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This trope is when the main character has a misunderstanding or a falling out with a loved one, and it's invariably the main character's fault. It doesn't matter that they typically can't read minds and know what the loved one was thinking, or that maybe the other person specifically brought these problems in themselves by not communicating their feelings. The damage is done, and it is now the protagonist's job to spend the rest of the episode reflecting on how horrible a friend/family member/significant other they've been, recite the lesson they learned, and beg forgiveness. And because their loved one is oh so good and mature, they will grant it because the wayward protagonist has "earned" it.

A non-relationship variant can happen when a mistake is made, but only the main character must apologize even if they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time or forced to make the wrong decision under duress.

A blend of Never My Fault and Selective Enforcement. Often the result of The Unfair Sex in romantic comedies and sitcoms.

Basically, this is Protagonist-Centered Morality inverted so hard it flips back around to be just as bad.

Examples of Anti-Protagonist Morality:


Anime and Manga

  • Fushigi Yuugi is thankfully a subversion of the trope. Yui blames Miaka for her misery because Miaka made a mistake that put her in a horrible situation and spends the entire series doing so, and Miaka believes this as she makes it her mission to apologize to Yui and make ammends. But it's also made clear that Yui is being manipulated by Nakago, and at the end she's the one to apologize.
  • This is the main problem with the Pokémon episode "Challenge of the Samurai." Samurai is a snotty, egotistical jerk who interrupts Ash's catch of a Weedle, forces him to leave Metapod behind when they get stormed by Beedrills, and blames Ash for risking his Pokemon's life! He never apologizes, instead Ash is forced to realize his error and reflect on what a bad trainer he's been. Pokemopolis put it best:
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"Well isn't that lovely and mature of Ash, gentle Dodgers, haven't we all learnt a valuable lesson about owning up and....... BOLLOCKS! It WAS Samurai's fault and Ash ISN'T to blame! The fat little bastard is responsible for Weedle getting away, he ran away when the Beedrill's attacked, the Beedrill dodged Ash's best efforts to get Metapod back, the Kakuna evolved and Ash would have died if he'd stuck around and Team Rocket got involved when he risked life and limb to return for Metapod."

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  • Subverted in Marmalade Boy. When Meiko gets angry at Miki for prodding her about her secret relationship with Mr. Namura, she tells her "if [telling our deepest secrets] is what friendship is, I don't want it." Miki spends a good deal of time wondering if she's misunderstood her best friend the whole time, but Meiko does end up apologizing for what she said in the end.

Comic Books

  • In Goldie Vance volume 2, the title character's best friend Cheryl goes off on her for "taking her NASA dream" because the NASA people gave her an offer to study with them, even though Cheryl knows Goldie has no interest in space. Cheryl throws a tantrum, rips up the ticket Goldie gives her, and Goldie is the one who is supposed to "look at it from her side" and make things right. She ends up realizing how "wrong" she was for hurting Cheryl, even though Cheryl is the one who withheld just how insecure she was and chose to believe the worst about Goldie.

Film

  • Much of The Other Guys operates on this. While it's sometimes justified, namely that Hoitz and Gamble forget to identify themselves as police officers and claim the protections there in, it's more often than not treated as entirely their fault when things go wrong. In one scene, Gamble is tricked by Martin and Fosse into firing his gun at the ceiling but it's him who must give up his gun until he can be trusted with it. Are Martin and Fosse punished? Or is their role even acknowledged? No.

Literature

  • In Babysitter's Club book 12, Claudia makes a new friend and the BSC disowns her for it and trashes her room, but she's the one who has to apologize for being a bad friend and wanting to focus on her art and not all babysitting all the time.
    • Subverted in the Little Sister spin-off installment "Karen's Prize", where Karen is forced to learn a lesson in humility by losing a spelling bee and apologize to her friends, but only after she's actually wronged them by acting like a diva and treating them like the bad guys for getting tired of her bloated ego.
  • The American Girls book about Lindsey Bergman just cannot allow the heroine to win anything. She gets in trouble for trying to do the right thing, no one cuts her a break for it, and she's always made to apologize for upsetting the other person even if she was the one who was wronged.
  • Harriet the Spy is absolutely awful about this. The heroine's friends steal her private notebook, read it, and treat her like shit for saying things they didn't like. Rather than them learning the lesson that it's not okay to invade people's privacy and blame them for your hurt feelings, Harriet is forced to reflect on what a bad friend she's been and make nice with the others so they'll forgive her when she would have had every right to drop those "friends" like hot potatoes and find new ones who respected her privacy.
  • While The Pros of Cons was about two of the main girls making up for actual problems they'd caused and attitudes they'd copped (Callie sabotaged her father's taxidermy display in a fit of anger, while Phoebe was a borderline Female Misogynist), Vanessa is called out by her girlfriend for "riding her coattails" in their shared fandom and being a "lazy writer who abandons her novels". Said girlfriend was a manipulative attention-seeker who toyed with Vanessa's heart, broke their plans, led her on, and basically treated her like crap the entire time they were together in person. She was, objectively, in no position to criticize Vanessa as if she'd done anything oh so wrong. But Vanessa ends up taking the accusation to heart and learning a lesson from it, and learning to understand the girl's own feelings better. In no way was she obligated to do any of that after the way she was treated.
  • This seems to be the ultimate lesson of The Pigman. While John and Lorraine did lie to the titular character for the sake of mischief and John is something of a delinquent, in the end he comes to the conclusion that the events of the last few chapters were all his and Lorraine's fault, and growing up means accepting that and not blaming others. Which is mature of him, but the fact of the matter is that his and Lorraine's parents were not good people. If the Conlans had shown John any affection or support, or Mrs. Jensen hadn't spent the entire book browbeating and berating her daughter, John and Lorraine may have made better choices.
    • Thankfully, the sequel The Pigman's Legacy undoes all of this. Not only have John and Lorraine grown up some, but they save another old man from dying alone by befriending him and introducing him to their lunchlady, whom he marries shortly before he passes away. Through this, Lorraine and John realize their love for each other and let go of their fears and hangups as they begin a new relationship.
  • In Paula Danziger's There's a Bat in Bunk Five, Marcy is constantly antagonized by a troubled girl named Ginger despite Marcy's efforts to reach out to her. When Marcy's had enough and decides to focus on having fun by herself, that's when Ginger decides she wants to talk, and Marcy gets chewed out by everyone for being selfish and choosing time with her crush. As opposed to Ginger being told she's at fault, too, for constantly pushing Marcy away.

Live-Action TV

  • Way, way too many teen or kid-oriented sitcoms to count.
  • This was often coupled with The Unfair Sex in Home Improvement‍'‍s early episodes, where Tim was always the one in the wrong even if Jill was no saint. Thankfully dialed way back in the later episodes where Jill was allowed to be wrong more often.
  • Everybody Loves Raymond, dear lord. Raymond was never, ever allowed to be right about anything, especially where his wife was concerned.
    • One episode had his own mother refuse to talk to him after finding a diary entry from when he was a kid saying he hated her. Does his mother learn that it's rude to read her child's private writing and that his feelings when he was young don't reflect on the present? Nope, Raymond edits the entry to read that he loves his mother and apologizes to her. Lesson learned? "Never express your feelings in a diary, because even private writing is hurtful and mean."
  • In an early episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Hilary gets Will in trouble by tattling on him repeatedly. When Will learns she dropped out of school and hasn't told her parents yet, he uses it to blackmail her. When Phil and Vivian find out, they get angry at Will because blackmail is such serious business. Yes, Will was a jerk, but Hilary didn't exactly smell like roses either; not only did she lie to her parents, she only tattled on Will for the sake of getting him in trouble rather than out of concern for his well-being or because he was doing anything dangerous or illegal.
  • Subverted on Married With Children. Al Bundy was constantly paying the price for things that weren't entirely his fault and seldom allowed to have nice things, but the people around him were portrayed as equally unpleasant, unlucky, and annoying. It was a show where almost nobody was allowed to be happy or enjoy things most of the time, and that's why it worked.
  • Greg Warner on Yes, Dear was almost never allowed to be right about anything when it came to Kim. Even when the arguments were her fault or she was being unreasonable, he was always the one to learn a lesson and apologize. He shared a similar relationship with his brother-in-law Jimmy, who was usually portrayed as in the right even when he was being a lazy slacker or trolling Greg on purpose.

Western Animation

  • Played with on Doug when the titular character throws a rock and knocks down an old house. Patti Mayonnaise gets upset, doesn't explain why, and gets even more angry when Doug asks why she was upset over a "crummy old house." Doug's best friend Skeeter is the one who has to explain why Patti was so upset: it was her old house, where she'd lived until her mother died. Doug tries to hold onto his annoyance that Patti expected him to read her mind, but then he remembers how hard it was to leave his childhood home behind when he discovers his old height chart. He then decides on his own to make it up to her, and it's portrayed entirely as Doug being thoughtful and sensitive rather than being forced to learn a lesson.
  • Played horrifically straight in the Family Guy episode "Seahorse Seashell Party." Meg, more or less the heroine of the episode, calls her family out for treating her like shit. Then she realizes how "wrong" she was when they all turn on each other and learns that she must be the lightning rod for their abuse so they can feel good about themselves. She apologizes for speaking her mind and goes back to letting everyone abuse her like a Good Girl.
  • "How Lisa Got Her Marge Back" on The Simpsons. Lisa's feelings are understandably hurt when Marge gripes about jazz and how all of Lisa's songs sound the same, but the episode is all about forcing her to forgive her mother. Worse, she's shamed by a total stranger for being upset at all! Her brain lampshades this by forcing her to accept that this is her lot in life, that no one understands her and that it's time to stop hurting her mother's feelings.
  • Mr. Mackey and Principal Victoria try to invoke this trope on Kyle in the South Park episode "Tonsil Trouble" by making him apologize for tattling on Cartman, who fed him his HIV-infected blood. Kyle's response is to storm out of the school, go to Cartman's house, and destroy everything he owns.
    • Done again in "Le Petit Tourette" when Cartman fakes Tourette's Syndrome and Kyle calls him out on it. Cartman manipulates the adults into making Kyle apologize, and Kyle is forced to attend a special support group meeting. Thankfully, one of the kids at the meeting realizes Cartman's a big faker and teams up with Kyle to expose him.
  • Miss Bustier in Miraculous Ladybug. Marinette is being bullied? Maybe she should try being the bigger person and set a positive example for Chloé instead of being rightfully angry. Even Hawk Moth lampshades that Marinette is being punished for Chloé's misdeeds. And all this mindset ends up doing is providing fertile ground for a Face Heel Turn on Chloé's part, convinced that she can do anything she wants, consequences be damned.
  • This is why the Arthur episode "Arthur's Big Hit" is so despised. D.W. messes up Arthur's model plane despite his repeated warnings for her not to touch it, then hassles him about how "badly built" it supposedly was until he snaps and punches her in the face. This looks like it's being set up for a simple "hitting is wrong" moral... except later, Arthur gets punched by Binky the bully and when he tells his father, David says "well, that's how D.W. felt when you punched her" in a milquetoast tone while D.W. looks smugly on. So basically, the lesson is that if you hit a person who ruined your personal property and provoked you, you deserve to be bullied at school. Notice how D.W. doesn't even get punished for her behavior, or at least, not on-screen.
  • Hey Arnold! has this in "Arnold Saves Sid." Sid does the "I Owe You My Life" thing after Arnold rescues him from a falling sign, and Arnold is clearly not comfortable with it. His well-meaning grandpa encourages him to just go along with it, and Arnold does. Sid ends up getting pissed off at Arnold for going along with it, and it's up to Arnold to make amends...when he didn't even want Sid being his slave in the first place! Even if Arnold is a nice guy, Sid was still in the wrong both times.

Real Life

  • Sadly, the kind of thinking that inspires this trope is very real. Too many schools handle bullying by suggesting the victim "try to see it from the bully's point of view, be the bigger person, reach out to them" while never trying to suggest the bully do the same thing. This is especially common if the bully in question has a bad home life compared to the victim's. The message? "If your life doesn't suck, it's your fault you're being harassed, it's your job to make friends with the bully, but don't expect anyone to cut you a break. And heaven help you if you try to defend yourself!"
  • This has also become depressingly common in fandom. People who regularly bash other fans for their personal tastes in ships or characters will always make their victims look like the bad guy if they defend themselves.
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