when a giant monster is rampaging outside. Even though he acknowledges that he might die soon, he has confidence in the party.
  • In Zelda games, the world's gonna be destroyed if the princess isn't rescued, whether she's been kidnapped, turned to stone, or vanished off the face of Hyrule. Since you, Link, are already dealing with it, nobody's worried. It's YOUR problem now. They even charge you for equipment vital to your quest.
    • Averted in Majora's Mask - everybody knows that something horrible is about to happen. By nightfall of the last day, almost all of them have fled town - of the few who you are able to locate at this point, they acknowledge their flight probably won't make a difference. Only those in serious denial of the imminent catastrophe (and you, the player) remain behind.
  • Senel Coolidge from Tales of Legendia has this mindset at first. He acts as if the world revolve around Shirley, and if something unrelated to her is presented to him, he ignores them or at least tell him not to bugger him with it, pissing off many people, especially Chloe, though eventually he stopped obsessing about her completely. This one is so bad that in the Tales of the World, he gets a What the Hell, Hero? yell that he'd rather let the world be destroyed than just halting his search for Shirley, then he takes the hint (after all, if the world is destroyed, he can't even reunite with Shirley at all).
  • This trope is why nobody helps Aeka with the horrible bullying she deals with in Yume Miru Kusuri. People realize she is suffering, but don't help her for fear that they will become targets. If the player picks her route, Kohei and her get so fed up with this that they leave school entirely.
  • Soren from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance especially. His first response to finding Princess Elincia is to suggest leaving her behind, and then handing her over to the invading armies because "It's none of our concern." There's good reason for his cynical outlook By the next game He Gets Better.
  • The Elder Scrolls Four, being a Wide Open Sandbox, allows you, the player, to ignore an impending demonic invasion. Sadly, it doesn't affect the gameplay by much, so you won't see any consequences of your negligence.
    • Semi-averted by The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, where people are highly concerned about the dragon attacks, and will help fight any dragons in their area if they're able, but most of the local warriors are busy with the civil war going on, leaving it up to you to look into the dragons.
  • Averted in Dragon Quest IV. The first major city the Hero visits after his village is destroyed contains a party of adventures leaving (in formation) to defeat the ancient evil now that the Hero has (allegedly) been killed.
  • At the end of the Back to The Future Telltale games, three alternate future Martys appear, begging for Marty and Doc's help in saving the future. Marty and Doc decide to just ignore them and go for a drive. In their defense, they had just finished a lengthy adventure across time and space, and it's strongly implied they'll get around to dealing with this eventually. Remember, they have a time machine and can deal with this sort of thing whenever they want.
  • One of the lyrics of Portal 2's ending song, Want you Gone, is "You're someone else's problem/Now I only want you gone".


Visual Novels[edit | hide]


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • This happens pretty often in Schlock Mercenary, since the main characters are generally only interested in 1: survival and 2: getting paid.
  • Domain Tnemrot: Morris assaults an eight-year-old girl in the middle of a crowded ballroom. No one notices. Then Angel slams his head into a table hard enough to break his nose. Nobody notices that, either.


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • The attitude of the general population towards demons in Demonic Symphony, and oh boy does it backfire
  • There's a knife in the SCP Foundation that lets people literally get away with murder by doing this.
    • And a hat that functions as an SEP field—the effects of which are permanent if you wear it too much.
  • Fine Structure weaponizes this with a weapon that turns a person into Somebody Else's Problem. You can scream and wave and punch people and people will care so little that they won't notice any of it. Or you. Ever again.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Most characters in Drawn Together (considering the prevalent Jerkass-ness) have done this at one point or another, but Captain Hero, a superhero whose Catch Phrase is "SAVE YOURSELVES!", is probably the worst offender. His response to Bambi wailing to him about his dead mother (that he shot no less) is:

Captain Hero: "Sucks to be you!"

  • Every character in Futurama has decided, at least once, that the current crisis is Somebody Else's Problem.
    • Scruffy the Janitor may be the most blatant offender here: when asked why he didn't fix the boiler, his reply was "schedule conflict" and another flip of his porn magazine. When said boiler was getting ready to go critical ten feet away.

Scruffy: "Scruffy's gonna die the way he lived." (licks finger, turns page)

    • It was also sort of used when the characters decide they don't care that Earth will be threatened by a giant garbage ball in about a thousand years. Mostly because launching said garbage ball was their method of averting the very same crisis during the present day.
  • Invader Zim
    • A fair bit of the humour comes from the fact that nobody ever notices all the alien spaceships and Humongous Mecha that routinely appear. This is more of a Humans Are Morons thing.
    • Gaz however plays this straight. While she's one of the few humans who actually knows that Zim's an alien, she could care less. In her defense, she's just aware of Zim's incompetence and sees no need to do anything when he'll eventually screw himself over.
  • The Simpsons. When Lenny and Carl walk past a tank containing radioactive gas that's bursting at the seams, Carl remarks nonchalantly about the tank's imminent failure, to which Lenny quips "Who cares? It's Homer's problem." Considering how over-the-top the dialogue was given the situation, this could even be considered Lampshade Hanging.

Chief Wiggum: (in response to a biker gang ravaging the Simpsons' house) "We have a little saying around here, let Michigan handle it."

  • The Williams Street cartoons for Adult Swim specialize in this.
    • In Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Master Shake has a different (and often bizarrely random) reason every episode for not caring about what's going on - even in "Revenge of the Trees," where the Monster of the Week was looking for revenge on Shake.
    • Sealab 2021 does this a lot. In the pilot episode, "I, Robot," Quinn is trying to save Sealab from exploding—but everyone else is too busy with a Seinfeldian Conversation to help. In "Green Fever," zombies attack the station, but Debbie is too busy preparing her birthday party, Stormy and Sparks are busy chatting about steel pipes, etc. Exactly who is uncaring varies; in "No Waterworld," Quinn is too busy with his monster truck to help Debbie find out why all the water around the station has disappeared.
    • In Space Ghost Coast to Coast, Zorak and Moltar frequently get bored with Space Ghost's show, and decide their jobs on it are Somebody Else's Problem. Sometimes Space Ghost gets bored with his own show, and does the same thing.
  • This is very prevalent in The Fairly OddParents.
    • In "That Old Black Magic, every anti-fairy escapes from prison, and Jorgen prepares to round them up. Then his shift ends, to which he responds "Your problem."
    • The world gets taken over and heavily modified in every movie (twice in one of them) and the people act accordingly. Timmy usually makes an extravagant wish and somehow either everyone doesn't notice or is too stupid to understand what is happening.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants - Wet Painters, Spongebob is in danger of having his butt removed by his boss and is abandoned in a moment of crisis by his own reflection.
  • Megas XLR: Coop is the king of this trope. In one instance, he made a horde of rampaging monsters someone else's problem by chucking them into Philadelphia. In another, he blew up part of the moon, causing worldwide climatic change, and his only concern was buying bubblegum ice cream. He's destroyed several planets with (usually) no remorse, and is arguably more of a danger to the universe than the race trying to conquer it.
  • Adventure Time: It's been heavily implied, in the show and by Word of God (Jesse Moynihan on his Formspring,) that Princess Bubblegum had this attitude about her creation, Lemongrab. He's mentally screwed-up as a result of being the product of a failed experiment. Princess Bubblegum probably couldn't handle the responsibility of raising him and looking after him, being the busy ruler of a princessipality, so she stuck him in Castle Lemongrab to be raised by servants.

  1. This is called the Bystander Effect
  2. The truth was that the mother wasn't quite dead, and the facther actually WAS affected by it.