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Aaargh! Why... won't... this... door... open? I've been pulling and pulling on the handle for hours now, and it just won't...

What?

Er, no, I didn't see the word "PUSH" on the sign. Huh.

Simply put, this trope is when a character is unable to open a door because they're pushing when they're supposed to pull (or vice-versa, although the former is significantly more common). Sometimes the door is clearly marked "PULL", although sometimes it's not. Practically always Played for Laughs.

Examples of Door Dumb include:


Advertising

  • A commercial for the upcoming-at-the-time Pokémon Crystal had a team of explorers encountering a huge door with some writings on it, and try to push it open. Near the end, the camera cuts to a wide shot of the door, which clearly says "PULL" in Unown letters. We also see two natives discussing it:

 Native 1 (in foreign language): Should we tell them it says "PULL"?

Native 2: No way, bro!

(They high-five each other)

 Jessica Simpson: Kenneth, I can't get in the building again.

Kenneth Cole: You have to pull it, Jess.

Film

  • A variation in The Parent Trap (Lindsay Lohan version): Annie, in Hallie's house, has trouble opening the back door, because she is trying to turn the knob instead of pushing them.
  • In Guy Ritchie's Snatch, Sol and Vinnie make an unsuccessful attempt to rob a bookie. In retreat after the bullet-proof shutters have fallen over the counter, they are stymied by the shop's door. Needless to say, after they have given up hope of getting out and collapsed to the floor (revealing their unmasked faces to the CCTV), their getaway driver, Tyrone, opens the door the other way to see what's taking them so long.
    • In a Brick Joke, you actually see them push the door to get in.
  • An early gag in Tommy Boy has Tommy frantically race to his college for his final exam, until he reaches the door at the entrance which appears to be locked. After frantically pulling on the knob and shouting desperately, he slumps down on the steps dejected, then watches another student calmly walk up and open the adjacent, unlocked door.

Literature

  • The translated lyrics of one of the opera songs in the Discworld novel Maskerade may relate to this, though it's unclear whether the person singing the aria is pulling against a door that opens outwards (thanks to a mislabeled sign), or if the door is just stuck.
  • Mentioned in Johnny and The Dead by Terry Pratchett, where Johnny speculates that even on alien planets where everyone breathes ammonia and has tentacles, there are still people who ZXCV the MVBN door. At a dramatically-appropriate moment somebody is slowed down just long enough because of trying to push the pull door.
  • In a volume of Amelia Rules, one character spends the entire story pushing the "pull" door; Amelia finally breaks down and points this out only to discover he's doing it deliberately as a science fair project.

Live Action TV

  • There was an episode of Married... with Children in which this was a running gag. Kelly was trying to open the door in the wrong direction, and in order for her to succeed she was told to do it otherwise. And then she explains it to an FBI agent who was just as stupid.
  • One episode of The John Laroquette Show had Bobcat Golthwait as a neurotic safety inspector that always tried to open the door wrong, whether it was push or pull.
  • In 30 Rock, when Jack Donaghy is replaced by Don Geiss' Too Dumb to Live, Cloudcuckoolander daughter, the scene that sets up her character shows her pulling in desperation at a bathroom door with the words "push" printed on it very clearly.
  • The subject of a montage in the sixth season of American Idol.
    • It's worth noting that ALL those doors are double doors both of which are "push" doors but one of them is locked closed. That's illegal. People do it all the time but it's still illegal. If there's a fire people won't be able to/have time to/be allowed by the rest of the crowd to go to the other door; they'll get crushed up against that door by the fleeing mob and die.
      • Another note is that the final clip shows that the lock broke inbetween her adrenaline-fueled push and the consistant abuse it had taken.
  • Played with a sliding door in That 70s Show. Kelso see's Hyde and Jackie making out from the Forman kitchen. Enraged he goes to open the sliding door with little success. Eric unlocks the door for Kelso only to run through the screen door immediately after. By this point, Hyde and Jackie are gone.

 Donna And when Kelso saw you guys kissing, he just fell apart. I mean, it was awful. And then he ran into the screen door.

Jackie: Ohh. He's just so bad at doors.

  • The TARDIS herself gives the Doctor a dressing down in the Doctor Who episode "The Doctor's Wife" for consistently opening the TARDIS doors the wrong way--the sign on the door reads "Pull to open", which apart from a brief repair of the chameleon circuit in Attack of the Cybermen, have consistently done so since the very first episode. The doors open freely either way, but after about 700 years of walking past the sign and still making that mistake, the Doctor can well be described as door dumb.

Newspaper Comics

  • A character in one strip of The Far Side got stuck at a door like this.
    • The kicker was the sign above the door - "School for the Gifted"

Web Comics

Web Original

  • In this animated GIF, a little stickman unleashes a variety of anime, manga and video game Shout Outs to try and open a stubborn door. When all this fails to work and he finally collapses in exhaustion, the door finally falls...outward.

 "If pushing doesn't work, try pulling."

 [Door marked "Push" is pulled for two minutes, then flies open]

Western Animation

  • In one episode of Hey Arnold, Harold tries to push a door open, and Helga has to point out to him the "Pull" sign. But when he finally figures it out, he pulls the door too hard and hits himself with it.
  • In Prep and Landing, Lanny is introduced trying to pull open a push door, right after he's described as graduating at the top of his class. ("It was a small class.")

Other

  • Truth in Television. Many, many people in Real Life have done this, including George W. Bush himself.
    • Donald Norman's seminal book on design, The Psychology of Everyday Things, devotes nearly an entire chapter to describing how the design of door handles leads people to make this mistake.
    • A common problem for people adept at reading backwards encountering glass doors. Yes it says "Push", or at least "hsuP", but that's a message intended for people on the other side of the door, not the person reading the back of the word through the glass.
  • There's a joke in which a guy tells his therapist/psychologist of a recurring dream in which he's in front of a massive door with a sign on it, which he pushes with all his might, but it won't budge. When he wakes, he's drenched in sweat and bone-tired. When asked what the sign says, he replies "pull".
  • A similar case. Obviously you often have to turn the handle before pushing/pulling the door. Nonetheless, there are doors where the handle would not budge, as if the door is locked, yet it turns out the door can be opened anyway.
  • Another joke, about an American tourist in the UK (obviously unfamiliar with British-English) found trying to squeeze his fingers under a door marked LIFT...
  • Not Always Right gives us this story.
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