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The show is tackling a controversial topic and the writers want to appear even-handed by representing different viewpoints. Their solution is to put the correct opinion (meaning that of the writers) into the mouths of most characters, while one of the characters, often at random, holds the opposing viewpoint. This character is the Idiot of the Week.

While the device is ostensibly used to make the show seem balanced, it often has the opposite effect because the correct characters lecture the Idiot of the Week calmly, while the Idiot rants irrationally. Members of the audience who agree with the Idiot of the Week feel they are being lectured and that their opinion is being misrepresented. Fans of the character in question are also annoyed. Even people who share the correct opinion may feel that they're being talked down to Anviliciously.

The Law and Order and CSI shows, with their ensemble casts, are prime offenders.

This is somewhat related to The Watson, but deals with opinions rather than facts. Often goes hand-in-hand with the Strawman Political and Idiot Ball. See also Compressed Vice.

Examples of Idiot of the Week include:


Comic Books

  • Marvel Civil War was meant to be a takeoff on the Patriot Act, where occasional characters such as Iron Man are given the pro-registration side while being made to appear fascists or dupes. Bizarrely, the writer apparently thought he was writing the pro-reg heroes as basically right and reasonable but forced to extremes. The fans disagreed.
    • Not just that, but the writing staff in general didn't agree beforehand on which side they were going to support, which led to other writers deliberately amping up the Jerkass quotient on Iron Man.
      • Thus making it an interesting example of meta-fiction due to reflecting a 'civil war' among the writers themselves. Your Mileage May Vary as to whether it had any benefit for the quality of the story, but it certainly contributed to it becoming one of the most famous Marvel comic arcs of all time.
  • Hal Jordan, the titular Green Lantern was often reduced to this in Green Lantern/Green Arrow, to give Green Arrow someone to argue with. A particularly Egregious example was arguing against fighting a slaver, because he was the legitimate authority in the area.
    • That isn't to say Green Arrow isn't the given this role. He was a real Jerkass when he found out his sidekick Speedy was doing heroin, and Green Lantern had to lecture him.
    • Subverted in the similarly themed Superman/Batman comics, where they both reach the same conclusions on what they should do, but the thought process that got them there is as different as Night and Day.

Film

Literature

  • In the Michael Crichton novel State of Fear, the characters fall into three distinct categories: smart educated good characters, who don't believe human-caused global warming is an immediate threat and can quote entire geological surveys in their defense; smart uneducated good characters who start out believing in global warming but change their minds when confronted with facts; and bad characters who believe human-caused global warming and defend themselves with loud, pissy, easily-refuted propaganda.
    • In one memorable instance, a minor character is effectively used as a concern troll by Crichton as she displays graph after graph - which the reader gets to see too - that "prove" global warming doesn't exist, and is pretty much lost on how to deal with the problem.
  • Found quite frequently in the Honor Harrington series.
  • In a second David Weber example, the novel Crusade, based on the Starfire board game, has Liberal Progressives ("LibProgs") and Liberals acting like complete idiots throughout the book for no other reason than they're, well, Liberals. Basically, Weber took the historical bent of liberal parties towards diplomacy and jacked it up to an extremely high level, to the point where you start wondering how these morons got themselves elected in the first place.
  • The Truax was a response to The Lorax written by logging supporters who didn't pay enough attention and thought Seuss' book was an attack on them. The Lorax-analogue, a vaguely racist-looking tree man named "the Guardbark", is an excitable, easily-swayed dimwit who the Truax (a logger) manages to convince with lazy and sometimes completely dissonant arguments; when the Guardbark asks what the logging industry is doing for endangered species, the Truax basically tells him, "Well, who's gonna care about gross nasty things like ticks that carry germs that kill cute little Cuddlebears (Yes, Cuddlebears)? And I mean, sure, everyone likes these minnows, but it's too hard to change what we're doing and we don't really want to, so we won't." The Guardbark is totally down with that excuse.

Live Action TV

  • SVU: episodes "Noncompliance" (Olivia is afraid of the mentally ill) and "Ridicule" (Elliot dismisses the claims of a man raped by women) among others.
    • Even worse was was the recent episode, Closet, where Olivia is honestly baffled as to why a professional football player's homosexuality would be such a big deal.
      • Them wimmin's don't know about the sporting arts, don'tcha know?
  • Numerous episodes of the original CSI. On this show, Grissom is never the Idiot of the Week. He's always the one lecturing about alternative lifestyles to one of the other investigators.
    • Nick is usually the one that's handed the Idiot Ball or sometimes the Bigot Ball in the early seasons - notably his rather offensive remarks about the smaller folks.
  • Mild example on NCIS. In an episode about relationship between Muslims and terrorism, Palmer, the most minor character, makes some vaguely intolerant remarks. He doesn't say anything too ridiculous, but it does present Ducky with an opportunity to soap box about tolerance and such what.
  • The West Wing was particularly guilty of this, with the weekly caricature of conservative arguments set up as straw men for President Bartlet and his staff to knock down. One regular cast member would usually be chosen as the Idiot of the Week. (Admittedly sometimes the left would lose; usually on the small stuff.)
    • Donna Moss took up the role more and more as the show went on.
    • Justified by the fact that this was also supposed to be a Democratic administration, it makes sense that it's being told from a Democratic and largely liberal perspective.
  • Boston Legal usually avoids this, but sometimes Denny comes across as this when talking about being a Republican.
  • There was a particularly Egregious example in one episode of All in The Family. The issue: Sexism. The Idiot of the Week? The extremely liberal Michael, for whom this viewpoint was completely out of character.
  • Occasionally happened on the first season of House. Chase hates nuns! Foreman hates the homeless! And so on.
  • Strangely common on the The Big Bang Theory, considering that most of the cast are scientists and generally viewed as geniuses, it's rare that the 'stupider' characters take this role.

Western Animation

  • More recent episodes of The Simpsons and Family Guy make use of this (usually with Lisa, Ned, Marge, and Lois, and Meg) whenever they tackle topical issues such as same-sex marriage, Bush's policies, stem cell research, censorship, etc. All the while keeping laughs the main priority.
    • One notable instance was Marge's issues with her sister Patty coming out of the closet, after talking up a big show about how open minded she is about homosexuality. She fully recognizes what a hypocrite she's being, and indeed there are a lot of cases where someone believes they're completely accepting of gay and lesbian people until someone they're close to comes out.
      • What makes this example particularly odd is that eight years before that episode was one where the family befriended a gay man (voiced by openly gay director John Waters) and not only was Marge perfectly fine with him, she chewed Homer out for being homophobic and thinking that hanging around John would make Bart "go gay". Aesop Amnesia, or Opinion Myopia?
      • Homer of all people even lampshades the Transparent Closet before the commercial break by essentially saying, "Oh and get this, I like beer!"
      • Neither of these reaches the level of Stan Smith, the main character of American Dad. You can tell exactly what an episode is going to be about within a couple of minutes by watching his right-wing reaction to an issue. Stan was pretty much created to be this trope.
    • Lois is the worst of the bunch as it's not only painfully obvious that she's a Strawman Political to Brian's Author Tract, it's hypocritical without being Hypocritical Humor as she's suddenly Mrs. Brady when the subject of drug legalization or gay marriage pops up despite being a pothead (and harder drugs) with recurring bouts of Depraved Bisexual. Meg's excused because she's a Butt Monkey both in and out the show's universe and represents Teen Wangst and Marge has been Flanderized to become more naive to the times, but Lois serves no other purpose than as a Foil with no humor or lampshading involved.
    • Lisa was treated like one in-universe when she renounced Christianity for Buddhism after the church went commercial to pay for extensive damages. In turn, Marge's over-traditional God-fearing ways were amped up as she endlessly needled Lisa about her choice, assuming it was about a boy who didn't like her and pretending to be God to ask "why do you have to make such a big deal of everything." The irony is that for once Lisa was actually being quite sensible about a major life change, as opposed to trying to force vegetarianism on her family or belittling her mother for believing in angels.
    • Subverted in "Itchy & Scratchy & Marge". Marge goes on a rampant crusade to stop cartoon violence, and while she's initially portrayed as in the wrong, when the cartoon is forced to take a Lighter and Softer direction the kids of Springfield lose interest and start going outside to do more constructive, creative things. Then when Marge's group tries to protest the nude David statue, Marge tells them she thinks it's a fine piece of art that everyone should see. She ends up realizing that she can't fight for one form of censorship while arguing against another.
  • This was essentially Wheeler's place on Captain Planet, being the unenlightened American pig. Even when he makes perfectly valid points, the show refuses to let him be right. Often, it fell to the sagely communist girl to correct his incorrect opinions, especially when Wheeler's plans involved ANY violence. Gaea forbid the kid with the flamethrower should use his flamethrower.
    • Maybe because a flamethrower is a (very) deadly weapon, and this is a children's show?
      • As opposed to what, (mildly) deadly? He was actually the most limited in his powers, the others could control the ring's element not just produce it. He never got to end forest fires or anything.
    • And the one time he's allowed to be right, he's right for the wrong reason, when he was the only Planeteer who believed Dr. Blight's sister wasn't evil, but he believed it because she was an attractive Hollywood actress. At least he got to share the Idiot Ball with his friends that week.
      • Something of a nice change from his normal "It's my Idiot Ball and you can't play!" status.
    • One of the worst examples is when Wheeler points out (quite rightly) that it's really not a good thing to be taking random wildlife back to their HQ. But nope, who cares? It's cute!
    • What Wheeler Learned About Overpopulation: "no matter which side of an issue you choose, you're wrong".
  • King of the Hill didn't do this every week. However, if it was a group that existed outside of Hank's comfort zone or value system (RP Gers and/or Pagans, New-age birthing techniques, Alternative spirituality, Hippies), you can bet that that particular Strawman wouldn't even have a chance to make a point before the show went right ahead in 'proving' how 'wrong' they were.
    • It didn't even have to be human. If the episode centered around an animal other than a dog, then you could guarantee that said animal (And even said animal's owner) would be portrayed in a negative light.
      • Taken to ridiculous extremes with the episode The Petriot Act. Bill is portrayed as being happy, successful, and popular with woman after he decides to look after a very friendly dog that belongs to an army officer for a few days. Hank ends up looking after a cat, who is vicious and nasty and makes Hank's life miserable.
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