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Under penalty of law this tag is not to be removed except by the consumer.''—part of the text legally required on all mattresses, pillows and comforters sold in the U.S.
These tags seen on mattresses and pillows are the subject of numerous gags. Most commonly they involve a goody two-shoes character who accidentally or intentionally removes one, and then assumes he's in danger of going to jail and ends up on the run. Note that in modern times, that part "except by the consumer" means that it doesn't even apply to those who are so worried about it. Even if it did, it wouldn't be nearly so much of a crime as people say it is. (Even if the authorities didn't have bigger things on their plate, like Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking, how would they know?) However, in the past, this phrasing wasn't there, making the worries slightly more legitimate.
The reason there is such a warning tag is that the tag lists such information as the materials used in making the mattress (especially, that they are "new material only" -- because of historical problems of things being stuffed with disease-ridden rags) and the country of origin. Thus, it is illegal for the seller of the mattress to remove the tag, in order to protect the consumer. The words "...except by the consumer" have been there since at least the 60s, making this a Discredited, Dead Horse Trope. That or the joke will become that if you rip the tag off you have to eat it.
Can also cause bafflement to people from nations where such tags aren't put on mattresses.
- Parodied in a television commercial in which a woman in Confession cites this as part of a long list of extremely minor infractions.
- When one of the Serta Mattress sheep tears one of these off, they end up in jail, and cover it up when asked What Are You in For? :
Sheep 8: We got caught tearing --
Sheep 1: Tearing a man to pieces!
- In the Illuminati: New World Order Collectible Card Game, the "Crackdown on Crime" card has a picture of a SWAT team menacingly training their laser-sights on a man who's halfway through tearing off a mattress-tag.
- Judge Dredd used this in a non-humorous (well, kinda; no-one was joking but it was still funny) manner. After they realize their hunch was wrong and they have raided the wrong house, in order to avoid paying compensation, the Judges find an alternate charge and give the householder a caution for "removing the safety tags from his soft furnishings".
- The short-lived Bill and Teds Excellent Adventure comic-book has their arch-enemy DeNomolos releasing several evildoers (and an crooked accountant) from Hell, including "Alan! Murderer! Arsonist! Pillow tag tearer!"
- A Bonkers comic in Disney Adventures has an especially epic example of this. After a character accidentally tears one mattress tag off -- which reads "Removing this tag is a federal offence. Go directly to jail. Do Not Pass Go. Do not collect $200" -- and promptly goes off on a crime spree trying to ensure he can get away with this. Hiding it under a truckload of cherries, he crosses paths with Bonkers and Fall-Apart Rabbit when Rabbit's nose falls off and seemingly gets mixed in with the cherries. Believing they know about the mattress, he drives off with Fall-Apart Rabbit, moving up to kidnapping in addition to ripping off the tag and later attempting to burn the evidence.
- Used in an issue of Cracked that showed a SWAT team kicking down the door just as man ripped the tag off the mattress.
- Happens in one Hagar the Horrible comic strip.
- Referenced in a comic strip which has the engineers giving technical advice to marketing about the accuracy of an advert, then seguing into criticising its humour and suggesting very old jokes in its place, including "something about the warning tags on mattresses".
- In another strip, Dilbert enters a stand up comedy competition which has the mandatory categories "Dan Quayle, Flatulence and The Warning Labels on Mattresess".
- An early Lio strip.
Films -- Live-Action
- Pee Wees Big Adventure: Mickey, the fugitive who first picks Pee-Wee up, claims to be on the run from the police for that very reason to keep from scaring Pee-Wee; it's strongly implied that he really did something a lot worse than that.
- In horror movie parody Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth, the characters are shown to have thrown a man hit by their car into the sea, but interpret threatening notes about it as being for other minor misdeeds. This ends with a girl accidentally pulling off a mattress tag in the middle of sex. With the local priest.
- When a woman catches reporter Fletch searching her bedroom, he tries a few bluffs, including, "Mattress Police. Where are the tags on these mattresses?"
- Greek Myths: Western Style by Barbara McBride-Smith inserts this joke into the myth of Pandora's box.
- Bart Simpson's Guide to Life recommends the use of these tags as a last-minute Show And Tell.
- The story "Above the Law, Below the Box Springs", in Woody Allen's book Mere Anarchy.
- In the show Everybody Hates Chris, Chris meets a man who went to prison for many years for this, and his life was ruined all because of that tag.
- An old episode of NBC's Bloopers and Practical Jokes set Doug Henning up with this very trope. Using his wife as a way-more-than-willing ally, they got Doug into a furniture store that was just an empty store NBC borrowed and filled up with furniture. Mrs. Henning went bouncing around like a four year old on a sugar rush looking at all the neat furniture AND tearing those tags off! The "manager" came up to Doug and explained that he was going to have to pay for each piece of furniture his wife tore the tag off of which amounted to several THOUSAND dollars in charges! They explained the joke before he used his uncanny magic to make anyone (like his wife) disappear.
- The trope was used in the Mamas Family episode "Harper Versus Harper", except that the tag was from a rug instead of a mattress. When Thelma Harper takes her daughter-in-law in Naomi to court to sue for damages to her living room rug, her sister Fran takes the opportunity to "throw herself on the mercy of the court" and tearfully confesses to removing the forbidden tag two years ago.
- Mash pulls this one once, with the tag being from Henry's trousers rather than a mattress.
- On Wings, Brian complains about what a goody two-shoes his brother is.
Brian: I bet you don't even take that stupid tag off your mattress.
Joe: It says "DO NOT REMOVE!"
- The Night Court episode "Russkie Business" has recurring character Yakov Kovlenko, desperate to return to the Soviet Union to be with his sick mother, confessing to ripping out the tag of his mattress thinking it would get him deported.
- This was one of the many rules broken in the music video for Green Day's song "Warning".
- A classic National Lampoon cover, "The Crime Issue," done in the style of an old crime-pulp magazine cover: A shadowy room; in the background is a woman pressing her back against the wall and cringing in fear; in the foreground is a man's leather-gloved hands bending up the corner of a mattress and about to rip off the label: "This tag is not to be removed under penalty of LAW"!
- In 1984, Mad published a special issue entitled Mad 84, featuring previously-unpublished material. One piece was "The Mad Reader's Sex Survey", by Larry Siegel, illustrated by Bob Clarke. One multiple-choice question showed an orgy scene from a porno film (which can be seen here, sans text, in the lower right corner of the page) and asked the reader for his reaction, with the joke being that the answer choices were all pedantic, detail-oriented observations having nothing to do with sex (i.e. "A. Doesn't the man with the whipped cream know it's not kosher to mix dairy with meat?"). One of the answer choices is "That guy in the dress is going to be in big trouble if he rips the tag off that mattress."
- In Llamas with Hats, Carl claims to have caused a nuclear explosion by ripping off the tag of a mattress
- In this strip from The Order of the Stick, Miko the Lawful Stupid Knight Templar threatens the staff of a hotel with holy vengeance for this offense. As seen in the image above.
- Clothing often has tags you're supposed to remove before wearing. As Lemmy of the webcomic Fanboys learned, you neglect this at your peril.
- Ozy and Millie turned this into a Gullivers Travels-esque satire: Llewellyn legalizes this act in his tiny country. The U.S. takes serious offense at this.
- In Llamas with Hats 'Caaaarl' says that the nuke detonated because he ripped a tag of a mattress.
- From bash.org:
Hiryuu: Hey, which is more evil, kicking puppies or tearing those tags off of mattresses?
Estelle: Puppies heal, matresses don't.
- In one Looney Tunes short, Daffy Duck accidentally pulls the tag off of a junked mattress, and -- believing himself to be a criminal -- goes on the run. When he checks into a motel, he just happens to end up sharing a room with a wanted bank robber. Hilarity Ensues when the police shows up...
- On one episode of Garfield and Friends, where Wade's imagination gets ahead of him, he envisions bank robbers (maybe serial killers?) terrified at the prospect of sharing a cell with a pillow tag remover (him, no less!).
- In the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy episode "Stop, Look, and Ed", Eddy torments Edd by ripping the tag off a mattress.
- In an episode of Darkwing Duck set in a potential future where Darkwing has gone mad and imprisoned anyone who commited even the most minor crimes, he rants about how he hates criminals, ending with, "Especially those people who tear the tags off of pillows, I really hate them."
- An episode of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 ends with the villain of the moment being thrown in jail for a variety of crimes, ending with mattress-tag ripping.
- An episode of Men in Black: The Series features an alien race that's downright obsessive about law and order, complete with an ultra-brutal gulag for housing the many, many lawbreakers they round up. How strict are they? When Jay finds himself in the prison, he asks a fellow inmate what he's in for, and, well, it turns out they take their mattress tags very seriously.
- In the episode Born to be wild 'SpongeBob SquarePants. Spongebob asks about Squidward of when he has overreacting, one of the things was accidentally removing a mattress tag.
- The Johnny Bravo segment "Fugitive Johnny" features Johnny jokingly tearing off the tag saying "Do Not Remove Under Penalty of Law" from a monkey plushie, only to have a helicopter arrive seconds later and pursue him. However, the helicopter pilot only did that to invite him to the Police Department bake sale.
- In one episode of Chalk Zone, Snap pulls the tag off his mattress and gets sent to "label prison". Him and the other inmates escape, and the guards end up in one of the cells... which has no bars and no door, but has a huge sign above the doorway that says "NO EXIT".
- An episode of the Earthworm Jim cartoon did it dead straight, identifying a sofa as EEEEEVIL because someone had removed the sticker. (The sofa was evil, but not for that reason...)
- In the movie-parody episode of The Fairly Odd Parents, Timmy is trying to find out who "kidnapped" Wanda, and going through suspects like a detective. His dad, who for some reason desperately wants to be seen as a suspect in Timmy's mind, keeps doing harmless crimes. One of which is ripping off a bunch of mattress tags.