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"Few men have virtue to withstand the highest bidder."
George Washington, Moral Maxims

This occurs when a character or group of characters in a narrative are repeatedly able to use their money as "persuasion" for anyone in their way, with little to no resistance from those being bribed. Whether it's getting past the guards at the Supervillain Lair or retrieving vital information from the local townsfolk, these characters always find that money is the universal negotiator. This act of shameless coercion is obviously based on the Stock Phrase and heroes and villains alike, it seems, are never shy about finding out what "every man's" price is.

Since large sums of cash can be required for their bribes, it is common to see a character pull out a Briefcase Full of Money when invoking this trope, but this is certainly not required. It is not required that the bribes involve actual cash either, and they can include anything from delicious candy to gratuitous sexual favors.

Note that this trope does not mean a character simply bribes someone during the plot threads. It is only indicative of characters who frequently use bribes to coerce others without impunity. Particularly horrendous abusers of this trope show characters that can regularly bribe their Mooks or other characters to do damn near anything, even with situations where the payment would certainly not be worth the risk or loss (such as jobs with a near-guarantee of death or dismemberment).

A subtrope of Screw the Rules, I Have Money, although the character doesn't necessarily have to be richer than anybody else.

Compare Buy Them Off, where a character attempts to use a form of bribery to atone for evil actions, and Villain with Good Publicity, for characters who take bribery, coercion, and fraud to a whole different level. Contrast Bribe Backfire, which is what happens when the briber underestimates the price and/or integrity of his/her target.


Examples:



Anime and Manga

  • Excel Saga: Kapabu's control of Fukuoka City is founded entirely on bribery and blackmail.


Card Games

  • Magic: The Gathering: The pictured example sums up at least one application of this trope in the game.
    • In addition to the monger cards, and the new legend rule (wherein playing a second copy is bribing the character to leave), this is the default behavior of black, which uses everything as a resource.


Film

  • James Bond: Most of the films feature Bond using both financial and "non-financial" bribery to further his cause, meaning that the cumulative amount of bribes he has performed over the years is staggering.
  • Les Invasions Barbares: The frequency and relative ease with which the protagonist bribes the people around him to make his father's last weeks the best he can is both funny and rather depressing.
  • The corporate executive in Small Soldiers solves all problems by throwing money at them. At the end of the film, he passes out cheques to everybody involved to get them to keep quiet about what happened. One of them protests that you can't just buy people's silence like that, then reads the amount of the cheque and decides that actually you can.
  • Lord of War: Yuri Orlov apparently never meets a single border guard unwilling to look away for a moment for a stack of green.
    • He does note however, that some people - like the Interpol agent who takes a personal interest in him - can't be bought with money.

  They say every man has his price - but not every man gets it. Interpol Agent, Jack Valentine, couldn't be bought, at least not with money. For Jack, glory was the prize.

  • Cutler Beckett actually quotes this Trope, after he forces Governor Swann to devote all his influence and political power to support the East India Trading Company.

  "Every man has his price. Even for what he hoped never to sell."

    • This line also feeds into Davey Jones's M.O., which involves finding dying soldiers and offering them a prolonged life if they spend it serving on The Flying Dutchman.
    • Even Davey Jones has a price as Jack manages to negotiate him into an offer of 100 souls in exchange for his own.

  Jack: So, we've established my proposal as sound in principle. Now, we're just haggling over price.

  • In SWAT a South American drug lord is arrested in Los Angeles and announces on national TV that he is offering a multi-million dollar reward to anyone who can free him from police custody. Chaos erupts as multiple gangs and other lowlifes try to break him out. The titular SWAT team is tasked with delivering the prisoner to a federal prison and he offers them the money to help him escape. One of SWAT members finds the money to be too much of a temptation and betrays the team.


Jokes

  • On a party, a man asks a woman:

 "A hypothetical question: Would you sleep with me for one billion dollars?"

"Wow, that's a lot of money... yes, I guess I would."

"Would you sleep with me for five dollars?"

"Just what sort of a girl do you think I am?!"

"We've already settled that. Now we're just haggling over price."

Literature

  • The Cat Who Walks Through Walls: Richard and Gwen bribe their way around Luna, kind of justified since they're "on the lam."
  • Foundation: Uses this a fair bit. In one humorous scene a captured spy is told about a nebulous Mind Probe that 'can make any man talk', which turns out to be a big wad of cash.
    • Subverted later in the same story. The protagonists use that very cash. to effortlessly bribe their way up the chain of Imperial bureaucrats (nobility would have been faster, but their price is beyond the budget). Just when you think they're going to be able to see the Emperor, one of the people they try to bribe turns out to be a quite incorruptible Imperial Police Lieutenant.
    • In the story before that, a politician comes to the protagonist (an Anti-Hero trader) and tries to convince him to switch over to his camp. The trader remarks that his opinions might be for sale, but the politician can't offer him profit.
  • Mara Daughter of the Nile: This is basically Sheftu's life philosophy, and he's proven right time and again, only for him to discover Mara is being tortured because she refused to betray him for a bribe.
  • The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Has one chapter, "How To Pass A Bribe.", where the entire outline seems to be written for a scenario revolving around the reader getting in trouble with a Customs Official while attempting to smuggle goods out of a Third-World Country.


Live Action TV

  • Mission Impossible
    • “The Play”: When escaping from the People's Republic of Tyranny Vitol Enzor bribes the border guard checkpoint commander and tells Jim that bribe money solves any problem in an Eastern Europe nation-state. [1], [2], [3], [4]
    • "The Pawn": Phelps offers an indirect bribe to the KGB officer who is guarding the nuclear scientist Phelps has been assigned to extract. He is threatened with deportation by the KGB officer who sees through his Obfuscating Stupidity and orders more surveillance. However, Phelps knew the KGB officer could not be bribed and used the conversation to manipulate the officer’s emotions.
      • Later Phelps uses fake evidence to convince the commissar that the KGB officer is about to defect. This evidence includes United States currency. The commissar believes this evidence since the KGB officer resembled Patton in their behavior and personality. In addition, at the beginning of the episode Phelps says that if they are successful the KGB officer will be sent to a prison camp for failure. Therefore, it can be assumed that the officer was already under suspicion, the fake evidence simply proved the disloyalty.
  • Cop Rock: the mayor accepts a bribe in exchange for awarding a building contract Cop Rock - You Know You're The One
  • Star Trek: The Ferengi have this trope name as their 98th rule of acquisition.
  • Star Trek Deep Space Nine: There is a very well done moment in the episode In The Pale Moonlight where Sisko has to go and bribe Quark and Quark reminds him that for all his bluster and condescension about humans being above all that, Sisko has just set his price high. Sisko looks really uncomfortable through the entire scene.
    • As stated above, this trope is the 98th Rule of Acquisition, listed in a book that Quark lives (and almost died) by.
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: London Tipton exhibits this and also appears in spin-off The Suite Life On Deck.
  • Burn Notice explains that is possible to bribe even the most upstanding officials. To do so, convince them you think the bribe is a standard fee and make yourself as thoroughly unlikeable as possible so that they don't feel bad for ripping you off and making themselves a few bucks richer.


Music

  • Used by Roger Waters in "Three Wishes", following Record Producer Bob Ezrin's decision to return to producing the now Waters-less Pink Floyd.

 Each man has his price, Bob

And yours was pretty low.


Professional Wrestling

  • WWE: Ted DiBiase's character bribed quite a few people during his time as a wrestling Heel, to the point that it actually became his routine. It's also the first line in his entrance theme.


Tabletop Games

  • Traveller: In section "Zilan Wine", the PCs can bribe every single government official on the planet Zila, no exceptions.


Video Games

  • Beyond Castle Wolfenstein: The player can bribe any of the elite troops guarding Hitler's bunker with a few Marks if you don't have a legitimate pass.
  • Bioshock: Any machine can be bought out with a cash payment-vending machines, health stations, even security drones.
    • Does this really fit? Vending machines (both items and health) are designed to give you their items for money. The drone station does fit, especially in the supercapitalist setting.
      • It does fit, because you're hacking the machines with cash. As long as you have enough, nothing is un-hackable.
  • Civilization: The Diplomat unit in the original game could buy off enemy units. When the government type is Democracy, it is a quite efficient way to weaken the enemies' resistance.
  • Command And Conquer: Red Alert 3: The allied Spy unit can buy the loyalty of enemy units, who switch sides permanently.
  • Disgaea: Getting approval from the demon assembly is far easier with bribes (and helpfully tells you when a senator wants or doesn't want an item for a bribe). Of course, considering you're in the Netherworld, this has nothing to do with corruption: if a senator doesn't want to support you and you don't want to bribe them, you can beat the crap out of them too. It's just a normal way of doing business.
    • Unfortunately, the system was completely broken. Even if you bribed a senator fully onto your side, it was still totally random if they would vote for you when the election happened - the percentage just went up a negligable amount for every rank in your favor you moved them. And beating them up shot their approval of you down. The Dark Assembly was a massive Scrappy Mechanic.
  • Humorously played by Renegade!Shepard in a sidequest in Mass Effect 2.

 Shepard: "I just went all the way up to the Presidium for this. Why should I give it to a random Krogan?"

Krogan: "I'll pay you a lot for it!"

Shepard: "Oh, well, that's different."

  • The Elder Scrolls Four: The player can bypass the "conversation" mini game (to make someone like you with the speech skill) by paying them off (this seems to literally buy you their friendship). Not that they need it after you've created a 100 charm spell.
  • Final Fantasy: Several games, most notably Final Fantasy X, make it possible for the party to bribe MONSTERS to make them leave you alone. FFX even lets you bribe a Bonus Boss.
  • Final Fight: Mad Gear had the last mayor of Metro City in their back pocket this way. When Mike Haggar took office, he turned down their "little bonus to [his] paycheck", which is why they kidnapped his daughter.
  • The Witcher: Subverted. Geralt needs to get past an unfriendly guard and pulls out a bag of gold, stating that "money can open every door". When the guard contradicts him, Geralt proves his statement by using the bag to knock him unconscious.
  • Boiling Point: Road to Hell allows the protagonist t bribe any enemy before they turn hostile. It always works, but it's quite expensive, specially for a large group of enemies.
  • Shin Megami Tensei games sometimes have this. You can converse with demons and successfully sweet-talk them into essentially selling themselves and join your forces, whether by literally bribing them with Macca or with an item exchange. Mechanics may vary, even reaching Auction of Evil territory on Devil Survivor.
    • In Strange Journey, demons will even raise their prices if you clash with them on the Order Versus Chaos scale, or cut their price if you match. (Be warned - some demons will accept your bribes, then change their minds at the last second. Fricking Angels.)
  • Scarface the World Is Yours allows you to pay off gangs or the police in order to lower Heat. Given that, past a certain point on the Heat meters, gangs will attack on sight and cops will react much faster to any misdemeanours, one is likely to use this a lot.
  • The Godfather game also uses this. Bribing a Dirty Cop gives you temporary immunity from the law as long as you don't overdo it and bribing their chiefs gives a longer duration for that, while bribing a FBI agent completely empties your Vendetta with other gangs and is the easier way to win a Mob War.
  • In Assassin's Creed II, you can bribe Heralds to stop announcing your presence to the populace.
    • And then pickpocket them moments later to get all your money back.
  • In Superhero League of Hoboken, all monsters have a "Greed" trait. If it's above 0, you can bribe them, but the higher their greed is, the more you'll need to spend. This still counts as defeating them for experience points. Creatures with 0 Greed, on the other hand, can never be bribed.
  • X-COM Apocalypse allows you to "make reparations" to the various organizations that make up Mega-City. You can give them money to change their attitude from openly hostile to neutral, or from neutral to allied (which costs a lot more). Even the Cult of Sirius, who are all but allied with the aliens can be made neutral for a short time (they'll become hostile the second you attack the aliens).
  • Many of the Total War games allow you to bribe armies and cities to switch sides. Generals and other factors increase the cost/chance of failure of pulling off the bribe, but it is almost always possible.


Western Animation

 Inspector: Burns, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to bribe me.

Burns: Is there some confusion about this? thrusting the money into the inspector's pockets Take it! Take it! Take it, you poor schmo!

    • In another episode, an ancestor of Mr. Burns was looking for a fugitive slave and Hiram Simpson knew where said slave was hidden. At first, Hiram invoked the I Gave My Word trope but Col. Burns said that, as a slave owner, he knows how to evaluate a man's price and calculated Hiram's to be "a pleasant surprise". It worked. The surprise happened to be a pair of shoes. Hiram's ex-wife got one of the shoes at the divorce. Instead of laces, her shoe came with a note from Hiram telling her he'd keep them.
  • From the pilot of Gargoyles:

 David Xanatos: Pay a man enough, and he'll walk barefoot into Hell.


Web Original


Real Life

  • After the Cold War ended, many people in ex-communist nations accepted bribes since wages ended with the collapse of the government. This resulted in millions of AK-47s and other weaponary being sold on the grey market and black market. This is shown in the film Lord of War. Here is a Youtube clip: Lord of War (Soviet Union).
  • Many defectors have used bribe money to escape North Korea and/or convince North Korean officials to ignore black market deals. Bribery became very common after North Korea's economy started to fail when the Cold War ended. North Korea depended on foreign aid to keep it's economy intact. When Russia and China began to charge higher prices for petroleum and other supplies; the infrastructure suffered a breakdown that became worse after the famine. However, the Bribe Backfire can instantly apply if the bribe threatens the North Korean official with public exposure.
    • This also has applied to China. Bribes are paid so black market operations will be ignored.
    • In many communist nations, bribery becomes more common when the economy begins to fail. [5]
  • This is common practice in many countries, especially poorer ones. There are many places around the world where the difference between success and failure is dependent on giving the right corrupt official a small cash payout. Where foreigners from richer countries are involved, such a bribes can easily amount to more then said official's paycheck.
    • Often though, it is customary to have a small face-saving device by paying the bribe in something that looks less crass then money. An art object or rare wine bottle might do for example.
    • In some places where bribery is so ubiquitous that it's necessary in order to get an official to actually do their job at all[1] companies will often have (suitably discrete) line items in their planning budgets to handle the required bribes.
  • There are several instances in history of wars being won by bribing the enemy's soldiers to abandon their cause. A prime example would be the brief, largely-abortive war the (New/2nd) 'Guangxi Clique' waged against the Guomindang in the mid 1930s. Jiang Jieshi's 'Silver Bullets' did far more to ensure the collapse of the Warlords' forces than did the efforts of the Guomindang's troops. Since they were all nominally under the government of the Republic of China and all the country's troops (regardless of who actually paid them and where their reall allegiances lay) technically answered to Generalissimo Jiang, it was actually perfectly legal for him to give large bonuses to 'his' commanders as 'rewards for their service and loyalty' - though all said commanders were actually equipped and supplied by and answered to the Guangxi Clique.

Notes

  1. Seriously, we're not talking about bribing a water inspector to change the results of a test of river water, we're talking about simply getting them to take the sample
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