He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured, While we thought of him as stricken, as one smitten by God and afflicted. But he was pierced for our offenses, crushed for our sins, Upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole, by his stripes we were healed.—Isaiah
A scapegoat is one who, willingly or otherwise, takes the blame and/or punishment for something for which he or she wasn't responsible—though depending on where the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism is, the relative innocence of said scapegoat will also vary. Any poor sap who runs afoul of a Powder Keg Crowd can become this, especially if they have Torches and Pitchforks; 0% Approval Rating governments seem to execute nothing but innocent scapegoat victims just for the spectacle of it or to keep up the appearance that the government is tough on crime; the Glory Hound will find a subordinate to take the blame for any failure.
Sometimes, in a Distant Finale, the scapegoat is finally cleared, if not in public, then at least in the eyes of those who cared for him or her and at least hoped, if not always believed, that they were innocent.
Compare Silent Scapegoat, where the Scapegoat volunteered for the job, and Wounded Gazelle Gambit, where "Gazelle" wounds (or pretends to wound) themselves to frame someone else. See also Scapegoat Creator, in which someone is blamed for stuff despite that their involvement on the finished product might have been drastically reduced, and Misblamed, in which the scapegoat gets all the blame for the mistake.
Contrast the Windmill, who among other things can be used as the scapegoat for something that hasn't even happened!
Anime & Manga
- Viral takes a lot of this, mostly self-inflicted, in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Later on, Rossiu uses Simon as one.
- Suzaku from Code Geass is blamed for the murder of Clovis early on.
- A somewhat smaller example at the end of R1 onward was when Lelouch met with his Too Good for This Sinful Earth half-sister Euphemia and agreed to back her phased democratization of Japan. An accidental chain of Diabolus Ex Machina brought on by Analogy Backfire Up to Eleven and random Power Incontinence causes Euphemia's bodyguard, Lelouch's best friend since childhood, to believe he purposely Mind Raped her, foisted public blame for a horrifying False Flag war crime she committed under his influence on her, and then murdered her to take credit for putting an end to it. Lelouch never denied any of these accusations, despite numerous chances to do so.
- Later on, Schneizel uses the above accusation, among others (i. e. not warning them about FLEIJA, something he didn't believe because of Suzaku's apparent betrayal), to turn the Black Knights against their leader.
- Not to mention the end of the series, where Nunnally reveals that she worked with Schneizel because she wanted to use Damocles as the common enemy that would finally unite the whole world peacefully. Lelouch considered doing this, but decided that a mere object wouldn't hold peoples' hatred; a human being, on the other hand...
- Yu-Gi-Oh! features a card actually called Scapegoat that summons 4 Sheep Tokens. Since they can't be used for summoning, the exist primarily to be sacrificed in battle to protect the player's life points. You know, like a scapegoat.
- Oboro, the buttmonkey of Utawarerumono whenever one is called for, usually ends up taking the punishment for something Hakuoro/Karura etc did and gets beaten up by Eruruw/Touka/Benawi.
- Angra Mainyu aka Avenger from Fate/stay night. An unlucky random villager chosen to bear all of the sins of the rest of the villagers and killed so that they could feel better about themselves. This technically met the qualifications of becoming a Heroic Spirit, but Avenger was so pissed off that he ended up corrupting the Grail with his wish and turned it into an Artifact of Doom.
- Mahou Sensei Negima example: Princess Arika was blamed and supposedly executed by the Magical Senate for destroying her country, killing her father the king, and starting the war. She was only guilty of the first charge, and she did it to save the rest of the magical world from destruction. Kurt Godel's narration makes it perfectly clear that she was blamed because the world needed a target for its hatred and resentment after the tragedies and hardships of the war.
- In a filler episode of the D.Gray-man anime, Kanda and his seeker come across a town that would isolate someone as a witch and force them to live alone in poor conditions, whenever something unexplainable and bad happened, they would blame it on the witch. This wound up biting them all in the ass when the previous witch (just a child, at that) died alone of illness and her sister, driven by hatred and grief, wound up becoming an Akuma and slaughtered the entire village, the seeker outright states he has trouble feeling sorry over the destruction of a town with such a terrible tradition.
- Happens to Yuuto in Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu. After dropping her bookbag due to a student running into her accidentally, Haruka's bag spills its contents, including a catalog for an anime/manga convention. Yuuto immediately blurts out that he was wondering what happened to his catalog, which the student body immediately accepts, as Haruka is a Closet Otaku. However, she ends up going into a severe Heroic BSOD because she fears that Yuuto would be ostracized the way she was in middle school a few years back.
- In Ore no Imouto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai!, Kyosuke does this twice for his sister Kirino. The first time their father discovers her eroge/anime fascination, Kyosuke defends her hobby, and then after the father points out that he's not okay with eroge, Kyosuke claims that that stuff was his, and he had her hold it for him, causing the father to punch him in the face.
- The second time is when Kirino's modeling friend Ayase finds her in a town where she was doing some modeling, which coincidentally happened to be in the same area where the anime convention was taking place. Kyosuke once again defends her actions, and while Ayase seems okay with her hobby later, she wonders why Kirino had little sister eroge. He immediately and passionately says that that stuff caused him to be closer to his sister, and says that he loves her, to which Ayase immediately rushes off with Kirino, lest he perverts her mind into doing some forbidden things.
- In Spartacus, his second-in-command tried to sacrifice himself in his leader's place, but I Am Spartacus ensued and their captors decided to just crucify all of the slaves.
- In the Star Wars prequels, the Jedi go from the Republic's protectors to fugitives after Palpatine's Xanatos Roulette pays off—to be fair, they did try to arrest him, but he was a Sith Lord.
- The Bible is the Trope Namer: During the Day of Atonement, one goat would be slaughtered and offered as a blood sacrifice while the other, the scapegoat, symbolically carried the sins of Israel out into the desert.
- Which makes the use of Jews as scapegoats for, well, just about everything over the last fifteen hundred years or so kind of paradoxical.
- The Bible is also a subversion, however: the scapegoat (literally, the goat who escapes) is the one who doesn't get killed, but instead gets to go free. Well, that's the pshot; the drash is something different.
- In Fahrenheit 451, the government comes up with a supposed live feed of Montag being killed after he successfully evades them; it's just some random dude they shot so they don't look bad.
- In the second section of A Canticle for Leibowitz, the Poet Sirrah makes an elaborate 'jest' (read: rant) about a blue-headed goat, the titular Saint, and a crown, but not quite in the usual way.
- In Romance of the Three Kingdoms, while CaoCao was campaigning against Yuan Shao, one of Cao Cao's officers told him that they were running low on supplies. Cao Cao told him to falsify numbers so that the troops would push on, and then when word got out that food was getting scarce, Cao Cao then had the officer executed and rallied the troops to make a raid on enemy territory, implying that if they failed they would starve. This eventually led up to the rout of Yuan Shao's forces at Guan Du.
- In 1984, Emmanuel Goldstein and his supposed resistance are blamed for any problems the people under Big Brother and the Party suffer. Whether or not there's any truth to these accusations is never made clear, but given the nature of the book it doesn't seem likely.
- In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The God in the Bowl", Dionus intends to execute Conan if they don't catch the murderer, even though he doesn't think he's the killer.
- In Men At Arms, we're told that the Patrician's general view on law and order is that if there's a crime, there must be seen to be a punishment. It's nice if they involve the same person, but it's not necessary. On the other hand, Quirke's decision to arrest a random troll for the murder of a dwarf because "he must have done something" is an invitation to race war.
- Peter Hatcher is often blamed for the antics of his brother in the Fudge series.
Live Action TV
- In Star Trek: The Next Generation, it's revealed that Worf's father was unjustly blamed for the slaughter that killed him and thousands of other Klingons because the real traitor belonged to a prominent family and the truth would have caused civil war.
- Sheppard's team becomes this to the newly formed Coalition of Planets in Stargate Atlantis. Said coalition is entirely civilizations that are stuck in Medieval Stasis (since the Wraith destroy ones which advance past that), so naturally the actual effectiveness of this alliance is basically non-existent. But they need to do something, so they single out his team for all the crap they've been through (rightfully or not). They can't target the expedition as a whole (because they're too powerful) and can't do anything to the Ancients (who are dead), but Sheppard's team is something both small and guilty enough that they can reasonably do something to punish them.
- Happened in an episode of In Plain Sight, where a teenaged girl witnessed a gang crime and her entire family had to go into hiding. She was essentially shunned by her own father for having gone to the forbidden part of town in the first place. Come The Reveal, and the parents learn that she only went there to collect her younger sister, who was in trouble, and that both girls witnessed the crime. The older sister ordered the younger to keep quiet because "that way Daddy will only hate one of us."
- "It wasn't 4Chan, it was eBaum's World. eBaum's World did it."
- "It's not 4Chan's fault <fill in the blank> happened, it was the furries."
- In 1996, Triple H took the blame for the "Curtain Call" incident that saw himself and then-WWF Champion Shawn Michaels say goodbye to their Real Life-friends Kevin Nash (Diesel) and Scott Hall (Razor Ramon) as they depart to WCW. As a result, Triple H was demoted to jobber status for a while. Ironically, before the incident, he was supposed to win that year's King of the Ring tournament (that honor would go to Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the rest is history).
- The Garrison Keilor radio comedy sketch "The Fall Guy" is about a poor schmuck employed by a huge corporation solely for the purpose of taking the blame for everything that goes wrong. In order to keep the stress from killing him they've provided the fall guy with a whipping boy and the whipping boy with a (literal) scapegoat.
- In Final Fantasy VII, Rufus Shinra tries to publicly execute Tifa and Barret, even though he knows they're not responsible for the accelerating disaster - because he feels that the people need a scapegoat, to help them rally behind Shinra to stop Sephiroth. (Fortunately, he used a rather... slow-acting gas, and some of his personnel had different views. Oh, and Gaia's Vengeance Ex Machina happened too.)
- The US Marines are used as a scapegoat by Blackwatch in the game Prototype. A bit of Fridge Brilliance justifies the combat tactics in-game because of this: what's the best way to make sure the marines are highly visible during the destruction of New York? Use forms of warfare that result in high attrition, lots of collateral damage and see an overwhelming military force crashing through civilian areas. The Marines were also used as shock troops to absorb the brunt of the casualties, which accounts for the Blackwatch's relative rarity on the field in comparison with them.
- They get better in the end though, when they are credited for stopping the infection (which you actually did most of the job).
- Also there is an ability called Patsy where you can scapegoat an innocent person and make the military believe that person is you, resulting in their instant death why they plead they are normal. This is done for as a distraction or just because it's funny.
- In Suikoden IV, Lazlo is banished from Razril and set adrift, left to die for a crime he didn't commit. Eventually, after her own fall from grace, his ex-superior Katarina admits that she suspected he wasn't responsible, but went along with the charade because she wanted to see someone pay for Glen's death.
- In Final Fantasy Tactics, Ramza gets branded a heretic by the Corrupt Church—while he does kill a cardinal, it was in self defense when the cardinal reveals that he's really a demon.
- In Chrono Trigger, the Evil Chancellor tries to have the King Guardia XXXIII framed for selling the Rainbow Shell under false pretenses... the Chancellor was actually a descendent of the Yakra monster you defeated earlier, seeking revenge for its fallen ancestor.
- In Skyrim, this happens to you during the quest "The Forsworn Conspiracy".
- Something*Positive explains how American justice works. Of course, that being Something Positive, it explains specifically how media-justice tandem works on scapegoats.
- Early on, El Goonish Shive crew used to find their teen Mad Scientist fitting for this purpose. Of course, there are good reasons why he had to repeatedly explain that it wasn't his fault when someone is transformed.
- In addition, the author has started jokingly blaming a certain "Kevin" every time something in the comic isn't quite right. It is usually only in the commentary, but it found its way into the strip itself here. He has been rather elusive on who this Kevin is, or if he is even a real person.
- Yuki was going to become Kira's scapegoat in Mitadake Saga until she sacrificed herself for him
- In No Rest for The Wicked, Claire realizes she's being sacrificed because parents are guilty of something. She just doesn't care.
- In Family Guy, Meg, after finally losing it and verbally ripping the entire family a new one, reaches the conclusion,that being the scapegoat is her purpose in the family, and that, without her acting as a sort of lynchpin, everything would come undone.
- Charlie Brown is a Butt Monkey on his best day, but he becomes this in It's Your First Kiss, Charlie Brown. During the last play of the football game, Lucy - typically - pulls the football away before Charlie can kick it, causing their gang to lose the important game. She deliberately screws up the play, but somehow this is Charlie Brown's fault. This is the primary reason that many Peanuts fans hate that special.
- Nero blamed the Christians for the fire that burned down a huge chunk of Rome; it didn't help the Christians that they were thought to have some downright bizarre religious rituals about eating the flesh of the dead.
- The Christians turned right around and blamed Nero for the fire. Possibly the most successful use of the "No, you did it!" defense in history.
- The Jews also got blamed for a great number of things throughout history, up to and including the death of Christ, the Blood Libel, the Black Death and others, leading to many pogroms against them.
- An actual goat is blamed for the Chicago Cubs' woes; similarly, the Curse of the Colonel.
- And once, blamed a poor fellow by the name of Steve Bartman. Fans labeled Bartman reaching for a foul ball, which Cubs player Moses Alou might have caught, for ruining their chances to win the pennant in 2003...despite the Cubs blowing a 3-0 lead in game 6, losing 8-3 and losing the following game 7.
- Communists have been a popular scapegoat group throughout the 20th century. Sometimes comically (in the United States), othertimes with pretty horrific consequences.
- The President of the United States might as well be changed to "Scapegoat of the United States". No matter what happens, it will somehow be blamed on the United States of America. Riot related to a football team losing? President's fault. Vocal Minority Muslim terrorist tries to blow something up? The President did it.
- It's often been said that the single best indicator for whether or not a sitting President will win reelection is the state of the economy.
- America in general. Even on this very wiki.
- This has often been parodied on comments on news, where when something happens, someone jokingly comments "Obama/Bush did it".
- Whoever the person in charge of a country is. The Prime Minister's title should be changed to "Prime Scapegoat", just like the U.S. President.
- Apple Inc. and Microsoft have Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, respectively. They supposedly do all of the research, all of the marketing, all of the designs, and receive all of the criticism.
- You yourself probably know a scapegoat. You know, that person who everyone always seems to actively seek out and take it all out on? One can easily wonder if there's a personality disorder that practically requires someone to have a scapegoat in their life - Dave Pelzer and then his brother Richie, for example, were scapegoats to their mother's wrath.
- The entertainment industry, particularly video games, typically take some amount of undeserved blame any time a school shooting occurs. Thanks a lot, Jack Thompson.
- (The Customer is) Not Always Right has quite a few examples; people will look for ways to pin anything on anyone so long as it's not their own fault.
- After the Germans attacked the Soviet Union, Stalin executed many of the commanding generals on the western border. It is still argued how much of the fault was actually theirs, but a notable case is where they executed the chief veterinarian and the head of the warehouses, but an army commander was spared and later promoted - because the communications with him were lost at the time.
- Queen Elizabeth I blamed her advisors for 'tricking' her into signing the order of execution for her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Whether this was actually the case, no one will ever know.
- Of course, the Tudors were great at assigning scapegoats. Nothing was ever the fault of Elizabeth's father Henry VIII either, especially not his inability to sire healthy male offspring.