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Whether it is animation or live action, animators and actors go to great lengths to make their characters expressive and emotions believable; otherwise, they may end up making the character verbalize its emotions. Sometimes, though, characters will be unable to perceive what the spectator can, even if it's rubbing their nose. Facial cues? Voice inflection? Grunts? Contortions? None of these will tell them anything if you can't speak.
It can be played for comedy or drama. It'll usually involve a Cute Mute trying to convey a message. Such message will invariably go whoosh! over the head of the receiver, or sometimes even the emitter. If it's a comedy, the receiver is most surely a Jerkass. If it's a drama, some traumatic experience may have affected the receiver.
- Elfen Lied: Kouta and Yuka can't figure out what's wrong with Lucy/Nyuu clutching her crotch, running around and only able to say Nyuu! with different inflections; they just stare at her blankly, wonder what her name is and she ends up peeing on the floor.
- Potemayo: Poor Mikan can't perceive hostility from Potemayo, no matter how often she gestures, growls or shouts shaaaaa!. Jumping onto Mikan's head in a facehugger fashion seems to work.
- In Eyeshield 21, Komusubi only speaks in "Powerful-ese", the language of powerful men. Which means the only members of the main cast who understand him are his Sempai Kurita - and, presumably due to Rule of Funny, Mamori. This is important at one point in the story, when Kurita doubts his strength so much that he can no longer understand Komusubi.
- In Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, Jay and Silent Bob's pet monkey is stolen en route to Hollywood. Jay bemoans the fact that they have no idea where the van is going. Silent Bob tries to indicate to him using hand gestures, but Jay--seemingly for the first time--doesn't seem to get it, causing both guys endless frustration. Silent Bob eventually breaks down and screams at Jay.
Silent Bob: The sign! On the back of the van! Said "Critters Of Hollywood!", They're going to Hollywood, YOU DUMB FUCK!
- Enchanted: The cute talking chipmunk finds his voice has gone upon arriving in the real world. He resorts to highly impressive and detailed mime; cue Prince Edward completely failing to grasp the point.
- Chicken Little:
Abby Mallard: (smiles broadly) Runt, should Chicken Little have a good talk with his father and clear the air *wink*... (frowns) or keep searching for Band-Aid solutions and never deal with the problem?
Runt: Pfft! Band-Aid solutions.
Abby Mallard: Runt!
Runt: I'm sorry! I'm very bad at reading facial cues!
- In Good Omens, a misunderstood wink leads to the newborn Antichrist being given to the wrong family, and Hilarity Ensues. Though this might be more of a case of one character being The Ditz.
- Towards the end of Pride and Prejudice, Mrs. Bennet is trying to get Jane and Mr. Bingley alone and keeps winking at her other daughters to get them to leave. Elizabeth just ignores this, but finally Kitty asks explicitly why her mother keeps winking at her. Mrs. Bennet denies everything.
- In Sourcery, it is remarked that Rincewind is not very good at nonverbal communications.
- The main character of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, due to being autistic.
- In an early episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Data's long lost brother Lore is found and assembled. It quickly becomes evident that every time he lies, he has a facial tic so horrid that you fear he's having a seizure. Yet no member of the crew ever notices or comments on this. In the end, he actually has to point this out, just in case the audience didn't figure it out.
- In another episode, a deaf and mute mediator's translators are killed, and the crew has a difficult time understanding him, except Troi (who's telepathic) and Data (who knows sign language).
- Stargate SG-1's 200th episode, 200, has an invisible Jack O'Neill frustrated at his teammates "ignoring" his hand gestures, though this is really just a case of Jack being difficult, as usual.
- In an episode of Charmed, Paige is voiceless and Phoebe can't hear. Phoebe is amazingly unable to understand anything Paige communicates to her.
- Whenever characters in How I Met Your Mother attempt to psychically communicate with one another, there's a 50/50 chance this will either be played straight or subverted (i.e., they'll actually understand subtle eye squinting). When Robin tries to warn Lily not to open her bridal shower present (a move that involves motioning explicitly to the present) Lily merely thinks it's that time of the month.
- The scene from the Extras Christmas special where Andy has Maggie pretend to be his PA. The "OK" sign, for example, is interpreted as, "He's an asshole... er, he plays darts all the time?"
- In Thirty Rock Liz is trying to get Tracy to repeat the story she told his wife about his absence. Specifically, that his pet snake had got sick and he had to take it to the vet, which as one might imagine is difficult to convey in motions. However, he does it perfectly, so she nods her head and gives him a thumbs up.
- Mass Effect uses a variant: There's an alien race whose facial cues are so subtle (and the body language involves scent) that other races are completely incapable of interpreting it. They sound almost exactly like Eeyore and say what emotion they are expressing at the beginning of a sentence. For example, imagine Eeyore saying: "Fearful surprise. Why are all of you aiming your guns at me."
- In some cases at least, the emotion statement seems to be added in by their translator software. Which has caused at least one elcor to get Genre Savvy about it:
Asari: Wait, did you hack your translator so you could control your kinetic language processing?
Elcor: With a sincerity such that skepticism would be insulting: No.
- Shizune Hakamichi from the Visual Novel Katawa Shoujo is deaf and communicates primarily through Sign Language, presumably Japanese Sign Language. This leads to obvious communication problems that are a major frustration for her. Combine this with the fact that she is, by her very nature, very ambitious and competitive and she comes across to many people (including a good portion of the player base) as pushy and abrasive. This tends to further aggravate the problem.
- In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, Doc's secretary Judy is a gorilla who communicates in sign language. Since Doc doesn't understand sign language, he invariably misunderstands her.
- Homestar Runner will take nearly everything you say as literal, even if it isn't. He's just that dim, and that trusting.
- From the animated Zorro show from the 1980s: At one point Zorro dresses up as a Spanish soldier and takes the Captain hostage. The Captain tries to alert his Lieutenant via winking. Quoth the Lieutenant: "Captain, you are winking! Do you have something in your eye?" Captain: (facepalm).
- Count Duckula has Nanny, who takes everything literally.
- In The Simpsons, Homer Simpson does it on more than one occasion:
Chief Wiggum: Gee, I'd hate to close you down. Maybe we can reach a little, uh, understanding here. (Holds out the palm of his hand and motions his fingers so as to suggest that this is a bribe).
Homer: I understand.
Bart: Um, hey, Dad, I... I think he wants...
Homer: Not right now, son. Daddy's talking to a policeman.
Chief Wiggum: Uh, let me put it this way. I'm looking for my friend Bill. (nods as he says Bill) Have you seen any Bills around here? (nods)
Homer: No. (points at Bart) He's Bart.
Chief Wiggum: (groans) I... Listen carefully, and watch me wink as I speak, okay?
Chief Wiggum: The guy I'm really looking for, wink (winks), is Mr. Bribe, wink, wink (winks twice) (holds out hand again).
Homer: (Beat) It's a ring toss game.
Chief Wiggum: (annoyed) All right, that's it, I'm shutting this game down!
Homer: (sickly sweet) Oh, look at me! I'm making people happy! I'm the Magical Man from Happy-Land, in a gumdrop house on Lollipop Lane! (leaves the room, slamming the door) (pokes his head back in) Oh, by the way, I was being sarcastic. (closes the door)
Marge: Well, DUH!
- Despite the extent to which Courage the Cowardly Dog will go to try and nonverbally warn of impending danger (even sometimes shapeshifting into ominous images), Muriel is never able to figure it out (and often implicitly trusts obviously threatening people), while Eustace just angrily dismisses and occasionally physically or mentally abuses him.
- On one Looney Tunes short, Elmer Fudd's wife wonders what to make for dinner, and their dog uses pantomime to suggest roast duck (Daffy Duck to be exact, whom the dog can't stand). After she misreads every clue, the dog loses his patience and outright tells her "NO! Roast D-U-C-K duck! Sheesh!"
- Played with in one episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy. Eddy is trying to use some sort of hand signals to communicate a plan to his buddies. Ed gets all excited and responds with incredibly over-the-top pantomime. Eddy nods and claims "Let's go!" This seems to be one big aversion, until Double D lampshades this saying "Oh like any of that really meant anything!"
- From The Fairly Odd Parents episode "Pipe Down":
Timmy's Dad: (to Timmy) You are the WORST charades player ever! (windmills his arms) This is not a bulldozer. (hops up and down) This is not a fudgesicle. (pretends to row a boat) And how is this Film/Ghostbusters II!?
- Inability to read facial cues and such is a symptom often found in some autistic spectrum disorders.
- It goes the other way around too - part because of autistics showing them in an odd manner, and part because they're assumed not to have them.
- If Cracked.com is any source to go by, Koreans call this "lacking nunchi", where nunchi is what keeps you from doing things like telling dirty jokes in church or bringing up the Holocaust at a bar mitzvah.
- In Japan, "KY" for "kuuki yomenai", literally "can't read the air," is a popular slang term among the younger generation. For situations where the person is REALLY not paying attention, "CKY" for "chou kuuki yomenai", "really can't read the air".
- Most forms of sign language used by Deaf people involve the use of facial expressions to convey subtleties of meaning, to the point where specific expressions have specific meanings. So much so that one of the biggest frustrations that many deaf people have when dealing with hearing people is that they are not expressive enough to understand them.