Why We Can't Have Nice Things

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"Stupid museum! Why must you be so full of rare and precious cultural treasures!"
Lemuel, Dragon Tails
"My mom was one of those angry moms that gets mad at absolutely everything. Once when I was little I knocked a Flintstones glass off the counter in the kitchen and my mom said, 'Well, DAMMIT, we can't have nice things!'"
Paula Poundstone

Imagine things are just going great. Maybe the world is at peace; there are no warring factions. Everybody gets along and there is No Poverty or disease or anything else that sucks. Then some asshole has to come along and ruin it for everybody else.

This is why we can't have nice things.

You've probably heard your mother say this once or twice. This Stock Phrase turns up whenever clumsiness or stupidity once again wrecks something, especially something monetarily valuable or precious. It can also be applied to plans, historically significant things, or emotionally significant things. It's not limited to tangible objects, however.

This trope refers to the act itself and not the perpetrator, however in most cases the "crime" needs to actually have a sentient perpetrator in order to qualify. Crappy situations which are inherent and are naturally occurring with no definable source of blame on an entity of group of entities do not count; it needs a scapegoat.

A few common scenarios when it comes to Why We Can't Have Nice Things that aren't limited to tangible objects:

1) The perpetrator is selfish and/or malicious, with the full intention of ruining everyone's fun.

Example: Everybody always goes out on Friday night to have fun with their friends. Bob, however, does not have any friends and is extremely jealous. Bob decides to commit vandalism and general mayhem, which in turn causes the enactment of a curfew for everybody.

2) The perpetrator is selfish and/or malicious, but largely ignorant of the full extent of damage their actions will cause.

Example: Vampires and werewolves are at peace with one another. Bob the werewolf is dating Alice, the princess of vampires, but one day decides to have an affair with Carol the werewolf. Alice, the beloved princess, decides to commit suicide in a fit of despair. I'm sure you can guess what happens next.

3) The perpetrator is either ignorant of the outcome or innocent, instead thinking they are doing what they consider to be the right thing. This largely depends on perspective, as you'll see in the example—because what is considered fun or nice to one person, may not be felt the same way by another. In fact, this disruption might be a godsend.

Example: Bob and Alice routinely make fun of Suzanne behind the teacher's back. Carol notices and decides to tell the teacher, who in turn punishes Bob and Alice and prevents future occurrences that are at Suzanne's expense. Bob and Alice's fun has been ruined.

Why Fandom Can't Have Nice Things is a subtrope, when the "nice things" in question are relationships with the artist. See also Bloodstained-Glass Windows, Rushmore Refacement, Broken Treasure, Priceless Ming Vase, Nice Job Breaking It, Hero, What the Hell, Hero?, Status Quo Is God, Monumental Damage. Might overlap with Self-Fulfilling Prophecy. Tends to lead into Cycle of Revenge.

Examples of Why We Can't Have Nice Things include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • One of the Japanese Transformers incarnations had an archaeologist beg Optimus to avoid destroying the digging site. Guess what Optimus and the others did to it.
  • Averted in One Piece, wherein the Archaeologist Lady of War Nico Robin refuses to fight in a ruined city so as not to damage anything, and has to flee to a safer place as a result. When the leader of the enemy Mooks traps her into such a confrontation, thus triggering one of Robin's very few Berserk Buttons, it gets... ugly.
  • During his introduction episodes, Death the Kid ended up destroying an entire pyramid by accident. It was symmetrical, but the pharaoh living there, on the other hand...
  • Shigure can't even have a door.
  • The Phantomhive house staff in Black Butler, excluding Sebastian, often does more damage than they're supposedly worth. The maid constantly breaks things and mixes up wood and shoe polish, the chef can't do anything but burn food and cause explosions, and the gardener frequently mixes up fertilizer and herbicide. There's a reason Ciel keeps them around, though...
  • In Tank Police, Buaku and the Puma Sisters break into a museum vault to steal a priceless painting kept there temporarily. The painting's owner has hired a merc squad to protect it. Said mercs apparently see no problem with using automatic weapons in an enclosed space filled with priceless artifacts.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Godzilla has the habit of destroying various landmarks in Tokyo, both historic and modern.
  • James Bond fights a bad guy in an Italian glass museum in Moonraker. It goes like you'd expect.
    • There was a sword . . . with a glass hilt . . . *sobs*.
    • Averted in Dr. No: "That's a Dom Perignon '55, it would be a pity to break it."
  • Jackie Chan has subversions in several of his movies. Somebody tosses a Priceless Ming Vase at him. He knows it's priceless. And so he spends the entire fight beating up the bad guy while doing aerobatics with his own body and the vase so it doesn't break. It's a martial arts prowess Dish Dash, essentially. And when the fight is over, he puts the vase back. And, in a Double Subversion, it gets shot.
  • Inverted in The Da Vinci Code, where the heroes escape from the Louvre by holding a priceless painting hostage.
    • In the screen sequel Angels & Demons, Langdon and Vetra are out of time, and rip out a page of the priceless Diagramma to take along with them.
  • Mars Attacks!! has the aliens destroying earth landmarks for giggles.
  • Played with in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, where Henry Jones inadvertently brains his son with what appeared to be a Ming dynasty vase. He was initially more concerned about the loss of the artifact than the damage to Indy's skull (hey, he is an archaeologist), but on closer examination was relieved to discover it was a fake.
  • Parodied in Team America. The titular team blows up all sorts of important landmarks every time they face off against the villains.
  • In National Treasure, Nicolas Cage has to steal the Declaration of Independence to prevent the villain from getting his mitts on it. Throughout the movie, he treats the document with due respect and at the end of the movie returns it to the authorities, none the worse for wear. There's an awesome scene where he's holding the Declaration, in its frame, and the bad guys break in and seem him just about to get in the elevator. Ian shoots him in the chest. Luckily, as previously mentioned, the Declaration is under bulletproof glass, and Ben gets into the elevator, smirking.
  • In Iron Man, during one of the rocket boot tests, Tony ended up landing on one of his very nice cars. Everyone with a remote interest in cars cringed.

Stark: OK, this is where I don't wanna be. Not the car, not the car!

    • And then later in the movie, he underestimates the structural integrity of his house's roof after coming home from a successful Mk 2 suit flight test, crashes through the upper floor, through a grand piano, through the lower floor, and butt-first right onto the car he singed earlier during his boot/gauntlet flight test. After one of his barely competent helper bots sprays him down with fire retardant, he just slowly lays his head on the wreck out of tired exasperation.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • The Doctor in the Doctor Who serial "City of Death", with a big black marker.
    • Subverted in the same serial when Duggan is about to smash a chair over the butler's head.

"Duggan, what are you doing? Put it down! For heaven's sake, that's a Louis Quinze!"

  • In the Angel episode "Disharmony", vampire Harmony rips a page out of an ancient book to dispose of her gum, causing Wesley to flip out.

Wesley: What are you doing?!?! This book is 12 centuries old!!
Harmony: Okay, so it's not like I messed up a new one.

  • One of Harry Hill's sketch shows has the Brigadier from Doctor Who bringing a cut-crystal bowl to UNIT HQ, only for a Cyberman to blunder into him and smash it: the Brig complains "You can't have anything nice around here."
  • The final episode of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica's first season features a shootout between Starbuck and a Cylon in a museum on Caprica, destroying plenty of priceless artifacts in the process. This is made even worse by the fact that due to the fact that Caprica's been nuked to hell at the beginning of the series, this might be the only museum of its kind in the entire world that's still standing.
    • Through the early seasons, Captain Adama was working on a model sailing ship, but after an incident, he took out his anger by slamming his fist into it. The problem was that this was an ad lib by actor Edward James Olmos, who thought it was just a prop they provided him. It turned out to be a relatively valuable model lent to the production. Thankfully, it was insured.
  • This line is used occasionally by MythBusters after they've blown up a car, or any other expensive machinery they've gotten their hands on. Considering that it's implied they often have to go to great lengths to acquire certain vehicles (for example, when the only snow plow they could find for a myth was one that was broken and a nightmare to fix), it's surprising this isn't said more often.
  • Martial Law, created by and starring Jackie Chan's friend and frequent director Sammo Hung, once had the main character, who has a Jackie Chan inspired fighting style, pose as an art fence trying to to sell a Ming vase. Da Chief is with two detectives outside in the van, and he points out that the suspect is going to be able to tell it's not a real vase. The two detectives say it is a real vase, and Da Chief goes Oh Crap as he realizes what might be about to happen. They all rush inside to save the vase, but a fight has already started. At the end of the scene, Sammo tosses the vase to Da Chief with a jaunty "See? No damage!" (Outtakes where the actor flubbed the catch reveal they had a crew member on the floor for just that possibility.)
  • For Jon Stewart, Barbie dolls potentially being used by pedophiles.
  • In an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, Ray and Robert get into a hilarious fight that involves Bugles, an ugly sweater, and a lamp at Frank and Marie's house. Said parents walk in in the middle of the fight. Marie notices the broken lamp and quotes the trope.
  • In an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, Pearl quotes the trope after she has a couch temporarily moved into the Satellite of Love, only to watch Mike and the 'bots bounce around and squeeze juice boxes on it.
    • In The Movie, while watching This Island Earth, a character complains about blowing out some electronic components, and Mike quips "Oh, we can't have nice things!".
  • For the first five seasons of Canada's Worst Driver the creators received hundreds of letters from fans begging the show to stop destroying classic cars in the weekly trials. For the sixth season they destroyed a 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. Cue the tears of a nation of car lovers.

Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]

  • In one Get Fuzzy cartoon, Bucky breaks a baseball player figurine presumably owned by Satchel. In typical Bucky fashion he wasn't even being clumsy; he just knocked it over because he didn't like the way it was 'looking at him.' Satchel is clearly upset. Rob tells the cat and dog that "See. This is why we can't have nice things.""

Theatre[edit | hide]

  • The characters in the musical On the Town (and its somewhat different film version) take a trip to the Museum of Natural History, which ends with them demolishing a dinosaur skeleton.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • The final shootout in Mafia happens in an art gallery (the whole level is actually called "Death of Art"), and a cop whom the protagonist later tells about this actually goes ballistic about how many art pieces were destroyed in it.
  • In Fallout 3, there are two related quests. Both involve going into the ruins of the Museum of American History to recover artifacts. You can either sell them to a group of slavers who have taken over the Lincoln Monument (and want to destroy them, so they won't be used to help rally slaves) or you can kill the lot of them so a group of former slaves can move in (they will also buy the artifacts off you, and enshrine them instead). Notably, one of the pieces of equipment you can find is Lincoln's Repeater, which is a pretty useful gun.
    • Also, in a way, the town of Megaton is the subject of this in "The Power of Atom" quest. The city of Megaton is a ramshackle, yet functional, bastion of humanity in the wastes, and is a monument to human survival, as it is a city built in the crater of an unexploded atomic bomb. And then you can decide to blow it up, and kill everyone in the town, for land magistrate Allistair Tennpenny because he finds it an eyesore.
      • Not that it's anything but barely discernible in the wasteland...
  • The Chicago History Museum mission in John Woo's Stranglehold is all over this trope. Everything from dinosaurs to terracotta statues to lost pieces of architecture gets blown to hell by gunfire as Tequila fights to save Billie but she is killed on her father's orders by Tequila's former partner, Jerry.
  • In God of War Kratos gains experience for smashing things. This includes a lot of vases. The game is set in Ancient Greece. In his defense, they're not priceless antiques to him. On the other hand, he'd probably act just the same if they were.
  • They are priceless antiques in Tomb Raider: Underworld. That does not stop Lara casually kicking them to pieces to show off her legs in hopes of finding power-ups.
  • In the beginning of Uncharted 2, Nathan sneaks into a museum to steal an oil lamp containing a map to the next Plot Coupon. The first thing he does upon getting said lamp is smash it to pieces on the ground.
    • To be fair to Nate, he points out that the damn thing is worthless anyway, having a value measured in the single digits beyond the walls of the museum.
      • Humorously Sully says this phrase word for word during the ending of Uncharted 3. The nice thing that couldn't be had in question? An entire lost civilization.
  • In The Legend of Zelda series, the average player doesn't think twice about countless pieces of family heirloom pottery Link destroys in order to take people's money, as exemplified here.
  • In the first Medal of Honor game one of your missions takes place in an old salt mine where the nazis have stashed art and scultptures they've looted. Have fun wrecking them, the very thing you're supposed to be preventing the nazis from doing.
  • Ghostbusters the Video Game, even more so than the movie series it's based on. Especially so in the Museum level, where the Proton Packs threaten to destroy priceless historical artifacts (unless the museum owners cunningly switched those artifacts with worthless replicas).


Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the sixth episode of Echo Chamber, Tom wears a Fun T-Shirt that says this, and depicts the Hindenberg crashing into the Titanic.
  • In one of the earliest stories in the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, a team of supervillains invades the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History intent on stealing a crystal sculpture that had been dug up in Equador. Naturally, the battle between the bad guys and the good guys destroyed lots of irreplaceable artifacts, and ended with the leader of the villain team, an alien being called Shadowspawn getting away with the sculpture while his teammates were all captured. As soon as he could, Shadowspawn shattered the sculpture in order to free up the base, which was a powerful magical artifact and his target all along.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • In an episode of Justice League, Superman punched his (invulnerable) opponent right through the Great Pyramid of Giza.
  • In the original Ben 10 in the course of the series—a single summer vacation: Ben and his family managed to destroy priceless artifacts in a Washington museum, burn that boat stuck at Niagara Falls, and blow up Mt. Rushmore. And wipe out an entire Mayan pyramid.
  • Kim Possible "Oh No Yono": When Monkeyfist breaks into a museum, he has his monkey ninja throw and attempt to drop valuable artifacts so that our heroes will have to catch them and he can get away.
  • Futurama:

Mayor: Thank you, mysterious heroes! The value of the Gemerald you saved is slightly greater than the cost of the damage you caused to this museum: A net gain for our great city!

  • Taken seriously for once on Teen Titans. In one of Robin's nightmares, he fought Slade to prevent him from destroying several statues. He managed to subdue him, but Slade wasn't unhappy about it--"Everything you care about, you destroy." Robin looked around at the ruins of the statues, which suddenly bore the visages of his friends, then pulled off Slade's mask and saw his own laughing face.
  • Carefully averted by the Gargoyles. Demona flung a vase at Goliath, who caught it carefully, set it down, and then gave chase.
  • In the opening scenes of DuckTales the Movie: Treasure of the Lost Lamp, Launchpad manages to land his plane without crashing (though it is upside-down). However, in doing so, he utterly demolishes several ancient ruins.

Launchpad: Coulda been worse. It coulda been something new!

  • In a episode of Fairly Oddparents, Timmy's Dad constantly says "Why can't I have nice things?!" after seeing all the stuff Timmy wished up from Wal-Mart the Wall-to-Wall Mart. He then starts saying this about everything else.
  • In Archer, episode "Job Offer", Malory Archer throws a hissy fit when her son leaves ISIS, breaking all the nice things in her office. They use the line again at the end of the episode, and in the next one, Dial M for Mother, when Archer bleeds on the carpet.

Malory: This is why we can't have nice things.
Archer: Why? Because you keep shooting them?

    • The exact phrase was used as a running joke in Frisky Dingo. When the line cropped up again in Archer, a show with the same creators and writers, it may have been a cross-over gag. Not that it wasn't still funny.
  • In The Simpsons, Lisa uses the exact phrase when Homer decides the grammar robot she built for her science fair would like some beer.
  • In The Legend of Korra "A Leaf in the Wind" Korra blows up a 2000-year old device for teaching airbending out of frustration.

Webcomics[edit | hide]

  • Lampshaded and averted in this comic from the superhero arc of Dragon Tails, where Lemuel looks around the museum for something to throw at the heroes to slow them down while he runs away.
  • In the first installment of the "Journal" series in Xkcd, someone remarks that "This is why we can't have nice people," after hearing about Black Hat Guy's latest work of evil.


Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Part of the reason why photos of Osama Bin Laden's corpse will not be released to the public is because of fears that it will be used as Garbage Post Kid bait.
    • The more internet savvy or just internet-visible have long been struggling to keep both good and bad material related to themselves off the internet due to GIFT. Sometimes it works, usually it doesn't.
  • There are many people who own large stretches of wilderness, which they leave open to the public for outdoor activities...until one too many people leave big piles of litter, have loud parties late at night, tear up the ground with four-wheelers, etc, and next thing you know the NO TRESPASSING signs are up.