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Bathos is a story-telling technique that follows serious ideas with the commonplace or ludicrous. The juxtaposition of these ideas creates humor.
It has its origins in poetry, where lofty prose would be followed with an anticlimax of sorts. It later evolved to cover any instance where the serious is mixed with the surreal or commonplace in order to provide humor.
The trope name comes from Alexander Pope, who wrote Peri Bathous, Or the Art of Sinking in Poetry in 1772, in which he mocks the abuse of tropes and figures of speech by bad writers. In it, he notes that juxtaposing the serious and the trivial creates unintentional humor, which sinks serious poetry.
Bathos can be both intentionally invoked or unintentionally present. It most often appears intentionally in comedic works or those with a comedic undertone, although not always. Unintentional bathos is described on this site as Narm.
- The Comically Serious
- Ignored Enemy
- The Last of These Is Not Like the Others
- Sophisticated As Hell
Compare Gallows Humor, where the comedy is used by characters within the story as a tension breaker.
Please do not place examples that better belong on Narm here or on any main page. In other words, only intentional Bathos belongs on this page.
Anime and Manga
- NEEDLESS is full of this. It can best be described as sort of a Fist of the North Star parody stuffed with Post Modernism. There is a story arc called the Bloody Rain Arc, which is changed to the Mustache Arc after several characters notice how many characters with mustaches there are. Said arc is filled with Lampshade Hanging and mustache jokes. Then one of the said mustachioed characters proceeds to kill enough people to make it rain blood.
Film - Live Action
- The Host revels in this. The main characters rolling around on the floor and crying together at a funeral is either the saddest scene in the movie, or the funniest, or both. Another dramatic and climactic scene is "ruined" when it turns out that the gun they were going to use to kill the monster is empty.
- A particularly funny example in Blazing Saddles has former gunslinger "Waco Kid" Jim telling a woeful story of the life of a gunfighter, involving a six-year-old kid challenging him, and ending with "little bastard shot me in the ass!"
Film - Animated
- In The Incredibles, the superfamily is rushing to save Metroville from a rampaging robot. Along the way they do what every family does on a long car trip: start bickering.
Dash: Are we there yet?
Mr Incredible: We'll get there when we get there!
- An example of the trope that predates Pope's coining of the term comes from John Dryden in Albion and Albanius, where he writes:
"The cave of Proteus rises out of the sea, it consists of several arches of rock work, adorned with mother of pearl, coral, and abundance of shells of various kinds. Through the arches is seen the sea, and parts of Dover pier."
- Pope himself used this trope deliberately in the mock-heroic poem The Rape of the Lock:
Not louder Shrieks to pitying Heav'n are cast,
When Husbands or when Lap-dogs breath their last,
Why are people born? Why do they die? And why do they spend much of the intervening time wearing digital watches?
- Stand-up comedian and author Lewis Grizzard uses this trope extensively in his routines and writing. From his memorial column for his dog Catfish:
I don’t know why I named him what I named him. He was all curled up in a blanket on my back seat. And I looked at him and it just came out. I called him, “Catfish.” I swear he raised up from the blanket and acknowledged. Then he severely fouled the blanket and my back seat.
- Common throughout The Dresden Files. Top prize probably goes to asking a faerie hit-thing for a donut.
Eldest Brother Gruff: Likest thou jelly within thy donut?
Harry: Nay, but with sprinkles 'pon it, and frosting of white.
- Found throughout PG Wodehouse's work. A spectacular example is present in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, with a florid poem describing a sunset that ends with "I say / Doesn't that sunset remind you / Of a slice / Of underdone roast beef?"
- While arguably having its moments of Narm also, Stationery Voyagers is not above intentionally including some dark humor by its juxtaposing of a serious situation with a Large Ham. Cindy has a Bond One-Liner in "Night of the Whiteout" that especially qualifies:
- Woody Allen wrote "Why does man kill? He kills for food. And not only food: frequently there must be a beverage."
- Golding's Lord of the Flies invokes this intentionally at the end when the British Navy comes to rescue the children, in order to draw a comparison between learned civilised behaviour and the children's natural amorality.
Live Action TV
- One Foot in the Grave: Nearly every episode, a serious conversation was interrupted with something completely ludicrous, such as finding a wig in a loaf of bread, or Victor discovering that a workman planted a Yucca plant actually in the downstairs toilet.
- Firefly delved into this from time to time. In "War Stories," Mal and Wash have a very domestic argument while being tortured, much to the bemusement of the torturer. In this particular example, Mal was deliberately antagonizing Wash to keep him from breaking.
- In Community, Abed gives a breathtaking monologue about appearing on an episode of Cougar Town, in which he questions his entire identity and the point of being interested in popular culture. The entire speech culminates with him "pooping" himself.
- Look Around You is a parody of 1970s BBC educational videos, using Bathos for most of its humor.
- Wilfred, in both the Australian original and American remake.
Ryan: You've lost your mind. It's like you've got some kind of...God complex.
Wilfred: I'll let you in on a little secret, Ryan. I don't have a God complex. I am God! Thunder!
Ryan: How did you do that?
Wilfred: ...Lucky coincidence!
- At one point during Triple H and The Undertaker's match at Wrestlemania 27, they send themselves flying into Michael Cole's little cubicle that he calls the "Cole Mine". Despite the serious tone that a match involving Undertaker would usually have, seeing Cole's property go to pieces makes you laugh just a little.
- Causing Bathos is a favorite of many wrestling fanbases, especially WWE fans. The crowd is as much a part of the show as anything in Wrestling.
- In Okami during the second (of three) battle with Orochi. Nagi tries to look awesome, but it's hard to take him seriously when he's dressed in women's clothing... and even harder when he falls flat on his face jumping into battle.
- The player can intentionally create Bathos in Resonance of Fate. Thanks to its Virtual Paper Doll-like clothing and accessories, you can have your characters wearing almost clown-like attire during the most serious of scenes.
- You can extend that to any game where you can put on joke costumes, and the costumes show during cutscenes.
- Because The Secret of Monkey Island was originally planned as a serious game, all of the artwork is highly realistic and gritty. When the devs decided instead to go for comedy, providing both hilarious dialogue and absurd situations (such as the famous case of crossing a chasm by means of a rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle, lovingly drawn in the highest style 8 bit graphics had to offer), this contrasted with the game's appearance to heighten the humour potential. The sequel continued in this style, but then creator Ron Gilbert left the company, and the games since have used a more overtly cartoony style. Fans are hotly divided over which is best.
- In Fallout: New Vegas, the Naughty Nightwear item boosts your Speech skill by ten points, leading to cases where you're trying to defuse a hostage situation, talk your way into a restricted area, or decide the fate of the entire Mojave Wasteland... while wearing a set of cheesy leopard-print pajamas or skimpy neglige, depending on your gender.
- Homestuck uses this very frequently, often in conjunction with Mood Whiplash. John makes a dramatic and somewhat Mind Screw-y discovery about his and his best friends' parentage--and then he uses the event to reenact the ending scene of one of his favorite movies. Scenes of well-loved characters dying are accompanied by shots of the dead body landing on a pile of bike horns, or references to an intentionally-bad comic-within-the-comic, or simply a blunt Unsound Effect "DEAD".
- This trope is what drives most of The Venture Brothers.
- The infamous pea scene from The Powerpuff Girls. It Makes Sense in Context.
- the Farnsworth Parabox in Futurama has Farnsworth warning near the end: "Everything that ever was, is, and will be is contained in this box, and the actual box is probably worth something as well."
- My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic: "Luna Eclipsed" sees the Mayor of Ponyville using a spooky voice... only for her clown costume to utterly kill the effect.
- In "It's About Time," Twilight Sparkle's dead-serious proclamation of incoming doom comes close to being ignored due to the Groucho Marx glasses she's wearing due to a collision with a metric ton of party-supplies