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"Crapsack worlds and anti-heroes have their place. Sometimes, they are very necessary. But an endless diet of dreary cyberpunk and dark fantasy won't do us any more favors than an endless feast of glurge. I'd argue that the cynical nature of these really hurt our ability to hope and work for better. It gets us to accept the hopelessness and jaded outlook of things as 'That's the way it is. I can't change it,' and stops us from fighting when we NEED to fight."
A poster on the forums for The Silver Lining

A character is incredibly cynical. They are sporting a nice pair of Jade-Colored Glasses, and when the Wide-Eyed Idealist calls them out on it, they are quick to say I Did What I Had to Do, or Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids. They are convinced their attitude is more realistic, and that anyone without it is too childish to accomplish anything.

They are wrong. It turns out that their overly cynical attitude can blind them just as easily as an overly idealistic or optimistic attitude can. They turned lazy and missed golden opportunities due to thinking about themselves in the Despair Event Horizon for all eternity, thus proving themselves to be just as blind and dogmatic as they think the more idealistic characters are. He or she is summarily called out for his Wangst, often by the very people that he/she had regarded as fools. It can also happen when a character tries too hard to be what they think an adult is, like a Perpetual Frowner.

This trope is the Inversion of Silly Rabbit, Idealism Is for Kids, showing that being more cynical is not necessarily better. In fact, it can be seen as being just as ignorant and called out just as easily. This is to show that The Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism does not always stick to one end, but tends to lie somewhere in the middle, and that you need a bit of both to really see the world for what it is. Can be a trait of The Anti-Nihilist, and used to deconstruct the Nietzsche Wannabe mentality.

See also Grumpy Bear, or Sour Supporter for character types that can fall into this.

Examples:


Literature

  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth's cynical outlook on life allows Wickham to completely dupe her about Darcy's true nature. The irony is that she acted this way in order to avoid being played for a fool, but it just happened in a different way.
  • In the Green-Sky Trilogy, the cynical Neric tells Raamo that Genaa cannot be trusted and is too stepped in Ol-Zhaan privledge to be sympathetic to their plans. Not only does Neric turn out wrong, but Genaa turns out to be the one with the tactical savvy to pull off their scheme.
  • This is what happens to the dwarves at the end of Last Battle -- they end up in Aslan's country with everybody else, but they're too cynical to believe it, and manage to delude themselves into believing they're still locked in a dark stable eating rotten food.
  • Somewhat common in Discworld, especially with Rincewind. The guy would be so obviously right in his cynicism...but Twoflower would come out fine anyway, leaving Rincewind looking like an idiot.
  • This is part of the entire point of Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit. At the end of the story, it's implied that the main characters could leave at any time they wished to, but their own character flaws and lack of empathy with each other prevent them from doing so.
  • In Animorphs, the team cynic Marco notes this to Rachel while Jake is out of commission. They need a fast, straightforward plan for a high-risk rescue, and he explains that that's not his territory -- his cynicism makes him too cautious to address that situation, so she needs to lead.


Live Action TV


Video Games

  • In Mass Effect, the more cynical Renegade decisions the PC can make tend to go badly.
  • Fear Effect: Royce Glas is the cynical one. Hana Tzu-Vachel is the idealistic one. Glas is treated as the Butt Monkey and The Lancer. Hana is treated as the Iron Woobie and The Hero. It probably won't surprise you that the best ending in the first game essentially has Hana winning out without having to shoot Glas.
  • Final Fantasy VIII: Squall is a pretty great example of this. In fact, he seems aware that his dark attitude denies him opportunities for (what he thinks would be) brief moments of happiness, but he does it to avoid feeling further pain as a result of the loss of those moments.
  • In Oracle of Tao, Ambrosia at the end of the First Disc (so to speak) heads off for the second world. Unless she bothered to do the romance sidequest (or can get past the Beef Gate of skipping a key romantic scene and heading directly through the entrance without stopping at the vacation town first), the plot requires you to visit Nevras at his castle. If you decide not to, or if you didn't get the memo, the story suddenly gets much darker, most notably in the endings. Basically, the point is, because Ambrosia decided her love life with Nevras was doomed, things got a whole lot worse for her.


Webcomics

  • Gunnerkrigg Court in Chapter 29 has Paz, of all people, setting straight Kat (who is at that moment quite disenchanted with the Court after stumbling upon some of its old secrets).
  • Ian Starshine (and to a lesser extent, Haley as well -- she veered off from this just in time) from The Order of the Stick. Choosing to remain in prison because you think your little girl is being hoodwinked by a calculating, nefarious, deeply undercover mole linked to an Evil Overlord (Elan?!? The Chaotic Good Cloudcuckoolander?!? You're serious, right?) is this. In spades. Even having met the guy.
    • By repute, this was also the case for Properly Paranoid Girard Draketooth. Possibly. Rogue-like types are subject to this, it seems.


Real Life

  • Basically the point of Existentialism.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, despite the association with fatalism, nihilism, anti-idealism and the darkest and edgiest of cynical philosophy, actually wrote against being an extremely skeptical and life-hating nihilist, while suggesting that it's better to just love life to the fullest while living up to your own ideals no matter how blue or orange they are.
    • Jean-Paul Sartre, the key thinker of the movement, wrote that "Existence precedes essence." Basically, you are born, and then you are defined. You are what you make of yourself. If you are a villain, you were not doomed to villainy, your choices made you so. If you are a hero, you were not destined for greatness, it was the combination of your choices that made you that way. Under this philosophy, great heroism and great villainy are both possible by choice. Thus, if you choose to be a Cynic, it proves you do not have the strength to be a hero. Sartre, however, did not always live up to his ideals.
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