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Sir Impey Bigs: It's a crime crueler and infinitely worse in its results than murder. As a lawyer, ... I have consistently refused to defend a blackmailer, or prosecute any poor devil who does away with his tormentor".

Lord Peter: H'm. What do you say, Colonel?

Col. Marchbanks: A man like that's a filthy pest. Shootin's too good for him. I knew a man -- close personal friend, in fact -- hounded to death -- blew his brains out -- one of the best.

Alice knows something that Bob doesn't want anyone else to know. So Bob has to do something for Alice so that she doesn't tell anyone.

In a teen comedy, a character is blackmailed by someone outside the main cast. The others find out and stick up for their friend. In a Government Procedural, a respected politician is confronted with pictures of him in a strip club or with a girl twenty years too young for him, and is asked for hush money. In a Superhero story, the hero is blackmailed when someone discovers their Secret Identity. In a Sitcom, a child blackmails their sibling when they break a rare, expensive heirloom.

The possibilities are endless. To list all the variations and permutations of this trope here would be a lesson in madness. Blackmail is such a key plot device, so intrinsic to the art of storytelling and human nature that it is used by almost every series at one point or another. Sadly, it's very seldom these days that a blackmail resister (him/herself a rare animal) does so with the traditional response, and in real life usually effective, "Publish and be damned!"

One of the many ways of making someone An Offer He Can't Refuse.

Of course, it's rarely stated as such, because "Blackmail Is Such an Ugly Word".

While the words 'blackmail' and 'extortion' are used interchangeably, this is not strictly true. Blackmail is a form of extortion where what the blackmailing party is threatening to do would otherwise be legal. For example "I have your loved one hostage, give me the MacGuffin or they're done for" would be extortion as taking hostages is a crime. However, "I have pictures of your loved one committing acceptable but punishable crime, give me MacGuffin or their reputation is toast" would be blackmail as otherwise releasing the pictures would be legal.

Also note that blackmail is an inherently dangerous activity. Informing someone that you know too much is quite rarely the best course of action, especially if Agatha Christie is holding the pen. Or you haven't told anyone else (but not too many people, as that would, of course, destroy the point of blackmail).

Examples of Blackmail include:


Anime and Manga

  • This shows up at an alarming rate in hentai. Usually the person being blackmailed is trying to defend her (it's almost always a woman) honor/reputation/job by giving into the blackmailer's demands (of sex, always), even if the person who is blackmailing her raped her to create blackmail material.
  • In the anime/manga Ranma ½, Nabiki Tendo did this on a regular basis. One manga story opens with her standard dating technique - get a boy to buy her dinner, take her to the movies, and get her presents, then give him a handshake and a goodnight and have him never darken her doorway again. In addition, the poor sap would have to pay serious money to keep love letters he wrote Nabiki from becoming public, which would embarrass him in front of his peers and make any subsequent girlfriends very upset.
    • Nabiki also used the threat of blackmail as payback against Ranma for accidentally destroying her expensive concert tickets.
    • Since Ranma is a Manipulative Bastard and the Chessmaster, he used this tactic as well, particularly in the manga. In the very arc that she blackmailed him, he searched her room for material to use against her.
  • Youichi Hiruma of Eyeshield 21 done this in regular basis for everything. Recruiting helpers and potential players, securing funds for the club room/casino, getting the football club in the first place....
    • He seemingly has blackmail material on everyone in Japan as he once got permission to use the TOKYO DOME just by flashing his threatbook. It's so powerful, that it rivals the Deathnote in effectiveness. Just a few of the things he obtains are his trademark guns, a TANK and pretty much anything you ask for.
      • Even the people who Hiruma does not have blackmail material on are terrified just by the sight of the little black book and immedietely submit to Hiruma's bidding.
    • Not just Japan. He practically get free lodging in US during their Death March.
  • Haruhi Suzumiya blackmailed the Computer Club President into giving her the most modern computer of their club with pictures of him grabbing Mikuru's boobs. An event Haruhi forcefully orchestrated. It should be noted that the President was an innocent stranger. If Haruhi wants something, Haruhi gets something,who the hell do you think she is?
    • Oh, it gets even better: when the president points out that his entire club witnessed the incident and would stand up on his behalf, Haruhi cheerfully exclaims "I'll just say that the whole class was planning on f*** ing her!"
    • Kyon proves himself even better than Haruhi at this in Disappearance: Yuki mentions to him that she might have to face repercussions for redesigning the universe. Kyon tells her to tell the Overmind from him that if it dares do anything to her, he will coerce Haruhi into remaking the universe so that Yuki exists and the Overmind does not. That's right, Kyon blackmailed a Sufficiently Advanced Alien... successfully!
  • In One Piece, after having been trapped in Impel Down's level 6, Sir Crocodile volunteers to help get Luffy and the prisoners. Luffy initially flat out refuses, still remembering the Alabasta incident, but Ivankov assures him that Crocodile will behave because he knows a certain weakness for Crocodile. We don't know what that weakness is yet, but if the fact that Ivankov knows it is an indication, then it'll assuredly be hilarious.
  • Hareluya II Boy has the 'I got naked photos' variant.
  • Sae of Peach Girl staged a fake attempted rape (Momo wasn't actually raped though) and took photos to blackmail Momo's boyfriend into dating her.
  • Grings Kodai, the main villain of Pokémon: Zoroark: Master of Illusions, blackmails Zoroark into attacking Crown City as part of his plan. Intresting variation here is that he never had her son anyway, it was just a hologram as Zorua had escaped on his own.
  • In Shiro, the titular Catgirl uses this to force Miyako (the female protagonist to continue to keep her.
  • In Monster, a hooker attempts to blackmail Johan Liebert by presenting her knowledge of the murders he's committed. With Johan being Johan, this turns out to be an EXTREMELY bad idea as he had planned for it ahead of time.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's: Divine, creator of the Arcadia Movement (an army of psychics who want to take over Neo Domino), gains legal immunity from Director Goodwin by threatening to say that Goodwin was a Satellite-born.
  • In both the Kodomo no Jikan anime and manga, Rin does this in a pretty unique way: she creates her own blackmail material to use on Aoki.

Film

 Falcone: I want to know how you're gonna convince me to keep my mouth shut.

Crane: About what? You don't know anything.

Falcone: I know you wouldn't want the police to take a closer look at those drugs they seized. And I know about your experiments with the inmates of your nuthouse. See, I don't go into business with a guy without finding out his dirty secrets. And those goons you used – I own the muscle in this town. Now, I've been bringing your stuff in for months, so whatever he's planning, it's big, and I want in.

Crane: Well, I already know what he'll say: that we should kill you.

Falcone: Even he can't get me in here. Not in my town.

Crane: ... would you like to see my mask? I use it in my experiments. Probably not very frightening to a guy like you, but these crazies, they can't stand it.

Falcone: So when did the nut take over the nuthouse?

Cue Crane spraying the fear toxin in Falcone's face, making Falcone scream in terror.

  • In Marci X, a senator danced to her opponent's music, and her son filmed the dance.
  • In the 1919 German film Different from the Others, Paul Korner is blackmailed by a man who knows he's gay -- an offense in Germany (and many other countries) at the time. Eventually he cracks and sues for blackmail, but the blackmailer counter-sues for violation of Paragraph 175 (the anti-gay statute). They both go to prison, and Korner's reputation is ruined; he is Driven to Suicide as a result.
  • This is what sets the plot of Clue in motion, seeing as how it gives all the characters a motive for wanting the blackmailer dead.

Literature

  • In Anne Of Windy Poplars, Anne stopped the town's dominant family from trying to destroy her career by accidentally sending them their revered grandfather's diary, in which was detailed how he committed cannibalism when he was shipwrecked.
  • The murder mystery The Shortest Way to Hades by Sarah Caudwell features a young woman who accuses the protagonists of attempted blackmail. Subverted in that they actually have no clue what she's talking about.
  • Early in "Too Many Magicians", the Marquis of London decides to coerce Lord Darcy into taking on an investigation by throwing Master Sean in jail.

 "Blackmail", said Master Sean.

" 'Blackmail' is perhaps too strong a word," Lord Darcy said thoughtfully, "but I will admit that no other is quite strong enough."

    • Six chapters later, Lord Darcy puts the Marquis in the same position, by showing that the same level of circumstantial evidence that "justified" Master Sean's arrest also provides grounds to arrest the Marquis' personal assistant.

 "His lordship," said Lord Bontriomphe, "got you out by simple but effective blackmail."

" Counter-blackmail, if you please," Lord Darcy corrected.

  • "A" in Pretty Little Liars blackmails them, but she really doesn't want anything except for them to humiliate themselves.
  • Charles Augustus Milverton, who bought compromising documents from disgruntled servants, squeezed the documents' writers for every farthing he could, and then ruined them anyway when they revolted or if he simply felt like it. After his death, Sherlock and Watson felt he needed killing.
  • In the works of Agatha Christie, blackmail is tantamount to suicide. Especially when the blackmailers blackmail the murderer about the murder they just committed.
  • Lord Peter Wimsey turned the tables on a blackmailer in The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker. The asshole had stolen jewelry whose box included a document hinting at an affair the jewelry's owner had had, and blackmailed her. Wimsey made him look like a card shark and persuaded him to return all jewelry to the lady in question. Lord Peter and the other two card players then have the following conversation:

 Sir Impey Bigs: It's a crime crueler and infinitely worse in its results than murder. As a lawyer, ... I have consistently refused to defend a blackmailer, or prosecute any poor devil who does away with his tormentor".

Lord Peter: H'm. What do you say, Colonel?

Col. Marchbanks: A man like that's a filthy pest. Shootin's too good for him. I knew a man -- close personal friend, in fact -- hounded to death -- blew his brains out -- one of the best.

    • In Murder Must Advertise, the motive turns out to be being blackmailed. Another of the workers at the agency was also approached and went for "publish and be damned"; it worked.
  • In John C. Wright's Fugitives of Chaos, Amelia attempts to extort help in escaping. She bungles it.
  • In Poul Anderson and Gordon R. Dickson's Hoka stories:
    • In Don Jones, Alex tries to blackmail Terwillinger to agree that both of their irresponsible behaviors should be swept under the rug. Terwillinger says, "Publish and be damned!" Fortunately this inspires Doralene to decide that he's not after all a stuffed shirt and she's in love with him. This inspires him to let Alex off after all.
    • In The Napoleon Crime, Alex, finding himself cast as the Duke of Wellington, can remember only that he responded with "Publish and be damned!" to a blackmailer. At the end, when a reporter tells him that he can make him look ridiculous, Alex decides not to resist temptation: "Publish and be damned!"
  • In Larry Niven's Known Space stories, the Puppeteers regard blackmail as simply another business transaction -- the two parties negotiate terms, and if agreement is reached the target pays the settled price and the blackmailer gives up the relevant evidence and memories.
  • In Death: A number of folks have used this. Some of them even tried to blackmail a murderer, which qualifies them for the What an Idiot! award. All of these blackmailers ended up dead.
  • PG Wodehouse used this more than once in his stories, one of the more famous examples being would-be dictator Rodrick Spode not wanting anyone to know about "Eulalie", which is not a woman, but a successful lingerie shop he operates.
  • In Grunts!, former Dominatrix Magda Brandiman blackmails a representative of the Visible College to keep on selling the Orc Marines nullity talismans by threatening to reveal their S&M proclivities.
  • In Jack Campbell's The Lost Fleet novel Invicible, Rione admits she is being blackmailed to perform certain activities, which she has carefully shaped to cause no actual harm. She also tells Geary that Captain Bradament will be blackmailed to spy on him; she will refuse, but she will be destroyed.

Live Action TV

  • Hogan's Heroes keep Sgt. Schultz from revealing their plans by blackmailing him with the fact that if he tells, they'll tell that he knew about their earlier plans and didn't say anything. It's a bit cyclical.
  • A plot by the tin-pot little African country of Buranda in Yes Minister results in the following between a rock and a hard place exchange between the eponymous Minister, Jim Hacker, and the very black leader of Buranda:

 Hacker: That's blackmail!

Selim Mohammed: Are you referring to me, or to my proposal?

  • One sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus featured a spoof of pledge shows titled "Blackmail". Instead of lots of people paying to keep the station alive, several persons had to pay to avoid having their embarrassing secrets revealed on national TV. Including a high ranking member of the Freemasons called "Mr. S."
  • Georgina Sparks uses her knowledge of Serena sort of, but not actually, killing a man to blackmail Serena in season one of Gossip Girl.
  • Spoofed several times on Mystery Science Theater 3000, the best being a bit in Puma Man involving a fly and a hero trying to play dead...
  • In the build to Kane's debut in the WWE, Paul Bearer used the threat of revealing the "truth" of the Undertaker's past to try and force him back to his side; Taker complied for a while, before rebelling.
  • Used at various points across Desperate Housewives, most notably in season one, where Mary-Alice's suicide, the event that started the series, is revealed to have been the result of Mrs. Huber attempting to blackmail her over the fact that Zack isn't really her son. In true Christie-esque style, Mrs. Huber pays for this with her own life when Paul, Mary-Alice's husband, finds out what she did and strangles her.
  • Used in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered, when Xander discovers that Amy is a witch and threatens to reveal this to everyone unless she casts a love spell for him.

 Xander: Blackmail is such an ugly word.

Amy: I didn't say blackmail.

Xander: Yeah, but I'm about to blackmail you, so I thought I'd bring it up.

  • Veronica Mars pretty much uses blackmail as her default MO, but her Guile Hero status isn't tarnished too much because the people she blackmails are often terrible.
  • In "The Telling", a third-season episode of The Middle, Sue is awakened by Axl when he sneaks back into the house late through her room. She uses this knowledge to have him drive her and her friends everywhere.

Newspaper Comics

  • Retail: Cooper once blackmailed Stuart into giving him extra hours on the job after discovering that he will lose his job if the inventory goes poorly.

Video Games

 Maderas: I sorted them into three categories: Embarrassing memories, extremely embarrassing memories, and downright humiliating memories!

  • On a less humorous note, in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations the motive for the second case is blackmail. It's rather complicated. First, Luke Atmey (yes that's his name), a self-proclaimed ace detective, investigates a recent theft by Mask* DeMasque. He quickly figures out who Mask* De Masque is, and blackmails him (the threat being ratting him out)... intoe stealing more stuff. And giving it to him. Through a safe-deposit box to hide his identity. In return, he gives a small fraction of the revenue to the thief. The head of a large security company, Kane Bullard, finds out about this through the guards he dispatched to the various heists. And sends a blackmail note to Mr. Atmey, calling him to his office and telling him to bring $50 000 else his dirty crime be revealed. Upon reading this, he forwards the letter to Mask* De Masque. The vague contents of the letter make him think he's being blackmailed, so he goes to Kane Bullard's office. What happens when they're there is a story for another trope page.
    • This is essentially Redd White and Bluecorp's method of doing business. When Marvin Grossberg gave information on Misty Fey to White, the police suspected someone leaked it, and White blackmailed him into paying him money, later using his influence over him to prevent him from defending Maya when she was charged with killing Mia, something White himself had done. The revelation that many of White's victims had been Driven to Suicide easily puts him over the Moral Event Horizon. In a karmic twist, Mia, her spirit channeled by Maya, tells him that she will release a list of his victims to the press if he does not confess to killing her.
  • In Mass Effect, if a particular origin story is chosen (growing up as an orphan on the streets), a gang member your character used to know would eventually come to your character and try and blackmail him/her about his/her past. When playing as a Renegade for example, this meant the gang member thought that your character's past as a street gang member would harm his/her career more than the fact that he/she is "The Butcher of Torfan", who kicked dogs across the galaxy. In the quest, your character can point out that as a Specter, he/she is legally authorized to execute pretty much anyone he/she sees fit, including him. Alternatively, your character could just shoot him.

Web Comics

Web Original

  • 'Ricky does this to Hans, Cale, and Kerzach in Darwin's Soldiers:Pavlov's Checkmate. It works with two of them.
  • An unknown agent tries to blackmail Phase in the Whateley Universe, in what was probably an attempt to make Phase's dorm hate him. Not only does it not work, but it leads Phase and his team into accidentally finding and stopping some mutant ninja thieves, thus making Phase more popular.
  • By From Justin To Kelly, The Nostalgia Chick has resorted to this to get her "love" Todd in the Shadows to spend time with her, giving him the choice of trying not to starve when he's so poor or making some money by doing a crossover with her.
  • Cardin Winchester in RWBY, who uses Jaune's secret to basically turn him into a lackey and dogsbody.

Western Animation

  • An entire episode of Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy is dedicated to Kevin blackmailing Eddy into doing his bidding. If Eddy doesn't do what he's told, Kevin will tell everyone his Embarrassing Middle Name. He spends the entire episode using the threat to humiliate Eddy in a dozen different ways, up to and including making him play horns and eat a raw fish like a trained seal. And then he reveals the name anyway!
    • Well, he is one of the cul-de-sac's resident personifications of the Jerkass trope.
  • Vicky has done this a few times, but that's just one thing among a sea of evil things she's done.
    • And one time, it's even fake blackmail.

 Vicky: ...Or I'll show your parents this!

Recording of Timmy's voice: Hi, I'm Timmy, and I-

Obviously fake voice: cheated on my math test

Timmy: Hey! I never cheated on my math test!

Timmy recording: Hi, I'm Timmy, and I-

Second recorder: -cheated on my math test!

  • Chowder did one episode where literally everyone in town was blackmailing Miss Endive with a picture of her eating toe jam with a fork.
    • Note that she would have been fine if she used a spoon.
  • In King of the Hill, Bobby blackmailed Kahn so he take baths in his house when Kahn was bribing the water meter guy during a major Texas drought and being only house in the neighborhood with a green lawn.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door Operation: B.U.T.T. the Delightful Children From Down The Lane blackmail Numbuh 1 with some pictures they took of his butt.
    • They get back at them, though.
  • In The Simpsons, Homer goes to Patty and Selma for help with his money troubles when he doesn't want Marge to know the truth. Patty and Selma have fun with this.

 Selma: We know something you don't want Marge to know. Now, we own you like Siegfried owns Roy.

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