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Whenever a character is instructed to notice or read something important to the plot, they will accidentally only notice something completely random and irrelevant. For example:

Bill and Nancy need a quick way to come up with $1,000. Nancy picks up a newspaper and her eye happens to catch an advertisement for a contest in which the first-place winner receives $1,000.

 Nancy (handing Bill the newspaper): Bill, look at this!

Bill (reading the newspaper): I don't believe it! There's a 50% off sale down at JC Penney!... Wait, how does that help us?

Nancy: No, read below that!

Bill: Oh my god, here's an ad for a singing competition in which the winner gets $1,000!

This can also be a variation of Are You Pondering What I'm Pondering?. For example:

 Criminal A: Have you read the newspaper!? There's our next big score!

Criminal B (reading newspaper): I don't get it. It says here that they're finished building the new airport and they're opening it up soon. You want us to steal a plane and hold it for ransom!?

Criminal A: No, you nitwit! Flip the page over!

Criminal B: Ah, Jameson's Diamonds is receiving a new shipment next Friday!

Nor is this necessarily limited to newspaper or magazines. For example:

Robert and John are walking down a bustling city street.

 Robert (witnessing a robbery taking place inside a restaurant): John, did you see that? I don't believe it!

John (reading an ad): Yeah, a breakfast of two pancakes, sausage, and eggs for only 99 cents? It's too good to be true!

This last one is as likely to occur in an ad for the real place making that real offer as in a purely fictional TV show.

Apparently, TV characters are incapable of scanning the environment or newspaper page and finding the one thing that's relevant to their lives or the situation at hand.

Compare Worst News Judgment Ever.

Examples of Proportional Article Importance include:


Advertising

  • A Norwegian ad featured a woman finding a sleeping hobo with a newspaper as a blanket. The headline at the newspaper was Wanted for murder and a picture of the hobo. The woman took the newspaper to a female police officer and showed... that there was a 50% sale at a Norwegian shoe chain, as written a bit down on the first page.

Anime and Manga

  • Occurs a few times in Hidamari Sketch. For example, the flame on Miyako's stove flares up, and all Miyako notices is that her meat burned, not that her hair is on fire.

Film

  • Used straight once by the film Airplane!! ("There's a sale at Penney's!"). Twisted out of all recognition (literally!) the second time:

 Steve McCroskey: Johnny, what can you make out of this?

[Hands him the weather briefing]

Johnny: This? [begins folding paper] Why, I can make a hat or a brooch or a pterodactyl...

  • Almost done in Dogma when Bartleby shows Loki the newspaper clipping about the church rededication. Instead of reading the wrong side/article, Loki reads just the headline with a "so?" Which prompts Bartleby to respond, "You have to keep reading."
  • In Chicken Run, after Ginger shows the other chickens a poster for "Rocky the Flying Rooster":

 Ginger: This is our way out of here."

Babs: We'll make posters?

Ginger: What's on the poster, Babs, what's on the poster! We'll fly out!

 Herbert's Father: "One day, lad, all this will be yours." (Waves at/out the window.)

Herbert: "What, the curtains?"

Literature

  • A running gag in the first few Captain Underpants books was that a kid would notice whatever bizarre events were befalling Captain Underpants, only that when he tried to point them out to his mother, she'd ask him how she was expected to believe that-while reading something that was nearly as strange, such as a tabloid newspaper with the headline "Bigfoot gives birth to 200 pound UFO baby". The fourth book had the pair appear twice-the second time, the kid decided not to tell his mother about the giant robot fighting a giant man in his underwear.
  • In American Gods Shadow attempts to show Wednesday how much time they've spent "backstage" by showing him a newspaper. Wednesday only sarcastically comments on the first headline he sees.
  • In Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix, Harry notices an article in the paper concerning the arrest and imprisonment of a member of the Order and points it out to his friends. Ron at first only notices an advertisement for robes. Justified, since the article is "barely an inch long and the advertisement is nearly full page.

Live Action TV

  • I Love Lucy
  • Full House
  • In the Black Books episode "The Grapes of Wrath", Bernard and Manny drink a valuable bottle of wine that's due to be presented to the Pope, and hastily improvise a substitute with which to refill the bottle in the hope that nobody will notice. At the end of the episode, Bernard picks up a newspaper with a prominent front-page article about the Pope being poisoned by their improvised wine substitute and the arrest of their friend who owned the bottle, and Manny reacts with horror. Bernard, however, was simply pointing out the date as his birthday.
  • Subverted in an episode of The Drew Carey Show, where Lewis reads an irrelevant newspaper ad and somehow, through a convoluted line of reasoning, works out what Mimi and Mr. Wick are planning from it. He is then asked what's on the other side and dismisses it as "some article about a secretary making millions off a fake sexual harassment suit".
  • Several Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffs used this: The film du jour would have a Spinning Paper, and someone would react to one of the small filler headlines instead of the big one about the monster/criminal/etc. "New petitions against tax!" "My God!"
  • Hustle: A customs official who's been trying to get the team to help him find a stolen painting slaps a newspaper in front of Mickey. Mickey, feigning ignorance, reads off the big, obvious headline ("French Trawlers Blockade Ports") before the official directs him to the smaller headline, "Masterpiece Still Missing".

Web Comics

  • In Pv P, here, Jade has eaten two gallons of ice cream from the break room. When Francis is told this, he says "OH MY GOD! [beat] WE HAD ICE CREAM IN THE BREAK ROOM?"
  • A variation in Bad Machinery. Shauna, Charlotte, and Mildred try to stop a man from throwing an old woman off a roof, with Shauna telling him it's "not the answer," and asking him if he can even imagine what that would be the answer to. Shortly afterward, Mildred pipes up, "How do you win an old lady chucking competition?"

Western Animation

  • This was a key plot point in the Halloween 1976 episode of Scooby Doo.
  • Bender in Futurama: "Gym renovations on schedule? What a load!" The more important article is the report of the Roswell incident, which the time-traveling characters have caused.
  • Inversion in the Aqua Teen Hunger Force episode "The Dressing", where the Aqua Teens deal with a robot turkey that says he's from the future. Near the end of the episode, Shake shows Frylock a newspaper, intending to show Frylock an irrelevant pantyhose ad, but the first thing Frylock sees is the article about a turkey robot toy recall.
  • One of this troper's favorite Family Guy gags involves this. Lois wishes to show Peter the magazine her modeling pictures were published in. Peter pulls one of these to the nth degree when he believes that the thing Lois wants him to notice is "movable type" and panics that their serfs may find out.
  • In one episode of Beavis and Butthead the titular characters read a page of ads, all of them for prostitutes, strippers and sex-lines. The only ad not involving sex says "assistant wanted". Their reaction? "Hehehe... it says ass!"
  • In the Mickey Mouse cartoon Runaway Brain, Mickey, forgetting the anniversary of his first date with Minnie, sees an ad for a miniature golf course in the paper and shows it to her, offering it as a consolation. Minnie instead sees the ad below it, for an expensive Hawaiian vacation.
  • A variation occurs in a Static Shock episode: when bounty hunter Puff is looking for a money-making opportunity, she finds a newspaper saying there's a reward for the capture of Rubberband Man. Upon showing it to her accomplice Onyx, he remarks "Gee, Puff, I don't know. Journalists don't make a lot of money..."
  • In one episode of The Mr. Men Show, Miss Naughty places a rubber fly on Mr. Nervous' salad plate, and then waits to see his reaction. True to form, Mr. Nervous starts freaking out about something being in his salad, and asks Mr. Tickle to get rid of it. "It's just an olive," Mr. Tickle tells him, removing the offending veggie.
  • In the South Park episode "Le Petite Tourette," Cartman's about to fake having Tourette's on Dateline, and Kyle plans to stop him by using the fact that Chris Hanson, about to interview Cartman, also hosts "To Catch a Predator." He tricks a pedophile into entering the studio, promising brownies would be in there, too. His plan worked a little too well, as a number of pedophiles enter the studio, each one shooting themselves when they saw Chris Hanson after shouting out "Oh no, it's Chris Hanson!" and the like. One pedophile, however, shoots himself after shouting, "There aren't really brownies?!"
  • Featured in the Courage the Cowardly Dog episode "One Thousand Years of Courage", where Courage and his family end up transported into a future ruled by sentient bananas. Eustace is reading a paper, and complains about the Ridiculous Future Inflation in an ad ("Eight million bucks for a salami!") before Courage and company notice the date on the paper.
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